The Battle of Chancellorsville: Letter written by Private ...Click the image to load the highest resolution version.
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DescriptionThe Battle of Chancellorsville: Letter written by Private Fredom Sanborn, 12th New Hampshire Infantry.
This 6 page letter written in nice dark ink is headed, "Camp Near Falmouth, Va. May 7th, 1863". Sanborn first assures his parents that he is "safe and not hurt at all" but that "OUR REGIMENT IS ALMOST ANNIHILATED". He continues:
"Our officers are almost all killed and wounded and we are but a small number now."
"Last Tuesday (April 27th) we started about 4 p.m. and marched away down to the left as much as 5 miles where Franklin crossed the first time. We got within about a mile of the river at midnight, laid down and slept till morning, got up and marched most down to the river and stopped. The pontoons were laid that morning and during the day part of the army crossed. Well, we stayed there that night & the next morning it rained some. About noon we got a dispatch from Hooker saying that he had crossed the river on the right and had got behind their entrenchments. About an hour after that we got orders to march up and reinforce him."
"We started right away leaving two corps there to do the work. We marched all that afternoon and till 2 o'clock in the night. Then we were about 3 or 4 miles from the crossing. Next morning we started at sunrise, marched to the pontoon bridge, crossed it and marched up through the old Rebel rifle pits and back of the river about 2 miles and stopped. About 2 p.m. we heard the artillery open up about a mile and a half off and pretty soon we got orders to march to the front. We went down through a piece of woods out into a field and just across the field our batteries were shelling the woods on the other side."
"Pretty soon the Rebs see that one of our batteries had not got any infantry to support it, and they thought it would be a good time to take it, so they charged on it out of the woods and had got most up to it when our 5th Reg. come down by the flank between Mr. Rebs and the woods, and they had to skedaddle back again the best way they could, and about half of them got taken prisoners. That wound up the fight for the night and our Reg. marched back into the woods. The next day there was not much fighting done and the Rebs fell back a piece but about 4 p.m. our Division started after them."
"We went out about 2 miles and had just got fairly stopped when orders came for us to go back again as quick as possible. We started and went back across an open field where our batteries were and down into the woods and formed a line of battle, marched in line through the woods, and came out on top of a little hill. Down at the foot of the hill, there was a little brook and beyond that an open field and beyond the field was a piece of pine woods and the Rebs were in them and our skirmishers were about half way across the field popping away at them."
"Well, we marched down the hill and over the brook and formed a line of battle nearly the whole length of the field and laid down. Pretty soon our skirmishers came in double quick and the Rebs came out of the woods. We up and give them about two volleys and they went back again. Just as they fell back, we heard our batteries up in the field firing as fast as they could, and we went up as quick as possible and found that the Rebs had come out of the very woods where we had stopped, when we was ordered back and had very nearly taken all of our batteries, but had just fallen back as we got there."
"It was well that we got there just as we did for our batteries had fired their last shell. Our Reg. went and laid behind the batteries to support them, and then our folks formed a line of battle and charged up through the woods and drove the Rebs out. We laid behind the batteries all night and at day light we was called up and marched a half mile and formed a line of battle again. It was then that the battle began in earnest. Our first line lay behind a breastwork in the edge of the woods. The 2nd line lay by a brook about 20 rods behind the first line and our batteries on a hill in the rear. Pretty soon the firing began. The Rebels came down to the breastwork and our troops opened fire on them, and in about 15 minutes they fell back into the woods and the first line after them. As soon as the first line advanced, our line came up and laid behind the breastwork. Pretty soon the orders came for the 2nd line to advance and relieve the 1st line. Then Col. Potter stepped out in front and gave the command forward and led us up into the woods."
"When we was going up, we met the first line coming back. They cheered us and told us to go in and give it to 'em, says they. "We have took 2 strand of colors, now go in." The Col. led us up to the top of a little knowle and pointed over across a ravine and said, "There they are, give it to them boys," and we did."
" u WE STAYED THERE AND FOUGHT TILL ALL OUR FIELD OFFICERS WERE WOUNDED AND ALL OUR LINE OFFICERS EITHER KILLED OR WOUNDED, AND MORE THAN 2/3 OF THE REG. WOUNDED /u ."
"Then the order was given to fall back, and then we left the field. We had no one to lead us off so we got off the best way we could and by some means or other, there was no one to support us and we fell back more than half a mile before we stopped."
" u AS SOON AS WE STARTED TO FALL BACK, THE REBELS CAME AFTER US HOWLING LIKE SO MANY DEVIL /u ."
"They came down over the breastwork and out into the field but there they stopped for some of the Reg. rallied and charged on them and drove them back. But finally our forces were driven back about 2 miles."
" u THERE WAS A HOSPITAL ABOUT IN THE CENTER OF THE FIELD, AND THE REBS SHELLED IT AND BURNT IT UP WITH A LOT OF OUR WOUNDED IN IT, AND WE DON'T KNOW BUT WHAT COL. POTTER WAS BURNED UP IN IT TOO /u ."
"He was wounded in the first part of the fight and carried up there and was there only a few minutes before it was set on fire. Our boys feel awfully about it. It seems as though we were a flock without a Shepherd now. Capt. Savage and Capt. Keyes was killed dead on the field, and all the others Captaining in the Reg. were wounded except Capt. Fowler. Both of our Lieuts. were wounded and 1 Sargent. Corporal Prescott was killed and Charles Cote."
"Poor Charley was struck by a piece of shell on the hip when we were laying behind the breastwork before we went up into the woods. I did not know a thing about it until we retreated from the woods. I was going along and I see someone laying pretty near me and looked to see who it was and it was him. I started to go up to him, but the Rebels were close to me and the Reg. was all before me and I had to leave him. I could not have done him any good for he was dead."
"William Humphrey was shot through the leg right by my side. He and I was down on our knees, loading and firing and he was hit."
" u THE BULLETS WERE FLYING ALL AROUND AS THICK AS HAILSTONE /u , but I was not hurt at all."
u "ONE CUT THROUGH A WRINKLE IN MY PANTS AND A SPENT BALL STRUCK MY LEG, BUT BY PROVIDENCE OF GOD I AM STILL ALIVE /u ." u /u
"We have lost in our Co. 6 killed, 29 wounded, and 4 missing. Some of the wounded were left on the field and were taken prisoners."
"...Charles Cote was killed by one of our own shells that fell short. He was one of the best boys in our Co., and we all miss him very much. We laid up there till Wednesday morning and then we crossed the river and are here once more on our old ground. I am well but pretty much tired with the march. I got a letter from you last night. Fredom Sanborn General Whipple was shot by a Rebel sharpshooter Monday, and the Reb was shot in turn by one of Berdan's men."
In this battle at Chancellorsville, the 12th New Hampshire bore the brunt of much of the brutal fighting and left nearly all its officers and more than half of its men dead or wounded in the field. Most of those who were not killed or wounded had either their clothes, blankets or equipment torn with pieces of shell or pierced with bullets like our writer Fredom Sanborn. This letter was kept by the family in a period envelope on which they wrote "Terrible battle near Fredericksburg, 12th N.H. Vol. nearly annihilated!" – This cover comes with accompanies the letter. From the Calvin Packard Civil War Battlefield Letter Collection
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