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1st Massachusetts Infantry - Spotsylvania Battle Letter - May 19th, 1864

The writer of our letter, William F. Smith, Company B of the 1st Mass. Infantry, was a 25-year-old jewelry from East Boston, Mass.  The Civil War Database lists him as a musician and also states that Smith had an alias!  Writing his mother, he signs the letter “William Wallace”… and the database says that he used the alias William F. Wallace.  Now there is a research project for you!  The letter is four pages in nice clear pencil and comes with its original envelope with .3 cent stamp present and a “Washington, D.C. May 24th, 1864” postmark.  Both letter and cover are in fine condition.

The heading on our letter is “Near Spotsylvania Court House, May 19.” 


Here are some of the good lines:

  • “This is the roughest campaign we ever had and we have run across the roughest works we ever found to take… We were placed here and told to fortify ourselves as we had so much of the lines to hold while the rest of the army attacked the flanks.  Our regiment is not much larger than our company used to be a perfect skeleton nothing left.”
  • “We have been in some awful hot places I tell you we crossed the Rapidan without any trouble and advanced most to Mine Run where we found them strongly entrenched, pitched into them the next day but could not drive them an inch.” 
  • “The next day they attacked us but we repulsed till towards night when they made a charge on a regt. in the 6th Corps that never was under fire before and they broke and run but the rebs were quickly drove back.  Next day we marched all day and came upon their right flank but they was up as quick as we were.  We attacked them there two or three times but were drive back while there.”
  • “Our regiment made a charge, went in with 170 men and came out with only 88 running down fast...” 
  • “The Johnnies came out to attack us as they see our support was gone but our artillery came up on the double quick and quick made them skedaddle to their holes.  After being relieved about an hour it was fall in and march all night up here where Burnside was getting drove.” 
  • “Was on picket night before last and yesterday, did not fire a shot, but talked with their pickets.  This morning our pickets and theirs have been meeting half way and exchanging papers and talking together.” 
  • “There is an awful pile of wounded so far on this campaign.  A larger percentage of the loss is wounded than on any other campaign…”

The 1st Mass. had taken heavy losses during the Peninsula Campaign, 2nd Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.  At the latter, they had over 125 casualties!

A fine battle content filled letter from a very famous hard-fought regiment!

#L433 - Price $695




      Transcription:

                                                                  Near Spotsylvania Court House, May 19

                  Dear Mother,

            I received a mail yesterday.  The first of the campaign two
letters from you, one from Ann and one from Miss Brainard.  I am
safe this far, not a scratch, though I have been in everything.  I
wrote you a letter the other day but do not know as you will get it. 
This is the roughest campaign we ever had and we have run across
the roughest works we ever found to take, but I do not think the
attack will be made at this point.  We were placed here and told to
fortify ourselves as we had so much of the lines to hold while the
rest of the army attacked the flanks.  Our regiment is not much
larger than our company used to be a perfect skeleton nothing left. 
We have been in some awful hot places I tell you we crossed the
Rapidan without any trouble and advanced most to Mine Run
where we found them strongly entrenched, pitched into them the
next day but could not drive them an inch.  The next day they
attacked us but we repulsed till towards night when they made a
charge on a regt. in the 6th Corps that never was under fire before
 and they broke and run but the rebs were quickly drove back. 
Next day we marched all day and came upon their right flank but
they was up as quick as we were.  We attacked them there two or
three times but were drive back while there.  Our regiment made
a charge, went in with 170 men and came out with only 88 running
 down fast.  Went on picket and laid on the pits for 36 hours.  The
 Johnnies came out to attack us as they see our support was gone
 but our artillery came up on the double quick and quick made
 them skedaddle to their holes.  After being relieved about an hour
 it was fall in and march all night up here where Burnside was
getting drove.  Was on picket night before last and yesterday, did
 not fire a shot, but talked with their pickets.  This morning our
pickets and theirs have been meeting half way and exchanging
papers and talking together.  Part of our vets have got back but
no Frank Stedman.  Guess he won’t hurry till the fighting is
through. I hope Father will do well on his new farm and hope I
shall live to help him pay for it.  How do you like it?  How much
 does he owe on it?  You say that perhaps I will be satisfied to stay
 at home and farm.  If I get home perhaps so for lugging knapsack,
box and gun is harder work then farming.  I am sorry for Joe E.
Fiske but am glad to hear he is alive as there is some show of his
getting home again
(Fiske of the 2nd Mass. Heavy Artillery was
captured in April 1864).  I think Ann will feel proud if he is Captain
of the Victor, quite a rise.  You need not worry about my writing as
 I shall send a line every chance there is to let you know how I get
along.  Father is a smart walker for an old man.  There is an awful
pile of wounded so far on this campaign.  A larger percentage of the
 loss is wounded than on any other campaign.  The strength of Co.
B now is 6 Privates, 2 Corporals, 4 Sergeants, and 1 Officer.  A large
company for one that formerly numbered 103 men and besides that
 has had about 30 recruits, but I must close and go to cleaning my
gun as it is all eat in with rust.

                                                                        From your aff. Son,

                                                                                                Wm. Wallace