Battle of Williamsburg, Va. with Amazing Hand-Drawn Map – Lt. John J. Knox, Co. D, 5th Michigan Infantry – “WE REACHED THE TRENCHES AND BAYONETED THOSE WHO WOULD NOT THROW DOWN THEIR ARMS” “FOUND SOME WOUNDED THAT HAD LAID 48 HOURS AND EVEN LONGER WITHOUT ATTRACTING ATTENTION OF ANYONE.”
This letter is hard to believe. 12 pages in beautiful blue ink with great details. On page 13 is a detailed map labeled, “Battle of Williamsburg, May 5th, 1862” (all in the hand of Knox). Here is the content:
- Head Quarters 5th Mich. Vols. Va. Monday Morning May 12th /62
- My Dear Girl, We did not march yesterday and I see a prospect of lying here today. THE REBELS IN THEIR FLIGHT BURNED THE BRIDGES ON THE CHICKAHOMINY RIVER, AND WE HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL THEY ARE REPAIRED OR UNTIL THE PONTOON TRAIN COMES UP – DON’T KNOW WHICH, BUT IF WE DO NOT MOVE, I’LL WRITE YOU MORE PARTICULARLY OF OUR PROCEEDING SINCE LEAVING “CAMP WINFIELD SCOTT.”
- You will see a letter in the Gazette, purporting to have been written by Sergt. Hosmer. I wrote the first part of it, but it appeared so egotistical that I gave it to Hosmer and told him to finish it. Such expressions I have heard from everyone that reached the trenches!
- The compliments to Lt. Gregory & myself became added &, as yet NO NOTICE THE 5TH HAS APPEARED IN THE PAPERS. THIS IS OWING TO REPORTERS FROM THE EASTERN STATES WHO ARE SO ANXIOUS TO GIVE THEIR TROOPS CREDIT FOR SOME FIGHTING, THEY HAVE TO STEAL FROM WESTERN MEN. WHEN THE OFFICIAL REPORT IS MADE, WE WILL UNDOUBTEDLY BE NOTICED AS GENL. KEARNY IS AN OLD ARMY OFFICER & SAYS HE WILL NOT WIN A BATTLE & LET SOMEONE ELSE CLAIM THE HONOR.
- I told you when we left camp below Yorktown of our marching a few miles this side and stopping for the night. About 3 o’clock Monday morning, it commenced raining and continued until midnight. WE WERE ORDERED FORWARD ABOUT 9 O’CLOCK. THE ROADS WERE VERY MUDDY & SLIPPERY. THE MEN WOULD OFTEN FALL DOWN IN THE MUD. SOMETIMES I WOULD GO IN OVER THE TOP OF MY BOOTS.
- AND THE CREEKS HAD SO SWOLLEN THAT WE HAD SEVERAL TO FORD. ON WE WENT. COULD HEAR CANNONADING AHEAD OF US FROM THE TIME WE STARTED. WHEN WITHIN ABOUT ONE AND A HALF MILES OF THE BATTLE FIELD, I FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE IN THE SERVICE THOUGHT WE WOULD HAVE A FIGHT.
- WE HALTED LONG ENOUGH TO LOAD OUR GUNS AND TAKE OFF ALL UNNECESSARY BAGGAGE AND REST PERHAPS 10 MINUTES. DURING THIS TIME OUR GENERAL (BERRY) RODE ALONG THE LINE AND TOLD US WHAT WE WERE EXPECTED TO DO. “TAKE THE TRENCHES OCCUPIED BY THE REBELS.” HE SAID WE COULD DO IT IF ANYBODY COULD. HE LOOKED GOOD NATURED, DID NOT SAY BUT LITTLE AT THAT TIME.
- I also noticed that some of Co. D had fallen back, tired out they said, Winslow, Supple & Conden, but when they came up next day, I TOLD THEM IF THEY EVER STOPPED AGAIN WITHOUT PERMISSION UNDER SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES, OFF WOULD GO THEIR HEADS.
- THE LAST MILE AND A HALF WE WENT UP AT ALMOST DOUBLE QUICK, AND MET ABOUT 20 WOUNDED BEING CARRIED BACK ON STRETCHERS.
- THE ROAD ON EACH SIDE WAS FILLED WITH TROOPS BELONGING TO HOOKERS’ DIVISION WHO HAD BEEN REPULSED WITH MUCH LOSS AND IN FACT HAD COMMENCED TO RUN UNTIL THEY MET US. THEY HAD EITHER LOST OR THROWN AWAY THEIR GUNS.
- GEN. KEARNY ORDERED THAT ALL STRAGGLERS SHOULD BE SHOT. Hence, they could not with safety pass the line of guards. I HAVE DRAWN A PARTIAL REPRESENTATION OF THE BATTLE FIELD. DO NOT KNOW WHETHER YOU WILL UNDERSTAND IT OR NOT AS IT IS NOT VERY PLAIN. HOWEVER, IT MAY ASSIST YOU SOME IN KNOWING OUR LOCALITY.
- GEN. HEINTZELMAN STOOD WHERE WE WERE FILED INTO THE WOODS TO THE LEFT, CHEERING US ON. BUT WHEN WE GOT THERE, FOUND OUR TROOPS WERE “NON-EST” & THE REBELS ADVANCING.
- AS SOON AS WE HAD FORMED IN LINE, THE REBELS OPENED THE FIRE. WE RETURNED IT AND IN THIS FIRE, BACHELOR, GOODWIN, & JONES FELL, NONE OF THEM SURVIVING WOUNDED.
- WELL, I SEE IF I ATTEMPT TO TELL ALL ABOUT IT, IT WILL TAKE ME ALL DAY AND I MUST OMIT A GREAT DEAL THAT I WILL TELL YOU WHEN I SEE YOU. GREGORY AND MYSELF URGED CAPT. SMITH (BERRY’S AID) TO LET US CHARGE AS WE WERE LOSING ALL OUR MEN, AND WE COULD NEVER GET THE REBELS OUT OF THEIR TRENCHES. FINALLY, HE TOLD US TO CHARGE AND WE REACHED THE TRENCHES AND BAYONETED THOSE WHO WOULD NOT THROW DOWN THEIR ARMS, BUT THOSE OF THEM WHO COULD RUN AWAY, DID RUN AND THAT CLOSED THE FIGHT OF THE DAY.
- That night I suffered with cold more than I ever did. What clothes I had on were wet and ruined. Also, MY SWORD PRESENTED BY MY FRIENDS OF CLARKSTON, I REGRET THIS VERY MUCH. THE SCABBARD WAS BROKEN IN SEVERAL PLACES AND THE BLADE SO RUSTY AS NEVER TO GET A POLISH ON IT AGAIN. I SHALL KEEP IT AND WITH PRIDE RETURN WHATEVER MAY BE LEFT OF IT.
- THE NEXT DAY AFTER THE BATTLE I TOOK SOME MEN TO BURY OUR DEAD. LT. JOHNSON WENT WITH ME AND WE BURIED OUR MEN TOGETHER, 9 IN ONE GRAVE.
- SUCH SIGHTS I NEVER SAW AND NEVER WANT TO SEE AGAIN. FOUND SOME WOUNDED THAT HAD LAID 48 HOURS AND EVEN LONGER WITHOUT ATTRACTING ATTENTION OF ANYONE.
- During the first night the wounded Rebel moaned most pitifully, and in every instance where I could do anything for them, I would do so.
- THE MAJOR HAD HIS HORSE SHOT AND HE SAYS BULL RUN WAS NOTHING COMPARED TO THIS FIGHT. IN FACT, I HAVE NOT HEARD HIM FIND ANY FAULT WITH MCCLELLAN SINCE THE BATTLE. Guess he has had all the advance he wants, but stop – the mail has come in and I have another letter from you. I’ll read it. Thank you for such a good letter. Glad to hear that your cold is getting better and that you do not cry any more. It seems you had not heard until the 6th (the day you wrote) of the evacuation of Yorktown. Hope you will not hear of the battle until my letter of the 7th reaches you.
- I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU ABOUT THE SHELL THAT CAME NEAR STRIKING ME NEAR YORKTOWN. THAT WAS NOTHING. THEY SHELLED US EVERY TIME WE WERE OUT ON FATIGUE, AND QUITE OFTEN I HAVE HAD THE SHELLS STRIKE QUITE NEAR ME.
- Indeed, I could tell you of many narrow escapes, but they are so common that I do not speak of them. Martha, it appears is quite self-opinionated. I would pay no attention to her, and you must not fail to go and see mother on her account. You will please thank Mary for the sheet enclosed in your letter. I will answer when I get time. I am sitting in the sun writing. IT IS WARM AND DUSTY AND YOUR LITTLE BOY IS BLACK AS THE “ACE OF SPADES.” You would laugh to see me eating the rations I get nowadays. Yet I feel well and stand it much better than I thought I could.
- Since I commenced writing, the Pontoon Train has commenced passing, so we will probably go on tomorrow. Sidney Walter has returned to the company. Came from the Hospital the next day after the fight.
- YOU ASKED ME TO TELL YOU ABOUT A MORTAR IN ONE OF YOUR LETTERS. I FORGOT TO TELL YOU. I SUPPOSE YOU KNOW THAT LARGE GUNS CANNOT BE ELEVATED MORE THAN 15 – 20 DEGREES WITHOUT BURSTING. A MORTAR IS MUCH LIKE THE BUTT OF A LARGE GUN FROM 2 1/2 FEET TO 3 1/2 FEET LONG. THEY HAVE A LARGE BORE AND ARE MOUNTED AT AN ANGLE OF 45 DEGREES, USED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THROWING SHELLS A GREAT DISTANCE AND HAVING THEM FALL MORE PERPENDICULARLY THAN THOSE FROM BARBETTE GUNS.
- With regard to the duration of this war, I am rather inclined to think it will not last a great while longer. We will probably get to Richmond next week, if we meet no more fortifications. This is a fine looking country through here but no such thing as buying anything to eat, so we officers fare slim. Joe is at Yorktown. We expect him here every day. He is going home next pay day. I saw Tomie yesterday. He has gone to Yorktown today to get papers etc. I’ll tell him to write to Eliza. Mosey was in the fight acting as chief bugler for Genl. Berry. He did not get hurt. I forgot to mention him in my first letter. Suppose he has written since.
- WHILE I WAS ON PATROL AT WILLIAMSBURG, I TALKED WITH A GREAT MANY PRISONERS, AND THEY UNANIMOUSLY EXPRESSED A WISH THAT THIS WAR HAD NEVER COMMENCED AND THAT IT WOULD SOON CLOSE. MORE THAN HALF THE WOMEN THAT I SAW WERE WEARING MOURNING. SUPPOSE THEY HAD LOST SOME OF THEIR FRIENDS IN THE BATTLE.
- WHEN OUR TROOPS PASSED THROUGH, THE BANDS ALL PLAYED “DIXIE,” “STAR SPANGLED,” ETC. ETC. AND I COULD NOT BUT FEEL SORRY TO SEE SO MANY OF THE LADIES WEEPING. IT WAS A SPLENDID SIGHT.
- THE MAIN STREET IS ABOUT 1 MILE LONG AND WHEN FILLED WITH OUR TROOPS MARCHING IN SOLID COLUMN FOR MILES BEYOND AND IN REAR, DOUBTLESS THE REBEL PRISONERS’ THOUGHT YANKEEDOM WAS NOT COMPOSED OF MUD SILLS AND HIRELINGS.
- We are bivouacked in an open field. The whole Division 12 Regt.’s, each one stacked arms as in line on “Dress Parade,” one in rear, the other about 15 paces. They look like quite an Army. ONE OF OUR WOUNDED MEN (BACHELOR) I THINK WILL DIE, IF NOT DEAD ALREADY. DIXIE ALSO, AS HE WAS WOUNDED IN THE ABDOMEN. CAPRON WAS SHOT THROUGH THE SHOULDER. CAPT. LEFAVOUR HAD ONE SIDE OF HIS FACE SHOT OFF. HE WILL GET WELL BUT IT WILL DISFIGURE HIM VERY MUCH.
- The wounded as I told you before have all been sent back. Consequently, we do not hear from them. Suppose you will hear from Walter as soon as I do. I rec’d a letter from Wm. Clark (Brother Milow of Jimmie Chapple) yesterday. HE WANTED ME TO MARK THE GRAVE OF JIMMIE SO THAT HE COULD DISTINGUISH IT. I ASSISTED IN BURYING HIM AND IF YOU WILL BE KIND ENOUGH TO TELL MARTHA (JIM’S SISTER) ABOUT IT, I WILL NOT HAVE TO WRITE TO CLARK.
- From Fortress Monroe we went up the beach of the Chesapeake Bay about 1 1/2 miles, then turned to the left and came to the shore of a part of Hampton Roads. Went up the shore about 40 rods and came to an open cemetery on the right. Near the road on the right-hand side and about 20 rods above the first grave, WE BURIED CHAPPLE. STANDING WITH YOUR BACK TO HAMPTON ROADS, FACING THE CHESAPEAKE, HE IS BURIED BETWEEN 2 PINE OR SPRUCE TREES FULL GROWN, WITH THREE GRAVES ON HIS LEFT. I TOOK A PIECE OF SCANTLING, SMOOTHED ONE SIDE OF IT, WROTE ON IT HIS NAME, CO., REGT., AND THE TIME OF HIS DEATH. I IMAGINE HIS REMAINS WILL LIE THERE UNTIL THE RESURRECTION AS I THINK IT WOULD BE FOLLY TO TAKE BONES TO MICH.
- LT. GUNNING WAS BURIED ON THE FIELD, OR RATHER IN THE WOODS AS WAS EVERY ONE FROM MICH. WHO DIED OR WAS KILLED THAT DAY.
- Well, I believe this is all I have to say at present. The news from other sections of the country are most cheering. NORFOLK IS OURS. THE MERRIMAC BLOWN UP. Our gun boats most to Richmond. The Rebels seem to be falling back wonderfully. As to our going with the Southern climate, I think our troops can stand it quite as well as the Southerns.
- I will write as often as I get a chance and you must not feel alarmed if you do not hear from me every two or three days. With much love I am Your own Johnnie
A true museum quality letter fitting for the finest archive collection. The letter comes with its original stamped envelope.
#L5-12-62MI – Price $1,650