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

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!


No comments:

Post a Comment