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    A complete account of the Siege of Petersburg

    Maryland Infantry Soldier William Gibson Civil War Archive. Approximately 200 letters, two books, four photographs, two currency notes, and a memorial printing relating to Captain Gibson of the Purnell Legion Maryland Infantry. The overwhelming majority of the letters are war-dated and are all addressed to his wife. Gibson diligently records his service in the Union Army, and his letters have content about key battles such as Harper's Ferry, Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Cold Harbor, and the Siege of Petersburg. Gibson's letters recount in great detail the entire Siege of Petersburg.

    Gibson was born on October 9, 1823 in Tyrone, Ireland and immigrated to the United States at the age of 17. When the Civil War began, Gibson enlisted as a Lieutenant with the Union Army, and on October 7, 1861, was commissioned into Company A, Purnell Legion of the Maryland Volunteer Infantry. He was promoted to Captain on April 24, 1864, and later was transferred to the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 5th Army Corps and assigned as Brigade Inspector. He survived the war and returned home to his family, passing away at the age of 79 on December 23, 1902. He was a highly respected man, and following his death, the Department of the Potomac, where Gibson had served as Department Commander, ordered a period of 30 days to be held in his memory where the Department colors and charter were draped.

    Gibson wrote to his wife soon after the Battle of Cedar Mountain, and his letter contains not only information about the battle, but about the state of the surrounding city and about the newly enforced draft. Dated, August 12, 1862, four pages of a bifolium, 7.75" x 9.75", he writes in part: "...we have had a great battle with immense numbers killed & wounded on both sides and I know you would be apprehensive of danger to me...The troops engaged were those of Genl. Banks, they bore the brunt of the battle and suffered a loss of from 1000 to 1500 in killed, wounded & prisoners. All day Sunday & yesterday the two armies lay facing each other, the dead lying between them unburied till yesterday, when under a flag of truce each went out and buried their dead and brought in their wounded. The Rebel Army is said to be very strong but all our troops had not come up...the Lt. Col. talks of bringing Mrs. S down here. I cannot see how he can accommodate her here as the houses around here are deserted and have no furniture. At all events this battle will have to be settled first as we are only 11 miles from Culpeper C.H. the scene of the battle. Should our troops drive the enemy, and we appear to stay any time here we can make arrangements very soon...I suppose the draft has caused quite a commotion in the city. The government appears to be in earnest and I am in great hopes the war soon be over. May God grant it is the prayer of your husband."

    In the lead up to and during the Battle of Antietam, Gibson wrote again to his wife about the numerous casualties and near misses he witnessed. It is also interesting to note the inaccuracies in the reported deaths that occurred during the war. Dated, September 16, 1862, eight pages on two bifolia, 5" x 8", in part: "...It is reported that Gen. Longstreet was killed on Sunday, that Gen. Lee and his son were wounded and cut off from their main army; I have just heard that Harpers Ferry has surrendered to the enemy, I hope that is not so, but you know more in Baltimore than us here can tell... [Writing later that evening:] I was roused by the sound of musketry, which seemed very near. Soon the battle raged from right to left a distance of 5 or 6 miles. Our Regt. was ordered to the right. Soon it was greeted with shells flying over its head: one took the leg clean off a Sergt. Of Co. D. The boys stood manfully not a man in the Regt flinched. The Regt was sent to the extreme right to support two new Regts and our old Pa...Lt. Brown is wounded, having a buck shot in the fore finger of his left hand...Private Fetters is badly bruised, a piece of shell struck his musket and knocked it to pieces, then struck a horse on the head behind him, the horse fell on him and hurt him badly...This battle has I think been the greatest of this war."

    Despite the horrors of war, Gibson found solace in the honor and righteousness of the fallen. In a letter he wrote to his wife from Cold Harbor, he describes the death of a young soldier he witnessed: "...The boys of the Company fought like heroes, except 3 or 4; poor Budd was shot through the bowels as was McIntosh, both died in the afternoon. I told Budd I was sorry for him, he replied 'Such is the fortune of war' he was a good man and a brave soldier and is regretted by everybody. West was shot in the mouth and must have died instantly he was a fine looking man. As he lay dead his face covered with blood and right on his back, he was as noble a sight for a dead soldier as a painter could wish. He had on all his equipments even his cap still on his head and his musket lying on his arm. I could not tell who he was until I poured water on his face to wash off the blood." [June 6, 1864, two pages, 7.75" x 10"]

    Towards the end of the war, Gibson's unit was stationed at Petersburg, and many of his letters cover the whole of the siege while he was there. He provides great witness accounts of the events at Petersburg. On June 23, 1864, he penned a letter to his wife: "...I write this where I wrote my last two letters, our Regt. since coming here has been mostly inactive, yet we lose a man or two every day, one was killed and one wounded yesterday. A man can't stand up on his feet without running the risk of being shot. You will see that it is not a very delightful place to life; we dig holes and the ground and through [sic] up the earth in front and then get into our holes, so we live..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 4.75" x 8"].

    Days later, on June 28, he wrote again about the trials of the new trench warfare, saying: "...The Major and myself occupy a hole in the ground with the dirt thrown around it against which the rebel bullets are constantly striking and flying over us. A man dare not stand up for a second but a ball is sure to come at him. The rebels occupy a number of [illegible] houses in our front and have an advantage in that respect...Sunday morning I was roused by the dirt falling on my face; a bullet knocked it down on us. I have not washed since we came out here. The water is some distance. I have been compelled to keep in my hole, which is just long enough to lie in. Sunday & yesterday were very hot and we felt it severely, but last evening a thunderstorm cooled the air, but wet our bed (the ground) I slept soundly and dreamt of those I love." [Three pages of a bifolium, 5" x 7.75"].

    With the two armies being so close to one another during the siege, unique happenings took place. Gibson and his unit remained at Petersburg during the Fourth of July, and he describes an event that stayed with him. Writing to his wife on July 5, 1864, he says: "Yesterday about 6 in the evening we had a curious scene, one long to be remembered and worth going miles to see. Here are two armies down behind their breastworks only 250 yards or so apart with a skirmish line between, yet each freely walking in sight of the other. About 6 o'clock our Brigade Band came up to our breastwork right among our company and played for an hour all the National Airs. The rebels got on the works and seemed to listen attentively. We cheered at Yankee-doodle but I could not tell how they took it. I know they did not fire upon us although a larger crowd gathered around the Band. We waved our flags, but they did not make any demonstrations; how I wished I could go over to them and bring them over to us, and all rejoice as was the custom 4 years ago on such celebrations. May God hasten the time when we shall again be a band of brothers. How I would like to know what passed through the hearts of our foes at the sound of the Star Spangled Banner..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 5" x 7.75"].

    These excerpts are just a snapshot of the wealth of stories and information that this archive holds. Gibson relates to his wife of the many escapes from death that he and his fellow soldiers faced throughout the war and constantly wishes that he were once again reunited with his wife and little ones. This archive provides detail and shows a wide spread of experience through the whole war. Also included in the collection are four William Gibson War Dated and Post War Images, a Memorial Printing, two Fractional Currency Notes, and two Civil War related books. It would make a fine addition to any Civil War buff's collection.

    Condition: Letters range from good to fine with usual mail folds, toning and foxing. Photographs are good with minimal fading, with some toning and chipping at margins which do not affect the image. The currency notes are toned with some rough edges. Overall very good condition.


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