This letter was written by Pvt. Daniel Joseph Taft (1842-1924) who was drafted on 26 August 1863 and mustered in the 82nd Pennsylvania, Co. A—a company that was recruited in Philadelphia. He remained with the regiment until mustering out on 13 July 1865. Daniel was the son of Richard and Eunice Taft in Burrillville, Providence county, Rhode Island. By the time of the 1860 US Census, the Taft family, including Daniel, were farming in Warren, Freehold county, Pennsylvania.
The events described in this letter are consistent with the narrative from the regimental history: “On the 6th of May, the ice upon the Lake being broken, the regiment, in company with the Twenty-third, returned to Washington, and then proceeded to Belle Plain Landing, where numerous prisoners were arriving, the fruits of the battles of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania. General Abercrombie in command at that post detained them to strengthen his guard, and to furnish escorts to companies of prisoners on their way to Point Lookout. On the 19th, the Eighty-second was ordered to Fredericksburg, where it was detailed to guard a train to the front. At the North Anna it re-joined the balance of the brigade, which had left the camp at Johnson’s Island ten days earlier, and had suffered severely in the terrible battles through which the army had already passed.”
Camp near Belle Plain, Va.
May 17, 1864
Your welcome letter was received last evening, but you see by the preceding that we have moved camp from Johnson’s Island. We left the Island in the 9th inst. and arrived here via Washington on the 14th. Our camp is near the Potomac and about 55 miles below Washington. Fredericksburg is nine miles from here.
This is the depot of supplies to the Potomac army at present and the place to where all of the prisoners are brought from the front. Since we landed we have been kept here to guard the reb prisoners, which now number about 6,000—more are coming in and being sent off every day. Yesterday thirteen hundred were sent to Point Lookout. I tell you they are hard-looking cases.
They have been doing a wholesale business in slaughtering men within the last two weeks. The roads to Fredericksburg are lined with such of the wounded as can walk and the ambulances and supply trains are all loaded with wounded. Every house in Fredericksburg is said to be filled with the wounded.
The three regiments of our brigade which left Sandusky about three weeks before we did, are all killed, wounded, or taken prisoners but about 250. But few from these regiments were captured except the wounded. Gen. [Alexander] Shaler, commander of the brigade, was wounded and taken prisoner. ¹ You can judge where our regiment would have been had we been relieved in time to went to the front with the others. But it is not too late yet. I expect we will soon be relieved from here and sent to the front. You have no idea of the amount of troops that are passing through here to the army daily.
I should like very much to have made the folks a visit before I left the Island, but a soldier might as well try to get a discharge as a furlough and nothing short of a chunk of lead through the head will get a fellow his discharge. Ed Farbox exhausted all of his strategy in trying to get a furlough and has come to the conclusion that furloughs are all a “hoax.”
Haven’t anything more to write at present. Give my biggest respects to the gals and boys to Wrightsville. Write soon again and remember your friend, — Dan
P. S. Direct to Washington, D. C.
¹ Shaler commanded the prisoner of war camp at Johnson’s Island on the shores of Lake Erie in the winter of 1863-1864, with his regiment serving as prison guards. He was back with his brigade in 1864 in time to participate in the Overland Campaign. VI Corps had been reorganized, and Shaler’s brigade served in General Horatio Wright’s first division. This brigade was on the army’s right flank in the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. At first, it was in a “refused” position facing north, thus protecting the rest of the corps. Then it was drawn into the main line of battle, supporting its fight with LG Richard S. Ewell’s corps. As a result, Shaler’s brigade was flanked by Confederate troops led by Brigadier General John Brown Gordon that had swung northward to attack the Union right flank. Shaler and Brigadier General Truman Seymour were among the Union soldiers captured in his foray. Shaler was trying to rally his men when he was made a captive. He was sent to Libby Prison, in Richmond, Virginia and then to Macon, Georgia.