Confederate Battle of Williamsburg Letter Written by Captain William Washington Gordon – His Daughter Founded the Girl Scouts of the USA – His House is a National Historic Landmark in Savannah, Georgia & Open to the Public for Tours!
Offered is a long 8 page letter written in pencil in the heat of battle. It is headed “Bivouac near Long Bridge, Chickahominy River 12th May 1862”. The letter gives thrilling content from the retreat from Yorktown on May 4th and the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5th. The writer William W. Gordon first served as Captain of the Georgia Hussars in the Jeff Davis Cavalry Division. He was on the staff (A.A.G.) of General Hugh W. Mercer. Later in the war (July 1864) he was Captain and A.I.G. on the staff of General Robert H. Anderson. (Records from Crute’s Confederate Staff Officers) Of course one of the interesting facts about this heroic soldier was that his daughter Juliette founded the Girl Scouts of the USA. Their historic home is at 142 Bull Street in Savannah… a beautiful home to tour.

Here is some of that great content:

• “Sunday the 4th the Retreat from Yorktown & the lines across the Peninsula began. About midday we commenced skirmishing with the advance of the Yankees. In the midst of it”

• “I took Henry Miller’s horse and sent Henry with Morgan to our pack mules about a mile in the rear to bring me one of our lead horses. He was undoubtedly captured for we were already surrounded tho we didn’t yet know it. A few minutes later, Capt. Conner of the Adam’s Troop was captured & we learned that we, that is General Stuart & staff, the 3rd Va. Cavalry & J. D. Legion were cut off.”

• “The leading squadron of the 3rd made a gallant charge, took the Yankee guns in our rear but were given off by their Infantry who filled the woods. It was a very trying position. We fell back & luckily escaped along the edge of the James River under the Bluffs, protected in a measure by the “Patrick Henry” Gun Boat We had to go along the River at a walk & were about three hours in reaching Williamsburg.”

• “If the Yankees had known the country, they could have lined the Bluffs with sharp-shooters & decimated our ranks, besides two points where they could have brought Artillery & Infantry (by one side of a square while we were going around there) & cut us off entirely.”

• ‘We were on the Battlefield of Williamsburg from early dawn on Sunday until about 8 p.m. & were under fire of shot, shell & musketry (at pretty long range however) from the commencement at ½ past 6 a.m. to the close about 6 p.m. The Yankee Artillerists fired so well we had to shift our position every now & then when they got our exact range to avoid casualties. As it was we became acquainted with the noise made by the fight of every kind of missile from a Parrot shell to a smooth bore musket ball. It was a beautiful sight to see the working of Artillery on each side & to see our Infantry march to the front by Brigade or Regiment break as skirmishers or enter the woods where the Yankees were.”

• “In the first case, the rattling of small arms sounded like packs of fire crackers. In the latter there would be an awful silence for a few minutes, then a burst like thunder and a continuous roar ending generally in a yell as our boys drove them back from their position, far then into the woods.”

• “But the Yankees fought well & being under cover never yielded more than three hundred yards before they would be reinforced & hold their own & in some cases drive our men back. Our reinforcements were coming up all day. The fight commenced with Anderson’s Brigade, but by night we had at least 25,000 men on the field.”

• “Wounded men and prisoners were passing us all day, going to the rear. About 4 p.m. we had the honor of making a charge to save a captured Battery. A Regiment of Cavalry & Brigade of Infantry (Yankees) dashed out of the woods to retake it, but when they saw the Legion coming up in the column of fours at a racing gallop & heard our yell & the cheers of our Infantry & Cavalry whom we passed, the Yankee Horse wheeled back into the woods & the Infantry halted & opened fire upon us . Stuart’s Artillery opened on the Infantry who fell back into the woods, the captured guns were driven to the rear with a Confederate flag floating over them, & we were wheeled to the right were the ground covered us somewhat.”

• “It was all over in five minutes but pretty hot while it lasted. Luckily the smooth bore balls were fired too low or were spent when they reached us. The minies were a little over our heads. Several horses in the Legion were badly hurt, one or two I believe killed. A number of men struck by spent balls. Joe Washburn, I believe, the only one in the G. H.’s (Georgia Hussars).”

• “The next day we evacuated Williamsburg, the Yankees coming in one end as we went out the other. They have dogged us closely ever since until today. We being the rear guard have been in the saddle day & night, catching sleep in the saddle or when there would be a halt to feed horses, throwing ourselves on the ground alongside the horse with the reins in our hands. I know up to Sunday last, we didn’t average 5 hours (snatched at odd times) of sleep in each 24.”

• “Eating has been equally irregular & if possible scantier. A party would have to be sent two or three miles ahead to cook, & we eat in the saddle. Until today we have had light skirmishes daily & two days ago, I narrowly escaped capture while buying some cornbread.”

• “On a good horse I shouldn’t have minded them firing at me or pursuing me, but on a poor broken down Company horse, there is no fun going through a plowed field with fire or six Yanks after you. I forgot to mention that our Pack mules narrowly escaped capture on Sunday by getting word from Williamsburg that we were cut off before we knew it & hence, the fate of poor Henry Miller & “Morgan”.

• “I am trying to buy a horse & must have one & a good one. Money is of no account where one’s life so often depends on one’s horse. If I don’t succeed very soon, I shall get leave to go to Richmond & buy one.”

• “On Sunday the day before the Battle, the Cavalry of Hamptons & Wises Legion made a brilliant charge on the Yankee Regular Cavalry. The H. L. (of course) led it. I lost with Morgan my new saddle, overcoat, enamel cloth, Haversack (in which I am truly grieved to say was the Prayer Book you gave me), canteen, the last blanket I had & in fact everything but the clothes I had on me at the time.”

• “We have just heard of Jackson’s Victory & Beauregard’s also. A great Battle is imminent here, but when or where I can’t say. I pray God to preserve me as He has already done through peril and danger. I think of you constantly, my own darling wife, & many times during the day, & always before I sleep, pray that we may be spared to meet again. Don’t worry my precious one. Trust all to Him & He will order all for the best.”

Gordon closes the letter by saying, “I suppose you are still in Savannah. Kiss the chicks.” One of those chicks was Juliette who had been born on October 31st, 1860. Gordon left Savannah to join the Confederate Army 6 months after she was born. In 1864 the Union troops were threatening Savannah and Mrs. Gordon moved the family to Thunderbolt, Georgia. After Savannah fell, the family received many visits from General William T. Sherman who was a friend of her uncle!! Sherman arranged an escort to take the Gordon family to Chicago in March of 1865. After President Andrew Johnson issued the Amnesty Proclamation, William W. Gordon was reunited with his family and moved them back to Savannah.

The letter, since it was written in the heat of battle is in quite fine condition… all very readable with only the last page showing some excessive wear. All easily read, and what an amazing letter from an historically significant writer.

#S153 - Price $795