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    The 3rd Battle of Winchester or Opequon: Letter written by Willam Cochlin, 49th Pa. Infantry. "The half of the Orderly's head was taken off... Two muskets are knocked into the air and the sun gleaming on their broken fragments give the appearance of a thousand strokes of faked lightening."
    A 12 page letter headed, "Winchester, Va. September 26th, 1864". It was written by William Cochlin, Company E of the 49th Pa. Infantry. William entered the war late... not until July 20th, 1864. Just 2 months later he was baptized into heavy bloodshed. William was an excellent writer and gives us graphic details... 12 pages worth! Writing home to his sister he writes in part:

    "On the evening of the 18th... we were told to be ready to march at 3 o'clock next morning. At that hour in the morning of the 19th we were on our way. At daylight we struck the Winchester pike and at sunrise the artillery began to roar & we marched on. The firing seemed at a distance but we gradually got nearer and as the road entered a long wood, the pack horses were ordered back. Then I knew there was work to be done."

    "As we hurried through the wood, the sides were lined with Cavalry, musicians, cooks, etc. with here and there a field hospital with surgeon at their bloody work. Stretchers bearers and ambulances came back with wounded and in the number of wounded a few "Johnnies" told us that we gained ground."

    "We now emerged from under cover of the woods and shell began to fall thick and fast around us. We filed along ravines & beside fence rows to keep out of view as much as possible."

    "It was now about 7 1/2 A.M. and we could now see our skirmish line ahead a little way, firing from stump and bushes. Here Genl. Wright passed us as he rode the lines. I now saw Capt. McClellan's (Geo. B.'s brother) for the first time. He is on Gen. M.'s staff."

    "Here a shell fell in the ranks of the Co. on our left, but did not explode. After resting a few minutes, we were ordered to advance "by Regiments, in column, left in front." We advanced a few hundred yards and lay down. All the day the shells chased each other back and forth passing close to our heads, and causing us to show a love for the earth that was not caused by volition."

    "We now lay between opposite batteries and as a shell was thrown from either side they came close to us. All this time the wounded from the skirmish line are being carried past us."

    "Now a shell bursts in the regiment on our right, killing and wounding 6 or 8. Capt. Thompson of Co. A of 49th rose to see the result. He was within ten feet of me. "Capt., be careful" says someone to him. "Oh! They won't hit me" says he. Just then a shell came so close to me that I put up my hand to know if my hat was still on my head. The shell burst at Capt. T.'s feet, breaking his right arm to splinters and inflicting 5 other wounds. They hope to save his leg but are fearful."

    "Our Corps is on the left center, the 19th is on our right. The line is formed. "Frail arms, stoop low, forward." On we go, a long line of blue coats and bright steel. All of a sudden the Reb war cry tells that they are charging our right. "Right-oblique, march" is the order given by "Old Davie" himself as he rides swiftly along."

    "The 19th had broke and we were too close to the right to dress with the 8th Corps as she had relieved the 19th, but was much smaller. This movement brings us to the rear of a small growth of trees, a thicket almost impenetrable. We work our way through it and then advance as fast as our legs can carry us, to the hillock in front. Now we see the Rebs in front. We give them plenty of lead and now see them "get." Another volley in their retreating ranks and then we advance again rushing over the dead and dying, heeding only the able ones in front."

    "There they rally, they reform, they are behind a rail work. We load and rise and fire again. Their position is getting uncomfortable. They show signs of uneasiness. "Cease firing. Forward." So we charge from hill-crest to hill-crest. We are exposed to a galling fire. "Father Kirby" (everyone calls him father) is wounded, Whitehead falls beside him. We leave them lie and go ahead. Now we halt by another hill-crest. We are quite close to the enemy."

    "Some solicit leave to bring in the wounded but to do so would be giving two lives to our one. The Rebs again fall back and then our comrades are attended to."

    "Genl. Sheridan now rides along the lines and is greeted with the wildest cheers. There are no recreant hearts in our ranks now. Everyone is filled with the greatest enthusiasm. He had not a single attendant. Now another advance is ordered. We are met with a steady fire for a time, but the enemy has lost confidence and soon falls back. On we come until we gain the rail breastwork. Here we lie down and as the enemy's line is in good view, we take steady aim. But the enemy has a battery on our left and has us at a cross fire. Now a shell strikes in the Co. on our right, killing their O.S. and 1st Corp. with several wounded."

    "The half of the orderly's head was taken off. There a shell strikes away to the right of the reg. See the rails fly. Two muskets are knocked into the air, and the sun gleaming on their broken fragments give the appearance of a , thousand strokes of faked lightning."

    "Lieut. Wallace and several of his men are killed by it. One of our shells explodes as it passes us and McIntosh, a Franklin County man, is dead. I turn from the sickening sights and load and fire leisurely, and I trust effectively."

    "And now comes the time for the last grand charge. In our front lies a meadow parallel with our lines and nearly half a mile wide. (I suppose it was 2 miles long). As we advance the enemy is in full view. They are raking us with shell from that battery on our left, yet our Brigade never had a better line on drill. Men are falling on all sides of us as we go on."

    "They begin to break; the officers strive to rally them; one color Sergeant shakes his old rag until I thought he moved the bars off it. But all in vain. Our Cavalry is in their rear and they know it. One gallant officer (Rebel though he be) rode that wavering line again and again, in the vain hope of rallying them, exposed to the fire of 5,000 guns. I trained mine on him three times. He disappeared. Whether he wore a charmed life or whether he fell a victim to his bravery and to his infernal cause, I cannot tell."

    "And now they break. Yes! Verily, the chivalry of the sunny south are fleeing from the Northern vandals. Now they are coming in by hundreds. They throw up their arms and some even crawl in on their hands and knees."

    "We have now captured that battery on our flank, and it is turned on our retreating foe. Now we take a halt. The enemy is in full retreat and the Oay is doing the work of bringing in the prisoners. Our cheers now drowned for the time the roar of artillery. Walls and spires, a few hundred yards, now seen for the first time, tell us that Winchester is ours."

    "Then as we cast our eyes to the right of the town to Bunker Hill and thought that we should have to take it by storm, we thought we should have hard work yet - but, lo! A few flashes from the range of hills beyond told us that the gallant Averill had come on their left flank and that Bunker Hill too was ours! We now saw our Cavalry file up the hill and in a few minutes the stars and stripes floated from the "stronghold of Winchester.'"

    "Our Reg. now marched into town and after resting until dark, we marched out of town and bivouacked for the night. So ended my first fight."

    "The casualties in our Reg. here 52 killed and wounded. We had none taken prisoners. Our Division did not gain one inch all that day. We held all the ground we took. This sketch is rather long and very imperfect, but one could fill a volume with the details of such a day. After we were rightly under fire, I felt so little fear or nervousness that I was quite surprised at it myself."

    "I sent you a little book to let you know that I still lived, but we understood that Mosby had captured the train so you would not get it. I am sorry you did not, for I suppose some Southern lady gave it to her lover as a keepsake and I know you love relics."

    "On the morning of the 20th, our Brigade was left behind "in consideration of its gallant bearing in the Battle of Winchester," so the order read. We camped west of Winchester and that afternoon I was sent on a forage party. On Wednesday I was wagon guard all day. On Thursday and Friday I was detailed as one of a searching party. We searched every house as we go, taking arms and all contraband goods. We found but few loyal families. We had plenty of sport as we searched."

    "On Saturday our regiment marched out to Newtown to meet the train of prisoners. We brought in 800 on foot and 200 in wagons. So we passed through Newtown on route to Winchester. The ladies gave them provisions and did all to cheer them. One woman said, "Why they look as gay and cheerful as ever." "No wonder," says I, "for they are going where rations are plenty." For this I got a volley of hard words but didn't mind being called a mudsill by a woman. We did not get into Winchester until after midnight. When the other prisoners left W., the ladies cried and plead for them not to take the oath of allegiance."

    "We brought sixteen pieces of artillery with the train from Newton. Early's army is completely demoralized. I had a long talk with Rebels, about two days and a half. Many are willing to take the oath of Al. They were not aware of it. L.'s proclamation about Rebel prisoners and deserters and I took all means not to leave them in ignorance of it, yet in such a manner as to not let them know that I saw it affected them. They had just been paid and were giving ten dollars of Confed. for a plug of smoking tobacco. Here flour is 14 in green back, 160 in Confed. Numbers asked me for information as to their treatment in case they took oath. One told me that one half of them would take the oath."

    "Of the feelings in battle. When we marched that morning I had not ate one bite nor did I eat a thing other than a few tablespoonfuls of sugar until night. I was so sick when we started I could scarcely walk. Every hour I got stronger until I did not know I had any knapsack on my back and I had a large one. I ate hardtack for supper that night, a thing I had not done for 5 weeks. At intervals I slept 3 hours that day, with shot and shell flying thick over my head. Others did the same. You may think things strange but they are true. Where that day brought death to many, it brought to me health, strength, and appetite, the result of excitement & exercise. So much love, your Brother Will."

    In fine condition. A true rarity to find such a long graphic battle letter... and it being William's first battle! From the Calvin Packard Civil War Battlefield Letter Collection.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2020
    6th Sunday
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