My 2nd Great Grandfather was William Cotton Holmes (1837-1932). He signed up with Union forces in 1862 and served until the end of the war in 1865. Late in 1862 he was stationed in Washington, DC, where he remained for the rest of the war. His brother Hoarce Holmes (1840-1864) (pictured) also served in the Civil War.
Below is a letter written by Horace to William on December 26, 1862, 150 years ago today. It includes a description of being shot and his experience in a hospital. He died less than two years later of smallpox in a DC hospital. I think the orginal is gone but I've transcribed this from a copy my grandmother typed up from the original years ago. Enjoy.
- Foster’s General Hospital.
- Newbern, N.C., Dec. 26, 1862
My Dear Brother William:
I think I see you start as you read the heading above. Well I am now in the hospital with a ball through my left shoulder received at the battle of Kinston, an account of which and the march prior to it, I will give briefly. First saying, that I have great cause of thankfulness that my live was spared. The ball struck the top of my shoulder hitting the bone and glancing, came out of my back about 6 inches below. So although you may not think much of a wound in the back, I have one and in the front too. It is luck that the ball went clear through and providential that it did not go nearer my neck, for if it had gone one half inch nearer, it would have shattered my shoulder.
So while you have been sitting in the associations and guarding depots, I have endured long marches, slept on the soft ground at night, waded through swaps, drank stagnant water by the road and called it good, ate hard tack and salt horse with a decided relish. Have seen the time when I would have paid for a hard bread. Have been in the thickest of the fight and felt the sting of a rebel bullet, heard the whistling of 10,000 bullets, the shrieking of shells and the crashing of trees by solid shot, witnessed the inhumanity of shoulder doctors, enjoyed the beauty of jolting in a baggage wagon, with a swearing driver, after being wounded, etc. etc.
Your letters of the 6th and the 18th I am much pleased to acknowledge, and then state that it was about four o’clock in the morning of Thursday December 11, when the drums of the 45th aroused the regiment to prepare for new and untried scenes, securing a cup of coffee so hastily as to burn our tongues, we stood in line in light marching order. You know what that is, after a few miles. The moon was looking kindly down bur soon all nature was warped in a dense fog. The sunrise gun belched forth its grim welcome, just as we reached the City of Newbern, the streets of which were filled with baggage wagons and battery on battery of artillery, showing that the expedition was a big one. We were delayed sometime near Fort Foster and then the word was forward and on we went. The sun had now got up and shown pretty hot. The road led us through swaps and creeks, at one of which we were so long passing that the right of the regiment got far ahead and the left straggled all the forenoon. This was very hard marching, as we had to hurry to try to catch up, and the sun was so hot that it started the sweat. At noon, the regiment halted for an hour, when we all got together and ate our dinner, after which the colonel formed us in sections, with orders to go through everything, and through we went, mud and water, giving our extremities the benefit of a water bath. I liked this marching better than in the morning, as it was more regular. Just after sunset, we caught the first glimpse of the glimmering camp fire of the advanced and it rejoiced our eyes. We soon filed in, stacked arms, and after tearing the fence down for our fires, we prepared to rest. We were tied, I tell you, 20 miles they say. I dried and exchanged my stockings, soaked my feet, spread my blankets and dropped to sleep quick and slept well too. Our cavalry had a skirmish here, taking a few prisoners. In a ravine ahead, the rebels felled large tress to obstruct our passage, and we can now hear the ring of the axes of the pioneers as they remove them. The immense filed looks fine with its numerous fires. The next morning, Friday, at four, we were called up and after breakfast we were soon in line loading and capping our rifles, which the boys thought indicated work. At sunrise we started and soon passed through the swamp where the rebs tried but failed to stop us. There is not scenery here. It is all swap and pines. This morning we passed a few houses bearing the white flag. Nothing like a village through the whole march. The houses are near a mile apart. Towards noon we passed a few rebels prisoners, and further on one dead. They are cadaverous looking fellows in gray. Our cavalry had a skirmish with the rebs ahead routing them. At noon we stopped for dinner, where it occurred, and where lay a dead horse. We had a fine rest here and I turned swapped my socks and greased my feet and then fell in and marched along. Skirmishes are thrown out on either side, and we passed [Page 2] through prisoners and houses. The roads are bad and the artillery gets stuck giving us frequent rests, sometimes stopping us in the middle of a huge mud puddle. But when we march we go fast through the blackest swap. At night we were stopped for an hour in the midst of a huge swap. It was a place where we might have been slaughtered like sheep, but no foe was near and soon we heard the welcome forward and we went at an astonishing pace. It was dark as Eqypt and we splashed along through the mire, tired Oh! It was near ten o’clock when we got to camp, and just as we entered we heard several picket shots and feared we should be disturbed, but no. I was glad to make my bed and sleep.
Saturday stiff and tired, I joined the line (Ah, you imagine me at the rear of the company, do you?) No sir, not an inch have I lost through the whole march. The road was ever wet and muddy. About ten, we were resting, when we were started by the report of the cannon, which brought every man to his feet and we pushed on rapidly. Soon after the orders came "Open right and left", and the heavy artillery of the rear came thundering by. We could still hear the firing. It was splendid to see the rush of the artillery as they dashed along. At last the firing ceased, and about noon, we were file in battle array in a large open filed. My heart jumped as I was certain of a fight. We remained sometime and I got a nap. We were very tired as we had marched rapidly. Soon the order came for us to camp and we were glad. The firing was occasioned by the rebs placing a battery in one corner of the field, and our folks shelled them out, capturing their guns. We rested here all the P.M. and Eve. Our rations were low but soon the quartermaster came up and we here supplied with three days rations of hard tack and coffee and I made a very good pot of the latter and it relished well. We were furnished with 20 extra pounds of ammunition to lighten us, you know. There has been a great deal of straggling in the march, more from the old regiments, however, than the new. Sunday morning found us in line. Sad scenes that sun will look upon and today usually so quite is to be disturbed by the roar of battle. We were soon on the march with roads bas as ever and marched very rapidly. We passed a cannon taken from the rebs and the dead by the road side. It was sad. Along side of the road there was large quantities of brush out as though the Rebs intended to plant batteries, but had no time.
After a rapid and fatiguing march we were resting in a huge puddle of water, when at 10 of 10 we heard the first gun of the battle of Kingston. The boys were speaking and comparing the scenes with that at home. It was a most peaceful morning and all nature seemed in repose. The firing still continued and we were pushed rapidly forward, and were halted about a mile from the battle field near a house which was afterwards used as a hospital and where I spent some weary hours. While here, the firing in the front kept up vigorously and the artillery from the rear came thundering by while squads of prisoners were carried to the side. Soon we were ordered forward and soon we were to see what stuff we were made of. No one flinched but on we went to find the enemy, who were posted in a large house and entrechments in the rear of the thickest of swaps in which they had some troops, but when we drove out, we, the 45th, were filed from the road into the open field where our batteries were posted, then through the wood, thence into the swamp, and such a swamp, so thick with briars, and mud, up to our middle every step. The shot and shell were flying thick around us killing some poor fellows at the first entrance. We marched to the right flank, our company being the third from the left. As soon as we got in, we deployed as well as possible to the left. The bullets now fell like hail, but we could not see a Reb as we were in a hollow in the water. Often we were ordered to lie down in the face of the Rebs’ fire where the woods were not quite so thick. The bullets whistled fearfully above, around and over us every where. I had fired several times and was just raising my rifle for another when I felt a sensation in my shoulder and my rifle and myself [Page 3] went earthward. I fell to the rear in doing which I was a little fearful of a shot in the back. I had one bullet hit the top of my cap, leaving a dent. Hailing one of my comrades, helped me out without any casualty. Our boys fought well and drove the rebels from their position and across the bridge which they tried to burn, but we were too quick and stopped them. The 10th Co. charged upon them and drove them like sheep. We occupied Kinston that night and recrossed the river, burning the bridge and going on to Goldsboro I limped away towards the hospital which I at last reached. It was already quite full with sufferers and a number were constantly arriving. It was painful to hear their groans. After waiting about 2 hours, the doctor came and cutting away my clothes, found that the ball had entered the top of my shoulder and come out of my back about six inches below. It was a very narrow escape and the Dr. assured me that I had just saved my bacon. I have a great cause to be thankful that it is no worse. Wet and weary I waited until night fall, when I was conducted to a bed of corn husks on the floor of the chamber. There were 12 of us in the room, and there was pain there. I was glad to get my wet things off and try to sleep and think of home. The house is owned by an old Reb who is bitter against the use of his home. We stayed there until Friday noon as comfortable as could be expected. The Dr. Mason was very kind and did much for our comfort. Friday noon we were put aboard a baggage wagon and jolted six miles to take the gun boat. Our army had done its work and was returning and the boat was to take the wounded. When we got there, they wouldn’t let us go aboard because we could use our legs. We were told to join the column in the baggage wagon. We were put aboard with a swearing kind of a fellow, who cared not for God or man. This was tough and I was heart sick, but there was no help and on I went. Till far into the eve we drove and not very slow and every rough place going through me. At last we reached camp and no place to sleep. The driver swore that we should not sleep in the wagon, and those that were only sore on foot get out, and I and another with a ball in his arm made special pleading and remained, but it was a hard cold bed with nothing under us and a light quilt over us. Oh, so cold. At four o’clock next morning, we commenced our ride and all day we jolted until 8½ in the evening, when I arrived at Newbern. Arriving I searched for a hospital and lighted on this one, where I was well taken care of. Beds were good that night. This is a very good hospital and I am getting on first rate and can thank God that I have been preserved. In battle I felt no fear. I put my trust in God, and was calm. You will see from accounts what our forces did, being all victories. I shall never spoil for a fight and do not wish to see another one. I am sorry for Mother. How she will worry! I sent a letter by the first mail and one since. Strange rumors reach us from Washington. Is it strange that soldiers are discouraged? But pluck it. I remain your brother, Horace.
I have got the bullet. Write soon.