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

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!

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