1863: Lord Wellington Gillett to sister Demila

How Wellington Gillett might have looked
How Wellington Gillett might have looked

I can’t be certain of the identity of this soldier who signed his name “Wellington.” My assumption is that this is his first name. He does state that his regiment was (at the time) encamped at West Point, Virginia, so I’m also going to assume that his regiment was in either the First or Second Brigade under the command of Brig. General George Henry Gordon.

From the content of the letter it would appear that the soldier was elderly. The letter is written to his sister Demila who has, apparently, a son old enough to be serving in the army. The soldier who best fits this description is Lord Wellington Gillett (1818-1866) who served in Co. H, 127th New York. Another soldier in the same unit named “Sid” is mentioned which may have been Sidney B. Petty (1836-1864). Both soldiers were, I believe, from Orient Point, Long Island.

Wellington was mustered into the service in September 1862 at the age of 44. Company records state that he mustered out of the service on 9 April 1863 which is before this letter was written but this may be an error. Unfortunately on-line family records are incomplete. Until April 1863, the 127th New York manned the defenses of Washington D.C. My hunch is that Wellington was hospitalized at the time his regiment was ordered to Suffolk, Virginia in mid-April, and from there to West Point on the York River in May. Despite a will to return to the hardships of the field, I suspect he was judged unfit for duty and was discharged for physical disability shortly after this letter.

The letter contains a good account of the Battle of Chancellorsville as communicated to Wellington by members of the 12th Corps who were taken prisoner during the battle and attributed the Union defeat to the poor showing by Howard’s 11th Corps.

TRANSCRIPTION

Camp Distribution near Alexandria, Va.
May 30, 1863

Dear Sister Demila,

Your very welcome letter bearing date May 6th came to hand last evening. For some reason it was mislaid at Washington & yesterday came to the Seminary Hospital with a thousand other old letters that had stopped the same as yours! I left the Hospital on the 14 since. I have been stopping in this camp awaiting transportation to my regiment which is in camp at West Point, Virginia. Is that where your boy & Marvin is? I hope to meet them down there somewhere! It is uncertain when I shall get away from here but I hope before long. Could have staid at the hospital this summer if I had chose to but I thought I had full as live stand the hardships in the field as in the hospital.

The spring [campaign] which you speak about I saw is spoken of in the papers but I guess it will pass for a yarn & nothing more. Last fall I thought the spring campaign would decide the matter. Now I think the summer & fall campaign will bring it to a close, yet I may be disappointed but hope not.

I received a letter this week from Jerome bearing date May 7. He had just passed through the Battle of Grand Gulf & closed his letter on the march to Jackson, Mississippi. He had had a long march through the hot sun & one of his shoes gave out & then he had one bare foot & he said, “My feet is one solid blister on the bottom.” Poor boy. There is but few that does see what he has passed through. Since he has closed his letter to me, he has — if permitted to live — seen some very hard fighting at Jackson & Vicksburg. He is with Gen. [John A.] Logan. By the papers you can see where he is & what he has to pass through.

There was a rumor in camp last night that Grant was killed which I hope is false. If it should prove true, it would be as great a loss to us as [Stonewall] Jackson’s death was to the Confederacy. He is one of our truest & most successful generals. He fought the battles of Donelson & Shiloh in which Jerome took a part. If Jerome is spared to see Vicksburg taken, I think they will have a short rest in the West before any further fighting.

This camp joins convalescent camp. In that camp they have barracks for quarters. All that are sent from hospitals are first sent there, then here; from here to their regiment. I did not stop there because I wanted to go with Sid & several others that was here to the regiment but was a few minutes too late & was left alone or among strangers. Since then there has several of our regiment come from the different hospitals to this camp & 3 or 4 of our company. There is between three & four thousand paroled prisoners in Convalescent Camp not exchanged yet. The most of them were taken at the last battle of Fredericksburg. I have talked with several of the 12th Corps that was on the right of the 11th Corps that broke & caused our defeat. They tell me the right & left wing had been fighting all day while the center had not been engaged at all during the day. The 11th held the center; at about dark or a little before, the whole 11 Corps stacked their guns. Some went to pitching their tents for the night; others went to steeping coffee & some playing cards & smoking. And while in this condition, the rebs came upon them. They never stood to give battle at all but run & let the whole rebel army right in the center of our army. This of course gave them all the advantage & caused the defeat at Fredericksburg. This I am told by those that belong to the 12th Army Corps & was taken prisoner there. They say if the 11th Corps had of held the ground as they might have done, Hooker would [have] gained the victory. I put confidence in what they say because they were on the field all through the battle & saw the whole thing.

I will say here that there is a great revival of religion in the Convalescent Camp. Many seem determined to forsake sin & embrace Christ & may the good work spread throughout the whole army.

I received a letter bearing date 22 from Samantha. All were well at home then. When do you expect the boys home? I believe they only went out for nine months. I hope for their safe return. I don’t expect to see home until the war is closed. My health is good & I am like the boys very fleshy — more so than I wish to be. Then Fred concluded to marry or not go out to the war. Tell Mercy to fill out the other half of the sheet. It will not be at all wearisome to read a good long letter. I wish you good luck a farming. Write often. Yours with respect, — Wellington

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