The author of this fascinating letter may never be known. He signed his name “Jo” and addressed the letter to “My Dear Wife” but otherwise left very few clues to his identity. What can be gleaned from the letter is that his Union regiment was encamped in or near McClellan’s headquarters at Savage’s Station on 28 June 1862, the day following the Union defeat at Gaines’s Mill. They were then ordered to withdraw from Savage’s Station, burning whatever could not be transported — even abandoning wounded soldiers — to move their base to the James river. The movements of the regiment and the description of engagements with the enemy suggest that the soldier was in one of the regiments left to cover the retreat — most likely in Sumner’s II Corps.
In the second paragraph, the author says that “one of Stackhouses’s boys” who belonged “to the Pennsylvania Reserves” came into the encampment at Savage’s Station bearing news of the defeat at Gaines’s Mill and was subsequently ordered out of camp. This suggests to me that the author may have known the boy’s father. A search of records revealed that there were two Stackhouse boys serving in the 32nd Pennsylvania Infantry (3rd Pennsylvania Reserves). Their names were David Stackhouse (b. 1841) of Co. K and William Stackhouse (b. 1839) of Co. I. Their father was Charles W. Stackhouse (1816-1872), a blacksmith residing in Altoona, Blair county, Pennsylvania.
Camp near City Point
Friday noon, July 4th 1862
My Dear Wife,
You have heard more about what has transpired in the army this last week than I can begin to tell you. All I know about it is there has been some very queer movements made — and some very hard battles fought — and instead of us taking Richmond, we have marched away from it. Our Generals pretend to say that it is strategy, but for my part, I can’t see the point.
On last Saturday [28 June 1862] afternoon, one of Stackhouse’s boys come into our camp and told us some of the awfullest stories about General McClellan getting defeated on the right [see: Battle of Gaines’s Mill]. He belongs to the Pennsylvania Reserves. He said that they had an awful battle and that Jackson came in and cut off our supplies and that we had been outflanked and badly whipped. Our Colonel heard him tell his story and then cleared him out of the camp. His story created a regular panic among us and the men were almost crazy. Well, we got orders to march at 3 in the morning [29 June] and everything that we could not carry we were to destroy which made things look very strange indeed. The officers cut their tents all up, broke their trunks all to pieces, and many a good uniform was destroyed. And the worst of all, we had to burn all of our provision that we could not carry. We had piles of it as high as a house. I suppose we had a $100,000 worth of it.
Well we left our camp and fortification [29 June] and marched about a mile when the enemy nearly surrounded us and we had to halt and fight him. We whipped them badly and we run clear out of sight and then we started on our march again which was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and we were not disturbed again that day. ¹ The next morning [30 June] we started about daylight and marched about one mile and then we halted to cover the retreat so as to fetch off our baggage wagons and artillery. The enemy made his appearance again in large force about 2 in the afternoon and we had a hard fight until 9 at night when we whipped them again and then retreated again.² The enemy came after us hot foot and we had to stand and fight again. We were exposed to a very hot fire all day but whipped them again and took 2 batteries and a whole brigade prisoners.
The next morning [1 July] we started again and marched all day without any disturbance and encamped within ½ mile of the James river and near City Point. The enemy attacked us yesterday morning [3 July] and we whipped him again and took 2 guns and 800 prisoners. And now they are not to be seen. I think we will cross the James river and wait and get reinforcements and then take Richmond.
I understand the President has called out 300,000 more men which is what we want badly for the enemy has outnumbered us in every fight. We have had very hard times but we will now have it easier. I suppose you have been worried about me and I would [have] wrote sooner but we had no chance for we were forbid. I have not received a letter from you yet and it has miscarried. Write as soon as you get this. I am well and hope to be home soon which is my greatest desire. I want to see you all — you and the baby especially. I have been very fortunate indeed as we have been exposed to danger very much. We have not a man killed but 8 wounded. I don’t think we will have any more fighting to do soon — not until the army is reorganized anyhow — and then we will make very short work of it which is just what I want.
Tell our folks that you have heard from me and don’t be worried if you do not get a letter soon for we may be where we can’t get a mail. I don’t know when you will get this but I hope soon. So goodbye from your, — Jo
¹ The author is probably describing the assault by John B. Magruder’s division on Maj. Gen. Edwin B. Magruder’s troops at Allen’s Farm which lasted a couple of hours.
² This would have been the fighting at Glendale (or Frayser’s Farm) on 30 June 1862.