Describes life as clerk, laments joining unit due to lack of active service, mentions promotion potential, decides against taking officer’s position in charge of Colored troops, canceled furloughs, elections at home.
Headquarters 1st Brigade Defenses
Fort Bunker Hill
[Washington,] D. C.
October 3, 1863
Dear [Mr.] Richards,
It is now some time dear friend since I had the pleasure of writing you, owing to your inability to read any letters. But thank God I hear you are able to leave your room, so I write you. I wrote Mrs. Richards some weeks ago & was glad to receive an answer that they entertained strong hopes of your recovery. Believe me I was pained & surprised at your sudden & dangerous illness, but I hope it is all over, & everything as usual. I hope I shall not overreach it when I congratulate you on your entire recovery.
I have nothing new to inform you of. The defenses – as you are aware – [are] as calm as and void of excitement as any country village in New England. As to myself, things are as well as I can expect or “any other man.” I have made two moves since you heard from me before, one from Lincoln to Bunker Hill & from Bunker Hill to Headquarters. The officials here are very kind to me & I have their confidence.
As to clerking I am well up in that [and] improving daily, and I have some prospects of promotion. The Sergeant Major who is in the office is about being approved Lieutenant. The senior clerk with rank of Sergeant is to be appointed Sergeant Major, & the Colonel told me I would have his place. So the wheel goes around.
But I am sorry of ever coming to this regiment for not seeing any active service, [as the] promotions are few & far between. I had though a good chance of going into Colored Troops ♠ or the Signal Corps, for there are some out of our regiment who I fancy has not over & above brains in them, but since I had a good easy thing in hand and some prospects, it’s better I believe to hold on to it. “A live private is better than a dead General.” The living at Headquarters is first rate – plenty of good things to eat, splendid quarters, & I have a bunk & bed that I bet General Meade would envy. Besides, we have all kinds of newspapers, books, & periodicals gratis & plenty of tobacco & some “fire water” – which I don’t take being a “Teetotalar” as the Welsh say.
A live private is better than a dead general. [Besides,] I have a bunk & bed that I bet General Meade would envy.”
I entertain strong hopes of seeing you this winter. If any furloughs will be issued at all, I’ll get one. They were issuing some furloughs last month, but an order has just come in choking them. So the Nag is dead at present. This is caused by the Army of the Potomac being weakened to reinforce some other point, though I see the papers say that the Army of the Potomac is not weakened. But they are, for some one or two corps passed us here. Some of the boys say the 143rd Pennsylvania Volunteers was among them.
I suppose you are on the eve of exciting times, owing to the coming elections. I pray God [Andrew G.] Curtin will be elected [Governor of Pennsylvania]. If the Soldiers had a say in it, he would have a hundred thousand majority in the Army. We are confident here of his [re-]election, and sincerely hope he will [win].
My idea of the war is as usual very hopeful, though the Rebs are just now showing some signs of life. But I believe it is the “last kicking of the dying hog.” I heard the Colonel say that as soon as Richmond is taken, we are in for active service, [but] not before, unless they come & try this city. If they ever come [here], it’s the bitterest pill yet they [will] have to swallow. The defenses is twice as strong since Lee was in Pennsylvania. Before our defenses were in a single line, but now from Fort to Fort there is a strong covered way & redoubts & Batteries thrown up in advance. Our line, if attempted, would annihilate any army that dare attempt them [even] if only manned with three relief’s for the guns & a regiment of infantry in the rifle pits of each fort.
The Rebs are just now showing some signs of life…but I believe is is the ‘last kick of the dying hog.’
Now I am afraid I shall tire you & therefore shall close this. Please give my best regards & wishes to Mrs. Richards & many kisses to little Nettie. How is she getting along? And let me know also fully about yourself & Mrs. Richards. I hope the health of you both is well established by this time. [Give] my regards to Mr. Howell & Henry & Billy McClane ♣ – also to Mr. Roberts. ♥ Please remember me very kindly to [your sister] Susan & Mr. & Mrs. Howell. ♦ I hope you will be able to write soon. Accept love & best wishes. Goodbye & may God bless you & [your] family.
Yours very truly, — William B. Phillips
W. B. Phillips
Care of Florence W. Grugan. 2nd Artillery P. V.
Fort Bunker Hill
Tell Henry to buy himself a wife with the greenbacks & send me her photograph for advancing the collateral.
LETTER 18 NOTES
♠ In the fall of 1862, Congress authorized “Colored troops” to serve in the Federal Army, but only white officers were permitted to lead them. White officers, often recruited from the junior officers of existing regiments, served under the Bureau of Colored Troops which was established by General Order No. 143 on May 22, 1863. When Confederate officers announced that they would give no quarter to Colored troops and their white officers if captured in battle, the news had a chilling effect on the officer recruitments for these federal units — especially after the massacre at Fort Pillow in April 1864.
♣ Billy McClane could not be found in the 1860 US Census for Carbondale or Hyde Park, PA. However, there are several variations possible for this surname (McLain, McClaine, McGlyn, McLean)
♥ Probably 67 year-old John Roberts — a former miner — who immigrated from Wales and resided in Carbondale, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania in 1860.
♦ Probably 43 year-old Edward Howell and his 39 year-old wife Rachel, immigrants from Wales. Mr. and Mrs. Howell lived in Carbondale, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania where Edward worked as a shoe maker, possibly in the same shop as Mr. Richards.
Mentions promotion opportunities, attends Rock Creek Church, hopes for furlough.
Headquarters, 2nd Artillery P. V.
Fort Bunker Hill,
[Washington,] D. C.
October 10, 1863
Your very long wished for letter has at last arrived. I thought that I was totally forgotten. My patience was about giving out, and I was on the point of writing you another, thinking the first may have been mislaid, but I find it is different, being delay on your part. And as you have found me guilty of the same offense & say as I have had to say “I’ll never do so again,” I acquit you as Col. acquits a delinquent soldier, on promise of future good behavior. Believe me, I was very happy to receive your letter, & if you only saw the sulks I was in you would not delay so long next time. Now, my dear, news is scarce [and] fighting is scarcer since I wrote you last. I am now living, moving & having my being at Headquarters, plenty of everything & too much time. I wish I could sleep the next 20 months & wake up & find my three years out, but I have not to wait so long though; in 11 months (Just think of it) the 2d. Arty P. V. will be mustered out of service, 3 years up.
I am clerking now going on 5 months & I expect before the month is out to be made senior clerk of the Brigade, the only one now being promoted Sgt. Major & the Sgt. Major being promoted to Lieutenant. The Colonel told me I should have it. He is very kind to me, but he is a West Pointer, and old officer in the service over 33 years, and very cross & exacting. You ought to see him. You would say at once he is an old war dog, & full of fight. He is very lame [as he] had his heel shot off in Mexico. He is a Major in the Regular Army & so ranks above a Brig. Gen. of Volunteers. His name is Augustus A. Gibson, & here is his autograph like[ness]…
A. A. Gibson
Col. 2d. Art. P. V.
This is a very cool but fine morning. I am going to Rock [Creek] Church this morning near the Soldier’s Home ♠ some 2 miles from here, [my] first time since last winter.
I was happy to hear that you intend going to school. You will have fine times no doubt. But don’t play truant & don’t you & the other young misses of the establishment rebel because you get weak tea & weaker coffee to. And don’t smuggle into the school any candy or cakes to. Mind now, my dear, for the “big awful” has an eye to business. I hope to see you though before you leave. I suppose, should you leave, you would not object [to] my coming to the school, provided I come in a dress coat, silk hat, perfumed handkerchiefs & eyeglasses. Whew! What a figure. But never mind Annie. If it is the soldier boy, a good & true heart may beat beneath it. And if he loves to “cut up” now & then, he will be found ready for any sober thought & deed any hour of the day and night.
Now, the mail is about leaving, & so I must draw this to a speedy close. I shall try for that furlough hard & long before I yield, & then I shall be very happy to see you. I shall have it. I am almost sure of it. But it may be in the middle of winter. If we have a winter campaign, furloughs will be very scarce but after all the campaign is better than the furlough, for the war will end sooner & we can come home for good.
I was very happy indeed to hear of Mr. Richards being able to go out. I must close the mail is going. Good bye. Please write soon. Accept my love.
Yours with true love — William [Phillips]
LETTER 19 NOTES
♠ In 1851, the US government established the Soldier’s Home for distinguished veterans of the Mexican War. The site was three miles from the White House on high ground overlooking the city. It had been the former estate of George W. Riggs, a prominent Washington banker, who had built a 14-room house known as Anderson Cottage. To escape the summer heat of the city, President Lincoln often spent his days at Anderson Cottage. It was located adjacent to the Rock Creek Church and cemetery.