1863: William Wycoff to Alfred Giauque

This letter was written by William Wycoff (1842-1927) of Co. H, 3rd Iowa Cavalry. He enlisted as a corporal but rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant during the war.

William was the son of Peter Wycoff (1801-1877) and Elizabeth Woodrow (1804-1867) of Union, Van Buren County, Iowa. William mentions two of his siblings in this letter: Robert (“Bob”) Wycoff (1840-1916) and John Wycoff (1836-1905).

“On the 1st of June 1864 a considerable army of cavalry infantry and artillery moved out from Memphis under command of Gen. Sturgis in search of the enemy. The movement was a blunder and disastrous failure, owing entirely to the incompetency of the General commanding. The battle which took place is known as the battle of Gun Town in Mississippi. It occurred on the 10th of the month. The cavalry far in advance, bro’t on the action about 10 0’clock am. The troopers were dismounted and formed line of battle & lay down to await the charge of the enemy which was seen to be coming. It soon came. The rebels came on with shouting & whooping, and much shooting. The thin line of cavalry easily drove back the enemy. A second and a third charge by the rebels likewise failed. The bullets came awful close with the wicked ping of the minnie ball. One ball struck the gun barrel in Wm. Wycoff’s hands, and another struck a small hickory sapling directly in front of Wm’s head as he lay in line which probably saved his life. Joe Myers who lay just beside of Wm was struck in the left temple and a great flow of blood gushed out.”

William is buried in the Conway Springs, Sumner County, Kansas, next to his wife, Lucetta Jane Robertson (1848-1930). They were married in April 1866 and had at least nine children.

I’m conjecturing the letter was written to Alfred Giauque who was the same age as William and resided in Union, Van Burnen County, Iowa.


Camp near Arcadia [Missouri]
March 12th 1863

Friend Alfred,

I suppose you have often wondered why I have not written you before this, for it is almost two months since you wrote to me. But since that time we have marched many a long, weary, toilsome, and muddy mile, over many a rocky mountain, and across many a swift and turbulent stream. We have encountered and overcome hardships to which all our past experience in military life cannot be compared. We have traveled over almost all of South Missouri and part of Arkansas since we left Houston, which was on the 27th of January. It was extremely bad weather then and it has been ever since. We joined Gen. Davidson’s Army at West Plains on the 30th of January, but to relate even a condensed account from that time would cover many pages.

I should like for you to have a little history of the events which have transpired within the last two months for it would be of no little interest to you, but it would be too tedious a job to write it all. I suppose you read of the brilliant dash on Batesville, Arkansas, by Col. [George E.] Waring [See Skirmish at Batesville]. I and Joe both had the honor of being with that expedition and we know all about it, and we know that the brilliancy of the dash was nothing to compare to the hardships and privations we underwent, the extreme frigid cold to which we were exposed, or the brutish manner we were used by Col. Waring. The expedition was very much like the —

“King of France with 20,000 men
Rode up the hill and then rode down again.”

So with us; we marched to Batesville and then marched back again. ¹

On the 10th of February, the whole of the Army of the South East Missouri took up its line of march for Pilot Knob and after 10 days of hard marching, we arrived at this place which is two miles from Pilot Knob. We were glad a glad set of boys when we came in sight of this place, for we had been banished from any signs of civilization so long, that it did our hearts good to behold some signs of civilization and enlightenment.

On the 21st of February, we were paid off and we all got pretty happy over it, as it was almost eight months since we had been paid before. Greenbacks flourish pretty extensively yet and carousals, hilarity, and gambling has been all the go ever since. That is one reason I have not written sooner.

On Sunday the 22nd, I was happily surprised to meet brother Bob in the streets who had come up from St. Louis to see us. He staid here one day and I guess he got pretty tired of soldiering in that time for it was the muddiest, disagreeable time I ever saw. But since that time there has been a few days of nice weather and a couple of days ago, John came up and we had a good time as you may suppose.

Well, I must tell you the important news about the company. Several changes have taken place since we came here. The first and foremost is that our former Orderly Sergeant Peter H. Walker has within a few days received his commission as Captain. James R. Grousbeck is Orderly and Acting Lieutenant, and his commission will be forthcoming in a few days. Miles N. Newman is Sixth Sergeant. I presume that Samuel A. Young will be Orderly after Jim Grousbeck gets his commission.

Well, I must close this letter. It is not as entertaining as I would wish it to be, but it is owing to the way I feel. I don’t feel in a writing humor and you will have to bear with it this time. Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain your friend, — William Wycoff

¹ The 3rd Iowa Cavalry was brigaded with the 3rd Wisconsin and the 4th Missouri Cavalry on this expedition to Batesville, commanded by Col. George E. Waring (though history books only seem to credit the 4th Missouri). The “dash” on Batesville, Arkansas, resulted in its capture, but being outnumbered, was evacuated later the same night. The troopers in Waring’s brigade bivouacked a few miles north of Batesville and suffered through one of the worst snowstorms and bitterly cold nights imaginable. They moved out the next morning through two feet of snow and many of them suffered frostbite.




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