My Dear Mother

Gilbreath, Erasmus Corwin William Sydnor Gilbreath III Scrapbook 1863

On May 7, 1863, Erasmus Corwin Gilbreath wrote this letter to his mother while retreating after the Battle of Chancellorsville with General Joseph Hooker’s army. The Battle of Chancellorsville was a stunning defeat for the Union. The letter reads:

“Camp of 20th Indiana Volunteers
May 7, 1863
My Dear Mother,

I wrote you when we stared on an expedition against the enemy. But as the mails now not allowed to go I suppose you have not received it. I am now very tired and hungry and dirty – so can not give you a full account of our movements. We crossed the Rappahannock about 15 miles above here and 5 miles from our crossing with the enemy. After great preparations for battle and having everything in readiness, we never had so bright prospect of success as then. But then came one of those things that seem to follow this army as a fatality almost. The eleventh corps one of the largest composed of Germans almost entirely ran away without firing a shot. This affair happened on Saturday the 3rd of May and on Sunday the battle with the remainder of this army commenced and a harder out never was fought. On account of the running of that corps of the army we were compelled to change our position and did not hold the field on which we fought but I think we did harder fighting than the enemy and they lost more men than we did. We took about 7,000 prisoners and lost 10 or 12 guns. 

I suppose you have seen my name among the wounded again and I have hurried to write this that I may ease your mind about the matter. I was only slightly wounded in my right arm near the shoulder. I came off the field to the hospital and after resting and having a dressing put upon the wound returned to the field and there remained until the close of the fight and have been with my company ever since. So you see I am scarcely hurt at all. I was away from the field only 12 hours. I was hurt by a spent ball as it did not tear my clothes at all hardly. It is not much sore although swollen some. I shall not leave the company yet.

We have fallen back to our old camp and expect to move soon. I have received no letters for a long time and hope todays mail will bring me one from you.

I am your affectionate son,
Erasmus C Gilbreath”

Handwritten letter from Erasmus Corwin Gilbreath to his mother after the humiliating Union defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville.