This letter was written by Pvt. William Wallace Smith (1838-1875) of Co. B, 22nd Massachusetts Infantry. William was the son of Ebenezer Smith (1799-Aft1855) and Ann (Bruce) Smith of Needham, Massachusetts. William married Laura A. Drake, the daughter off Hiram and Harriet P. Drake of Lowell, Massachusetts in July 1868.
Smith’s letter contains a description of the 22nd Massachusett’s involvement in the Mine Run Campaign of late November 1863. The 22nd Massachusetts was brigaded with the 18th Massachusetts, the 1st Michigan, and the 118th Pennsylvania under the command of Col. William S. Tilton in Bartlett’s Division of Sykes’ 5th Corps.
Addressed to Mrs. Ann Smith, Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts
Camp near Rappahannock Station
December 4th 1863
Here we are a played out, workout army. Pack up. Pack up. Pack up.
On picket, December 7th,
Just got so much wrote the other day and the bugles began to blow pack up so we moved camp. The next day I worked for the Captain all day and yesterday had to attend line inspection in the forenoon and come on picket in the afternoon.
The 24th of November we started to march. It rained like fun and we went about a mile and a half and come back again. Thanksgiving day we started again. Crossed the Rapidan and stopped for the night within 5 miles of our old battleground of Chancellorsville. Started the next morning and marched to Orange Court House. On the road about 100 Reb Cavalry dashed in on our wagons about 40 rods in our rear and run off (with) between 20 and 30. You ought to have seen Co. B, E, K & Sharpshooters of the 22d double quicking through the woods with knapsacks on chasing them up. We followed them up so close that they had to burn up a lot of the wagons. We recaptured 4 and those we pulled out of the burning train by hand with the ammunition burning on all sides of us wagons blowing up and shells exploding on all sides and within 5 feet of us.
The next morning marched to our right and joined the 1st Corps. Found the Johnny’s in good force and strongly posted on a high hill with earthworks thrown up. The order was given to pile up our knapsacks and extra baggage and prepare for a charge but they could not get everything ready that night so they put it off till the next day. At daylight we were ready for the charge down close to the pickets in the woods. [It was] awful cold and [we] could not have any fires nor move round much [that night. I] thought we should freeze.¹
The Generals arrived at the conclusion that they should lose too many men for no purpose by charging ² so drew off again in the evening. [We] laid the next day in front of them, everything quiet, and in the night marched back across the Rapidan and we have moved round now till we are on the north side of the Rappahannock, guarding the railroad. Our corps (the 5th) is scattered from the Rappahannock to Centreville guarding the railroad. All the rest of the army is on the other side of the river.
Enclosed you will find $5 to pay for those gloves & shirts. I think the best way will be to roll them up snug and small as possible and send them by mail but you may do as you think best. Out Quarter Master is Lieut. H. A. Royce. As regard stockings, I am going to send for a box when we get settled in winter quarters and will have some then.
From your affectionate son, — Wm Wallace
¹ Smith’s account of this campaign is consistent with that of Thomas H. Mann of the 18th Massachusetts who wrote of it years later in his memoirs: “I slept some, maybe two hours about midnight, but the weather was growing extremely cold. The ground was freezing under us and, from the necessities of our own safety, not a spark of fire was allowed. Even the lighting of a pipe must be strictly and carefully hid under the shelter of a blanket. At two the next morning all were silently awakened and orders were communicated in an undertone to ‘leave knapsacks and prepare for the assault.’ We crept noiselessly down into the valley under cover of the darkness, thus shortening the distance to the enemy by one-third, where we massed in a small piece of woods, and lay still as death awaiting further orders. It was whispered from one to another that an attempt would be made at daylight to storm the heights beyond. The morning dawned colder than the night before, and I saw men so chilled that they had to be carried to the rear on stretchers….Soon as it was light enough the rebels could be plainly seen from the position where I lay, watching from the heights they occupied — waiting for us to come.”
² The attack was called off by Major General Gouverneur K. Warren who noticed that the Confederates had significantly improved their positions during the night. Meade was initially angered that the attack was called off but later supported the decision by Warren. Ironically, though it was Warren who made the decision, Meade was later praised by the army for the decision not to carry out the senseless charge.