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, June 11, 2015

Guilt of the Union Soldier

 " can read about war & hear it talked about but you cannot form no idea of what it is, it is only by seeing it that you will know what war is ~ "

Now to continue his poignant letter of March 21st, 1863...

"I suppose you have got my money by this time though I am almost sorry I sent it by mail but I thought you might want it. I dont know but I may possibly be home in a few days now though do not put to much dependence on it but I do want to see you so bad. I can hardly wait. I want to come home before we go into another battle if I can ~ but before I close this letter I can find out pretty near what my prospects will be of getting a furlough but it seems to me if I could see my family once more I could go in battle contented ~ O Roby you cannot imagine a mans feelings while in front of the Enemy & while in a post of danger especially when the chances of his escaping alive are against him ~"

Such a strong statement and eloquently written I had to highlight it.  He goes on:

"I have seen many a man die here on the field when his thoughts are of his wife & family and who in their bitter agony would exclaim
'O if I could see my family and expire', and after the strife is over and that bitter hatred is gone which we invarriably (sic) feel towards our Enemy while in battle and when we all feel like brothers then to know that we have caused so many poor wretches to feel such agony then it is that the stern Soldier feels like weeping over the misery and desolation that he has helped make ~ you can read about war & hear it talked about but you cannot form no idea of what it is, it is only by seeing it that you will know what war is ~ "

The letter continues: "I send you in this letter a North Carolina Rebel Shinplaster which Orlando Lane gave me when he was exchanged as a prisoner, he got it in Richmond. It has stopped snowing for a little while now & perhaps tomorrow it will be as pleasant as summer the weather will soon be getting nice & then we will have to start out for the spring Campaign but we hear all sorts of [unintelligible word here] rumors about our brigade or Regiment, one day we hear we are agoing to Staten Island & then the next to Washington or stay here to hold a certain position while the rest of the Army does the fighting but I guess if there is any fighting in Virginia we will have our share of it but now we hear that the war is agoing to come to a close that Jeff Davis has agreed to accept our terms of Peace..." (Which obviously didn't happen)

 "but the latest and last thing is we have a Spring of water here which has a peculiar property ~ just before the opening of a war it commences running & 3 months before the close of the war
it dries up at least it acted so in the Revolution war & Mexican War also the 1812 war and to crown all it dried up 2 weeks ago and of course there is a certain lot of our boys that believes the war is closing because of that circumstance ~ This spring is one mile from Fredericksburgh & 3 miles from here. The inhabitants all believe the thing & I see it is in the papers but I must close now, write soon I am agoing to write to Aby next, those stamps came just in time. George was well yesterday. You may look for me a little this week though it is some doubtfull whether I can come now or not."

Then he adds more the next day:

"Mch 22nd 1863 Sunday

It is very pleasant now to day just like summer. Write soon Love me as ever Yours PR Woodcock"

And upside-down across the bottom a post script:

"George told me when he was here that (?) was agoing in 2 or 3 days home on a furlough but maybe he did not get it. My arm is getting well it has been very sore but I did not get excused from duty. Our small pox cases have got well and came back. Kiss little Georgie for me I hope soon to see him."

And that's the entire letter!  

Please join me for the next post--end of March, 1863!

Hope to see you then!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Unknown Future

"O Roby you cannot imagine a mans feelings while in front of the Enemy & while in a post of danger especially when the chances of his escaping alive are against him..."

Philip wrote that on March 21st, 1863 during a snowstorm in the winter camp. He sounded very concerned and homesick in this letter:

"Camp near White Oak Church
March 21st 1863

My Dearest Wife

I received yours of the 15th last night & was glad enough to hear from you & that you was all well. The first thing I do in receiving a letter from you is to see if you and dear little Georgie are well then I can draw a long breath & feel contented."

He goes on to describe the weather:

"We are having Winter here again in good earnest, it snows and blows hard. I guess we have 3 or 4 in of snow this morning and it is pretty cold, it snowed all day yesterday from the north ~ but if we did not have to get wood we would not care we can manage to keep comfortable if the wind and snow does blow in but to turn out in a storm and get wood is pretty rough especially where we cant get nothing but limbs to burn."

And then something happy and nice happens:

"One thing I must tell you we had a wedding down here the other day ~ One of our brigade teamsters married a girl only about 1/2 a mile from here and as good looking girl as you ever wish to see, she has 2 Brothers in the Confederate Army & now a husband in the Union Army ~ but I suppose she will forsake father Mother Brother & Sister & cleave unto her new husband ~ at least she ought to ~"  (He was a strong Christian man with strong opinions but with a sense of humor too...) "There are 3 or 4 more very handsome girls left whom once and a while we can get a glimpse of but they dont like the Cowardly Yankees  as they term us ~ I tell you Roby we get hard names here the inhabitants dont like a Soldier & where ever the Army goes they dread the sight of it for they have to lock and double lock every stable & animal thing they wish to save but in spite of that the boys will get chickens & milk cows & I have noticed they are very fond of little pigs ~ but every thing is stripped here so while we are in present quarters we cant get any such provisions ~ but we live good yet though our Commissary does not give us as much bread as he used to though I have enough for my own use at present."

(I must stop there today due to time constraints.  More tomorrow!)

Also from his diary on this date in history...

"The troops threw up entrenchment in front of us a heavy Rifle Pit we planted Batteries &c to guard against an attack got a mail. The rest of the Army in camp only our Corps at work..."

That was Philip's day on June 8th, 1863 also falling on a Monday.  How is your day today?

Hope to see you then!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Off to...Texas?

My great-great grandfather's letter of March 18th, 1863 continued with his dinner...

"I had a good Beef Soup for Dinner. I have enough left to feed your whole family. I wish you was here to help eat some. I have not got the box yet ~ I heard it was at Falmouth 4 miles from here & as soon as the roads get better they will send them if there is anything that will spoil it will probably be so now."  Remember all that mud..."I have sealed Aby's letter & shall send it this mail so you will get three letters from me at once. I will not prepay the postage on those Likenesses as I dont know how much they are & they will go safer I think without. I shall send you some money tomorrow. We was mustered in for 2 months pay again yesterday. We shall get paid again before we leave for the time is come when I must tell you we expect to leave here soon to be shipped..."

Shipped?  Where to you ask?....

"Our destination is Galveston, Texas. Now Texas is a good ways off & we possibly shall see hard fighting there & hard times but if I can serve our Country better there than here. I am willing to go but I believe I would rather stay nearer home but the same God who has watched over & taken care of me here will protect me while so far away..."

I can only imagine the uncertainty that most troops felt and probably continue to feel when their futures are unknown, their destinations decided by others, their fates left up to God.

"I would like to come home once more & see you before I go but I am afraid my chance is slim for the first lot that went off have not all returned yet & we can't any of us go untill they all return in the Regts ~ The 1st Corps are going with us their destination is the same ~ we many not go under 3 or 4 weeks yet they are getting out 50 Transports for us ~  when you write again send me a map of the United States you can tear it out of some old Atlas, it will do me considerable good ~ We have no services here to day it is too windy & too muddy. The weather is warm it does not seem like the holy Sabbath ~ it is not very sickly at present except measles & Small Pox, the measles are closing up.  I forgot to tell you that Nubern Armstrong was promoted yesterday to a Sergeant. I tell you he is a good soldier, one of the best in the Regiment. I like him first rate he will do well too & he certainly merits all the praise we can give him. I will do all I can to help him along. If he lives he will come home a Lieutenant he is as brave as you could wish in battle. I saw a shell strike within a few feet of him over the river but he never flinched while Rill fell down on the ground scared to death almost. Rill made a poor soldier, but I will have to close.  My other likeness I will put in a seperate  (sic) envelope. they are too wide to send good but I hope they will go safe. Write me as soon as you get them. Should we make any movement I will post you immediately. now write me immediately & if you have any send me some papers to read dont send me any more writing paper I have a large stock of it on hand now as I bought a good deal. Kiss the Baby. How I would like to see you both. May God Bless you. Love to all. Yours &c
P.R. Woodcock"

That's it for today!

Join me again for the next post!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Keeping My Promise

Back in January, I left 1863 to jump ahead to Philip's letters of 1865 in the hopes of timing it out with the 150th Anniversary of the end of the Civil War...well that didn't work out!  I have decided to go back to where I left off and that was the winter of 1863 in White Oak Church.  The Union troops had settled into their winter camp there and Philip wrote to Roby of his daily activities and the like.  I posted his first letter in the month of March on my January 29th blog entry.  He wrote 5 more letters in that month, each 4 pages long. [Note to readers: I have decided to add punctuation where it seems natural.  Previously I denoted it with a bracket.  That slowed me down considerably, so I have decided to add my own.  Generally, he did not use any punctuation but did start new sentences with a capital letter.

Today I type his letter of March 18th, 1863:

"Camp near White Oak Church
Sunday March 18th 1863

My Dearest Roby

Although I do not hear from you yet I thought I would write you & send you my likeness. They are melainotypes. I had them taken day before yesterday. I had the fun of tramping through the mud about 12 inches deep 2 miles to get them taken. They are considered very good pictures especially the one with the gun that is the most natural. I have the full dress uniform on with equipments and standing at Parade Rest ~ a very easy posture ~ I might have been a little more military had I stood at Shouldered Arms but I thought this would answer (?) The back ground is very pretty and natural except the fences ~ those are played out in this section of country. Those two round tents in front are Artillery & Cavalry tents those little ones farther back are the kind I make my home in though look rather large in the Picture. My Sergeants stripes on my coat sleeve you can but just see they are faded out bad, they denote active service --"

(I'm not sure if this picture still exists as we have so few of them in our possession but after reading this, I am going to check with family for them. 
 The picture I use for this blog seems to be of him at the time of enlistment.)

His letter goes on to describe the weather: "rained all night & this morning but it has cleared up fine but the wind blows a perfect hurricane..."

And he tells of small pox exposure from a young black boy just in from Washington whose "father died with it & now he has got it after exposing us all to it. I hope it wont spread any farther ~ My vaccination does not work. The stuff was not good. I guess I am agoing to try it again as soon as they get some more but the whole Regt may have it before that..." but he reassures Roby that "we are all well here..."

Join me tomorrow for the conclusion of this letter ~ what he eats for dinner, troop updates and a possible deployment to Texas!

Hope to see you then!