Letter from Thomas McKean, from Camp Pierpont, December 22, 1861

Camp Pierpont,
Dec. 22nd, 1861.

Dear Rachel – I wrote you a few hurried lines night before last, after our return from the field of battle when I was almost too tired to think. I have not got over the fatigue yet, for my legs ache as though they had been pounded. I gave you most of the facts connected with the fight in my last, but I believe I did not give the relative strength of the two armies. On our side were six regiments, numbering about 4,000 men. On theirs were four regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and a battery of six pieces of artillery.

They knew of our coming and had what they supposed was enough to drive us off. Theirs were their best troops – Two South Carolina regiments, the 1 st and the 6 th one Alabama – One composed of Kentuckians and Marylanders, and one of Virginia Cavalry. We probably outnumbered them a few hundred. They had the choice of position, and two pieces of artillery more than we had.

If I had any curiosity to see a battle it has been entirely satisfied there is no fun about it – All solid ernest. The Musicians’ Duty is the hardest and most disagreeable. The sight of so much blood sickened me, as I expected it would, but I worked away, they abandoned all their dead, and a part of their wounded. We carried in all their wounded, and our surgeons attended them. Of course you will want to know how I felt under fire. I felt worse before the firing commenced than I did afterwards and if there had been a hole convenient, I am afraid I would crawled into it. After we came in view of their battery, and they opened fire on us, I felt much easier, and I believe I felt cool. I noticed some of the band in front of me dodging every time a shell came near, and I know I thought how foolish they were. One who was behind me says I dodged like the rest.

If I did it was perfectly involuntarily, one shell burst directly over the band, about fifteen feet high, not one of the fragments struck near us. Shells, shot, and grape kept up a lively music over our heads for about five minutes. After our regiment got out of the field into the woods, we were safe enough, for their artillery aimed for our battery, which we were supporting, I will not sicken you with any attempt to describe the scenes and incidents of the battle that came under my observation. This is the first fight the reserve has been in, and it is very gratifying to know that our men behaved admirably. Gen. Ord is very much pleased, and so is Gen. McCall. We are well pleased with Col. McCalmont’s Behavior. I never saw him any calmer than he was in hottest of fire. Gen. Ord is the right mettle, too. He as every where, the man we hired to play second lead in our band was to see us yesterday. He will come as soon as he can get his transfer. He thinks he will get it this week when he comes I can get away, I believe, without trouble. As it is now, if I would leave, the band would stop, and I know it would be no use for me to ask for a furlough under such circumstances. I will come home at all events, after next pay day, which will be about the 10 th of January. You must try to get along until then without me, I know it will be a bitter disappointment to you not to have me home at the time you expected. But there are other things to be consulted besides our wishes and hopes. Tom Rodgers’ Trunk has not got to camp yet, so I have not got the pictures. He left it at Browns Hotel in Washington and he cannot get it brought up. He will go after himself this week. Give my love to all, and kisses the children.

Ever Yours,