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.
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.
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.
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.
IN THE THICK OF IT
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.
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