DescriptionThomas H. Ruger Archive of Letters Covering the All of His Years of Service During the Civil War. A total of more than 290 letters by Ruger (largely to his wife, Helen), more than a hundred letters from his wife, and related documents. Ruger's letters are dated from March 9, 1861 through June 23, 1865. Ruger served throughout the rest of the war with distinction, surfacing at important junctures like Antietam, Gettysburg, the New York City draft riots, and in Sherman's March to the Sea. There are a few lapses in the correspondence, but the dates generally correlate with time he is on furlough and with Helen. This is an extensive archive, and we are only able to offer a general overview in this description. Scans of individual letters and maps are available upon request.
Thomas H. Ruger led a colorful military life. After graduating third in his West Point class of 1854, he resigned to pursue a career in law. When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, he reenlisted in the volunteer army as a lieutenant colonel on the field staff of the 3rd Wisconsin Infantry. He received his first promotion in August 1861 when he was made a colonel commanding the 3rd Wisconsin Volunteers. President Lincoln charged him with the delicate, and potentially politically dangerous mission: the arrest of members of the Maryland legislature that were planning to call a vote on secession. There are a few letters from this period present, and although none discuss the arrest, they provide great narrative of the unrest in the region, both from civilians that are sympathetic to the Confederacy, as well as the close proximity of enemy combatants across the Potomac.
The 3rd Wisconsin was part of the Union forces up against "Stonewall" Jackson's troops in the Shenandoah Campaign in the spring of 1862. Ruger's letters home are detailed in their news of troop movements, battles engaged, opinions of senior officers, praise of Jackson, and criticism of civilian journalists who he believed were ignorant of the realities faced by the military.
His narrative on the Shenandoah Campaign begins in his March 6, 1862 letter, writing from Smithfield, Virginia, he describes in great detail the arrival of Union forces. He reports that scouting parties see the enemy every day and their proximity is such that he can hear the rattles of their sabers.
Although he takes great care in describing the natural setting and the plight of civilians, he in no way spares Helen of any details about the losses suffered. His letters mark the progress as the Union troops place themselves in position for battle, and on March 25, he announces the Union victory over "Stonewall" Jackson's troops. Written in the moment, his letters are candid in describing the hesitation on the part of the Union; although his immersion may impair his perspective, it also provides great insight as to how and why the war would continue, despite potential victory always being so close. He is a staunch defender of General McClellan, and declares that if so many experienced military men are lacking in answers, it would be unlikely that Horace Greeley, a journalist with no military experience, could know better. More than 30 letters cover the Shenandoah campaign, with content regarding troop movements for both Union and Confederate forces. His admiration of Jackson is made clear in several instances. In a letter dated May 4, 1862, he writes: "Camp near Harrisonburg, Va... There are various rumors of the movements actual and probable of that enemy. That he has received quite large reinforcements there is no doubt and has shored up his lines near ours once more. We keep prepared for whatever may happen... Jackson is a brave man and there is no doubt has now a respectable force in numbers..." He ends this letter hastily after three pages, and resumes beneath on May 7 distinguishing truth from rumor in his previous letter and announcing, "Yorktown is ours now. The rebels will never recover from the blow..."
Ruger's letter are as frank in reporting defeat, as they are in victory. In a letter describing the First Battle of Winchester: "Williamsport Md. May 26th 1862... We have had a battle at Winchester or rather a series of battles. The enemy were over twenty thousand, we but four. [The Union forces were outnumbered; there were 16,000 Confederate troops against 6,500 Union troops.] The battle lasted two hours yesterday morning from 5 to 7. We got whipped of course. They had men enough to hold us in front turn both flanks at the same time and it was by great good fortune we got off with I think about twelve hundred killed wounded and prisoners. We were at Strasberg the Enemy moved down the valley from New Market some twelve or fifteen thousand and some ten thousand from Front Royal after having destroyed a regiment the 1st Maryland (the home brigade) there..." The letter continues in great detail for four pages. Additional letters of other battles of the Shenandoah Campaign report defeats, lost opportunities, and challenges within the Union leadership.
Although the majority of his letters are 4 or more pages long, hastily written notes capture a sense of urgency that communicates in a different way. A brief letter from Gettysburg, written in pencil in a very shaky hand, leaves much to be read between the lines: "Near Gettysburg Pa. July 4th 1863. My darling wife / We have had a tremendous battle (we attacked the first day) & repulsed the Enemy with heavy loss. There may be another. Love to all. I was not hurt command over Division with very much loss. Your loving husband. Howard." Unlike the rest of his letters, which are carefully written on clean bifolia; this hurried note is on a torn sheet, with creasing and foxing. His July 7 letter shows that he has regained his composure, and he refers to his July 4 letter in the postscript: "P.S. I wrote you a pencil note after the battle."
On several occasions Ruger meets former West Point classmates that are now fighting on the side of the Confederacy. In a June 24, 1862 letter he describes one such encounter: "Winchester, Va... There is a young Confed. Lieut Col. of a Louisiana Regiment who was at the Point three years with me, at the house of Mrs. Dandridge... He lost an arm in the late battle. I went to see him. There is much less bitterness of feeling between the two armies than between citizens on opposite sides, which is very fortunate as it secures good treatment of prisoners and wounded men who fall into enemy hands. When we left here the rebels took care of our sick and wounded and we in turn take care of theirs..."
Ruger's letters often voice concern for the organization of the army, and his fears that they will not have the sufficient number of troops to win. A letter thirteen pages in length written on May 17, 1863 discusses the faults in the current procedure of raising new troops. His criticism of how black troops were raised is the same as that of the methods used to raise white troops; they are recruited too quickly, and not sufficiently trained: "I believe that the government has devoted a good deal of effort to the organization of negro troops but it is found in practice to be a slow process in comparison to the anticipation of the more ardent friends of the measure. The men to be raised by conscriptions should have been in camps of instruction two completely equipped and ready for service for some time..."
His letters continue in this vein, covering all topics through the end of the war. Helen's letters to Ruger provide a full conversation. While she relays family news, she is also quite opinionated with regards to the politics of the military and the progress of his career.
This archive also includes letters to Ruger from his brother and other family members, and military documents received by Ruger during his service. The archive is housed in 4 large binders, but there are additional letters that remain folded and in their original cover. Overall condition is excellent. All letters (with a handful of exceptions) are very clean, and many include their original transmittal envelope.
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