This letter was written by Sgt. John A. Skelley (1835-18xx) of Co. G, 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry. He enlisted in August 1861 and was discharged in August 1864 after three years service. The regiment was accepted for state and federal service as the “108th Volunteers” and its designation changed to the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry on November 13, 1861. It mustered in for three years service under the command of Colonel Josiah Harlan.
John served with two brothers — James and Joseph Skelley — in the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry. They were the sons of Hugh and Amelia (Todd) Skelley of Cambria County.
Skelley wrote the letter to his cousin, Mary (“Molly”) Brady (1842-1898) of Wilmore, Cambria County, Pennsylvania. Molly was the daughter of Charles H. Brady (1805-1879) and Mary Margaret Skelley (1807-1896).
In this letter, Sgt. Skelley describes the fight on 26 June 1863 at the railroad bridge over the South Anna River.
White House Landing, Virginia
June 30th 1863
I now take those few spare moments to write a few lines to you. You must excuse the writing with a lead pencil for ink is out of the question here now.
Well, I suppose you have heard of our regiment leaving Suffolk on the 22nd & come to Norfolk the next morning. Our company got on board the transport Hero & landed & [on] the 24th, our whole regiment & the 2d Battalion Massachusetts & California Cavalry was along. It took 8 transports to bring us up & there was 3 gunboats along. We lay at anchor apposite West Point until the morning of the 25th [when] we started up the Pamunkey River & the gunboats threw a few shells into a Rebel fort & they set fire to their commissary stores & run. One company landed & took a few prisoners & we soon all got landed & begin to spoil the fort, railroads, &c. & marched 15 miles on the main Richmond road. We encamped 12 miles from Richmond.
In the morning we started at sunrise & about noon we took 3 or 4 government wagons & a wagon master & found out there was a train of 40 wagons at Hanover Court House & so as soon [as] our advance guard got in sight, they charged & took the train — guards and all — & then we was within a ½ mile of the Richmond & Gordonsville Railroad. There was a train of cars running towards Richmond & our advance guard fired into it but it escaped & now the fun was ahead.
A long bridge [of the Virginia Central Railroad] over the South Anna River was to be burnt & there was a strong force of Rebels & three forts on the opposite side of the river & a fight begun. Our company [G] & Co [A] swam the river [some distance below the bridge] & charged but only to meet an awful volley of minie balls. We formed in line of battle again & two companies [near the bridge] got over on foot & we charged the 2d time & took the whole force after a hand-to-hand fight for 20 minutes. Our company lost one killed & 2 wounded & 3 horses killed. Our whole loss [was] 3 killed & 15 wounded & 3 of them has since died. We took 101 prisoners — a Lieut. Coe, a captain & 3 lieutenants & also young [Brig.] General [William Fitz Hugh] Lee & horse & carriage a prisoner. He is a fine-looking man. We also took over 400 horses & mules & landed safe & sound.
We leave here tonight at 12 o’clock for five days. Where we are a going, I can’t tell. I will write as soon as I can.
No more from your cousin. — John A. Skelley
Co. G, 11th Pa. Cavalry, White House Landing, Va.
Capt. David & Joseph [Skelley] is well. Tell Sue Corp. Brewer came near his last. One ball hit him on the forehead & one tore off his chevrons on his left arm. — J. A. Skelley