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, August 29, 2014

The Box

"...they fight better than we do..."

Philip wrote beloved Roby on February 9th, 1863 again.  He sent it postage due, as you see to the left.  His letter is filled with everything from food being cooked to desertion to promotions.  Read on to continue his journey with me:

"Camp near White Oak Church Feb 9th 1863

My Dear Wife
                             I received yours February and was indeed very glad to hear from you again & to hear that you & little Georgie was well ~ I got a letter from Martha this morning ~ she feels very bad about Bill ~ I hope she wont if he comes home have something to do with him ~ I should hate to have the name of deserter ~"

(Deserters were common, but frowned upon and punished if captured.)

"I wrote to Roselle this morning ~ The weather is nice and warm just like a pleasant May morning up north [,] the mud around our tents & in our streets is fast drying up We have built a nice fire place & chimney in our
tent & it goes good too[.] We drew for Rations[,] Potatoes Onions & Soft Bread so you see we are living bully ~ the Medical Director has issued orders that we shall have Potatoes 3 times Onions twice a week & all the Soft Bread they could get ~ they have got a nice Bakery most done for us I think that we shall get Bread 2 times a week Then that Butter that you sent me will come in play ~ bye (sic) the way I expect that Box to night[.] I hope the Land it will come for I am very anxious to get it ~ I was rather glad you forgot the Dried Apples for I have some & we draw them occasionally & I would rather the Box would be filled with something else a little better..." (He really, really wants this box of provisions!) " did not write me what you sent in it & how much it cost[.] I have just had a dinner of Indian Cake again ~ I have sent a lot of Coffee off for Meal & Milk whether I will get it or not I dont know but I hope so[.]" 

"There is not much news in the Camp now except it is rumored that our Corps is ordered to report to Fortress Monroe there to be shipped South but I dont believe it ~ 2 Army Corps the 9th & 11th are agoing I believe George is in the 11th though I am not sure[,] I hope not though without we go too ~ I have not heard
from him in 3 or 4 days so I cannot tell whether he goes or not ~ If we have to go I should like to come home first ~ I have made application for a furlough but it is doubtfull whether I can get one or not there are so many ahead of me it will only cost 12 dollars instead of 26 as I wrote before[,] I shall come if I can get one for I think if I wait for this war to close before I come I'll have to wait a spell dont you think so [?] does it look to you as if this thing would close in a few months [?] I hope something will turn up that will stop it it never in my opinion can be settled by fighting for they fight better than we do..."

Interesting "compliment" or observation really from a Union Soldier. Tomorrow, I'll complete this letter.  

Also, approximately 150 years ago on August 23rd, 1864 Philip was fighting in the Battle of Charlestown.  He wrote to Roby of the aftermath.  Here's a brief snippet:

"The Johnnys tried hard to drive us further but we remembered the Orders of the General and a division of Cavalry was sent us to protect our right & so we fought them all day long ~ we lost 2 men Killed & 6 wounded - one man wounded only in Co E and we were in an exposed position all day[.] The Lord took care of me as I once more escaped through all without a scratch[.]"

Hope to see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Stocking Up for Winter 1863

"...Now this must be sent just as quick as possible..."

As winter closed in on Philip and his company, the need for provisions grew fierce to survive.  The urgency with which he continues his letter and the exactness of the items to be sent conveys that:

"Enclosed you will find a slip of paper containing directions for a couple of Tin dishes that you will give to Bill Crafts & have them packed full of Stuff. The Big Pail will be good to pack the Butter~ Now one other thing [,] Mr. Cuppernall wants to share in this box so you will have to make it a little larger on that account.  
He wants his wife to send him 3 or 4 lbs Cheese 3 or 4 lbs Butter ~ some Sausages ~ some good Apples [word crossed out] 2 dark colored Handkerchiefs &c ~ Let her know it as quick as you get this letter ~ She ought to pay part of the Express charges ~ Now this must be sent just as quick as possible as there will be more certainty of my getting it ~ all right you can fill up all vacant places in it with Nut Cakes ~ I don't know but I am asking more than you can afford too ~ to send this box but you kept writing to me send for anything I wanted. What Mrs Cuppernall puts in you may mark seperate (sic) from mine ~ Parsons wants Orville Burnham to put him in a pair of Suspenders..."

His letter mentioned earlier about the lines being opened for packages to arrive safely down to the troops.  I imagine this was his urgency.  He continues:

"I have Company Capt Wm Wall 152nd NY.S.V walk into camp to see us & he is with me now he makes a good looking officer & I hope a good one ~ he is going back tomorrow but I must close as the mail will go out in a few minutes [.] Those things that are liable to mould & not keep pack so if they should spoil they wont spoil the whole Box but you will know[.] Now be sure & send it immediately[.] We are all well

Yours with Love
P.R. Woodcock

Mark the Box same as you would a letter & send it by Express ~ it you want to make any inquiries in regard as how to do that ask [either Pier or Pierce?]  he is used to Express business and maybe could get it through for you at 1/2 rates you  Father had better see him any way good bye

PR Woodcock"

And there you have it--January 1863 is done!  Thank you readers as I work on this manuscript.  It has certainly helped and keeps me on track.

Tomorrow ~ February Freeze!

Hope to see you then!

Monday, August 25, 2014


"...I want inside of it A good long string of Sausages..."

Philip was settling into winter camp at White Oak Church along with the rest of the Union army and he wrote to Roby on the 28th of January.  This was his last letter from that month.  He requested many provisions with which to winter with:

"Camp near White Oak Church
Jan 28th 1863
My Dear Wife

You no doubt will be surprised at getting another letter from me so quick but I am after that Box of Provisions in double quick time now ~ The thing has been arranged so that boxes will come right through safe ~ You can use your own judgement or Fathers in regard to the size of the box ~ if it is going to cost too much I would rather it should be a small one ~ but I will tell you what I want inside of it ~ A good long string of Sausages that will keep (that is 2 or 3 ft long) 2 or more well seasoned Mince Pies ~ a very few cookies ~ as many fried Cakes as you are a mind to ~ dont make them too short but make them so they will keep ~ a small chunk of Dried Beef if you have it ~ have Mrs Squire Hewes put in 3 or 4 lbs of Cheese if she will ---put in 1/2 lb Soda [,] some Black pepper some fine cut Tobbacco, Some of Mothers good Butter by all means. Some preserves of all kinds sealed up in small tin cans [.] Bill Crafts will fix them for you ~ Some good jellies packed so that they wont spill or get smashed up ~ A good variety of Dried fruit done up separate in Cloth Bags. 3 or 4 drawings of Green Tea. A very few dried Apples not but a few either --1 Small Towel - one of my old Neck Ties 1 Pocket Handkerchief (a Colored one) a good stiff heavy Table Spoon. 1 Table Fork 2 or 3 good clay pipes if you can pack them so they wont break.  That is all I can think of ~ now if there is any thing that a man needs here you probably will think of it..."

That is quite a list!  Come back tomorrow for the remainder of the letter and copies of the letter and the envelope...sent 3 cents postage due!

Hope to see you then!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Names & Life & Such

I've been away from my posts for a week or so, but haven't abandoned the project!  I'm only scratching the surface of it.  My personal life has taken me away from a computer of late (ie: vacation, daughter moving into college, work etc.) and yet, when I reflect on that--I realize that my great-great grandfather Philip was doing the exact same thing--working, worrying about home and his wife and child and simply "taking care" of his life--all during his war experience.

Today, I thought I'd post some of his Muster Roll Diary from 1863.  There are lists of names and lists of shoes and supplies distributed.  Lists and lists and lists...not too far from my own life 151 years later...

This one is a little tough to view as it has aged the most.  It's basically the leather cover (still intact) and his first page.

 You can see this one clearly says: "Company Roll Book, Co E 121 Regt NYS, Sergt P. R. Woodcock":

And then comes the names...Reynolds, Simmons, Stevens (wounded), three Smith's in a row, Sieger, Turp (?), VanNost (cook), VanHorne (Antietam Hospital), Wright, three Wood's (one the drummer), Woodcock (brother George actually), Walrath (in hospital) and Bently (also in hospital).

That is only the right side of the page.  The left side are those who are sick, wounded or missing....

And the lists go on:  People killed, money paid, wounded...these are only a few pages of the 23 that I've scanned from this diary.  More to come!

Hope your life & such is moving along also...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Feeling A Little Homesick

"I wish I was there this morning..."

Philip continued a letter that he started on the 27th of January the next day.

 He was decidedly feeling a bit homesick from the tone of the letter:

"Jan 28th 1863

We are having a very uncomfortable time [,] it snows like fury [,] it turned a little colder last night & the rain has turned to snow but it melts about as fast as it comes but I tell you it makes a fellow think of a dry house & a comfortable stove [,] I think when we get home we will appreciate all such blessing ~ at least I think I will ~ I wish I was there this morning ~ I'll bet I never come to war again[.]"

Cold and snowy, far from home, in a tent.

"I received 2 papers from you I guess they were 2 or 3 days ago[.]  I ought to get a letter this morning [.] I tell you I am glad we have all got back to our old camps how we would have suffered if we had crossed the river [.]" (Burnside's failed "Mud March") "Enclosed you will find a little Whisker Comb that I
got in my Portfolio at Camp Schuyler at Mohawk which I have no use for here [,] you can let father use it but you must save it for me should I ever be home as I think a great deal of it."

His letter then turns a little to the business of war: "One of our deserters that used to work to Lyman Olnses (spelling might be incorrect) with George came back last night ~ he could not get across the Potomac though most of the rest of them did ~ he ran away from the 76th once ~ I suppose it will fall to my job to punish him ~ the other day I had my hands full of such business ~ I had to tie one man up to a tree in a painfull manner for disobeying orders & had to arrest & confirm 2 fellons (sic) for fighting &c..."

Interestingly, before starting today, I looked in his "work" diary for his Jan. 28th entry and it reads: "John B. Smith Co E 121st Regt NYS sent as private honor guard from Camp near White Plains & we marched off without his being notified probably taken by Mosby's Cavalry"

After telling Roby he must close his letter to write one for "Parson & Cuppernall" he finishes it with talk of food and a great longing for the things of home:

"I wish it would stop storming ~
I cooked some beans yesterday but my appetite is not very good, one thing is very singular here ~ a fellows appetite is peculiar ~ sometimes he cant get enough to eat & then again he cant eat army Provisions ~ now I have a nice Sirloin Steak laid away that you would all jump at & which I would like to trade with you for a slice of Bread or Buckwheat Cake. I tell you I am hankering for some thing good from home & when that Box comes I will get it..."

And finally his tender thoughts:

"in 3 or 4 days little Georgie will be a year old ~ how I would like to see him ~ he must be quite a large boy ~ I am afraid I shall forget how he looks & he wont know me ~ you must not let him forget his father [.] Now write to me immediately & let me know how you get along & take good care of your health &c tell all the folks to write, give my love to all ~ write when you send the Box & if you anything more than I wrote for & how much it weighed ~ write soon & have Sarah write & dont wait for me to answer every letter ~ dont be so particular ~ Kiss the Baby for me & take good care of yourselves but good bye write soon

Yours affectionately 
P R Woodcock"


And 150 years ago on August 13, 1864, he " Got breakfast & waited orders ~ packed up & started at 8 oclock ~ waded a branch of the River ~ moved out on Stauton Pike ~ found the Rebs at Strasburg in good position ~ went into woods ~ laid there all day ~ every thing with us quiet..."

Come back tomorrow for Philip's last letter of January 1863!

Hope to see you then!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Winter at White Oak Church

"...But we will all of us remember the 26th day of January a good while I think..."

Philip returned with his men to the Union's winter camp at White Oak Church (please see my previous post for a link to that).  Cold and exhausted, he finally sat to write and tell Roby of the previous days march:

"Camp near White Oak church Jan 27

My Dear Wife

Some day has elapsed since I commenced this letter but there has been no chance of sending it until day before yesterday & then I was so tired & worn out I could hardly stir so I let it go ~ At last we have got back in our old quarters & got settled & I hope to stay until discharge[.] We arrived here after dark night before last & more tired worn out set of fellows you never saw[.] It is impossible for you to imagine how completely used up we were ~ Our Division had to stay back & bring up the Rear guard the Pontoons Artillery &c until they could of got a safe distance from the Rebs [.] Well then our brigade was ordered on Picket & to guard the Wagons the night of the 23rd[.] We had to go up the River 2 miles & lay out in the open air all night in the morning we had to haul the Pontoons back from the River which was a job it took 50 men to draw one Pontoon[.] We had Whiskey Rations dealt to us[.] the Mud was about 18 inches there that day we only got about 3 miles but the next day we started for Camp about 8 or 9 miles at 2 oclock the mud in the meanwhile getting to be in some places 2 to 4 ½ ft deep & in all the hard marching I ever done nothing ever equalled that & there was but a very few of us that weathered it through ~ but I got a little spunky & made up my mind if one man in Co E. reached Camp I would be with him & I did[,] 5 of us came in together[.] We were so tired we could not pitch tents but was glad to throw our Knapsacks & pull a blanket over us & lie quiet[.] But we will all of us remember the 26th day of January a good while I think[.] 

Philip had wishful thinking when he wrote that he "hoped to stay till discharge" because little did he know at that time, he still had two long years ahead of him in the war...and then, a little toast to the men:

"But such an Army you never see Our Brigade was strung back for miles & those that fell out & stayed back out numbered those that marched in[.] Gen Bartlett ~ made us all drink a ration of Whiskey as we came in & I sincerely think that if Liquor done a man good it did us that night ~ "

And Philip fixed up his camp:

"The next day was occupied in Pitching our tents &c ~ I did not find many of my things gone that I left except my Cupboard & Cracker Boxes the Inhabitants had carried them away to day however I have been fixing up & have got things in nice shape we have a good tent & fell like living again. I hope & think we stay here now some time & am now waiting patiently for that Box that you are agoing to send[.] I should be sure to get it now all safe & sound ~ Our old Commander Gen Slocum came from Harpers ferry last night to see us we were called out in review with the whole Brigade ~"

He continues with a brief sentence about some visitors:

"Dan Allen was here to see me last night he did not return until this morning he feels pretty good ~ A Great many of the 76th has deserted some of whom got caught Dan saw George Sunday they are in their old Camp again[.]

And his letter stops there until the next day, January 28th which I'll include in tomorrow's post.  Seeing I haven't been faithful to my promise of including a small bit about "150 Years Ago today....", I add one entry from his diary today:

On this date, 150 Years Ago today August 11, 1864:

"Arose 5 oclock & marched off without Breakfast pretty rough[.]  Halted about 8 oclock & got coffee then moved on to Pepper Creek 6 miles from Winchester & halted on bank ~ threw out Skirmishers ~ remained 3 hours then came back & moved to the Left up the Valley ~ Halted 6 oclock ~ went into camp in good place ~ had some mutton for Supper[.]"

Come back tomorrow to see the rest of the letter!

Hope to see you then!

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Break for Research

Philip wintered near White Oak Church from January 28th, 1863 until the end of April that same year.  Due to the amount of research, reading and typing of his letters, I am taking a small break from posting this week each day.  Please use the time to catch up with me and read my previous posts!

If you'd like to do a little research yourself, I'd suggest getting a copy of History of the 121st New York State Infantry from the Army of the Potomac Series.

Thanks for reading along with me!

See you next week!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Still Raining, Still Muddy 1863

" I thought yesterday I knew something near what mud was but I did not untill last night"

Philip's regiment was still stuck in position on the 23rd of January and he wrote of their predicament.  (Note when reading this--he uses parenthesis instead of quotation marks for his quote):

"Friday 23rd 1863

We have orders yesterday to go & help move a battery back from the River Bank & had to strike tents & leave but had not gone far when the order was countermanded & we came back into Camp & had small Whiskey Rations dealt out to us ~ but O what a time I had last night about 10 oclock getting our regular Rations to us [,] the wagons could not get within 2 miles of us & I had to detail 10 men to go with me after them ~ I thought yesterday I knew something near what mud was but I did not untill last night[.]
In some places in the Road it was over 2 ft deep & on one of the Supply wagons was hitched 8 pair of mules & they could not stir the Empty wagon.  I wish some of the Northerners who continually cry (On to Richmond & carry on a Winters Campaign~) was here & see us why for miles back of us the Road is chuck full of Artillery wagons, Pontoon Wagons & Bridges Baggage Trains & Supply trains all stuck so tight it dont seem if they ever could get out ~ one thing makes us feel easier we have our Haversacks full again[.] they issued to me 2 days Rations but our Company is so small now I made 3 days of it we was scared last night about eating[,] most of our boys had not got a mouthfull to eat & no prospect of any[.] They will have to move us out of this for they cant possibly supply us here but I have said enough about mud"....

So Burnside was unable to get the Army through and therefore, he was relieved of his command after this incident. (Please see yesterday's post for a link to the historical research.)

"Our Company has suffered a good deal from desertions &c The morning we started Bob Grisman (or Crisman?) & Isaac Whipple & 2 others left us with some others out the Regiment[.] On the March both days 5 or 6 deserted & (illegible) fell out & played up sick & Lame & some fell out from necessity when we got here we only stacked 25 Guns & now we have only about 30 men who carry Guns which makes us a pretty small company ~ The rest of the Companys have lost some in the same way[.] Since writing the above I guess we hear orders to go back to our old camp for a lot of men has been detailed to go back & guard it untill we reach it so we shall have good times & stay a spell again[.] Those men have gone I dont know when we shall start but probably tomorrow[.] I hope so mud or no mud[.]"

And he finishes the letter with:

"So Burnsides plans are spoiled for the present[.]  It does not rain now nor did not last night but it has not cleared up yet ~ but I must close[,] my health continues good yet write me as soon as you get this ~ I hope this will be settled soon & I will get home all safe & sound there is no prospect of pay yet but maybe it will come if we be still[,] I hope so for we all need it they supply us with tobbacco but good bye[,] Send me some paper to write on[.]

Yours &c
P R Woodcock"

I've been trying to figure out what the "&c"  means in his letters and I think it must mean "etc."  (Definition: And so forth).  It makes the most sense.  I cannot find anything about it online, so if you know, send me a message! This letter also contained two small pages written on extra diary paper and dated Wednesday, Jan. 24th:

"Before sealing this I will put in that we are all well to day tho night last night was very tedious[.]  The winds blew & snow fell & Drifted  we had this morning 4 or 5 inches of snow but it has gone off a good deal to day it will freeze tonight though I guess we drawed potatoes & Onions today & I had Beefsteak & onions & Boiled potatoes & gravy which was nice I tell you[.] Nubern Armstrong got his box yesterday all safe & right[.] Durb Ely has not got his yet ~ I have occasionally a taste from some of the Boxes that came tonight ~ I am agoing to have
some Ham from one of our Boys & a little dried fruit from another which I trade sugar &c for[.] Cuppernall & I cut down a very large Hickory Tree to day & have got a very large wood pile before out tent ~ one tree lasts us 3 or 4 days only we have good fires[.] But good bye write soon[.]


P R Woodcock"

So there you have it~ Burnside's Mud March of 1863!

Please join me next week to continue Philip's journey!

Hope to see you then!