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

Post image for Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

July 7, 2012

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton (Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers)

Camp near Harrison’s Bar, James River,
Monday, July 7, 1862.

Dear Sister L.:—

I have missed your letters very much, especially for the last two weeks, and I have thought that you might write oftener. I am very lonely now. My two most intimate friends, Henry and Denison, were both wounded on the bloody field of Gaines’ Mill on the 27th of June, and left on the field to the tender mercies of the rebels. Henry, I fear, I never shall see again. He was badly wounded, and everyone in the company except myself thinks he is dead, and I am hoping against hope. Denny was shot through the left hand, and I left them under a tree together. If I should tell you of the narrow escapes I had, you, who know so little of the dangers of the battle, would hardly be able to believe me. Three guns, one after another, were shot to pieces in my hands, and one of these was struck twice before I threw it away. My canteen was shot through, and I was struck in three places by balls, one over the left eye, one in the left shoulder, and one in the left leg, and the deepest wound was not over half an inch, and I came off the field unhurt. God only knows how or why I escaped, but so it was, and though I lost my knapsack containing my little all, I lived “to fight another day.” Saturday night I slept in a corn field in a rain storm with no shelter but the clouds and no bed but the furrow. Sunday night what little sleep I got was on a log in the White Oak Swamp. Monday afternoon I was with the regiment supporting a battery on a hill near the James river, and exposed to a heavy fire of shot and shell. Tuesday forenoon we lay in the woods till the rebels made it so hot it was safer in the open field, and towards night we again went to the front and had another terrible fight. A tent over my shoulder stopped a ball that was speeding straight for my heart, and thus again my life was saved. But I am now alone and the next fight may lay me low with my comrades.

The report sent in from our regiment yesterday gives the names of four hundred and fifty-two killed, wounded and missing in our regiment. Think of that for one regiment! Four hundred and fifty-two out of less than six hundred that went into the fight on Friday. Colonel McLane was shot at almost the first fire, and died without a struggle or a word. Major Naghel followed him an instant after, and our two senior captains were shot during the action. The third one who then took command was wounded, and can only get round now by the help of a horse. I have nothing to say of how the regiment fought. It is not my place, but I am not ashamed yet of the Eighty-third.

What the result of all this fighting will be, I cannot say. The rebels undoubtedly will claim a great victory, as they always do, generally with far less foundation than they now have. McClellan has succeeded in withdrawing his army from a position they could not hold to one that they can hold where his flanks are protected by gunboats and his supplies cannot be cut off. What the rebels have gained I cannot see, except the ability to boast that they have driven McClellan’s army. Their loss is certainly much greater than ours and includes their best General “Stonewall” Jackson.[1] They have but little to boast of.

[1] Note.—This is an error. Jackson was killed at Chancellorsville.

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