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

Friday, July 4, 2014

The 4th of July, 1863

"I don't think I shall ever forget this 4th of July"

The Battle of Gettysburg behind him, Philip wrote to Roby describing some of the action he saw.  In yesterday's post, he mentioned that his brother George was wounded and possibly taken prisoner.  I continue his letter of that day with how he spent his 4th of July 151 years ago, as we Americans, celebrate ours today:

"To day we celebrated the fourth by making a reconnaissance to find the Retreating Rebs & the position of their Batteries which to our own satisfaction we soon found & glad to leave as we found ~ it was supposed that during the night they had skidaddalled & so our Brigade was order out in front ~ we marched up in line of Battle as if we was agoing to whip the whole Southern Confederacy ~ but we soon found enough of them and found that we could not drive them an inch so we moved back in good order ~"

His description finished, he moves to the more emotional side of himself:

"It has rained hard this afternoon [.] I wish I could write you more particulars in regard to the fight but I am so busy & so confused that it is impossible[.] Tell mother that I will not leave a stone unturned that I will find George that she must trust in God ~ I feel almost certain that he is not dead [.] I have seen a great many of the Bodies & those who know him have seen them all & he is not there [.] I think he is a prisoner in the village of Gettysburgh ~ there was where they told me he was & if so I guess he is all right for our men took it yesterday ~ I don't think I shall ever forget this 4th of July..."

Imagine going through dead bodies, looking for signs of your sibling...

"Although but one man in our Regt has been hurt yet it has been in the midst of it all & a more fearfull series of Battles has never been fought than these ~"

And death, always there, follows him:

"....we took the Rebel Gen Longstreet prisoner & this morning he died [.] We also have got Gen A.P. Hill & had one of the Gens Lee but he got away again ~ the Rebel army is doomed here [.] I want to live to see it perish but I hope I shall [.] I have passed through a good many dangers & God has spared me & I hope I will be spared to see it through ~ I think the whole thing will get Bagged though they will fight awfully but I will not write any more at present ~ I will wait untill I hear from George..."

Later that day, still no news about his brother,
he writes Roby anyway:


Nothing definitely from George yet so I will continue it & maybe I will get a chance to send this ~ I have not had dry clothes on me in 2 weeks & no prospect of getting any for time to come ~ we sweat so much day times & it rains all night generally so you see there is no chance to keep clean [.] We have march 19 days of hard marching a good deal of night marching & we are pretty well played out [.] But if we can Bagg the Rebs I will march 40 days yet ~ the inhabitants are very kind to us as we have passed through into Pennsylvania ~ we found them good Loyal Union people & as we marched through the streets of some of the Larger Towns & saw for the first time in 6 or 8 months the Old Stripes & Stars hung out to welcome us it almost made us shed Tears ---They were all glad to see us ~ some laughed but the majority of them especially the women cried for joy & it was quite affecting [.] We have been away from Civilization so long that we did not know how to act when we had friends & where citizens did not turn their backs to us ~"

I'm sure being a Union soldier in the south for a year has been tough and the grand reception up north was a welcome thing.  And his letter continues:

"There is some splendid mansions here & it looks like home ~ I hope this will wind up the Rebellion & I think it will ~ I think Vicksburgh cannot hold out much longer & that will have an important bearing on that [.] I hear that the Rebs are skedadling again ~ if so we
shall have to put after them as the Rest of the Grand Army has gone to head them off [.] That great body of Militia that has been raised north & sent this way has not been seen here ~ they have done us no good [.] I guess they have stopped on the Road to keep the 4th somewhere ~ the Army of the Potomac must have all the Credit of whipping Lee's Army alone [.]"

And then, oddly enough--a most civilized exchange--

"While the fighting was agoing we took a Rebel Sergeant prisoner ~ I shook hands with him & traded pocket Books & fine Combs in the midst of the heavy firing [.] The fine Comb I send to you [.] I have engraved on it some ~ he was a Sergeant ~ belonged to the 24th Georgia ~ we always shake hands when we meet a live Reb...."

Maybe some lessons in decency to be learned from history? It's definitely worth noting.  

His letter continued on but not until July 7th did he finish it.  (I'll put the last part of it in next week's post on Monday)

On this 4th of July, celebrate your freedom and count your blessings!

Have a good weekend and join me next week to continue the journey--

Hope to see you then!

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