SOLDIER LETTERS - PRIVATE WILLIAM IRELAND, CO. “F”, 38th NEW JERSEY INFANTRY

$375.00

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Item Code: 337-278

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Plus late 19th century cabinet card photo of Ireland in GAR uniform-- measuring 6.5 x 4.25”, bearing front-mark: “Davis/1022 High St./ Pottsdown, PA.” Crisp clear image.

The letter grouping consists of eight letters:  two of 12 and 4 pp., from “Wilson’s Landing”[VA], dated “Dec. 9, 1864” and ‘Feb. 21, 1865”; and five 4pp. 1865 letters from “Fort Pocahontas” [VA], dated March 14, April 6, April 20, April 30, May 6, May 7. Plus oone undated four page fragment. All letters in ink on lined paper measuring 4.875 x 8”. The February 21st letter has a printed “U.S. Christian” Commission” Letterhead. Also a stamped envelope, dated April 21, Old Point Comfort VA. Addressed to Mrs. John Ireland / ___ville, Long Branch, Monmouth Cty, New Jersey. [Undoubted this envelope goes with Ireland’s letter of April 20, 1865].

As the Christian letterhead suggests, Pvt. Ireland was a very religious soldier, and his letters are largely filled with religious commentary, though not entirely. In sections of these letter he reveals himself as a natural story teller with a playful sense of irony. For example, his letter of December 9, 1864, contains a narrative of a Fort Pocahontas skirmish, with the following mock-heroic title:

Accounts of the bravery of Private William Ireland the courageous manner in which he defended his country in the recent battle of Fort Pocahontas on the James—Wednesday Nov. 30, 1864.”

Narrative: “At about 12 O’Clock yesterday as I was eating my dinner I was startled by hearing some one by the Fort is attacked by the Johnnies. I seized my gun and equipment and hastened out of my tent. The Bugle sounded the call to arms and the drums beat the long roll. Orders were given for us to fall in immediately. We all fell in and were marched out to the parade ground and drawn up in line of battle after the column was formed. The major said one company must stay inside the fort as a reserve. The adjutant General said we were the best company in the regiment so we were ordered to slack arms and wait-until we were sent for. The remainder of the battalion marched out to reinforce the pickets as we laid on our arms until about 7 o’clock in the evening when the other companies returned from the scene of conflict with the same number they departed with, less two our lads. Was 1 man and 1 horse killed and the same number it seems. When the rebels saw our men coming they were firing at our pickets but they retreated before we got to them. Our men pursued them for about 6 miles through the woods but could not bring them to any engagement. We do not know whether we killed any of them or not. If we did they carried them with them. Everything is now quiet in camp. I do not think they will be likely to attack us again. So give my love to Henett and the children. Write soon to your/ Courageous Coward/ Will Ireland”.

The undated letter fragment contains an inked explanation along a bottom margin.—“Don’t know what happened to first page…written to his sister my grandmother…Billy was my grandfather]. Plus the following excerpts:

“But we had enough to carry ourselves. Some threw away their boots and overcoats they were so tired, but I stuck to mine. I was never so tired in my life. My feet were blistered to the bottoms of them all over and my toes and ankles were all raw. I don’t think I could have went a mile further but I had to keep up with the rest or get catched by the rebs for the woods is full of them. But I am rested now and feel first rate. We marched about 60 miles in less than two days without resting an hour. The first rebel we shot will die I think for the bullet is in his side yet—we saw his girl to a house we stopped at and she came out and cheered him up. She told him to keep in good cheers for he would get well and kill Yankees yet—and as soon as he killed twenty his captain would give him a commission. But I think if he gets well will not kill any Yankees for we have him fast. The reason we went after them is because they come around at night and fire at us when we are on picket. They shot one of our pickets last week they shot 7 holes right through him. It made the major mad and so he said he would give them……”

“Wherever we went we destroyed all we come to. We saw barns full of corn and wheat but we had no way to bring it. We are going again soon with wagons to get it and to see if we can’t catch that rebel Capt…”

This letter concludes with this word to Ireland’s sister for his brother Billy—“Give my love to Billy, tell him to answer my letter or I will break his head….Brother Will”, and on the following page: “Will Ireland/ The Great Lady Killer [?]

Private Ireland served in two regiments, enlisted initially into Co. “H”, 24th New Jersey Infantry, on 9/16/1862, from which he was mustered out 6/29/1863. He then joined Co. “F”, 38th New Jersey Infantry on 9/12/1864 and was mustered out on 6/30/1865 at City Point ,VA. His first unit, the 24th NJ, was a nine month regiment which participated in the Battles Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. During service it lost 49 men killed and mortally wounded and 53 to disease for a total of 102. His second unit, the 38th NJ, was assigned garrison duties by company at various points along the James River during the final winter of war. Through 1865 his Co. “F” was posted at Ft. Pocahontas, which in 1864 had been the scene of a battle in which Union black troops took revenge on Confederates for the earlier Confederate massacre of blacks at Ft. Pillow. During its 1864-65 service, the 38th New Jersey it lost 24 men to disease.

An intriguing packet of letters by an intriguing New Jersey soldier. Pvt. Will Ireland of the 38th NJ deserves further research. Accompanied by documentation. Fine collectible

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