Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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John C. West–A Texan in Search of a Fight.

July 8, 2013

John C. West–A Texan in Search of a Fight.

Letter No. VIII.

Hagerstown, Md.,
July 8th, 1863.

To Master Stark West, four years old:

My Dear Little Man: I wrote to mamma from our camp near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and as to-morrow is your birthday, and you are getting to be a big boy, I thought you would like for papa to write you a letter and tell you something about the war and the poor soldiers.

God has been very good to me since I wrote to mamma. He has saved my life when many thousands of good men have been slain all around me. On the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of July a very terrible battle was fought near Gettysburg. We marched all night, leaving camp at 2 o’clock in the afternoon in order to reach the battlefield in time. There had been some fighting on the 1st and we passed a hospital where I saw a great many wounded soldiers, who were mangled and bruised in every possible way, some with their eyes shot out, some with their arms, or hands, or fingers, or feet or legs shot off, and all seeming to suffer a great deal. About two miles farther on I found a great many soldiers drawn up in a line, ready to meet the Yankees, who formed another line a mile or two in front of them. These lines were three or four miles long, and at different places on the hills were the batteries of artillery.

These, you know, are cannons, which shoot large shells, and iron balls a long distance. We kept in this line so long, and I was so tired, I went to sleep and dreamed about you and mamma and little sister, and I asked God to take care of you if I am taken away from you. After awhile we were marched off in a great hurry towards the left of the Yankee line of battle, which is called the left wing, and was opposite to our right wing, which was composed principally of Hood’s division. Our brigade was ordered to charge upon one of the Yankee batteries, which was posted on a mountain as high as mount Bonnell, with another battery on a still higher mountain, just back of it, to support it. We were standing in an open field, under the shot and shell of these batteries, for half an hour, before we moved forward, and a good many soldiers were killed all around me. One poor fellow had his head knocked off in a few feet of me, and I felt all the time as if I would never see you and little sister again. When the command was given to charge we moved forward as fast as we could towards the battery. It was between a half and three-quarters of a mile across an open field, over a marshy branch, over a stone fence, and up a very rugged and rocky hill, while Yankee sharpshooters were on the higher mountains, so as to have fairer shots at our officers. On we went yelling and whooping, and soon drove the Yankees from the first battery, but were too much worn out and exhausted to climb to the second, besides a great many of our men were killed, and minnie bullets and grape shot were as thick as hail, and we were compelled to get behind the rocks and trees to save ourselves.

We renewed the charge several times, but the slaughter of our men was so great that after four or five efforts to advance we retired about sunset and slept behind the rocks. I had thrown away my blanket and everything except my musket and cartridge box in the fight, and so spent a very uncomfortable night. We remained at the same place all the next day, and every now and then Yankee bullets would come pretty thick amongst us. One bullet went through my beard and struck a rock half an inch from my head, and a piece of the bullet hit me on the lip and brought the blood.

Lieutenant Joe Smith, of McLennan county, was killed in ten feet of me, and John Terry and Tom Mullens were both wounded in the shoulders. I wanted to write my little man a letter, which he could read when he was a big boy, but it has been raining and the ground is very wet and everything so uncomfortable that I cannot enjoy it.

Tell mamma she had better put off her visit to South Carolina until the war is over, as she seems to be doing very well, and it will be better for her.

Your father, truly,

John C. West.

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