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

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!

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