Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 14, 1862: Lt. Anthony Heminover at Williamsburg

On May 14, 1862, Lt. Anthony Heminover, of Belvidere, of Co. H of the 7th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, wrote a letter to his friends and family through The Belvidere Intelligencer after the battle of Williamsburg. The 7th NJ Regiment was in camp near Kent, Virginia.

Heminover wrote, "Our own State is gloriously represented by the bravery of her sons.  They have won honors for the State that will never be forgotten and on their banner will be inscribed the battle of Williamsburg, long to be remembered by those who come out safe.  I will give you a short description of the battle, and the great disadvantage our men fought under.

"I reached camp fifty hours after the battle was fought, and was shown the different movements and positions of our men, and also of the enemy.  Our men had a march of 11 miles through a drenching rain and almost impassable roads, arrived in front of the enemies' lines in the night; slept on their arms and at daylight formed in line of battle.  Only one Division (Hooker's) advanced slowly, with skirmishers in advance on right and left.   It was not long before they found the enemy in numbers, driving in our advance.  Our line advanced steadily until the copper-skinned [tanned] heathens showed their heads from behind the trees and opened fire on the left of our line; the fighting soon became general along the line, more like skirmishing on their side, for they were behind trees and deep ravines, would raise and fire and then retreat.  The battle ground was dense woods with a thick cover of green bushes three or four feet high.  Whole regiments would lay under cover of these bushes and when our men got within thirty yards, they would fire and retreat in ravines, and draw our men on their chosen ground, where they had a number of very deep ravines that would cover thousands of men.  They showed their style of guerrilla warfare.  They would form in line and march up and pour a few volleys in our never-flinching soldiers and retreat, while up would come fresh Sepoys, or heathens.  Our men would be pressed hard, but they stood and fought like veterans three times their number, (you often have heard tell of big stories about fighting odds, but this I have from a rebel Lieutenant and have no reason to disbelieve it).   The enemy had over 12,000 engaged, and we had about 5,000 that stood under a most murderous fire all day, and so far have had no credit for their bravery and courage in any paper that I have seen.

"One of the great disadvantages that our men fought under was they carried one hundred rounds of cartridges, and the powder was damp, as it rained all day, their guns became foul, the rammers would get fast and quite a number had to shoot them out and get other guns.  Just before night, they came up in force with a flag of truce and when within a few yards opened a terrific fire on our men  that caused them to fall back a little, as it thinned our ranks some.  They pressed on until they covered our dead and wounded, then they halted and rifled them of money, uniforms, and everything of account; the cowardly scallywags retreated and left for safe quarters under the cover of night.

"You may think that shot flew pretty thick where our line was formed, when I counted 29 bullet holes in a tree not larger than a man's arm.  The men are all buried just where they fell in line of battle.  It looks as if they had been formed for a dress parade.  Their graves have been marked with a neat little board, with the name, company and inscription on it, and a railing around the graves.  John Kinney, of Belvidere, was shot dead, fighting as brave as the bravest.

"Before I close, I will give you a short description of the chivalry soldiers, they have no uniforms and are badly clad in gray or coon color.  We were encamped just below Williamsburg, and just as soon as the chivalry ladies knew that we were coming through the town - which is a beautiful place - they made bouquets for these Sepoy chivalry, and all those that were able to get out of the hospital were posted on stoops with a bouquet.  Well there is no trying to give a description   of these miscreants, they are a mixture of Sepoy and Hottentot, and their cranium looked like a bushel basket filled with curled hair and bog hay cured, and the bouquets in such claws.  Why they couldn't tell a rose from a dandelion or a skunk cabbage.  To think that white men have to fight such barbarians.

"Our Division lost over 1,500 men, pretty badly cut up, but if they will only give us one more chance, we will stop some of the murdering and thieving.  They don't fight like soldiers, just as soon as one of our men falls, they drop their guns and rush for the stealings.  They are satisfied they can't fight, only murder and steal.  But thank God and the braves their time is short, they are about played out, and so is some of the boys' shoes, traveling over these bad roads; but that is nothing if we could only catch these apes; no, I won't call them that for I would have to ask the monkey species pardon for the comparison, or have all the monkey tribe down on me if I should class them with the chivalry Sogers.  Mud sill soldiers and those of the orangetang [orangutan] army.  They call us blue belly Jersey's.  Now the charge is a great compliment, but we will proceed to Richmond and collect our rents, then quit and come home.  I have ascertained that our Division lost 1,649.  I will close by subscribing myself yours &c. Tony."  [Heminover's use of the word chivalry may have been his misspelling of chivaree or chivari.] 

Copyright  1999-2012: Jay C. Richards 

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