This letter was written by Sgt. Samuel Dunnan (1832-1922) who served in Battery B, 1st Light Artillery of the Pennsylvania Reserves (a. k. a., 5th Pennsylvania Artillery or 43rd Pennsylvania Regiment). The Battery was commanded by Capt. James Harvey Cooper (1840-1906) and was most commonly referred to as “Cooper’s Battery” throughout the war. Samuel enlisted on 5 August 1861 and was promoted from corporal to Sergeant on 1 November 1862 and to Quartermaster Sergeant on 28 June 1864. He mustered out of the battery on 9 June 1865.
Samuel—a master carpenter by trade—was the son of an Irish emigrant named John Dunnan (1764-1846), and his second wife, Ann Smiley (1801-1876) of Mount Jackson, Lawrence county, Pennsylvania. Five of the Dunnan brothers served in the Union army during the American Civil War. James Dunnan (1830-1904) served in Co. G of the 3rd Iowa Cavalry; John Dunnan (1842-1923) served in Battery B with his brother Samuel as well as Robert Smiley Dunnan (1834-1862); and finally Hugh Dunnan (1839-1909)—to whom this letter was addressed—later served in the 5th Pa. H. A. (204th Pa. Regt.). Robert was the only one killed during the war and his diary has been the subject of a book published by David Butt entitled, “Battery B, the diary of a Soldier in a volunteer artillery Battery and a big and bloody war” (2013).
As an original command, Battery B was the only part of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps serving with the Army of the Potomac for the entire war. The Battery fought with 27 of the principal engagements of the Army of the Potomac and nine of the 12 major battles of the war.
In this phenomenal Battle of Chancellorsville letter, Samuel describes the action of Battery B from 30 April 1863 (at Fitzhugh’s Crossing below Fredericksburg) to the role the battery played in covering the crossing at United States Ford as Hooker withdrew his army from the Wilderness.
Addressed to Mr. Hugh Dunnan, Mount Jackson, Lawrence county, Pennsylvania
Postmarked Washington D. C.
Camp near White Oak Church
[Friday] May 8th 1863
Once more I take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know that we are well at present & hope this will find you the same. We have had some hard marching to do since I last wrote on last Thursday [30 April]. We lay still till Saturday [2 May] with some maneuvering among the infantry which was enough to twist the wisest of them. On Saturday morning, our force was withdrawn from that part and marched to United States Ford where Hooker with the 3d, 5th, 11th, 12th & part of the Second Corps was fighting, leaving the 6th Corps below Fredericksburg.
We reached US Ford against dark & crossed the Rappahannock river to the battlefield. We got orders to lay in reserve to be ready to go to the front in a minute’s warning. Sunday [3 May] about 10 o’clock we were ordered to [the] front but when nearly in the line of battle, we were ordered to the rear. This took us by surprise for we were all expecting to have the front as usual, but we are all satisfied there was hard fighting & great slaughter on both sides the like which never fought before.
On Monday [4 May], Rebel Longstreet with 40 thousand attacked the 6th Corps under command of General Slocum who had gained the heights above Fredericksburg & drove him up the river till [they reached] Banks’s Ford [where] he was compelled to withdraw his troops to the north bank of the river or be surrounded.
The next morning [5 May] we was ordered to cross the river to protect the left flank where we remained till the retreat was ordered. Then we covered the retreat till the 5th. It commenced raining on the 4th very hard. We was on the side of a hill & had a wagon cover to protect us from the storm. We dug a ditch on the upper side but it was overflowed & when I was eating my supper, it was running about 8 inches deep through our tent. I never saw the like of before and it is still raining yet and is quite cool.
On the 5th, we fired about one hundred and fifty rounds while the tail end of the army was a crossing & taking up the bridges on the advance of the enemy. We may try it in a day or two below but I am afraid that we will be unsuccessful.
Old Abe, Stanton, & Halleck is out here. They came here yesterday. A great many of our troops is demoralized. I think that we need a new leader in place of Halleck if he can’t move the army to better advantage. Hooker is not to blame for this. There is enough of troops to whip the rebel army if they was managed right. The way they have been doing is send a squad and get it slaughtered, then fall back. This is nearly played out with the soldiers. We want a forward movement of all the army. Then we will gain victories in place of defeats at all points.
I must quit for this time. — Sergt. S. Dunnan
Wm. Chambers sends his compliments to you & tell his folks he is well. My respects to all enquiring for me. Write soon & give all the particulars & oblige. — Sergt. S. Dunnan
To Hugh D.