Letter written by Corporal Emmet Irwin of Company C, 2nd NY State Militia (82nd NY Volunteer Infantry) to his sister, from a camp near Falmouth, VA. In this letter, Irwin condemns General Burnside, and fumes about the events at Fredericksburg. His regiment has just received marching orders. He believes they will be moving towards Washington. Irwin writes of the loss of Island No. 10, New Madrid, and the capture of the Aerial. He writes disparagingly of their commanders, his impressions of them were not helped by the outcome at Fredericksburg. He claims that the newspapers tell only lies about the spirits of the soldiers. He is determined not to see any more “blood and carnage” unless forced.
Camp near Fal Vir
I thought I would write you a few lines and tell you not to send the box I sent for if it is not already sent. We have received marching orders to be ready in 4 hours with 3 days rations in haversack, 5 in wagons, and 10 days meat on the hoof. I received a letter from Philip the other day. He is at Acquia Creek, Assistant Superintendent for unloading provisions. I have not see James since Christmas. We received the gloves.
I think when we move it will be towards Washington. Excuse bad writing as it is written in a hurry.
I received a letter from Nathaniel yesterday. He and his family are well. The namesake of mine, he says, I may be proud of. He begins to walk and talk. As I was to[o] late for the mail this morning, I did not put it in the bag. We have just received the news of the loss of Island No. 10, New Madrid, and the capture of the Aerial. This and the prospects now before us makes most of the men feel very disheartened. I have allowed some ideas to settle in my noodle though the incapacity of our numerous commanders
that I would have banished at the first thought two months ago. And the Fredericksburg disaster has in no way lessened these ideas. I feel as if I had gone through all these hardships and danger, witnessed scenes to[o] direful for the pen to tell, and all for what – naught! And the papers tell such notorious yarns, such as the army in the best of spirits and anxious to be again led against the enemy’s of their country, and other to[o] numerous to mention. Gen. Sumner is right when he says there is to[o] much croaking and want of confidence. At the present time we have in the field without the least doubt two [soldiers] to their one, and yet they keep us at bay at every point. I have seen all the blood and carnage I
ever hope to see. In short, I am determined not see much more unless forced to it. If our commanders felt as I feel, I think they would take a hold with more energy. They act to me as if they were satisfied they have a good position; nothing to do, big salary, and live like kings, and the longer it lasts the better for me. The weather at present looks like snow. We have had very warm [weather] for the last two weeks. Three of us have built a log house, and pass our time very comfortably in it. So much so we are loath to leave it. Please send me a package of envelopes and a quire of commercial note, as I am entirely out, and cannot get any here. It can be sent by mail. Enclose also some postage stamps. I will try write
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again the first opportunity. With this I close, remaining with much love, Your brother, Emmet
Give my love to all inquiring friends
Evening still finds us in camp, but every prospect of moving the morrow. It is now raining, and this also bids fair for continuing, which will make very hard traveling. The weather has been extremely favorable for winter campaigning; the roads being as yet quite hard. It was almost impossible for a man to get around last year at this time. Nathaniel’s wife thinks I must be pretty good pluck to get in all the engagements. She says if she was in my place, she would be sick once in a while, at about the time there was to be a fight. I don’t know
than about it would be a good plan, particular if I thought we were to be led in another Fredericksburg affair. For my part, I don’t see where Gen. Lee’s eyes could have been there, as they had us in a much worse place than we had them at Antietam, as they had their picked position at both places. The best idea that I can give you of their position at Fredericksburg is that of a range of hills, semi-circle in shape, and the city in the hollow and center. Here our troops laid in the streets so thick that it would be more of an accident if there was not some killed or wounded
at every shot of the enemy’s. Upon the crest of the hills is where their earthworks were thrown. The regt. was never before in such a hot place. For 2 o’clock until 12 P.M. the regt. laid in a ravine, death staring us square in the face. For at the head of the ravine they had a gun, from which every shot would strike in our ranks. That you imagine the pluck that a person must have. I will tell you the effect of a single shot. It struck in the company on our right killed 4, wounded 6, & killed 1 in the 34th N.Y.V., and wounded 3. The gun that these shots came from we could see very plainly, and it is only due to our artillery
that there were no more of us killed. The shots from our cannon drove the enemy from their gun. I think the correspondent of the N.Y. paper that says the troops have unbounded confidence in Gen.Burnside better not let himself known if he does not want some very unpleasant epithets applied which are now saved for the commanding general. But I have already written more than I intended, and will close hoping that I may meet with the same success as heretofore written, the move be backwards or forwards.
Remembrance to all
From Your Affec
Emmet M. Irwin, aged 19, enlisted in Company C, of the 2nd NY State Militia (82nd NY Volunteer Infantry) on May 21, 1861. He was promoted to corporal in 1862, then assigned to Co. C of the 12th Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps due to disability in 1863. He was discharged from the V.R.C. on May 23, 1864, at the expiration of his three year’s enlistment. He participated in the following battles: 1st Bull Run, Edward’s Ferry, Yorktown, West Point, Fair Oaks, Seven Day’s battles, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.