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WWilliam Graham's War Between the States

Army of the Potomac

G. McClellan
George McClellan

On July 26, 1861, General George McClellan formed the Army of the Potomac, composed of all Union military forces in the former Departments of Northeastern Virginia, Washington, Baltimore and the Shenandoah. This was the principal Union army of the first years of the American Civil War. This was also the army that William joined following his enlistment in Elmira, New York in July 1862.

At the time William joined the Army of the Potomac it was still commanded by George McClellan. With victory an ever elusive goal, it went through three other commanders before the end of the War in 1865.

The known letters of William Graham begin on September 1, 1862 with a message from Camp Seward on the Arlington Heights in Virginia. These heights above the south bank of the Potomac River overlook Washington, DC on the north bank. This was the site of the main base of the Union army during most of the war.

The map below shows the relationship of the heights with the river and the City of Washington. The map was drawn in May 1861, a little over a year before William arrived with the 107th NY Regiment. Interestingly, almost all the regiments shown entrenched on the heights, with the exception of two from New Jersey, are from New York. Clicking twice on the map will enlarge it, clearly setting forth the details.
Arlington Heights
1861 map showing Arlington Heights with its fortifications defending Washington, DC across the Potomac

Camp Seward
9-1-1862

John Boyes

Since I wrote we have had terrible times here. We moved twice and went about 8 miles each time. Now we are back where we started from. Oh could I describe to you the commotion that has existed here for 3 to 4 days. I would like it but I can not. McClellan’s whole army was around then but left yesterday. The thirty or forty thousand went past here for to reinforce Pope. We have had very heavy cannonading west of us for 3 to 4 days. It seemed as if we could feel the ground shake and there has [been] some wounded past here. One of bloodiest battles that ever was on this continent now in progress.

9-2-1862

Just returned from picket. Have been on duty all night out four miles towards the battle field. It rained all night. We had the wet ground for our bed and the clouds for our covering. Spots of wounded soldiers going past us for Washington. So near as I can find out Jackson has had the best of it. Our loss is heavy. No firing heard today. A heavy battle expected. The boys say our Brigade has been ordered to dig miles of rifle pits. I think we shall have to stay here to support these Forts(?).

We have not got any pay from Uncle Sam yet. Tell father my health is very good. Thank the Lord for it.

We have very good acomodations considering. Don’t think we will be ordered out to fight unless the Rebels attack us on our own (?) dunghill. I am so sleepy that I can not write.

 Address: Care Capt. Baldwin, Co. B, 107 Regt N.Y.V. Washington D.C.

Commentary

Based on the 10-12-1862 letter, John Boyes was likely the nephew of the family William lived with in 1860. William was then living with farmer Thomas Boyes, his wife and seven children. No John is living there, but there is a John Boyes age 20 working as a farm laborer in nearby Seneca, Ontario County, NY. A John Boyes age 30 is employed as a physician is found in the 1870 Census living in Tyrone, Schuyler County with his wife Cynthia age 26.

William H. Seward

"Camp Seward" seems to have been the entry point for many Union soldiers in the Civil War. This was the name that the 107th gave to its early camps in the Washington area while guarding the nation's capital. It was named after William Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, and his former rival for the presidency and the former Governor of the State of New York. He was also an 1820 graduate of Union College, my alma mater.

When the 107th arrived at Washington President Lincoln presented them with a regimental banner, a gift of New York State Governor Morgan. It was never carried into battle, but was left in Washington at the residence of Secretary of State Seward, and taken back at the conclusion of the war. It was framed by the regimental association and currently hangs in the Chemung County History Society building in Elmira, NY.

General Philip Kearny's fatal charge at the Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill)

Camp Seward was located in and near Arlington Heights across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. The Union fortifications on the heights served as a defense line for the city. William's regiment, the 107th, was attached to Whipple's Command, Defenses of Washington, D.C., until sometime in September, 1862. In September, the 107th Regiment was assigned to the 12th Army Corps.

When this letter was written the 107th had yet to take active part in battle. The battles discussed in the letter are probably the Battle of Chantilly that took place on September 1, 1862 about 15 miles from Arlington Heights and the Second Battle of Manassas or Bull Run that occured August 28-30, 1862 about 25 miles away.

According to the National Park Service battle summaries, Chantilly began with a wide flank march by Jackson who hoped to cut off the Union retreat from Bull Run. On September 1, beyond Chantilly Plantation on the Little River Turnpike near Ox Hill, Jackson sent his divisions against two Union divisions under Kearny and Stevens. Confederate attacks were stopped by fierce fighting during a severe thunderstorm. Union generals Stevens and Kearny were both killed. Recognizing that his army was still in danger at Fairfax Courthouse, Maj. Gen. Pope ordered the retreat to continue to Washington. With Pope no longer a threat, Lee turned his army west and north to invade Maryland, initiating the Maryland Campaign and the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan assumed command of Union forces around Washington.


Harper’s Ferry
October 1862
[The letter did not indicate the actual date, just October 1862.] 

Dr. Robert Bell

Report is that Jackson is within 3 miles of our picket lines with 40,000 men tonight. We have got a small force but I would rather we would make a stand and fight than run before Old Jackson. I have but little faith in running when it is so muddy as it is. Now the Fall rains have just commenced and this day is just as slippery as glass.

Give my respects to Mrs. Bell. I get once in a while a newspaper and they are very exceptionable for we get few newspapers but what we get from home.

John Boyes owes me $12 and it should be given to father to use for his needs for winter. By that time should have the bounty money if survive till then. The Lord only knows when we will get our pay.

Tell father he must feel easy about me for if the Lord spares me my health and grace to sustain me I will be all right if Jackson comes or stays. There is one thing I thank the Lord for, I have not got much of that slavish fear. I feel quite as cool under a good shower of shells as anyone around me. I am a little nervous, but not afraid of anything but a hard march.

Well I must close for I have made far more scratches than amounts to anything but it is all the same postage.

Commentary

Dr. Robert Bell lived in Monterey, Town of Orange, Schuyler co., NY.  He was born August 24, 1815, in County Down, Ireland, about 12 miles from the City of Belfast (now Northern Ireland, or Ulster).  He was the son of William Bell and Elizabeth Graham.  He was 12 years old when his family left Ireland and landed in St. Johns, New Brunswick in 1827. His mother was the sister of James Graham, William’s father. Therefore, Dr. Bell was William’s cousin.

Looking east from Harpers Ferry. Maryland Heights on the left.

Harper's Ferry was a key site in both the war and its preceding events. On October 16, 1859, the radical abolitionist John Brown led a group of 22 men in a raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. U.S. Army Colonel Robert E. Lee was assigned as commander of federal forces along with Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart as his aide-de-camp. Following an army assault, Brown was captured, tried for treason and hung.

Maryland Heights today

The Battle of Antietam on September 16 to 18, 1862 was the key battle of the Maryland Campaign. This was the battle in which William and the 107th NY Regiment experienced its first trial by fire. William's statement regarding coolness "under a good shower of shells" was based on actual experience in what was later determined to be the bloodiest day of the war - September 17, 1862.

The 107th fought near the Dunker Church during most of the day.

At Antietam, the 12th Corps (of which the 107th Regiment was now part) entered the fight early in the morning, and carried a position near, and in front of, the Dunker Church. General Mansfield fell, mortally wounded, while deploying his columns, and the command of the corps during the battle devolved on General Williams. The two divisions of the Corps lost in this battle, 275 killed, 1,386 wounded, and 85 missing; total, 1,746, out of about 8,000 present in action.

Luck was a factor in William's survival during this bloody battle. The 107th Regiment was detached from the rest of the Corps to support Cochran's Battery of artillery. Of the 600 present for battle in this regiment; 7 were killed, 51 wounded and 5 missing; making total casualties of 63. A soldier assigned to the 107th regiment was half as likely to become a battle casualty. The percentage of loss being 10.5% compared to 21.8% for the 12th Corps as a whole. If we just look at the number killed, the difference was even starker; the chances of being killed being more than four times as great in the 12th Corps as a whole.

Stone bridge at Antietam soon after the battle
According to the battle history, although outnumbered two-to-one, Lee committed his entire force, while McClellan sent in less than three-quarters of his army, enabling Lee to fight the Federals to a standstill. During the night, both armies consolidated their lines. In spite of crippling casualties, Lee continued to skirmish with McClellan throughout the 18th, while removing his wounded south of the river. McClellan did not renew the assaults. After dark, Lee ordered withdrawal of his army.

William's report on Jackson's near presence was probably erronious since Lee had withdrawn the battered Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac into the Shenandoah Valley.

The 107th was on duty at the Maryland Heights fortification at Harper’s Ferry September 22-October 29, 1862. Picket duty at Harpers Ferry followed the end of the Maryland Campaign, considered one of the major turning points of the Civil War.

The vacancy caused by the death of General Mansfield was filled by the appointment of Major-General Henry W. Slocum, a division general of the Sixth Corps, who had already achieved a brilliant reputation by his services on the Peninsula, and at the successful storming of Crampton's Gap. The Twelfth Corps remained in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry until December, when it moved into Virginia, and made its winter-quarters at Stafford Court House.

Bounty money was simply a sum of money offered to any eligible man for volunteering. Bounties existed on the federal, state and more importantly, local levels. The bounty usually took the form of $50, $200, $300, $1000 cash amounts that would only be paid to the man after he volunteered. As Eugene Murdock notes, “It had the expected results, men volunteered, and it became the standard method of obtaining troops.


Harper’s Ferry
10-12-1862

Dr. Robert Bell

I seat myself this sabath morning to [perform] a pleasant duty, the answering of your kind and ever welcome letter which I received a few days ago. It might be questioned by some whether it is a duty to write on the sabath, but soldiers are creatures of circumstance as much so I think as any other class of human beings. Sunday is the only day they feel halfway sure that if they commence a letter that they will get a chance to finish it.

When we are in camp Sundays our duties are reduced down to cleaning our guns and other accoutrements, appearing on dress parades, and attending to divine service. Unluckily we have none [of the latter], our chaplain having gone to Washington.

Our boys care little where the chaplain is, especially our company. It is the first company in the regiment and I think it would be the first company anywhere where blacklegs, blackguards and loafers generally are.

There is a great deal of sickness in our regiment at present. Fever seems to be the prevailing disease. With the exception of desertion, that seems to reduce the regiment almost as fast as anything else.

If our boys continue desert[ing] and die[ing] and get away from here one way or another for a year according to the last two weeks, it will be known only as a thing that has been.

Some blame the physicians. One trouble is there is not [accommodations?] for them. Oh sir I have wished many times you were here. It is not so hard work to be a surgeon of a regiment, as you would think. They have three or four assistants. He [surgeon] has as good accommodations as the colonel. He lives on the best and his uniform is the most gaudy.

Now when I was in Elmira I sent that $30 with Scobey and he went away. After he had gone I began to think that I had more money than I ought to carry with me. Henry [Kleckler?] was there so I handed $5 to him and told him to hand it to you for me. Now as you say he has not done it. I will write and have him do it at once.

I wrote a letter to you after I wrote the one on the battlefield (This missing letter must have been about Antietam). It was a little plainer than the others but you did not speak of it in your last. So I guess it did not go through.

Yesterday was the first I and my [partner?] has had a [bath?] in four or five weeks and no extra clothing except our overcoats.

One of my messmates is gone to the hospital sick with the fever. He is a boy that Kleckler’s folks brought up, a relative of Mrs. Kleckler’s.

I got a letter from John Boyes the other day. He said his Uncle Thomas’ crops turned out very poor. I should have been afraid that his financial affair[s] would bother him but he has been in such fix so long that there still seems to be a way for him to get out.

I was sorry to hear that Mrs. Bell has been sick but glad to hear that she is getting better. I would say to her that I [am unworthy of] the deep interest that she takes of my welfare. There is nothing does a soldier more good than a kind word from a worthy friend at home.

Commentary

Dr. Robert Bell was William Graham’s cousin. William’s father James was the brother of Robert’s mother Elizabeth. Robert’s biography can be found in the Schuyler County Biographical Record published in 1903.

William Graham, based on his words, is a man of strong religious beliefs. In Ireland his family was Presbyterian. Given the religious ferment of the time, and his descendants' church membership in Schuyler County, as an adult he may have been Methodist or Free Methodist.

Frequently in his letters, William’s words relate an almost clinical contempt for his fellow soldiers. Incidently, blackleg is a British term for a strikebreaker or swindler. A blackguard is a low, contemptible person

The sickness while the regiment was at Harpers Ferry resulted in the death of many of William Graham’s fellow soldiers. Illness would ultimately put him in the hospital for more than eight months.

The ills and sanitary conditions prevalent in the Harpers Ferry area at the time did not improve in the next month. The following excerpt from a contemporaneous letter written on November 10, 1862 by Isabella Fogg is most revealing:

"We did what we could for his comfort and then proceeded to Harpers Ferry. Here the sick are in a fearful condition, in every old house and church and hundreds on the ground. You no doubt think your ladies in Washington are doing a great work, but I can assure you, if they were here, they would find the stern reality of want, privation and extreme suffering. We visited the sick of the 19th in care of Dr. Hawes, asst. surgeon, he has upwards of 50, does all in his power for their comfort. At Gen. Slocum's request we went over to Loudin Valley to learn the condition of several hundreds, who had been sent the day previous without any preparation. We found them lying on the ground, in all directions, many convalescent, but a great many very low. At this time no surgeons, nurses or cooks were on the ground and hard bread their only food."

Schuyler County in 1854

William Graham’s sister, Elizabeth Graham was a domestic servant living with the Scobey couple in Dix, Schuyler County, New York for around 30 years. That $30 William left with Scobey in 1862 would be worth more than $600 today based on the inflation of consumer prices.

A Henry Kleckler age 30, together with two young children, was living as a farmer in Wayne, Steuben County, New York in 1860. He was still there in 1870 with a wife and a lot more children.

The Town of Wayne is situated upon Lake Keuka on the east border of Steuben County. The towns of Tyrone and Orange were taken from Steuben County when Schuyler County was formed in 1854. A part of the township of Wayne was annexed to Tyrone in 1854. (See map above)

In 1860, next door to Henry Kleckler lived George Kleckler age 65 and family, including a Samuel Green, age 16. Samuel Green is listed in the National Park database as serving with the 107th regiment during the Civil War and is likely the boy with fever who William Graham mentions.

John Boyes was likely the nephew of Thomas Boyes, with whose family William lived as a farm laborer in the Town of Orange in 1860. The experience living with Thomas must have made him quite knowledgeable of his affairs.


Harper’s Ferry
10-20-1862

Libbie Graham

Received your kind and welcome letter last night. My health is good. It is hard enough for a well man with very cold nights here and we have been very poorly provided for cold weather up till now. We have got It a little more comfortable and not as sickly as it was.

Our company is detailed to chop [wood?]. I have been chopping each day and feel better chopping than doing other duty.

Guy Adams is well and all the other boys.

I am sorry to hear that Anna turns out so. I supposed she was a good hearted girl. I will tell you once for all that a girl don’t get [any the start off?] me in playing deception. I make all necessary allowance for that. Sister you say she has proved deceitful to you. Well I don’t doubt it. Yet I think you might have had confidence enough in me to have told me what she has done against you. There is one thing more that I would say about Anna. You got me to send my likeness to her. I had not [intended?] and something I could have used to advantage elsewhere.

Tell me something about father whether you see or hear from him or not.

Sister you never said whether you received a letter from me or not. I have written one to you every week and sometimes more since I have been here. I am very thankful for the papers you send me. I wish you could get the [Independent?] I think I would like to see one.

We hear that a leutenant and private out of the Havanna Company were taken prisoners by the rebels. They were out looking for bread about four miles.

I think I have scribbled off this in such a hurry that I don’t know whether you can read it or not.

Commentary

Elizabeth (Libbie) Graham is William’s only sister. In 1855 Elizabeth Graham (age 17) is shown as living in Dix, Schuyler County adopted by farmers Andrew (age 28) and Harriet (age 28) Scoby. She is living not far from the Platt’s, whose daughter Mary would eventually marry William after the Civil War. In 1860 Elizabeth Graham is a domestic living still with the Scoby couple. Brother William Graham sends his respects to the Scoby’s in an undated letter to Libbie (Elizabeth) thought to be sent in the winter of 1863 or 1864.

The 107th was on duty at the Maryland Heights fortification at Harpers Ferry September 22 to October 29, 1862. William's health would not remain good for long.

Ruins of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Viaduct at Harpers Ferry, destroyed by Confederate forces

Guy C. Adams is recorded as being with the 107th by the Nat’l Park Service database. Like William, he went in as a private and out as a Sergeant. Guy Adams is about age 17 in 1862 and is the son of John Adams, a neighboring farmer of Libbie.

The amount of letter correspondence mentioned by William is certainly not represented by the letters that have survived to our knowledge. At one per week, William's three year service should have resulted in some 150 letters. The 17 letters that we know have survived represent about ten percent of that potential treasure trove.

Not sure of the reference to the Independent newspaper. Although one source contains a list of Civil War newspapers from New York, including the Independent.

Havana Company was one of those in the 107th Regiment. The companies of the 107th NY Regiment were recruited principally: A, B, C, D and E at Elmira; F at Addison, Cameron and Campbell; G at Elmira, Bath and Hammondsport; H at Havana and Elmira; I at Corning, Wayland and West Union; and K at Hornellsville, Howard, Elmira and Canisteo.


Camp near Antietam
11-18-1862

Dr. Robert Bell

I have been so busy lately that had no time to write before. We were ordered to leave old camp at Maryland Heights very unexpectedly after spending so much time fixing up comfortable quarters. After we came here we had to go to work and build huts. So every spell when we were not on duty we were busy. Four or five goes in together and builds a log hut 7x9 feet. They build the walls about 5 feet and cover with shelter tents. We carry the logs primarily on our backs.

I had bad luck with mine. I helped build one and my partners proved so rough and disagreeable that concluded to secede and I and another fellow built one for ourselves. Now we have got a board shanty nearly finished. The boards are pieces of cracker boxes. I don’t think it will ever be air tight yet it will be quite comfortable winter quarters if the Lord and Uncle Abe allow us to stay here. Colonel Diven says he has no doubt of it.

Have been expecting 30,000 rebel cavalry to cross here and in case they do we will have to fall back. We were ordered up at midnight the other night to pack our knapsacks and be ready at a moments notice to retreat. But thank the Lord neither wars nor rumors of wars scares me any now.

My health not so good as common the last 2 or 3 weeks, but think that improving. I was on picket the last 28 hours so I feel rather sleepy.

Oh I almost forgot to tell you that I have been promoted to corporal. I knew nothing about it until evening dress parade 2 weeks ago. I heard it announced that I was second corporal by order of the Colonel. The office don’t amount to much but a person has to be that before he is anything higher. My duty is a good deal lighter. I have no heavy work to do only to take charge of a squad of men. Yet the responsibility is more.

Package of several cakes sent to me by sister Libbie today. Came in a box belonging to another fellow from Townsend. Many boys have received boxes of dried fruit and butter and such luxuries. The people of Elmira sent us potatoes, onions and a little whisky which made a first rate change. We expect soft bread next week. The colonel says he is going to give us soft bread two days of the week which will make it more like home.

Have not got all the letters and papers that have been sent to me but think things will get straighten around before long.

I wrote to Henry Kleck? and he sent me the $5 that he owed me. I needed some money very much to buy tobacco and a little soft bread and a few necessary things. Uncle Sam has not paid us a cent yet. I wrote to John Ross to send me a pair of boots, gloves, pepper, etc. and send me the amount of what will be left. I must have a ruber(?) blanket if I live in order to secure health.

Commentary

Antietam is about eight (8) miles north of the river at Harpers Ferry.

A log hut as described by William can be seen in a least one Civil War photograph as shown below. The hut is to the far right.

Log hut in a military camp on the Tennessee River

Alexander S. Diven became a Civil War Union Brevet Brigadier General and a US Congressman. He was a member of the New York State Senate in 1858 and in 1861, was elected as a Republican to the Thirty-seventh Congress, serving until 1863. During his term, he was commissioned as Colonel of the 107th New York Volunteer Infantry, the corps he organized at the start of the war. He commanded the administration duties of the 107th New York and was brevetted Brigadier General of US Volunteers in April 1864. After the war he was the vice-president of the Erie railroad and the Mayor of Elmira, New York.

William's health would not improve. Shortly after this letter was written, William was sent to the hospital.

The basic rations of both armies consisted of four items. These were hardbread, beef, beans and coffee.

Hardtack (hardbread) was a biscuit made of flour with other simple ingredients, and issued to Union soldiers throughout the war. Hardtack crackers made up a large portion of a soldier's daily ration. It was square or sometimes rectangular in shape with small holes baked into it, similar to a large soda cracker. Large factories in the north baked hundreds of hardtack crackers every day, packed them in wooden crates and shipped them out by wagon or rail.

According to army regulations for camp rations, a Union soldier was entitled to receive daily 12 oz of pork or bacon or 1 lb. 4 oz of fresh or salt beef; 1 lb. 6 oz of soft bread or flour, 1 lb. of hard bread, or 1 lb. 4 oz of cornmeal. Per every 100 rations there was issued 1 peck of beans or peas; 10 lb. of rice or hominy; 10 lb. of green coffee, 8 lb. of roasted and ground coffee, or 1 lb. 8 oz of tea; 15 lb. of sugar; 1 lb. 4 oz of candles, 4 lb. of soap; 1 qt of molasses. In addition to or as substitutes for other items, desiccated vegetables, dried fruit, pickles, or pickled cabbage might be issued.

The marching ration consisted of 1 lb. of hard bread, 3/4 lb. of salt pork or 1 1/4 lb. of fresh meat, plus the sugar, coffee, and salt. Soldiers of both armies relied to a great extent on food sent from home and on the ubiquitous Sutler - a person who followed the army and sold provisions to the soldiers..

In the 1870 census there is a farmer John Ross (age 64) listed in Reading, Schuyler County with a Tyrone Post Office.

The rubber blanket probably refers to a blanket, usually in poncho form, made waterproof by being treated with rubber. During the 1850s a great deal of experimentation with various materials for military equipment led to the decision that gum rubber was quite a fine material for many purposes. Goodyear's earlier patent for the vulcanization of rubber made the gum (or gum rubber) blanket a natural for the Civil War armies. Not only are they useful as ground cloths, or to make into "shebangs" (Civil War soldier term for shelter), they are good rainwear when draped over the body and tied or buttoned in front.


December 9, 1862
Camp near Antietam

Sister Libbie,

You will see enclosed in this envelope that I have written at 2 different times. The 1st part I had sealed up already to send away when Guy Adams handed me another letter of yours. As I was just then going out on picket, I had to wait till today to answer it. But the Lord knows whether you will ever get it or not.

Oh sister it pains me to inform you that we have again received marching orders. We are ordered to be ready to march tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock. We know nothing of where we are going. We had got very comfortably situated here for the winter. But not for us to say why but for us to fight and die if need be.

You wanted to know if I wanted you to send anything with Mr. Scobey. Well under the circumstances I can answer you very easy. I say no if we have got to march all winter, I have got enough to carry. I wrote to Mr. Ross to send me boots and mittens and I received a letter from him today that he had forwarded them to Harpers Ferry. $9 worth of stuff, but, as good luck would have it, I just now got the boots. They came in another fellow's box.

Now my dear sister, don't send me anything now till you hear more from me unless it is letters and papers. Address your letters to Washington for the 107th and tell all others to do so. No sister, you must not feel uneasy about me. Whether we go to Richmond or Charleston I trust the Lord will go with me and enable me to serve him and my country faithfully. See to father all that you can and pray for me.

Now my dear sister, as to me giving you advice about what you asked, my advice is that you are the to do as seems to you best. The Lord being your helper. My opinion of him is that he is a fine young man and if I judge right, he has got what is more than wealth–that is piety.

Now I must close. I had no sleep last night and I shall have to sit up and dry my clothes all night tonight. I have no hope now of getting a furlough this winter.

Write soon. So goodbye my dear sister. Give my respects to all and to Isaac especially, including Mr. and Mrs. Scobey.

Separate page - Mr. Scobey, I should be very happy to see you down here. But if you wait a few weeks longer you may possibly find the 107th in Richmond or by that time they may be in Texas. But sir, at any rate I trust you will be able to find them also.

Commentary

December 9 is a propitious date given that this would be the birth date of William's future son and great grandson.

The destination of the next day's march was Fredericksburg, Virginia where a great battle was soon to be fought. The Battle of Fredericksburg would last for five days between December 11 and 15, 1862. The 107th Regiment would arrive too late to make a difference in the battle.

The Army of the Potomac crossing the Rappahannock

On December 11, 1862, under the command of General Ambrose Burnside, Union engineers laid five pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River under fire. Robert E. Lee previously had entrenched his Confederate army on the heights behind the town.

On December 11 and 12 the Federal army crossed over the river into Fredericksburg. Urban combat soon resulted in the city .

General Burnside
General Ambrose Burnside

On December 13, Burnside mounted a series of futile frontal assaults on Prospect Hill and Marye’s Heights that resulted in staggering casualties. In separate attacks, fifteen Union Brigades assaulted the sunken wall at the foot of Marye's Heights and all were destroyed by the Confederates.

On December 15, Burnside called off the offensive and recrossed the river, ending the campaign. Today, Burnside is more remembered for his hair style than his capabilities as a Union general. Thanks to him, we now call that hair in front of the ear a 'sideburn'. Total casualties were 12,653 for the Union and 5,377 for the Confederates.

William Graham's 107th Regiment arrived near Fredericksburg on the 16th of December - too late to join the slaughter. William was not with them. Despite finally receiving his new boots to ward off the winter weather, disease, a common peril of the Civil War, had felled him. This letter of December 9, 1862 marks the last one William sent during active duty with the Army of the Potomac.

H Graem © 2012