1864-65: Charles Smith Woolston to Family

These eighteen letters were written by Charles S. Woolston (1848-1865) — a late war recruit of Co. M (and later Co. I), of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry. Woolston did not join the regiment in time for the summer-long Overland Campaign of 1864 in which the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry “was constantly at the front, acting as escort to Generals Grant and Meade, filling gaps in lines of battle, and performing the arduous duties of an emergency command.” It was November 1864 before Charles joined the regiment. He found them at General Meade’s headquarters in front of Petersburg near the military railroad. He remained with the five companies supporting Meade; the other three companies of the regiment were detached and at City Point supporting Grant.

From Woolston’s letters we learn that he and the other recruits were put to work on provost duty, escorting prisoners, carrying dispatches, and taking their turn as sentries. Though Woolston managed to avoid the fighting, he was still a victim of the war. He died in a hospital at Richmond, VA. on 11 June 1865 — six months before his eighteenth birthday.

Woolston’s parents were Benjamin A. Woolston (1819-1897) and Maria Smith (1827-1896) of Tullytown, Bucks county, Pennsylvania. Woolston and other members of his family are buried in Levittown, Buck county, PA


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE

Camp Cadwallader ¹
October 17 [1864]

Dear Father,

I take this opportunity of writing. We have been guarding all [day]. I tried to get a pass this morning but no go. Sulgar Lounsbury was in here with two or three more I do not remember. Aunt Mary, Rex, and some more was in on Saturday and brought me and George Patterson a big basket full of grapes, boiled chestnuts, and molasses candy. They all want me to come and see them if I cannot get a pass to come home in the country for 48 hours. I will get one to go down and see them.

Company A is getting examined. Twelve out of 30 passed. We will get examined in a day or two, I guess. I thank you for them things. [That is] all at present.

Your son, — C. S. Woolston

P. S. Send me a couple of dollars ($2).

¹ Camp Cadwallader was in Beverly, New Jersey — just across the river from Philadelphia.

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO

Camp Distribution near Alexandria
November 13, 1864

Dear Father,

I take this opportunity of writing to you to let you know that I arrived here all safe last evening all right. We left Philadelphia Friday night at 20 to one, got to Baltimore about 7, left Baltimore at 11, got to Washington at 4 [and] got to camp about 7. I got my 33 at Camp Cadwallader before I started. We only got one meal from the time we started until we arrived here. That we got at the saloon at Baltimore. Here we go into a eating house and eat a little like white folks and have a table set for us. How long we will stay here I do not know.

I hear my regiment is in the Valley. If so, we will have to go to Washington, then to the Relay House, then to Harpers Ferry to get to it. The four regiments [that] came on with us [were the] 104th [Pennsylvania], 138th [Pennsylvania], 93rd [Pennsylvania], and 119th [Pennsylvania]. At the time when the train would stop, they would uncouple some of the cars and get time to get a drink and the train would go on a ways before the engineer would miss them and we had him a cussing all the way through. I would send some of that bounty only I am afraid it may get miscarried. Write soon and let me know if you got it.

Direct to Camp Distribution near Alexandria, Va.

— C. S. Woolston

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
December 3rd 1864

Dear Father,

I take this opportunity of writing to you to let you know that I am well at present hoping this to find you all the same. We have pretty hard duty and drill. Yesterday we were again — 130 of us — ordered down to the Prison Pen with side arms but when we got down there, the Colonel told us to go back and get our carbines and load them as we had 175 rebel prisoners to take to the Point [City Point]. They were a good-looking set of men if they were not dressed so poor and were all confident of success. They said they hadn’t made a beginning yet. They were captured at Stone Creek Station and were brought here by Capt. W. Harper ¹ who they say was a very nice man. They were very much afraid that they would be guarded by Negroes. They say they cannot give up that they will all be hung. If they do, they don’t know what they are a fighting for. If you ask a Virginian, [he is] fighting for his home. Georgia the same. South Carolina for his rights. The rest don’t know.

I haven’t got a letter for a long time so write soon and tell me all the news. — C. S. Woolston

¹ Capt. Harper was Provost Marshal and from the 1st New Jersey Cavalry.

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
December 5th 1864

Dear Father,

I take the chance of writing to you to let you know that I am well and received two letters from home dated November 31st [and] December 2nd which you said it was a very rainy night. It did not rain here. John Vansant ¹ is in the 198th which is in the 2nd Corps.

You must be a getting almost as religious as the army a killing beef on Sunday. I heard Ebenezer Denice is very sick. Clem Robinson told me so today at Meade Station. He is in the 6th Corps which is a coming here from the Valley. They are a just in front of us, I guess, to relieve the 5th Corps [or] else amassing here for an advance on Petersburg. The pickets are not more than ½ a mile from us and their picket shots sometimes come a whistling into our camp. Our breastworks is now over ¼ of a mile distant. The firing is very hard to our right. They don’t come at us. They shell at the railroad about 1 mile from us. We can see shells fly. They could throw [a] shell into our camp but they would soon get an answer.

Capt. W. Harper is provost marshal for Gregg’s Division of cavalry.

When you write, tell me where Grand-dad is. I must now go on guard.

December 6th — Things seem more quiet now. It was a beautiful night last night. We could see the Rebel campfire and hear their band beat tattoo. The roll calls in the [army] are this way: bugle sounds at 6 a.m., roll call at 5 p.m., again at 8 at night. We have got a company cook now and we don’t have to cook anymore. I received your stamps.

The rebels on our front are [William] Mahone’s Division of Louisiana Tigers. [That is] all at present. — C. S. Woolston

My company is “I.”

screenshot25
Gen. Davis McM. Gregg and staff; Capt. W. Harper stands at far left.

¹ John Vansant was born in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, about 1835. He moved to Lena, Miami county, Ohio about 1878. He was married to Mary E. White. John appears in the 1890 Veteran’s Census in Miami, Ohio. He died prior to 1900.

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
December 10, 1864

Dear Father,

I received your letter this morning of the 6th inst. with pleasure. I wrote a letter to you yesterday in which I described the beginning of this affair which is now going on. I told you that they went out yesterday morning and about 12 o’clock Capt. [George S. L.] Ward of Company M came in wounded in the ribs. There are several of the regiment killed and wounded. The regiment did not come in last night after their rations and forage went out to them, They have crossed Stone [Stony] creek. Infantry are a going to their support. I expect that there is an immense force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery there by this time. It is the awfullest country I ever traveled through and arms of every description can be seen lying all over. We haven’t heard from them today yet.

We had a regular Virginia snowstorm last night but it is nice and warm today. I pitied the poor boys who were out all yesterday and last night without either feed for themselves or their horses.

In your letter you say that you had a letter from the War Department in which states the case of enlistment of boys. You ask if I want you to try to get my discharge of which you can use perfectly your own pleasure. I do not want you to put yourself too much out of the way on my account. I have not received any of my monthly pay — nothing but $33.33 cents — the one third of my government bounty and that check which I sent you. $33 does not last long to commence soldiering when frying pans and coffee pots cost so much. If you get my discharge, it is well and good. It is all the same to me. I haven’t seen a stove since I left Camp Distribution. There is none about here. It must have been a misunderstanding about me a getting into that job [as a cook]. I forgot to tell you that I am well at present and hope you are the same.

From your son, — C. S. Woolston

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
December 14, 1864

Dear Father,

I received your letter of the 10th with pleasure. I am well at present except a small cold. We went on scout to North Carolina. We left camp at 8 o’clock on Saturday night and got back at about 12 on Sunday night. I seen more men down there in the same piece of ground than I ever seen before in my life. The 6th and 9th Corps were there. We must have rode 60 miles and were only out of the saddle once from the time we started until we got back. In coming back we burnt all the property outside of our lines and the whole road was ablaze. The pine swamps burnt like nothing. We went up the Jerusalem Plank Road.

I guess I will go to City Point today as there is a lot of prisoners here. I have got a horse and equipments now. My horse is built just like Uncle Bill’s old Jim but is a little clumsy for he fell down with me on the raid. They don’t make no more account of shooting a horse down here that you would a sick chicken if he gives out or gets stuck in the mud. They just shoot him.

Next Monday I suppose you kill hogs and I would like to help but that played out, Anybody who goes a soldiering to get easy work jumps out of the frying pan into the fire. It has been very cold down here and hain’t very warm yet. I would like to see the Bucks County Intelligencer or a pile of the Tribune. Write soon and tell me all the news and tell me where Granddad is this winter. There is not any stoves atall in this part of the country. I haven’t see one in Virginia yet since we landed at the Point. Write soon. [That is] all at present.

— C. S. Woolston

When you write, tell if you are trying for my discharge.

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
January 9th 1865

Dear Mother,

I take my pen to write to you to let you know that I am well at present, hoping this to find you the same. I received a letter from you dated January 4th and was glad to hear from you and hear you were all so well. You said you had not got a letter from me since the 26th. I sent two away without stamps for I had none to put on them. I don’t know whether they went to you or not.

We drill very hard. This morning about 5 o’clock the rebs made an attack right on our front and we were ordered out at a moment’s notice. There was some scrambling out, I tell you. We get up here a good deal sooner than we did at home. I came off of mounted duty and got a pass and went to see the 138th [Pennsylvania] Regiment. They are a doing garrison duty at a fort about 1½ miles from here. I don’t remember the name of the fort Fort Dushane]. I see Joe Heaton and Tom Vansant. ¹ Joe has got to be sergeant. They look well. They said their time would be out the 26th of August. Jack Wilson’s regiment [119th Pennsylvania] lays about a hundred yards from us. I can walk there in 5 minutes. If Uncle Charley was here, I could see him any time I like to see or hear from anyone, I know.

It was very cold here on Saturday and yesterday morning. I am a keeping a diary this year.

I expect Mick is a working by this time. I expect you have to pay him big wages. Joe Heaton said that Parm Barber ² died in Richmond from starvation and that his brother [Charles L. Heaton] ³ had taken the oath and went South to work to keep from starvation. I guess I will bring this to a close. Write soon and tell me all the news. I still remain your son, — C. S. Woolston

Tell Bill to write and tell me how many muskrats he has caught and all the news.


¹ Joseph B. Heaton was a sergeant and Thomas Vansant was a private in Company H, 138th Pennsylvania Infantry.

² William “Parm” Barber (b. 1838) of Morrisville was a corporal in Co. H, 138th Pennsylvania Infantry. He was taken prisoner on 6 May 1864 in the Wilderness.

³ Charles L. Heaton (b. 1843) was captured in the fighting in the Wilderness on 6 May 1864.


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER EIGHT

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
January 16th 1864 [1865]

Dear Father,

I received your letter of the 13th last night with pleasure for I was glad to hear from you. It had some cotton in it. There is darkies here that will wash our clothes for 10 [cents] a shirt or a pair of drawers. We can get thread and needles at the sutler’s when they have them. We cannot get our boots mended. When they wear through, we have to throw them away and draw a new pair. I drew a pair at Camp Distribution and they bursted out so that I had to throw them away and draw a new pair the first of the month. I think they are better that the others. I hope that both of them will run when good.

I expected that wheat was more than 265 and I think that oats is very low at 84 cents for 30 lbs. You did not say whether Mike had got to work for you yet or not. I did not expect that Bob would live out of the world another year as he calls it there, but if he had traveled Virginia a little, he would see a new different world entirely. I was over to see Jack Vansant and Jos. White [198th Pennsylvania, 2nd Corps] on Sunday. Jack was on picket. I went out to see him. He looks as far as a pig. He says he is a coming to see me on Thursday after he comes off of picket — that the river was very high at Morrisville — that a good many had to go upstairs.

Everything is pretty quiet here now. I heard but one or two big guns today. Probably Grant will not open a campaign before Spring but you hear more about that than I do. I am glad that Lovetts got a letter from Ben. There is to be a detail to go to Washington every week from this regiment to take prisoners. It will take one week for them to go there and back. Washington is more than half of the distance to Philadelphia. I am glad to hear that Ben Slack has got to boarding with his Mother but does he work on the railroad yet? It is pretty cold work. You had ought to see them build railroad here — anyhow so they get it together.

I shall have to bring this to a close. From your affectionate son, — C. S. Woolston

Please write soon and tell me all the news.

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER NINE

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
January 11, 1865

Dear Father,

I write to tell you now that I am well at present except the toothache which is pretty hard on me.

The Rebs made an attack on us day before yesterday. They thought that they would surprise us and get some clothes but the deserters told us of the plan so we rigged a pan to capture them. We knew where they would make the attempt [and] at about 5 o’clock they came and drove in our pickets. When they got in nearly to the breastworks, they fired a volley, when our men rose up and they were completely surrounded. They surrendered at the first volley. I was over to the 2nd Corps to see Jack Vansant and Jos. White and seen them both. They look well and have had a box from home. They say I look very well. They are about 2 miles from here. They think there will be smokey times here this spring. If I can stand it, I will be all right, but I think that being captured is the worst fate of a soldier. I must now go to City Point with deserters.

January 12 — We got to City Point at about 6 o’clock last night and stayed all night with a fellow in Co. C which lays there. You talk about rough railroads. You had ought to see these down here they run up and down. It is about 15 miles from here to the point [City Point] and takes 1½ hours to run it.

General Meade has went North and hain’t got back yet. Write soon and tell me all the news. Your son, — C. S. Woolston

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TEN

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
January 19th 1865

Dear Mother,

I thought that I would write a little to you to let you know that I am pretty well at present and hope this will find you all the same. I have met with the misfortune of losing my gold pen that I bought at Camp Distribution and am very sorry of it and now I have to use a steel pen. It was a very fine pen. I also lost my gloves that Pap bought me at Camp Cadwallader. I haven’t got a letter since the date of the 13th. I thought that I would write a letter now that I had a chance. I wrote one on the 16th. I was on regimental guard for 24 hours from 9½ yesterday until 9½ today. It is now 11½. I do not mind it in the daytime so much but it is awful to stand 2 hours at night — especially when it is cold.

I have no news to tell you except deserters say that the Johnnies Lee are going to make a raid into Pennsylvania and Colonel [Charles H. T.] Collis of 114th [Pennsylvania] Zouaves is made Brigadier General. He is a fine looking man. This 3 cavalry has promoted 2 generals — Major Gen. [William] Averill and Brig. Gen. [John B.] McIntosh.

I don’t see how it is that Bill’s letter is so long a coming. When you write, tell me all the news and how you are all a coming on. I have been here 2 months today. Things is quieter here now than they were then but who knows what the next two months will bring forth. I must now bring this to a close. Please write soon.

From your son, — C. S. Woolston

Bvt._Major_General_C._H._T._Collis_Col._114th_Pa._Inf
Col. Charles H. T. Collis (at left) and Capt. Davis of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ELEVEN

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
February 18th 1865

Dear Mother,

I write to you to let you know that I am well at present and hope this will find you all the same. I got a letter from you this morning dated the 13th. I am sorry to hear that Pap is so sick but I hope he is well by this time.

It is a splendid day overhead but very muddy underfoot. It has rained for the last 3 days. I came off of Regimental guard this morning. We calculate to sleep 2 nights out of 3 here — that is, 2 off and one on. I am glad to hear that Man and all the rest is a getting along so well but I don’t see why Bill don’t write to me. I wrote a letter to him but I don’t know whether he got it or no.

I think I will get paid in March for certain. I will send 2 dollars of Rebel money in this letter home. I got it from a Rebel deserter. It is not worth a cent. We can get a letter home anytime while we lay in quarters but when the army loves, we are sometime 2 weeks without communication and then we can’t get any any off.

There is a great speculation as to this spring campaign. Some thinks we will move by way of the old Jerusalem Plank Road and the Halifax Road to North Carolina and open our base at Wilmington. I guess Gen. Grant himself don’t know there is sharp cannonading  and picket firing at intervals. These dark nights the Rebs desert very fast.

I haven’t got a letter from you for a good while before his one. Write soon and tell me all the news and how you are all a getting along. From your son, — C. S. Woolston

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWELVE

Headquarters Potomac Army
February 20th 1865

Dear Father,

I got a letter from you this morning and was glad to hear from you and to hear that you had got well. It is very fine weather here now but look out for hot weather this summer. I seen John [B.] Wilson last night. He is at his regiment [Co. G, 119th Pennsylvania] now. They [are] about a hundred yards from us — him and Jack [John P.] Hellings ¹ both. Wilson looks pretty well. Hellings is a sergeant. Clem Robinson is there too. Bill Wharton drives ambulance.

The sergeants and corporals of our regiment tried for a furlough. The best-looking man, horse & equipments got it. It was given to Sergeant [John W.] Ford of M Company and Sergeant Harvey of our company. Harvey was better than Ford. They get a 25-days furlough. We don’t get full rations yet but we get near enough to eat or quite, I think.

You will do just right with that bounty. I am glad you are a going to take it out of [the] bank and put it in a safe place. I guess I will have to bring this to a close. From your son, — C. S. Woolston

¹ John (“Jack”) Pennington Hellings (1843-1886) enlisted as a Private on 15 August 1862 Enlisted in Company G, 119th Infantry Regiment Pennsylvania on 15 August 1862. Promoted to Full Corporal on 01 September 1863 Promoted to Full Sergeant on 31 October 1864 Wounded on 02 April 1865 at Petersburg, VA Discharged by special order Company G, 119th Infantry Regiment Pennsylvania on 24 June 1865.

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THIRTEEN

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
February 28, 1864

Dear Mother,

I take this chance of writing to you to let you know that I am well and hope you are all the same. I got a letter from Sis Launsbury yesterday morning and one from Uncle Bill last night. I sent Bill a letter the other day with 5 dollars in it. I got my likeness taken yesterday for 2 dollars. They are very dark from the shade of the cap. I was at City Point this morning after some horses for the regiment. There was 4 of us and we brought up 105. Hardly any of them knew what a bit was. Went down on the cars and rode them up — a distance of 16 miles. I had a colt and did not lead any. Some of them led 3 and rode one. We had to catch them if they got away.

We mustered today for 2 months more pay. I expect the draft is a getting some of them by this time. There is a report or camp rumor that there has 2 more [Peace] Commissioners gone to Richmond. We get so many reports that proves false that we don’t know which to believe. I suppose you was at the opera house. I think we passed that in Broad Street when we went to the Washington and Baltimore Depot to take the cars for Washington.

Things still keep in a uproar. The 6th Corps is ordered to pack up about every night. Some think the Rebs is a going to leave us by ourselves. I hain’t got a letter since before you went to Philadelphia. [That is] all at present.

— C. S. Woolston

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOURTEEN

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
March 2nd 1865

Dear Mother,

I thought I would write to you to let you know that I am well at present hoping this may find you the same. I got two letters from you last night and one from John Kelly. He said that they were a going to move in the big house on the hill.

It is very rainy here. It rains most all of the time and the roads is a mass of mud.

When you write again, tell me if Pap has got anybody hired for next year and how all of the watches runs. Whether Pap’s old one runs good or no, and all the news.

Our cook which was wounded the last fight is dead now. He died in the hospital from amputation. The 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry has left. They say it has gone to reinforce Sherman. I guess this is all at present. Yours on, — C. S. Woolston

Please write soon. Have you heard of their raising solder’s pay?

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIFTEEN

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
March 19th 1865

Dear Father,

I write to you to let you know that I am well at present, hoping this to find you the same. We are still in camp and under marching orders. The 3 companies of our regiment which were at the Point [City Point] have come up yesterday. The 68th and 114th have gone to the Point. I guess we won’t be here this time next week.

There was a heavy artillery duel last night. It it generally believed that we are a going to evacuate the line from Fort Hell [Sedgwick] out to the left and the three Corps which occupies it is to go to into North Carolina while the 9th [Corps] and the Army of the James hold the rebs in check here. If that be the case, the 3rd Corps, the 2nd, 5th, and 6th — which will go to North Carolina — will number from 100 to 150 thousand men while the whole of Lee’s army cannot dislodge the 9th Corps. There is activity here now. Our regiment being the provost guard, we have to be orderlies for the headquarters officers and carrying dispatches night and day. There were 50 men detailed out of our company. We are all packed up ready to move at a moment’s notice.

I got your letters with 6 stamps in it. Your son, — C. S. Woolston

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIXTEEN

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
March 23rd 1865

Dear Mother,

I write to you to let you know that I am well at present and hope you are the same. I got a letter from you this morning of March 19th in which you spoke of the big fresh in the river. I would like to have been there to seen it. I expect that they are a thinking about fishing up there by this time. I guess that our marching orders has been countermanded and our sutler has come back. I was out to the 2nd Corps days before yesterday with recruits. It was away after night when we got there and a coming in we run all the way. The horse in the file ahead of me fell when we were on a dead run and that caused mine to fall right over him [and] pitched me headlong over his head. It stiffened me up a little but I came off lucky. I rode 5 miles that night quicker than ever I rode it in my life before except by steam.

I guess that is all at present. From your son, — C. S. Woolston

Please write soon.

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVENTEEN

Headquarters Army of the Potomac
March 26th 1865

Dear Father,

I write to you to let you know we are well at present. I got a letter from you last night. We had heavy fighting yesterday in the morning before daybreak. They charged our lines below Fort Hell [Sedgwick] and captured our breastworks and a fort and turned the guns on us and we charged and took them back with about 3 thousand prisoners. Our regiment moved to the scene right after daybreak and took charge of the prisoners and brought them to headquarters. We got to headquarters about noon and right after — while we were a guarding them — President Lincoln and Grant, Meade, and [their] staffs made their appearance while they were all along the lines and at that they fought at Hatcher’s Run.

I was to City Point about 12 o’clock with 800 prisoners. Our regiment took about 4,200 to the Point yesterday. The troops is a moving into the works now. Our regiment is not in danger. We take charge [of] the prisoners and bring them to headquarters.

Things look like hot work today but don’t worry about me. It is about 8 o’clock. Now don’t worry about me. I am alright. I can tell you all about [the] war when I get home. One of our horses got killed and 2 wounded by a solid shot. [That is] all at present.

Your son, — C. S. Woolston

There is some skirmishing now along the lines.

 


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER EIGHTEEN

Hampton Roads, Virginia
April 29th 1865

Dear Sir,

I write to let you know that I am well at present and hope this will find you all the same. We are laying here doing nothing and I don’t know where we are going. We was with President Lincoln for two or three weeks before he was killed. We went to Washington with him on the 10th of April and he was killed on the 14th.

I believe the war is about over. I would have wrote before but I expected to leave here before this and go north somewhere. I want you to please to write to me as soon as you get this and let me know how things is. I wrote to Mother some time ago and have no answer yet.

Our ship is to have a share of the prize money for the capture of Richmond and Wilmington. We was at both places when they were taken. And now I must close with my respects to you.

Direct to U. S. Steamer Bat
Hampton Roads, Va. or elsewhere.

Yours truly — Charles Smith [Woolston]

 


 

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