1862: Robert Alexander Hubbel to Parents

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Robert A. Hubbel (left) & his two younger brothers, William & John.

This letter was written by 28 year-old Robert Alexander Hubbel (1833-1868), the son of Henry & Eliza K. Hubbel of Hudson, Columbia county, New York. Robert enlisted as a private on 13 September 1861 in Co. K, 14th New York Infantry, to serve two years. He was promoted to a corporal on 1 June 1862 but reduced to ranks on 1 April 1863 before being mustered out with his company at Utica on 23 May 1863.

This letter was written after the 1862 Peninsular Campaign during which time the 14th New York Infantry served in General Charles Griffin’s Brigade of Major General Fitz-John Porter’s V Corps. In the letter to his parents, Corp. Hubbel provides great detail on the route taken by the regiment as they made their way by foot, steamer and train to the vicinity of Falmouth, Virginia, in the days preceding the 2nd Battle of Bull Run in which Pope’s army was disastrously defeated. He also wrote that he sensed something was amiss. “We lack something,” he wrote home, adding, “be it troops or Generals.” Indeed, Porter seems to have purposely deployed his men and participated so ineffectively in coming to Pope’s aid at Bull Run that he was relieved of command and later court-martialed. Griffin’s Brigade was not even on the battlefield, but several miles away at Centerville. As such, Griffin was also relieved of command but survived a court-martial inquiry and restored to duty. Historians have long conjectured that McClellan and Porter purposely conspired to allow Pope’s defeat at 2nd Bull Run.


Camp near Falmouth Station near Fredericksburg
on the Rappahannock River
August 21st 1862

Dear Parents,

We left Harrison’s Landing last Thursday night about 12 o’clock and marched about 3 miles and halted, laid on our arms until just daylight Friday morning when we commenced our march for Yorktown. The 1st day we got across the Chickahominy being by the way we came about 28 miles, arriving there about 12 o’clock midnight. Started before daylight Saturday morning, marched about 14 to 17 miles passing through Williamsburg and going 2 miles beyond to where the old fortifications are that were used by the Rebels in their retreat from Yorktown last spring. Halted for the night or what was left of it as we did not arrive there until about 11 o’clock. Being again called up just at daylight the Sunday morning and off for Yorktown which they said was only 12 miles but I have a right to guess, so I guess it was 16 or 17 York State miles (as Virginia miles are considerable longer than York State). However, at last about 6 o’clock P. M. we were camped for the night about 2 miles beyond the fort at Yorktown [where we] rested, or rather hung up until 5½ o’clock Monday and started for Fortress Monroe, 24 miles distant, arriving at the Fortress—or about 2 miles from there—about 8 o’clock P. M. when we thought our journey must surely be ended. But a soldier is a regular know nothing and the same old bugle sound that we had often received [with] only but the most endearing and pleasing language and the same old General could be seen and heard with the words, often before spoken, “Fall in 14th!” issuing from his mouth, to the great annoyance of those sleeping too soundly to hear the bugle, and again we fell in, stumbled in, or got in, and again we received, “Forward, file right, march!” And as the sequel proved, we were led to Newport News from where we were shipped on board the steamer “John Warner” and sleeping aboard that night, arrived at Aquia Creek where we were crowded aboard the cars coming 12 miles to Falmouth Station night (or just before night) before last where we are camped, but for how long a time is more than I can tell.

Burnsides forces are here. Have been here 5 or 6 days. Pope is somewhere around here but cannot tell where nor any but those high in authority know what is up. Certain it is, however, that action is at hand and in my opinion, we lack something. Let that something be troops or Generals. Yet with the aid of reinforcements, I think if they arrive soon we can again get the upper hand of the rebellion.

Our troops are a worn-out lot of troops, you may guess, after such fatiguing marches through the hot sun and burning sands of this land. All the men are crippled with sore feet and swollen limbs & with my feet, as you know, I always had corns on the bottoms [which] almost killed me from the first day’s march. But I stuck to it and now I am glad I did as many that could not keep up will have a hard time of it, as they will have to walk from the landing up here which will be 15 to 17 miles further than we. They (the stragglers) are continually coming in, almost gone in. Several are back from our company but will be picked up by the rear guard and shoved forward.

My health is good but just at present I am sick in the legs and feet. But a few days will bring everything all right again and then I am for anything. We got lots of peaches and other fruits in the march, green corn, &c. I think a man under heavy duty can eat any and everything. I am called as Corporal of the Guard and will close.

August 26th
Ellis Ford, Rappahannock River

We left ere I came off guard and did not have time to finish [this letter]. We marched that night and arrived here in the morning, about 20 miles from Fredericksburg and are guarding this ford but have not put up tents but lay ready to move either forward or back at a moment’s notice. I hear that Pope has been driven back. If so, I think we will have to retire ere long.

Inspection call so I close with love to all. From your affectionate son, — R. A. Hubbel


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