1863: James Anderson to Minerva (Anderson) Collins

This letter was written by James Anderson (1840-18xx) who enlisted at Staten Island to serve three years in Co. F, 72nd New York Infantry. He mustered in as a private on 21 June 1861, was promoted to corporal no long after, and won his sergeant’s strips on 20 May 1863 — just after this letter was penned to his sister.

In the letter, written just after the Battle of Chancellorsville, James informed his sister of the death of their colonel and of the heavy losses suffered by the 72nd New York Regiment. Major Leonard’s after action report claimed that of the 29 officers and 411 enlisted men of the 72nd entering the action at Chancellorsville, 104 were either killed, wounded, or listed as missing — one-fourth of the entire command.  While searching the battlefield for missing and wounded under a flag-of-truce days days later, some boys of the 72nd learned the details of their colonel’s death causing the men to weep. Col. Stevens’s body was removed from a temporary burial at the Wilderness Church and sent home to Dunkirk.

Later in the war, Sgt. James Anderson of Co. F served as the Third Excelsior’s regimental color bearer — a dubious honor to be sure as it made him an immediate target in any assault. Indeed, he was twice wounded in action — first on 27 November 1863 at One-Mile Run, Virginia, and second, on 19 June 1864 before Petersburg which effectively ended his service.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]


May 18, 1863

Dear Sister,

Col. William O. Stevens

I received your letter and was glad to hear from you. I am well and hope these few lines will find you the same. We have had another fight that lasts 10 days. The loss from our small regiment was great — the number I don’t know. Our Colonel [William O. Stevens was] killed — one that never will be replaced. I suppose that the loss is about 120 — 10 officers. The number killed I don’t know — this is the loss in killed, wounded and missing. But I am safe though our loss was heavy. But where we had 1 killed, the rebs had 10. They come out en mass and the lead and iron was poured into them volley after volley. The grape, the canister, the case and the shell swept them away like the dew before the sun in the days of July. They come out brigade after brigade and fell to the ground never to rise again. Yes, fell dead and wounded like the grain before the reaper’s sickle. Those days left many a fatherless child and many a widow to mourn the loss of that dear one that was slain. I will say no more of the war.

The box come all right. The tape was of no use. It was as wide again as I wanted. I thank you for it. I will send you some books that I would like to have you take care of for me. I will send you a dollar to pay the expenses on them. If I could hear from mother, I would send her some money. I think that she might have told me something about her going. I haven’t heard from any of them but you in some time.

Goodbye. From your affectionate brother, — James Anderson

To Minerva Collins. Goodbye. Direct as before.



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