• Civil War Letter: Private Describes Burning of Plantation With Sharp Shooters' Help

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    Private IRA F. GENSEL of Doylestown, PA, enlisted on April 28, 1861 as a Private and was mustered in to Co. I, 25th Penn. Vols., [2nd Lt. 4th United States Regular Infantry. He was wounded at Fredricksburg, Va and died of wounds on 12/28/62].  He writes a superb and beautifully penned 4 pp, 7 ¾ x 9 3/4, letter to his friend Miss Annie E. Robinson of Rock Island, Ill, from Camp at Harrison’s Landing on the James River,VA, August 2, 1862. Original stamped cover included.  Superb description of the burning of a plantation.


    In part: "…The night before the rebels had shelled our camp and the shipping from the opposite side of the river…done very little damage. Opposite Westover Landing it appears ‘Secesh’ had brought some artillery and opened fire on us. No damage was done [to] the shipping, but some ten men and a few horses were killed…Under the cover of night the grove and large number of buildings they had brought their cannon and it was determined yesterday to destroy all the buildings and cut down the beautiful grove to prevent them from coming so near [again] unobserved. The 4th Regiment of U. S. Infantry was ordered to…destroy the buildings and protect the ax men. Some two hundred and fifty of the 17th Michigan, a few of Berdan's Sharp Shooters were also with us. The ax men were to cut down the beautiful grove on the river bank. The order came to us at 3 o'clock…arriving at the landing two New York ferry boats and a small steamer were in readiness to take us over. Just as the steamers started four gunboats came down and took position on the right and left of the landing…At five we started…The wharf is under a high bank which afforded excellent protection…"G" and C companies were deployed as the first line of skirmishers and immediately advanced. A and F companies formed the second while the rest of the regiment were held in reserve. After our skirmishers had advanced beyond the plantation buildings the parties detailed to…burn and apply the match went to work…Although it smacked a little of vandalism yet it looked like the way to fight the enemy. The overseer's house was got ready first. Then another fine house and the Negro huts. Then came the barn both very large and almost new…All were fired in regular order. We then fell back to the elegant establishment of the grand Mogul and indeed it was a splendid one. His dwelling was a new building of the Gothic style. The out buildings were nearly new…It was indeed the abode of Southern Chivalry and refinement. The garden was handsomely laid out…The ripe pears and peaches…were almost breaking down the trees. Of course, we did not carry any away…for fear "it might prevent restoring the Union as it was or the Constitution as it is." The rebels did not make their appearance in any force. About twenty came toward us in line of skirmishers but kept a respectable distance off. I am sorry…that they did not advance…We had in all about six hundred men and the gunboats to receive them. At nine o'clock our job was completed and we got aboard the steamers to return.  We crossed James River by the light of the flames of the house of the rebel that fired the first gun at Fort Sumter. Verily he had his reward…You speak of some young man calling to bid you good bye before starting to rejoin his regiment, of his being so rough, indifferent about his appearance etc. Unfortunately that is to much the case in the volunteer…With the regulars it is different. The men in the ranks, I admit as a general thing, are much inferior intellectually to the volunteers. They are however required to look neat and any remissness is punished with great severity. The officers in the regular service have pride enough about them to always look neat…their superiors are just as exacting of them as they are those below them…Ira F. Gensel."


    Folds, minor toning.


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