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Eyewitness to War

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

Submitted by Nancy Ronemus

[Ed. note: In order to give the full, authentic flavor of Rice’s letter, editing has been kept to a minimum. Punctuation and paragraph breaks have been added to make the letter easier to read, but Rice’s highly individualistic spelling has not been changed, since part of the fun is deciphering exactly what he meant at any given time.]

Oak Grove, Virginia
August 25

Mr. Abram Wear

Dear Friend,

It was with much pleasure that I perused the contents of a leter that I received from you a short time since I had often wondered whare you ware and what you ware busing yourself about, so one evening while in camp siting around the fire talking with difer nt ones, Fransis Blanchard and me got to talking about old accuaintses in St. Clair and he said he had just received a leter from home and I requested him the next time he wrote to have his mother write whether you ware there or not so that I could write to you but it seems that you wrote yourself instead of her which I am very glad of and I hope that I may hear from you often for it affords a soldier great pleasure to hear from our friends and accuainteses.

You requested me in your leter to give you a full history of what I had passed through since I had bin a soldier, but to give you a full detail of everything would take up a great deal of time and space. But then I will try and give you a record of the transactions as near as I can remember. It will be a year the 7 of next month since I inlisted. I inlisted in Lexington, was thare about a week and then the company came together and we all went to Grand Rapids to drill and be mustered in to the United States service.

Well, abot the midle of Desember we started for Washington. We had a good time coming through and got thare all safe and sound. Thare we went into winter quarters about a mile from the city whare we remained until abot the midle of March. I was sick the most of the time while in Washington and was glad to get away from thare. When we left thare we came to Fairfax, abot 25 miles this side of Washington. Thare we went on raides and done picket duty until the 20 of June. Then we made a raide out to Bull Run and so on to Fredericksburg. Was gone four days and then returned and on the 25 started for Mariland and Pensilvania. We crossed the Potomac that night at 12 oclock. We forded it and I never shal forget that night either, for we had had no rest to speak of for four days and nights and after we got over the river the guide that was with us did not understand and do his business very well and we got lost and it was as dark as pich and raint like fury.

We rambed abot untill about 2 oclock in the morning when we turned in to a piece of woods and laid down until daylight. I was that sleepy that I had slept on my horse for the last two hours before we stopped, so when we stopped I piled off my horse and hiched him to a tree and took my ponshow and blanket and laid right down in the mud and slept the best that I ever did in my life. Talk about feather beds–thare nothing compared to a mud hole when a man is real tired I had often heard the soldiers tell about laying in the water where it was a foot deap but I never believed it untill I see it and then I had to believe it.

In the morning we started and travled all day and in fact we travled most of the time for a week. On the 28 day of June which was on Sunday we went in to Getisburg, but we did not stay thare long. We went out of the town a short distance to bait our horses while the scout went out to see what they could find. They soon came in with the news that thare was about 60 thousand of the Rebs about 2 miles from thare, so we just dug out as fast as possible and it was a lucky thing two for we had not bin out of the town more than an hour when all of Stewarts Calvry came in.

If we had all bin together, that is the whole division, we would have stood our grounds but they ware divided up into brigades and ware scouting around to see what they could find, so we retreated back about 5 miles and laid all night. The next morning we started for Hanover. Thare we had a prity smart batle but I was not in the first batle. Our first lieutenand with four men was detailed back to get forage for the regiment, so we went back some five miles to a mil and got 100 bushels of corn, 40 bushels of oats, and while we ware weighting for the grain to be loaded up the infantry and artilery commenced passing by. This was about 11 oclock in the four noon and they did not get by until in the night some time, so you may make up your mind thare was a right smart lot of them.

When they commensed passing I sat down by the side of the road to look at them to see if thare was not someone amongst the many that I would know. Regiment after regiment passed and I see no one that I knew and I was just going away when lo and behold whom should I see jump out of the rank and grab me by the hand and say hallow old chap what are you doing here. It was no one else but Anthony Herschl. He is in the 24 Michigan Infantry. He looked tough and harty. This was before the Batle at Getisburg. I have seen him three times, once in Pensilvania, once in Mariland and once since we came back into Virginia. He was in the whole of the three days batle at Getisburg and came out safe and sound. He says their regiment sufered very much. They went into the batle with six hundred and fifty men and came out with 95. Thare was only 5 left in his company.

When we got our grain load up we started for the regiment, but when we got to whare the regiment was left they had gone. It was then about 9 oclock in the evening, so we unloaded our grain and laid down for the night. The next morning we got up early and started in pursuit of the regiment. We went on to a place called M­­­­n. When we got thare the folks ware all leaving the town and we soon found out that they ware fighting a short distance from thare, so we got on through the place full split to join our regiment.

We got about a mile and a half when we heard an awful yeling. It was a body of calvry coming up the road as tight as they could run. Our lieutenant sais to me thare comes the Rebs, so we wheeled to run. We went about 10 rods and turned round to see if they ware our men or Rebs but they t­­­d to be our men. The Rebs had come round and cut of[f] the lead horses and ware trying to charge in to the town, but when they got up near town a company of our men ware dismounted and in a field ready for them and when they came up they let sliver on them. They turned and run and another company of our men shased them on horseback about four miles and took several of them prisoner and killed some of them.

By this time our regiment had gone on some 5 miles to Hanover and the Rebs ware between us and our regiment, so we remained thare until near night when the Rebs left and we went on to our regiment. The road was strewn with clothing of all description and onse an a while a dead Reb. We got to our company about dusk and found them all safe and sound. Had give the rascals a right good licking and not one of our men hurt, only some horses killed. Our first lieutenant had his horse killed and also one of the privates lost his horse so we staid thare that night and the next day until near night we started for Getisburg, but we went only about 5 miles and stopped for the night.

The second day of July we came up near Getisburg. They ware a fighting like fury. The division all halted for a few minutes, then we struck off to the right and came round to a place called Huntstown. We arrived thare about 3 oclock. We passed through the town about a half a mile. Our regiment was in advance and the first thing we knew Co A was ordered to charge, companies D and C to dismount to fight on foot.

We went down through a wheat field in front of the batery towrds a barn. We had nearly reached the barn before our men came up the road as tight as they could come and the Rebs mixed all in with them, cuting and slashing and firing their pistols at our mens heads. Our old general came near having his head off for thare was a Reb right behind him with his sabir raised to cut him down when on of the men that was in the wheat field drawed a bead on him and that was the last of mr Reb.

Out of about 50 that charged up in amongst us not one of them got away. I counted 6 Reble Ofiser dead an wonded with in a short distance of each other. I heard on[e] holering 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. That young man you spoke of being fetched home by the name of Cox was orderly sargent on our Company. I was right by the side of him when he was shot. Our own men shot him. Thare was a company behind us and they fired on us from one direction and it was a great wonder that we was not all killed for the Rebles ware firing on us from one direction and our men from the other and I tell you the shots came in on us like hale stones, but by good luck thare was no one else hurt.

We staid thare until after dark when every thing was quiet and then we started for Getisburg for we was not fools enough to stay thare for old Lea sent a whole core of infantry to help his calvry. And that was whare the old chap fooled himself, for when the infantry got thare we dident happen to be thare. We traveld all night and about 8 oclock we got to our place of destination on the right of Getisburg. So we dismounted and two regiments ware deploid as skurmishers. We could see them of[f] in the edge of a peice of woods, but they did not show themselves much until in the afternoon about one oclock it was discovered that they ware trying to come round on our right so we ware ordered to our horses and went round to the right on a road.

The battery was planted and the fun commensed. My company and D supported the batery while two went down to our right and left and felt of them. Then the canons apered on both sides and thare was a prity lively time for a spel. Then the 7th Michigan made a charge and got all cut to pieces. It was the first charge they ever made and they made awful work. Then the first Michigan was ordered to charge and away they went over a stone wall like wildmen and they cut the Rebs all to pieces and drove them into the woods.

Prity soon thare was a body of thier infantry came out on our left. Our men were ordered on and if thare wasent some prity sharp work for a while thare come very near being some. They soon got tired of that fun and got back in the woods again for they did not like the contents of our 9 shot Spenser rifles. We faught until dark and held the ground that we first went on to. We lost considerable many men but the Rebs lost a great many more than we did.

But what was the main army doing all this time? They were doing their best. You would have thought so if you had heard the report of the canons. For about 5 hours it was on continueal roar of canon. It was averaged at 4 a seckund. Old Lea consentrated al his canon on our senter in order to brake our lines, but he could not come it. Thare was one whole divisions was ordered to charge on to us. They ware told that they ware nothing only malitia, but when they got up to our men they found something more than malitia to deal with, and the result was thare ware 6000 prisoners in a short time.

After that thare was to[o] much more fighting, for old Lea began his retreat and we after him. This was on the fourth of July. We rode all day through the awfullest rain and mud that I ever see. Just at dusk we entered the gap and commenced asending the mountain. We rode on prity briskly some 5 or 6 miles when all at once the column halted and my company with three others ware ordered to the frunt with drawn sabirs. Just immagine your self on a dark night, so dark that you could hardly see the next horse to you, to be placed in a narrow road just wide enough for four horses to march abrest with a ledge of rocks on one side and a steap bank on the other and to be called forward with a drawn sabir in hand and ordered to charge, no knowing what you was going in to and when you had gone a short distance have the bulits come whiring about your ears like a lot of beas after honey and your horse rearing and pransing half scart to death.

I say immagine all of this and then you can form some idea of what we trapsed through on the fourth of July night 1863. We faught nearly all night. We captured 250 wagons & ambulants and 1200 prisoners. Our regiment passed over the road that they ware on and it put me in mind of a fourth of July spree to see the wagons all strung along the road, the wheals choped to pieces, tungs cut off, barels of liqer smashed in and the wagons set afire. We took about 40 wagons to a small place some 10 miles from the mountain and examined them, and what things we wanted in the shape of clothing we took and the rest we burnt and that learnt our ofisers something to see the stuff that they had taken in Pensilvania. All the litle trinkets that you could think of litle babies play things not worth 3 sents.

I tell you when we came back in to Virginia things was a litle different than they ware when we ware here before. Our old general called us together and sais to us now boys you have seen the proseedings of the rascals while on your jorney in to Meriland and Pensilvania, therefore it is needless for me to explain it to you but I will simply say this if you see anything that you think you want dont steal it but do as the boys used to say cramst it but be shure and not steal anything but take all you want. The Boys give the general three chears and the primise of a fine piese of beaf for super, and since that time we have had plenty of fresh meat.

But I must bring this to a close for I have not got time to write any more at preasent. Thare is a great many things that I misst write if I had time. Thare is the Batle of Hagerstown and the Batle of Wiliamsport and the Batle of Fallingwaters and in the Shanandoa Valey and at Thorntons Gap. Was all of them prity hard batles and I have bin in them all and am still unhurt, but I never want to be in as tight a place as we ware in in the last Batle. The darned cuses got us hemed in on all sides and they had four times as many men as we had for we only had a brigade with us and they had a whole division of infantry but they cant cetch old Kill devel. That is what they call him. His name is Killpatric. He is a real comical looking sort of a chap with his hat drawd over on one side and one pants leg stuck in side his boot. He looks more like some old farmer.

We ar now in campd with in about 4 miles of Fredricksburg. We make a raide onseanawhile down to Falmath and on down the river. We have some of our Reble friends come over and give themselves up every day. They tell a prity hard story. Night before last thare ware three ofisers came in and gave themselves up. Thare was two lieutenants, one first and the other seckond and also a colnel. I am with the Provose gard. We take care of the prisoners and gard them. I have talked with more than 50 diferant ones and they all seem to tell the same story. They say that all they get for a days rations is half a pound of rusty bakon and a pound of meal or flour, no Cofy or shugar, and they say thare is whole brigades would come over and give themselves up but their ofisers tell them that if they do that will confiscate all their property and kill them, but they say that a great many of them will come over before long any way for they think they may as well be killed as to stay thare and starve to death.

But I must close for I have wrote more now than will interst you, I am afraid. Give my respects to Isrial Pense and tell John Wies that if I ever ketch him round my hous after dark swinging on our seler dore that it may go hard with him if he cant show the papers to prove that he has a write thare. Tell An that I want her to send me a cupp of coffey and a pankake. You will be twice glad when you get this wee bit of a leter–glad when you get it and glad to get red of it. I will inclose in this leter one dolar which I wish you would get me some postage stamps, 50 sents in Canida stamps and 50 sents in 3 sents stamps, and oblige me you will please answer this soon.

Yours truly,
Allen Rice

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