America’s ignorance and then realization Of what was to come is expressed through two letters written by James A. Carmen a Pennsylvania volunteer of Company E. 1 77th Regiment, as if he was speaking on behalf of the collective conscience of America. The letters that James A. Carmen wrote to his father were written about six months apart, with the second letter coming after James A. Caravan’s participation in the Union defeat at Fredericksburg. In James A. Caravan’s first letter he writes about how he and his men are prepared and eager to get into battle.
He writes “Father there is n army in this valley 80 thousand Strong good troops General pope at their head. We fear nothing if General McClellan watches his time as we approach to Richmond. He will be able to whip them and go into Richmond” 1 . The confidence of James A. Caravan’s seems to come from the fact that he had not participated in a battle yet even though he had the knowledge that the Union had suffered a series of losses and hard-fought battles that ended inconclusively while still resulting in more Union casualties than Confederate casualties, not to mention the Peninsula Campaign (1862)2 that failed to take
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Richmond the first time. Despite this, James seemed confident that they would take Richmond in an upcoming campaign with ease. James was also preoccupied with small grievances he faced at the time. These things included a different furlough application process, writing so many letters to family, finding better rations and the sudden death of a Regimental Colonel as a result of drinking too much. James A.
Carmen brings up his father’s previous letter and his attempt to have his son resign but James responded by saying “l have taken an oath to Support the Constitution of the United States and obey he President and assist him in carrying out and administering the laws. “3 James A. Carmen was young and idealistic, he had no idea what he was about to face. What James A. Carmen would face was nothing of his making or even that of the leaders to which he followed but a product of the unique era in which he lived.
The American Civil War took place at a time when America and the rest of the world were enjoying the fruits of the Industrial Revolution. With an increase in the accuracy, power and rate of fire of conventional weapons, mixed with the Napoleonic era tactics of large columns of men arching often in the open while sending volleys of fire into another column of men combined to turn the American Civil War into a meat grinder the likes of which the world had never seen before. Another contributing factor to the devastation brought by the American Civil War was that it was a war of firsts.
The American Civil War saw the first use of the Gaiting gun, conventional grenades, ironclad ships and an improved rifle shot called “Minim Ball” and that was easier to use, faster to load and more accurate. More importantly, the “Minim Ball” like modern ammunition had increased penetration ability. A litany surgery manual used by the Confederate States Army explains the devastating affects and increased effectiveness that “Minim Ball” had when compared to the former round ball type of ammunition.
This conical ball [Minim Ball] seldom fails to take the shortest cut through a cavity or limb, and it has at times been seen to pass through the bodies of two men and lodge in that of the third. Rarely are they deflected from the course, as is the round ball, which is turned by every little obstacle, taking up a position at striking variance with any rule of propulsive forces. In steady hands frightful wounds re produced by the mini ball, which require all the resources of surgery to manage successfully. With the “Minim Ball” that could easily pass through 2 to 3 men and with all the other types of new military technology, combined with Napoleonic era large formation tactics surpassed on average every war in human history prior the American Civil War in the number of casualties sustained during combat and those who died of disease. For example, during the Crimean war the average casualty ratio ranged from 25% to 46%5 killed or died of wounds as a result of combat for the countries involved when imparted to the number that died of disease.
But the American Civil War would see that number jumped to around 75%6, and advances in the medical field did not reduce the amount of death from disease because at that time human beings did not even know the existence of bacteria. So it’s easy to conclude that the increase in the casualty ratio was due to the increased effectiveness in military technology and the outdated military tactics of the time.
This is something that James A Carmen could never have foreseen but the effects on him are clearly visible in the next letter he wrote to his father after his participation in the Battle of Fredericksburg. James writes “Father, I never want to get into another battle it is terrible Persons falling all around me. If I ever trusted in God I did that time the fight was on last Saturday the 33rd instant. “7 James A. Carmen had experienced the battle he so badly wanted just a few months earlier and it devastated him.
No longer was his letter full of small grievances but instead of his concern with family friends he had seen prior to the battle, “Father, I Saw the Safe Harbor boys Pickle & Cline Young son Just a few days before the Battle. T is Said the reserves lost greatly in the fight have not seen them since”8. James’ letter was filled with an overwhelming sense of fear and uncertainty, no longer was the oath that kept him in the Army in the previous letter of his concern.
He dreams of being able to resign, he tells his father “Father if my resignation would be accepted I would resign right away but there has been some half dozen Sent in from our regiment but they were all sent back but one. Therefore it is no use for me to try it”. 9 Much like what many Americans where feeling, the sense of despair, oppression and no hope is palpable and Sesame’s second letter, he had seen the truth of what the American Civil War really was and it forever changed him. The James A.
Carmen that wrote a letter to his father in July was a completely different person than the one that wrote a letter to his father in December, what he witnessed at the Battle of Fredericksburg changed him and his views. Just like James, America had no idea what was in store for it with the American Civil War and just like James by the time they realized what was going on it was too late and it changed something inside the heart America forever. Franklin County: James A. Herman to Martin W. Carmen, July 18, 1862 Us m Mary: Let. James A.
Carmen writes to his father, Martin W. Carmen, regarding expectations of an upcoming approach to Richmond, the conduct of the war, his recent illness, his decision not to resign from the army, changes in furlough application procedures, the alcohol-related death of Colonel Giggle of York, Pennsylvania, the agricultural difficulties of Virginia, buying food from local citizens, and differences in attitudes toward the war between urban and rural Virginians. Martin W. Carmen, Graham Vile, York County, Pennsylvania weekly 18th” 1862
Headquarters 17th” Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Camp At Warrenton Virginia Dear Father received Your letter I expected it the very day I received it, at least it was about the time if You was prompt in answering my letter, was glad to know You were all well. I received a letter from Frank Since his return to his Regiment. I wrote to Margaret Yesterday She told Frank that She wanted me to write, was not aware of her husband running on the road so near me last Spring we guarded that part of the railroad. Owe we have gone 26 miles further down. The road is now being repaired to Greensville which is about 0 miles from here, then from there to Richmond the road is good, a distance 46 miles but I think if the rebels have the knowledge Of our army coming they will destroy the road. Father there is an army in this valley 80 thousand Strong good troops General Pope at their head. We fear nothing if General McClellan watches his time as we approach to Richmond. He will be able to whip them and go into Richmond. E will be able to whip them and go into Richmond. As you See they will have to Send out of the city a large force to watch us on the north Side while McClellan can go right into the city. This war just be conducted on different principals than what it has been or our cause will be in danger, the abolitionists must be put down Slaveholders must not look for their property or Negroes to be protected they must either be for us or against us, that is they who are loyal must come out. ND them who are rebels must Swear Allegiance to the country or be taken as prisoners of war. Such I believe [page 2] is the orders that has been issued lately. We cannot Succeed if we allow rebels to run loose carry all information to the enemy they can, we must Stop this thing, and Start out on the new. Fear very much whether Pennsylvania an make up her quota of troops without drafting only hope She can for her own credit. If things are as dull as Reid Says they are in his Section, the State will have to draft the men.
Father You Speak of the great loss at Richmond. Yes it was dreadful, I had heard nothing of Captain Hess or the Regiment he was in I could See nothing in the papers about the first reserves. I thought perhaps they were not in the fight. You also Say if You was in my place You would resign and come home, well Father it is not that I have not been tempted to resign before this when I look and See how things are going but, he President and assist him in carrying out and administering the laws.
I do not like the idea of resigning when I am well in fact there is, according to late orders a difficulty in a Officer resigning without a good reason Such as bad health or Severe illness. I would be Satisfied now with even a furlough for ten days or two weeks. But all applications for furloughs now must be made to the war department instead of the Brigadier General. Father we have met with a severe loss in our Regiment, this week in the Sudden Death of our Colonel (Thomas A. Giggle) of York Pennsylvania. He was a fine man a good Colonel and a brave Officer. UT he fell a victim to that one vice which men in the army get into that is drinking too much Whiskey he died with ” delirium treatments ” His body was embalmed here in camp taken up to Washington from thence to York to be buried “Peace to his Ashes” have been unwell Since I wrote to You but only Slightly have had the Yellow Saunders they made me right Sick for a day or two. Today is a wet day it has rained all last night all day today with the prospects of a wet time generally, the weather has been very hot down here very heavy gusts, come up. I am pleased to hear of
Such excellent crops this Season, down here in Virginia where there is corn Potatoes beans peas etc. Planted they all look well there is fine land in this neighborhood but it needs tillers What Wheat has been Sown last fall is harvested but never gathered in there being no horses owned by the farmers they all being in the rebel army. It Serves most of them right had no business to secede. Us Officers have to find our own rations, in the city [added: near] where we are encamped the white citizens will not sell us anything the colored population Sell us vegetables, pies milk cakes etc.
When we first came ere the men in business did not want to take our money for groceries etc but that was soon stopped they were all arrested and brought before the Provost Marshall who ordered them to take the oath of allegiance or they would be taken as prisoners of war and all their Stores taken they came down to the “dots” Preachers was Served the Same way, the Citizens of the town are big bugs with plenty of Negroes and were strong secessionists, but the people living in the country are different Some are very Strong Union and voted against seceding.
I will now Stop tell Cornelius to write my love to all he family write soon again direct as before. No more now From Your Son J. A. Carmen, Lieutenant, Company E. 17th” Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Franklin County: James A. Herman to Martin W. Carmen, December 17, 1862 Us marry: Lieutenant James Carmen writes to his father Martin W. Carmen about the Battle of Fredericksburg, the lateness of his pay, and his desire to resign from the army. Wednesday December 17th 1862 Camp on the Reappearance Virginia Dear Father received Your letter of the 23rd of November.
I was glad to hear from You, and that You were all well. But Father Since received Your letter there has en another great battle over the river I was in it and came out unhurt indeed have escaped Wonderfully. Although there was but one Officer in our regiment Wounded our Brigade was in the fight all day until 3 o’clock. I think it was the greatest Battle of the war, there was TV hundred thousand troops on each Side, our loss is heavy, about twelve thousand in Killed wounded and missing. Our line of Battle was 7 miles in length. Just to think of it. ” Father, I 33rd” instant. We went over the river the 1 20th. The rebels have too Strong a point there to rout them as they have all the hills and have breastworks heron up, so it is impossible to whip them behind their works consequently we have fell back on this side of the river. The 17th” done its duty like men it has great praise for its gallantry. Father, I Saw the Safe Harbor boys Pickle & Cline Young son Just a few days before the Battle. It is Said the reserves lost greatly in the fight have not seen them since.
The Weather is now getting very cold the army is Suffering on account of the cold We laid out in the open fields and woods without tents or en other Shelter for nearly one week before the Battle on frost and snow Whilst the Stay at home party were enjoying their good warm beds. I wish we had them down here with us for one week they would be Satisfied. Father if my resignation would be accepted I would resign right away but there has been some half dozen Sent in from our regiment but they were all sent back but one. Hereford it is no use for me to try it. My hopes we will go into winter quarters about the first of the Year. Our Paymaster has never Shown his face Yet. It is too bad on the first of January there will be six months pay due me ($600. 63. ) I think the next muster we will get it which is on the 1st of January. I am enjoying good health but would Sooner be at home feel now that I have done my duty and would like to See Some others do theirs.