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Eyewitness-March ’97 America’s Civil War Feature

9/23/1996 • America's Civil War

A letter from a young Michigan cavalryman gives a vivid–
if ungrammatical–account of Gettysburg and its aftermath.

Submitted by Nancy Ronemus

“I counted 6 Reble Ofiser dead and wonded with in a short distance of each other. I heard on[e] hollering for a drink of water a short distance from me. I asked him who he was. He said Oh I am on the rong side but I gave him a drink of water and left him for I had to look out for my own head.”

Those descriptive words are part of a 20-page diary written by Allen Rice, a member of the 6th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry, Company C, just nine weeks after he was at the Battle of Gettysburg. His diary was addressed to a friend, Abram Wear of St. Clair, Mich., answering Wear’s request for “a full history of what I had passed through since I had bin a soldier.”

Rice was 5 feet 4 inches and weighed 123 pounds, a blue-eyed farmer originally from Cayuga County, N.Y. He had lived three years in St. Clair before he enlisted at age 18 in the Michigan cavalry on September 7, 1862. They drilled for six weeks at Grand Rapids and wintered near Washington, D.C., and Fairfax, Va. On June 25, 1863, the 6th Michigan left Fairfax, headed for Pennsylvania and the Battle of Gettysburg.

Rice recounts the fierce action against Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart’s cavalry outside Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. The Michigan cavalry’s defeat of Stuart there prevented the strong Southern cavalry from attacking the beleaguered Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg.

Rice also tells of a skirmish in a mountain gap (possibly Monterey) where his unit fought Robert E. Lee’s retreating Rebels, capturing 250 wagons and 1,200 prisoners on the stormy night of July 4 following the Gettysburg battle. On August 25, the date of the letter, he was encamped four miles from Fredericksburg, Va., guarding prisoners.

Rice stayed with the regiment until dismissed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in 1865. He returned to New York, suffering from vertigo and rheumatism, and was able to do only light work in the woolen mills. He died in the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Bath, N.Y., on February 15, 1929, at the advanced age of 88.

Rice’s Letter

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