1862: George Everett White to Elisha Stone White

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Union forces setting up pontoons over the Rappahannock River while under fire

This extremely rare letter was written while lying on the battlefield at Fredericksburg by Pvt. George Everett White (1843-1895) of Co. K, 120th New York Infantry. He wrote the letter to his parents, Elisha Strong White (1806-1869) and Jane (Doane) White (1812-1885) of Ashland, Greene county, New York.

During the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 120th New York was commanded by Col. George H. Sharpe. They were brigaded with five other New York Regiments — the 70th, 71st, 72nd, 73rd, and the 74th under the overall command of Col. George B. Hall. They were the 2nd Brigade of three infantry brigades under the command of Brigadier General Daniel Sickles. Sickles’s Division played a supportive role during the battle, helping to bolster the federal line during a counterattack after Franklin’s and Gibbon’s men failed to breach the Confederate line. Regrettably for the Union cause, the division was used rather ineffectively by Burnside, as were other divisions.

George survived the battle and served with his regiment until he was taken prisoner in action at James City on 10 October 1863. With roughly 100 other members of the 120th New York Infantry, he was marched to Richmond, Virginia, where he was held prisoner until his exchange which is believed to have been late in 1864. He was on furlough from Camp Parole early in 1865 and there is mention of him being reported as “Missing” following the engagement at Hatcher’s Run on the 25th of March. Records show him present, however, when the regiment was finally mustered out of the service in June 1865.

According to enlistment records, George stood 5′ 5½” tall, had blue eyes, and black hair. George’s deprivation in prison may have ruined his health. Though he returned to farming after the war, he had to check himself into a soldier’s home for the disabled in Marion, Grant county, Indiana in 1889 suffering from heart disease. He died in 1895 according to his pension record.

[Note — This letter appears through the courtesy of Brennen Thompson of “40DeadMenPhotography”  who authorized me to publish it here.]

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TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Mr. Elisha S. White, Ashland, Greene County, New York
Soldier’s Letter, F. Hartwell, ¹ Chaplain, 120th Regt. N.Y.V.

December 15th 1862
On the Battlefield at Fredericksburg

Dear Father,

We came on the field Saturday — have laid under fire ever since. We expect to have a fight any moment. The Rebs are in the woods about 25 rods in front. I have not time to write. Much the most is just going out.

‘Tis a big fight, this being the 3rd day. We are alright yet. Nobody hurt in our regiment. We are in the extreme front. Will write more at the close up etc. of the battle.

We are in Sickles Division, Gen. Hall’s Brigade.

The dead and wounded lie around very thick. Can’t write any more. Your loving son, — George E. White


¹ Foster Hartwell was the first chaplain of the 120th. He resigned his commission in December 1863 on account of disability. If a soldier did not have a postage stamp, the general practice was to take the letter to the regimental chaplain to have him attest to the letter being from a soldier. This enabled the letter to be forwarded with postage payable on receipt.

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