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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The First Official Thanksgiving, 1863

I'm slow to finish up this letter, but never-the-less, want to do it before Christmas.  To backtrack to my previous post, Philip wrote this letter on Dec. 4th, 1863 after surviving a near battle and frozen conditions for several days, one of which was the very first official Thanksgiving holiday in America.  

I'll let Philip continue to describe his "holiday":

"We all laid on our Arms in line of Battle untill one oclock A.M. when we was routed out & marched down toward the Left through the woods & brush about daylight[.]  we joined the Right of the 2nd Corps[,]  The 152nd was there & on the same Line with us that is the 2nd Line of Battle ~ about 7 oclock we started out to find the Rebs[,] it did not take long & we skirmished with them some 3 or 4 miles[,] they falling back slowly near Wilderness Church and Robertson Tavern[.]  They made a stand & they had a splendid position ~ It rained pretty hard about this time and did all day it was mighty very uncomfortable as we got awfull wet ~ we finally formed out Lines and
I guess the Rain was all that stopped the attack that day ~ On the Right of us they was fighting pretty heavy ~ Our Supplies here run short but by a great Effort they got us up our Rations all except Pork we got nothing but Beef all the while ~ I had to get up in the night and draw the Rations ~ On Sunday we laid under Arms expecting to have an Engagement but there was nothing done ~ I think that Gen. Meade will not fight Sunday if it can be postponed ~ The Rebs had got a good position and we could see that it would have to be taken by storm and we knew that it would fall to us to do that and we dreaded it bad ~ It had cleared off very cold & we knew that tomorrow would see the Bloodiest day upon record for it had Leaked out that the 5th & 6th Corps had to storm the Fortifications ~ The next morning at one oclock we was called up & got Coffee & was marched very still a little farther to the Right & through our Picket Line & got in a piece of woods close to the Rebs & there laid down and waited untill daylight[.]  O how cold it was & no fires was allowed..."

His third page of the letter goes on to describe the plan of attack:

"The plan of attack was this:  The 5th & 6th Corps was to charge the Rifle Pits together [,] we formed 4 lines of Battle the best Regiments in each Brigade was selected to form the first line and make the charge ~ Col Upton who commands our Brigade selected our Regt ~ it was a high honor but exceedingly dangerous to us as the first line would not have many left when they got up ~ We had a good many Batteries in position and they was to open & shell them at 8 oclock for one hour and at 9 oclock we was to make the Charge ~ I tell you there was a good many pale sober faces that morning as the time drew near ~ We could see what we had to do & it was worse than we expected[.]  There was a plain field to cross then a piece of woods so filled with underbrush & felled Trees that our Skirmishers could not get through & then a wide ditch that the Rebs had dug out and drove sharp sticks in to annoy us when we crossed[.]  These sticks were so fixed that 1/2 of us would have been impaled on them in crossing & now then it was so cold that day that a wounded man who could not get off the field would die in 3 or 4 hours as the 5th Corps had 4 freeze to death that day after they got asleep.  Now do you wonder we dreaded it [?] "

And then, preparation for death...

~ There was more preparations made that day for death than any other time I ever saw[.]  I could see cards thrown away and men starting off alone in the woods to pray ~ We all settled up our world affairs that is left our money &c in the hands of those who would not get in the fight ~ I tell you the suspense of those 2 or 3 hours was awfull ~ We was suffering extrememly from the severe cold we almost froze & we had to keep in motion constantly ~ It will take a good while before we get over that chill ~"

I'll stop there for today.  Please come back soon and check for the rest of the letter!


No comments:

Post a Comment