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

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6 May 1862

On Road to Williamsburg
May 6, 1862

Dear Brother,

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.