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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Surprise of February 19, 1863

I want to finish up this last letter written in the month of February and then move next week to the Thanksgiving of 1863 and Philip's letter from that time period.  (He was in battle during the Thanksgiving holiday).  

This current letter details a surprise for Roby:

"Feb 19th

I thought when I commenced this Letter I was agoing to scribble off a few hasty lines & then put particulars in Aby s Letter but I had business to see to &c and I might as well finish this now by filling this sheet ~ The nature of the business I refer to may take you by surprise & I had calculated to keep it to myself untill I knew the results but I suppose its my duty here as well as at home to confide to you ~
in short I have been examined for a Lieutenancy by our Major ~ a Chance was given to anyone in the regiment to hand in their names for examination I thought I would try my luck I dont know as it will do me any good or hurt as there are over 50 of them & I dont see how over 8 or 10 can get the commissions as there are not vacancies enough [,] still I think I stand as good chance as any of them as I only missed one or 2 questions but in my next year will probably know whether I am to wear shoulder straps or not..."

What a great surprise!  I won't let on the answer to that either...and now the weather report:

"We are having rough & bad weather this week day before yesterday the snow fell 6 or 7 inches[,]  yesterday it rained hard all day & it is raining yet[,] the mud must be about 2 ft deep again[.]  It is not cold[,]  the snow is about all gone[.]" 

And Philip, always a strong Northern Baptist complains a bit: 

"I enclose some extracts of a Southern Baptist Journal that I got when On picket of a Secesh family[,]  while they appear very devoted to the cause of Christ[,]  yet see the bitter hate that they regard the Northern Baptists with.  Their doctrine is on one of them & it may interest father some[.]  I shall send home money as soon as I can get a chance[.]  I dare not risk it by mail just yet[.]  I also send you a Valentine by this mail..."  Awwww.  

The letter finishes with:

" it was given to me this morning[,] I got a paper this morning with a lot of writing paper & Envelopes enclosed in it[.] who sent it[?]
I think it was Orville Burnhams writing on [it.] Write soon Love to all Yours PR Woodcock"

Like many of his others, there is a postscript written in down the side of one of the pages:

"Tell Aby that his letter will be off in a day or two[.]  You may expect my Likeness every day"

There you have it~ a February day in 1863 during the Civil War.

Please join me next week for a jump to Thanksgiving of 1863!

Hope to see you then!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What's in a "Likeness"?

My great-great grandfather's last letter written in February of 1863 was four pages long and detailed how he was going to have his "likeness" taken in his uniform.  I'm assuming that is the picture you see positioned on the front page of my Blog.  (I've purposely left in spelling errors that were in this letter.)

Here is that letter:

"Camp near White Oak Church
Feb 16th 1863

My Dear Wife

     I received yours of the 8th the other morning + was glad to hear that you was well &c I have a letter most finished that I have been writing to Aby but it is a sort of a history & discription (sic) of things around here that I thought would interest him but it takes several days to write it & I thought I would send this off first ~ but his will be forthcoming in a day or two & the length of it will more than make up for the delay[.]

I am agoing to have my likeness taken day after tomorrow & will send it home immediatly (sic) & then you can see your soldier husband with his rusty old uniform on but I feel more as if there was more honor in that than if I was clean & shining for it shows active service & that I never have fell out & always been with My Company through thick & thin..."

I wondered about that statement and the meaning behind it, then I kept reading and realized how important it was to Philip to not desert:

 "Well we have at last been paid off.  Our Boys here got so mutinous & dissatisfied that I mistrust our staff[.]  officers  used their influence to get us paid off ~ it has efficiently stopped the grumbling[.]  I think this whole Regiment feels better[,] Why the thing had got so bad that the Lieutenant Colonel prepared an article & read to us all to show that tho U.S. could hold us ~ Still there seems to be some difficulty about the muster though it does not amount to much[.]  I think if they pay us promptly but a good many of our deserters have been released who took oath that they had never been mustered into the US service although they had been courtmartialled (sic) & sentence passed most of our deserters have been picked up & brought back though they had got beyond Baltimore[.]  So far nothing has been done with them & probably never will though they were not paid[.]  Bob Crisman & Isaac Whipple were brought in ~ "

Desertion was a common thing among both sides of the war.  To read about it further, please click on the link: Desertion 

The paragraph ends with hope from home:

"I have not got your box yet ~ the teams have not been after them but I think in 2 or 3 days I shall get it I hope so for I want it bad..."

The section written on the 16th finishes there and he continues it on the 19th which will be in my next post.

Just remember that proud face in his "rusty" uniform...

Philip R. Woodcock

Hope to see you for my next entry!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Not Quite Veterans Day Yet

"...O if we did not have a splendid fight ~"

Veterans Day was yesterday and I thought I'd look back at November of 1863 to see where Philip was at that time period.  Although Veterans Day was not officially established in the U.S. until about 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson, these early soldiers were the forerunners of it all.  My husband mentioned yesterday that you're only a Vet when you are finished with your service, so seeing Philip was finished at the end of the Civil War, I honor him here today!

On November 9, 1863, he wrote a hasty letter to Roby after a successful charge on the enemy.  I will wait until I get to that date chronologically to include the entire letter, but I thought I'd give a small excerpt today:

"Camp 121st Nov 9 ~ 63
near Brandy Station VA

My Dearest Roby

Through the mercy of God I am permitted to write you once more to assure you of my Safety ~ On the morning of the 7th we broke camp and marched to near Rappahannock Station & there found the Rebs fortified strongly [,] after some maneuvering around some we undertook to start them out but they were in a good position & we waited untill after dark when they could not use their Batteries on us [.]  We charged on their forts & Rifle Pits & succeeded in driving them in to the River [.] O if we did not have a splendid fight ~ It was one of the most Gallant achievements of the whole was [it.]  We made 3 successive charges and some of us did  did not fire a Shot ~ I tell you our name is up now ~...."

He seemed quite excited and proud of his regiment and how they did!

Thanks G-G Grandfather Philip for your service and to all the countless others who served and continue to do so around the world.

My next post will be back to February of 1863 ~ 
a possible promotion, a picture, desertion and a....Valentine?

Hope to see you then!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Tender Sacrifice

Philip's letter to Roby on this date was short (by his standards), messy, hard to read and contained a surprise ending:

"Feb 15 1863

I now will try and finish this Letter I wish it  ought to have done it before but I was very busy doing Company writing & yesterday Sergt Armstrong and I went over to the 152nd Regt[.]  

I could not do it then ~ It is snowing now pretty hard I dont believe it will amount to much though.  I have just been getting up some wood[.]  I am studying Fredicks  Caseys Infantry Tactics [,] now our Lessons are pretty long & I have all I want to do to get them & do my other work ~ I had a good time over to the 152nd yesterday but I believe Hank Harris is the only good Soldier there [.]  Sergt Ayres is very homesick & praying hard for a discharge ~ I guess he will get it ~ Parsons is on Picket ~ There came a letter for him last night & I opened it [,] it was from Sarah Burnham ~ She wrote that at the Leackers Association of  Springfield Centre ~ Sarah Woodcock passed the best Examination ~ If I go to Washington next week I shall pass a good Examination & be a Captain in the Regular Service and shall Rank higher than our Col Commanding the Regt[.] Sarah Burnham wants my Photograph also Parsons ~ she wrote Parsons that she was agoing to write to me ~ I feel highly honored by that[.]"  

Then his ink looks to have smeared on a word, or several actually.  But as best as I can make it out it read:

"(Illegible) I sense (or seem?) dont say anything about this I only saw it the Letter ~"

Anyway....let's move on!

"Now you must write me soon[.]  There is not a word said about furloughs yet perhaps if I should get a Commission I should be home 35 days[.] I know I could get near at the End of the war[.] say yes[.] give my Love to all tell Rosetta I should like to see her ~ Kiss for you & Baby[.]  Love me as ever.

Yours with much Love
Phil R Woodcock

Excuse hasty writing"

As I've mentioned before, sometimes the age of the paper, the condition of the ink and his handwriting make for difficult reading.  But onto the additional surprise I found when deciphering this letter.  There was a postscript that was written up-side-down on both pages.  When I first read part of it "maybe George would like a black brother..." I immediately got affronted in my 2014 mindset.  I thought, wow, how racist--but then I read the entire paragraph that started one page back, also up-side-down and then my heart cried...

"There is a splendid little black baby out on the Picket Line that its mother wants to give away[.]  If there is any one who wants one now is a good chance ~ Maybe George would like a black brother ~ if so I will bring it home ~ it has shiny face & white eyes short hair thick lips &c &c &c"

Mom, at the picket line, giving away her baby...with the hope of a family up North to adopt him...I assume praying for freedom and safety for her child. What an ultimate sacrifice!

Next post is the last letter from February 1863!

Hope to see you then!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Back to 1863

"I see he takes after his father..."

The month of October deemed to be a difficult one for me to find time to write, but I'm back and hopefully will carve time out of my days for a return to my original project...bringing Philip to life for all of you readers.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.

I'm headed back to resume the daily letters starting back at February 9, 1863's continuation. (Please see my post from August 29 for the first part of the letter.)  Philip's regiment was encamped for the winter at White Oak Church in Virginia. He had just mentioned that he felt the Rebel army fought better then the Union soldiers and then his letter turned to something more important to him...his son Georgie:

"I am glad that little Georgie is so smart his Aunt Martha brags very highly of him she says he cant be beat around there [,] I see he takes after his father ~ I would like to come home & give him a Military Education but never mind wait till I get those shoulder Straps on this..."  (Meaning a promotion I believe?)

"I will come home unless my chances for a still higher promotion are good then I shall always stay in the Army for without bagging I am considered a good military scholar & a good Soldier[.] I used to think that when I got in battle I would not be very brave but it is right the other way[,] I have never been very badly scared at the bullets ~ yet though when we were across at Fredericksburgh & engaged with the pickets ~ I did not expect to get out of it alive or unhurt & it seems almost a miracle that I did but I went in with a firm resolve to do all I could & that God would take care of me & he did for he brought me out all safe & sound thanks be to his mercy."

I wish I could end right at that strong statement of his personal faith, but he continues the letter on,  with the same no-nonsense and honest appraisal of his situation:

"Yesterday seemed the most like Sunday that I have have (sic) seen we had not anything to do & it was so pleasant & quiet there was no services & no parades nothing but morning inspection & that was shorter than usual we dont drill any more now ~ it is either stormy or else very muddy that prevents it. Do you hear anything that our Regiment is not mustered into the United States service & that we cant get our pay[?] ~ that is all the talk here & over 2/3 of the Regt believes it I cant think it possible though we were not mustered like the rest of the Regts that came out[,]  a good many of our boys get letters from home that they cant be held if they do desert[,] only for New York States service there may be something in it there seems to be a difficulty somewheres & our officers try to keep it from us but [illegible here] will out[.] If you send another box I want some little tracts & books put in & papers that I can distribute amongst the boys they can get no reading here & they fairly jump to see a newspaper & Sunday school paper ~ I enclose to you a description of a march which is perfect ~ only that it makes it a little more pleasant than it really is but it is a pretty good thing after all. Now write soon & dont forget me. Kiss Georgie & remember yourself also write immediately[.]

Yours P R Woodcock"

P.S. In the middle of the previous page, he added a post script: "I forgot to tell you we are all well[.] There has been a new order in regard to Express boxes so dont send untill I tell you how to direct it. I am getting so fat I can hardly stir...."

Somehow I doubt that, but it made me smile when I turned the page upside-down and read it!

Next post~ from February 15th, a heartbreaking sacrifice...

Hope to see you then!