1863: Mair Pointon to Brother & Sister

Pointon2This letter was written by Mair Pointon (1843-1921) of Co. A, 6th Wisconsin Infantry — a member of the vaunted “Iron Brigade” or “Black Hat Brigade,” though most of the fighting that would earn them the sobriquet was yet in the future when this letter was written in January 1863. Pointon was born in Staffordshire, England in 1843, immigrated to the United States in 1854, and enlisted with the “Sauk County Riflemen” of the famed Iron Brigade, shortly after the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861.

Pointon rose in rank from private to corporal to First Sergeant and finally to 1st Lieutenant of Co. A during his four years of service and was with the regiment through all her engagements. He was wounded on 10 May 1864 at Laurel Hill, Virginia.

“In civil life [Pointon] has been Deputy Postmaster and Town Clerk in Baraboo; Register of Deeds for eight years of Sauk County; twelve years Auditor of Yellow Medicine county, Minnesota.”

The letter was written to his brother Philip and his sister who resided in St. Albans Bay, Vermont. It contains an excellent description of Burnside’s Mud March, as it came to be called.

[Note: Photographs of Pointon were published in his book entitled, “History of the Sauk County Riflemen, Known as Company A, 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865, published in 1909.]

Burnside’s Mud March


Headquarters 4th Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Army Corps
Camp near Belle Plain, Virginia
January 26th 1863

Dear Brother and Sister,

I have just received your letter and am sorry to hear of your being sick. Hope you will be well ‘ere this reaches you. I am well but a little tired and weary yet from our last march.

We left camp on the 20th inst. with the intention to cross the [Rappahannock] river above Falmouth and flank the Rebel works and make them retreat to save their communication. Their works would not be of any account then for they all point on Fredericksburg. We attack them left flank, the works are not worth anything. But God seems to be on their side for it was [a] clear, nice morning when we started and before night the rain poured down in torrents and made the roads impassable for artillery or wagons so we could not move any farther. It rained the next two days most as hard as the first night. Mud was knee deep in the road on the level and in the ravines, the mules and horses would go in all over. I saw 6 mules fast in the mud hitched to a wagon and all dead. In another place I could just see the backs of the mules. They had the cavalry carrying grain and hard bread on their horses.

We started to the Regts. with the two headquarter’s wagons from our train (4 miles in the rear of the troops), had 6 horses on each wagon (4 is the regular number). We did not get more than ½ mile from the train and one team got stuck in a mud hole. We got long levers, put them under the axletree and lifted on them but all to no purpose. It was nothing but quicksand ad the wagon kept sinking deeper so we must get it out quick or not at all. We unloaded the things out of the wagon and the horses could not pull the empty wagon out. We took our [   ] and pried the wagon out. Just then an officer rode up and asked our quartermaster whose train that was. He told him. Says he, “Have you not seen the order that no train shall be moved from its park?” So we had [to] return to the park. We turned around and loaded up, put back to the wagons as fast as the mud would let us. We left about noon and it was night when we got back and had not gone over 1 mile. I was mud from head to foot and wet to the skin. Soldiering is a rough life in such weather as that was.

We was ordered back to camp on the 23rd [and] found our camp occupied by part of the 11th Army Corps. ¹ Our cabin was occupied by a sutler of the 55th Ohio Vols. Part of the roof was torn off, the bunks [and] fireplace was pulled down — things looked pretty hard. We have fixed all up again and are none the worse for wear. I think we will stay here the rest of this winter. There is no use to move an army in Virginia in the winter. One day it is nice weather, the next the mud is a foot deep.

The paymaster has received the money to pay and the boys wish to see him soon as possible. He received $120,000 to pay us — a nice little pile.

Excuse this short letter for I have not much time to write now but I knew you would be anxious to hear from me. I must now close. With my best love to all of you. From your affectionate brother, — M. Pointor

Kiss Effie for me.

¹ In his book, The Iron Brigade: A Military History, Alan Nolan wrote that, “Late at night in the 23rd, the Iron Brigade stumbled into its camp at Belle Plain. There a new insult awaited the men. During the brief absence of the brigade, a group of Ohio and Connecticut regiments had appropriated their huts, occupying most of them and dismantling others for firewood. The reaction of the bedraggled Westerners was not surprising.” A compromise was reached with the interlopers and bloodshed avoided; the other regiments withdrew from the camp the following morning.


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