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

Post image for Woolsey Family during the War.

Woolsey Family during the War.

June 28, 2012

Woolsey family letters during the War for the Union

Eliza Woolsey Howland’s Journal.

June 28th. We went as far as West Point, followed by a train of schooners and barges running away like ourselves. There we lay through the evening and night, watching for the flames of burning stores at White House which did not burn, and for booming of guns which did not boom—without news or orders, until after dinner, when we turned and ran up the river again in search of both. Near Cumberland we met the Arrowsmith with Surgeon Vollum on board, who hailed us and told us all we yet know of yesterday’s action at the front. Colonel Vollum then pushed on to Washington for medical supplies and we kept on up here to White House again.

We little knew at the time that “yesterday’s action at the front,” to which E. alludes so quietly, was the desperate battle of Gaines’ Mill, June 27, 1862, the first of the terrible seven days’ battle before Richmond. It was in this action that [Eliza’s husband] J. H. was wounded at the head of his regiment. His commanding officer (General J. J. Bartlett) said, in his official report of the battle: “The enemy were slowly but surely forcing back the right of the entire line of battle. At this juncture I ordered forward the 16th New York Volunteers, Colonel Howland commanding. From the position of the regiment it was necessary to change front forward on first company under the most terrific fire of musketry, with the shells and round shot of two batteries raking over the level plain, making it seemingly impossible for a line to withstand the fire a single instant. But with the calmness and precision of veteran soldiers the movement was executed. . . . To Colonel Joseph Howland I am indebted for maintaining the extreme right of my line, for nobly leading his regiment to the charge and retaking two guns from the enemy. Whatever of noble moral, physical and manly courage has ever been given by God to man, has fallen to his lot. Cheering his men to victory, he early received a painful wound, but with a heroism worthy of the cause he has sacrified so much to maintain, he kept his saddle until the close of the battle.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Marsh of the 16th was mortally wounded in this engagement at Gaines’ Mill, and apart from the Colonel and Lieutenant-Colonel, the loss of the regiment in killed and wounded was 260 men, rank and file, fully one-quarter of its effective force on that day.

It was “for gallantry at the battle of Gaines’ Mill, Virginia,” that the rank of Brigadier-General by brevet was later conferred on J. H. by the President of the United States.

When the battle at Gaines’ Mill was all over and Joe began to realize his own fatigue and wounded condition, he dismounted and lay down under a tree not far from the field, and presently fell asleep. He did not know how long he had slept, but it was dusk when he was waked by something soft touching his cheek, and rousing himself he found it was his war horse, old “Scott,” rubbing his nose against his face. He had got loose from where he was tied and had looked for his master until he found him. Joe was not ashamed to say that he cried like a child as he put his arm round the dear old fellow’s neck.

He brought him home and rode him after the war until he grew to be old and no longer sure-footed. Then his shoes were taken off and he was turned out to grass to have an easy time and nothing to do the rest of his life. After a little, however, he moped and refused to eat and was evidently dissatisfied with life. So Thomson came to Joe and said, “Do you know, Mr. Howland, I believe old Scott would be happier if he had something to do.” And accordingly, although he had never been in harness in his life, he was put before the lawn-mower, and to do active light farm-work. The effect was excellent; he grew happy and contented again, and proved to be one of the best working-horses on the farm for several years.

It was Scott’s last shoes as a saddle-horse, when he was turned out to grass, that we mounted and hung in the office at our Fish-kill home.

The news of J.’s being wounded reached us at White House through a telegram kindly sent the morning after the battle by Dr. McClellan, Staff Surgeon at Army Headquarters, as follows: “The Colonel has a slight flesh wound. He is in my tent, and will be taken good care of until he can be sent down.”

At almost the same moment communication with the front was cut. We telegraphed for more details, in vain. The rebels were upon us. Stoneman sent in word that they were in sight. We stayed as long as they would let us and then went off into the dark, taking what comfort we could in the one word, “slight.”

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