This letter was written by Pvt. Thomas J. Wilson who enlisted in Co. A, 14th New Jersey in August 1862. Thomas died of chronic diarrhea while a prison of war at Danville, Virginia on 18 September 1864. Regimental records don’t state when he was taken prisoner but it was probably in the beginning of the 1864 Overland Campaign.
In the letter, Wilson chronicles the advance of the 14th New Jersey from Warrenton Station to Kelly’s Ford where they caught Gen. Ewell’s army completely by surprise, in lightly-manned rifle pits on the south of the Rappahannock River. Most of Ewell’s men were busy at the time erecting winter quarters and not prepared for battle. Without waiting for the deployment of pontoon boats, the “Yanks” splashed across the river on foot and drove the “Johnnies” back towards Brandy Station.
Camp of the 14th Regt. New Jersey Volunteers
Brandy Station, Virginia
November 14, 1863
I received yours of the 8th instant and was very glad to hear from you, I assure you, but was sorry to hear that you had such a bad headache but I am in hopes it has got better before this time. I am well at present and hoping that this will find you enjoying the same blessing when it reaches you.
We got marching orders last Saturday morning [7 November 1863] about 10 o’clock. We were near Warrenton Station then at that time. We started early in the morning with 5 days rations in our haversacks in the direction of the Rappahannock. We marched until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and got within a mile of the Rappahannock River. Our corps being on the advance, our men got within a mile of the river when we spied the Johnnie rebs on the other side of the river. They were fortified there to be sure. Our men got their artillery in position in a short time and fed the Johnnies a few shells for a change for their tea. We thought we could see the rebs come out of their works and fire a volley at our men and then skedaddle back again to their holes, our artillery playing on them all the while.
At the same time our 1st Division of the 3rd Corps were crossing the river, they having to ford it. We had our pontoons close behind us too but our men were so anxious to get at the Johnnies that our men did not wait for the pontoons to be laid down. We waded right in and made a charge on the rebs and drove them from their fortifications. After fighting them for awhile, they — finding themselves completely surrounded — found it no use a bothering with the Yanks as they call us.
About dark, we were all crossed the river and occupied the same ground where they drove the rebs from in the afternoon. We took about 3 hundred prisoners and 4 pieces of artillery and 3 stand of colors. Pretty good afternoon’s work, I think. Besides, General Sedgwick of the 6th Corps took a large number of prisoners. We resumed our march on the Sunday following and fighting the enemy every once in awhile. I saw several dead rebs left on the field, I presume.
I also saw 2 of our men wounded on Sunday [8 November 1863]. One was a captain and one an orderly sergeant. The captain was mortally wounded and has since died, and the sergeant was wounded in the left hand. He had his left arm taken off since, I believe. It was very rough to see them, I tell you. The effects of the wound came from one of the enemy’s shells. It exploded between the two and done the damage. I was nearer under the fire of the cannon those two days than ever before, I’ll bet you.
Well Phebe, I will have to bring this to a close as I’ve not time to write you more at this time. I am in a hurry so you will have to excuse me this time. Please give my love to all inquiring friends if I have any and keep a share for yourself. No more at present but I remain your friend as ever, — T. J. Wilson