Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice

    Description

    General John Willian, 4th New Jersey Infantry, Archive of Letters. A group of 18 letters written by John Willian, with excellent content on the battles of Chancellorsville, Williamsburg, Spotsylvania Court House, Fort Stedman & Boydton Plank Road. Willian's war-dated letters span from June 16, 1861 to March 26, 1865 and are addressed home to his family. John Willian, Jr. enlisted as a 2nd lieutenant in the 4th New Jersey Infantry just days after the war started, and then methodically rose through the ranks, ultimately rising to brigadier general by the end of the war. Willian served in four different Union regiments (the 6th, 8th, and 12th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry units), and on the staff of three separate Union Generals. Willian writes primarily from the 6th New Jersey Infantry, where he fought in the Battles of Williamsburg, Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania Court House. He also fought in the Battle of Boydton Plank Road as a lt. colonel in the 8th New Jersey Infantry, and in the Battle of Fort Stedman as a colonel in the 12th New Jersey Infantry, while serving as Assistant Inspector General on Brig. General Gershom Mott's staff. The majority of the letters are two pages, measuring 7.75" x 9.75".

    After being mustered into Company H of the 4th New Jersey Infantry, Willian writes of the punishment of a Zouave soldier in a letter to his family dated June 16, 1861: "there was a very solemn duty to be preformed this morning by our Regt. It was the drumming out of one of the soldiers. He belonged to the Camden Zouaves. The whole of our Regt was in line when he was brought out of the guard house from where he marched up & down our line & then he was marched 3 miles into Washington. All this was the penalty for striking a sergeant, and it is the greatest disgrace that can be heaped on a soldier..." In his next letter, Willian follows up with an intriguing tale of spies at Fort Princeton, writing in part on June 20, 1861: "we have got spies within our lines and we are on lookout for them. We took one last night who had in his pockets a pass from General Beauregard. We have him in our camp so he will not get away without having thorough examination. We are now cooking provisions for 1 day, expecting to move 4 x 5 miles tonight toward Fairfax Court House which place is about 16 miles distant. Remember this is only rumor for on account of the government sending all those troops in advance of us make us pretty sure that we shall have no trouble with the Rebels..."

    Willian was promoted to 1st lieutenant and transferred to the 6th New Jersey Infantry, Co. D when he wrote his next letter on February 16, 1862, in part: "our Regt is getting rather unhealthy. We have quite a number of very dangerous cases of Typhoid Fever. We buried one from our Company on Friday. A young man from Camden named Ross. We have 2 more cases in our company...it is a sorrowful sight to see the poor fellows buried...here though they get a very nice funeral consisting of a whole company...full band...we are compelled to bury them now unless their friends come after them in which case we & the Company will pay the expenses of the corpse over the railroad...Thursday I was on duty at the depot near where the boats land...I went to see if our Col. [Gershom Mott] had come down...". One week later, Willian's company was still ravaged by disease, and he wrote on February 23, 1862, "our Co. has suffered severely and you are aware we lost 2 members. They died of a malignant typhoid fever. They had every attendance. We have now no serious cases in our Co. The Co next on our left went out on Friday to bury a man & returned just in time to see another of their comrades die. It is very hard to see it...we are about to be thrown across the river, if we are, thrown over we are confident of success for we know there is only six Regts to oppose us. Our Division has received 2 of those Whitworth guns presented by the Loyal American Citizens of England. I went about a mile for our camp yesterday to see them tried on old Cockpit Point which stands out in bold relief the terror of the travelers Potomac. The Rebels have hoisted their flag in our sight. I expect to go over & see our new guns practice on it..."

    Willian next writes from the "Battlefield of Williamsburg", where the regiment lost over 60 in killed and wounded. Written on CSA accounting paper, Willian's undated letter, "you will join with me in saying thank God that I have escaped unhurt. Our Regt fought like tigers 8 hours yesterday. We of course suffered very severely. Col. Van Leer was killed, Capt. [George] Wilson is wounded severely, but not dangerous. He is a prisoner. The killed of our company are Sergeant Riley, Wollard, Timothy Cloran, Joseph Parks. We have 12 men wounded. We are now taking up the march..." He goes into more detail about the battle a week later, on May 12, 1862, writing: "We have halted again after a march of some 22 miles. It is very hard marching now on account of the heat but still I suppose we must continue until we reach Richmond...I suppose you have heard a great deal of talk about our fight of the 5th inst. we lost, in our Company, in killed, wounded & missing 19 men. The boys from Gloster fought like veterans. Our Co. never broke, and I tell you there is not many Co. can say that. I was all through the thickest of the fight & never got a scratch. G. Holmes has leg amputated. I don't think he will recover [Holmes had already died on 10 May]. I guess there will be a great many enquiring about their husbands, brothers & sons it will be little use enquiring from us for we are about 40 miles away from the wounded. I have seen sufficient now to make me heartily wish for this war to come to a conclusion. I have just heard that the Rebels have made a stand on the Chickahominy River so very probably we shall have another brush with them... "

    The regiment's activity was mostly quiet until the Battle of Chancellorsville, although on January 6, 1863, he wrote about a reconnaissance mission abandoned in pursuit of Rebel General JEB Stuart, "we have been on a reconnoissance to a place called Morrisville, said ville consists of two houses & one store, yet it is a place of importance on account of being near one of the many fords across the Rappahannock River. This ford is about fifteen miles from here. It is guarded by two companies of Rebel infantry. We went up to capture them. The reason we did not succeed was this, just as we got in sight of the Rebs we received orders that all our cavalry should proceed in the direction of Alexandria to intercept the Rebel Genl. Stewart, so we were compelled to abandon our object after marching thirty miles. It was one of the most severe marches I have been on... "

    Four months later, Willian's company was engaged at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where they suffered heavy losses. On May 16, 1863, he writes in part: "We are again settled down in the same place we occupied previous to the great Battle of Chancellorsville. The men are becoming as lively as they were previous to the movement, it seems to me that their confidence in Genl. Hooker is unshaken. He knows how to hold this confidence. He shows himself on the battlefield which is very inspiring...a large number of our wounded were sent into our lines last night & today. They all agree in saying that the Rebs are sadly pushed for everything in the shape of supplied. Our wounded got no food only such as was found in haversacks of our own men. One Lieut. in our brigade came over today. He says the Reb have given up the idea of gaining their independence, but they are all getting Religion...we have heard nothing of Franklin Pike as yet. He was serving in my Co. at the Battle. I have the color Co. & he is one of the color corporals. Both my color bearers were wounded, also my color sergeant, besides several in my company including my 1st Lieut. [John Howeth] who was very severely wounded in the head...Of course you have heard of the death of Genl. Stonewall Jackson. He must be a great loss to Rebs. It was his forces our brigade fought. A great number of prisoners are taking the oath of allegiance both here & at Washington..."

    Willian also fought at the Battle of Spotsylvania and recounts, in a letter dated May 13, 1864, a near brush with death when his horse was shot from under him. Written on "Head-Quarters, 4th Division, 2d Corps" stationery, Willian writes: "I was in the greatest battle that has been fought in this war and the victory on our side was complete. We captured about 30 guns & a whole Div. of Rebels and in getting them are Generals Johnston & Stewart and any quantity of Rebel flags, one of which I carried through the fight. We had, of this staff, one officer killed & two wounded. Both the armies are completely worn out. We are now packing to go in pursuit of the flying columns of the enemy. Genl. Lee has never received such a thrashing before. I reverently thank God that I have again been spared unhurt and I pray that I may be safe throughout this campaign...I am sorry to say my horse Joe was shot under me"

    Just weeks before the war ended, Willian wrote home with a description of the Battle of Fort Stedman. He had just been made colonel of the 12th New Jersey Infantry, and Willian wrote on March 26, 1865, a day after the battle: "The 2d Corps has once more met the enemy and as usual got the best of them. We were woke up yesterday morning at about 4 o'clock a. m. by tremendous artillery firing on our right. The cause of it was soon ascertained. It was the enemy who had broken through the line of the 9th Corps and had suffered very heavily in prisoners. As soon as we could get ready we attacked the enemy in our front and captured his picket line which consisted of about 400 men...we killed & wounded about 2000 men...the Rebel Genl. Lee feel[s] very bad...this war is fast coming to a close. I passed through the action without being struck...I feel very thankful...return to camp where we are now laying just as comfortably as though there has been no fight"

    Condition: Usual mail folds, with some creasing at the corners. Letters are in very good condition, with minor toning and soiling. Some uneven edges. Written in ink with very legible penmanship.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2019
    14th Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 216

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $300,000 (minimum $49), plus 20% of any amount between $300,000 and $3,000,000, plus 12.5% of any amount over $3,000,000 per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    VIEW BENEFITS
    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
      winnings 
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2020 February 22 - 23 Americana & Political Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    Thanks a million for getting approval to sell my Civil War Hospital Death Ledger! You made them AND ME , a nice profit. You are the best!
    Ed W.,
    Mount Vernon, OH
    View More Testimonials

    HA.com receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source: Similarweb.com)

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search

    Recent auctions

    2019 September 21 - 22 The David and Janice Frent Collection Presidential &  Political Americana, Part VI Signature Auction - Dallas
    2019 September 21 - 22 The David and Janice Frent Collection Presidential & Political Americana, Part VI Signature Auction - Dallas
    REALIZED $648,838