Portraits of Privates

A Chancellorsville Letter

Below is a transcribed letter from a soldier in the 140th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company H. After mustering August, the author of this letter, Hugh Quinn Adams, he and the rest of his company traveled through Maryland and into Virginia, settling north of the Rappahannock after the battle of Fredericksburg. Their first major engagement came the following May as Joseph Hooker led the Army of the Potomac across the river to strike against Lee’s flank and rear. As I’ve already discussed in this blog, it didn’t end well.

140th PA soldierHere’s a letter from an ordinary soldier who participated in the action east of the Chancellorsville mansion under Darius Couch’s II Corps in Winfield Scott Hancock’s division. There’s a few times to unpack in this. In the second paragraph, we see that injuries aren’t always major. They can be little things like losing a finger, losing a toe, etc. However, the mortality rate of a finger amputation was 3%, which still makes it a potentially lethal wound.

The second is the obvious mention of the Chancellorsville family fleeing their home in the wake of the height of battle. Adams wouldn’t have known exactly who they were, but the evidence in this letter confirms their identity and further paints the pictures of their experience during the battle.

Finally, we see that Adams suffered a personal loss. Jimmy was also a soldier and died far from home. His communication of grief to his friend in this letter helps to give insight into how the citizens and soldiers of the time dealt with death and mourning. Adams is putting a positive spin on the tragedy, as we do today, saying that Jimmy is in a better place where there is no war or sadness. It’s a very human emotion, reminding historians that casualty numbers are more than just a statistic.

Camp near Falmouth, Va.
May 24th 1863

My dear friend,

I seat myself once more to pen you a few lines to let you know how I am getting along in the Army of the Potomac. I am well and hope these few lines will find you enjoying the same blessing. We remain in the same camp we were in on the first day of May. [one or two sentences illegible]

…we was [ ] and to tell the truth, it was a hot place. There was [ ] of our company got killed. There was three wounded. Will Yolton got his finger shot off and Will Carothers got his big toe shot off. He was running when he got it done and Jo. Calhoun from Hookstown got wounded in the leg. Our regiment got off about as well as any of the regiments. Our general give us great praise on the battlefield. He thought we was the right kind of a regiment to stand up to the Rebs. I tell you, it ain’t a very nice thing for to stand and let the shells fall all around like hale. It is a hard thing to stand and see some of your comrades fall dead on the field, but we was fighting for our country and they don’t care if it is a few men.

Well, I will tell you of some rebel girls at the time of the battle. There was a big brick house [ ] and there was some women in it and when the shells commenced to fly through the house, they thought it was about time for them to leave, so they came back to the rear. I don’t know what they done with them but I recon they would send them back when we got through. There was two of them that was middling good-looking but their clothes was [ ] bad, but I recon they hadn’t time to put on their good ones if they had any.

Well. Eloise Jane, I was very sorry to he hear about Jimmy when I heard of him being dead. I will never forget the time I last saw him. He was in great spirits and him and me had a long chat. I didn’t think then it would be the last time we would have the pleasure of seeing one another in this world. But I know it is hard to think a person will be deprived of a friend in such a short time but there is a world to come where there ain’t any war. He was far away from home but he was there for to fight for his country. But now he will be in the world where ain’t any wars and at the right hand of God. There are pleasures for ever more in hopes if we don’t meet in this world, we will in the next world.

The sun is very warm and we have to go on drill and I will bring my letter to a close. Nothing more but still remain your friend, — H. Q. Adams

to Miss Eliza Jane

If these few lines ain’t worth answering, burn them. But I would like to get a letter. You hain’t any idea how much good it does me to get a letter from some of my old acquaintances. Yours truly, H. Q. Adams


Reference: https://sparedcreative21.art.blog/2020/04/19/1863-hugh-quinn-adams-to-eliza-jane/

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