20 October 1863

Gloucester Point, Virginia
October 20th 1863

Dear Brother,

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.

wistar
Gen. Isaac Jones Wistar & his staff, Yorktown, November 1863

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.

[no signature]


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]

 

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19 May 1862

Camp 8th [N. Y.] Independent Battery
May 19th 1862

Dear Brother,

Your letter of May 9th came to hand last Friday which was the first I have had in some time. It is now nearly dark and having a few leisure moments, I now sit down to write you a line to let you know how we are progressing in our march to the seat of rebeldom. We are within eighteen miles of Richmond. The rebels were here where we are now encamped last Saturday but retreated as our troops advanced. They are nary nine miles from here and it is said they are going to make a stand at that place which no doubt is true. And in all probability before this reaches you, there will have been a decisive battle fought and the City of Richmond will be in our hands. It is reported here that the rebels have a large force at that place but yet I doubt not but the result will be a glorious victory for the Union forces.

There is not much news of importance here. The weather is now very pleasant. You can get the correct war news before we can get it here for there is nothing but camp rumors here and we can’t place any dependence on what we hear.

There is a good deal of sickness here at present in our company. Jim McNair and William Ludington was left at Kent County Court House sick and was to be sent back to the hospital at Fortress Monroe. There is several others left at the same place. We have had a pretty hard time since we started on this march. We sometimes march in the night and sometimes in the day time. Saturday night we marched about six miles after dark which took us until two o’clock in the morning.

I am well as usual, thank God. I have had good health ever since I came into the army. Bob White is also well as are all the rest of your acquaintances. I must now close as it is getting late. No more at present. Hoping this will find you all well, I remain yours, — H. S. Murray

11 May 1862

In Camp near West Point, on way to Richmond
Sunday Morning, May 11th 1862

Dear Brother,

I now sit down to write you a few lines to let you know how we are all getting along on our way to Richmond. In my last letter which I wrote to you last Tuesday, I told you that we were then encamped on the battleground [at Williamsburg] of last Monday. We remained there until Friday morning when we again started on the march and this time it is, “On to Richmond” in reality. It is no longer the feeble dry of a few aspiring politicians and newspaper editors, but it is now the order of the Commander in Chief of the great Army of the Potomac and, with him at its head, we are now moving slowly but surely to the city of Richmond — and, in a few days, we will be in possession of that great Capitol of the Southern Confederacy which so long has been the boasted stronghold of the rebels, but which must soon fall before the onward march of this great army. And then, when the old Stars and Stripes are again floating in triumph over that rebellious city, we may consider this rebellion as nearly at any end for with Yorktown and Richmond in the hands of the government, it will be impossible for them to make a stand anywhere in Virginia.

It is said that the rebels are going to make a stand some twelve miles from Richmond and that they are now throwing up fortifications and making every preparation for a desperate battle. But very likely it will turn out like Yorktown — when our forces are ready to make an attack, they will evacuate for I think from the appearance of their forts in front of Yorktown that if they could not make a stand in such forts, it will be impossible for them to build stronger forts before this army reaches there.

We passed through Williamsburg on our way here. It is a small village and everything in it gave evidence of a hasty retreat. In the streets were to be seen wagons, forges, and ammunition chests having stuck in the mud and were set on fire or cut to pieces to prevent them falling into our hands. Horses and mules were lying on the road dead as we came along this side of Williamsburg, and as we came along, we met several who had deserted from them and they say that rebel soldiers are getting disheartened and are almost in a state of mutiny.

I got a letter from you last Tuesday dated May 2d. I was happy to hear from you all. I got one this morning from William Elliott.

We are now encamped in a wheat field and will not move until tomorrow morning. I have seen hundreds of acres of wheat as we came along and we can’t find room enough to encamp unless we go into a wheat field. It looks rather bad to see so much fine grain destroyed but it belongs to secesh so of course it must go. Every house we come to there is a white rag stuck out as a protection and no one is alarmed to take anything that belongs to them, but our boys will not pass by corn without helping themselves for they must have feed for the horses.

But I must close. It is a warm and pleasant day and the roads are getting very dusty but McClellan is here and he will not let his army march on Sunday as he does not consider it necessary. No more at present. The boys are all well. Bob White is strong and hearty as usual. I am in good health. Write soon. — H. S. Murray