Gloucester Point, Virginia
October 20th 1863
Your letter of the 12th came to hand in due season & glad I was to hear from you again. Although you had but little news, yet a letter from home is always welcome. You perhaps think I don’t write as often as I might but I assure you since I wrote to you last, I have scarcely had time to write to anyone. It is not for want of news but for want of time that I don’t write oftener. I will now write you a sort of a diary of the events of the past ten days which perhaps might be interesting to you. I will begin my diary on the 3rd of this month.
Saturday night about eight o’clock we got orders to have one section of our battery ready to march by 6 o’clock Sunday morning as there was an expedition going to start at that time on a raid into Gloucester county & the adjoining counties. The order was very unexpected and on account of so many of our company being sick, it required a good deal of work to get ready in so short a time. But we were ready at the appointed time with four days rations with us. According to order, we left Yorktown at 6 A.M. for this place where we were to report. On account of some delay, we lay all day here expecting to move but got no orders until night when we were ordered to encamp for the night & be ready to move at five o’clock Monday morning. At the appointed hour, we were on the march. The Expedition [Wistar’s Expedition] consisted of the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry, the 4th U. S. Colored Regiment (which is stationed at this place) & a section of Battery E, 1st Pennsylvania Artillery, and a section of our battery — the artillery [all] being under the command of Gen. [Isaac Jones] Wistar.
We kept on a steady march until about one o’clock when we halted for a short time and fed our horses, eat a little hard tack & bacon, and again started on our march. Nothing of interest having occurred, we did not halt again until about four o’clock when we encamped for the night, having traveled nearly twenty-five miles which is considered a big march for one day. But we had not been encamped but a short time when the Darkie Regiment made its appearance having marched nearly as fast as the cavalry & artillery, but they are able to stand it & enjoy such raids the biggest kind — especially if they are allowed to take what they can from the secesh for there is such a hatred between the rebels & the colored soldier that they would rather see us take all they had than give a colored soldier a mouthful. But Sambo is not afraid to help himself & Mr. Secesh must stand quietly to one side & look on or take the consequences. We got orders to march next morning at five o’clock & report at Gen. Wistar’s headquarters.
Tuesday morning at the time appointed, we left camp for headquarters about a mile distant where we arrived in due season & encamped near the house & awaited further orders. We lay in camp all day. Nothing of much interest took place. Some prisoners were brought in by the cavalry which is out scouring the country in Mathews county for fifteen or twenty miles. The weather was very pleasant & favorable for camping out. The day passed away & everything remained quiet.
Wednesday morning, weather cool & pleasant. I was sent in charge of a squad of men to get corn for our horses from a plantation about a mile from camp. We took what corn we wanted & returned to camp. The barns on the plantation were filled with corn, wheat, & tobacco in abundance. The owner of the plantation is now in Richmond. It is a fine farm & is situated on what is called the North river which runs into the bay above Fort Monroe. In the afternoon I was again sent back to the plantation with more men to get some sweet potatoes and any other eatables that we could find as we had been out nearly four days & our rations were getting rather low. I went to the overseer of the plantation & told him we had come after potatoes. He did not like the idea of letting his potatoes go but it was of no use trying to make excuses to us — the potatoes were there for the digging so at it we went for have them we must. We dug what we wanted but did not feel satisfied to return to camp without something to eat with the potatoes so some of our party went to the house to see if they could not buy some chickens, turkeys, or geese, but he would sell none, giving as a reason that he had but two left. But such reasons would not go down as the noise from the hen coop gave some evidence that such reasons were false. The boys made a charge on his hen coop supported by a part of the colored regiment who was present at the time. They done their part well & we captured a large supply of poultry with which we left for camp, leaving Mr. Secesh to count the cost of feeding Uncle Sam’s boys on sweet potatoes & chickens.
Nothing more of importance occurred with us during the day. The cavalry came in with some more prisoners which they had captured & while out today they hung one bushwhacker [Sands Smith] who shot one of their men. They hung him on a tree as he was taken in the very act of shooting the man. Col. [Samuel Perkins] Spear considered lynch law the best in his case & so he took the easiest plan of putting him out of the way. ¹
Thursday morning the cavalry all came in & brought in some eighty head of cattle. We got orders to march about ten o’clock A. M. & started for Gloucester Point.
¹ The bushwhacker’s name was Sands Smith II, a resident of Mathews county, Virginia. Smith was treated brutally and finally hanged after he shot and killed a Union cavalryman on Wistar’s Expedition. He was buried in a shallow grave with the following inscription placed on his grave, “Earning to damned bushwhackers. Every damned man we catch with arms in the woods, we will hang so high that the birds will build nests in them. So take warning. Such will be your fate, you damned cowards. Here lies the body of an old bushwhacker.” A descendant of Sands claims an oral history of the incident that purports Sands was merely defending his family after the Union troopers got into barrels of whiskey stored underneath the house and, after some consumption, taunted the ladies of the family. When Sands went to their defense with his gun and was ordered to drop it, he was shot — an order he did not hear because of his deafness. Col. Samuel P. Spear resigned in May 1865 after facing charges of “drunkenness on duty and conduct unbecoming an officer.” [See Faded Lines of Gray]