Letter from Israel M. Groff, from Camp near Belle Plains, December 23, 1862

Camp near Belle Plains
December 23rd, 1862

Friend Abraham:

Your kind letter was received last Wednesday a week ago in the evening when I was sitting in front of my tent by the fire, we had orders to take up our line of march that night at 11 o’clock for Fredericksburg–the night was cold and the ground was covered with snow.  my boy held the light while I perused its interesting pages after which I lay down to take some rest before starting.  This was at our next camp after leaving Brook Station which place we left only a few before in that snow—-it was very cold there—the ground is froze so hard our trains rolled over the top–I had no idea it got so cold here–indeed it seemed colder that at home in December.  we had hard time from the time we left that night until a few days ago.  we left according to order at 11o’clock that night and marched to the river about a mile below Fredericksburg where they were putting across several pontoon bridges.  We had to lay there until morning without fire for fear of the enemy shells and their knowledge of our presence we almost froze–Before daylight however, the Ball opened across the river such cannonading was not heard since the days of Savastopol.  it continued all day.  the enemy however replied slowly and refused to show themselves in any strength they only came up in small squads to fire on our engineers as they were putting up the bridge we got but few wounds to dress up that day.  Troops were pouring in all day and by night all was alive with soldiers for miles around. Our force was estimated over 100 000 men. three bridges were built across at this place and on our right near Fredericksburg.  I know not how many. at night our division crossed over, next morning ours crossed and took position on the left and moved about half a mile down the river where we lay undisturbed during the night.   next morning we moved still farther down the river. Our batteries were now briskly engaged with the rebels. we selected our hospital site for the division near a stone mill sheltered by a hill from the Batteries of the rebels.  Surgeons were disposed off–some to go on the field and others stay at the Hospital.  It became my lot to be ordered with my Reg. on the field.  I left my darkey and horse at a safe place Behind a hill and took the rest of the way on foot with a few of our Reserve (?) skirmishers.  When I got on the field our Division was laying down behind some of our Batteries who were pouring shot and shell into the enemy.  They replied slowly and did no show themselves much but before I was there half an hur two shots came very near me. The Generals now consulted and a forward move was ordered.  Our boys went forward steadily–soon the rebels opened on them a more gualling fire.  Our boys charged on not firing until quite near them when they gave them such a volley that put them to flight–Ours drove them through their camp and some of the boys brought our rebel haversacks with biscuits; but when they got to their reserve commanded by Old StoneWall our boys could no longer stand the terrific fire they looked back for their support—they parayed for help–but looked and prayed in vain.  Gen. Birney’s division was to support some but they fell back and did not come up as ordered. We could no longer hold our position and the boys fell back in confusion and were all cut to pieces. Oh it was horrible in the extreme.  The boys were in many hot fires but they saw none like this.  Our Divis. lost 2200.  On our right I believe the fire was as bad and loss heavy too.  Our Divis. was on the left and about the rest I know but little.  Our Reg., the Bucktails and some others were awfully cut up.  Gen. Jackson commanding our Brigade, now the 3rd was killed also several of his aids or staff killed and wounded.  Lieut. Col. Dare(?) commanding our Regiment was wounded–Major Zentmyer wounded and taken prisoner.  Adjutant Zentmyer killed–Capt. Collins was snior officer now but shot through the arm.  Capt. Lorimer then took command and escaped by having a few balls through his garments.  several other Capt. and Lieut. were killed and wounded scarcely any one escaped of our Reg. without some mark. When the fire got too hot my Skirmishers fled and I retreated to the Hospital to assist in dressing  the wounded there, for I could do nothing on the field now when I got to the Hospital the scene was horrid–there they lay stretched out in beds of cornfodder by the hundred bathed in blood along that hillside all waiting and crying for water and the doctor—they were carried in one continued line from field to Hospital.  The Hospital was not even safe.  The Bucktail surgeon was wounded and his nurse killed while dressing wounds.  I made some narrow escapes that day.  I dressed wounds until 12 o’clock that night then laid down to take some rest on mother earth.  Fortunately it was quite warm for a few days or many might have died from the cold.  That night we got most of our wounded across the river.  I dreaded the next day for I feared another awful fight, I hope I may never see another such wholesale slaughter for its heart sickening indeed.  I have enough of it. For several days there were skirmishes and shelling but no general engagement.  On Tuesday evening we went out with a flag of truce and got some some wounded and dead most of the dead were stripped of their clothes.  That night we retreated in silence across the river.  in the morning the pickets hurried double quick to get in the last boat. We lay this side of the river and when the rebels seen our trick they made us git right smart in confederate language by opening a few batteries on us.  Our Brigade moved off before I was aware of it—I never packed up and moved off quicker than I did on this occasion, for several cannon balls went right over my head–I put spurs to Dixie and soon was out od site. my horse is not half as much afraid of shells as his master, and I not as much as some.  we fell back a few miles for a few days then moved to this place where we are scattered in woods by Regiments and from appearances I think we will go into winter quarters here.  I am comfortably situated now but until we got here I did not get into a tent to sleep for ten days.  I slept on the ground which was covered with snow sometimes.  I was very tired of soldiering and felt like going home.  But now I feel better again. I have a new tent and everything arranged nicely.  I am all alone now with regiment Dr. lane was left back at the Hospital and has now gone to Washington to surgeon of the 4th Reg.. I am Boss myself now.  I have _________ of staying now until we go out of quarters or a little while longer then resign and come home.  I do now wish any more winter campaign.  I would like to take my practice again by the 1st of March.  I think I can now settle down in life a more contented man.  I have not heard of Levi lately.  I do not know whether he has been in the fight.  My box from home is at Washington.  I expect to get it soon. There are no arraignments yet to send things any farther than Washington but I hope there will be soon.  Then you can send yours. I will let you know. Sour Kraut ____ on anything would taste good here for we get little of that kind here.  we had nothing this long time but beef, pork, crackers and sugar and coffee but my appetite is so good I enjoy my meals with much Gusto—I can have anything sent by express as soon as things are fixed when I will let you know. Let me hear from you soon–I have no more time or space.


Israel M. Groff.

I will soon write again when this is answered.