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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Burnside's Mud March

In January of 1863, General Ambrose E. Burnside led an unsuccessful march on Richmond that ended his command of the Army of the Potomac.  It became known as "Burnside's Mud March"  Philip and his company were part of this and he wrote Roby over several days about it.  Here is his letter from January 22, 1863:

"Camp in the Woods I don't know where  
January 22nd 1863"

(written upside-down on the page under and around that heading he writes: "If you could send me some money I could make good use of it I haven't but one cent left & can't get it")

"My Dear Wife

Agreeable to my promise to keep you posted in regard to our movements ~ I now write you ~ We are again about to meet the Enemy (that is if we....illegible ) Tuesday noon the 20th we left our comfortable quarters & started once more to try our luck with them ~ Gen Burnside caused orders to be read to all the Troops stating that we must fight them again & he succeeded in inspiring us with some confidence again ~ We marched that after-noon some 8 or 9 miles untill after dark & encamped in a wood we had a rather bad time pitching tents & finding wood & it was late when we got our Suppers & got to bed but I slept first rate & rested good ~ it commenced raining
that night before we got to bed & rained all night & yesterday & last night & now we are stuck fast & tight in the mud[.] yesterday morning we started again but could not do much we went 2 or 3 miles & O such marching you never heard of the mud was about 6 inches deep & in some places deeper but such time as we had ~ our tents were very wet & blankets & Overcoats ~ Our Loads were more than a mule ought to carry but still we had to go ~ My pace since I have been promoted is near the read of the Company & 2 paces from the ranks & my business is to keep the men in their places & keep them closed up ~ but yesterday I had to drive them ahead of me just like sheep once in while I had to get stuck myself & we had fun enough ~ we were finally tired out & had to go into Camp & now I will tell you where we are as near as I can...." 

"We are up the Rappahanock about 8 miles from Fredericksburg where I suppose they intended we should cross & give the Rebs fits ~ but I think this Rain has spoiled Burnsides plans although I don't know anything about it everything was kept so quiet ~ The general imporession is here that we was to take them by surprise on their Left Flank [,] splip up their Army & set them skedaddling to Richmond but they know of all our movements now & are ready for us again ~ But I tell you Roby it is awfull provoking to when we go in sight of them on the River Bank to have them sing out to us
('Why dont you cross the River[?] Why dont you levy your pontoons[?] If you let us alone we will let you alone but if you cross we will give you Hell') & all and such threats as that ~ & then another thing they have got a large board stuck up in plain sight with great large letters on it ('Burnside stuck in the Mud')..."

Come back tomorrow for the rest of letter written on the 23 & 24th.  It's filled with "mud"!

Hope to see you then!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sunday's Just Aren't the Same as Home

Yesterday, I challenged you all to read his letter along with me...
how did you do?

Philip continued his January 10 letter with mention of sharing his pancakes:

"Jim Cusler came over to see me just in time to get some of them[.] George has been trying to get over here but it is not very easy for him to get a pass he is about 3 miles from here they are down to Belle Plains Landing where we were encamped before the Battle of Fredericksburgh[.]"

And describes his Saturday:
"To day is washing day with us & we have no drill of course we have to clean up for tomorrow Sunday inspection[.] We had services last Sunday he came out for that first time & avowed himself a regular Universalist" (my g-g grandfather was a devout Baptist) "he preached mostly upon the number of Deaths we were having & upon the fear of Death he exhorted the men to stand firm in battle & to be not afraid of sickness & death in Camp for death he sincerely believed was a change for the better for all not one but all every man goes to heaven ~ he forgot to point us to a Savior & tell us to love him: but I must close I wish you could have heard him he does one good thing & that is he gets our mail for us every day we have a regular daily mail now[.] I am very glad my boy is proving himself so smart but I always thought he took after me[.] (Proud father...)God grant that we may live to see each other all again but I think we shall through his mercy[.] Try & take good care of yourself & baby [.] Remember me to all friends to Mart Way (?) & the Church[.] May God Bless you & me & take care of us is my only wish[.]


P R Woodcock

Harrison Van Horne has resigned"

Obviously Philip's strong devotion to God shines through in these letters.  You will see that throughout his career in the Army and it served him well to keep him strong in spirit.

And a look at his diary from that week previous.  Equally tough to read!

So how did you do reading his letter?

Tomorrow, come back for January 22, 1863 in the "Camp in the Woods I don't know where".

Hope to see you then!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Promotion is in Order

"...the Captain rather talks as if he was going to have me a Lieutenant yet..."

Philip's letter of January 10th continued for three more pages.  After mentioning the deep mud and the cloying nature of "Southern Soil" (it has a layer of red clay in parts of Virginia), he went on to write:

"We are still in our old camp & they keep us drilling pretty hard which we think is all useless though it   as we are all well instructed in all the movements of the company & battalion but it dont hurt us any for it has been cool bracing air & nice healthy weather though the days are too short for us ~ I am kept pretty busy now all the while I get  up before daylight & dont get to bed untill 8 oclock & I hardly have time to cook my meals ~"

And some good news for Roby:

 "I can write you pretty good news this time[,] I have been promoted one rank higher one Sergeant who ranked above me has been reduced to the ranks & consequently that help me a little but I am still better off[,] I am acting 2nd Sergeant except on drill then I am acting 1st Sergeant ~ The Captain rather talks as if he was going to have me a Lieutenant yet but that is for our Colonel & Gen Seymour to say[.] We have got a bully colonel he is --very strict-- & high promotions goes slow with him -- he is trying us well before giving any us a chance but ~ I do my best to satisfy him but I must not count chickens before they are hatched. There is many a slip between the cup & the lip ~ "

Try to read along with me:

"We have had it very nice & pleasant here before this rain[.] I have had plenty to eat we drawed flour & I had plenty of it & I had good living got some Soda at the sale of 12/- per lb & in pancakes & biscuits & fried Cakes we put in vinegar & that is just as good as sour milk it makes them more tender but I can make good pancakes I tell you they would make your mouth water to see them the Captains Cook baked some of my flour into biscuit & they went good [.] "

See how much you can decipher from this last page and come back tomorrow to see how accurate you were.  I left off somewhere near the top of the page...

Hope to see you then!

Monday, July 28, 2014

A New Year

It seems a strange thing to be entering the New Year in this blog in July and yet, 6 months into the year seems as appropriate a time as any.  Welcome to January 1863 in Philip's war journey.  He started his new diary with an entry on January 1.  When looking at the copies I have of it, please also take a look at the pages with the postage rates of the time!  It's pretty neat.

True to form, Philip's day was anything but ordinary.  Here's his diary entry of Thursday, January 1, 1863:

"On Picket near the Rappahannack at Fredericksburg[h] we had a good time [,] Helped to pass a Negro Slave & family through the lines [,] he was very grateful to us [.] rather cold to day ~ the Presidents Proclamation takes effect   good thing"

You can see here also Friday's entry and Saturday:

"very Cold we build big fires on Picket & have brush Shanties (?) had an alarm down to the River & had to double quick it down there but found it all humbug sent back a little ways & built small fires & stood untill day light like to have froze..."

Can you read his handwriting?

"On Picket yet but was relieved 10 oclock very cold marched back to Camp found every thing all right fix up our tent"

As I mentioned at the beginning of this project, he generally did not use punctuation.  I entered it during the transcription of his letters for easier reading.

His first letter to Roby of that year was written on the 10th and has proven to be a challenge for me to read as his ink bled through the paper.  He would write front and back on the pages and the words would appear through on each side.

Here's the beginning of his letter from the 10th:

"Camp near White Oak Church
Jan 10 1863

My Dear Wife

I received your [letter] some days ago & also one from Sarah last night & was very glad to hear that you was with[.] I tell you nothing gives me more pleasure than to hear that you are all well [.] I do not know whether you will get this as [illegible] there for Sarah wrote that you was out in Warren [.] I am glad that you have at last got there for I think that you have been a good while making that visit [.] We are all well here to day 7 trying to make ourselves comfortable as possible it has at last commenced raining & rains pretty hard out & it looks as if it would rain the rest of the winter
but it may not rain more than a day or two if it should rain long we should be neck deep in the mud & such mud as we have here you never see if you could see a Virginia Road after a days rain you would never want to see Southern Soil again" 

You can see my challenge in deciphering his letters and the back/front ink!

Please join me tomorrow for the continuation of this letter!

Hope to see you then!

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Means of Conveyance

One of the things that has changed drastically in recent times is the decrease of hand-written letters. Obviously, as an online blogger, I'm extremely grateful for the ease and venue with which I'm presenting this, but there is a certain charm and timelessness of seeing the actual letters and also, the envelopes which transported them from various battlefields to Roby in New York.  I thought for today, before I launch into the next year of letters (1863) I would post a few envelopes for you to see.  Two are from January, one from March and one from April, all in 1865.  Be sure to note the date on the April 1865 one!

This first one was sent from Petersburg, VA on January 7, 1865:

I'm not sure who's handwriting is on the side, but each one is marked by the event/time of letter being written, this one noting that it was his first letter written "after return to Regt".

The second one is from January 25th, also from Petersburg:

This one states that it "refers to Commission"... and note--it was sent postage due .03 cents!

The third one is from March 31, also Petersburg.

And the final one I thought you might like--one from the Surrender of Lee:

Letter written April 10, 1865, hand cancelled on April 16th.  Clearly marked with "Surrender of Lee". 

As I approach the next phase of my project, 1863, I will be working from the actual letters themselves.  (Prior to this, I was able to work off typed copy of the letters thanks to the hard work of my brother and step-mother who typed them up several years ago).  I will be posting a copy of his daily letter on each entry.  Enjoy your weekend!

Hope to see you then!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Little Diversion

Today will be a bit different and you are quite welcome to just skip on through today's post--but I wouldn't!

I've had some readers ask me if Philip and George make it home and what may have happened to them and their descendants?  (If you don't want to know the answer to that--I'd advise you to stop reading right now!)  I'm going to skip ahead to the future, just for today's post and for good reason--I spent a few days with my cousins in upstate NY gathering information about Philip and his descendants.  I stayed in a cottage
on Keuka Lake, NY that is in my grandmothers family.  (It is currently owned by my cousins, Charles and Kathy Woodcock. Charlie is a direct descendant of Philip). I also met another cousin who bears Philips name--Philip Woodcock Newton. He does a bang up job of keeping the genealogy of the Woodcocks sorted out.  I picked their brains on this trip and here are some decidedly interesting tidbits I learned--hope you enjoy them and some pictures!

Philip and his brother George did indeed return from the war intact.  I won't give too much away about their injuries (I'd like to keep you reading!) but they were both wounded at several points in their careers.  After the war, Philip went to work in Rochester, NY for Siddons & Gommenginger, sheet metal and heating contractors.  After leaving there, he finished his career traveling for
Philip Rufus Woodcock
Phillips & Clark Store Co.  His "baby boy" Georgie became a wealthy businessman in Rochester, NY.  He became a Vice President of the Sherwood Shoe Company.  My cousin Charlie regaled his story of visiting him ("Georgie" or Uncle George) when a child and sitting on the porch of his grand mansion.  George never had children of his own and invested heavily in the early days of Eastman Kodak stock which he passed on down through the generations.  Philip also had two other children after returning from the war--another son, Charles Duell Woodcock (cousin Charlie and my mom, Jane Carroll Abercrombie Jones' grandfather, my great-grandfather) and a daughter, Mary Louise Woodcock Newton (Philip Woodcock Newton's grandmother). Confused yet? 

I got to sit on the lakefront of Keuka Lake, same place that Philip's son Charles sat with his grandkids.  My kids got to sit and kayak there too.  I heard stories exchanged of Philip's yearly visits to Upton's
Phil Newton & Son at Upton's Grave
gravesite each year after the war and looked through books of genealogy.   My brother, Don was visiting also and he filled me in on the war and battle aspect of the letters and diaries.  As I continue to gather information on this lineage, I will post some of it for anyone who might be interested.

As for Philip--he lived to the age of 73 (b. 1840-d. 1913).  His beloved Roby died 10 years prior in 1903--same year my grandmother Roby was born
Roby A. Woodcock Abercrombie
and named after her. He then left his letters and diaries to her. Other artifacts were equally spread to other family members.

As for names and so forth, Philip W. Newton named his daughter Roby also.  My mom was named after Philip's wife also (Roby Jane Pierce), using her middle name, Jane.  My daughter now bears the Jane as her middle name...and so on through the ages it goes...

We carry on our family lineage and work hard to keep those stories going, whether verbal or written.  I urge you to do the same as surely as we all live, we are creating history.  Please continue to join me on Philip's journey through the American Civil War.

Tomorrow--some cool envelopes and stamps and onto 1863!

Hope to see you then!
My son, Joshua on Keuka Lake, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Zip & Whistle" on the Battlefield

After being called out to fight on December 11, 1862, Philip wasn't quite sure if he would make it home again. (Please see yesterday's post for that letter.)  He wrote to Roby again on December 15th from the battlefield itself.  This was his last letter written in 1862:

"In the field near Fredericksburgh
Dec 15th 1862

My Dear Wife

Again through the providence of a merciful God I am permitted to write to you[.] I am still well alive & sound though we have passed through a great many dangers[.] I wish I could say of our whole Regt but cannot as we have suffered considerable ~ we have several killed & wounded ~ I myself have had several narrow escapes but God has seen fit to spare my life ~ after finishing my other letter that afternoon we were ordered out to cross the Rappahanock ~ it was just about dark when we crossed under the most terrific fire from both sides that you could imagine ~ we crossed on a pontoon Bridge & proceeded about 1/4 of a mile & were ordered back to the woods again ~ what it was for I do not know but undoubtedly it was the best thing for us but the next morning we crossed without opposition & went about a mile ~ then they commenced on both sides since then untill to day we have laid under arms with our trappings all on night & day very near the Enemys lines doing nothing but dodging bullets Shot & Shell ~ 2 days they shelled us continually ~ wounding & killing 2 or 3 of our boys ~ 1 Piece of shell struck the ground 2 feet from me scattering dirt all over me & filling my hair full of dust = yesterday morning we were sent out on picket duty & probably in the whole history of this war there has not been a Regiment put on picket in a more exposed & dangerous position than we were ~ for 24 hours we laid just as close to the Ground as we possible could & not dig holes in & exposed to a terrible picket fire ~ whenever we could we returned the fire ~ several of our boys were killed & wounded ~ it was nothing but zip zip & whistle all day ~" 

Can you hear that sound?  I can imagine what it must have been like.  He next described his close call:

"....all the while whenever we got up a dozen bullets would sing past me but the narrowest escape I had ~ one of their Sharp Shooters fired at me ~ the ball just grazing my knapsack & going in the ground about 6 inches from my head ~ I tell you we had a lively time of it ~"

And surviving that, he wrote about that current day:

" day we are in a ravine out of danger ~ the firing & Shelling on both sides does not amount to any thing ~ in fact there has not been much done ~ anyway the 2 large armies lie here [.] The Enemy is in a very strong almost impregnable position[.] When we try to go to sleep nights we expect by daylight to be called into battle but as yet there has been not much but skirmishing ~ how long this will continue I don't know but to day we are having a good time [.] I have no time to write further and it may be several days before I write again but I shall write as soon as possible ~ maybe in a day or 2 if I live[.]"

If I live?  

"George lies not more than 3/4 of a mile from here ~ we have sent word back and forth several times ~ he is well & hearty ~ day before yesterday they had not been called out though they had crossed the river & Encamped ~ it is warm as summer here which is lucky for us for we cannot pitch tents & when in an exposed position not build & if it was cold we should freeze to death ~ Remember me to all our friends ~ kiss they Baby for me & one for yourself ~ now good bye [.] God will take care of me [.]

With much love

P R Woodcock"

And so ends his letters from 1862!  Still alive and well...

The rest of the week I will give a bit of back story and genealogy of the Woodcocks and the years since.  I've had some time this summer to visit and research near family.  I'll also be posting daily pictures of his letters and diaries from 1863.

Hope to see you then!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fredericksburgh, December 1862

"...remember me & if I should not live through these fights take good care of Baby..."

The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought from December 11 - 15th, 1862.  The 121st along with many others followed Burnside down to Fredericksburg. Philip wrote to Roby on December 11 and then again on the 15th. Here is his letter of the 11th in it's entirety:

"Thursday Dec 11/62

My Dearest Wife

I received your most welcome & kind Letter & Photograph 2 or 3 nights ago & was glad to hear from you & that you [are] well ~ I am writing to you under different circumstances than I expected to -- We were in nice warm quarters & had fixed up for the winter but had to leave them ~ we marched 16 miles one day & the next it commenced raining which soon turned to snow ~ in the midst of it we were ordered back 5 miles to Belle Plains Landing to do guard & fatigue duty such as unload boats &c ~ we arrived there about dark ~ the now was then about 2 in [inches] deep & mud about 4 in [inches] in deep & we were ordered to pitch tents in that (I tell you Roby it was rough) but we finally went in the woods a little & found a spot that was a little more comfortable & after a long time we succeeded in getting a good fire which we kept up untill morning ~ it took all day next day to get the Regt together ~ they were so badly scattered = the next day we had to change camp again & pitch in the snow & wet & Sunday we changed camp again & went into a pine woods & we were comfortable ~ yesterday we had to leave that & to day we are close upon Fredericksburgh which is being terribly bombarded ~ withing a few rods of me lies a heavy battery of ours that are playing into the Rebs pretty lively ~ their Camps batteries Earth Works are in plain sight & an immense force there is too -- We are not the reserve any more ~ we form the Left Grand Division ~ now I will tell you as near as I can of our position - we are below Fredericksburgh a mile or 2 which is burning ~ the Rebs are just across the River in immense force - our Army here is in great force [.] We got here one o'clock & may stay untill morning & may not ~ we have got to cross that pontoon bridge & whip out Jackson ~ whether we can or not 2 or 3 day will determine ~ we expect to be called into tomorrow perhaps to night [.] I wish you could hear the Cannonading that I have heard to day [.] I tell you it is terrific ~ the bombardment of Fredericksburgh is awfull I fell you ~ there has been no infantry fighting as yet ~ I guess but will be soon ~ I tell you Roby there will be terrible times here the next few days if the Rebs don't Run - It may be our good luck not to be engaged in this but we expect to if ~ if God sees fit to spare my life I will write you again & let you know hoe things go with us[.] We have a big force between us and the bridge - George of whom I have heard of several times lately is close by but I have not seen him just now[.] I must close ~ give my love to all my friends ~ if nothing happens I will write you again in a day or 2 [.] I am well except a bad cold ~ now remember me & if I should not live through these fights take good care of Baby but good bye [.] I am called out[.] God bless you & I hope to write you again[.]


P R Woodcock"

For me, his most chilling statement is the one that comes at the very end--"I am called out..."

Please join me tomorrow for his last letter of 1862 and to see if Philip survives the battle!

Hope to see you then!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Thanksgiving to Remember

"...I guess if we live till spring I will be home..."
Philip continued his letter of December 1st, 1862 written shortly after Thanksgiving had passed:

"...we are now drilling very hard from daylight untill dark ~ we are kept very busy ~ not a moments time to spare -- We are having a good many inspections to [too] now ~ we had a division inspection the other day ~ a regimental inspection yesterday & to day we have to go a mile or 2 to have a brigade inspection ~ we have to blacken & polish & clean & wash about all the while = so you see we have not much time to write[.]"

Getting ready for battle?

"I am now going to tell you how we spent Thanksgiving ~ we drilled harder & longer than any other day since we have been out ~ our Major was in Command & he was pretty drunk & felt like drilling & at 4 P.M. we were drawn up in a hollow square & informed that it was Thanksgiving & we should keep it and we had a short Service by the Chaplain & then had Dress parade [.] The boys growled considerable for they had been fixing the day before to have a nice time as possible under the circumstances & expecting no drill [.] I would liked to have been home & eat Dinner with you[.]"

Being away from home on the holidays must be such a tough thing on a soldier.

 "Sunday we had services at 2 o'clock ~ short but very good for our Chaplain but I must hurry up this letter or I will not get ready for inspection ~ we have not been paid off yet ~ they owe me about 60 dollars but I shant get 1/2 of it for we were not mustered for only the 1st November ~ we are suffering for the want of money here ~ the Doctors & officers forbid the men from stopping the use of Tobacco & they don't want to either as long as they stay in the Army & they have no money to buy it with & it is so very high too ~ there is but 4 of us in the Company but what have had from 2 to 15 or 20 dollars sent to them [.] I had a little by me untill 4 or 5 days ago then I got out [.] I don't see the reason of our not being paid off as we ought long ago but the whole Army is in the same fix but I must close [.] I will send my money home as soon as I get it ~ I do not think that we shall stay here long ~ we may move in a day or two but I hope not ~ we now are in the Left Grand Division of the Army [.] I suppose that we will do our fighting at Fredericksburg but I don't know ~ I hope so but I don't understand lying here so long ~ it is funny ~ I have to Study now my military Tactics & recite to the Captain every night [.] I don't don't (sic) get off till about 10 o'clock at night[.]"

I did a little research about how much a Union soldier was making at that time (or not getting as was evidenced in his letter.)  Here is what I found from Civil War Home:
"Union privates were paid $13 per month until after the final raise of 20 June '64, when they got $16. In the infantry and artillery, officer was as follows at the start of the war: colonels, $212; lieutenant colonels, $181; majors, $169; captains, $115.50; first lieutenants, $105.50; and second lieutenants, $105.50. Other line and staff officers drew an average of about $15 per month more. Pay for one, two, and three star generals was $315, $457, and $758, respectively."

He finished his letter with talk of home and the weather and his unending love for Roby and baby:
"...The Springfield folks must be in the marrying Order considerable there now [.] It look very much like rain & I am afraid that it will be a long storm & a heavy one ~ now write me soon & kiss the baby for me & tell him not to strike his mother [.] O how I would like to see him & you too but I guess if we live till spring I will be home ~ I hope so at least ~ now remember me to all so good bye [.]

Yours with Love
P R Woodcock"

Being that I'm a little behind in my posts, I will continue tomorrow with his last two letters of 1862 -- December 11th and then one on the 20th!

Hope to see you then!


Thursday, July 17, 2014

The March to "Fredericksburgh"...

"....we are below Fredericksburgh...which is burning..."

Over the next few weeks, Philip wrote five letters prior to being sent into battle.  Sometimes they were grouped together into one envelope and sent to save stamps.  Because he had not yet been called up for fighting and was still considered "reserve", he was setting up winter camp, but things soon changed...

                                    "Camp in the Mountains
                                             Nov 13th 1862

My Dear Wife

I received yours & fathers Letters last night & was glad to hear that you was well & enjoying yourselfs [.] I expected more than one letter but was very thankful to get that [.] I also received 2 Papers for which I thank you for I tell you a newspaper is a choice thing[.] we read advertisements & all..."

His letter went on, sounding somewhat bored about drilling again without knowledge of what for.  The Union army had filled the land with camps and fires were seen throughout the trees at night.  After describing that night's dinner: "Pancakes made of Pulverized Pounded up Crackers soaked up & made into makes a good substitute for Wheat Batter", he wrote about singing...

"The colonel has been getting up a nice Glee Club consisting of 2 of the best Singers from each Company [.] The Captain honored me by choosing me as one & for a Leader besides but I did not hardly feel capable so I told him I would sing but not Lead [.] We like our Colonel very much ~ he is a fine man very strict but sound & he takes care of his men[.]"

At this point in his letter he writes that "We don't have but few sick at present", and that "we have Burnside for a Commander now ~ it causes some dissatisfaction considerable excitement in Camps but we want some thing done by somebody ~ we don't care who but I am afraid they will make us lay around in Camps untill the nice weather is gone & then keep us another Summer but I hope not ~"

Enclosed within that letter, he wrote to his father on the 14th.  It was decidedly more formal.  He described his dinner, his position in line, N.Y. State politics and told his father "I try to set a good example & live a Christian Life & I hope God will bless me ~ I think coming in the Army has been a benefit to me that I feel more of the Love of God in my heart than I formerly did ~" and he signed that letter "Yours Truly P R Woodcock"

There is a brief letter from November 20th telling Roby that they are still in camp due to bad roads ahead: "The Rebels have Gullied & dug the roads all to pieces ~ the troops have been repairing but they only went one mile yesterday..." and that he had "two attacks of the fever & Ague ~ one last Saturday & one last night but I am feeling first rate now ~ only sore & weak ~ those attacks only last me about 10 hours but I tell you a man cannot suffer much more from fever than I did last night ~"

After going on about his hopes for the end of the war by April 1st, it starts to rain and he goes on to tell her he needs to write "Cuppernall" and he closes in his fashion: "write soon & remember me ~ kiss the Baby for me ~ send some more Waverlys [.] Yours affectionately P R Woodcock"

There is a letter from his brother George enclosed in there written on the 24th which I'm going to skip for now (I plan to have an entire entry devoted to George's letters in the future) and Philip writes Roby on December 1st:

"Camp near Stafford Court House Va
Dec 1st 1862

My Dearest Wife

It seems a long time since I have written to you but I have [been] so busy that I have not had the time to write before ~ we have not had mail here untill yesterday in 2 weeks [.] I got 2 letters from you & one from George also a paper the next day ~ after I wrote you before we had to go 3 miles on Picket duty not the enemy but to pick up & arrest Army Stragglers ~ I was posted with 5 men in an old deserted house ~ we had it very comfortable too I tell you ~ 2 fire places in & we made beds on old boards & Doors [.] I got 2 or 3 meals at a house near by us ~ Spare Ribs & fried pork & Griddle cakes made about 1/2 an inch thick 10 inches in Diameter & made of wheat flour stirred in water with a very little Salt without any Soda or anything to raise it & eaten with Gravy on them ~ the Inhabitants here don't hardly know what bread is [.] I traded my Coffee off & a loaf for my board there & the woman gave me 30 Apples for a Shoe brush while we were there ~ we were only about 1/2 mile from Hookers Corps ~ the 76th was there I suppose but I dare not leave my post without running a heavy risk ~ I sent one of my men over there to tell George to come over but he said he run all over but could not find them though he see the rest of the division ~ you cannot imagine how muddy the roads were then but we have a few days of fine weather now & they have dried up considerable ~we moved our Camp out of the Swamp on a hill in a splendid place for wood & water ~ it has been pretty cool for some time so we huddle around the fire pretty close & have fires in front of our tents nights in order to keep warm...."

I will stop there for today.  Come back tomorrow for the continuation of the letter of the 1st and Philip's Thanksgiving of that year and the build-up to the Battle!

Hope to see you then!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

November 5, 1862, Snickers Gap, VA

"I tell you a Calf, Hog, Chicken or Sheep...stands a poor sight in this country.."

Philip's letter home from Snickers Gap described the act of "foraging" or "plundering" that took place on both sides of the battle.  Although frowned upon, it was a somewhat common occurrence that he observed.  A dictionary definition of this from Civil War Trust is:  

Bummer:  A term used to describe marauding or foraging soldiers.  Although armies on both sides often had rules against foraging or stealing from private residences, some soldiers often found ways to do so. 

Philip's letter of the 5th:

"Camp near Snickers Gap Va
Nov 5 1862

My Dear Wife

Thinking you would like to hear from me again I now write to you once more ~ we are now at Snickers Gap where they had a terrible fight Saturday & Sunday but our forces are holding it now [.] We have not had very hard marches ~ about 6 to 10 miles a day ~ the weather is fine at present ~ if we are fortunate enough to get such weather as this 2 or 3 weeks we will knock this Southern Confederacy into a cocked Hat [.] "

Not sure what that term means!  He continues:

"We have not come up to the fighting yet ~ the Rebels Skedaddle so fast but they are fixing for a deadly battle ~ we reached here about 4 o'clock last night & encamped [.] We expected to march again early this morning but we have not started yet & it does not look much like it yet ~ in fact I don't think that we can get much farther ~ there are so many troops ahead of us it is completely backed up ~ there is considerable firing going on about 10 miles ahead of us [.] Burnside is engaged I believe [.] The 76th is only a little ways ahead of us ~ they left here about 2 hours before we encamped [.] I got a letter from Burney last night ~ they were all well ~ It is a nice section of country through which we are passing but our Brigade does strip things ~ we appropriate every thing to our own use we find [.] I have not been out much yet foraging but our boys are scouring the country all the while & they supply me [.] I tell [you] a Calf Hog chicken or Sheep or in fact anything eatable stands a poor sight in this country & it is not much use for the officers to say much against it ~ Most of the people are Secesh [meaning part of the seceded states]  through here & we don't have much sympathy for a Rebel if he does lose 20 or 30 sheep in one night --- I went into a house night before last & asked for some but I got the usual answer that they had not got anything ~ finally upon my coaxing pretty hard the old woman said I could have some warm biscuit which were baking [.] I waited 15 minutes had the fun of sitting in a chair & by a stove ~ the first time since leaving home[.] I got 18 biscuit for a pound of coffee but they were very small but good [.]" OK, so he traded some coffee for them...

"One of the boys in our Company wounded himself accidentally last night with a revolver ~ the ball passing through the foot ~ it was Peabody Cook ~ son of Nelson Cook the Deaf & Dumb man near Hollow but we have got orders to pack up & be ready to start & I must close this letter & get ready ~ the boys are all well as far as I know ~ there is but Parsons & Cuppernall here at present with me ~ now write me as quick as you get this & write good long letters ~ have the rest of them all write ~ my health is tip top but I must close so good bye for this time [.] I will write again to keep you posted on fighting affairs ~ take good care of the baby & yourself & remember me [.]

                                                                           Yours devotedly & faithfully
                                                                           P R Woodcock"

So, not a great time to be a farm animal or Southern Secessionist but an honest, first-hand account of what was going on at that time period.

Next week I move into the build up to the Battle of Fredricksburg, VA!

Hope to see you then!


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Roast Pork and a Song

"I tell you ~ you little know how much joy it gives me to get letters from you...."

The mail finally arrived with a letter from Roby to Philip on November 2nd, 1862. After cautioning her not to send "that box" with extra winter stuff in it because he is on the move again, he writes:

"It does not seem to me much like Sunday to day [.] Sunday in the Army is not much of a peaceful Holy Sabbath day ~ it is generally the busiest kind of a week day ~ marching & fighting is generally done on that day ~ The 76th is on about 2 days ahead of me unless they have marched very fast ~ we Encamped last night near where they did 2 days ago ~ we shall soon catch up with them [.] I saw Seth Payne yesterday & he is connected with the 8 Illinois Cavalry ~ he saw Father Pierce [that is Philip's father-in-law] he said & also you before he came down here a month ago ~ we had 2 or 3 men desert last night from Co I Bill is awful sick of Soldiering ~ he wants to go into the Cavalry very bad now..."

He writes a bit about some financial issues at home:

"Rosa had not ought to have charged that to me for I paid her...."  
"....settle it some way with her but I know I paid her for the jockey in cash..."

And then continues with: "The fighting must be very hard a few miles ahead of us ~ they are carrying the wounded back behind us & there is any quantity of Contrabands are skedaddling back when near a battle field ~ we hear all kinds of rumors that we cannot depend upon ~ Gens McClellan & Burnside passed here on their way there a short time ago ~ O what cheering there was & running ~ I could not get within 1/8 of a mile of him hardly"

And then--dinner is served, Civil War style:

"I had a nice lot of fresh Pork for Dinner to day ~ you see we are in a Seceded State now & we can confiscate anything we want ~ some one shot a large Hog & then cut its Throat ~ I saw it & soon cut me out a chunk & skinned it & fried it ~ it was tiptop & how the boys all begged for some of it"

His letter then goes on a bit about mutual friends or family:

"Parsons stands the march very well..."
"Phil Jim & Harrison Vanhorne are all behind in the Hospital.."
"Phil wouldn't hesitate long if he could get his discharge either...."
"George will be tickled enough when he gets the babys Likeness..."
"I am agoing to write to Uncle Asa & Roselle in a few days if I live..."

The final part of his letter made me smile:

"I wish you could send me some music of some kind ~ some of my Sabbath school papers also notes or cut out the music from Abys Sunday School Paper that is pretty or if you pick up a piece of Sheet music with the words to it ~ send it & you will see how the Company will rush around me & want to sing ~ any old leaf out of a Singing book would be more though [of] here than 5 dollars but I think I have written enough [.] I shall write again every day & keep you posted ~ if its my Luck to get into battle God will take care of me & protect me ~ give my Love to all[.] Kiss the Baby for me & one for yourself too & remember me[.] This from your affectionate husband ~ now write soon & send me some papers & lots of Letters[.] Yours with Love

                                              P R Woodcock"

There you have it--roast pork and a song!

Tomorrow he camps near Snickers Gap, VA.

Hope to see you then!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bluff & Bluster in Virginia

"We are now at last upon Virginia Sacred Soil...."

As I sat here and read over Philip's letters of the next 10 days or so, I observed a lot of self-courage building and pride in the Union forces.  They were on the march south towards Virginia and essentially arriving in enemy territory.  

In this series of letters from Oct. 27th - Nov. 5th Philip describes the vast size of the army and gives a description of the Southern troops and farmers from his own Northern point of view. He finished up his letter of the 27th with telling Roby that:

 "we had a very cold rainy windy night & this morning we can't keep warm no way..."

He went on to tell her that several regiments went past them and "the whole of  Hookers Command "  Also that George's regiment, the 76th went by at 2:00 P.M. but he did not get a chance to see him and feels that is the last time he will see his brother.  Not having orders to march yet, but being held at the ready, he hears rumors of "fighting very hard at or near Harpers Ferry ~ there is where all our troops cross into Virginia [.] We heard some heavy firing towards Winchester yesterday [.] I am glad they are making a move & trying to do something & close this thing up..."

After stating that he is so cold his "fingers are so stiff I can't write so you will excuse bad writing ~" And imploring Roby to "write to me immediately", he signs off with his now familiar salutation: "give my love to all & kiss the Baby for me & tell him to be a good boy & mind his mother ~ when you get home send me all the Papers & write every day ~ give my love to all & save a good share for yourself ~ now Remember me &c

                                Yours affectionately
                                P R Woodcock"

On November 1, 1862, Philip wrote a hasty few lines from his camp in the field near Knoxville, MD and told Roby of starting the "grand push through Virginia".  He marched 14 miles by 1pm and then stayed the night with the hope of ending the war soon:  "We are pretty tired ~ our loads are very heavy but we expect to close this war now & our courage raises as every move to that effect is made..."

The next day, November 2nd is a Sunday and from his camp he describes the scene vividly:

                                       "November 2nd Sunday
                                         Camp in Virginia 4 o'clock

We are now at last upon Virginia ~ Sacred Soil in the seceded states, we started 6 o'clock this morning & went to Berlin & then crossed the river on a pontoon Bridge where a good many thousand of Uncle Sams troops passed within a week ..We are now in the Shenandoah Valley about 4 miles from the Potomac ~ we shall stay all night [.] We can hear very heavy firing a few miles ahead of us ~ they are shelling the rebels out I think & fixing for a terrible battle ~ everything indicates that this will be the battle of the war in 2 days at the least we shall catch up with our forces ~ we are the reserve Corps I think because we are on the tail End of the army [.] I wish you could see our whole Army ~ just the Army of the Potomac - I mean ~"

Now, as he describes this scene, imagine the vastness of it:

"now to give you an idea of the Extent of the forces that will be engaged in this battle ~ it would fill the plank road from Fall Plain to Cooperstown just as full as you could pack it with infantry & also the turnpike from Cherry Valley to Richfield Springs the same ~ now in addition to this about 6 miles of Light Artillery 4 miles heavy Artillery & 10 miles of Cavalry & you have it ~ now is not that something of an Army for the Enemy to cope with [?] I forgot the Baggage wagons & Ambulances that would fill the road 20 miles or more further ~" 

Wow!  Then he continues with his description of a Southern farm team & wagon: 

"I wish you could see (or father rather) a Maryland or Virginia farm team & wagon -- you would laugh heartily I'll bet ~ the horses & mules are driven by a [black or white] man sitting on the rear wheel horse & with one line & there is not a strap & piece of the Harness less than 5 inches wide ~ the wagons I can't describe but the box somewhat resembles a large Canal Team ~ 2 horses can't draw them hardly ~ guiding the Teams is done by a jerk of the line 2 or 3 jerks just whichever way they want to turn them ~ when they want to stop they say ya ya ya ~ it looks funny enough I tell you..." 

A true Northern boy he was. 

Join me tomorrow for more of this letter and what I'm going to term "Philip's Pig Roast"....

Hope to see you then!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Death by Disease

..."every man should be prepared for death here..."
Yesterday and last week, I focused on the anniversary of Gettysburg.  Today we go back to where we left off and continue Philip's journey of his early days in the army.  It is the fall of October 1862 and the nights are getting colder.  He has been mustered in for about three months now and his next battle (Fredericksburg, VA) is still two months ahead.  His letters seem to focus on the day-to-day and keeping healthy as you will see, numerous men are dying all around him:

                                    "Camp near Bakersville 121st Regt
                                         Sunday Oct 26th 1862

We came back into camp a little before dark last night & found every thing all right ~ it rained most all night & to day ~ it is a rainy cold unpleasant day to be out but we have nothing to do & we stick pretty close to our tents [.] I have been cooking beans this morning & we have got quite a lot of them ~ we save them & eat them cold & make soup of them & fast as we want them [.] I have been over to see Geo & Bruce this morning [.] They are in the same place and feeling good [.] I expect them over here every moment to visit me today [.] We are having a great many sick ~ more than ever ~ great strong men will be taken sick & in less than a week lay in their grave ~ every man should be prepared for death here ~ not so much by bullets but by disease ~ last night our Company lost one man who a week ago was a lively & strong as any of us & boasting of his good health ~ to day he lies dead in a far country without any of his friends at home knowing it ~ several have died out of the Regiment within a few days but we have lost but one out of our Company but we have several sick...."

During the war, 620,000 soldiers died--two thirds of them from disease, not wounds!  Due to poor hygiene, garbage, poorly placed latrines, overcrowding, exposure, bugs, lack of surgeons and impure water the men faced far worse things than battle in their own camps.  Philip continues:

" good thing ~ our captain knows something of medicine & he is very particular what the men eats [.] Phil van Horne & Harrison is sick ~ Jim has got about well ~ my health is first rate & I hope it will continue so [.] I would rather go tomorrow into battle & run my chances than to go in the hospital ~ one thing is bad ~ just as quick as a man gets sick here he gets homesick & its pretty sure to kill him ~"  A very astute observation!

Philip then writes his usual ordinary things:

"our mail came in last night..."
"most all the Company got letters but me..."
"expected some from Father..."
"I do not know but what you will be to Fathers or St. Johnsville by this time..."

And sounding somewhat homesick himself, he writes:

"I wish I was in old Springfield to day [,] I believe I should feel pretty comfortable..."

But that not being the case, he finishes this portion of the letter with:

"it is raining pretty hard now and is awful uncomfortable even in a tent ~ they are so small & cold ~ we have to wear our overcoats all the time night & day ~ I have not had my pants off in about 2 months ~ we sleep with all our clothes on ~ overcoats and all ~ my hip bones are so sore I can't hardly stir mornings but they are getting calloused over so they won't trouble me much longer [.] I tell you hard ground makes a hard bed [.] I am agoing to write a long letter to Father to day [.] I have nothing else to do but think & write & take care of myself [.] I don't know as I can think of any thing more so I will wait untill night and finish it [.] I can't send it untill tomorrow any way & I am bound to make it a long letter..."

So, off to bed for Philip!  The next time you lay your head down to rest on a comfortable pillow and bed, be thankful you are healthy and not laying down on the ground in the rain!

Tomorrow, I finish up this letter and he then moves onto Knoxville, MD.

Hope to see you then!