1864: William H. King to Henry A. Breed

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Lt. William H. King, Co. F, 155th PA

This letter was written by Lt. William H. King of Co. F, 155th Pennsylvania Infantry. A regimental history claims that King was “the senior of most members of the company, became the first Orderly-Sergeant, and materially assisted in moulding the raw material under his command into well-drilled and disciplined soldiers.”  Additionally, “of the original enrollment, indeed all became sick in the first few months from exposure, hard marching, and the repulsive food and infamous cooking. The great majority, however, recovered and went through thirty-two battles and skirmishes that fell to the lot of the 155th Regiment. Every man in Co. F got his bullet scar, strange to remark, except Corp. James J. Carroll, who never missed a march or battle, through he frequently had his clothing cut by Confederate bullets.” [Under the Maltese Cross (pp. 454-455)]

King was promoted to 2d Lt., July 20, 1864; to 1st Lt., October 6, 1864; and mustered out with his company on June 2, 1865. He wrote the letter to Henry A. Breed who also served as a lieutenant in the company.

The 155th wore a French Army Blue Zouave Jacket and blue chasseur trousers with yellow trim, and yellow tombeaus. A red wool flannel sash 10 inches or 8 inches wide and 10 feet long with yellow trim is worn around the waist. The foot-gear consisted of Jambieres (Leather Leggings, made of goat skin, painted a yellowish brown) capped the white canvas gaitors, which protected the standard brogans & bottoms of the trousers worn by the men.

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Addressed to Henry A. Breed, care of Richard Breed, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Camp near Petersburg, Virginia
June 26th 1864

Friend Breed,

I received your letter June 21st last evening. I was indeed glad to hear from you. Letters are welcome visitors to me now & especially so when they come from one I have spent so many days with in camp also on the march.

In answering your letter I hardly know what to write to relate to you the many hardships we have passed through. Also the changes taken place in our regiment would require half dozen letters to do it.

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 7.55.19 AMGeorge F. M’Clelland has no doubt told you all the particulars up to the time he was wounded. I will then only write a few things that has taken place since that time May 23rd.

Since then although we have been in three or four separate engagements we lost but few men up to the 18th of June near Petersburg. Our regiment went into the fight early the morning of the 18th. We fought fiercely all day until about six o’clock when we charged the enemy’s works and was repulsed with a loss of upwards of seventy men killed and wounded. It was the worst place the regiment was ever in and caused principally by us not being supported. The line on both our flanks did not advance as they should. The result was the whole of the enemy’s fire was concentrated on us. Yet some of our men advanced to the works when they was compelled to fall back.

It was then we suffered. It was indeed awful to see the boys fall. It was in this charge we lost Capt. M’Kee [of Co. I], Wm. M’Cabe, and many other equally brave. It is a mystery to me how any of us escaped—the bullets came so thick and fast—and to add to the minié balls, the grape and canister done its part. Several of our men received as many as ten and fifteen wounds. It was fearful to see them.

Our company & Co. D was particularly fortunate. We lost two killed, one wounded & [Co. D] none killed, 2 wounded. This was in consequence of an embankment on the plank road which protected us in our advance. Wm. M’Cabe was killed within twenty or thirty yards of the Rebel works. He was a noble soldier & we miss him & much regret his loss. [William] Holsinger—the other one killed in our company—was a recruit—a good soldier. Wm. Adams was wounded on the left arm before we made the charge. When we drove the Rebels from the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, he received his wound. It is not serious.

Since the 18th, we have been in two fights—one on the night of the 22nd—also a scaly time. One Brigade of the Second Corps gave way. Our brigade was called to their support.

After fighting and skirmishing all night, we succeeded in reestablishing the lines and was relieved at nine o’clock the 23rd. Again the night of the 23rd was called on to support a brigade of the 6th Corps. This time we had but little trouble and only lost three men in both engagements and those wounded. We are now the reserve brigade of our Division, Second Brigade, First Division, Griffin commanding division, Switzer the brigade.

I have been commanding the company since George left and have got along without any trouble. You are aware company [ ] is not troublesome. We have a good set of men but only 26 for duty now all told.

My health is good—also all the boys that are here and join in sending you their best wishes. I must close. I this minute received the pay rolls to be made out by tomorrow morning—a big thing to me as it will be my first attempt.

Excuse all mistakes. Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain your friend, — W. H. King

Tell George I would be pleased to hear from him should you see him. Write soon &c. &c. &c. I cut this rather short but I could not help it.

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