Letter describing battle at Fair Oaks, Fort Sully, and gruesome incident after the battle – June 7, 1862
Letter from Private Henry W. Lindergreen of the 1st Minnesota Regiment, Company H, to Ignatius Donnelly, describing the Regiment’s performance in battle at Fair Oaks. His pride in the regiment is obvious; says it’s awful to see rebels die “5 or six in a heap”, “but such is war”. Also relates a gruesome incident after the battle between an officer and a wounded rebel.
“In camp on the Battle Field of the 31st and 1st, Fort Sully, Virginia June 7th 1862.
Dear Friend’s Donnelly and Lady,
Since writing to you before we have been through some exciting and bloody scenes. last Saturday while lazily taking our dinner the sharp ring of musketry broke upon our ears[.] in five minutes we were ready to start and we were not kept long in waiting. Started and crossed the Grape Vine or Sully’s bridge as we call it, being built by the Minnesota first. arrived at the scene of action about 4 oclock and not 3 minutes too soon as they were rather driving our forces, formed in line of battle and soon we saw them coming up on us. we waited until we could see the whites of their eyes when we opened upon them. a cooler set of men never lived than this same “Minnesota First”[.] it was as much as the captains could do to keep the men from standing up and loading. Only three companies of this Regiment were actively engaged and they were the left wing of the regiment, Companies “H,” “K” and “D.” Captain Addams took Col. Lightfoot, Lieut. Col. Long, a Lieut, 3 Searg’s and 8 privates prisoners, pretty good for Capt. Charles P. and his “Bully” Company as they call us, Gen. Gorman showed himself to be a brave and gallant officer. the 34th and 2nd New York made a splendid bayonet charge[,] running the Rebels two miles. our Regiment fought against the 22 North Carolina Regiment, two companies of the 61 Pennsylvania fought at the left of us. the rest of their Regiment being nearly all cut to pieces, they were both Philadelphia companies[,] one being commanded by Capt. John Crosby, who you are acquainted with. he commands Company “G,” the other[,] Coy “H,” being commanded by Capt R L Orr of Philadelphia, I got acquainted with Mrs. Donnelly’s cousin, who belongs to Company “G.” his name is John OBryan[.] I had quite a pleasant visit with him[.] he was unhurt in either battle[.] his Regiment lost their Col, Lieut. Col, and Major and out of a Regiment nine hundred strong, they have not now got five hundred[.] OBryan sends his love to all of you. Now a little about the Battle Field, our men obeyed McClellands order, to fire low, and all of the Rebels were shot either in the head or breast, and it was awful to see the poor fellows piled up in some places 5 or six in a heap, and the groans of the wounded was heart-rending, but such is was. the tops of the bushes are trimmed off slick and clean, and one log that lies on the ground has 64 bullets in it, and not a tree of any size but what has from five to a dozen bullets in it, in the swamp beyond us the bodies of the Rebels still lie on the ground, it being between our pickets and the Rebels. we are now encamped on the Battle Field and have thrown up breast-works, which we call “Fort Sully” in honor of our gallant Col. we are now within 7 miles of the “Sacred City,” but I presume we shall have another bloody battle before we get there. I will now give you an incident that occured in the Battle of Saturday. Kendall was an eye witness to it, at the foot of a sweet gum tree, which stands close to my tent, sat a wounded rebel officer just after the heat of the action had ceased. Lieut King of the 34th New York, seeing him there, went up to him and asked if he could assist him in any way; the rebel replied by a look of sullen hate, and Lieut. King turned away from him; as he was moving off, the rebel officer drew a pistol and fired, the ball passing close to the head of King, who turned cooly, looked at the ungrateful wretch for a second and then ran his sword through his body, fairly pining him to the tree. King then unbuckled the rebels sword from his body, put it on himself and rejoined his regiment, leaving his own sword sticking where he has placed it. I will send you a piece of a peach tree that a ball slivered. I will bring home some secesh bullets when I come back[.] right within 10 rods of where I am writing this letter, lies buried 300 rebels all in one grave, 3 deep[.] its hard but fair. I want you should watch the papers for Gen. Sumner’s Report, he says the Minnesota First saved the day, by keeping the enemy from out-flanking the Division. We had two killed[,] one from Co. F[,] in the action, and one from Co. “C” while on picket Sunday[.] we had 6 wounded[,] among them Frank Mead, who now belong’s to Co. “B,” he had his thumb and forefinger shot, but not anything very serious. I do not know the name’s of the others. Kendall is out on picket while I am left in camp on duty. he sends his best respects to you and Mrs. Donnelly. give my love to Miss Maggie, to Mrs. D and all of my friends in Nininger. if we ever get into Richmond, I will write again. we have just heard of the Glorious News from Gen. Hallock, and I should judge that Mr. “Stonewall” Jackson had heard from Bank’s and Fremont, now I must tell you of my foraging trip, while at the last camp and then I will close this poorly written letter. went out with two other young fellows in search of cherries, found a tree full of good ones, and we eat our full, dismounted and took a trip to the garden, found a fine strawberry bed, all laid down and eat all around us, but still no one appeared[.] eat all we could of these, and then went to picking pea’s, presently the shrill voice of an old woman was heard, let those pea’s alone, no answer, let those pea’s alone, who sent you here; Uncle Sam, was my answer. Sam; Sam has no business here, them’s my seed pea’s if you want to pick my peas go to the upper end of the garden. we complied with her modest request, went to the upper end of the garden[,] got a fine mess of green peas and then went back to camp. I forgot to state that said old woman had a son arrested at the White House for being a spy. With much love to you both, I remain
Your Sincere Young Friend, Henry W. Lindergreen
P.S. how does Mrs. Donnelly’s Aid Society flourish, now is the time the soldier’s need aid. they bear their wound’s heroickly.”
Citation: June 7, 1862 Letter from Henry W. Lindergreen to Lieutenant Governor Ignatius Donnelly, Correspondence June-July 10, 1862. Ignatius Donnelly and family papers, 1812-1973. Minnesota Historical Society.