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NP: May 5, 1865 The Bedford Inquirer: The 81st PA Gains a New Chaplain, April 3, 1865


April 22, 1865.

MR. EDITOR:-When leaving Bedford, I promised to let you hear from me, and this the first opportunity of making my word good.1 On account of unusual delays in railroad transportation, I determined to go via Baltimore instead of Washington, and took passage thence on board of the steamer, Adelaide. We weighed anchor about 5 ½ P.M., and steamed slowly down the harbor for the broad Chesapeake. Just as we were bidding adieu to the “Monumental City” we cast our eyes in the advance to see what of interest we might be nearing, when we caught sight of our glorious old flag proudly floating in the breeze of “Free Maryland” from the flagstaff of Fort McHenry.2

The evening [of March 31, 1865] being foggy, night soon came on and much to our discomfiture hid from view all objects of interest to us. We now began to feel lonely, for all without was hidden, and all on board were strangers. The passengers were mostly soldiers, officers, sutlers, merchants, and a few ladies, who were on their way to Norfolk, Va. Being tired we soon retreated from the crowd to our stateroom to receive rest from “nature’s sweet restorer.” Morning dawned with a cold, strong breeze. Just now breakfast call was sounded when all rushed for the dining saloon. Soon the crowd was seen returning, some laughing, and some angry, and some showing a smile of approval for the fun that evidently on hand. The whole was satisfactorily accounted for by learning that the crowd were all “April fools,” it being the first of April [April 1, 1865].3

Steamers and all kinds of craft were seen lying at anchor, which gave evidence of our near approach to Fortress Monroe. Here we landed about 8 o’clock [on the evening of April 1, 1865]. About 11 A.M. [April 2, 1865], we took passage on board of the steamer Transit for City Point. During the passage up the James, there was much of interest that might be noted, but first in importance was Newport News, the place of the memorable fight between the Union wooden war ships and the rebel iron-clad Merrimac, when thanks to an overruling Providence the noble little Monitor and her bold crew came to the rescue. Jamestown, that early settlement familiar in history to every school boy, was also passed on the way up the river.4

At 6 o’clock [on the evening of April 2, 1865] we arrived at City Point, the great base of the armies then operating against Richmond. A perfect wilderness of masts was there to be seen at this place. The United States Military Railroad commences here and over it were carried forward the supplies of the Army of the Potomac. Arriving at the extremity of this road we were immediately re-initiated into the horrors of war. The roar of cannon, the fierce rattle of musketry, the yell of charging squadrons, and the groans of the wounded and dying were all heard that night. These things all told us that the sons of freedom were following the rebel horde beyond their deserted trenches, and dealing the deathblow to the slaveholders’ rebellion.5

Sunday [April 2, 1865] and Monday [April 3, 1865] were spent in wandering through exciting and horrible scenes, in search of the 81st P[ennsylvania].V[olunteers]., to which we had been appointed chaplain. On the evening of Monday [April 3, 1865] we found the 81st and received a hearty welcome. If soldiers are generally or too often out-breakingly wicked, you seldom find that niggardly6 hypocrisy that too often makes greater claims, though undeservedly so to gentlemanly qualities.

For the next week long marches and hard fighting were the daily program, up to Lee’s surrender [on April 9, 1865]. One day [April 6, 1865] our brigade [1/1/II/AotP] fought the retreating foe in line of battle, over 16 miles. In the evening just as the shades of night were beginning to gather, our boys crowned the hard fought day by a charge on the wagon train, which they captured. The train was filled with all manner of property, both public and private-Grindstones, Dutch ovens, Corn, Corn meal, (which the rebs use in place of our hard tack) Clothing of all kinds, Whiskey, Apple jack, &c. All these things that suited the fancy or convenience of the boys was freely appropriated, especially the two last-named articles.7

On the next day [April 7, 1865] our regiment went into a charge with 116 men, and came out with 38. Forty-seven were captured and the rest killed and wounded. The 81st has seen as hard and done as good service as any other regiment in the army.8

Having by the blessing of God, been successful in subduing armed treason, the soldiers expect soon to get home and help to punish the mean and cowardly sympathizers of the North. For example, the crowd from which J. Wilkes Booth and his pack have sprung.9

Yours truly,

[81st PA Chaplain] W.R.W.10,11

SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Roy Gustrowsky.

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: The letter writer, “W. R. W.,” was to become chaplain of the 81st Pennsylvania just as the Siege of Petersburg ended and the Appomattox Campaign began.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: Fort McHenry was of course the site of the War of 1812 battle which formed the basis for Francis Scott Key’s poem and still our National Anthem today.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: I am sure the dates above are all correct. If you work back from the last sentence mentioning April 1, 1865, you can easily arrive at the same conclusion.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: Now I start to get a little uneasy about my dates.  If the Adelaide left Baltimore on the foggy evening of March 31, 1865, and from experience with other ships leaving Washington for City Point taking about a day, I would assume they could not have reached Fort Monroe earlier than the evening of April 1. Although the letter writer does not mention it, I would suspect they spent the night of April 1-2, 1865 on land near Fort Monroe after disembarking those headed to the giant fortress.  Then, on the morning of April 2, 1865, they made the final journey up the James River on the Transit to City Point and Grant’s Headquarters. You will shortly see why I believe the day to be April 2, 1865.
  5. SOPO Editor’s Note: Based on the last few sentences, it would appear the chaplain arrived at the climax of the Petersburg Campaign. The phrase “following the rebel hoard beyond their deserted trenches” is the key one for me to assume this is April 2, 1865.  If you disagree or have another possible solution, please comment below or CONTACT US. What is beyond dispute is that the chaplain was not with his unit during the Siege, only joining them on April 3, 1865.
  6. “stingy”
  7. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Union Second Corps, Army of the Potomac spent the day on April 6, 1865 successively skirmishing with the Confederates at Amelia Court House, then Flat Creek, and final Lockett’s Farm, where they captured the wagons mentioned by the chaplain.
  8. SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the April 7, 1865 Battle of Cumberland Church, during the Appomattox Campaign.
  9. SOPO Editor’s Note: The chaplain was writing this letter on April 22, 1865, eight days after John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater.
  10. SOPO Editor’s Note: This chaplain is not listed in Bates’ excellent reference work on Pennsylvania units and their rosters.  The only chaplain listed is Stacy Wilson, who was gone early in 1864.  If you know who this man with the initials “W. R. W.” might be, please CONTACT US or comment below.
  11. “Army Correspondence.” The Bedford Inquirer (Bedford, PA), May 5, 1865, p.3, c.4.
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