6th Vermont Infantry
Casper Honorus Dean (1841-1936)
Camp in the Fields
2 1/2 miles Northwest of Williamsburg, Va.
May 7, 1862
Yours of the 27th was received four days after it was mailed with much pleasure. I will now write you a few lines, as it has been over two weeks since I have written home.
I am now encamped on the field, where there has been quite a hard battle fought. Do not know how long I shall stay here. You say that you have heard I have been wounded and you want to know if it is so; I have not been wounded in the least. How did you hear such news? You seem to think it is so. Last Saturday night the rebels evacuated their lines of fortifications at Yorktown. I heard cannonading most all night. Did not sleep very well that night because was not quite as well as usual. Did not think of the rebels leaving as soon as they did, but thought that our forces would soon commence an attack on them as they seemed to be nearly ready.
I had been on fatigue the day before digging a pit to place siege mortars in. Last Sunday morning we took up our line of march of following up the rebels. We went across the dam into then rebel fort and staid there 2 or three hours. It was a very strong fort. When we were going through, I saw a dead horse lying in there with the rider and saddle on his back partly covered up with dirt. The rebels as it appears, were in something of a hurry when they left because they left some property behind which fell into our hands.
We travelled about 12 miles that day to go a distance of about 8 miles. It was the hardest march that I ever had. The roads are very poor and we marched very fast. Over 1/4 of our Regt. fell out of ranks. When night was about to overtake us, we marched from the road into a field of wheat, which was heading out and containing nearly 100 acres. Here we rested a short time and ate supper after which our Regt. made a reconnaissance. Marched in close column through woods, over brooks and through a large slash of trees and came into a clearing at which place we laid down on the ground and slept until morning. Previous to this, our cavalry scouts came in contact with the rear guard of the enemy and had 30 or 40 of their men killed and wounded. When I awoke Monday morning, it was raining very hard. Could see the enemies forts and rifle pits within a short distance of us, also rebels on the forts.
We soon marched back into the woods for fear that we might be molested. There we staid most all day. Slung and unslung knapsacks a number of times and changing our position according to orders. It rained the most of the time during day. The battle took place that day, the account of which you will probably hear before you receive this. The attack was made on our left at about 9 o'clock. I could hear brisk musketry all day, at our left, which seemed to be very near us. I think the heft of the fighting was down in Hookers' Division. He must have lost a great many men. Heavy cannonading was kept up a good share of the time in the same division. In the middle of the day, Mott began to come into our right with (4,14,40?) pieces of artillery and opened upon the enemy. Our Regt. was a few rods from Mott where he used his pieces. As soon as he threw a few shells, we could see the rebels double quick out of their rifle pits and dove fort. The enemy threw a few shells at Mott. They did not do much harm- the most of their shots falling short. I could hear the balls whistle and strike the ground nearby.
Late in the afternoon, the 6th Regt. had orders to retreat a short distance in a hurry. We retreated into a large open field at which place there were a great many soldiers. There were two lines of battle formed the length of the field and we formed into the 2nd line. About the same time, I could hear numbers of men charging both to right and left of us in advances. I supposed that they were rebels charging on our men and driving them, also that we had got to have an awful battle. The scene was soon changed. News soon came that the enemy was being driven back.
Just before dark, the 6th Vt. Regt. marched to their former position. While marching, two cannon balls came very near us, one striking on each side of the road. The Vt. Brigade was not engaged in the battle but was in a position where it was thought that they would have to fight. The Vt. 6th Regt. was ordered to prepare for a charge on the rebels. We were very soon ready but the order was countermanded, so we did not. Gen. Hancocks' Brigade on the right of us did great execution in driving the enemy and loosing but a very few men comparatively while the rebels were mowed down in large numbers.
Last Tuesday morning the Vt. Brigade relieved Hancocks' Brigade. I thought the battle would be renewed that day, but it was not so. The enemy had gone the night before. When we took Hancocks' position, the ground near us was strewn with dead and wounded rebels. The sight was horrible one. Our men were busy all day in burying the dead and taking care of the wounded rebels. 175 wounded rebels were taken to two large barns, and our surgeons dressed their wounds. A great many limbs were amputated. I shun all the sights I could that day until about 4 o'clock when I began to travel around some. Went out a short distance where the dead and wounded had been picked up and there were large puddles of blood which had not soaked into the ground. From thence I went to a fort, thence to the barn where the wounded were. I thought that I had seen enough there after I had seen the piles of legs and arms and hands and men without their limbs. When I was going to my quarters, I saw the horse that was killed which was owned by a rebel Lieut. Col. who was killed in the battle. At night the report was that our men had taken 30 thousand prisoners and that McGruder had surrendered this afternoon. I went 2 miles to our left for the purpose of seeing what I could. Went through forts and rifle pits; one of which was a very strong one. Our artillerymen killed a great many men and horses in this large fort. From this place I went into the woods where Gen. Hookers' Division fought and there I was much astonished to see the large number of dead soldiers of both parties. I supposed by this time that the most of the dead were buried, but there were aplenty of them there that lay just as they fell. There was an old rifle pit there, which was dug at the time of the Revolutionary War. A great many rebels were in there dead. I saw two of our men in the woods standing by the side of their dead brothers and one of them was wounded in the head. They felt very bad of course. I am glad that I have not got any brothers in the Army because I should feel so bad to see one lying by my side on the battlefield.
I do not know what the loss was on either side. It must have been very heavy.
Our men are burying the dead today. I do not think that they will all be buried today as they are all scattered through the woods. The enemy lack artillery. If they had as much as our men have got, they would not get wiped out very easy. Gen. Smiths' Division, which has been in advance all the time, is now in the rear so I think they shall have a little easier time than we have had. My chance now is not very good for getting news. I wish you would send me a few papers.
Have seen a few days that I did not feel very good. I am very healthy now. The boys are all well. I forgot to tell you what I had for breakfast this morning. Had salt pork; hardtack being rather scarce. The weather is very pleasant today. Do not feel like writing anymore today and will close by asking you to write very often, because I love to receive letters from home and you have the convenience for writing. Why doesn't Amanda write?
Yours in haste with my love to all.
Casper H. Dean
To Carlton Dean Jun.
Source: Photographs and letters courtesy of Alden Dean, Casper and Martha's great-grandson.