The Greatest Battle of Chancellorsville Letter that We Know Of – Written by Joseph Moody, Co. H 140th Pa. Infantry – “The Rebels are piled up & not buried. Many of the wounded have been burnt” – “many found who not being able to get out of way have had to suffer untold torture” – “they were fed whiskey & gun powder, maddened & kept up by their Cavalry with drawn swords to urge them on.”

This 7-page ink letter is written on bright yellow stationery.  It comes with its original cover in fine condition.  The letter is dated May 13th, 1863 which was a week after the battle ended.  The battle of Chancellorsville was the biggest Confederate victory in the Civil War.  It also was devastating in that General T. J. Jackson… “Old Stonewall” was killed there. 

Joseph Moody was a 27-year-old from Beaver County, Pa.  He enlisted as Corporal on August 22nd, 1862.  This letter, to a girlfriend named Martha, is just signed “Joseph”, however, we have owned another one of Joseph’s letters where he signs it “J. Moody” and we will include a color copy for positive I.D.  Here is the content:

  • Camp out in the Country May 13th, 1863.
  • Miss Martha, Yours of the 6th was received day before yesterday, & now I reply while I have spare time for we do not know how to arrange our business to advantage only by doing at once what we have to do. I have just got outside of camp under a beech tree for shade & quiet for they are changing some of the Co. according to seniority of Capt. So all is bustle.
  • Monday we left our old camp & camped 1 1/2 miles further north to accommodate the Dr’s. They wanted the Brigade together hence the move. As you know by the papers before this, we have had a Battle the like of which has never been on this side of the waters, so the old Genl. & soldiers say & some deserters say that came across night before last.
  • The Rebels are piled up & not buried. Many of the wounded have been burnt – both sides by the Rebs setting fire to the woods to drive the pickets (our men) in there have been the charred remains of many found who not being able to get out of way have had to suffer untold torture after braving the deadly missiles for a time, until at last they fell then retired to the rear & perhaps exhausted, they were compelled to lay down so they, after suffering one way, they had to yield to a horrid death.
  • Yesterday 100 of our ambulances went up to the fight – Chancellorsville, to bring the wounded away this forenoon. I seen them returning but was not near enough to learn what success they made. I see by today’s paper (Was. & Baltimore) that Jackson is dead from the effects of the amputation of an arm.
  • Our boys say there was a prisoner that came across to our lines last night below Fredericksburg that told them the same story. They have just come in off picket. They say there are but few pickets on the other side that is below the city.
  • I also see by the papers that Hooker has part of the army across up to our old battle ground again. I think this is a canard, for we do know nothing about the move if so. If true, Joe is a shrewd Gent to keep the matter so quiet. I hope it may be so.
  • There are several things that lead us to think there may be something of the like. Lee sent across to Falmouth Sabbath for medical stores for their wounded, for their supplies had been cut off by Stoneman’s raid. Also for us to go over to bring our wounded away.
  • Deserters still come across & say there will more come for they have a new Genl. over there. General Starvation. They must suffer for want of provisions for one, if the Cavalry told me they set fire to smoke houses & all edibles they had little enough before, worse now.
  • There never was a better fed & clothed Army than ours in the world, as much as we can eat. Many more than they had at home, still there are some so constituted they are habitual growlers.
  • This country bears the seal of war. All a barren waste. Fences with the things that were forests gone. Some buildings but many defaced yards that once had the hand of taste to arrange & decorate are trampled down as though they were the highway. Oh! Cruel, Cruel, Cruel war.
  • May Heaven bring it to a speedy close. Well, we left our camp at day Tuesday April 28th. Marched 5 miles to a pine woods, camped Wednesday morning, sent 5 Co. out to make corduroy roads so that we could pass. They came in at 2p.m. in 15 minutes after we took up our line of march. Marched 6 more, camped for the night. Thursday morning started again, marched 4 miles, had to lay by for the pontoons to be laid at 4 p.m. Marched 2 miles more through a wilderness down to the Rappahannock. (I would never of thought of taking an army down such a cow path), to the U. S. Ford, at dark crossed, marched some 5 miles to near Chancellorsville camp at 12 midnight, lay till Friday. May 1st, about noon, the cannon began to roar towards Fredericksburg.
  • At 2 p.m. we were ordered to march. Went past the hotel which used to be a Sem., now used as H. Q. of Hooker. Marched out the Pike Road 2 miles. Sent out Co. A & B. as skirmishers, came up to the Rebs.
  • Drew them on until our batteries got range which sent them back with thinned ranks; then we (Our Brigade Zooks 3rd) were ordered to the left flank.
  • At dark we entered the thicket. In an hour the Rebs got a battery to play on us & sent the shells flying to us, only 20 or 30 feet to our left. Here we lay while our batteries silenced theirs (thus we were the 1st in).
  • Saturday before day, we were taken out of the woods up to H. 0., lay there till day. (There are only 2 fields of cleared ground around Chancellorsville. The rest thick wood.) Then were ordered to the left flank & threw up rifle pits, cut down trees, limbs out. Cut ends off, sharpened it. Would have been easier to walk through a brush pile.
  • Hancock said boys, you’ll never get them to come up there, for we could have held against 10 times our number. Here we lay now & then a shell bursting over our heads. The firing was one continual roar & continued till midnight.
  • The moon was shining nice. They tried to flank us on the right. The 11th Corps gave away so they got the advantage of us. Sabbath before day they began again. The day was clear, warm. At 8 a.m. we were ordered down towards the H. Q. to support a battery at the right of H. Q. Here the shells were flying at us from 3 directions. We had to lay down on the road; while laying some of our Reg. were killed, some wounded. My tin was cut off my canteen by a piece of a shell.
  • The Rebs shelled the H. Q., set it on fire. It was used as a Hospital, so Co. F had to take the wounded out & Co. D take the Hampton’s Battery off by Hand. All of the horses killed, but 3 & one man.
  • Then we were ordered to fall back & formed a new line, but the Rebs did not come very close still kept throwing some shell. We threw up new rifle pits, some skirmishing. Monday still some we tried to draw them on for we were fixed for them. Tuesday quiet. Afternoon there came up a heavy Rain which swelled the rivers which threatened our supplies, so we had to come back this side of the Rappahannock. The move was so well conducted that we did not know when we were going, nor one Brigade, that another was going at 2 Wednesday morning.
  • We took up our line of march. The rain still pouring down, we got to the U. S. Ford. At a little after day, all across safely now, the mud was getting deep. You folks at home know nothing of bad roads.
  • At 2 Wednesday afternoon we arrived in old camp with three of Co. H. wounded slightly Joe Calhoun, Wm. Carothers, Wm. Bolton. In the Reg. 6 killed, 30 wounded. We were the ‘1st in the fight, last out & did not fire a gun excepting the picket.
  • Several were wounded while on picket. We do not believe this was a defeat, for there were elements that man had no control over that caused us to recross. Hooker will study some other plan.
  • The prisoners that we took say they were mowed down by grape & canister. Still they were fed whiskey & gun powder, maddened & kept up by their Cavalry with drawn swords to urge them on.
  • The mail is going out in a few minutes so I must close. Joseph. Mr. Morton preached for us last Sabbath. It seemed like old times. He preached the Sabbath before we crossed. He was out to see us at Chancellorsville.

Being the best we have ever seen, we paid $3,000 for this letter from one of America’s greatest collections (name provided to buyer) back in 1986.   

#L5-13-63PA – Price $3,500

Color copy of another one of Joseph Moody’s letters with a positive I.D.

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