Letters from Joseph P. Miller
Company K
11th Pennsylvania Reserve Corps

Transcribed by Shirley Pierce

Source: The Brookville Republican, July 23, 1862; reprinted August 20, 1908.

 The following are excerpts from letters written to his parents, by Joseph P. Miller.

July 4, 1862

"It is with the most painful emotions that I begin this letter, informing you first of the death of my only and dear brother, Courson.  He was killed on Monday, the 30th ult., by a rifle ball striking him on the head.  He died calmly, without a struggle, and as calmly as if he had been going to sleep.  There had several balls passed through his cap, and a few minutes before he was hit fatally, he took off his cap, looked at it, smiled and remarked that "that was a cool joke.Ē  He was very cool and deliberate in every action on the many battlefields which he was on.  The boys lament his loss in Co. B very much, some of them, with tears streaming down their faces, told me the tale.  I have made it my business to have him buried decently and deeply, so that when cold weather comes on we can have him removed to his own native place."

 

July 5, 1862

"On the 26th ult. the great strategic movement of Gen. McClellan began.  At four o'clock, p.m., the rebels attacked the extreme right, the P. R. V. C., near Mechanicsville.  The battle lasted until nine o'clock at night, when all was quiet save the groans of the wounded and the dying as they lay on the battlefield with no one to care for them.  Our regiment was on picket duty, and one end of our line was driven in, but our company was not disturbed.  Early next morning we were called off guard duty, went to camp, swallowed a cup of coffee and started for the battlefield.  In fifteen minutes we were there, and as we came to a front face a man in Co. H was shot through the heart.  Just then Gen. McClellan sent orders for us to fall back in order to Gaines House, about three miles distant, which was accordingly done.   

"Here the Reserve Corps formed in line of battle under the direction of our lamented Gen. McCall, and awaited the coming of the enemy.  About one o'clock shells began to fall in our immediate vicinity.  Soon scattered shots from the sharpshooters and scouts could be heard very near our position, and a few moments afterwards our batteries began throwing shells among the advancing hordes of rebels.  A few seconds afterwards a volley of musketry was fired and the second daysí battle was begun.  The roaring of cannon, the crash of small arms, the yell of those hurt, soon began to make the scene terrible in the extreme.  The Reserve boys poured in their leaden hail thick, and with deadly effect, upon the rebels.   

"Our regiment, being rifles and rifle muskets, was ordered to support two batteries, but before any attack from the enemy was made on them they were led into the fight by one of Gen. Porterís aides to hold and fight at the rate of eight to one.  We could see no end to the lines of the enemy in our front and yet we were not supported, and not a regiment left to relieve us after an hourís hard fighting.  The rebels charged on upon us, but were repulsed as we fell slowly back.  They got in range of our batteries by this movement and were exposed to a galling fire of grape and canister which shook their lines badly.  This was our turn to escort them back, in turn.  Col. Gallagher, on foot, ordered a charge bayonet.  It was responded to with a yell which made the rebels quake in their shoes and made them fly in every direction.  At this juncture Winfield S. Taylor, a son of Philip Taylor, was shot through the heart and died instantly.  As soon as we had passed the brow of the hill a flank movement was made by the rebels on their right and left, forming in triangular shape, completely hemming us in.  The rebels closed around our regiment and that was the last I saw of it.  I could see them clubbing their muskets and using their bayonets, but it was of no use, they had too many to contend with--at least six to one.  

"Capt. E. R. Brady was killed at this place, so those that escaped say, but I live in hopes that he is not killed.  Out of our whole company, about 65 or 70 that went in, five only came out without a scratch, viz: J. P. Miller, Sergeants D. L. Swarts and A. J. Harl, Corporal Ed. Scofield, and Private Jos. C. Gibson.  John McMillen, of Bethlehem, was wounded in the arm.  We can now muster in Co. K about seven men in all for duty.  Co. B of our regiment, was on extra duty and only lost their first sergeant.   The morning after the battle we had only one hundred and seventy men, including drivers, musicians and hospital corps, and now we can only get one hundred in all and most of them are unfit for duty.  The General has ordered us, so I understand, to act as provost guard at this place.  I am in command of Co. K, that is, what is left of it.  The rebels admit their loss, in those two days fight, to be 24,000."  

I am credibly informed by Mr. Samuel Temple that Sergeant Clarence Thompson, son of J. J. Y. Thompson, was killed in the second days fight.  At least he fell and was not seen afterwards.  He was leading on the small portion of the company that remained as the other officers were incapacitated.  Mr. Means was absent, sick at the time.  In the fourth days fight I never saw such a slaughter as was of the rebels.  They were made drunk, as in fact every day they were so, and were not fighting as did our northern boys.  They pushed on, closed up their ranks, as great openings were made in them by grape and canister.  Shell were at best used when they were about forty feet from the batteries.  Our artillerymen would pull the fuse out and throw the shell, which would explode but a few feet from the gun.  Double charges of canister were used for a long time.  In some places the bowels of the enemy were thrown into the air twenty feet and were hanging on limbs of trees.  Heads, arms, legs, feet and bodies without arms or legs were laying strewn thickly around.   

In the second dayís fight Col. Samuel W. Black, of Pittsburg , and for a time Governor of Nebraska, was killed.  Major General McCall was wounded and taken prisoner.  Our brigadier general George G. Meade, was wounded and sent to Philadelphia.  Brigadier General Reynolds was killed.  He commanded the first brigade of the P. R. V. Corps.  Day before yesterday I was in the 105th regiment, and a sergeant was looking around for the effective men in Co. B and he could muster only eleven men.  Capt. Craig was commanding the regiment."

 

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