1863: Francis Granger Trowbridge to Phebe Elizabeth Trowbridge

These two letters were written by Francis (“Frank”) Granger Trowbridge (1836-1885), the son of Elijah Freeman Trowbridge (1803-1851) and Temperance Ludlow Muchmore (1808-1885) of Brooklyn, New York. Frank enlisted as a corporal but later rose in rank to be the sergeant-major of Co D, 139th New York Infantry. He served from 22 August 1862 until 6 April 1865.

Frank's brother, Charles T. Trowbridge

Frank’s brother, Charles T. Trowbridge

Trowbridge wrote the letters to his sister, Pheobe Elizabeth Trowbridge (1833-1908). Frank’s older brother, Charles T. Trowbridge (1835-1907), also served in the Civil War. He was a sergeant in Co F, 1st New York Engineers but later served as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 33rd U. S. Colored Troops.

Frank was born in Morris Plains, New Jersey, but came with his parents to Brooklyn in 1850 when he was 13 years old. He later engaged in the coal and wood business there. He was badly wounded by a bursting shell in the battle of Cold Harbor on 1 June 1864 though years later the wound was described as a gunshot wound in the right leg. He never fully recovered from the injury to his leg which left him partially crippled and undoubtedly led to a premature death in 1885.

While the bulk of the Army of the Potomac was far away fighting Lee’s army in Pennsylvania, the 139th New York was engaged in an expedition from White House to Bottom’s Bridge in the outskirts of Richmond. In a little-known skirmish at Baltimore Cross Roads, the 139th New York engaged rebel forces defending Richmond. The expedition was led by Maj.-Gen. Keyes. It included nearly 6,000 infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The objective of the expedition was to engage and detain the rebels near Bottom’s Bridge over the Chickahominy River while Gen. Getty with another column attempted to destroy bridges across the South Anna and cut the railroads above Richmond.

The first letter is a great description of that battle that ensued at Baltimore (or Crump’s) Crossroads on 3 July 1863. The second was written a week later.

Letter One

Letter One

Addressed to Miss Phebe E. Trowbridge, No. 77 Fourth Place, Brooklyn, New York

Near Bottoms Bridge
Independence Day 1863

Dear Sister,

I improve this opportunity to write you a few lines, as we have had some pretty hot work within the past few days. I suppose you are very naturally anxious to hear from me. I am glad to say that Gill and I are both safe and sound. We left White House on last Tuesday and advanced in the direction of Richmond. [We] came on the Enemy’s rear guard about eight o’clock, formed in line of battle, but the enemy fell back. We threw out skirmishers and pursued them until two in the afternoon when they made another stand and about five in the evening they opened on our pickets with musketry, driving in. We replied with our batteries which soon silenced them. Again, our pickets were thrown out. We remained through the night in line of battle — the front rank lying down for two hours, and then the rear rank. One half was kept under arms all the time.

Everything was quiet during the night and not a sight of the enemy could be seen all next day and this induced the belief that the enemy left their position and Co A and D of our regiment as a reserve and forty men chosen from the other companies were ordered to skirmish the woods to see if the enemy had left. We started about five o’clock. I was in the advance line of skirmishers. We proceeded through the woods and across an open field when we saw the enemy’s pickets before us. Our Lieut. Colonel was in command. [He] ordered us to halt when we saw the enemy in force who immediately opened the most murderous fire upon us. We were ordered to like down. We threw ourselves flat on our faces and the rebs threw their lead around us for half an hour thicker and faster than any hail stones ever fell. As I lay there, I made up my mind that the number of my men would be knocked off. As I sit down here and think of it, I cannot hardly realize that I am unharmed. The balance of our brigade was brought up to support us when we were confronted by a force of Infantry estimated at seven thousand. They opened their batteries upon us which they had masked in the woods — twelve pieces in all — which completely overpowered us and we were obliged to fall back, leaving the enemy masters of the field. They continued to shell us as we fell back. We did not reply until we reached our main body about three miles. Here we were reinforced to about nine thousand. Our line of battle was again formed and cannonading was kept up until late on both sides.

Early yesterday morning our artillery opened on them again but the enemy failed to reply and here we are, keeping our Fourth of July watching the enemy. Of the forty advanced skirmishers of whom I was one, twenty-six were killed, wounded, or missing. John Bannon — a brother of Alderman Bannon, the man who used to frequent the corner store a great deal — fell by my side mortally wounded and was left on the field. Nothing but the Almighty’s help ever brought me out safe. Now the excitement is over, my heart sickens at the thought of my situation and the awful scene around me. The sharp crack of the rifle, the roar of artillery, the groans of the wounded and dying may be imagined but can never be described. I lost my Haversack and canteen but held on to my musket and cartridge box.

My health is very good and I am quite hopeful of success. Although we were defeated, we were strong enough had the ground been adapted to the maneuvering of a larger force. It was all the mistake in the idea that the enemy had left.

There is a large mail at White House for our regiment which we expect up today and I shall look for a letter from home. I hope you will continue to write as usual and direct the same as usual. Your letters will follow me. I will improve every opportunity to let you hear from me. I sent mother $20 (twenty dollars). You will let me know if you ever receive it. Lizzie sent me some verses on our march to Richmond which I copy and send you. They are most appropriate.

Our Knapsack sling and blithely sing
We’re marching on to Richmond.
And with weapons bright and hearts so light.
We’re marching on to Richmond.

Each weary mile with song beguile,
We’re marching on to Richmond.
The roads a rough but smooth enough,
To take us safe to Richmond.


Then tramp away while bugles play,
We’re marching on to Richmond.
Our flag shall gleam in the morning beam,
From many a spire in Richmond.

2nd verse

Our foes are near, their drums we hear.
They’re camped about in Richmond.
With pickets out, to tell the route,
Our army takes to Richmond.

We’ve crafty foes to meet our blows,
No doubt they’ll fight for Richmond.
The brave may die but never fly,
We’ll cut our way to Richmond.

3rd Verse

Our friends away are sad today,
Because we march to Richmond.
With loving fear, they shrink to hear,
About our march to Richmond.

The pen shall tell that they who fell,
While marching on to Richmond.
Had hearts aglow and face to foe,
And died in sight of Richmond.

4th verse Chorus

Our thoughts shall roam to scenes of home,
While marching on to Richmond.
The vacant chair that’s waiting there,
While we march on to Richmond.

Twill not be long till shout and song,
We’ll raise aloud in Richmond.
And war’s rude blast will soon be past,
And we’ll go home from Richmond. Amen.

I must now close this without knowing when it will go to you. I hope you will get it soon. Shall loose no opportunity to forward it. Give my love to mother and all the rest. Tell Fred I am in debt to him for a letter which I will answer as soon as I can. I don’t feel much like writing. We need all our spare time to rest or our rest at best is broken. From Your brother,  — F. G. Trowbridge.

Letter Two

Letter Two

Addressed to Miss Phebe E. Trowbridge, No. 77 Fourth Place, Brooklyn, New York

Redoubt No (5), Williamsburgh Virginia
July 13th 1863

Dear Phebe,

Your long and anxiously looked for letter has come at last. It is the only one I have received from home in nearly two weeks. I am nevertheless glad to hear that you are all well at this late day. I will answer yours promptly as I always try to do. I think that among you all, you might find time to write once a week at least. You don’t begin to know the disadvantages I have to contend with in writing to you. Many times I write when I ought to be asleep, but this will do for this time writing in the strain. I confess I am in a grouty mood this afternoon, having just came in off picket and I have quite a sore throat which is, I suppose, the result of constant exposure. I have some writing to do for the Captain which will occupy my time for some days. I will try and nurse the job as well as possible — at least until my throat is better.

I am glad you enjoyed your Fourth of July. I never spent so gloomy a day in my life. The enemy had driven us back about three miles the night before and we got news that Meade’s Army has been whipped in Pennsylvania and was in full retreat towards Washington. Everything put together made the day a gloomy one. Next day the news was such as to make us all feel quite different and matters have grown brighter ever since. By some fortunate change in the military program, you see we have been left here for the present. There is no other regiment but us here and it makes our duty come pretty heavy at present. A large force has gone up the James River today in the direction of Richmond and you may soon expect stirring news from this quarter.

It is getting dark very fast you must excuse this letter this time and look for better another time. I will close hoping to hear from you soon. Love to all — F. G. Trowbridge

To P. E. T. [Phebe E. Trowbridge]

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