6th Vermont Infantry
Casper Honorus Dean (1841-1936)
Camp in the Wilderness
Warwick Co,. Va
April 15th 1862
I received your kind and welcome letter the night before last. Now I take my pen in hand to inform you where I am and would have done so before had I supposed my letters would have gone through without delay. I suppose you want to know nearly all that has transpired with us since we left camp near Newport News. I will tell you to the best of my knowledge.
Apr 4th we started on our march with three days rations in our haversacks. I did not feel very well because I had the toothache all night before. We marched to Youngs' Mills, at which place the rebels had fortified sometime before. When we got there they had all gone but a few cavalry scouts. We marched very cautiously for fear of running into a trap. We halted very often while scouts and skirmishers went ahead to find the enemy if he was near. About noon our scouts went in sight of Youngs' Mills. Our Regt. was ordered to go into a piece of woods nearby.
We went in them very still and formed in the line of battle, the artillery and other Regts. Went in other directions. We supposed the rebels were there in force. Marched out in line into the fields in front of the fortifications. Soon found that there was nobody there. Then our Regt. went into the rebel encampment and rested while other Regts. Passed through. I was very tired and my feet very sore when I got there having to march through water and mud with new shoes on. Encamped at said place that night. Apr 5th started again on our march. Had not gone a great way before a very hearty thunder shower came up which made it very hard marching. A negro went with us as a guide from Youngs' Mills and to the main road.
Marched until we came to a large open field at which place our Brigade and Gen. Hancocks' Brigade halted and ate dinner. Hancocks' Brigade was ahead of ours. Soon after, Hancocks' Brigade marched through a piece of woods into another clearing, closed in column. After which ours did the same. Here we rested quite a little while but had to stay where we could fall in, in an instant. Here we were within a short distance of rebel forts. In a short time we heard cannonading from a few of our pieces that had gone ahead of us.
Pioneers were in the woods making roads for us to go through. The woods were between us and the forts. At 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon we marched into those woods--stood around in the mud and water until night. The skirmishers kept shooting with their muskets all the time. They were to the left of us. Some of them were killed and some wounded. One man was brought by us wounded in the right side of his face. Saw him when he passed. He has since died. One man was killed by a shell from a rebel gun. It struck him in the side and tore out a part of his inwards. One shell went over our heads.
At sundown our Regt. marched back a little ways, and took off our knapsacks and preparing for a night's rest when an order came to fall in. Fell in and marched to within 800 yds. Of the enemy's fort. It was then dark. Picked up a lot of brush and then retreated a short distance after which we marched to where the brush was piled. This was within a few yds. Of where the cannonading was. Could see fires in front of the forts, also rebels in front of the fires. We broke ranks, spread our blankets on the ground and laid down to sleep. Had just got to snoozing a little when we were ordered to fall in again. Fell in and left our blankets just as they were. Co. A and F were to go out on a reconoisance and the rest of the Regt. were to stand under arms all night. Co. A and F soon started toward the rebels. We went very still so as not to be heard or seen. Quite often we dropped to the ground when it was necessary. Could see a plenty of rebels passing before their fires. The moon shone brightly. Some of the men went to one of the out fires. One man found ____ haversack with good bisquits in it. After the reconoisance we came back to where there were one or two pieces of artillery. Here we had to stand in the dim of battle and guard the artillery all night. This was pretty tough for us, The night being rather cool and we some wet. I said we stood in line all night but did not quite all night. Some of us traveled around to keep warm and some laid down a little while before daylight.
About sunrise in the morning of the 6th, we marched to where the Regt. was because the artillery men were going to throw a few shells over the rebels and expected some back, consequently we should get cut up soon if we did not. The Regt. was behind some woods so that the rebels could not see us but we could them by looking out one side carefully. We were a few rods to the left of the artillery. I went one side and could see rebels walking in the forts and also some flags. Shortly after our men threw a few shells over to the forts and they threw them back. One came whistling through the woods slabbing off a large piece of a pine tree and burst within a few rods of us. It didn't happen to hurt any of us. A number of them went over. One shell struck a cannon wheel and tore it all to pieces.
After a few shells in the morning, our men didn't fire much. This was Sunday. Skirmishes kept up firing all day. Our Regt. didn't have much to do that day but to lie around and keep out of the way of shells.
Except the pioneers who had to work all day building roads. Some Regts. Had to work all day and night building roads. The roads are all made of logs laid in together. At night we laid down to sleep thinking that we could rest all night. Our guns were by our sides with bayonet on and the cartridge boxes were on us so that we should be ready to fight if attacked.
About half past 8 o'clock our Co. was called up and we marched a few rods along side the woods for what we knew not but waited further orders. There one third of the company were to stand under arms all night. The company was divided into three reliefs, one relief was to stand on three hours and then another while the rest slept. Between 8 and 11 o'clock a shell went over us.
Apr 7th we privates expected that there would be an attack made on our part-- but it was not, so our generals having found out that the enemy was too strong for our forces that were here.
In the middle of the day, our Regt. retreated one or two miles, pitched our tents expecting to lay by two or three days. After dinner were ordered to fall in again and to be ready to march. Marched three miles in a round about way towards Yorktown. It rained considerable before we got to our stopping place. Pitched our tents as soon as possible and got out of the rain.
McClellan and Gen. Hayes went up through some of the encampment to see the fortifications of the rebels. Had the rebels known that there was a Regt. of infantry where we were they would probably have cut the woods all down with their cannon firing at us.
Source: Photographs and letters courtesy of Alden Dean, Casper and Martha's great-grandson.