This letter was written by Pvt. William Henry Harrison Smutz (1840-1864) who enlisted at age 21 in Co. D, 62nd Ohio Infantry in October 1861. He was promoted to Corporal in December 1862. He died of wounds received in the Battle of Darbytown Road on 13 October 1864.
William was the youngest of at least ten children born to Christian Smutz (1795-1873) and Esther Gardner (1798-1888) of Richland, Fairfield County, Ohio.
This letter was written from Stephenson’s Depot near Winchester, Virginia, just one week before the First Battle of Kernstown in which the 62nd Ohio saw its first action. This was the opening battle of what would come to be called Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. The 62nd Ohio, led by Col. Frank Pond, served in Tyler’s Third Brigade of Shield’s First Division in Major General Nathaniel Banks’ Fifth Corp.
Head Quarters 62nd Ohio Reg. O. Vols.
Stephenson’s Depot, [near Winchester] Frederick Co., Va.
March 15th 1862
We have made a big move. We left Camp Kimball ¹ on the 10th inst. on the cars. We came down the railroad to Back Creek and laid there 2 days and nights on the cars. We had good times there. We then run out the road to where the track was tore up. It had been torn up for 4 miles but they were laying it down as fast as they could with two sets of hands. There we left the train — our baggage, that is — our tents and heavy things — put on our knapsacks and started for Martinsburg. We got there on the evening of the 13th and found half of the town flying Union colors from their windows and the other half in mourning for the dead heroes of the rattlesnake banner. We laid down that night two miles this side of Martinsburg.
Yesterday morning we started and walked 15 miles to this place. We are now 17 miles from Martinsburg and 5 miles from Winchester. We stopped here and the most of the men are camped in the woods but I took up my quarters in this building which has been a dry goods store, depot, and post office. I am now writing on the clerk’s desk and using paper out of the daily ledger.
Old [Stonewall] Jackson has left Winchester and [Nathaniel] Banks is after him all the while. They are about half way between Winchester and Strasburg and Banks is pouring it into them. We can hear the cannonading nearly all the time we have been here. They have been reinforced somewhat from Strasburg but I don’t think they will make any stand before they get to that place and by that time I hope the Old 62nd will get up with them.
There [was] a battle fought at this place. There is 1 Union soldier’s and 6 Secesh graves here and some horses lying around. ² There was 10 negro contraband came into camp last night. The officers just naturally adopted them. [Lt. Coulson D.] Rissler did not take any. Capt. [Benjamin A. Thomas] and [Lt. John M] Davis are not well yet.
Well, I must say goodbye. Your son, — W. H.H. Smutz
¹ A diary kept by Pvt. Thomas H. Gibbons of Co. E, 62nd Ohio Infantry recounts the regiment’s movements upon leaving Camp Kimball:
We established Camp Kimball… [March 14] — camped on the ground where General Banks engaged the rebels during his first march towards Winchester. Our company was quartered in a house…[March 17] — we marched 3 miles towards Winchester without any assigned reason for doing so. About this time General Shields took Command of us. He had 18 thousand men…[March 18] — joined the rest of Shields force at Winchester. The entire force was 8,000 infantry, 700 cavalry, and 24 pieces of artillery…When we was within 3 or 4 miles of Cedar Creek, we saw a dense smoke raising in front which proved to be a wooden bridge on fire — the rebs thought to deter our advance by burning the bridge. But our advance was on them before they got it completed and a right smart skirmish ensued resulting in the loss of several men on each side….[March 19] — crossed the creek on a temporary bridge made out of rails and the remains of the old bridge…to the edge of Strasburg and we halted while the advance felt around a little to see if there was any graybacks in that part but it wasn’t long until the rebs opened a masked battery on them but done no harm. Our artillery was pushed in front and we were brought up for support…that was one of our first fights…[battle of Kenrstown, [March 22] — we received orders to march to Winchester and when we got there the skirmishing was going on during the afternoon the weather had cleared off. The result was fifty rebels killed and wounded about 25 of our men besides General Shields, he was wounded in the arm.
² There was a small cavalry skirmish at Stephenson’s Depot [known variously as Stephenson’s Station or Stevens’ Station] on March 11, 1862 between the First Maryland (or “Coles”) Cavalry and Turner Ashby’s 7th Virginia Cavalry. The First Maryland Cavalry was attached to Williams’ Brigade. Ashby’s Cavalry withdrew and Coles Cavalry entered Winchester the following day.