Description

    A soldier in the "Ulster Guard" describes the August 9, 1864 explosion at City Point

    Civil War Archive of Jacob H. Moseley, 20th New York State Militia (80th New York Volunteers). Approximately twenty-five letters totaling more than 150 pages, 5" x 8", dating from October 21, 1861 to at least August 10, 1864, from Moseley to his brother Charles H. Moseley in Williamsburg, New York. The letters are written from various camps and hospitals in Virginia and Washington, D.C. Approximately half of the letters are accompanied by their original transmittal covers. Five letters are written on patriotic letterhead, and several are on 20th Regiment New York State Militia letterhead. Moseley's letters describe camp life, troop movements, military activity, his precarious health, and his post-war prospects. Most notable are letters describing the Battle of Cold Harbor, and a twelve-page letter describing the August 9, 1864 Explosion at City Point.

    Moseley's first letter to his brother, dated October 21, 1861, is from camp in Kingston, New York, where he noted that he has "been acting Corporal in camp." He informed his brother that some of the men in the regiment were having a hard time learning how to march. "There are some of the greenest countrymen in the regiment You ever saw and it seems impossible to learn them to March in the flanking movements." By November 3 Moseley's regiment was camped in Kalorama Heights outside of Washington, D.C., "the land of Dixie. Where the inhabitants raise cotton tobacco the secession flag and a large quantity of H...l." On December 19, 1861, writing from Camp Wadsworth, Upton Hill, Virginia, Moseley told his brother of a foraging expedition his regiment undertook. "Monday morning we were routed out at 3 o'clock and marched off we knew not whare [sic] sun rise found ourselves drawn up in a line Battle about ¾ mile from Fair Fax, presently we heard the baggage wagons coming and then knew we were on a foraging expedition the 21st regiment loaded the wagons while we watched for the enemy to appear, who were 30,000 strong about 2 ½ or 3 miles from us. 50 wagon loads of corn, 20 of oats, 20 or 30 of hay, were taken under the rebels noses in less than two hours."

    The 20th Regiment was still camped at Upton Hill as 1861 ended. In a December 31 letter, Moseley wrote of Christmas activities in camp, including "dancing by Moon light," with "the females...distinguished from the males, by a frying pan around their neck." In the same letter he reported on the views among his fellow soldiers concerning the Trent Affair, in which an American ship intercepted a British vessel and arrested two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell, an action that caused outrage and threats of war in England. "There has been considerable excitement in the camp in regard to the position of England, and it has been a camp story for the last week that our regiment would soon go to Buffalo. We are all afraid the Government will give up Mason & Slidell, but every soldier here says and feels that to give them up would be much more dangerous to us than a war with England." Moseley had more to say about the Trent Affair in his letter of January 11, 1862. "I see by the papers that the American Eagle has been made to 'Cower before the British Lyon' for the first time and have given up the arch traitors, Mason and Slidell, no doubt that Billy Seward understands international law better than any Man...and no doubt was right in surrendering the traitors, but I believe we were able to lick John Bull, if we had kept them."

    In a January 22, 1862 letter, Moseley commended his regiment's marksmanship, as "the men are from Ulster Green and Dutchess Counties and are accostomed [sic] to handling the Rifle and with the new Rifles we have got we can deal death and destruction at a very long range." He also informed his brother that he was not afraid to die for his country. "If I fall, I die in defense of the most sacred rights of our Government which is the most free and liberal ever devised by man."

    In a 23-page March 17-19, 1862 letter Moseley described to his brother how optimism about "spilling Secesh blood" turned into disappointment as the only enemy they faced was the drenching rain and knee-deep mud through which they marched. He did visit the Manassas battlefield where the First Battle of Bull Run was fought the previous July, and saw the remains of dead soldiers: "human skulls were rolling over the ground like pumpkins in a corn field...some of the bodies were buried in trenches but we could see the bones of the feet sticking through the ground."

    Due to ill-health from an unknown condition, Moseley was sent to the Columbia Hospital in Washington, D.C. By early April he was on the mend. In a letter to his brother, written from the hospital on April 3, 1862, Moseley claimed that he was feeling better and had enjoyed an enjoyable visit to the city of Washington, where he "had a bully good time" visiting "the Capitol Smithsonian Institute, etc. and passed the evening at Grovers Theater." He also attended a "Union mass meeting in the Capitol, and it was a rouser. The Marine Band of 32 pieces were present and when they struck up, it fairly made the old Capitol jingle....Governor [Andrew] Johnson of Tennessee, made a rousing speech, and the way he poured it into the northern peace and compromise men, was a caution. He gave them particular Hell. He said the only fault he had to find with the Administration was that they were not half stringent enough and that they had ought to do a little healthy hanging, and then they would not have so much to do after the war was over." He was soon back with his regiment, and on April 27, wrote his brother from a camp near Fredericksburg, Virginia, of a grand review of the army in which his regiment participated. "We were reviewed by Old Abe, Gen. McClellan, McDowell, Wadsworth, Keyes and others. It was a most magnificent sight to look at, Munson Hill was filled with spectators as was every spot in the vicinity of the review." Moseley saw Lincoln again. In a May 23, 1862 letter written outside of Fredericksburg, he described to his brother the president's recent visit. "President Lincoln, Secretary of War Stanton, Gen. McDowell visited the troops on the Rappahannock, as they rode by the Guard was turned out and I had a good look at them. Old Abe looked rusty along side of the rest of the party, he was covered with dust, shirt collar all must and as he took of [sic] his hat his hair seemed to stick seven ways from Sunday, but as he smiled as he rode by us he was the best looking man in the whole party."

    By late July-early August, Moseley was back in a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, suffering from typhoid fever. In an August 5, 1862 letter, Moseley claimed that McClellan's defeat in the Seven Days Battles was also detrimental to the Confederates, as they lost over 40,000 men. He expressed hope in General Pope and had harsh words for General Irvin McDowell, calling him "the base Traitor." According to Moseley, "there is no disguising the fact, that McDowell is a traitor, every soldier in his command accuses him of it, but his actions and the manner that he has handled his troops, shows for itself. Why the Government keeps him in command is a mystery to all the soldiers and most of the officers of his Corps."

    Over the next two months, Moseley was in and out of hospitals with dysentery and inflammation of the liver. On October 24, 1862, he wrote to his brother from the Columbian Hospital in Washington, D.C. He remarked that the next day would mark a year since he left camp in Kingston, New York. Moseley bemoaned the fact that his regiment "has been in five battles, but I was not lucky enough to see any of the 'Funn' as the 'Soger Boys' call it." In August, 1863, almost a year later, Moseley was back in the Columbian Hospital. He wrote his brother from the hospital on August 19 and claimed that his regiment fought in the Battle of Gettysburg the previous month, entering the fight "with 350 men and came out with only 60 men and 7 line officers," but hoped they regiment would be replenished with the new draft. He expressed anger at those who rioted in New York City against the draft. "I was disgusted to read the account of the late riots."

    Moseley finally returned to his regiment in early October and participated in the Bristoe Campaign fought from October 9 to November 9, 1863. In a November 12 letter written from Warrington Junction, Virginia, Moseley describes a skirmish that occurred on the evening of October 14 near Catlett's Station, Virginia. "I had just made my coffee and got ready to eat supper, when the order came to fall-in, and you can bet we were quick for a party of Rebs were right on top of us, we deployed in line as skirmishers, and I went down a hill and up another to a piece of Woods, when the Rebels gave us a salute of bullets which we returned quick as 'lightning on a greased wire.' By this time it was dark, and the Rebs after firing one volley skedaddled like the devil."

    Writing from Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 18, 1864, Moseley shared his opinion of General Grant and his campaign in Virginia against General Lee's army. "Well, Charley we have had a Hell of a Campaign of it so far...this is the greatest campaign of the War, and I think it will be the greatest that history records. We have Drove the Rebels steadily since the first day are still driving them, and intend to keep doing so. Everybody in the army says Gen. Grant is a Brick and Dam me if I don't think so. The loss on both sides has been frightful, surpassing any Battle of the war, so far as I am able to judge...I think United States Grant will win, for he is Long Winded." During the Battle of Cold Harbor, Moseley reported on the fierce fighting in a June 10, 1864 letter to his brother. "Every head that is raised over the Brestworks [sic], is pretty sure to get bored, with a Minnie Ball...the 98 Regt. N.Y. Vols...has been under fire for 8 days, and they have to 'lay low' most of the time in the Rifle Pitts, for as soon as a man is exposed to view a dozen Rifles is discharged at him at once....One solid shot came crashing through the Brestworks [sic], a short distance below us, and cut two men in two, just as easy as a Dutchman can bite off the end of a Bologna Sausage."

    By August 1864 Moseley was in City Point, Virginia, and survived the explosion that rocked General Grant's headquarters. In a twelve-page letter dated the very next day on August 10, he describes the event in great and graphic detail. In small part: "Heads, arms, Legs, Bodies, feet, hands, and particles of human Bodies were strewn around, for half a mile. Two Bodies were thrown nearly into our camp full half a mile from the wharf. One of the men of our Regt. was asleep [near] a pile of ammunition and all that was found of his body was his head which was blown up into our Hospital."

    Condition: All letters have the usual horizontal and vertical folds. Several letters show weakness and tearing at the folds. November 22, 1861 letter is completely separated at the top folds. The letter count does not include three incomplete letters by Moseley and a July 20, 1904 letter that may be unrelated, but was found with the archive. A copy of Moseley's service records is included.


    More Information:

    Jacob Herrick Moseley (1840-1911), born in Duchess County, New York, served as first sergeant in Company A, 80th New York Volunteer Infantry.  A dentist, Moseley enlisted as a private on September 26, 1861 in Kingston, New York, after serving in the 20th New York State Militia. During his service, he was promoted a corporal and first sergeant. Discharged on September 26, 1864, Moseley returned to the practice of dentistry, practicing in Brooklyn, New York, until his death.  He married Margaret Dunkly on May 15, 1879.

    The 20th New York State Militia, known as the "Ulster Guard" for the county from which it was raised many of its men, was organized on April 23, 1861 for three month's service.  The regiment mustered out on August 2, 1861. When the 20th NYSM completed its term of service it was reorganized in Kingston, New York as a regiment of volunteers for three years' service, with volunteers mustering in between September 20 and October 20, 1861.  In December 1861 the regiment's name was changed to the 80th New York Volunteer Infantry. The regiment left the state in late October 1861 and performed picket duty along the Potomac River during the winter of 1861 and 1862. From there it participated in several engagements during the Civil War, including the Second Battle of Bull Run, and the battles of South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, and the siege of Petersburg. 





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