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5th Connecticut Infantry - First Battle of Winchester - Fighting Stonewall Jackson - Great Letter by Musician J. Atwater Hall
Here is a great battle letter written by Joseph Atwater Hall, who lived in Wallingford, Connecticut.  He enlisted as a Musician on June 21st, 1861.  Joseph apparently liked to be called by his middle name as he signs the letter “Atwater” (copy of another of his letters included to prove positive I.D.).  Atwater is writing his brother, Julius Hall, who had recently enlisted in Company K of the 1st California Volunteers.  In the last part of his letter he warns his brother to: “Lookout for those cussed Indians for they are like a snake in the grass, and when you get a chance draw a fine bead and be sure of your mark.”  Atwater provides a wonderful four page, easy to read letter headed “Williamsport, Md.” and dated June 3rd, 1862.  

The first battle of Winchester was fought on May 26th, 1862, in and around Winchester, Virginia and was a major victory for Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.  Jackson enveloped the right flank of the Union Army (under Major General Nathanial Banks) and pursued it as it fled across the Potomac River into Maryland.

Here are the highlights of this great letter:

  • “While in the service we have marched a distance of 800 miles so you will judge we haven’t been idle all the time.”
  • “We are in the Gen. Banks Division which at that time amounted to 15 or 20 thousand men.  We drove Gen. Jacksons (the rebel Gen) force before us to the end of the valley….  Sec. Stanton withdrew part of his command leaving Banks with only about 5,000 infantry.” 
  • “One morning we recd. news that Jackson had been reinforced and was going to make an attack.  We struck tents in the night and began on retreat.  We kept falling back until we arrived at a place just below Strasburg, when it was found Jackson and Gen. Ewell were in our rear.  We immediately fell back to Winchester when we took position ready to fall into fire of battle any moment.” 
  • “Well this was one week ago last Saturday and our pickets were firing all night and in the morning (Sunday) the ball opened in good earnest by a battery throwing shells into our camp.  Soon all the batteries were engaged and I tell you they went into it in good earnest.”
  • “We (the Band) were with the regt. and the shell burst around us on every side.  Soon the rebels began to advance upon our extreme left which position was held by the 5th C. V.  A Georgia Regt. advanced on them, and when near enough our Col. gave the order to fire, which was obeyed, and it is reported that the first fire our regt. knocked over 150 of them.  They immediately fell back and just at that time the right wing was driven back with orders to retreat, which was done in good order.” 
  • “Our loss was considerable but nothing like that of the enemies.  The rebels intended to bag the whole of us, as their force was 30,000 and ours but 5,000.  We fell back to Williamsport, a distance of 35 miles.” 
  • “Two of the band were taken prisoners, Billy Whittaker and a fellow from Vermont.  The taking away of part of our force, and our retreat, was intended by the Sec. of War but it was not supposed he was following us so close.  All they wanted was to get him into the valley and then bag the whole of them.  Which I think we shall succeed in doing.” 
  • “When we were retreating through Winchester the citizens fired upon us from the buildings and the boys say if they ever get back there, they will leave it in ashes.”
  • “We are gaining victories almost daily and last night news came in that McClellan had a battle at Richmond whipping them out with severe loss upon both sides and then the place was evacuated.” 
  • “When we retreated the rebels got pretty close upon me and I tell you the bullets whistled past my head in good earnest.  When I was crossing field about one mile from W a shell burst within a few feet of me throwing the sand etc. in my face nearly blinding me for a moment but I soon uncovered and I tell you I made some tall time for a piece of woods just ahead of me.” 
  • “The duty of a band in time of action is upon the field carrying off the wounded and we are in just as much danger as the regt.”  
  • “News has come in that Fremont has followed up Jackson and had an engagement taking 27,000 prisoners.  I don’t know whether Jackson escaped within that loss or not but I hope the whole of them will get bagged.  Two of the Conn. Regts. are at Port Royal and a short time ago they made an attack upon Fort Pulaski and succeeded in capturing it after nearly two days hard fighting.” 
  • “Lookout for those cussed Indians for they are like a snake in the grass, and when you get a chance draw a fine bead and be sure of your mark.”

#L486 - Price $550


                                                                              5th Regt. Conn. Vol’s Camp near
                                                              Williamsport, Maryland, June 3rd, 1862

                  Dear Brother,

            Your welcome letter arrived this morning, and you can imagine
how much relieved I am to hear from you both, and learn that you are
safe.  I have had a great deal of anxiety in regard to both of you having
 waited in vain for months to hear from you, but at last it has arrived
and its perusal has given me more satisfaction than anything else could
have done.  I have the utmost faith that this rebellion will be closed
up before many months, and I hope we shall all live to meet on old
Wallingford and it will be a happy meeting to all of us.  Aunt Phebe died
about two months ago.  She was taken with a shock of the Palsy at first
 leaving her right side paralyzed.  She had began to recover, but was
taken a second time resulting in her death.  We have had some pretty
tough times since I wrote you before, but have all lived through it. 
While in the service we have marched a distance of 800 miles so you
will judge we haven’t been idle all the time.  We crossed the river into
Va. at this place.  The 3rd of April and immediately proceeded down
the valley of the Shenandoah, which is called the Garden of Va. We are
in the Gen. Banks Division which at that time amounted to 15 or 20
thousand men.  We drove Gen. Jacksons (the rebel Gen) force before us
 to the end of the valley without as much as having a brush with him. 
Sec. Stanton withdrew part of his command leaving Banks with only
about 5,000 infantry.  One morning we recd. news that Jackson had
been reinforced and was going to make an attack.  We struck tents in
the night and began on retreat.  We kept falling back until we arrived
 at a place just below Strasburg, when it was found Jackson and Gen.
 Ewell were in our rear.  We immediately fell back to Winchester when
we took position ready to fall into fire of battle any moment.  Well this
 was one week ago last Saturday and our pickets were firing all night
 and in the morning (Sunday) the ball opened in good earnest by a
battery throwing shells into our camp.  Soon all the batteries were
engaged and I tell you they went into it in good earnest.  We (the Band)
were with the regt. and the shell burst around us on every side.  Soon
the rebels began to advance upon our extreme left which position was
held by the 5th C. V.  A Georgia Regt. advanced on them, and when near
enough our Col. gave the order to fire, which was obeyed, and it is
reported that the first fire our regt. knocked over 150 of them.  They
immediately fell back and just at that time the right wing was driven
back with orders to retreat, which was done in good order.  Our loss
was considerable but nothing like that of the enemies.  The rebels
intended to bag the whole of us, as their force was 30,000 and ours but
 5,000.  We fell back to Williamsport, a distance of 35 miles.  Two of the
 band were taken prisoners, Billy Whittaker and a fellow from Vermont. 
The taking away of part of our force, and our retreat, was intended by
the Sec. of War but it was not supposed he was following us so close. 
All they wanted was to get him into the valley and then bag the whole
of them.  Which I think we shall succeed in doing.  When we were
retreating through Winchester the citizens fired upon us from the
buildings and the boys say if they ever get back there, they will leave
it in ashes.  We are gaining victories almost daily and last night news
 came in that McClellan had a battle at Richmond whipping them out
 with severe loss upon both sides and than the place was evacuated. 
When we retreated the rebels got pretty close upon me and I tell you
the bullets whistled past my head in good earnest.  When I was c
rossing field about one mile from W a shell burst within a few feet of
me throwing the sand etc. in my face nearly blinding me for a moment
 but I soon uncovered and I tell you I made some tall time for a piece
of woods just ahead of me.  The duty of a band in time of action is upon
 the field carrying off the wounded and we are in just as much danger
as the regt.  News has come in that Fremont has followed up Jackson
and had an engagement taking 27,000 prisoners.  I don’t know whether
 Jackson escaped within that loss or not but I hope the whole of them
will get bagged.  Two of the Conn. Regts. are at Port Royal and a short
time ago they made an attack upon Fort Pulaski and succeeded in
capturing it after nearly two days hard fighting.  One of the Ct. Regts.
occupied the Ft., the one most of the Wall. (Wallingford) boys are in.   
John Merwin, Doug Culver and all those fellows I want you to look out
for yourselves and not run any unnecessary risks, and when you
return you can probably tell as many yarns as any of them.  Lookout
for those cussed Indians for they are like a snake in the grass, and
when you get a chance draw a fine bead and be sure of your mark.  I
read your letters to all the boys and they all said they were very
interesting, and all send their love, and tell you to look out for the
Secesh.  Lee Northrop says he will write you in a day or two and give
you an Acct. of the fight.  I think you must be seeing some pretty hard
 times out there but accounting to your Acct it doesn’t affect you a
great deal, for you say you weigh over 160.  I don’t think I should care
 to tackle you if that is the case.  I weigh about 158.  Ken D. is doing
pretty well.  I just received a letter from Hattie stating that Father and
 Mother were at Stoney Neck, but were coming home the next day. 
Your letter will relieve them a great deal, for he has been very anxious
to hear from you.  I want you to write often as you can and I will do the
same.  Give my love to Jared and accept the same and remember me as
 your affect. brother and well wishes. 

                                                                                         Atwater