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Letter (#12) from 1st Lt. Manuel B. DeSilva, Co. E, 16th OVI
Camp Cumberland Ford, Kentucky - April 9, 1862
to the Holmes County Farmer newspaper at Millersburg, Ohio
Published April 24, 1862
Web Author's Notes:
This is a letter from 1st Lt. Manuel B. DeSilva of Company E, written to an editor of the Holmes County Farmer newspaper in Millersburg, Ohio. It was written while the regiment was encamped at Camp Cumberland, near Cumberland Ford (now Pineville), Kentucky, where Gen. George W. Morgan was massing his troops in preparation for a late spring assault on nearby Cumberland Gap. The Gap was held by Confederates and considered a critical stronghold by both sides throughout the Civil War.

In this letter, DeSilva describes, in good detail, the regiment's scouting mission of March 22. He concludes with comments about the election of a regimental Chaplain.

The letter was researched and transcribed by long time website contributor John Pierson, a likely descendant of 16th Ohio soldier Pvt. Enos Pierson, Company C.

newspaper article


From Capt. Taneyhill's Company.


FRIENDS ESTILL:--Since I last wrote you we have had some exciting times. On the 21st of March the greater portion of our Brigade started for the Gap, having learned that a large force of the rebels had left there for the purpose of bagging some of our men who had whipped a lot of theirs' at Big Creek Gap. We had every hope of getting into their warm Rat Holes before they could get back. On we marched, each man congratulating himself on this being the last tramp over these infernal roads. But cherished hopes are apt to be crushed, as were ours in this case. After passing over roads that an ordinary footman would have deemed impassible for an army not composed of tight rope performers we halted at 4 o'clock, within three miles of the Gap. At this point the General and his staff rode forward to find a good position for our two little 10 pounders. An order soon came back for twelve picket men out of Capt. Taneyhill's company. I do not know why the General particularized our company, but such was the case. Immediately n the receipt of the order the men were ready, and started under charge of Orderly Dill. They deployed as skirmishers, and in a few moments their rifles were heard re-echoing from hill to hill. The enemy's pickets where driven in with such hot haste that they left an overcoat, a few blankets and a well filled haversack, which became the property of Orderly Dill. During this time reliable information was received that the rebel expedition was within 10 miles of the Gap. This was more of a damper on us than was the uncontrollable elements which were bombarding us with rain and snow. Many feared that we would be ordered back immediately. While we were discussing the probabilities of a contest orders came to advance. We marched on to within range of the enemy's guns, when darkness came on and operations were necessarily suspended. We were ordered to lay on our arms and rest, and we did rest; that is if you call it resting to lay on the cold ground amid rain, snow and noise. Early next morning our Regiment was detailed to skirmish, one or two companies at a time. The skirmishers were near enough to the enemy's works. Some of our balls are said to have gone over the hill, a distance of a mile; they were doubtless the shot fired at their flag.

The rebels opened on us with their big guns about 9 o'clock A.M., giving us a specimen of shooting from their 24 and 64-pounders, and occasionally introducing to the ears of our skirmishers the melodies of grape and canister shot. Lieut. Vorhes declared he thought it rifle shooting, and felt sure we could never stand that kind of musketry. A vast amount of dodging was performed. It comes just as natural to dodge when cannon balls are whizzing past as it is to blink when struck between the eyes. I noticed this dodging early in the morning, when a party of us went out to a knob in full view of the enemy. I had a large red blanket roped around ;me, which troubled some of the Kentucky officers. They remarked that I ought to take it off. Just at this bang went the cannon and away went the Kentuckians; leaving Sergeant Nelson and myself in possession of the knob. As they were leaving one fellow said: There, I knew they would shoot at us when they saw that red blanket. But the cream of the joke was, that instead of shooting at us they were firing at Capt. Whetmore, who had planted his two Parrot guns about a mile to our right. Some time after a large party of us were on another knob, still further in advance, a 64 pounder which they were working in barbette was leveled at us, and Major Kershner cried out: Boys, scatter, she's coming after us! In a second every man was behind a friendly tree or rock. Some fine specimens of agility were displayed in these movements. They did fire at us, sure; but the shell fell a little short and exploded in the ravine below. The skirmishing continued all day, the gallant Whetmore giving it to them right and left. Our endeavors to draw them out were all in vain. That night our regiment slept at the rear of the cannon, under a pelting snow storm, and within range of the rebel guns. It was strange they did not fire on us during the night. Our boldness in coming under their nose with two 10-pounders and 3,000 men, while they had 8,000 men and 20 large guns, probably scared them.

The next morning, Sunday, we started for our camp. They gave us a parting salute from their 64-pounder, but no one could tell where their balls struck. We got back without the loss of a man. The rebels acknowledge a loss of 30; which I wish had been a thousand. The expedition was daring, and added greatly to the reputation of the 16th Regiment. We were acknowledged the best drilled troops our brigade officer had ever seen, and now it is settled that we can be relied upon in any emergency. Gen. Carter is highly delighted with us.

Two days after our return a party of rebel cavalry drove in a few of our pickets. Our Regiment was turned out and pursued them 4 miles, when we hid in a ravine and endeavored to draw them into a fight, but in this we failed. We returned to camp muddy, tired and disappointed. We are expecting reinforcements, and when they arrive I think we will make the rebels evacuate.

Well, we, that is the Captains, have elected Mr. Matlock our Chaplain over Revs. Sutherland, Reed and McFarland. There has been much fuss and figuring in the matter, and it is understood that the Colonel will not sign the papers necessary to secure Mr. Matlock a commission. I do not know what influences have been brought to bear to prompt him to this course. Some think he does not like the man, and others that he wants no Chaplain. The Lieutenants have no voice in the matter, so we concluded to have a Chaplain of our own, and accordingly called a meeting to select one. Our proceeding were a burlesque; the Chaplain chosen does not render satisfaction, and we will probably dispose of him by Court Martial.

Through the kindness of Sergeant Nelson I send you a specimen of curiosities of Somerset. You can hand them over, with my compliments, to the friend you deem most in need. Be sure they are preserved for the use of Worthy Brothers of the Order. How would they do for Brother Cohn? Yours, Truly,


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