15 May 1862

Camp near Grant’s [?] Court House ¹
May 15th 1862

Dear Sister Myra,

I have at length made up my mind to write another letter to you and see if you would answer it. I am as well as usual and hope these few lines may find you the same. Since I heard from you, the cry has [been,] “Onward to Richmond.”

Unexpectedly to us, the Rebs took French leave of Yorktown and a week ago last Sunday we started on after them. When we went out in the morning, we supposed it was to support a battery, but we marched on nearly 3 miles passing their earthworks and stove pipe cannons and halted for a rest, and part of us started back to camp for blankets and overcoats, and while we were gone, they marched on about 6 miles and camped for the night where we joined them. In the morning at two o’clock, we all went back to camp again to get our knapsacks and a nice time we had of it too for it commenced raining just as we started and rained 24 hours before it had laid the mud enough. When we got to camp, I was so wet and muddy that I thought discretion the better part of valor and so I turned in to my old nest and went to sleep along wth Hank Crain ² who is my comrade and was not well enough to march when the rest did. And Tuesday morning we started on after them and came up with them near Williamsburg and [on] the other side of the battlefield.

We took a passing view of the ground where so many had contended for and against the old flag. All the wounded ones had been removed and the living were searching after their dead comrades and burying them as decently as they could. The field was ours but dearly won for we were fairly whipped but did not know back and their boasted fort was scaled and taken at the point of the bayonet under the very mouths of their cannon. But the day is won, the dead buried, and day by day we have moved forward to Richmond and are now within 26 miles of there. And a large body of them surrendered this side of [the] Rappahannock [?] ³ which they would have crossed if their leaders had not burned the bridge. But they are there and we will have the Devils in spite of fate unless they sink and they may do that for they are in a swamp. They stayed there thinking that they could come in behind us after we had passed them and flank us but they find we are too old for them and they are caught in their own trap. And the gunboats are in the river guarding them.

One of their colonels and a major came over here with a pass and when they saw they were likely to [be] taken, they showed a white flag, but it would not go down and they are well guarded and kept safe. They would not give up their arms — only at the point of the bayonet. They said they would give them up if McClellan ordered them to but they did not see him. It was their intention to shoot him if they saw him. They feel very savage towards our men and abuse every guard that is put over them. I would like to give them a lesson or two and see if I could not bring them to the terms.

I thought my nerves would not stand for me to look on a dead Reb but they look hateful — even in death. They do not have any uniformity in their dress and some of them are rather shabby. They destroyed everything that they left — wagons, tents, and everything else you could think of. There was some splendid poetry about the damn Yankees and everyone had a place set for our overthrow. They planted shells in every place they could convenient but I have not heard of but one accident from them. But the newspapers have told you all about it and it has got state[d] before this. We have not seen any fighting yet but we should have been in the last fight if the regiment had been together.

Hoping this may find you all well, I subscribe myself your brother, Albert H. Bancroft

Tip is well and Hank is in good spirits and talks fight and all over the fight ground every day. I have fell away to 157½ pounds. Write soon.


¹ Albert was misinformed when he datelined this letter, “Grants Court House,” for there is no such place in Virginia. It appears the letter was written from the camp of the 85th New York just beyond Williamsburg, Virginia.

² Henry (“Hank”) Crane was 40 years old when he enlisted in August 1861 to serve three years in Co. B, 85th New York Infantry. He was from Shortsville, New York. He died of disease on 20 September 1864 at Foster General Hospital in New Berne, North Carolina.

³ Albert’s spelling of the river is poor but appears he meant “Rappahannock” though this makes little sense as McClellan’s army was far south of that river, on the peninsula between the York and James rivers.