A “New” Letter from a Soldier of Company I, 47th Virginia on the Eve of Battle

Tom Elmore

1st Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
Many years ago I copied a letter that had been printed in Virginia Country’s Civil War, Middleburg, VA: The Country Publishers, Inc., 1986, vol. 5, p. 61. It was from a soldier named John W. Watson, described as being with the 47th North Carolina in Pettigrew’s brigade. That copy has since resided in my files. However, today, having a reason to identify Watson’s company from his service records (Fold3), alas, his name did not appear. Neither did Lewis Payne, whom Watson mentioned as being in his company. A little cross-checking revealed the truth: John W. Watson, Lewis Payne and three others mentioned by Watson were actually members of Company I, 47th Virginia, in Brockenbrough’s brigade. The letter (with some slight corrections for clarity) is recopied below:

“The State of Pennsylvania, Franklin County

June the 29th, 1863

My Dear Wife,

I sit myself down with grief and trouble to write you a few lines to let you know where I am and how I am. I am well as could be expected after such a long wearisome march that we have taken, from 1 mile below Fredericksburg, up through the valley of Virginia, across the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, and marching through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. We got there Friday, June 26 about 2 o’clock and marched again on Saturday and camped near the mountain about 65 miles from Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. I don’t know whether we are going there or not; it is impossible for us to know where we are going until we get there. We rested Sunday, and are ready to march this morning, but we are here yet awaiting further orders.

I read a letter from Stafford County yesterday, from Mrs. Lucy Boller to her brother Lewis Payne, in our company. She says he would not know the place when he got in sight of it, says the place is cut down and burned up so that it is a desolate-looking place. My dear Margaret, I would have been the gladdest of all things if I had known that Willy Payne was going to Stafford, [allowing] time enough to have written to you all, but by the time I knew he was going he was gone. And I wrote one and left it at Aunt Susan Blescham to send to you at the first opportunity. You must write to me as soon as you get this and let me hear from you, and mother and father, and all the family around. Let me hear what the Yankees have done in Stafford. Give my love to mother and father, and all the family, and to Aunt Peggy and Mary, and to all inquiring friends if I have any, but keep the greatest portion for yourself. I have been tempted to run away and come home; I do so dislike [the idea], but if I had known this when I was at Spotsylvania, I should have come home for a while. I would give the world to be with you all, but we are a long way apart at this present time. But I trust in God that I shall live to see you all again. I shall live in hope, if I die in despair. We are now in enemy country. We know not what will befall us, for some of our soldiers have done mighty bad since they have been here, but orders was read out last evening prohibiting any private property being taken – only by the quartermasters. James P. Bloseham [Bloxham] is well and sends his love to you all, and says he wants to send a letter home. Payton Jones sends best respects to you all and to father’s family. You must excuse this letter being written with a pencil, for ink is hard to get. Nothing more at present, but remain your sincere and affectionate husband until death. John W. Watson”

(From Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg, by John W. Busey and Travis W. Busey, 3:1721-1722) Sergeant John William Watson was wounded in the right thigh on July 1, being admitted to Chimborazo Hospital #1 in Richmond on July 30. He returned to duty on November 2, 1863. Born at Brooke Station in Stafford County, Virginia, this 29-year-old farmer enlisted as a private on March 8, 1862 at Aquia Creek, in that county. He was promoted to first corporal prior to December 24, 1862, and to first sergeant prior to May 3, 1864, when he died of pneumonia at General Hospital #2 in Lynchburg, Virginia. He was buried there, leaving $31 in effects.

(From Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg, by John W. Busey and Travis W. Busey, 3:1722) Private Lewis Payne was captured, either on July 3, or at Chambersburg on July 5. He died a prisoner at Point Lookout on December 8 or 23, 1863, and may be buried in that cemetery as “S. Payne” of Company I, 42nd Virginia. This 19-year-old laborer from Stafford County enlisted March 7, 1862 at Aquia Creek.

(Service records; Fold 3) William T. Payne was a private in Company I through early 1863, and subsequently was promoted to sergeant. He was appointed as the regiment’s ensign dated to April 28, 1864, and had received a gunshot in his right forearm by August 20, 1864.

(Service records; Fold3) James P. Bloxham enlisted as a private in Company I on May 8, 1862, at Aquia Creek. On December 17, 1864, he was retired from active service by a medical examining board.

(Service records; Fold3) John Payton Jones enlisted as first corporal in Company I on April 22, 1862 at Stafford Courthouse. He was promoted to sergeant by June 1862. On November 26, 1863 he was elected as second lieutenant, and afterwards became the first lieutenant in the company.

(Comments on the march route) Watson stated that he crossed the line into Pennsylvania at 2 p.m. on June 26. Robert Douglass, of Company F in the same regiment, recorded the moment in his diary as “about 3 p.m.,” when they crossed from Maryland into Franklin County, Pennsylvania, on the road between Leitersburg and Waynesboro. On June 27, the regiment passed through Waynesboro and Fayetteville, and camped near Greenwood. On June 29, they crossed over South Mountain and halted near Cashtown by mid-afternoon, allowing time for Watson to write home.)

(Comments on Stafford County, Virginia) The Army of the Potomac was camped in the county prior to embarking on the Gettysburg campaign. George Thayer of the 2nd Massachusetts later recalled: “Under the winter’s [1862/1863] demand for house timber and fuel, the trees had disappeared as far as the eye could reach. Fields showed the neglect of cultivation. The court town was a shadow of a village, without trade or society.” On June 14 or 15, as the Federal army moved northward toward Pennsylvania, the county courthouse and jail were burned, for no apparent military reason. Thus it comes as no surprise that some members of Company I, 47th Virginia, were intent on doing some “mighty bad” things when they first entered Pennsylvania, in retribution.
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