1865: William Henry Mickle to Oleavia (Ploss) Mickle

Mickle
Rev. William Henry Mickle (ca. 1885)

This letter was written by William Henry Mickle (1839-1922), 134th New York Infantry and AAQM Artillery, 20th Army Corps. It was part of a large collection of letters by Mickle that were sold on the internet recently.

Mickle was from Marianville, Schenectady County, New York, and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the 134th New York Infantry, serving in Virginia, but was promoted to Assistant Adjutant General on the staff of the Chief of Artillery for the 20th Army Corps when it took part in the campaigns in Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas. After the war, Mickle was awarded a brevet promotion to Captain for faithful and distinguished services” and for “gallantry and devotion” An educated man, a Methodist Episcopal minister after the war, Mickle wrote home regularly to his fiancée, Oleavia Ploss, and several family members, including a Copperhead father and uncle. His letters are written in a graceful and fluid style that reflects his intellect and insight and, as the war went on, his increasing commitment to the Union cause and to the President.

Arriving in Virginia just after the battle of Fredericksburg, Mickle’s first experience in combat was at Chancellorsville, and by the time of Gettysburg he had attracted the attention of his superiors for his abilities as a soldier. At Gettysburg, in which the 134th lost 63% of their effectives on Cemetery Hill, Mickle wrote that the regiment “went into the battle against terrible odds as we had not troops sufficient at that hour to cope with the enemy & were sadly cut to pieces,” losing about 350 men. Among the more remarkable stories was his friend, Nelson Young, who “had a ball put through his hat crown & on through his pants the first day & the second was blown up about two feet with a shell. I saw him when the shell exploded. It killed one & wounded four, but did not hurt Nelson much. He is promoted to Sergeant Major now, & I hope some day may get a commission as an Officer.” A few days later, Mickle informed Oleavia that he had not only survived, but been promoted to AAQM on the staff of the Chief of Artillery for the 20th Corps: “We have crowded the Rebs until we have them in close quarters. One wing of their forces resting on Antietam Creek & the other on the Potomac. If we whip them here (which I think we shall do) they will be entirely demoralized. O! that they would yield without more bloodshed!!..

Recovering from illness in August 1863, brought through by the ministrations of kind southern woman, Mickle wrote home in characteristic fashion: “Sometimes I am quite taken up with their style of living, that is cherishing home as the most sacred spot on earth & concentrating all affection in their families. But when I see the direful effects of Slavery even here, I turn away from it with disgust. O! ha! ha! ha! I’ve got a Darkey for a waiter, or probably it would not grate so harshly if I’d say hired man! His name is Ned, one of the offspring of that famous individual ‘Uncle Ned, who died long ago,’ &c. How I wish you could see his elegant features… for a comparison he’d be compelled to go to Uncle Samie’s & get an awful big pear. His eyes – well now my pen can’t describe them. You have seen the full moon when little flakes of clouds were dotted o’er its surface? Well that’s no comparison. His lips are of the true African style & teeth like so many pearls. I’ll not make any further remarks about my Ned, or Frank & Jennie will surely fall in love with him.”

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Lt. William H. Mickle (center) on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga with other officers of the 134th New York

In November 1863, the 20th Army Corps was dispatched to join Sherman’s army, under command of Joe Hooker to assist at Chattanooga. At Mission Ridge, Mickle again witnessed a major battle: “Our troops moved from Bridgeport, Ala., last week to this place, but after they had driven the Rebs from the valley & had all quietly lain down to sleep, about 12 o’clock at night, they came down from the mountain & pounced upon us evidently with the intent to annihilate us, but our gallant boys ‘couldn’t see it in that light’ as they say, so they jumped up amid the leaden showed, seized their guns & went into the Johnies like a dose of salts (figuratively speaking). The fight last till about 3 in the morning when our boys charged up the heights & drove them in confusion from the field, killed & wounding many & capturing a goodly number of prisoners. They do not molest us any more now, save the throwing of those shell into camp & among our wagon trains occasionally, about 50 to 100 a day. But the boys do not mind that kind of fighting any more, as we lay down at night & sleep as soundly as you do in your own feathered nests. It is a waste of ammunition for them as they do not kill enough to make it pay: They have killed but one Darkey & wounded a few soldiers, while their shell cost them $50 a piece!”

During the Atlanta Campaign, Mickle’s position provided him with time enough to write very long, enjoyable letters describing the progress of the war. Perhaps a third of the collection was written between May and September 1864, some very long and wonderfully detailed. Surprisingly for such a pious man, Mickle worshipped the notorious Joe Hooker, “terror of the gray backs,” whom he felt “would soon have their army annihilated” if let loose, though he added “these western Genls are afraid of the reputation Hooker would gain by letter him work, consequently they keep him in the background.”

One of the best letters, written July 23, 1864, describes the battle of Peach Tree Creek: “suddenly like an avalanche the Gray Backs were upon us, firing volleys into our line before we were aware of their approach – But “Hooker’s Iron Clads,” as the boys call themselves, were not to be duped though they were unexpectedly fired into, but found their lines quickly under that galling fire & met the Johnies with such determination and poured such an unnerving fire unto their massed columns that they (the Rebs) were compelled to retire – But they had no sooner broken their first line when another came in with their fiendish yell but to meet a worse fate than the former one – thus they made four severe charges on our line – took us a little by surprise but were most gloriously beaten back at every onset… one of our Divisions captured (7) seven stands of colors – buried (195) one hundred & ninety five dead Johnies in rear of this line (I mean in rear of the main line the Division occupied after countercharging them) took nearly (200) two hundred wounded Rebs & captured over 100 well ones… I had some narrow escapes to day from the bullet & feel sadly because one of our Orderlies was mortally wounded this P.M. while riding out with us. The General was riding between the line of battle & skirmish line (as usual) reconnoitering the position & suddenly came to an open space where the line crossed the road into the city of Atlanta, & knowing that the Rebel Sharpshooters had close range of that point, I told Col. Perkins, the AAG that the General’s life was in danger & that he ought to notify him of the fact. The Col. didn’t see the danger, but knowing the full extent of it I told him again that some one of us would get shot there when all at once the Orderly riding a few feet behind us said ‘I am shot through the body,’ & got off his horse & lay down. The General was sad indeed & said why didn’t you tell me there was danger so near,” when I replied that I had asked Col. Perkins to inform him of it….”

In an outstanding letter in September 6, 1864, he describes the events from Resaca, New Hope Church, Snake Creek Gap, Pine Mountain (where they drove the Rebels back into works constructed by “Darkies & Militia so that the troops wouldn’t have to work so hard”) up to the fall of Atlanta. The letter ends with Mickle in Atlanta: “Last night I saw Genl Sherman and he was very much please with the success of our campaign and said he thought Hood got about as much as he bargained for. Now we are to remain here for a full month recuperating our forces, get pay & prepare for a fine winter campaign, so says Sherman’s order! One thing looks hard on the citizens here & that is they are all to be sent away, either North or South just as they like but go they must… Sherman’s reason for so doing is that he can’t supply any more than his own army & thus gives them the privilege of going which way they choose! It is a military necessity with us, but it looks hard.”

On December 17, 1864, in his first letter home in weeks (and perhaps anticipating the reaction of his copperhead relatives), he wrote “I presume you must fancy us desparadoes by this time but I was not much affected in that line till I saw how the Rebels abused our prisoners & then I came to the conclusion that we ought to crush them if they don’t yield without. Our prisoners of Millan were turned onto a large field surrounded by a stockage about 15 feet high & were not allowed tools nor timber to build their quarters but were compelled to dig holes & burrow in the ground like rabbits exposed to all the inclement weather. The hospital for the sick prisoners was on the edge of stagnant marsh into which ran the nuisance of all the prisoners from the Stockade which was a few rods above. In 22 days, out of about 12,000 men confined there, over 700 of them died & we saw their graves…”

A few days later, his letter begins “Three cheers for our victorious army.” After the March through the Carolina’s, Mickle’s letters offer eloquent testimony to the sense of relief accompanying the end of the war and the tragedy of the assassination of Lincoln. His letters upon taking Raleigh, the capitol of North Carolina, his elation over the surrender of Joe Johnston’s forces are written in counterpoint to the remarkable 8p. reaction to the death of Lincoln: “The crushing intelligence of the assassination of our once noble & revered President (Abraham Lincoln) has just reached us. We have not been officially notified but fear it is too true (would God it were not). So soon after the death & overthrow of Hell’s mad career upon the earth – viz Secession, & after he had guided the helm of our gallant old ship of state just through those terrible breakers ….he was so brutally murdered!!… Never in the history of my experience have I felt so fearful a blow as this. Tis our country’s sad calamity — a misfortune that has ever had a parallel with us. We feel a sickness down deep in the soul & an undercurrent of sorrow that cannot be expressed in words nor tears. Tis almost unendurable. I fear for the result when an official announcement of the fact is read to our Army. We shall have to command all our ingenuity and discretion to keep them from destroying & laying waste everything that ever had connection with the Confederacy. There will be bitterness of enmity toward the South ten thousand times greater than ever existed before & now instead of our being conservative & lenient toward them as we all were disposed to be, we shall be radical & exacting. Oh! These civil wars, how bloody, how terrible!!… Many in our own North — untouched by the cruel hand of war — will triumph in their hearts with other traitors of the darkest & most damning dye. Shame to those or any who as far forget their duty to their country, to humanity, & succeeding generations as to exult over this lamentable calamity. I am glad that the fortunes of war keep me here, just now, for I should never allow friend nor foe to insult the dignity of the American cause, were I at home, & if I know myself, were I at my father’s or James’ house today, & they make light of this thing & chuckle at the death of our hero — our nation’s friend — it would be a sufficient cause for me to never visit them again!”

William Mickle was the son of Henry Mickle (1812-1872) and Elsie Maria Van Wormer (1815-1883) of Princetown, Schenectady, New York.

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TRANSCRIPTION

Headquarters Artillery Brigade
20th Army Corps
Goldsboro, North Carolina
March 26th 1865

My precious wife,

Today for nearly two long months has been the first on which we have received a mail. It brought me several kind missives from my darling, adding life & joy to my being. Yours, written while at James’ & those containing the photos were received and duly appreciated. I got one from James & one from Libbie Munson & husband (formerly Lib. Cullings). Doubtless ‘ere this reaches you, mine written from Fayetteville & on the battlefield near Bentonville will have reached their destination. I trust they found my beloved well & happy! Jennie’s kind letter was good & I shall return its answer soon if I can with this. I was glad to find her improved so much & hope her winter’s experience at Eminence will prove a great blessing to her.

It would take longer than I have time to narrate the incidents of our recent campaign. Consequently you will be obliged to wait till a more convenient season. Suffice it to say that our army did more hard labor — both marching & building bridges & corduroy — than ever an army was known to do before. We moved about five hundred miles & half that distance we were compelled to bridge or corduroy for the trains & artillery to pass over. Our whole army train consisted of more than three thousand wagons & ambulances & fourteen batteries of artillery. We had skirmishing all the way from Savannah to Goldsboro & a few engagements that would come in the vocabulary of battles.

On the 16th inst., our Corps lost between four & five hundred men in killed & wounded & on the 19th at Bentonville the 14th Corps lost about 15,000 — ours about 200. At each fight, we came off victors & pursued our joyous way. [Gen. Joseph E.] Johns[t]on massed all of Hardee’s, S. D. Lee’s, Hampton’s & the South Carolina forces thinking he could destroy one column of our troops ‘ere the others came to its relief. Although they gave the 14th Corps a hard blow, yet we came up in good time to save them & turn the defeat into a victory. It was the finest little battle I ever participated in.

On the night of the 21st, Johns[t]on made his escape across Neuss River & concentrated at Smithfield where he is now & will doubless remain until we begin another campaign. The endurance of our troops cannot find a parallel in history! For many days some of them subsisted chiefly on parched corn & when we got here, thousands of them were barefoot. Yet they never murmured but kept plodding on as diligently as though they had the luxuries of a king’s palace. The Savannah Campaign was but a little affair compared to this but the people made a greater ado about it. The results of our late movement are commensurate with our hardships and we are doubly satisfied. Charleston, Wilmington, & Goldsboro are all ours, while Columbia, Winnsboro, Fayetteville, & many other towns felt the weight of Sherman’s avenging hand. May the lesson taught them be as lasting as time & be a warning to all would-be traitors! We saved the government millions of dollars by living off the country. The animals we seized — both cattle and draft animals — will amount to more than a million of dollars. Thus you see we have saved our farmers & other good people some tax money. Taking it all together, the hardships endured, the risks run, & the results obtained, the last campaign of Gen. Sherman is the greatest that the world has any record of & history, I think, will prove it thus.

Now we are quietly resting after all our toils & are refitting with clothing & other material preparatory to another, & I think our last campaign. May it be light, quick, and decisive. I know just about here as my darling peruses these lines she asks herself whether William will participate in that campaign or try to get honorably away! That, dearest, is a hard question to decide at present as the General has not issued any orders relative to getting home, either on leave of absence or by resigning. Rest assured, however, I’ll keep you well posted on that point & act as the nature of the case shall admit. If I can, I’ll tender my resignation, but at present it is utterly impossible. You must keep up good courage & be resigned to the will of God.

You wrote in yours as though I thought you didn’t like our Melodean, but I was jesting. Only thought I’d find out whether you ever tried to play it. I am glad you enjoyed your visit with my family & hope you will go as often as you can. Also visit Uncle Minard’s & Reuben’s families.

Jennie wrote as though she felt hurt on account of some things having occurred at your place during the winter, yet she seemed to blame herself & wished on some accounts she had never gone. But she loved you all — especially Ma & yourself & was liking Pa better every day. Hers is a peculiar nature & very hard to understand. Compulsion in her case would be worse than useless. Experience with Grace will make her a model of a woman. God bless her & make her future joyous & happy.

You mentioned Henry’s giving you a note &c for the money. It was all right & any arrangement you please to make relative to it will be satisfactory to me. I am pleased with those pictures & shall send one to Bro. Diefendorf’s family & one to Libbie Munson. She will retur their soon. When does Bro. Tailor leave? Remember me kindly to them. Tell Pa & Ma their soldier boy is as rugged as ever & as soon as he gets a new hat will look as if he hadn’t traveled thousands of miles since he saw them. How I would like to hop in tonight & enjoy the Sabbath eve at dear Pa Ploss’ with my darling wife. Even, love, if circumstances should keep me ere this summer, I should be free in September, God willing, on your birthday (22nd) for then my three years are up. But we’ll hope to meet ‘ere that & enjoy the happiness of wedded life. How much I thought of the anniversary of our nuptials the 8th of February & ardently did I pray that it might please Heaven to spare us to enjoy many years of cheerful toil in the service of a higher kingdom than ours & see the rich reward of our labor. Let us still hope on, pray on, & be assured that if we love Him, all things will work together for our good.

The weather has been summer-like nearly all winter & by advancing north, we kept the same temperature. Our boys are all in good health & cheerful. Oren called to see me a few days ago. He was well. George Judd is well & so are Spencer Burnett’s boys. Jno. Joslin was sent to hospital & I have not heard from him since. Write me often now & keep me thoroughly posted. Love to all our dear family & any who may enquire after me. Kiss the children for Uncle Willie & tell them to be good. God bless you darling & keep you, — William

P.S. Direct as before except that you put on Goldsboro, North Carolina instead of Savannah, Ga. You need never hesitate as to my address but always direct to the 20th Corps & it will reach me. Answer very soon as I shall be anxious to hear from you each day.

Lovingly, — William

My darling, if Jennie has gone, write her a good letter & enclose with this to her. She will appreciate it. — W

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