Letter of John B. Noyes
This post is for my friends currently in Virginia touring the battlefields of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House. It is a letter written by John B. Noyes, a former member of the 13th Mass., who at this time during the war was an officer [1st Lt. Company C] in the 'Irish' 28th Mass. On May 11, 1864, at his first opportunity, Noyes wrote to his father at home in Cambridge, about the fighting he had just been through, and was still experiencing.
The 28th Mass. was in the 2nd Army Corps, Major-General Winfield S. Hancock,
1st Division, Brig-General Francis C. Barlow
2nd Brigade, Colonel Thomas A. Smyth.
Battlefield, near the Po River, May 11th/64
No opportunity to write since we left camp near Stevensburgh. Constant fighting and skirmishing every day. Very hard work. Have pitched no tents since starting. Sleep on our arms at night in line of battle. April 30th the day we were mustered for pay I wrote you. The next day was Sunday. On the 2d we took down some of the logs of our huts and went into summer quarters on the same ground as before. A terrific tornado at night, the air full of thick dust. Trees blown down. One or two men badly injured.
On May 3d at 11 P.M. we left our huts silently, with six days rations, and marched all night. At six A.M. of the 4th we crossed the Rapidan. Marching quite a distance on the 5th we attacked the enemy late in the afternoon. We were fighting after six [?] O’clock P.M. at close quarters in the woods where the underbrush was very thick. Our loss was heavy. Three men killed in my Co. ( C ) John Graham, John Ahern, Wm A. Clarke. Serg’t Hugh McGinnis wounded in both hands. Lt. Col. Cartwright wounded in shoulder. Capt. McIntyre mortally wounded, since dead. Capt. Page wounded in thigh. Lt. M. Kirby severely in side. Two of my men missing. We were driven back after fighting for some time. The 28th fought reasonably well. I was agreeably surprised. We had the men lie down, so that they forgot to use their legs. Capt. Turner Adjt. Gen’l 1st Brigade killed.
May 6th at 5 P.M. out skirmishing, the whole regiment on nearly the same ground, though not so far from the road as on May 5th. Brigade ordered to another part of the field before we were relived John G. King, my Co C. killed. Owing to the cowardly conduct of the Pennsylvania Regiment on the skirmish line our support was flanked and we had a narrow escape. Serg’t. Farmiloe ( F.) mortally wounded a very fine fellow. Relieved at 6 at night.
Learned of the fierce attack on the road where was the 2d Div & the Irish Brigade. Lt Brinney wounded. The 116th Penn. as usual broke like sheep but were rallied by the rest of the Brigade. Major Abbott, 20th Mass. killed, Col. Macy severely wounded. Capt Patten wounded, Major Rice safe. Our breast works caught fire and blazed fiercely being built of rotten wood. The woods caught fire and the Rebels were driven back leaving their wounded and killed to be burned in the great conflagrations.
May 7th. Again skirmishing at 5 A.M. on nearby the same ground all burned over. Drove the rebel skirmish line from two or three lines of breast works. Came upon a portion of the field of the 5th Corps, where the 3rd Brigade fought. Great numbers of dead Union soldiers, many rebels also. Ammunition being expended we were relieved at 4 [o'clock] P.M. Horrible Rebel yelling at night. Attack expected. Great flutter among the Generals. The 5th Corps and Artillery passed by all night. Infernal din. Have slept lately in rubber overcoat, not unrolling my blanket. Very few have knapsacks. Many are without tents. Some are even without rubber blankets.
The fighting on the 5th, 6th & 7th was at Wilderness Springs, and on nearby the same ground. Capt Smith wounded in the arm on the 7th. “Sixty days” he remarked as he stopped to light his pipe on his way to the hospital in the rear. On the 8th we marched to Todd’s Tavern. One of our Penn. Colonels, commanding picket line reported no rebels within two miles. Five days rations came up. Rations sent out to the 63rd N.Y. on picket line. Rebs made a dash and got the hard bread. Our men pursued, and the 1st Div. was in motion, & deployed. Advanced some distance when rebel shells came over our heads from our own rear. Retired in good order and got back to our breastworks. A narrow escape. As usual thick woods, brambles and swamps. No open round fighting.
Changed position on the 9th & built splendid breastworks. Left them & traveled. Rebel wagon train seen across the river Po. Sent out with 25 men through the skirmish line, with orders to cross the River, take its depth, and ascend the hill opposite to see what was going on. Drove the rebel cavalry before us. The object obtained I returned Safely before a rebel skirmish line of double my strength. Pioneers bridged the river and we crossed, halting at night.
The 10th. Now comes the tug of war. Breast works now our constant occupation in [???] Build them only to abandon them and build others. Obliged to recross the river. A fierce fight on the further bank. Our artillery banged away & suffered badly. Rebels on all sides. All up in a heap. Things look badly. At about 5 P.M. we were under heavy artillery fire. Serg’t. McNamara, late Lieut. in the 19th Mass, & Private Robert Watson killed, & James Curtis M.F. Carrrick wounded, all of Co. C. Troups much massed. Dangerous to shoot any where on account of position. My bundle away. Slept on the bare ground. Awoke not much refreshed. Things look better to day. In line of battle. Artillery in position. Rebel sharp shooting. Serg’t Beattie, Co. B. wounded in face.
At 10 P.M. moved toward the left past the 6th Corps. Formed in column of Division preparatory to charging the rebel breastworks on the 12th. Just at daylight took place one of the fiercest charges of the war. We went over the works and took the cannon, but before they could be removed the rebs flanked us, and we fell back. The 6th Corps, in tents the night previous came up. We drove the rebs back, and from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. continued one of the most sanguinary conflicts of the war.
On the 1st Charge the Division was much broken. In the 2d I had about 40 men of the Regiment with Col. Harnell who had about 400 men with him. We mounted the rebel works and drew out the brass napoleons. As I was saying above, before we had completed the operation we were driven back. The brigade in fragments was out by 9 A.M. & in process of reorganization. I remained in front however till 6 P.M. when I went to the rear to find the brigade. Lieut. Morgan 28th wounded. I have 13 men here in my Company. We took prisoners by thousands yesterday. Privates Hugh Cahill, Lindsey, O’Makeny & Albert, Co. C. were wounded. Others probably were killed or wounded. A private in my regiment captured a Major General. Gen’l Eustis was safe at 2 P.M. The 19th & 20th have lost heavily. Lt. Sturgis of the 20th killed on the 10th.
Burnside is here. Also 1st, 2d, 3d, 5th & 6th Corps. Burnside was not fighting on the same ground with us. This A.M. the 13th we are in reserve awaiting orders. I hope to send this letter to day.
Very Aff. Yours.
John B. Noyes.
NOTE: In another letter dated May 17th, John Noyes wrote to his sister,
"You will notice from the 5th to the 10th inclusive I had been under severe musketry fire, losing men almost every day. On the 5th I was hit on the left hip. I had neglected to mention the circumstance in my letters of the 13th & 17th (to father) as I could find no hole in my pants. I felt a smart blow on my hip in the heat of the action. I felt that part hit, struck out with my leg to see if I was hurt, contorted somewhat, and finally concluded that a man near me might have hit me with his ramrod. Capt Bailey told me he thought I I was hit when he saw my movements. To day I found the bullet, an elongated rifle ball, of rebel make, in the lining of my blouse, and extricated it by the way it entered The bullet is different from the Minnie ball, and was somewhat flattened. Perhaps my pocket book, or tobacco pouch prevented the bullet penetrating. I have it in my pocket now."