• Kendrick Gibbs

Letter from the Battle of Cedar Mountain - 46th Pennsylvania

On August 9, 1862, the seasoned combat veterans of the 46th Pennsylvania took heavy casualties in a direct assault on Confederate positions along high ground near near Culpeper, Virginia. For these men of northern Pennsylvania, the Battle of Cedar Mountain became the stuff of legend and horrible nightmare.

An image taken on the Cedar Mountain battlefield in the days after the fight. (LOC)

A 3,600 combined Union and Confederate casualties accumulated in the late afternoon and early evening hours of August 9th. The heavily out-numbered Union forces took heavy casualties during their assaults on the Confederate positions. The 46th Pennsylvania suffered 30 killed, 34 wounded, and 6 captured during the battle; a good example of the Union regimental experience during the Battle of Cedar Mountain.


After the battle, a soldier wrote to his hometown paper about what he saw on the battlefield in August 1862:


Near Culpepper, Aug. 11, 1862.

DEAR SIR: -- One of the bloodiest battles was fought on Saturday the 9th inst., since the war commenced. The time was short, but the determination with which our men fought on that memorable day will long be remembered showing the valor of the American soldier. The men fought with desperation, clubbing muskets, and in many instances hand to hand conflicts. Gen. Bank’s corps sustained the brunt of the battle, holding the ground until relieved by Gen. McDowel’s [sic] corps.


About eight o’ clock in the night, the rebels came up with artillery and cavalry, opening a destructive fire into our ranks. Gen. McDowell ordered up two batteries. Which opened on them, making the ground tremble. Our shells had a powerful effect on them causing them to beat a hasty retreat, leaving their dead on the field. I counted twenty horses, laying where the battery was stationed and a number of men, amongst them two officers. One proved to be the Adjutant General of Jackson’s staff.


One of the officers had his head torn from the body, showing the destructiveness of our fire. Our loss was severe, not less than 2,000. Amongst these are many valuable officers. Gen. Geary was wounded in the arm. Gen. Augur was severely wounded. Col. Knipe of the 46th Pa. Regiment was dangerously wounded whilst leading his regiment to charge on a battery.


Here is where our men suffered a heavy loss, turning the fortunes of the day. The 46th Pennsylvania, 5th Conn., and 28th N.Y., were ordered to charge on the battery and take it if possible. The rebel infantry was concealed in woods, our men not seeing them, thought the Battery could be taken with but little loss of life, the order was given to fix bayonets and charge, on the started; but they were mistaken. They were almost surrounded with three times their number, it was plainly to be seen that desperation was the order of the day.


Our men fell in scores, the rattle of musketry and the roar of artillery at the critical moment, was deafening. The pitiful cries of the wounded could plainly be heard. The three regiments above named lost, according to what I can learn, one half their number. The rebel loss was full as heavy as ours, according to the number of graves. Gen. Winder was killed and many more of their officers.


We have taken a number of prisoners. They all agree in the statement they are poorly clad and fed, and feel satisfied to be prisoners. They left many of their dead on the field, requesting us to bury them, which is being done. – Our dead and wounded were stripped of their clothing whenever they could find them.


The most powerful army we have in the field is concentrating here. Not less than 100,000 troops are close here, and more are coming every day, no one could believe how efficient the army of Virginia is becoming, and the strength it has accumulated. Since Gen. Pope has been in command only a few weeks ago, it was a scattered remnant, and now one of the strongest armies in the Union, which will be put in motion in a few days to drive old Stonewall out of the Valley, and be hurled down upon Richmond, co-operating with McClellan, putting an end to the designs of those who are striving to destroy our liberties and insult our flag.


Gen. Sigel is here, a better man never lived, he will fight the traitors on the advance and whip them on the retreat. It has been rumored in camp that Gen. Burnsides was marching here. He is in the neighborhood of Fredericksburg. I am afraid that if he meets old Jack, he will give him such a whipping that he will never return to give us another chance.


We read in the daily papers of the rapid progress in sending recruits to fill up the old regiments and companies which we so much need at the present time. But I feel sorry to say, that so few arrive. Do not put it off too long. The harvest will soon be past, the summer ended and our country not saved.


We had 140 men when we came to Washington more than a year ago and now we have only 75 report for duty, so you can see how it goes, and the call is so urgent to fill up the old regiments. The men in this department are healthy, considering the inconvenience and necessaries we are deprived of. We have no tents, nothing but shelters and when it rains get all wet. The soldiers express a desire to stay until the war is over, with but few exceptions.


I will mention for the benefit of those who have friends in the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment, that but few were killed or wounded; as they did not get on the field until the hardest of the battle was over. I believe that no one was hurt from Sunbury & vicinity. I must close, thanking you for sending me the American.


W.M.T.

Confederate Battery positions with slight high ground advantage. Cedar Mountain can be seen in the background. The break in the farm field is where contemporary U.S. Rt. 15 cuts through the battlefield. Image taken by author in January 2019 at Cedar Mountain.

It is unknown who W.M.T. might be within the regiment, but since he was writing to the Sunbury newspaper, we know he must've been in Co. K, the company in the regiment from Northumberland County. There are two men with the first initial "W" and the last initial "T". One of the those men has a different middle initial and was wounded at Cedar Mountain. The author does not mention being wounded during the fight. The other W.T. on the roster does not provide a middle name or initial. The author remains unknown.


"Letter from Culpepper Battlefield," Sunbury American, August 23, 1862.

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