Anticipates spring campaign against Rebels, expresses political views on war aims, visits site where Colonel Ellsworth was “murdered” in Alexandria.
Headquarters Department of Washington,
22nd ARMY CORPS
Washington, D. C., April 18, 1864
Your very kind letter of the 4th inst, was duly received, and the note also enclosed by [your sister] Sue. I am very happy now to find time to answer. I have attempted twice before this, but some confounded hindrance always comes up. This time I’ll finish it, if the world stops its accustomed revolutions. I felt happy to hear from you, that the confounded plague that has been like a bird of the night, fluttering and hovering so dismal around you, has taken its flight away. May it go never to make the night hideous anymore, & breath such a fatal contagion, among the loved ones of home. That’s poetry, ain’t it?
Now, my dear Annie, news is decidedly scarce. Everything concerning the army is at a dead still, but it is collecting for the storm, and it is very sad to contemplate the sad fact of thousands of young men sent into an early grave, in this and the coming month. But yet there is a sadder spectacle than that, which is, to see your native land destroyed, to be without a country. Little do the people of the North know what an awful fate would be theirs if not for that living rampart on the Potomac, that has hurled, and will hurl back, that most formidable Rebel host, who have lost everything, and now fight now to avenge supposed wrongs. The army of Rebels (by our accounts here) are now as formidable as ever, but, thanks, our old noble army is 100,000 stronger, than ever it was, and in the coming campaign, which will open early next week, the rebellion will recoil so, that the very shock will kill it. Then when peace & honor is conquered, how pitiful to some Northerner folks to look back, and find the ominous handwriting on the wall, dooming them to everlasting execration for retarding the progress of freedom, and destroy their country.
Now, Annie, you tell me, “Regards to all Copperheads, & secesh friends” — for you know I love them “dearly” — which I take in the other sense. I hope that your love of country has not ebbed too low, that it floats only such small chips, as regards to Copperheads. I do admire a Rebel where I hate and spit on a Copperhead. A Rebel is noble, for he throws his life on the hazard of the die, but all Copperheads are cowards and Rebels to boot. I would say myself that a year ago, my patriotism burned brighter than today, from the fact of the inactivity imposed on me, but by the gods, if today, (as they will soon), I was under a musket, I would feel proud to carry it, and prouder still to use it, for I believe every shot would help us on to peace, and freedom.
A Rebel is noble, for he throws his life on the hazard of the die, but all Copperheads are cowards and Rebels to boot.
People urge & say (with some truth) that this war is for negroes — nothing of the sort in fact. This war is for an idea higher than negro. The freeing of negroes is but a political & military necessity to carry the war to successful issue. The Rebels fight for disunion so as to guarantee the protection of slavery. Slavery has been doomed years ago by public opinion. The Rebels therefore are fighting for an idea that the whole civilized world has pronounced brutal and monstrous. The South has laid the issue on Slavery eternal & universal, and the great law, necessity, compelled the North to take up freedom, eternal & universal, which I hope will soon in
“Heavenly beauty beam on the sight”
“Glorious & fair like a being of light”
It is not the question whether the negro ought or ought not to be free. The question [is] shall we attain a peace — a lasting peace — by fostering slavery or by exterminating it? I can assure you that my love for the darkey, physically & morally is very small, but when he is used by traitors as a pretext to destroy their country, I feel justified in doing away with causes for such evil desires. Now you can see my political creed. Do we agree? I hope so.
As I have before told you, Annie dear, there is no news. I am enjoying myself under the shadow of Father Abraham. I was to Alexandria last Sunday week, on horseback. I had a delightful ride, took dinner at the Marshall House — the scene of the murder of Ellsworth. ♠ Alexandria is a place I shall never visit again, that’s sure——-.
Now good bye. Excuse my being serious this time. In the next—I’ll be funny-er.
So! Much love to you, ever & ever Amen
from yours, — William [Phillips]
LETTER 26 NOTES
♠ Early in the war, Colonel Ellsworth — a personal friend of President Lincoln — was shot by the proprietor of the Marshall House in Alexandria, Virginia while attempting to remove a Rebel flag from the flagpole on its roof. The wound, received while descending the stairs proved mortal.
Rejoins unit and becomes 1st Lieutenant in Company M of the “Provisional” 2nd PA Heavy Artillery, assigned to Burnside’s IX Corps, guarding trains in Virginia, witnesses execution of soldier for desertion.
Headquarters Provisional 2nd Pa. Heavy Artillery
April 29, 1864
I received your letter this morning. I would have had that pleasure two days sooner, but I have left Headquarters, Department of Washington, and am now soldering once more, but with a better grace than heretofore. I have been promoted 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of a regiment, composed of the surplus recruits of the old 2nd Penn Artillery, by Special Orders No. 153, War Department, Adjutant General’s Office. This happened April 20th 1864. Believe me, ever since I have been hard at work organizing & getting the regiment in trim. Our strength today is 1360 or so.
We marched on the 25th from [Fort] Ethan Allen, Virginia to Alexandria, Virginia and are now guarding trains to the Army of the Potomac. But we are under marching orders to join General Burnside, so the prospect ahead is stern fighting, fatiguing marches, and the bivouac, the battlefield, and the others of the same category. ♠
You must flatter yourself, my dear, with a long letter for I am now half dead with sleep and fatigue. My friend Davis, joins us tomorrow. He has been promoted 2nd Lieutenant. I feel now, of that, twice as happy…
Now I must tell you a sad story of what I was compelled to witness today in the camp next to us. A poor fellow was shot in his coffin for desertion. It was a sad sight to see him walk between the guards at reverse arms, the band playing the funeral march, and his 12 executioners receiving the stern order, Load at will — Load — then the young fellow looked so frail and delicate, but he marched with a firm step and was as composed as he could be. How I admired his pluck. He was shot dead at once and never needed a second volley, of which I was very happy. It is sad — but it must be done — to keep an army together, but he deserted to the Rebels and besides committed highway robbery.
I stop, but I remain yours as ever & evermore — William B. Phillips
Lieut. W. B. Phillips
Adjutant, Provisional 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery
Alexandria, Va. or 9th Army Corps, Washington, D.C.
LETTER 27 NOTES
♠ Even before what was to become known as the “Overland Campaign” began in May 1864, soldiers on both sides knew that stern fighting lay ahead. One member of the 2d US Sharpshooters wrote to his brother on 4 May 1864 saying, “Grant don’t play you know. He means work.”