On Road to Williamsburg
May 6, 1862
Before this can reach you the glorious news that Yorktown has been evacuated will have reached you. We are in pursuit of them. We left camp on Sunday morning about eight o’clock as the news came into camp that the rebels were evacuating. There was a heavy cannonading kept up all Saturday night but it stopped on Sunday morning before we left camp. we marched about two miles when we came to a small fort that had been left but a short time before by the rebels, but the old Stars & Stripes were waving over it when we arrived in sight of it, having been planted there by Gen. Casey. We did not stop at this fort but kept on about a mile farther where there was quite a strong and large fort. Near the fort were found several shells which were buried in the road with a cap placed on them in such a manner than when stepped on, they would explode. The infantry were in advance of us and — while near the fort — a shell was stepped on by one of them whereupon it exploded, killing him instantly — blowing him to atoms and wounding five others. They were in the 52nd Pennsylvania. There was several of those infernal machines found in and near the fort but were dug out before any more accidents happened. ¹
We went into the fort and stayed over an hour when we again started in pursuit of the flying rebels which were on their way to Williamsburg. We kept on our march until near dark when we encamped for the night.
Monday morning was a very wet morning. We again started on our march toward the forts near Williamsburg. We could hear a heavy firing from the forts in possession of the rebels. We advanced about two miles and halted. The battle still continued fiercely. We were so near that we could hear the firing distinctly and could hear the cheers of our men as they routed the rebels from their entrenchments and drove them back. From seven o’clock in the morning until near three in the afternoon, it is said than ten thousand of our men fought against sixty thousand rebels. The firing continued until dark when it ceased. We were kept on the reserve all day but expected to be called on every minute. There were camp rumors of all kinds during the day but I need not endeavor to tell you what the result of the battle was for you will have heard before this reaches you. But I will give you the names of some that were killed in Johnson’s Company ² from Delaware. Their names are [Francis B.] Cormack from Delhi, [Joseph W.] Goodrich from Walton, and [Timothy] Warren from Hamden. Capt. [Robert T.] Johnson himself was slightly wounded and some six or eight others.
We left where we remained all day yesterday this morning and went to the right toward the York river and in sight of it. We remained there a short time when we again went about two miles farther to the battleground. We are now encamped by the forts and the battleground is but a short distance from here. I went through it after we got here, but for me to attempt to describe the sights that I saw — it is impossible. The dead were lying in heaps, men and horses were lying in all directions, guns were scattered around and other things beyond description. Our men were burying the dead but the rebel dead were lying unburied. There is hundreds of them scattered around the field and in the woods. What the loss of the rebels were I have not heard, but judging from what I saw, I should think it heavy as they did not leave the field until after night and no doubt buried many of their dead. What the loss on our side is, I cannot say. You will have an account of it, no doubt, before this reaches you.
The rebels have retreated and our troops are in pursuit of them. Where they will make the next stand is impossible to say but wherever it may be, they will find a force that will crush them out of existence. There is a great many rebel prisoners here and they say that Gen. Magruder made a speech before the battle and wanted them to lay down their arms and surrender, but Johnson stepped up and said their cause was just and he would fight to the last.
Sickles’ Brigade has lost a good many men. They were in the hottest of the fight. I saw John [M.] Gordon today. He is well and escaped unhurt. He says he has not heard from home in some time. I had a letter from you last week dated April 23rd. We have been on the march since last Sunday morning.
I am well as usual, hoping the Gods will continue the same blessing with me and that this will find you enjoying the same blessing. I remain your affectionate brother, — H. S. Murray
Wednesday morning, May 7th
The weather is now very pleasant and the roads are beginning to dry up. The roads for the last two days have been almost unpassable. We will follow in pursuit of the rebels. — H. S. Murray
¹ “Magruder is credited for being the first commander to employ mines on a large scale during the Civil War. With orders from Magruder and guidance from Brigadier General Gabriel Rains, Confederate soldiers began hiding crude explosive devices made from artillery shells or other materiel in the sandy soil around Yorktown, along the town’s streets and roads, inside houses, and around telegraph poles. After Yorktown was abandoned in early May 1862, Union forces reported several serious injuries and a few deaths from these “booby traps.” While ignoring his own superiors’ concerns about using “deceptive devices” in land warfare, Rains was conflicted about using buried shells on the roads leading from Fortress Monroe to Yorktown. With so many civilians on the few roads fleeing the Union advance, Rains decided against indiscriminately burying the mines. Mining the fortifications and the town was a different story.” [See Mine Warfare in the Civil War by John Grady]
The name of the soldier who stepped on the mine killing him instantly was 19 year-old Pvt. John Pruyne, Jr. of Co. F, 52nd Pennsylvania Infantry. Military records indicate he died on 4 May 1862 “by the explosion of a torpedo” that the rebels had planted in the road near Lee’s Mills, Va.
² Capt. Robert T. Johnson led Co. I, 72nd New York Infantry — the first company organized in Delaware county, New York. He was in command of the company at the Battle of Williamsburg (4 May 1862) where he was wounded.