The letters and diaries of Lieutenant Philip R. Woodcock
121st Regiment, New York State Infantry
"Upton's Regulars"
September 4, 1862-November 9, 1865

Monday, June 23, 2014

Picket Station, Potomac River, Oct 7, 1872

Last week, I jumped ahead to Spotsylvania and Philip's letters of that time period.  You got a small glimpse of the Philip of the future and how hardened he had become after fighting for over two years.  As you read today's post, you'll return to the newly mustered in Sergeant and continue on his journey which picks up with a lengthy letter written to Roby from a picket station near the Potomac River on October 7, 1862.  

(A quick definition for what a picket station is:  Picket - An advance outpost or guard for a large force was called a picket. Ordered to form a scattered line far in advance of the main army's encampment, but within supporting distance, a picket guard was made up of a lieutenant, 2 sergeants, 4 corporals, and 40 privates from each regiment. Picket duty constituted the most hazardous work of infantrymen in the field. Being the first to feel any major enemy movement, they were also the first liable to be killed, wounded, or captured. The most likely targets of snipers, Picket duty, by regulation, was rotated regularly in a regiment.--Thanks to Civil War Home for this definition.)

And now his letter of Tuesday the 7th:

"My Dear Wife

At last I have had the pleasure of hearing from you ~ I have just got your letter from Troy ~ so you probably did not get those letters that I wrote to you & sent to Springfield while I was in battle & encamped on the Battle field ~ as it has turned out now I am glad of it for every one I wrote for a week or so then I did not know as I ever should write another ~ We passed through some awful times from Rockville to Sharpsburg through South Mountain Pass, Antietam Creek to Williamsport ~ our Regular Camp is now on Antietam Battlefield but we were brought here on the Potomac yesterday to do picket duty [.] We are having genuine fun too ~ it is exciting & just dangerous enough to be pleasant & we are in a nice cool pleasant place but I suppose we shall have to go back tomorrow [.] A detachment of 42 men was given me ~ the first one of the Sergeants to Post on Picket ~ it was fun I tell you [.] I posted about 30 of them on the Canal & River & took the rest of them on the other side at the Dam and went as far as the Rebel Pickets would let us go without shooting at us and posted them along 3 on a Picket ~ The Enemys Pickets signaled me to come over there but they would not let me come with my gun & I declined the kind offer ~"

I admit, I smiled at that light-hearted entry....

"I am glad the murderous practice of Skirmishing has been forbidden for now we can lay here perfectly quiet though we are liable to an attack any moment & our force behind us are concealed [.] The Rebels are but a short distance from us & their Pickets are but a few Rods from ours so the[y] talk to each other but for a day or two they do not come over as they did at first [.] What that signifies I do not know ~ I have been been [sic] relieved so I have not any thing to do now untill tomorrow morning [.] We are living pretty good ~ "

The relief in his letter for a small break is evident. He goes on to describe a delicious breakfast:

" I want to tell you what kind of Breakfast I had this morning ~ you see I was in command of the Pickets & I had my headquarters at a little Canal house where there was a white woman ~ the first one I have spoken to almost since I left home [,] yesterday I got some biscuits of hers & this morning I took breakfast ~ I actually eat of a plate & table & drank out of a tea cup & used a knife and fork ~ the first I have done in one months ~ it seemed so much like home that I made myself entirely so [.] We had bread & Apple Butter Molasses, Mutton, Beef & Pork, Apple Sauce &c ~ I eat untill I was felt uncomfortable all for it & it will last me all day I guess ~ O.C. Parsons said I eat more than I usually did in a week at Camp & I believe it too for my appetite is not very good..."

Tomorrow, I'll continue the letter with his description of his appearance.


150 years ago today on June 23rd, 1864, Philip was 3 miles south of Petersburg, VA.  A small excerpt from his letter observes: "Petersburg is a City of considerable size ~ we could count 7 steeples in it ~ we crossed the Appotomax River on Pontoons [.] They have some heavy works and we also have some ~ we were on the front Line & they throwed mortar Shells into us but it did not hurt many ~ only wounded 3 or 4 ~ after dark we could see them & could get ourself out of range ~ they scare us worse than bullets ~ we can't tell where the pieces fly...."

Come back for tomorrow's entry "The Dirty Soldier"!

Hope to see you then!

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