May 1863


Sickness at home in Pennsylvania, early reports from the Battle of Chancellorsville, attends Secesh church, furloughs canceled.

Fort Lincoln near Washington, [D.C.]
Wednesday, May 6, 1863

My Dear Annie,

5-6-63-5I received your letter with much joy yesterday & felt very happy to learn that you were well as I am, thank God, at present. I am today stronger than ever & the late sickness has left me much healthier & stronger. I am very sorry to find that you are kept so very busy, but yet there is joy in having plenty to do & the health & will to do it. But you must not be “all work & no play” as the saying is. It is very gratifying to learn that you are perfectly clear of that disease ♠ which is so prevalent in your neighborhood. I hope dear, that you will not get it in the least, but you must not be so afraid of it for that is as sure a mode of having it as any else. You want to be a little cautious, that’s all.

5-6-63-6Dear Annie , news is very scarce about Fort Lincoln — the War Department has ordered the suspension of all work on the forts. The fight ♣ is going on desperately below & the Rebel prisoners are coming into the city by the boatloads. We don’t know what minute we may be called upon to engage in the strife. But we are ready & know how to do it. The boys would jump for joy to have a chance to help our comrades in crushing the Rebels on the Rapahannock. I hope that Gen. Hooker will be successful & then this war will be virtually over. We have great confidence in him & are certain he will win. I have staked a new hat on him & I am going to win too. I hope to be able to show you the hat yet.


The Bladensburg Bridge

I was on picket duty last Sunday on Bladensburg Bridge. While off duty I went to church but the minister was a Secesh & I went out. ♥ They are all Rebs there — ladies & all. “Too Bad.” It makes me feel sorry to see a “Lady Rebel.” I hope they are very scarce in Carbondale.

I am sorry to say that as to furloughs they are put a stop to. I suppose they are waiting to see what will be the issue of Hooker’s battles, if he is defeated, which God forbid, Washington depends on us for its safety.

5-6-63-7I hope, Annie to see you soon for I am very anxious & it would be my greatest pleasure to have your company once more. This cruel war ♦ will be over soon & then for happy times. You promised me your portrait. Can’t you send it in your next letter? Try now…I would feel very happy to have it. You must pay your debts my dear or else I shall sue you for them. Then you will have to pay damages and all. Ha, ha. Don’t fail to send it now.

5-6-63-8Please, you must not tell me to excuse your letters any more for they are perfect & what makes me feel happy, its faults aint enquered in too by no means. Be so kind as to give my best respects to [your sister] Susan & all [the rest of] your family. Please write soon, Annie , & believe me dearest

Yours as ever, — William [Phillips]

I handed the note enclosed to Billy as you requested


♠ The disease was probably smallpox, as it was mentioned in a previous letter by William Phillips. Soldiers were often inoculated to prevent them from contracting the disease but unwittingly carried it home to their loved ones when on furlough. The Scranton cemetery records show numerous deaths from smallpox in 1862 and 1863.

♣ The fight alluded to in this correspondence refers to the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1-3, 1863) which turned out to be yet another federal defeat, despite great optimism going into the engagement. Initially, General Hooker caught the Confederate forces off guard and threatened to turn their flank. But in a masterful maneuver, General Stonewall Jackson turned the tables and outflanked his opponent, causing the federal army to panic and retreat back across the Rappahannock River. Unlike many of his predecessors, General Hooker was perceived by his men, and the politicians back in Washington, as a “fighter” who would achieve great victories where others had failed. Morale in the federal army slumped once again after Chancellorsville and, at the same time, bolstered the confidence of the beleaguered Confederate forces in the field.

♥ The “Secesh” (Secessionist) minister and congregation may have been in Bladensburg or any other community in Prince George’s County, Maryland, as the local citizenry were nearly all southern sympathizers. Prince George’s County in 1861 was part of the South. It had a plantation economy and a population that was more than half slave. There was virtually no abolitionist sentiment here — in the presidential election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln received just one vote from all of Prince George’s County! The social and civic leaders were all slaveholders and very much Southern-oriented. When it became evident that Maryland would not secede from the Union, scores of young men went South to fight for the Confederacy.

♦ Soldiers often used “this cruel war” to describe the conflict as it was the title of a very popular song (“When This Cruel War is Over”) composed by Charles Carroll Sawyer. It is reported that the lyrics pulled so strongly on the heartstrings of the soldiers that many field commanders banned the troops from singing it.


Says Wales is no longer his home, expresses love for his adopted country, celebration of victory at Battle of Chancellorsville was premature, strengthening fortifications about Washington, describes view about Washington from Fort Lincoln, starvation in the South.

Fort Lincoln near Washington, D.C.
May 20, 1863

My Dear Annie,

May_20_1863-1I received your very welcomed letter of the 11th with much joy & hasten to reply. I feel happy to find that you continue to enjoy yourself, though it is but Carbondale [PA] scenery for the subject. Yet it is your home & there is something noble & beautiful in the scenery around our dear homes, wherever they are. Home – how much lays in that word. And to a soldier it is but one of the greatest hopes to see it again. I had a letter from [my former] home [in Wales] yesterday. I hear from them every 3 weeks. They want me to accept money from home to buy myself free ♠ & a passage home, but I will and cannot accept it for this country henceforward is my home & here I shall settle myself. Though my home in Wales has many attractions for me, yet I am now so interwoven with the destinies of this country that its attractions are greater for me. Some may desert, but I hope I never shall. Any man that deserts his country in this critical period ought be cast from every society.

Any man that deserts his country in this critical period ought to be cast from every society.

May_20_1863-2I felt sorry to find that the ringing of bells & firing of cannon over the victory of Fredericksburg was rather too early. Yet by all [accounts] I hear from the boys returning, we had the best of the Rebels. ♣ After all the fuss, we were left here. It is very probable though that we will be participants in the next struggle.

There is nothing new in Fort Lincoln to interest you. We are just now busily strengthening the fortifications of the city. We witness every night the returning regiments going home. We would very much like to be with them going home, but there is 18 months yet for our Regiment. But doubtless before that, the war will be over. We are getting splendid successes in the West & everything in general looks very cheering.

May_20_1863-3The weather is delightful here & I wish you were down here to have a splendid view of the country from this hill. Far off in the distance you can behold the noble Potomac wending itself lazily amongst the valleys formed by the golden hills of Virginia. Then, to give a greater effect to the landscape, you witness the Capitol of our country with many other public buildings of Washington bathed in sunlight & glory. Everything is in full bloom & green & gold color is very prominent. Then far as the eye can scan you behold the many forts with the glorious “Star Spangled Banner” flung to the breeze. I wish you could see it. You would be delighted I can assure you.

May_20_1863-4I must say that it was too bad for [your sister] Susan to be pleased at hearing of folks down South starving ♥ but circumstances alters cases & as she was so because of the South, so every loyal woman ought to be. For if we can starve them out, it is very little blood that will be shed in this war. I am very thankful to you for your promise & I must only say that sooner the vacation comes the better—.

We have just got up a party to go down the Potomac & a high old time we will have of it. Plenty of fun here. My dear Annie , I hope you enjoy yourself & make yourself as happy as you can. Please give my very best wishes to Susan & all the folks, & accept the sincerest love of your, — William [Phillips]

Write soon


♠ Soldiers who enlisted in the service, or those who were drafted, could pay a conscript to take their place and thus “buy their freedom.” It was considered preferable to draft dodging or going AWOL, though not exactly honorable.

♣ Though William mentions the Battle of Fredericksburg, he probably meant to refer to the Battle of Chancellorsville which occurred on May 1-3, 1863. The first day or two of the battle was so successful for General Hooker and his army that their ultimate defeat and retreat came as quite a shock to the folks back home.

♥ By 1863, finding food in Virginia to feed the standing Union and Confederate armies in the field was proving to be problematic. Quartermasters worked constantly to keep the armies supplied with fresh meat and staples. The abundance of food reported to be available for foraging north of the Mason-Dixon line is what finally motivated General Lee to take the offensive and carry the war into Maryland and Pennsylvania.


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