October 1863 Letter by Private William A. Smith, 116th Pennsylvania - Irish Brigade - Battle of Bristoe Station - Execution of Deserters

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October 1863 Letter by Private William A. Smith, 116th Pennsylvania - Irish Brigade - Battle of Bristoe Station - Execution of Deserters

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Item No. 3630127

A very interesting October 1863 letter written by Private William A. Smith of the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteers, a regiment of the famous “Irish Brigade.” Writing from the regiment’s camp at Turkey Run in late October, Williams wrote a letter to his family in West Chester that reads much like a digest of his diary. He described the day-by-day movements and actions of the 116th from the Rapidan River on October 1 to the Turkey Run camp on the 29th. In between Smith described several items of interest. On October 12: “we went back on the other side of the River again as far as Brandy Station and the cavalry had a fight there. The 6th New York Cavalry made 3 splendid charges on the Rebs there and drove them back.” He describes his participation in the Battle of Bristoe Station on October 14:

We just got our fires built and the Rebs seen the fires, and they threw shells right into us before daylight and we had to get out of that in a hurry. We made a charge on their battery and took it and there we had a sharp time, and then we fell back as far as Bristoe Station, and there we had a big fight. They tacked us on a flank movement and we drove them off the battle ground and took 6 pieces of artillery and 2 stands of colors and 500 prisoners…

Smith further described an incident in the battle in which he was nearly taken prisoner:

At Bristoe I was very near being taken. There I was sent to the rear of our Division. The Rebs were trying to get in our rear. They hollered at me to stop, but I could not see the point so I turned around and put the spur to the horse and got away from them. They shot at me 3 times, but it was no use of them doing that, for they could not commit and I told the cavalry of it and they made a charge on them and took them prisoners.

Smith also described the executions of two deserters, Adam Small of the 66th New York on October 2 and James P. Herley of the 116th Pennsylvania on October 16.

The letter closes with Smith’s details about the fate of pigs and chickens encountered on their line of march:

We don’t stop to scald the hair off of them. We take the skin off and it don’t take long to do it when we are hungry and out of rations. The officers try to stop it but it is no use of trying it for it is all over before they get to them. It is fun sometimes to see them. The boys startle up a rabbit and then the best one gets it, one falling over the top of the other. It don’t make no difference how tired they are of marching, but if a rabbit happens to jump up then look out for hollering and running for it. Then you would laugh to burst your sides out to see the fun.

The letter was written on seven pages on two separate stationery sheets, each measuring about 5” x 8”. It is in excellent condition with only light toning. Creased where originally folded. This letter includes the original cover with Washington postmark. It is addressed to William’s father, James M. Smith, in West Chester. The full transcript follows:

Head Quarters Near Turkey Run Oct 29 / 63

My Dear Father & Mother & Sisters
I set down to write you a few lines to let you know now that I just received your letter tonight and was very glad to hear from you. And to give you a little account that has been going on from the first of the month up to this time. Oct 1st we were on the Rapidan River. The 2nd their was a deserter shot. His name was Adam Small, Co. E, 66th N.Y. Vols. The 3rd there was 2 prisoners came in our lines today. The 4th there was no change. The 5th the 6 Corps came up to relieve our corps to come back to the rear. The 6th we started back to the rear and come about 2 miles on this side of Culpeper and put up camp there. The 7th we went to work and put up a log house. The 8th we finished our house. The 9th we started to build a stable for our horses and then we got orders to move with 8 days rations. The 10th we marched about 4 miles southwest of Culpeper and went in line of battle there. The 11th we got orders to march at 3 o’clock in the morning and fell back as far as Bealeton Station on this side of [the] Rappahannock River. The 12th we went back on the other side of the River again as far as Brandy Station and the cavalry had a fight there. The 6th New York Cavalry made 3 splendid charges on the Rebs there and drove them back. The 13th we had orders to march at 12 o’clock. Marched as far as Warrenton Junction and had a brush with them there and laid on our arms all night. The 14th we [were] up on the march at 3 o’clock in the morning and went to Auburn mills and there we were to get time to make coffee. We just got our fires built and the Rebs seen the fires, and they threw shells right into us before daylight and we had to get out of that in a hurry. We made a charge on their battery and took it and there we had a sharp time, and then we fell back as far as Bristoe Station, and there we had a big fight. They tacked us on a flank movement and we drove them off the battle ground and took 6 pieces of artillery and 2 stands of colors and 500 prisoners and we marched all night and got to Bull Run battle ground and there we stopped for the rest of the night. At Bristoe I was very near being taken. There I was sent to the rear of our Division. The Rebs were trying to get in our rear. They hollered at me to stop, but I could not see the point so I turned around and put the spur to the horse and got away from them. They shot at me 3 times, but it was no use of them doing that, for they could not commit and I told the cavalry of it and they made a charge on them and took them prisoners. The 15th today we have been fighting all the time and drove them about 4 miles and our corps lay on the battle ground. The 16th last night the cavalry got in the rear of them and run them for miles. The cavalry got them on an open plain and made a charge on them and cut them all to pieces and took some prisoners. It has been raining all day. The cavalry has been making a reconnoitering on the other side of Bulls Run today. We shot a deserter out of my Regt today. His name is James P. Herley, of Co. B 116 Regt P. Vols. He used to be about Guss Tavern as hostler. He was shot in the head. He come out as a substitute in the 134th Regt. P. Vols. the 17th there was nothing new but some cavalry fighting going on our right and they moved up the pontoons today. The 18th we are laying for orders to march with the horse saddle and we 8 days rations again for another raid. The 19th we advance as far as Bristoe Station and stayed there for the night. The 20th we started on the march again at daylight and went to Gainsville and then to Greenwich and there we went to Auburn Mills and got there at 10 o’clock at night. The 21st & 22nd there was nothing new going on. The 23rd we got orders to march again and we went to a place they call Turkey Run about 3 miles from Warrenton. There we made Head Quarters. The 24th [through] 26th nothing new but some cavalry fighting going on at Morrisville or near Bealeton Station. The 27th we got orders to get ready to march at a moment’s notice and then we got orders at night to stay where we are and to be ready if they call on us to come. The 28th nothing new. Today is the 29th. We are in the same place yet. We caught a chicken that was running around lost and so we froze onto it and had some soup out of it and it did not go bad for a change, for when we are on a march the pigs and chickens has to suffer as the last day we marched I seen 8 or 10 little pigs killed inside of 10 minutes. We don’t stop to scald the hair off of them. We take the skin off and it don’t take long to do it when we are hungry and out of rations. The officers try to stop it but it is no use of trying it for it is all over before they get to them. It is fun sometimes to see them. The boys startle up a rabbit and then the best one gets it, one falling over the top of the other. It don’t make no difference how tired they are of marching, but if a rabbit happens to jump up then look out for hollering and running for it. Then you would laugh to burst your sides out to see the fun. Well I must stop writing for I think I have given you a pretty good account of the march and things that was going on along the march from the first of the month up to this time. So give my best respects to Aunty & Becky, Joyce and all of the rest of my friends. So my love to you all. So good bye and write soon.
From Your Son
Wm. A. Smith
Turkey Run Va

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