1861-62: John David Jones to Cousin

This letter was written by Welsh emigrant John David Jones of Genesee, Waukesha county, Wisconsin, who enlisted in Co. F, 5th Wisconsin Infantry on 31 May 1861. The 5th Wisconsin was organized at Camp Randall in Madison and left for Washington D. C. in July 1861. They arrived in Washington on the 8th of August and were assigned to the brigade of General King, going into camp on Meridian Hill. In September 1861, they relocated to Camp Griffin near Lewinsville, Virginia, where they remained until 10 March 1862.

On the Peninsula campaign, the 5th Wisconsin joined the 4th Army Corps under General Keyes. On the 4th of April 1862, they advanced to Young’s Mills, pushing the enemy back. The third letter in this collection describes the regiment’s participation in the attack on the enemy’s fortifications on the Warwick River near Lee’s Mills on 16 April 1862. The attack was made primarily by the Vermont Brigade (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, & 6th Vermont Infantry) and the action cost them 165 men killed, wounded or missing.

Unfortunately for Pvt. Jones, at some point in 1862 he became ill and the company roster indicates he died of disease on 10 November 1862 at Annapolis, Maryland.

Pvt. John D. Jones’ Letter with tintype of unidentified Wisconsin infantryman


Camp Griffin, Va.
December 23, 1861

Dear Cousin,

It was with pleasure that I received a letter from you on the evening of the 21st and I now avail myself of the first opportunity that offers of writing an answer to your kind and welcome letter, hoping that this will find you enjoying good health.

There has nothing of importance occurred with our division since my last to you save at one time—namely, last Friday, when we were drawn up in line of battle to be in readiness at a moment’s warning to march being in anticipation of an attack by the enemy. But as General McCall’s Division drove back the rebels in great disorder, we were not called upon to march. But as I will send you a paper along with this mail, I will leave the subject. The signs of the times grows more bright in view of a conflict with the enemy for which we are all eager for we have been wishing & expecting a battle for a long time. We are sick and tired of this inactivity on the part of our generals. We are suffering daily by disease and death and I have come to the conclusion that we might as well die by the implements of war. And if I must have my choice, I should choose the latter than by a lingering death by typhoid fever which is the principle disease. As yet, there has but two died out of our company. Truly, several of our company are sick but not dangerously.

I am thankful to you for your kind advice. I realize the advantages that would accrue to my name and character by gaining the reputation of which you speak and shall, considering the circumstances by which I am surrounded, comply with your request. The sale and drinking of intoxicating liquors, I am happy to state, is not allowed in the army. It is very seldom that a case of drunkenness comes to our notice excepting when a pass is granted to a soldier to cross the river into Washington, and although it is forbidden that all intoxicating stimulants shall not be sold to a soldier in the U. S. Army, yet it is invariably the case that he will rout out some hole out of which he will procure his desired beverage and whatever may be my future life, I hope, that it will not be a drunkard.

But I must close by requesting that you will please remember me to all enquiring friends and receive the devoted and sincere friendship of your unworthy cousin, — John D. Jones

P. S. Please direct the same as before.


Camp Griffin, Va.
January 24th [1862]

Kind & respected Sir,

Having at last a spare moment in which I can answer a most welcome letter that I received some two weeks ago but circumstances over which I had no control prevented me from so doing until now. The military duties of the past few weeks has been such so as to render it impossible for me to spend as much time as I should like in writing or communicating with home and friends. I am well and hearty, enjoying at present excellent health, hoping that this will find you in the full enjoyment of the same.

We are still in the same inactive position as when I last wrote but the signs and the various incidents which have occurred during the last week denotes that this inactivity on our part is about to cease, and to give way to a more strenuous effort on the part of our generals to bring this war to a close and also to crush and put down this mighty rebellion. We are under marching orders but when we shall start and where we shall go to is not for me to say. All that I have to do is to be in readiness at a moment’s warning. It may be in an hour, in one day, week or month—no one knows save our Commander in Chief. Your desire to be acquainted with the particulars of a camp life or the particulars of how I spend my time &c. &c. shall be complied with—at least in as few words as possible.

In the first place I enjoy myself in capacity of a soldier first rate. I have no reason to complain. My health is good. My comrades [are] pleasant and agreeable. Plenty to eat, drink, and to wear. When the weather is such as not to make it inconvenient for us to drill, we avail ourselves of this means of instruction 3 times each day. First, company drill from 9½ a.m. to 10½ a.m., second battalion or regimental drill from 11 a.m. to 12 M. Third, brigade drill from 1½ p.m. to 4 p.m.. but duties such as picket, camp, brigade, and division guard prevent us in a measure from taking part in these drills. But as time presses and other duties present themselves before me, I must therefore be brief.

The weather with us has been for the past two or three weeks very uncomfortable. We have had rain in abundance. Thus with the continual traveling of teams and so many men, it makes it very difficult to travel, sinking into the mud. It is at present nothing but mud, mud, mud. At the present writing we are getting gratified by a fall of snow and hail mixed. I am in hopes that the weather will change for more dry or frostier weather so that if we are to march it may be more pleasant.

But I will write again as soon as convenient and keep you posted with all particulars. You will excuse me from writing more at this time hoping that you will remember me to all enquiring friends and receive the respects of your affectionate cousin and well wisher. I remain yours truly, — John David Jones

[The following is an account of the Battle of Lee’s Mill on 16 April 1862]


Camp near Four Corners
or near Yorktown, Va.
April 20, 1862

Dear Cousin,

Again I take my pen in hand to answer yours of the 28th which was thankfully received some few days ago. I am well and am enjoying good health for which I am thankful and hope that this may find you enjoying the same blessing. As you will undoubtedly before this have heard that portion of information that I have already transmitted to your brother (touching on our recent march), I will beg leave to be excused from writing or committing the aforesaid items in this, but I will promise if I live and all goes on right with me, I shall communicate with you again sometime in the future.

Since my last letter to your brother we have had another but a more smart contest or engagement with the enemy. In our sense of the word, we took part in the conflict but in another sense, we did not from the fact of our not coming into close combat. But since a story half told is no story at all, I will try and give you a few items (but not in full).

On the morning of the 16th, orders were received to furnish ourselves with 4 days rations and to be in light marching order, to be ready at any moment to be on the line. [At] 10 a.m. we set out, the morning being very warm and beautiful. After marching hither and thither, filing here and there for some time, we were finally drawn into line of battle, our brigade acting as a reserve to wait orders. [At] 3 p.m., the 2nd Brigade under Gen. [William T.] Brooks was to feel the enemy. Half an hour afterward, a heavy musketry was heard accompanied with artillery like unto the distant rumbling of thunder. At that moment there comes a cavalryman at the top of his speed to our front saying that the gallant Vermont boys had forced themselves across the creek, ¹ but after five minutes more, the cry came reinforcements wanted.

The order double quick was given immediately and off we went at a glorious jog. Passing along the road we came near falling over the nearly lifeless body of a Vermont boy who had been struck with the fragment of a shell upon the head laying bare his brains to our momentary gaze, but onward we flew to the rescue of our comrades. We got to the field, shells flying in all directions, but owing to the superior skill of our artillery men, the enemy’s guns was kept in a measure silent.

Our boys were repulsed from the fact or unfortunate circumstance that there could but four companies get across the creek before they were met with an overwhelming force—also that owing to the water being so deep and I suppose from their eagerness to get across, their cartridges was spoiled by water, thus rendering them utterly defenseless. But we will repay them shortly in their own coin. Our loss I cannot tell at present but [in] our regiment none. Since then we have thrown up some breastworks and are nearly ready for the rascals. Each and every night we are drawn out of our sleep by their continued firing.

The fort (rebel) before which we are situated is under the control of our guns and sharpshooters and as soon as we make any demonstration against it—or very soon after if I am spared—I will write again. Please remember me to all enquiring friends and receive the affections and best wishes of yours truly, — J. D. Jones

¹ Two companies of the 3rd Vermont crossed the Warwick river at a ford and drove off the Confederate defenders on the opposite shore. Brooks sent three companies of the 4th Vermont across the breastwork, and four companies of the 6th Vermont crossed at the ford in support of the 3rd Vermont.


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