This letter was written by a soldier belonging to Co. E, 141st Pennsylvania Infantry. He gives an excellent description of the regiment’s movements from Culpepper to Warrenton, Virginia, in the fall of 1863 and describes in detail the skirmish with dismounted troops belonging to Lunsford L. Lomax’s Brigade at Auburn, Virginia, on 13 October, 1863. This skirmish — and another on the following day — would later be considered the opening phase of the “Bristoe Campaign.”
I have attached a company roster which undoubtedly contains the name of the author, yet unidentified. The content suggests to me that the author was an original member of the company, had been in previous battles, was a responsible and dutiful soldier, and was probably older and more highly educated than the average soldier, though probably not an officer. My hunch is that it was written by someone like Cpl. Charles Tracy Hull (1833-1916) who survived the war and became a bank clerk. His parents were Josiah Hull (1807-1881) and Mercy Jones (1808-1880). Hull was believed to have kept a diary during the war as well [see Item #395: McKinney Family Collection at the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.]
Camp near Fairfax Station, Va.
October 17, 1863
My Dear Mother,
I thought I would sit down and write you a few lines to let you know that I am alive and well at this time. It is quite rainy today.
There was a man shot in sight of our camp this afternoon for desertion. He had deserted 3 times. His name was Henry [C.] Beardsley [of Detroit], Co. G, 5th Michigan Volunteers. ¹
I will now give you a brief sketch of our retreat from Culpepper. We started from our old camp at that place on the 10th and went about one mile and formed a line of battle to cover the [movements] of the other corps on the right flank of the army. We was ordered to hold our position at all hazards but as good luck on our part would have it, the Rebels did not attack us and we lay in line of battle until the 11th about 10 o’clock when we got orders to fall back which we did without any loss to our corps. We formed several lines of battle before we crossed the river. We crossed the [river] about 12 o’clock that night and camped for the night on this side of the river where we stayed to guard the fords until the baggage trains could get out of the way. We did not move again until the 13th when we started for Warrenton, keeping a line of skirmishers on our flank all the time for the Rebs was on one road and we was on the other. This is the way we marched until noon when we reached the railroad between Warrenton & Warrenton Junction where we stopped to get our dinner.
After dinner we pulled out on double quick time to take possession of a gap in the mountains but the Rebs had got the start of us for they had got 2 brigades of cavalry there before us. They had dismounted and took a piece of woods for shelter and when we got near enough, they opened on us a perfect hail of bullets. But as the 1st Brigade never runs, we only pushed on the faster until we came up to a little raise of ground when we got orders to [take] cover which we did until the line was all ready and then the order came for the 141st [Pennsylvania], the 63rd, and the 114th was ordered to charge through the woods. As soon as the order was given, every man was on his feet and with bayonets fixed, rushed for the woods. As soon as the Rebs received our first volley, they flow like sheep and well they might for we poured a perfect storm of bullets after them as long as we could see one. But as they were mounted, they soon got out of our way and we marched on as before. We had only 6 or eight men in our company [engaged] — one of them was killed and one wounded slightly. ² There was 12 killed and wounded in our regiment and there was not over 100 men in it. I was among the lucky and came out without a scratch. The man’s name that was killed in our company was Orlando [E.] Loomis from Athens. It was the first fight he was ever in. He was shot through the head.
That night we stayed at a little town about 6 miles this side of Warrenton.
[rest of letter missing]
¹ According to the book, 1861-1865, Union Executions, by Corey Retter, “Henry C. Beardsley, 24, of Detroit, enlisted with Co. G, 5th Michigan Infantry. He was always a worthless, quarrelsome soldier, and a shirk. He deserted before ever fighting a battle, and subsequently enlisted in a cavalry regiment, from which he also deserted. Being caught, with such a record, there was no hope for him. The 1st military execution that ever occurred in the 3rd Corps took place on Friday afternoon in the 1st Division. Beardsley was convicted of 5 charges, the 1st for deserting, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th for giving information to the enemy. The whole Division was marched to the field of execution and formed into a hollow square with open ranks, between which the culprit was marched, guarded, being preceded by a band playing the dead march. It was a solemn scene. He was shot at 2 o’clock p. m., October 16, 1863.” This letter indicates the date was the 17th, not the 16th, unless the letter was datelined inaccurately.
² Regimental records indicate that Alexander Lane was the soldier wounded and Orland E. Loomis was the soldier killed. The regimental history states that Orlando was the son of J. Wright Loomis and was born in Athens township on 5 March 1836. A comrade said of him, “He was unmarried, had one brother and three sisters, a genial, social young man, of good habits and irreproachable character.” The skirmish was at Auburn, Virginia on 13 October 1863.