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, September 26, 2014


"...the ambulance carried me to Division Hospital ~ 
it was rough & dark ~
 suffered a good deal..."

My great-great grandfather was wounded on the 22nd of September, 1864 after two years in the war.  He survived, but was in the hospital for about 4 months. He wrote to Roby prior to his injury saying he was:

"...alive, safe, well and feeling good thank God & have the opportunity to write you again ~"

(I will detail this letter at a later date). On the 23rd, he wrote again, this time not so well and from the 1st Division 6th Corps Hospital near Strasburg, VA.
Here is that letter:

"1st Div 6th Corps Hospital
Near Strasburg
Sept 23 1864

My Dear Wife

I write this to quiet any apprehensions you may have in regard to my safety ~ We had another severe battle last night [.] I was wounded about 6 oclock with a piece of Shell in the right Breast or on the corner where the Ribs join about 1/2 an Inch from the Pit of my Stomach [.] It was a very severe contusion & has hurt me internally some & I think 2 Ribs fractured but I shall be all right in a few days again [.] I had a heavy plug of Tobbacco my Album & Diary in my pockets & they saved me a very serious wound if not my Life [.]  You better believe it knocked me some ~ I never was so doubled up in my Life ~ I felt at first as if a 20 pounder had gone through me ~ The piece of Shell was about 2 inches square & would weigh 1/2 a pound.  I have it now ~ it smashed a button & tore my coat & then stuck there ~ I was very lucky in being got off [.] There was a stretcher close by & they carried me off right away to an Ambulance [.] I then had a hard time of it [.] The road was rough & it was so dark and the Hospital was about 4 miles it almost Killed me was bruised so [.]  To day I am pretty sore but I can help myself a little [.] I just took a short walk [.] "

Pretty strong to be walking around the very next day with broken ribs, a punctured lung (which he didn't know until later, I've been told by family members about it) and numerous bruises.

"We are to be sent to Winchester as soon as the wagons get back which have gone out to the front to issue Rations [.] I dread that long Ride ~ it is 18 miles & we have to ride in the Government wagons as our Ambulances have gone on with the Army but the Road is good & may be we shall get along very well [.] If I get sent to Washington I shall get home but they have established a large Hospital at Winchester and I may not go any further than there ~ I shall write you again as soon as we get regulated [.]  Phil Van Horne & the other boys were very kind to me [.] Phil stuck to me till he saw me in the Ambulance ~ Our Forces were again victorious & drove the Enemy out of their best position [.] Gen Sheridan ought to have his pocket full of Stars [.] He is doing bully in this valley [.] Our Army I hear is still in pursuit [.] It was an awfull fight however but our Loss was very slight [.] We took 16 pieces Artillery & host of prisoners [.] We had started them before I was hit ~ We were in a dense woods and it was a rough position but the Rebs did not stand as well as I thought they would [.]  We have not much to Eat here ~ the Hospital moved on this morning & only left 2 men & Tents till the wagons got back but we will get good care in Winchester I guess ~ I saw a mans leg taken off a few moments ago [.] I am glad it was not mine [.] I think I wrote you a long letter for a wounded man but I feel pretty easy ~ I cannot lie down only on my back & then it hurts me agood deal [.] Dont worry any for me [.] I shall get all right in a few days [.] Trust in God[.] I did not think I would get hit so soon after writing you yesterday thus showing how little we know what awaits [.] Let us feel thankful that it is not worse ~ Do not write till I know where I shall be [.] Love me as ever ~ a Kiss for Baby [.] Love to all [.]

Yours with Love

Phil R Woodcock"

Tough, tough man.  Watches a leg being taken off, prepares for a long, rough ride to the larger hospital and tells his wife that "I shall get all right in a few days..."  I'm am always amazed at this strength from humans.

Please join me for my next post!

Monday, September 22, 2014

150 Years Ago Today...

"very tired..."

When I last wrote, Philip was finishing up his letter of August 25/26th, 1864.  He continued it with a brief paragraph written on the 26th: 

"I have not much time after all to write this morning as I have to Drill the men 1/2 an hour this morning ~ I expected a move before this as things looked like it[.] That Firing yesterday was at Antietam Creek & Shepardstown but maybe we have force enough up there now[.] I heard we were under orders[.] I wish you had sent that Shirt when it was finished[.] We have had regular mail ever since & if we move we may not get it in a week but I guess it will come all safe but I must close ~ write soon[.] Love me as ever Kiss our baby & one for you also[.] The Boys send Love[.] I dreamed I was home & had such a good time Last night[.] Yours with Love Yours &c Phil R Woodcock"

He wrote again on August 30th from Charlestown, VA (now West Virginia) and then on Sept. 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 16, 18 from Berryville, VA. On the 19th of September, 1864, the 121st was involved in the Battle of Third Winchester Philip wrote in his diary on the 19th that:

 "Our Brigade stood their ground and Saved the Army ~ at 2 oclock a Charge was made on the Right which Flanked them ~ we charged the Center 3 times driving them far beyond Winchester taking Prisoners Colors &c. The most glorious thing of this Campaign ~ great victory [.] Gen Russel Killed ~ Gen Upton wounded ~ our Loss in Regt slight ~ only 1 Killed & 18 wounded ~ very tired [.]"

As the 121st moved into position over the next three days, he continued to document the movements and his emotions:

The 20th: "Arose 4 oclock[.] Badly used up ~ got breakfast ~ marched at Day Light up the valley hard & fast marching ~ crossed Cedar Creek 2 oclock & halted in our old woods very tired awaiting orders but we laid quiet the rest of the day [.] The Johnnys in force & making a Stand in the Gap ~ After Supper I went down to Strasburg after water [.]

The 21st: " Arose 4 oclock & got breakfast [.] Some Skirmishing in front ~ was ordered to be ready to move ~ Had to swallow our breakfast whole but then laid around all forenoon ~ at 1 oclock moved out to the front 2 miles & formed our lines ~ run a Battery on the Skirmish Line [.] The Rebs have a very strong position ~ Nothing but Skirmishing done ~ Laid down for the night under Arms but at one oclock moved a mile or so up to the Right & formed & threw up works [.]"

And exactly 150 years ago today the unthinkable happened ~ he was wounded:

The 22nd: "Eat our breakfast by daylight ~ the first meal in some days [.] Capt Cronkite went on Div Staff ~ at 4 oclock advanced our Lines & soon after our Right became hotly Engaged then we pushed ahead & became Engaged ~ got Shelled severely [.] I was wounded by a fragment of a Shell in the wood ~ it struck me in Breast near the pit of the Stomach ~ severe pain ~ was carried off on stretcher ~ The boys stayed with me ~ the ambulance carried me to Division Hospital ~ it was very rough & dark ~ suffered a good deal [.] The Rebs drove all to pieces ~ great victory [.]"

I couldn't let this date get past me without the mention of his injury!  He did survive it and I will continue to post his letters from both after and previous to the injury.  He was in hospital for over 4 months and continued to heal and write to Roby and then went back into service for the Army until the Surrender at Appomattox.

Please continue to join me on Philip's journey!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bolivar Heights

"I dreamed I was home & had such a good time Last night..."

(I'm sorry readers, I've been away from my posts for a bit.  I will generally be posting about once a week for the next few months.)

My great-great grandfather's letter of the 25th was one of practicality and home issues.  He noted in his diary on the 24th that "A Reconnaissance made found the Enemy in force. A heavy Skirmish. Drew Rations. Everything quiet again ~ got a Letter from Roby..."  

On the 25th, after writing again in his diary that there was heavy firing at Antietam Creek, there were "smart showers" and after having corn for Supper he settled down to write Roby:

(Letterhead has Eagle emblem with "E Pluribus Unum", 1st Sergt. P.R. Woodcock, Co E, 121st Regt, N.Y.S. Vols.)

"Bolivar Heights
Aug 25 1864

My Dear Wife

I received your most welcome Letter yesterday & now hasten to answer it while I have opportunity [.] I was glad to know that my Shirt was on the way as I have worn this one 4 weeks although I have washed it up often enough ~ We have had a Bridgade Inspection today also a good Shower ~ We lie in Camp yet near Harpers Ferry [.] The Johnnys are still in our front but I guess they do not want to get whipped bad enough to try us on here ~ our position is too good ~ " Good is GOOD! "I shall soon perhaps tonight be very busy as I have 4 months Clothing accounts to write for 2 companies also our Pay & Muster Rolls have been sent us to Complete ~ we shall be mustered the 31st for 2 months Pay ~ I am not in Debt any yet nor I dont believe I shall this month & I send you a little more money I hope ~ I did not have to buy so much Tobbacco ~ I shall draw $44.00 - $20.00 for July & $24.00 for August..."

If you wish to research the pay scale of each side further, here is a great link: Military Pay 

He continued with: "I have to Dress up a little better than I did but I shall be as economical as I can. I want you to buy you a Cloak if you think best. Do not take your Hop money. I will send you enough [.] I hope we will get paid as soon as the Pay Rolls return ~ I did not send George any money. I saw by the Papers that the Paymasters were agoing to pay off Grants Troops & then there was a long time we did not see a paper nor hear from the Army [.] I supposed untill I got this Letter that he was paid ~ He complains a good deal of his grub but he is better off where he is as the 76th has been in action[.] "

News of the Rebels is next: "I saw in yesterdays Paper they had captured a Rebel Flag on the Welden R Road[.] They are at Reams Station where we destroyed the Road when we were there [.]"

His letter of this date is long and was somewhat rambling:

" is very poor..."
"...hard tack are old & got Bugs & worms..."
"...dry me a lot of Corn this fall to send me..."
"...I think our companies will be separated before long..."
"...Skirmishing was severe but the Johnnys was there & our boys had to come back..."

And upfront news about what's going on there:

"Today there has been heavy Cannonading in the direction of Williamsport for a Short time [.] I should not be surprised if it was the Rebs trying to cross the Potomac into Maryland [.] The weather is some cooler than it has been & the nights are more comfortable ~ Every thing belonging to our Corps that was left to City Point has been sent up except our Batteries & I guess they will soon be here so it is clear that we will not go back but are assigned to the Middle Department [.] There is considerable Skirmishing in front this afternoon ~ perhaps the Rebs will try to scare us a little..."

After a little more rambling on about various family and friends..."Millie Kasler wanted to know....sent her Love to you....Myron home on furlough...Darb Ely has been promoted to Sergeant...Henry Cadwell cut his hand pretty bad...with a Hatchet....but nothing serious...."

He then takes a break until August 26th to continue the letter which I will include in my next post.

Please stick with me readers -- 
Upcoming September battles 
and Philip is wounded!

Hope to see you then!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Shenandoah Valley 1864

"I think our Generals must have been asleep to let the Rebel Army come up & attack us with heavy force without receiving some intimation of it beforehand"

As I looked over my material for this morning's post, I was admittedly overwhelmed.  I'll be the first to mention that I am not an historian.  I am certainly an evolving student of it though...

Here's the issue ~ When going over my grandmother's handwritten notes of Philip's major battles, she has the date of August 21, 1864 marked as Charlestown, Va (Shenandoah Valley).  As I started the research on this, I noticed that there was no battle at Charlestown, VA.  That is because Charlestown is in West Virginia. Having further confused myself, I read Philip's letter and he does indeed mention being formerly in Charlestown.  As best as I can cobble together today's entry, it is a letter written after skirmishing in the Shenandoah Valley at the end of August.  His division of the Army at that time came under the Command of Gen. Philip H.Sheridan, newly dubbed "The Army of the Shenandoah". Please click on the link for a clearer timeline of events and the intricate strategy of this section of the war.

As for me, I continue with the human aspect of Philip and his journey.  His letter of August 23rd was hastily written after skirmishing and moving camp several times during the previous days. His diary entry of the 23rd also marked his anniversary of "2 years in U.S. Service".

The letterhead had an Eagle emblem with:

 "E Pluribus Unum", 
1st Sergt. P.R. Woodcock,
Co. E, 121st Regt. N.Y.S. Vols. 
Bolivar Heights
Aug 23rd //64

My Dear Roby

Having an opportunity to write this morning I will post you a little in regard to our movements since I wrote you last at Charlestown [.] Well Sunday morning we got up & eat our Breakfast ~ everything seemingly all quiet then I took a nap ~ at 9 oclock our Picket Line was attacked ~ our Long Roll was beater[.] The troops put under Arms [.] Our Regt was immediately put out on the Skirmish Line as they were trying to Flank us ~ After we were deployed we found them extending their Line & doing their best to get around us ~ Gen Upton sent us word that we must hold our ground at all hazards ~ 40 or 50 of us were sent out to a road & fence in advance of our main Line to observe their movements & prevent them from gaining a position ~ for a long while we held them back tough they had a severe cross fire on us then they got so close that after we gave them a volley that we were forced to pull back ~ we had orders where to Ralley which we done in good style. I had only a portion of Co "E" with me & every man done his duty - the rest were with the main Line - The Johnny's 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 [.] I had to hug the ground close all day & no chance to eat ~ we knew our Lines would fall back at night and so we waited untill almost daylight before we got orders to withdraw[.] The moon shone so bright I expected to hear the Reb yell & get some shots but fortunately they did not see us go back[.] We made tall time in getting back untill we passed our Cavalry[.] The Rebs followed us up at daylight & yesterday came up with their whole force - We took our old position that we had here 2 or 3 times before but only got our breakfast ate & tents pitched when we our Division had to Leave & move a couple miles to the Left. I suppose we are here to support the 8th Corps & 19th Corps who are in Line in front of us ~ "

Somehow, that all played out in my head like a movie.  Can you envision it?

"We had a hard Shower yesterday afternoon & got pretty wet ~ We tore down two large wheat Stacks to lie on[.] I wish you had all the wheat we have destroyed in 2 weeks ~ you never would have to buy flour[.] We are about 2 miles from Harpers Ferry[.] The Rebs have been largely reinforced[.] I think our Generals must have been asleep to let the Rebel Army come up & attack us with heavy force without receiving some intimation of it beforehand[.] We can hold our own here at any cost[.] I dont know whether they will attack or not[.] I think not. I presume they will cross the Potomac & make us go back into Maryland ~ Gen Sheridan & Gen Wright are now passing our brigade[.] "

Doubtful he actually saw him, but never-the-less...he finishes the letter:

"We got breakfast & packed up for a move 1/2 past 3 this morning but we are here still but wont probably remain long[.] In a year from today I hope to be home[.] We have were mustered into service 2 years ago today[.] The mail is now agoing out & I must close[.] I got a Letter from Pamillia Kasler this morning ~ write soon[.] Send my Shirt[.] Love to all[.] A Kiss for you & baby

Yours with much Love
Ord Sergt P.R. Woodcock
Co "E" 121st NY Vol"

(In case she's forgotten who he is perhaps?)

Please join me tomorrow for a letter from this continued position written in August 1864 ~ 150 years ago!

Hope to see you then!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Focus on the Battles

Yesterday, Labor Day here in America,
I had the opportunity to get out with part of my family and enjoy the local gardens of Lasdon Park, Arboretum and Veterans Memorial.  It was a wonderful treat and although quite hot here, the gardens and shade trees were sublime.  We wandered down through a haunting trail with the busts of soldiers from every American War, plus two larger installations for the Korean & Vietnam vets.  I snapped a pic of the Civil War

bust.  As I continue on my manuscript, I am aware that some of these posts are long and I imagine somewhat tedious to read, but it helps me put myself in some sort of organized form.

That being said, I'm going to turn away from the actual posting of his day-to-day letters (for a time) and focus on some of the major battles that he fought in, primarily the dates of August 21, 1864 - September 22, 1864.  
A one month span that roughly matches our calendar now, 150 years ago!  I will start tomorrow with his involvement and letters/diaries from The Battle of Charlestown, August 21, 1864.  

I hope you will continue to join me on Philip's journey and his great narration of his life in the Union Army.  

Hope to see you tomorrow!