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Family history. A novel idea.

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The Missing Letters of Civil War Soldier Frederick Pettit, Part Four


After heavy losses at Spotsylvania, Lt. General Grant’s army met General Lee’s army in the Battle of North Anna, May 23-26. Fred Pettit’s letter to his parents tells of the infantry’s activities after leaving Spotsylvania. It is dated May 31st, the first day of the major battle of the campaign at Cold Harbor and two days before he was fatally wounded.

Tuesday May 31st 1864

Dear parents:  When I wrote last we were near Spotsylvania Court House about 12 miles from Fredericksburg. We left that place on the evening of the 21st and marched all night in a south easterly direction. The next day we continued our march. That night we rested. The next day we continued on and in the evening came up with the rest of the army on the North Anna river about 23 miles from Richmond. The rebels were making a stand on the other side of the river and heavy fighting was going on. We lay in the road all night. The next day we moved down to the river. In the evening we crossed the river a short distance above, wading it. Lay that night on the bank. The next morning we moved to the front and were put on picket. Heavy skirmishing all day. We had 10 men wounded. The next day we were relieved and went to the rear. 

At dark we recrossed the river on a temporary bridge and our brigade was sent up the river to another crossing. Here we found the 9th corps recrossing the river. We were ordered to put up breast works to hold the ford. By daylight the whole army had recrossed the river and was moving down its banks. The rebels appeared on the opposite bank about sunrise and skirmishing commenced across the river. We had 2 men wounded in our reg. About 10 o’clock the enemy withdrew their infantry and put out cavalry pickets and we did the same. Our corps then followed on down the river after the rest of the army. We moved very slowly on account of the large waggon (sic) train in our front. We stopped that night about midnight.

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 6.42.45 PM

Edwin Forbes drawing of the Union Army crossing the Pamunkey River, 1864

The next morning we moved at 9 o’clock and continued on all night. At daylight the next morning we crossed the Pamunkey river on a pontoon bridge and stopped for breakfast. We found the whole army at this place. About 8 o’clock we moved out about 3 miles from the river and commenced to fortify. The next morning (yesterday) we moved on after the rest of the army. ‘there was skirmishing in front all day yesterday. In the evening we moved to the front and relived (sic) a part of the 9th army corps. Sent out pickets and built breastworks during the night. Some firing occasionally. We are said to be within 11 or 12 miles of Richmond. Farther than this I know nothing of our position. Our breastworks are in the edge of a woods with an open field in front. Our pickets are in the edge of the woods on the opposite side of the field. 

My health is as good as usual. David Wilson is well. Captain Critchlow has been with us all the time and is all right yet. Lary, Pence, Hoge, Bird and the rest of us are well. I have not heard from J. P Wilson for some time. He was in the Hospital at Fredericksburg when I heard from him. I received a letter from Evan dated the 5th. This is the last I have heard from home. 

Two of our wounded have died in hospital one of them was my messmate Samuel H. Cleeland from near Portersville. He was about 17 years old and a very amiable intelligent boy. He was shot through the breast just below the heart. Thus far Co C has had 5 killed and 23 wounded. Through the mercy of an All wise Providence my life has been spared. My trust is still in Him. Write soon. Send some papers. The latest papers you have. 

Your affectionate son, Fred Pettit, Co C 10th P.V.

Screen Shot Battle of Cold Harbor

Battle of Cold Harbor by Kurz & Allison                 public domain

The Battle of Cold Harbor, fought near Mechanicsville, Virginia May 31 to June 12 1864, was one of the bloodiest, most lopsided battles in America’s history. Lt General Grant, assuming General Lee’s army was exhausted, ordered a frontal assault against strong defensive positions. As a result, thousands of Union soldiers were killed or wounded.

As Fred Pettit was withdrawing down the Shady Grove Church Road to a new position in the rear, he was wounded in the left arm. 72 men in his regiment were lost that day. After a time of recovery in the hospital he returned to the regiment, surprised and honored to have received a promotion. It was short-lived.

On July 9, 1864 near Petersburg, Virginia, while the young soldier was reading or writing he was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter.

After 9 months in a series of battles around Petersburg, Virginia Lt. General Grant laid siege to cut off supply lines and weaken the Confederate army. Lee finally abandoned Richmond and Petersburg in April 1865, leading to his retreat and surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Letters penned on the battlefields by soldiers of both sides reveal their fears and hopes, hardships and friendships, convictions, and dedication to the cause for which many laid down their lives.

“The Regiment is the place where every loyal able-bodied man should be,” wrote Pettit. “Hardships are half in the imagination. Thinking of your misery won’t help. Complaining won’t help. Always keep cheerful.” He said it was their duty to endure.

General Robert E. Lee said, “It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”

Screen Shot 3rd letteer

Fred Pettit’s May 31, 1864 letter and envelope with 3 cent stamp

Interesting reading:

Infantryman Pettit: The Civil War Letters of Corporal Frederick Pettit, late of Company Co  100th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment, “The Roundheads,” 1862-1864 Edited by William Gilfillan Gavin

An Eye for Glory by Karl Bacon, a novel inspired by the letters of Frederick Pettit


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The Missing Letters of Civil War Soldier Frederick Pettit, Part Three

Infantryman Frederick Pettit dips his pen one last time. There is just enough ink to finish a final exhortation before signing off. The words are barely legible but he is able to fill one more page of the letter to his sister. It is May 2, 1864 and he writes from the campsite of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at Bealton (Bealeton) Station.

Pettit begins his letter by encouraging his sister with personal views about the teaching profession in the 1800s. He then describes the regiment’s movement through areas desolated by war.

Interesting is a mention of being reviewed by President Lincoln as they marched past Willard Hotel which was located in the center of Washington DC at 14th St and Pennsylvania Ave. The Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C. during civil war Image source: WikiCommons

They crossed the Potomac on the Long Bridge. The original, built in 1808, was replaced in 1863 by a stronger structure 100 feet down river. It was used during the Civil War by the Union Army, mostly to provide access to the city for wounded soldiers. The photo shows the bridge in 1865 looking toward Washington D.C.

Long Bridge 1865 looking toward Washington DC Image source: Wikimedia Commons Public domain

Pettit’s regiment marched across or camped on sites in Virginia where battles had raged two years earlier, like Bull Run and Chantilly. The Union Army had retreated from there to Centreville which, at various times, was a supply depot for both sides and was the site of the the construction of the first railroad built exclusively for the military.

Another campsite was at Fairfax Court House where during an earlier battle two generals were killed, and after the battle at Bristoe Station the Union Army had retreated to Warrenton. The photo show the court house in 1863 with Union soldiers guarding from the rooftop.

Fairfax Court House, VA - with Union soldiers - Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Pettit saw much devastation of land, buildings and fences but does not give details to his sister but does remark that the residents in these places were just starting to rebuild after two years.


Bealton Station, VA  May 2nd 1864

Dear sister Mary, 

I received your most welcome letter of the 16th ultimo on the 29th when near Warrenton Junction. I was glad to hear from you as I did not know why you did not write. Mr. Thompson is certainly very unfortunate in securing a permanent position. His qualifications as a teacher are appreciated by very few. The day is coming when a mere knowledge of books will not be a certificate of scholarship. Pedagogues of the class now installed at Poland will soon pass away and live thinking teachers will take their places.

I think it would be a great advantage to you to get employment in some permanent school as assistant teacher if you intend to make it a business. Perhaps the best plan would be to get employment as assistant and pupil also. For a year or two you might not make much but i think it would pay best. Try and get in some permanent institution. Teaching will soon be a recognized profession and those who follow it must qualify themselves for it and follow it.

Sargent Sehart of Co. D has returned since I wrote to you. He asked me one day if I had any relations living in Ohio. I said I had some cousins there. He said he saw two ladies in New Brighton by the name of Pettit and they knew me. That they obtained one of his photographs to look at and kept it. He said he learned they lived in Ohio. I showed him your photograph and he said it was the lady that got his and wanted to know if I wrote to her. I told him I had received a letter from her and that she was now in Ohio. This was all.

Perhaps you are wondering how this letter comes to you from Virginia and the other one was from Md. Well we have been marching. On Saturday April 23rd we left Annapolis for Washington. That day we marched 13 miles. The next day Sunday we marched 20 miles. On Monday we reached Washington about noon. After resting about an hour near the city we marched through it being reviewed while passing Willards Hotel by president Lincoln. 

We crossed the Potomac on the long bridge and camped for the night near the Convalescent camp above Alexandria. The distance marched in the three days was about 50 miles, and considering everything was a hard march. We were obliged to throw away our overcoats as we could not carry them. On Tuesday 26th we did not move but started again on Wednesday morning. On our way we passed Fairfax Seminary. That night we camped at Fairfax Court House. This part of Virginia looks very desolate indeed. The buildings and fences are almost all destroyed, though the inhabitants are beginning to make some improvement this spring.

The next day we continued our march passing Centerville (which is desolation itself) and within sight of the battle fields of Chantilly & Bulls Run, crossing the latter stream about noon just below the first battleground. 

In the afternoon we came to Mannassass Junction where we found the Penna. Reserves doing guard duty. That night we camped at Bristoe Station. During the day we saw all the boys from our neighborhood in the reserves. They are all well, and have been stationed here since January. 

Our division of negroes relieved them and they started on for the port the next day.

The next day Friday we continued on down the railroad our Corps relieving the 5th Corps which has been guarding the road all winter. Friday night we camped near Warrenton Junction. The next day we came on to this place 3 miles farther. Our company was immediately detailed to relieve the pickets along the railroad. 

I was placed on post at a culvert about half a mile from the station. The only danger is from guerrillas who are constantly prowling about to pick up stragglers, capture railroad trains, or whatever other mischief they can find to do.

We remained on picket until Sunday morning when we were relieved, and rejoined the regiment. We immediately moved to a new camp put up our quarters and rested a while. In the evening we had a short sermon by the chaplain.

This morning I was engaged washing my clothes and this afternoon am answering your letter. Bealton Station is about l6 miles from the Rappahannoc river and about 50 from Alexandria. Within the last 10 days we have marched about 100 miles. Most of the boys stood it very well except getting very sore feet. Milo Wilson is sick with the Typhoid fever. The rest of us are all well.

You wished to know what called my attention to the subject of baptism. It was reading a book called The Confession of a convert from baptism in water to baptism with water. By examining Bible passages relating to the subject I think there is very poor authority for immersion. 

Direct your letters to Washington D.C. 

Your brother,

Fred Pettit

Co C 100th P.V.

After many days of marching across devastated battlefields and two days after Pettit wrote this letter, his weary regiment crossed the Rapidan River. The brigade was heavily engaged against Lee’s army in the Battle of the Wilderness from May 5-7 1864. This was the first of a series of battles in Virginia. There were severe losses during May and June on both sides. May 8-21 the 100th Regiment suffered its worst casualties of the entire war at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

In next month’s blog I will post the letter Pettit wrote ten days after Spotsylvania, one of his last letters to his parents.


Images Source: Wikimedia Commons

Original hand-written letter is in my possession


The Missing Letters of Civil War Soldier Frederick Pettit, Part Two



Three letters, currently in my possession, are missing in the sense that they were not included in the book, “Infantryman Pettit: The Civil War Letters of Corporal Frederick Pettit, late of Company C, 100th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the Roundheads, 1862-1864”, edited by William G. Gavin, 1990. The letters in the book were from a collection of typed copies, the location of the originals being unknown at the time.

The “missing” letters, had they been available, would have filled some gaps and given further insight into the soldier’s character. They are hand written with pen and ink on simple lined paper, folded in half. The soldier must have taken care as there are no smudges and his penmanship is very legible. You can make your own conclusions about him, considering his grammar and introspections.

Off to Join the Roundheads

This letter was written from the farm of Fred Pettit’s family in Hazel Dell in Pennsylvania on August 19, 1862, the day before the twenty year old was sworn into the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment (referred  to as the “Roundheads”) at New Castle, Pennsylvania. Recognized as a “Fighting Regiment,” they were to suffer many casualties during the war.

Hazel Dell August 18th ’62

Miss M. A. Pettit

Dear sister,

It is now some time since I wrote to you, and having a little spare time this morning I thought I would write you a few lines. In my last letter I told you I intended to enlist in the army as soon as we finished harvesting. We have finished harvesting & I have enlisted in the 100th (Roundhead) Reg’t Co. C, Captain Cornelius. Cap Hamilton is in New Castle recruiting. He sends a squad to the Reg. this week and I have been ordered to report at New Castle tomorrow. From there I will go to Harrisburg where we will be equipped and forwarded immediately to the Reg’t. I do not know any person that is going with me. i have heard there are 8 going from Perry T/s but I do not know who they are. The Roundheads are in Burnside’s Division. The last time we heard from them they were at Fredericksburg, VA. J. Shoemaker, J. Leech, P. Clinefelter, Rob. Breckinridge & Joe Morehead went in the 9 months one (illegible) week before last. Three Co. have gone from Laurence Co. They are still at Harrisburg. Some persons here are very much scared about the draft. Some are sick some lame, some almost blind. So I have enlisted to serve the time of the Reg’t about 2 years. Do not be troubled about my going. I believe I go in the discharge of duty. I believe the rebels are not only fighting against our country but also against the truth of the Almighty. And I farther believe that if we go forth to battle trusting in His strength we shall conquer. Give my respects to Professors Thompson & family & to all inquiring friends. Good by Mary until we meet above.

Your affectionate brother F. Pettit

P.S. Grandfathers and the rest of the folks are all well      F.P.

photograph from Find A Grave website

— to be continued

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The Missing Letters of Civil War Soldier Frederick Pettit, Part One

Civil war letters

I hold a treasure in my hand, one of three pieces of history that have come to me, letters written by a young, literate Civil War solider. They peaked my interest because my great grandmother saw her three brothers march off to war. Two returned wounded, the third never made it home. I’ve wondered what they might have written to their sister and parents.

In a letter dated August 18, 1861, addressed to his sister, this particular soldier tells of his enlistment with the Union army and that he was on his way to report for duty. “Do not be troubled about my going,” he assures her. “I believe I go in the discharge of duty, I believe the rebels are not only fighting against our country but also against the truths of the Almighty. And I further believe that if we go forth to battle trusting in His strength we shall conquer.” Like the Confederates he would fight against, he was willing to lay down his life for the cause he believed in. The solider wrote he had seen the scared, sick, lame, and blind. He must have been aware of his mortality as he ends his letter with “until we meet above, Your affectionate brother.”

In the one dated May 2, 1864, he writes his sister of a personal matter, then gives a detailed description of his company’s march on April 23rd, its encampment on the Potomac and details of their movement through the end of the month.

The final letter, in its original envelope with a 3 cent stamp postmarked Washington D.C., was written to his parents on May 31, 1864. He writes of skirmishes and crossing the Pamunky River on a pontoon bridge near Richmond, VA and the sad news of the death of his 17 year old messmate, “an amiable and intelligent boy. He was shot through the breast just below the heart.”

Sad to say, this was one of his last letters home as he was killed by a sharpshooter a few weeks later.

I have touched history. It has touched me and I cannot help but ask: Did he sit upon a carpet of grass under a tree as he wrote this letter home? Did he hear sounds of war in the distance, the moaning of the sick and dying nearby? Did the smell of sweat and blood overpower the fragrance of spring blooms? I only know what he has written and it is enough. For now.

My research is turning up some very interesting information on this soldier. I hope to post further quotes from the three letters, a photo, and more in a future blog.