Title: George Washington Whitman to Thomas Jefferson Whitman, 15 May 1863
Date: May 15, 1863
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from George Washington Whitman, Civil War Letters of George Washington Whitman, ed. Jerome M. Loving (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1975), 93-95. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: Missouri Historical Society
Whitman Archive ID: mhs.00004
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Kathryn Kruger, Gillian Price, and April Lambert
Near Lancaster Ky1
May 15th 1863
Dear Brother Jeff,
I believe I last wrote home from Lowell, but a fellow has to change about so often in this country, its hard work to remember where he was two days ago.
After staying at Lowell a couple of days we were ordered to pack up and move again, so we started back on the same road we went out on, and encamped about a mile from this place. After stopping there two days, our Regt was ordered down to this Villiage to do Provost duty in the Town. Lancaster is a small one horse specimen of a southren Villiage, about 32 miles from Lexington, in the central part of the state and 16 or 18 miles from any railroad communication. The country about here is splendid. the fruit trees are just now in full bloom the weather is fine, we are liveing first rate the men are all in good health, and we are haveing a good time generaly. Our Regt is now encamped on the outskirts of the Town in a nice shady spot all alone by ourselvs, the rest of our Brigade and the First Brigade of our Division being encamped about a mile out of Town. We have everything comfortable here, but I think I already see signs of moveing, and it wont be many days before we will have to pull up stakes and be off. We have been very much disapointed in the result of the fighting on the Rappahannock,2 we had such favorable news from there at first, and Hooker managed things so nicely in crossing the river, and getting a good position, that I about made up my mind, that notwithstanding the bad luck, that has always attended the movements of the Potomac Army, it was about to do a big thing and I was almost sorry I wasent there to have a hand in. The account of the takeing of Richmond too was firmly believed here, as Gen Sturgis3recd. a Tel Dix4 (said to be from Gen Burnside5) saying that Gen Dix had advanced by way of Petersburg and that Richmond was certainly in our posession, A few hours after the dispatch was recd, there came another from the same source confirming the first, and although I had not believed the news at first, I finaly began to think there must be some truth in it. And then to find out that we had not only not, taken Richmond, but that Hooker had been obliged to recross the river, was a terrible let down I can tell you. Still I have faith in Hooker and believe he will yet do something big, and takeing into account the many disadvantges he had to contend with, (the storm and the devilish cowardice of the Dutchman of the 11th Corps6) I dont know as any other man could have done better than he. One thing I think is plain, in crossing the river and getting in the rear of Lee's army in the manner he did, Hooker showed fine generalship and altogather, I think more of him than I did before the fight.
Well Jeff how are you all getting along at home. I dont hear from you very often, not as often as I should like to. I hope Mother and Mattie and Sis and all the rest of you are well. Walt says that Mother is still troubled sometimes, with the Rheumatism, does she take sulphor baths Walt said he was going to make arrangements for her to do so. Why not have a bath rigged up in her room, it would not cost much, and would save the journey down to Perceys. Andrew, Walt says is working in the Navy Yard, so I suppose he must be better.7
I hear from Walt quite often, he seems to be getting along very well. Have you heard from Hannah lately. when you get a letter from her, send it on so that I can see it. There has been nothing done in regard to consolidating our Regt. yet. I think likely they will wait untill the draft goes into opperation and then fill us up with conscripts.
Direct your letters Department of Ohio and no matter where the Regt may be the letters will come all right. Good bye Jeff Much love to Mother, Mattie, Hattie, and all
G. W. Whitman
1. The Ninth Army Corps had been encamped in this vicinity since May 9, 1863. [back]
2. Whitman is referring to the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1–6, 1863). At one point during the engagement, General Joseph Hooker (see George Washington Whitman's letter to Louisa Van Velsor Whitman from February 8, 1863)—who was then in command of the Union Army of the Potomac—was forced to retreat after Confederate forces under Stonewall Jackson surprised his right flank. [back]
3. Samuel Davis Sturgis (1828–1889). [back]
4. Whitman's meaning here is unclear. "Tel Dix" may simply mean a telegram about General John Dix's military movements. However, the term could also be a reference to a dramatic telegram Dix had issued on January 29, 1861, when he was Secretary of the Treasury. Within weeks of his appointment to that position, he had encountered resistance to his order requiring that all U.S. "revenue cutters," or coastal vessels, be dispatched to New York City in order to save them from falling into the hands of local authorities in the South. Without permission from Lincoln (who did not want the Union to initiate armed hostilities), Dix fired off a telegram which ordered the arrest of the commander of the revenue cutter McCelland, who had refused to obey the order. The telegram further stated: "If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot." This bold and perhaps incendiary statement was quoted in Northern newspapers and hailed by many as the first definite action in favor of the Union under Lincoln's administration. By calling Burnside's message a "Tel Dix," Whitman may be characterizing it as emphatic or positive. [back]
5. Ambrose Everett Burnside (1824–1881). At the outbreak of the war he organized the First Rhode Island Infantry. He was then in command of the Expedition Against the Coast of North Carolina. [back]
6. The Eleventh Army Corps constituted the right flank of the Union Army at Chancellorsville. Somewhat unprepared because Hooker was confident that Lee's army had retreated to Gordonsville, Virginia, it was easily routed by Jackson's attack of May 2, 1863. The "Dutchman of the 11th Corps" is a reference to the fact that the Eleventh Army was heavily populated by officers and enlisted men of German descent. Journalists severely criticized the performance of the Eleventh Army during this attack, suggesting that its officers had taken up arms to make money, and not to fight. [back]