On the Road to Richmond: The Letters of Civil War Sharpshooter Moses Hill, Part 4
Welcome back to our series on the letters of Moses Hill, part of the Frank Irving Howe, Jr. family papers here at the MHS. In my last post, I described Moses' experiences during the Siege of Yorktown as part of McClellan's Army of the Potomac. After the siege, Rebel forces retreated to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, with the Union army hard on their heels. Moses' regiment, the 1st Massachusetts Sharpshooters, had been attached to the 15th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry, Sedgwick’s Division, since April 1862. They traveled up the York River to West Point, arriving in the midst of the fighting there, then continued west through New Kent toward Richmond.
Some of my favorite letters in the collection were written during this time. Moses was especially reflective and honest after nearly a year of hard service. On 26 May 1862, he wrote to his mother Persis (Phipps) Hill:
Some times it looks rather dark and as if the war might last for some time yet, and some times It looks as if it might close soon. I supose you have seen all my letters that I have sent Eliza so I will not write meny poticulers but I can say I have seen some hard times....I am sick of fighting and shooting our Brother man.
Dear Mother I do not see such times as I use to when I could go to the old cupboard and eat of your cooking and eat my fill of boild vitils and custard pie and every thing that was good. I cannot have that now....I hope I shal live to come home and eat one good meal with you. How I would enjoy it.
Love to all, From your never forgetful Son Moses Hill
While Moses approached Richmond, two of his sister's sons, John and Albert Fales, were serving under Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks in the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Infantry, Company E, and currently fighting Stonewall Jackson's troops in the Shenandoah Valley. Moses worried about his nephews in his usual understated way:
They dont know what fighting is and I hope the[y] never will. I have seen enough of it and I hope I shal not see any more....It is not very agreeable.
Unfortunately, just days later, Moses would take part in the worst battle he had seen yet. The Battle of Seven Pines, otherwise known as the Battle of Fair Oaks, was fought from 31 May-1 June 1862 on the outskirts of Richmond. Moses described it to his wife Eliza in gruesome day-to-day detail:
The Surgents [surgeons] was cutting of[f] legs and armes, and dressing wounds all night. The grones was terible. I did not sleep that night. [31 May]
The dead and wonded lay one top of another when the Battle was through. The ded lay on all sides of us where they was kiled the day before. Along the fences they lay some with their faces up, and some with their fases down and in all shapes. It was a horable sight. [1 June]
The dead was about all buared today. Our armey did not bring meny shovels with them so it took some time....There was one on each side of where I slep that lay dead with in a few feet of me. They s[c]ented very bad. The magets was on them, but they burried them as fast as they could. [2 June]
If you see any body that complains of hardship tell them to come into this armey and they will begin to find out what it is.
Even in the darkest times, however, Moses never seemed to lose sight of the humanity of his enemy. He wrote about the Confederate soldiers captured by the Union army:
They Belonged to Georgia Alabamma North Carlonia. I went and talked with them. They said they wanted to get home. The ground was so wet that it was very uncomftible for them. I pitied them from the Bottom of my heart. The ground was most all coverd with water. One of them asked me for my pipe and I gave it to him to smoke.
McClellan failed to take the city of Richmond and was driven back by Robert E. Lee in the Seven Days Battles. Stay tuned to the Beehive for more!
**Image: "War Views. Panoramic View of Richmond, Va. From Libby Hill, looking west." Published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co. (New York, N.Y.). Original photographer unknown. From Adams-Thoron Photographs, MHS.
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