Letter written by Rush P. Cady, lieutenant in the 97th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company K, to his mother of Rome, New York, from Camp of the 97th Reg. N.Y.V. near White Oak Church, Virginia, May 9, 1863
MAY 14 [no year]
of our Reg. who straggled; and another one went into the
fight on Sunday, and lost a leg. Such vigorous
measures as this, so thoroughly carried out, will be apt
to put an effectual stop to straggling, hitherto the
curse of our army. Our corps took up
its position upon the right, formed lines of battle in the
road, threw out skirmishers ahead, and advanced into
the woods a few rods, where we commenced building breast-
works, by filling trees. There was little or no rest for
us, but we worked upon the breastworks, & falling the trees
for some rods in front of them, the tops outwards (as
an impediment in the way of the enemy, should he attempt to
drive us from our position) until it was broad daylight.
It was not our object to advance, but, ex-
pecting an attack upon the right, to hold our position.
And truly we were impregnably intrenched: masked bat-
teries were arranged at intervals, and behind these
breastworks were the infantry, with lines of supports im-
mediately in their rear. No force could have dislodged us.
At 5 o'c. (A.M. Sunday) the expected battle com-
menced upon our left, and raged for some hours with
extreme fury, and with great slaughter to the rebels, as they
tried to drive our men from their breastworks, and
were terribly repulsed all along the line. Some of our
batteries suffered severely. One of them, the 5th, Maine5th Maine, of
our Div. lost one piece, and spiked another, and had
nearly fifty men killed or wounded, and lost nearly all
their horses. Capt. Sepine (Sepine (Captain)) , a very fine young officer, indeed,
had a leg shot off. no instance of nobler conduct than
his, can be cited. While the rebel columns were
advancing upon his battery, a rebel rifle battery
kept up a destructive fire upon him, but he
gave it no head, not returning its fire, but hurling
the canister into the rebel ranks, where he might do
them the most damage. At about noon the battle ended.
About that time our Reg. went out on picket, a mile
or more to the front, beyond our breastworks.
Nothing of much importance occurred during the succeeding
24 hours. We were obliged to be exceedingly vigilant, and none
were allowed to sleep more than three hours. There was con-
siderable firing upon the pickets to the right and left of us,
and several were wounded. Rebs were seen by some of our
men, but there was no firing.
During Monday heavy cannonading was heard in the di-
rection of Fredericksburg (Fredericksburg, Virginia) . We were relieved Monday afternoon,
and returned to our position behind the breastworks.
About this time a mail came, including your letter of the 30th
Apr. & 1st May,- the first I had received from home, since
we left camp, & it was welcome indeed. Just as the mail
came, it commenced raining very hard: a severe thunder-storm,
so that I read your letter by degrees, under a rubber blanket.
The rain continued to fall nearly all night, & some of the time
came down in torrents, the water running in streams over the
ground. Our pack mules not being with us, the officers again
had no shelter tents,- so you see we are often not as well off
as the men. But Lt. Col. Spofford (Spofford (Lieutenant Colonel)) , Lt. Harrington (Harrington, E.G. (Lieutenant)) & I clubbed together,
& made a small tent with our rubber blankets; then cut
a lot of cedar boughs for a bed; afterwards succeeded in getting a
little pork, which we fried, soaked some crackers, made some cof-
fee & had a good supper. We had just cautioned the men to be
ready to pack up promptly, at any time in the night, if we should
get orders to march. Hardly had we lain down, ere the expected or-
ders come, to pack up quickly and quietly, as we were to recross
the river. We were soon in line, and stood waiting an hour or
so, while other troops were marching by, and batteries moving,
one of which got stuck in the mud close by us, being extri-
cated with much difficulty and after considerable delay; and af-
ter awhile we were told to pitch our tents again, thinking that
the movement was abandoned for that night. But we were again
aroused about halfpast three oclock A.M. Wednesday (It was
Monday that we went on picket, returning Tuesday) and after waiting an
hour we commenced our march back to the river,- about 5 miles
(returning by a shorter road) and recrossed the bridge before 7 o'c. The whole
corps was massed in the vicinity, ready to cross. The marching was pretty
hard,- the roads being quite muddy. We did not halt to rest for
any length of time till 9 o'c. At first it seemed to be the gen-
eral opinion that we were only recrossing the river to go
to Fredericksburg (Fredericksburg, Virginia) , as it was thought our forces still held the
heights, to obtain possession of which was the main object
of Hookers movement. We had already heard reports that the
rebels had again retaken the heights, but only a few credited then.
When we learned the true state of things, our feeling was that
of deep disappointment, though greatly tempered by the knowledge
that we had gained important advantages over the rebels, so far
as fighting was concerned; that we only failed of completed success,
through the blunder of Gen. Sedgwick (Sedgwick, John (General)) , and that the loss of the rebels
must have been at least three times as great as ours.
I have no doubt we took 10.000 prisoners, and that their
loss in killed and wounded must have been nearly 15.000. I do not
think our total loss exceeds 8 or 10.000. The spirit of our Army is
not impaired, nor its efficiency.- Upon the march above describ-
ed, I met Lieut. Wm. Walker (Walker, William (Lieutenant)) , 146th Reg. (146th Regiment) who stated, that their Reg. was
in the fight before Sunday, and lost, in killed, wounded and missing a-
bout 260. Eugene Matteson (Matteson, Eugene) was taken prisoner, also Capt. Durkee (Durkee, Joseph H. (Captain)) (a
Coll. friend of mine, class '61.) who was wounded, and taken prisoner, together
with his hole co. while out skirmishing.
We marched at least 20 miles, that day, halting just before
dark, a couple of miles form Falmouth (Falmouth, Virginia) (below). In a few min.
it began to rain. The officers had no tents, and several of us went
to a neighboring house, and had the good fortune to get supper, lodg-
ing (upon the floor – a luxury) & breakfast. Both meals were very indiffer-
ent, but in the circumstances, we willingly paid the charge of $1.25.
There were several ladies in the family, one old gentleman, and two boys (said
to be soldiers in the rebel army) all of whom were strong secesh, uttering their
sentiments without reserve.
About noon, on Thursday, we started upon the march to this place,
coming about 5 miles, halting frequently upon the way, to rest, & being
delayed some time in finding a camping ground, so that just had time
to pitch our tents and get supper before dark. What a luxury
was that nights undisturbed rest, after so many days & nights of
exertion, exposure & fatigue! I would have written to you on
Friday, but had to make out our muster Rolls; and for the same reason
I did not finish this yesterday. (To day is Sunday) Gustavus (Palmer, Gustavus M. (Captain)) writes to you today. I
will send this letter to Eliza (Cady, Eliza) , and she will forward it to you the next day, as I haven't
time to write to her separately, at such length.