Facing Confederate “Torpedoes” During the Peninsula Campaign – Letter By Captain Charles W. Tilden, who would go on to lead the 16th Maine at Gettysburg
In this letter Charles William Tilden, a resident of Castine, ME. was Captain of Company B in the 2nd Maine Infantry. Just a month later, he was Lt. Col. of the 16th Maine. His exploits with that unit are legendary… captured twice and escaped both times!
The letter is 4 long pages in easy to read pencil. Tilden is writing his wife, Juliet. Here is the great content:
- Encampment 2nd ME Regt. West Point, VA. May 11/62. My Dear Juliet, Having a few leisure moments I knew of no better or more pleasant way of passing than holding communication with the dear ones at home. I wrote you somewhat hastily just was we were leaving Yorktown (the 7th inst.), my birthday at which time it was my intention to write you more fully, but the order was given to strike our tents & be ready to march.
- We immediately struck them & marched out some three miles & encamped close by the enemies’ fortifications which they evacuated on Sunday. I will not attempt to give you any detailed account of the victories our Army has achieved during the past ten days as it is next to impossible to get any correct account in camp where there are so many rumors going the rounds. Suffice it to say they have been brilliant indeed & Genl. McClellan has won laurels which we all hope he may long live to enjoy.
- Undoubtedly you have a fuller & more correct account of our doings through the papers than any of us are able to give. On Wednesday we were again ordered to strike our tents & have everything packed & be in readiness to go on board transport for this place. Everything was immediately put in readiness with the expectation of being ordered off at once, but we remained on our ground until about seven o’clock p.m. when the order was given to move.
- The most of our Regiment came up on the Steamer “Hero.” My own Company & Company G. were put on board the Steamer “W. W. Frazier” there not being room on the “Hero.” We remained at Yorktown on board Steamer until the next morning when we left for this place, arriving here about eleven o’clock, distance some thirty-five miles from Yorktown.
- The sail up the York River was really fine, it being a fine clear day giving one an opportunity of viewing the scenery along the river, which was beautiful. I could not help thinking of some of New England farmers.
- IN ALL OUR TRAVELS THUS FAR WE HAVE HAD AN OPPORTUNITY OF SEEING THE EVIL OF SLAVE LABOR.
- Near Yorktown there were several fine peach orchards which were all in full bloom about the time of my return to camp. In one I think there were nearly three thousand trees, arranged in such a manner as to present a straight line from any point in the orchard. They were somewhat injured before the evacuation of Yorktown by the enemies’ guns as they were continually throwing shot & shell among our troops who were stationed in pretty close proximity to the orchard.
- The country in this part of Virginia is very much different from that we have formerly occupied, being much more level & I should judge more fertile than on the Potomac. Where we are now in camp there are large fields of wheat which were laid down last fall but are now very nearly spoiled as our troops have made use of them as a highway.
- I forgot to mention in my former letter the manner in which THE REBELS HAD MINED THE GROUND PRIOR THEIR LEAVING, account of which you have probably noticed. THEY HAD PLACED TORPEDOES IN THE GROUND OUTSIDE THEIR WORKS & INSIDE THEIR WORKS WITH THE INTENTION OF DESTROYING OUR TROOPS AS THEY PASSED OVER THE ROAD, but thank Heaven they were foiled in this their cowardly design. THERE WERE SOME POOR FELLOWS, HOWEVER, SO UNFORTUNATE AS TO GET INTO THE TRAP.
- Nine of our Regiment have as yet been injured by them. THEY ARE SHELLS PLACED A FEW INCHES BELOW THE SURFACE OF THE GROUND WITH A PERCUSSION CAP TO THEM, SO THAT IF ANYONE STEPS ON THEM, THEY EXPLODE SCATTERING DEATH AND DESTRUCTION TO ALL AROUND.
- SOME OF THEM WERE FOUND PLACED IN A ROW WITH A LONG STRING ATTACHED TO THEM & ON THE END OF THE STRING A PAIL OR SOMETHING OF THE KIND WAS FASTENED SO AS TO DECEIVE OUR TROOPS, WHICH IF TAKEN HOLD OF WOULD HAVE EXPLODED THE WHOLE TRAIN.
- Our Engineers have succeeded in finding many of such places and undoubtedly saved the lives of many. On our march to the fortifications at Yorktown, I had an opportunity of seeing how near we were to the enemies’ pickets the night we dug the rifle pit for our sharp shooters.
- We were within one hundred fifty feet of them while they were placing their torpedoes in the ground, intending for us to make an attack on them & in this manner defeat us. Had we dug a few feet more we should have come right into them.
- It is certainly an all protecting Providence that kept us out the danger around us. I have just been out of my tent to learn the cause of the cheering in the different Regiments & find that Genl. McClellan has just passed through the encampment. His presence always brings a loud cheer from all the troops.
- Last evening we had orders to have three days cooked rations in our haversacks & be ready to march this morning; morning came & the order was countermanded. We shall probably leave tomorrow morning, but do not know where we shall go.
- I think it quite likely we shall meet the enemy on the road to Richmond, as I learn they intend making a stand some twelve miles from the place. Hope & trust if such is the case we may come out successful. While we were in camp in front of Yorktown, I was much surprised to see your brother George who came into camp one morning. He was at Chessman’s Landing in his vessel with a load of hay. Looks well & hearty. I have been hoping to find time to write Mother & George but shall have to delay it awhile longer as my time is somewhat occupied being on the move from place to place. Say to them they must write as often as possible, and I will reciprocate as soon as opportunity offers.
- We have not had any mail for some three or four days, am in hopes we may receive the back mails tomorrow. Love to all the family & inquiring friends. Kiss the children & say to Master Charlie he must remember his promise to me the morning I left home. Write as often as possible & direct as before. Your Aff. Husband C. W. Tilden
A great content letter from one of the most famous Gettysburg Colonels.
#L5-11-62 ME – Price $595