Wednesday, 1864 June 29, Gauley Bridge [Fayette County], West Virginia: “Men and horses dropped dead from fatigue and hunger”

[A Union cavalryman’s letter  to his sister during 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns]

Camp near Gauley Bridge
June 29, 1864
Dear Sister Ada
Once again we have got
“insidie” our lines, and I will write you
an answer to your letter of May 27th which
I received before we left Staunton.
I have been very well since there & have so
much to write about that I don’t know
where to commence
It is just 2 months since we left Frederick
Md [Maryland] and we have had two months as hard
soldiering as I want to see.
My last letter home was from Staunton
from there we crossed the mountain
captured a rebel wagon train destroyed the
rail road marched within 10 or 12 miles of Lynchburg
and over the mountains again to Lexington
(our route east of the mountains was through the counties of
Nelson & Amherst.)
From there we went to [Buchanan] on
the James River on the route we passed
within 2 miles of the “Natural Bridge”

[page 2]
but didn’t get to see it as it was after
night when we passed it. Buchanan is in Roanoke County
from there we went to Liberty in Bedford County our route
was between the “Peaks of Otter” through
Peaks Gap from there we went nearly to Lynchburg the second city of Va
so near that we could see the city plainly.
Our Division Genl Dufie’s [Alfred N. Duffié (1833–1880)] were
on the left of our line of battle but didnt
suffer much. There was a strong earth
work in our front and we were dismounted
to storm it but for some reason didnt
try it. One man in our Company was
dangerously wounded by a shell. It was RN
Gibson [Richard N. Gilson] of Toms Creek he was left in
the rear when we left as we had no
ambulance with us. We also lost 3 horses.
From Lynchburg we fell back through Liberty, Salem[,] Sweet Springs, White
Sulphur Springs[,] Lewisburg & Meadow
Bluff to this place. We are now
about 30 or 35 miles from Charleston.
I hope I shall never see another such
march. 14[?] miles or more of this route

[page 3]
was through the Alleghany Mts
the road was tolerably good but,
tired & hungry we had to keep jogging
along for about 8 days and nights
we didnt unsaddle our horses and
only stopped occasionally to rest & graze
our horses. Men and horses dropped
dead from fatigue and hunger.
Our route was strewn with wagons
and horses I hope I shall never see the
like again. Day before yesterday we
received rations and the men are all
in good spirits again. Our detachment
being mounted didnt suffer much
as we had a chance to forage.
We expect to go to Charleston [West Virginia]
tomorrow but dont know what the program then will be.
We have had plenty of skirmishes
and cavalry fights but I have
passed through all safely.
The trip has been a hard one but
after resting a day or two we will
be all right.

[page 4]
(Your sheet of paper just suits)

I would like to write more
but it is getting dark I could
tell of the many romantic spots
we have seen but will have to
defer it. I will write again in
a day or two.
Give my love to all inquiring
friends. With love to all I
remain Your loving brother
Oscar.
Oscar McMillan
Army of West Va

[postscript]
June 30th. As I didn’t get my letter started
I will finish now this morning we crossed
[Gauley] River and we are now camped
at Loop Creek Landing on the Roanoke
River a few miles below the Falls of the
Kanawha [Kanawha Falls]. I think we will remain here
for a few days to rest and recruit our
horses when it is likely we will be
sent to Martinsburg Va., Clarksburg.
Write me a letter direct to 1st Cavalry
Brigade 1st Cavalry Division Army of West Virginia (Co “C” 2d MD [Maryland] Cavalry[ ) ]
With love to all I remain Oscar

[Editor: According this collection’s finding aid, “Oscar D. McMillan was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1838 and served four years in the Civil War as a Private and 1st Lieutenant in Cole’s Cavalry Company (Company C, 1st Regiment Potomac Home Brigade Cavalry Maryland). His company participated in the Union Army of the United States Shenandoah Valley Campaign. He also served in Company E, 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. His letters reveal that he was a model soldier, brother and son. . . . Oscar McMillan died of a cerebral embolism in 1919 after being happily married for 46 years and a farmer in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.” A “Private Richard N. Gilson,” Company C, Coles Cavalry, First Regiment, Potomac Home Brigade Company, enlisted August 27, 1863 and died of wounds received in action, August 3, 1864. The Peaks of Otter are three mountains overlooking Bedford, Virginia, on the Blue Ridge Parkway.]

MSS 15284

3 thoughts on “Wednesday, 1864 June 29, Gauley Bridge [Fayette County], West Virginia: “Men and horses dropped dead from fatigue and hunger”

  1. All of the 50 or so letters writtten by my great grandfather have been donated to UVA. He returned home to his ancestral dwelling after the war. In addition to farming, he was a surveyor, and his transit, tripod, and some notebooks are still in my possession. His children included my grandfather John Roy MacMillan. His army paraphernalia, including a ceremonial sword awarded to him by his men, were donated to the US Army Museum in Ft Belvoir. The ancestral home was the residence of his sister, Margaret McMillan, until near the time of her death when I was a youngster. It then passed to the hands of a member of the faculty of Gettysburg College. It is located on the Battlefield, was used by both sides as an artillery position, and still stands, alongside the rebuilt McMillan Orchard.

  2. i am research my ancestor, Abraham Dern of company A Cole’s cavalry and would like to obtain copies of Oscar McMillan letters. how can I do that ?

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