Letter written by Captain Alfred J. Sofield of Company A, 149th PA Volunteer Infantry “Bucktails,” to his wife, from a camp near Belle Plain, VA. Sofield describes an army corps review by President Lincoln, where he was able to see the president as well as his wife and children. He writesabout his potential promotion to major, though Sofield received the majority of votes from the officers, it was Captain John Irvine who was elected to the position. Sofield describes a recent ride to Falmouth, and how he stood along the bank of the Rappahannock River and gazed towards Fredericksburg. The Confederate and Union pickets are on opposite sides of the river, within speaking distance. Sofield writes about visiting the Lacy House and White Oak Church.
Camp near Bell Plain, Va
April 12, 1863
My Dear Wife
I rec’d yours of the 7th inst. by this evening’s mail, and you were right in thinking I was anxious to hear from the boys. I wrote you a short letter on Tuesday last in which I stated that I was not well, or rather that I was lame. I have entirely recovered.
On the 9th inst. our army corps was reviewed by the president. Our regiment left camp about 8 o’clock in the morning en rout for Bell Plain (about 4 miles distant) arrived about 10 o’clock, were about the first on the ground, which gave us an opportunity of seeing the other regiments as they came in, and I can assure you it was a sight worth seeing. Well, about 12 o’clock the president arrived. I think there was in the neighborhood of fifteen thousand present. Mrs. Lincon and her two sons were on the ground. Mrs. L. was in a carriage and I did not get sight of her. To see him she looked, but the boys were in review and they stopped just in front of our regt., and I being in front of the regt., had a good look at them, and could not discover any particular difference between them and others of their age
The president was on horseback. He rode along the whole line with his hat off. I think he is looking better than when I last saw him at Washington. I would have given a good deal to have had you and the boys there on the occasion.
You ask what about the major. Well, there is a considerably about it, and I will tell all about it. Soon after we came here the col. [Stone] was about to appoint Capt. Osborne [Co. F] to act as major until Speer returned. The capts had a meeting and agreed to tell Col. Dwight that that would not answer. We done so, and it blackened the game. A day or two after that we appointed another meeting to take into consideration what was best to do in the premises – as Col. Stone had issued an order saying that promotions should be made by appointment, and not according to seniority. Well, it so happened that I had to go on picket at the time of the second meeting, and my friend Capt. Irvine [Co. B] was also absent, but the other eight officers met and agreed to take a vote, agreeing that the man having the most votes should be declared the unanimous choice, and that they would pledge themselves to go in for his appointment. Well, they took a vote. There was two others nominated. I received six votes, and the others one each. They then drew up a writing according to the agreement and all signed it. Capt. McCullough took charge of the papers and
says he publish it in his morning report book. That the book was taken to headquarters in the morning, and that was the last that was ever seen of it. Thus the matter rested until Major Speer was discharged. Then Col. Dwight said we must have an election, and appointed it on the 10th instant. I know that Col. Stone, & Col. Dwight were both in favor of Capt. Osborne, and I knew that they thought they could manage to have him elected, or else they would have stuck to their order – that is, have had it given by appointment. And thinking so, I concluded I would not take part in the election, but would do what I could to defeat Osborne. I attended at opening of the meeting, and stated to them that I was not a candidate, and should take no part in the election, but should insist upon my appointment by the governor, by virtue of being the senior captain, and also by virtue of having been declared the choice of the regiment by the former meeting. I then left, but before I went in Capt. Irvin & myself had done what we could to secure his election at the meeting, and we succeeded. Capt. Irvin was elected. Well, now the col. says he will not recommend Capt. Irvin at present, and I am of opinion he will not recommend anyone but Capt. Osborne. I have written to Wilson at Harrisburg a full statement of the case and asked him to attend to it for me. What the result will be remains to be seen.
Yesterday I took a ride over to Falmouth. Falmouth is about 9 miles from our camp and about a mile up the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. I went down the bank of the river opposite Fredericksburg, and stood there about an hour. It was a beautiful day and I had a splendid view of the city and surrounding country. The river at Fredericksburg is about as wide as the Tioga River at Tioga, could hear the Rebels talk quite plainly. Our pickets are on one side of the river and theirs on the other, in speaking distance of each other. They are not, however, permitted to talk to one another. While standing there, about 20 Rebels came down to the river with a fish net and they came out more than half way across. I visited the Lacy house about which you have read a considerable during the war, but what about it I can’t recollect. It is a very large house standing on the bank of the river opposite Fredericksburg. If you remember for which it is noted, tell me in your next. About half way between our camp & Fredericksburg stands the famous White Oak Church, and it is in perfect keeping with everything else in this country. It looks precisely like a moderate farmer’s barn; no steeple, and in fact has no resemblance to a church. I send you a piece of it; the piece I send is not oak, but the frame of the building is of white oak, and from that takes its name. No paymaster yet. expect him every day. I rec’d a letter from Capt. Bryden yesterday. He started for home on Saturday last. Platt Irvin visited me today. He is checking for a battle about one mile this side of Fredericksburg. He is getting $40.00 a month. I must now close, and the next letter I shall direct to Hillsboro. Kiss the boys & have them kiss you for me.
Alfred J. Sofield was a clerk/justice of the peace in Wellsboro, PA when he enrolled as a Union Army Officer. He served in the Civil War as Captain and commander of Company A of the 149th PA Volunteer Infantry. During the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, he was stationed along Chambersburg Pike north of the McPherson Farm. His unit under artillery fire from the Confederate batteries on Herr Ridge, and was struck by a round, which killed him as well as Private Edwin D. Dimmick and Corporal Nathan H. Wilcox.