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, December 18, 2014

A Change of Plans

"...Our Spirits Soared..."

I am certainly not a military specialist and have a limited knowledge of the actual "strategy" of a war but I do know the extent that which troop movements and days/timing of attacks is extremely important to the success or failure of a battle.  The Generals at the time of the Civil War planned vast campaigns to take back land and moved their troops into and out of various battles, some with great success and others with great loss.  This particular battle that Philip wrote about just after Thanksgiving was one of strategic moving that most certainly saved his life...

The continuation of the letter of December 4, 1863:

"after daylight the Generals all went out to plan the attack & view the ground ~ They see the danger of it & see the thousands that would fall and wisely decided not to storm the position ~ as soon as we learned it wasnt we glad (sic) ~ Lord only knows how thankfull we were[,] our spirits raised & had it not been such freezing weather would have felt good but we were so chilled through & so hungry that we was miserable & we knew we would have to stay untill after dark as if the Enemy knew that we were there they would warm us up with shell (humor?) but fortunately they were as much in the dark as we wanted as soon as it was too dark for them to see us we went out of there in a hurry[.]  I tell you what fires we had that night & what Suppers ~ The next day there were no movements made & the night after we withdrew & marched all night & uncrossed the Rapidan at Germanier Ford & got breakfast & moved in a little farther & lay back for the Teams & Artillery to get out the way here our Rations gave out although we was supposed to have one day on hand but being up so much nights we eat them all up[.]"

I would imagine the stress of the situation, bitter cold and uncertainty had them eating everything they could get their hands on.  He continues:

"I was not so bad off as some as I had been saving but some of our boys went all day without a mouthfull of anything but parched corn & beef ~ There I saw Bruce [,] the 76th marched by us & he stopped to see me I was glad enough to see him he looks as rugged and though as can be we stayed there all day & night and the 3rd marched back in our old Camp[.]  We was hungry & tired enough I tell you too but we got Rations & yesterday it was reported that the Rebs was advancing on us & I had to get up in the night & draw 3 days rations & issue but I guess it was only a small alarm ~ We think we will go into Winter Quarters now as I dont believe anything farther can be done this winter ~ I dont know what we made the advance for but one thing I do know that is the Army of the Potomac done more than ought to have been asked of them ~ it has been a rough time for us & filled up the Hospitals again ~ perhaps I can tell in my next Letter more of what we accomplished ~ I am on this campaign ~ I hope operations are suspended for the present here but I am thankfull to God for sparing my life & we must still hope all things will turn out well ~"  (and now finally a mention of that first Thanksgiving!) "Where did you spend Thanksgiving[?]  did you think of me [?]  that day it was a hard one for us ~ but thank God it was no worse[.]  Give my love to all write soon & Remember me Kiss the Baby for me  I will write again soon & if we stay for the winter maybe I can get furlough till then Good bye my dearest one[.]

Yours &c
Phil R Woodcock"

And on my earlier post of the beginning of this letter I mentioned that this last page also included a long post script--written upside-down
in between the sentences that I've just transcribed to you.  Here is what the rest of his letter said:

"I expect a lot of letters tonight if the mail comes[.]  If we go in winter quarters here we expect a good time as we shall build splendid shanties & get good Living[.]  I wrote a letter to Martha about some shirts that we wanted made & sent to Nubern.  Phil Van Horne & myself ~ I supposed you was out in Warren at the time and so I though would be sure ~ Nubern has written to his Mother about them[.]  What do you think about them would it be best[?]  The cost us here $5.00 apiece & I think that they would be cheaper got (illegible on the crease of the paper here) It [is] considerable warmer now than it was when we was in the Wilderness[.]  The mail has come in and of course I shall have a big one ~ They all send respects to you ~ You will have to get me another Diary for 1864 as this is almost full then I will send it to you[.]  Get me a good large one if you can as this is plenty small enough[.]  Dont forget me[.]  Morning of the 30th November I thought I never should see you again my thoughts were very painful ~ I prayed to God to protect you & Georgie I certainly never expected to get out of it ~ all the Generals concur in saying that 20 men of our Regt could not have got up there but it is over with now & I must forget it ~ There was a good many of our wounded on that campaign that froze to death but I must close so good bye write soon"

The underlining is my own.  His fear and relief are palpable.

So there you have it ~ the conclusion of my great-great grandfather's first Thanksgiving!  

Please join me again for the next sequential letter back in Winter Quarters of early 1863!

Hope to see you then!

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