An Amazing 10-Page (Legal Size) Letter on the June 13-15, 1863 BATTLE OF WINCHESTER, VA… AND LIFE AT LIBBY PRISON AFTER CAPTURE! Written by Timothy Parker – 18th Connecticut Infantry
Timothy Parker was born in Hopesville, Connecticut and mustered into Company A of the 18th Connecticut on August 18th, 1862. He was promoted through the ranks to Commissary Sergeant in November 1862. Rarely do we find such an extensive letter with graphic battle details and then a discussion of the deplorable conditions at the Confederate Prisons of Libby and Belle Isle.
Parker is writing his sister upon his arrival at Camp Parole in Annapolis, Maryland on July 6th, 1862. Here is the content:
- “My Dear Sister, I commenced a letter yesterday with the intention of devoting a good share of the day in writing but I had only written one page when we had to leave and come to this place which is about 2 1/2 miles from College Green Barracks and is out in the country.
- The accommodations are not as good as at the former place and the arrangements for cooking not as good either. There we had barracks to stay in and a splendid place to bathe in salt water as often as we saw fit and our food was all cooked for us so that we had nothing to do but keep clean etc. Here we are in tents and they are not of the best either, all the tents were occupied when we came and so we had to take a large piece of canvass and place it across a pole for a shelter and it is cool and airy. It looks like the roof of a house set up about four feet from the ground there are no sides. We are going to fix it different today as it is but little protection against the rain unless it comes straight down as it is at present; pouring down in torrent.
- College Green Barracks is where paroled prisoners are first sent when they come here in order to clean up and get some clean clothing etc. and then come here until exchanged sometimes being months before it happens; but I will now commence back a few weeks and mention some of the things which have happened since you heard from me At Winchester.
- First–about 12 o’clock on the night of the 11th of June we struck our tents loaded the wagons and awaited the enemy until morning but they did not attack us so at daylight we pitched our tents again. On the morning of the 13th about 1 o’clock we again turned out and struck our tents, loaded the wagons and was ready for a start, and lay quiet until morning, but no enemy appearing we again unloaded the wagons and pitched tents which had been done only for a short time when our pickets gave the alarm and the 18th being nearest the point of action were soon then engaged in skirmishing with the enemy and were soon supported by a battery of artillery which made things look quite lively.
- THE SHELLS FLYING QUITE BRISKLY, THIS WAS HALF OR THREE QUARTERS OF A MILE FROM CAMP. BUT WHERE I COULD SEE WHAT WAS GOING ON. I was busily engaged in the meantime in taking down tents and loading the wagons after which was done I had a chance to watch the progress of the fight.
- The wagons (7 of them) would not contain near all of the baggage. the knapsacks of the whole regiment being left on the ground. The wagons were then started for the fortifications on the other side of the city and I waited for some of them to come back for the rest of the baggage.
- WHILE WAITING FOR THEM TO COME BACK, ANOTHER BATTERY OF ARTILLERY CAME DOWN AND HALTED A FEW MINUTES IN THE ROAD ALONGSIDE OF OUR CAMP. THE ENEMY SEEING THEM COMMENCED THROWING SHOT AND SHELL AT THEM AND WE BEING DIRECTLY IN RANGE WERE GENTLY ADMONISHED BY THE WHIZZING AND FALLING OF SHELL AROUND US, CONCLUDED WE HAD BETTER GET OUT OF THAT PLACE WHICH WE DID AND WENT OVER INTO TOWN.
- I stayed there until the wagons were returning and then went back with them to get those baggage. I went back this way twice and then was so tired I did not go again but the teams went back once after this, our regiment had in the meantime together with artillery fell back into the city.
- I went into the fort and it being on a hill, I had an opportunity of watching the skirmishing going on with occasionally a shell from our batteries, the enemy did not appear in any force on Saturday.
- On Sunday morning our skirmishers were again sent out to look after the enemy in front and in the city the skirmishing was quite sharp all day and once in a while a shell would be sent into the woods from our guns in order to draw out the enemy if possible but they would not reply but THERE WAS A SUSPICIOUS QUIETNESS WHICH DID NOT SEEM QUITE RIGHT I was engaged during the day on Sunday in drawing rations and attending to the making of coffee and cooking so as to refresh our boys when there was a chance.
- They were pretty nearly tired out. I sat down on the ground during the afternoon thinking I would write a few lines (I enclose what I had written) when ALL ON A SUDDEN FROM THE HILL IN OUR REAR CAME THE ROAR OF ARTILLERY SHOWING WHY THE ENEMY HAD BEEN QUIET ALL DAY AND THE SHOT AND SHELL FELL THICK AND FAST REPLIED TO GALLANTLY BY WHAT FEW PIECES OF CANNON WE HAD POSTED IN THE FORTIFICATIONS AROUND THE TEAMS.
- Commenced hitching up horses and mules ready for a start. There must have been two or three hundred two and four horse & mule teams and as fast as they were ready were started out into the plain out of range of the shell. I had our seven teams soon ready with what they could carry, still leaving all the knapsacks, blankets, etc. behind, and fell into a line with the other teams ready for anything further which would come up.
- CO. A HAD CAPTURED THAT DAY A HORSE AND SADDLE WITH A MAN SUPPOSED TO BE A SPY AND THE HORSE WAS TURNED OVER TO OUR QUARTERMASTER SO I HAD A HORSE AND WENT ON WITH THE WAGONS.
- The firing was kept up until after dark and then all was still soon after dark, an officer came along and told those in charge of the wagons to have the animals unhitched and be ready to start at the order leaving all the wagons behind. which was soon done and the horses and mules mounted by the men in charge & the guards ready for a start.
- After this I went back into the fort with the Quarter master and we laid down on a pile of knapsacks and slept a short time. Soon the Colonel came along and said get ready to retreat. I got a lot of hard bread for the boys and two or three o’clock on Monday morning WE LEFT THE FORTS AFTER HAVING SPIKED THE CANNON and commenced our retreat towards Martinsburg leaving everything in the shape of baggage behind, all of course fell into the hands of the enemy in the morning.
- We had got about four miles from Winchester and were rather carelessly going by a piece of woods when a few scattering shots told of the presence of the enemy (this was early in the morning before daylight) the team horses and mules and cavalry were scattered thickly along the road on each side of the infantry.
- After a few scattering shots the rebs poured in a whole volley musketry and commenced shelling which startled the men on horses and mules and they rushed with confusion through the ranks of infantry, creating great disorder and for the time being almost a retreat. AFTER A WHILE THEY RALLIED AND THE 18TH FOUGHT NOBLY UNTIL AFTER SUNRISE. I cannot state the particulars of the battle it would take too much time and space. I saw Alfred a short time before the battle commenced and relieved him of a hospital knapsack containing medicine which he was carrying and which I carried until after the surrender.
- I kept along just in the rear of the regiment during the fight and until the surrender I WAS CONSTANTLY UNDER FIRE AND IN DANGER BUT NOT HALF AS MUCH AS THE MEN IN THE RANKS MANY OF WHOM WERE KILLED & WOUNDED COL. ELY WAS AS BRAVE AS A LION AND WON THE ADMIRATION OF ALL BOTH IN HIS OWN REGIMENT AND OTHERS.
- HE WAS IN COMMAND OF A BRIGADE, HAD ONE HORSE SHOT FROM UNDER HIM AND HAD HIS SWORD BROKEN WITH A SHELL. Nearly all our officers I hear behaved well. AFTER THE SURRENDER WE WERE TAKEN BACK TO THE FORT WE HAD LEFT THAT MORNING AND OVER WHICH THE REBEL RAG WAS FLYING, THEY REFUSED TO LET US BURY OUR DEAD I DON’T KNOW WHY.
- WE STAYED IN THE FORT UNTIL WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON AND AWFUL DIRTY, DUSTY AND NO SHELTER FROM THE HOT SUN WHICH WAS SCORCHING. THE WATER WAS POOR AND DUST BLEW FURIOUSLY AND BUT LITTLE TO EAT. YOU CAN IMAGINE HOW SOME 3000 OR MORE OF US MANAGED TO GET ALONG SLEEPING IN THE DIRT.
- The crowd was worse than at an agricultural fair so you can have an idea how we were situated and how glad we were to start out of there on Wednesday afternoon on our way to Stanton 92 miles distant. We marched on foot and arrived there the next Monday afternoon. We marched during the day and at night had our food issued to us consisting of about a pint of flour a small piece of meat which we could see and a pinch of salt. We mixed the flour with water and cooked in plates making a kind of pan cake not very light. This was our food for the next 5 days. We slept on the ground most anywhere. It rained several times on our way there which made it most uncomfortable especially raining at night and no shelter.
- The officers fared the same as the men all footing it into Stanton. We were not allowed to be with them they marching under a separate guard but we usually encamped near together at night. I got an opportunity to speak with them once on the route. From Stanton we went to Richmond by cars. WE ARRIVED THERE TUESDAY MORNING AND WENT IMMEDIATELY TO THE LIBBY PRISON where we stayed overnight and the next afternoon WENT TO A MISERABLE HOLE ON BELLE ISLAND where we stayed until the men here want to get furloughs and go home if it is possible.
- I am persuaded many will take French leave if they can’t get home in furloughs but all are willing to come back as soon as exchanged.
- It looks rather tough to be obliged to stay here not knowing how long, with nothing to do only cook our meat & coffee. According to the terms of our parole we can answer no role call or do any of the duties of a soldier and are therefore comparatively free to do as we have a mind to except to go home.
- I should like much to go home and shall try to do so but there is nothing certain about it, indeed the prospect is against it.
- THE 18TH IS SO MUCH BROKEN UP I THINK IT WOULD BE NO MORE THAN RIGHT WE SHOULD GO HOME AND REORGANIZE–I wrote a few lines to Governor Buckingham the other day requesting him in behalf of the regiment to use his influence to obtain for us furloughs but I am afraid it will be of little avail.
- Since I came here, I learn of the whereabouts of a number of whom I knew nothing and find some escaped and some taken prisoners and paroled without being sent to Richmond. I have met with two persons here I was acquainted with a long time ago. One is a captain. I boarded with him when I was living in New York the other is Nat. Grumman son of Grumman who lived up by the church. he is a paroled prisoner and belonged to the 20th Conn. has been here since sometime in May.
- I enclose for a curiosity a piece of the grating from a window in Libby prison [unfortunately not present]. I could write much more but am getting tired. WE HAVE A GOOD PLACE HERE TO READ AND WRITE. THREE LARGE TENTS PLACED ALONG IN A ROW AND TABLES IN THEM WITH QUITE A LIBRARY OF BOOKS, MAGAZINES, & PAPERS OF DIFFERENT KINDS WE CAN GO ROAMING AROUND THE WOODS IF WE CHOOSE.
- Blackberries are quite plenty and close at hand. There are some new barracks being put up but I don’t suppose they will be ready to use for some time. I am feeling first-rate hearty and rugged and not homesick although I would like to see you all very much indeed. I have got my opera glass yet and will send it home if I have a chance. They did not take that from me although I expected it.
- They took a little spy glass from Albert Pitcher–parcel of thieves I should like to have the pleasure of hanging two or three of them I saw at the Libby prison.
- I could keep on but will draw to a close. Write soon. Give my love to all at home and to Mattie. I think I shall write to Jennie this afternoon. You must excuse this writing as I have written in a hurry and my fingers don’t feel very limber after not having used them for so long. Write soon. Your Aff., Brother Tim. Address Camp Parole Annapolis, Md.”
A lot of great information in this fine letter which is in excellent condition and in nice dark ink.
#L7-6-62CT – Price $950