‘The Storm of War Broke Upon Us’: Three Soldier Letters Bring the Horrors of Battle Back Home


For greater than a decade, William “Griff” Griffing has been transcribing letters of Civil Battle troopers. It’s not only a interest, however a ardour. He has transcribed hundreds of letters and diaries, many held in non-public collections, which he posts on his Fb web page and web site “Spared and Shared.” We requested Griff to share with us a few of his most favored, memorable, or compelling letters to this point. Try our Autumn 2022 difficulty of Civil Battle Instances for the primary choice, together with a letter from a soldier recounting his experiences on the Battle of Shiloh; a civilian who survived William Quantrill’s grisly raid of Lawrence, Kan., in August 1863; and one from an officer of a USCT regiment recounting the Black troops’ terrifying battle on the Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads on June 10, 1864.

Listed here are three extra of his picks:

Charles L. Fox

This letter was written by Charles L. Fox of the eighth Indiana Gentle Artillery. He wrote the letter in October 1863 following the Battle of Chickamauga, sharing a riveting and detailed account of the battery’s motion throughout the engagement. He attributes his survival from a bullet directed at him solely as a result of it first ripped via his Bible earlier than slamming into and destroying the beloved image of his fiancée. 

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Jim Doncaster and is published with his express consent.]

Chattanooga, Tennessee
October fifteenth 1863

Pricey Sister,

After ready a very long time in hopes of listening to from you, I now try to write down you one other, pondering maybe that my different epistle could have been mislaid or miscarried. I’m nicely and hope this may discover you an identical with no apprehension on my account for little doubt you’ve heard of the 2 days battles on the Chickamauga Creek which I used to be in and took fairly an lively half, having been so carefully engaged as to lose our total Battery excluding 1 limber and two caissons. I assumed that Stone River was heat work, however that was play in contrast with the 2 days preventing on the Chickamauga or deadman’s river. I presume it’s ineffective to provide the particulars of the struggle normally, however shall communicate solely of our Battery and myself, my losses, and my slim escape, and what saved me. Properly I can not say with some others that I got here off with no scratch for I didn’t.

I shall not attempt to describe our place for anybody not acquainted with the mode of forming a line of battle, it will be relatively obscure. It is sufficient to say that we have been known as from the left middle of our military to assist our left wing on Saturday morning about ten o’clock of the twentieth of September the place we had been in place on the financial institution of the Chickamauga River for 3 or 4 days, sometimes shelling the Rebs as they selected to indicate themselves. However the rascals seeing that we have been ready for all of them alongside our line moved to their proper (our left) and there concentrated all their faces understanding that was their solely hope with the forces they then had. They’d it nicely deliberate, however because the previous saying is that the perfect laid plans of males and mice typically fail, so it was on this case; for his or her plan—or relatively Gen. Bragg’s—was to get reinforcements from Richmond and attract all his scattered forces in Mississippi and Alabama, Western Virginia, after which with one mighty blow sweep Rosy [Rosecrans] and his military from the soil of East Tennessee and once more are available in possession of their saltpetre works and coal mines and salt works, Chattanooga and all, and even to go as far as to take the little metropolis of Murfreesboro which we laid and fortified for six months only for the good thing about such fellows.

However Rosy was as opposite as a hog to drive though they did out quantity us 4 to 1. Properly, they—after shifting from the left of middle to the left wing on Saturday—have been variety and condescending sufficient to depart us one gun and all of the caissons. That gun was No. 3—the one on which I belong. However that night among the boys within the infantry not liking for them to have them, charged on the Rebs and took them [back] once more. So we got here out as we went in excepting one man killed and a number of other wounded and lacking.

However now, my losses. In that day’s struggle, I misplaced one overcoat which I miss very a lot—particularly on this moist climate. My knapsack with my portfolio by which have been all my letters, and my letters from my Dulcinea, and paper and stamps, envelopes, &c. to the quantity of $2.00, however your image I carried in my watch pocket in my pants. [I also lost] my knapsack [that] contained all my garments, due to this fact leaving me with none garments besides what I had on my again and chilly, frosty evening at that. We slept as finest we might on Saturday evening and on Sunday morn about ten o’clock within the morning we have been known as out but it surely was so nonetheless and calm. Not a random shot broke the terrible stillness which led us all to assume that the Rebs have been in favor of observing the Sabbath in addition to Rosy who gave orders to not convey on an engagement except attacked.

However immediately the storm of battle broke upon us and for a second you’d assume that every one of Heaven’s artillery have been turned free. On they got here like a line of demons, yelling like fiends incarnate. Nonetheless they have been massed on their left. They got here column after column, line after line, and our gallant troopers stood, however not lengthy, for no man or set of males uncovered to the hearth of ten instances their quantity at this specific level might stand up to that terrific hearth lengthy except he have been one thing greater than human. However on they got here. Our males turned and run and we have been ordered to retreat and did so. One gun run right into a tree and the horses being shot down, the drivers have been ordered to avoid wasting themselves which they [were] glad to have a possibility to do.

Once we have been ordered again, we have been instructed to take a place on a hill [Horseshoe Ridge] simply throughout the [Dyer Farm] cornfield which we have been then crossing. And the infantry had the identical orders however they weren’t inclined to take action and after we arrived on the prime, not an infantry man was to be seen, so after all there was no assist for our Battery. Right here we unlimbered and commenced firing and after we would mow down their ranks, they have been shortly stuffed up with free troops for Bragg had been receiving reinforcements since Saturday midday. They then halted of their middle and threw spherical their proper and left and on our proper they flanked us, or in different phrases, got here spherical in order that they might hearth throughout the size of the Battery, the regiments on our proper having run and left us to the mercy of a cross hearth. Properly I used to be mendacity on my face after placing a load within the gun, ready for No. 4 to fireplace it off when a minié got here whistling alongside and went in on my left facet, simply above my waistband and thru my shirt jacket, tearing a Testomony all to items and fully riddling my pocket with holes—and worst of all, breaking my meant’s portrait right into a thousand items. All I ever noticed afterwards was a small piece of the matting. However I nonetheless have a small one though [not] so good an image as the opposite. The image was an ambrotype and the glass flew in my hand in lots of small items and that accounts for the scratch I acquired.

I feel possibly that the image saved my life because it was subsequent to me, the testomony being on the surface. The ball handed via and into the alternative wheel the place it lodged. However our horses being shot down—essentially the most of them—we had orders to get what horses weren’t killed and get out of there, which we did. Out of three we tried to chop out of the harness, we received one—the opposite two being shot down whereas loosening them. As we had no weapons and nothing else to struggle with, we got here again to Chattanooga that evening the place we’re at current within the Artillery Reserve ¹ and prone to be right here a while the place we’re ready patiently to listen to from all our buddies and relations. So please write quickly and excuse errors and dangerous writing for I’m out of shape. If it isn’t asking an excessive amount of, I ought to like your {photograph} and your meant’s or possibly husband’s earlier than this time. So no extra at current. Goodbye.

William Beynon Phillips

This subsequent letter is from a set of letters written by William Beynon Phillips (2nd Pennsylvania Provisional 2nd Heavy Artillery) and is now within the palms of a descendant named Greg Taylor. Greg approached me a few years in the past to transcribe these letters and they’re among the many first that I revealed. What’s most intriguing to me about these letters is that William was a local of Wales and it stays a wonderment to me that foreigners have been so prepared to step into the ranks and threat their lives for his or her adopted nation. Although foreign-born troopers are estimated to have made up 1 / 4 to a 3rd of the Union military, I’ve discovered them under-represented within the letters I’ve transcribed so William’s letters are one thing out of the abnormal.

William’s letters are on their very own web site: “My Eyes Noticed All—in Crimson & Flame” which may be discovered right here: https://wbp2ndpaha.wordpress.com

William Phillips (Courtesy of Greg Taylor)

This specific letter was written in July 1864 from their encampment close to Petersburg. Although William had been within the service for a while by this level within the battle, more often than not had been spent garrisoning the Washington, D. C. forts and it wasn’t till 1864 when Normal Ulysses S. Grant gathered up these veteran artillerists and made squaddies of them that they turned battle examined. As a result of William was a gifted author, he was chosen to function the adjutant and was a private favourite of Colonel August A. Gibson, who at one time commanded the regiment. William writes with a humorousness and candor.

On this letter, he displays on the assault made by his regiment on June 17, 1864, within the opening section of the Petersburg Siege.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Greg Taylor and is published with his express consent.]

Headquarters, Provisional 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery
2nd Brigade, 1st Division, ninth Military Corps
Close to Petersburg, Virginia
Fourth of July, 1864 (Night)

Pricey Annie,

I’m exceedingly blissful to reply your letter (or wee word) acquired yesterday. I might scold you for such a puny factor as that was, however, that you just have been so variety as to place some hassle on one thing which I prize very extremely, and am very, very grateful certainly.

Now my pricey, what shall I say? I say that one other Fourth is about receding into that eternity, which many people poor fellows are threatened with, spent, I needn’t add in not essentially the most agreeable method, cooped up, and never dare stand as much as straighten a stiffened limb with out getting a reminder from these fellows over the sector, who’re very careless in firing their items, they could hit a fellow. The one agreeable characteristic within the day is that we now have all day been anticipating “to maneuver on the enemy’s works” or at the very least a energetic artillery duel. However I’m upset even on this. Every part and everybody has been quieter than I’ve skilled within the marketing campaign. [There is] nothing to be heard however the sharpshooters who, just like the depraved, are by no means at relaxation. A plague on them.

We had a giant deal with at the moment. Someone despatched us a barrel of onions and about 200 pickles. The boys have a breath this night extra robust than candy. If the “ Johnnies ” ever try a break tonight, I half imagine they’ll be pushed again by the relatively robust odor of onions.

Since I wrote you final, nothing has transpired in Military issues – solely that from there we now have superior some 900 yards. I hardly like this monotonous enterprise of besieging. There may be not sufficient pleasure to counterbalance the hazard. However I have to grin and bear it, take a smoke, and construct castles within the air. It’s no use, you realize, to despond, however to hope on, hope ever, and make calculations for some good previous time I’m going to have subsequent winter.

I imagine I’m a fortunate youth. I suppose – when you solely noticed what the Rebs have thrown at me for the final 60 days – you would assume so too. However on that terrible seventeenth [of] June, [the battlefield] was the most well liked place but. I used to be so excited, that I knew nothing of the hazard. My eyes noticed all, in crimson and flame, however I couldn’t digest it by some means. [The] solely factor I knew I used to be speeding [forward], half carried on by another energy than myself, till I tumbled head and heels within the insurgent works, to see the “Johnnies” put via the woods past. However I didn’t keep there lengthy, for they rallied and drove us out. However the subsequent time we made them go away, and keep at a good distance of some 1000 yards. My eyes noticed all, in crimson and flame, however I couldn’t digest it by some means.

Combating is a severe enterprise, Annie. It’s no use for anyone to say that he cares nothing for a battle. I do. I don’t prefer it. However when I’m ordered into it, I’m going. And after getting up my pleasure somewhat, I handle to face as much as the scratch nearly as good as anybody – I imply that – when I’ve to run up on a cost, proper in enamel of their batteries. I don’t care half as a lot when the rebels assault us. Then by George, the shoe pinches on the opposite foot. My inventory in commerce to do that enterprise is about an oz. of braveness and the steadiness in pleasure and honor. With that, I handle to placed on a daring face and provides the Rebs a dusting from time to time.

Now I suppose you will see that a great many errors on this letter. Excuse them, my pricey, when you please. These confounded sharpshooters have a specific spike on my headquarters, and the mud flies throughout from their photographs, fired onto my embankments. That, you realize, will not be very nice. Then these abominable mortars – they’re opening once more and, from the very fact of our traces of battle being between the Insurgent Artillery and our personal, and either side working their weapons to silence the opposite, we’re in a pleasant repair.

I’m going to get out of this enterprise subsequent winter, as quickly because the marketing campaign is over. I imagine I can discover one thing extra agreeable, the place the thought of getting reduce up into no person is aware of what will not be entertained. My like to Sue, and inform her I’m anticipating a letter from her. There goes one other. Phiz, bang.

Write quickly. Write usually. Like to all. Now I’m achieved.

Goodbye, Good evening. My finest affection and love,

Yours & Yours, Amen — William

Enoch C. Dow

This final letter is written by Enoch C. Dow of the nineteenth Maine Infantry. Within the letter, datelined from “Camp close to Falmouth, Va.,” Enoch describes the opening section of the Battle of Chancellorsville which received off to a splendid begin. He attributes the early success to the choice to noiselessly carry the pontoon boats to the Rappahannock river as an alternative of hauling them by wagon—somewhat identified reality that’s usually missed in historical past books.

[This pension file letter was collected by Charles T. Joyce.]

Enoch C. Dow (Charles T. Joyce Assortment)

Camp close to Falmouth, Va.
Wednesday, April twenty ninth 1863

Sister Nellie [Ellen (Dow) Harriman],

As I’ve not written to you for a while, I assumed I might simply drop a number of traces this night informing you that we’re all nicely. Additionally that the entire military is on the transfer excepting our division which is doing picket obligation this present day. We will not be prone to advance till the picket line is damaged up which won’t be till our of us get throughout the river and provides them battle. Our troops appear to be shifting as much as the correct principally to cross sooner or later there. I understood that our cavalry crossed at Kelly’s Ford yesterday and the report at the moment is that they have within the rear of the enemy and are doing finely. If that’s the case, I feel we’ll present them what yankees can do between now and subsequent Saturday evening.

The battle has already begun though not a lot has been achieved at but in the direction of it. There was somewhat preventing at Kelly’s Ford yesterday and a few extra this morning while our troops have been crossing right here on the centre however they didn’t make a lot out of it for they hardly knew that our males have been coming earlier than they have been over the river. The best way they shocked them was by the boys carrying the pontoon boats right down to the river as an alternative of hauling them as they often do—not making however somewhat noise within the operation (and it being foggy and darkish). ² They received their boats into the river earlier than the insurgent pickets knew or found what they have been as much as. They tried horrible arduous to get into their rifle pits however the damned yankees—as they name them—threw the shells into their ranks so quick that they couldn’t come it in order that they broke and run like sheep for some previous constructing the place they might get out of sight. I imagine there was solely two wounded throughout the skirmish of our males however I reckon that they had a number of lifeless ones to bury by the looks of issues.

There may be some fifteen thousand infantry and a lot of batteries throughout right here on the centre and it appears to be like like there can be heat work tomorrow if not earlier than. However the battle will probably be over and the victory determined by the point you obtain this doubtless. There may be many a poor fellow soldier that by no means will see the solar sink behind the horizon once more. I could also be one in every of that quantity. Nonetheless, we won’t consider that however belief to higher energy.

Inform Father that we have been paid off yesterday 4 months pay so there will probably be $32.00 I acquired on the city treasure for him to gather.

Excuse this for it was achieved in a rush. And inform anyone to write down in the event that they know the way for I haven’t acquired however one letter from house for 3 weeks. Write as quickly as you may. Goodbye till I write once more, Nellie.

—Sergt. E. C. Dow


Go to Spared and Shared at https://www.fb.com/Griff.CWLetters/ and https://billyyankjohnnyreb.wordpress.com/2015/12/05/list-of-soldiers-letters/.

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