This letter was written by Pvt. Zebulon Pike Ryder (1844-1909) who enlisted on 3 August 1862 in Co. I, 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry. He was discharged from the service on 16 May 1865. Zebulon was reared in Brooklyn, the son of policeman Christopher Columbus Ryder (1819-1901) and Adaline (“Delia”) A. Powell (1828-1893).
The content of this letter pertains to what was called the Wilson-Kautz Raid (June 22-July 1, 1864) or what many have called the “wild skedaddle” during which Union cavalry tore up some 60 miles of railroad track near Reams Station in Virginia, but became caught in a trap that cost them hundreds of troopers as prisoners. Wilson claimed the raid was a strategic success by Gen. Grant called it as “disaster.” Wilson lost 33 killed, 108 wounded, and 674 captured or missing; Kautz lost 48 killed, 153 wounded, and 429 captured or missing.
The 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry and the 1st District of Columbia Cavalry rode together in the Second Cavalry Brigade led by Col. Spear during the Wilson-Kautz Raid.
Jones Landing [James River, Virginia]
July 2d 1864
I am alive and well and I hope the folks at home are the same. I suppose you have heard—or will hear—about the the slaughter our boys had on the last raid. There is about 20 boys in our camp gone. Whether they are killed or captured, I do not know. There is between 200 and 400 missing. There was 461 missing last night but some came in today.
Capt. [Gerard] Reynolds of Co. M, Capt. [John B.] Loomis of Co. L, Capt. [W. Dewees] Roberts of B and Capt. [William] Bailey of E Co. was killed. Lieut. [David O.] Tears of Co. F and [Edward A. [Minnich] of ours [Co. I] are missing—supposed to be killed. We were surrounded by infantry and artillery with Lee’s Cavalry to back them. My horse was shot and I had to walk in and I was pretty well used up when I got in camp but am all right now.
We ran into Lee’s right wing as he was swinging around to flank Grant. Gen. Wilson, I think, ought to be hung for taking us there as he could easy avoid it by crossing Blackwater as Gen. Kautz wanted him to do. He will be court martialed for it anyway.
I must stop writing as the mail will soon leave. I will write tomorrow and tell you all the particulars. From your son, — Zebulon
Jones Landing, Va.