This letter was written by 33 year-old Anna (Hopkins) Young (1829-1905) to her husband, Searles Bradford Young (1832-1925) who was wounded on 13 December 1862 in the Battle of Fredericksburg while serving in Co. K, 7th Rhode Island Infantry. Searles lost his left arm and was shot in the mouth, losing two teeth. He survived his wounds and was discharged for disability on 4 February 1863. He became a Free Will Baptist minister in Foster after the war. [Note: For Young’s first hand account of the Battle of Fredericksburg, see endnotes.]
Foster, a town of 2,000, was hit hard by the war; half the men who served in the Seventh did not come back. In the fighting at Fredericksburg, 50 men of the 7th Rhode Island were killed or mortally wounded, 144 were wounded, and three were captured for a loss of 197 men out of 570 who went into action. It was the greatest loss ever sustained by a Rhode Island unit in any battle of any war.
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Rob Grandchamp and is published by express consent.]
Foster, Rhode Island
December 28, 1862
I received yours of the 24th last night and was truly glad to do so for I had got to feeling very anxious for I thought you would come or write sooner. I watched the stage with the greatest eagerness but when I learned your situation, I was very glad you were not going to try to come. I hope you will stay till you come with entire safety. I don’t know but you might as well stay where you are as long as you have as kind attention as you do now for if you were at Portsmouth Grove, you know it would be very difficult for me to come to you this winter and if I did, I could not stay any time you know. I expect from what I learn from various sources you are in a very delicate situation and need to be kept very quiet for awhile. If you are with a skillful doctor, that is a very great consideration in your care and I should not leave him till I was sure that was best.
You spoke of the lossses in your regiment. I can tell you those I know. Those I am not acquainted with, I don’t recollect. Lieut. Col. W. B. Sayles was instantly killed by a shell striking him in the breast. He has been brought to Providence and interred. Major Babbitt was wounded and died of his wounds in a short time. He too, I believe, has been brought on and buried. What a change a few days brought to the occupants of the tent you went to about your overcoat! Respecting Albert Winsor, nothing reliable has been learned. There are various rumors—some that he is killed—some that he is wounded—and others he is missing. Uncle George has a slight wound in the top of his head supposed to be caused by a piece of shell. He was brought to Washington and lodged in Douglas Hospital but expects to join his regiment again.
Chloe Shippee said Whiting’s name was in the paper with the wounded but I have not seen t. Henry Cole’s name was in one paper among the wounded and some say Olney D. Wins is wounded and some that he is missing. John Austin is wounded in the head. The 7th [Rhode Island] Regiment reports 140 wounded and 20 killed. We begin to fear Mr. Farrow is dead as there comes no news from him. Phebe Burgess is quite sick of throat-ail.
I received a letter from Albert Burgess dated the same as yours. He gives the fullest account of your wounds that I have seen. I suppose from what he wrote you bled from a vein under the tongue. I was glad to learn from him that you don’t suffer greatly all the time. He said he was going to carry you some things in the morning and among other things some honey. That will be good for your mouth, I expect, if you can bear it. I hope he will continue to be a frequent visitor at your house.
I almost forgot to tell you that Orderly [George W.] Bennett is wounded in the leg. Esaias says it is rather lonely down there now, so I understand. We are all well. I expect the time will hang very heavily on my hands till you come but again, I say don’t come till you can do so with entire safety.
I saw a letter today that you finished on the eve of going into battle. It sounded solemn to me, I can tell you. Oh how glad I should be if this war could only close. May God hasten the time. When you went away, I requested you to come back looking as near as you could as you did when you went away. I would now say if you have not been shaved, do not be now by any means for you might take cold in your jaw. When I said that, I was not calculating for you to come as you must now if you ever come. But Oh! Searles, how grateful we ought to be. How narrow an escape you had. That ball might easily have ended your career here. But you are too weak, perhaps, to bear many comments.
Please write what your intentions are as soon as you receive this.
Yours as ever, — Anna H. Young
Searles B. Young’s memoirs of the Battle of Fredericksburg were written about 1915 and are now housed in the Foster Rhode Island Preservation Society.
“The Battle of Fredericksburg began about noon on Saturday the thirteenth. We were marched out onto a plain and ordered to lie down in a place which was very much exposed to the fire of the enemy. Soon we were ordered forward at double quick. Two fences had been built across the plain and many of the men were killed while climbing over those obstacles. As I was lying on one elbow and tearing a cartridge in order to reload, a rifle-ball from the enemy struck my index finger, cutting it nearly off. It broke my jaw bone, cut my tongue almost half off, and passed out the side of my neck, very close to the jugular vein. As soon as there was a lull in the firing I went to the rear, thinking my best chance to escape was along the railroad track. A high bank protected me for a short distance. Then I came to a place where the ground was level and the firing very severe. I had been crawling on my hands and knees but after resting a little and summoning all my strength I ran across the open space and reached the banks in safety.
From here I walked to the city and began a search for our hospital. I was directed to the hospital of another regiment by mistake but was allowed to stay there overnight but nothing was done for my wound. When daylight came, I was obliged to start on my search again. I could not speak but could only show an envelope which had on it my name and the number of my regiment. When my strength was almost exhausted, I found a house where a surgeon was willing to care for me. Here my wound was bathed and dressed and my finger cut off. I was given nourishment which was the first in twenty-four hours.
The next day we were taken across the river and placed in a tent. That night it rained heavily and the next morning I found myself lying in a stream of running water. Some of the wounded soldiers were to be taken from here to Washington, and I begged so hard in sign language that I was finally allowed to go, though the surgeons thought I was too weak. We were carried fourteen miles in freight cars and finished our journey to Washington in a steamer. From the wharf where we transferred by ambulance to the Ninth Street Church Hospital. A very kind nurse took charge of me and soon had me bathed and placed in a clean comfortable bed, which I appreciated after my hard journey. Many kind people came to visit the wounded soldiers and brought dainties to eat.
While in this hospital I had a great deal of trouble from bleeding of the severed arteries but these were finally tied by a skillful surgeon. I also had severe chills and on recovering from these, I caught erysipelas from another soldier, named Sargent Watson. We were ordered removed to a tent and the men were about to place me on a stretcher, when my doctor overheard my protestations. He ordered them to leave me in bed saying it would end my life to take me from it. So, I had the strange experience of riding through the streets of Washington on an iron bedstead. After being place in the tent I gained rapidly but my troubles were not over yet. A half-drunken nurse gave me iodine instead of tincture of iron. The doctor relieved my distress as soon as possible and I soon recovered from the effects of the dose. I was later taken to the H Street Ascension Church Hospital where I remained until discharged.”