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.

May 8, 2013

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

Stoneman Station, Va.,
Friday, May 8, 1863.

Dear Sister L.:—

Well, now to dash right into it, for I have something to write this time. We left camp Monday, April 27th, with eight days’ rations, and night found us at Hartwood Church, ten miles up the river. Here our corps (Fifth) joined the Eleventh and Twelfth corps, and next day we all marched to Kelly’s Ford. Wednesday morning early we crossed the river, and after marching hard all day forded the Rapidan, water waist deep, and the Eighty-third was sent to the front on picket. Next day we marched on again, and noon found us at Chancellorsville, a big brick house in a field surrounded by a wilderness of woods. Here we halted and spent the night, and here the great battle of the war was fought.

Friday morning our brigade made a reconnoissance towards the Rappahannock. On the road we found a newly deserted camp with tents all standing, and in it some of the French knapsacks and muskets we lost at Gaines’ Mill. We returned in the afternoon and there was some skirmishing with the enemy. Saturday was spent in building breastworks, and in the afternoon the rebels arrived. They attacked our lines furiously in the center, but were repulsed. At first the Eleventh Corps (Sigel’s Dutchmen) gave way, and Sickles’ division (the one Alf is in) was sent in. They drove the rebs back and held them. At night we lay on our arms behind our works. The moon was full and it was almost as light as day. Six or seven times the attack was made in the same place and every time repulsed. It was an anxious night, for the morrow all felt sure would be a bloody Sunday, and so it was. We were up at light and moved off to the right of the center, and immediately went to work building breastworks. Just as the sun came up the enemy came on. Their whole army was massed on half a mile of our center, and Jackson told his men “they must break our line if it killed every man they had,” but we were prepared for them. Our first line in front of the works was overpowered and driven in, and they rushed on. Artillery and infantry met them. Protected by their breastworks, our men poured it into them. Grape and canister swept through their columns, mowing them down. Still, on they came, like a vast herd of buffaloes, struggling over the trees and brush, dashing, brave, impetuous, but doomed to destruction. Thousands of them charged right up to our works, but, the line shattered, comrades killed, they could do nothing but throw down their arms, retreat being impossible. For six hours they persevered and then withdrew. You must imagine the scene—I cannot describe it. The roar was unearthly; there is no better word for it. I shudder at the slaughter. Ours was fearful enough, but a drop in the bucket to theirs. In it all our brigade did not fire a shot. Right in sight of the fighting, expecting to be attacked, they spent the day and night, and next day and night. Monday and Tuesday we were waiting for them, confident of victory. While we were busy there, Sedgwick with his corps crossed the river and took the heights of Fredericksburg, capturing their big guns, but I learn that he was afterwards driven back.[1]

Wednesday, to our great surprise, we recrossed the river and returned to our old camps. No one seems to understand the move, but I have no doubt it is all right. It rained all day and it was the toughest march we’ve had in many a day. Tramp, tramp, through the mud. I was almost ready to drop when I got in, but I did not fall out, though half the regiment did when they found we were coming to camp.

So here we are with eight days’ rations and orders to be ready to march again. I don’t know anything about the meaning of it. I would give half a dollar for to-day’s Herald.

[1] Note.—Error—Sedgwick was not driven back, but recrossed the river at Banks’ Ford.

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