Soldiers Letter Index 16th OVI Home Page
Letter (#1) from Aquilla Wiley, 1st Lieutenant, Co, C, 16th OVI (90-day),
to J. A. Marchand,
publisher, Wayne County Democrat newspaper, Wooster, Ohio
Philippi, (West) Virginia - June 4, 1861
Published June 13, 1861
Web Author's Notes:
This letter from 1st Lt. Aquilla Wiley, Company C, provides great detail on the events and actions of the 90-day regiment from the time it received orders to leave its training center at Camp Jackson in Columbus, Ohio, to Bellair, Ohio, on the border with (West) Virginia and the subsequent deployment of the regiment throughout western Virginia. It includes details on the regiment's first battle, which also happened to be the first land battle of the Civil War, at Philippi, (West) Virginia.

Wiley wrote the letter a few days after the Battle of Philippi and sent it to J. A. Marchand, believed to be the publisher of the Wayne County Democrat newspaper located in Wooster, Ohio.

Aquilla Wiley finished his 90-day term with the 16th Ohio and went on to a long military career, including Captain of Company C, 41st Ohio Infantry with promotions to Lieutenant Colonel and then Colonel of that regiment. As occurred frequently near the end of the war, Wiley was actually breveted Brigadier General on March 13, 1865, as a reward for meritorious service.

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.

Interesting Letter from Capt. Wiley.

Phillippi, Barbour County, Va.
June 4, 1861

J. A. Marchand, Esq. Dear Friend: I should have written to you long since, but as nothing of note was transpiring, I did not write. We almost daily saw friends from Wooster, while we were at Camp Jackson, who would convey the news to our friends at home, thus rendering writing entirely unnecessary. Now I have so much to tell you that I almost dread to commence writing. But to the task.

We received orders on Friday, May 25th, to leave Camp Jackson on Saturday the 26th at 8 o'clock A.M., for Bellair. We were ready to move when the hour arrived, and started, carrying all our baggage with us in a baggage trains assigned us for that purpose. We had a few days before been supplied with muskets, knapsacks, canteen, haversacks, trowsers and caps, so we presented the appearance of something like soldiers. When we left Columbus, each man carried a day's ration in his haversack. All along the way, at every town, village, house or cabin, we were most enthusiastically cheered, throughout the whole route. Handkerchiefs were waving, hands and hats swinging at almost every house and in every field.

When we arrived at Bellair about six o'clock in the evening, the inhabitants had prepared a lunch for each company and were assembled on the commons to administer to the comfort and refreshment of the boys. A more liberal and hospitable people than we met at Bellair, I have never known. A large machine shop had been arranged for our quarters by Captain Moody of Mansfield, who had been sent ahead a few days before with a detail of carpenters.

Bellair I need hardly tell you, is on the west bank of the Ohio, about 4 miles below Wheeling. The scenery around it is the most picturesque and delightful I have ever beheld. Hills rise to a considerable height on each side of the Ohio. They are of steep ascent and some almost conical in shape, while off in the distance between the summits, can be seen the peaks of other hills of similar shape, affording an illustration of the truth of at least the last line of Campbell's couplet:

"Distance lends enchantment to the view

And robes the mountain in an azure blue.

Bellair is fitly named, for I though there was a salubrity - an exhilaration in the atmosphere that made mere existence a pleasure. Something akin to the influence of Indian summer, only not inclining one so much to laziness. We were all delighted at the idea of remaining here a few weeks for drill in the manual and the school of the company; but we were doomed to a speedy through I cannot say disagreeable disappointment.

On Sunday night I had just completed a muster roll of our company, to be returned to the Adjutant General's office of those members who desired to go for the three-year term, (about eighty of the boys having tendered their service for that length of time.) And had laid down and fallen asleep, when Major Bailey came and ordered me to report myself instantly at headquarters. It was then about 1 o'clock in the morning. Colonel Irvine ordered us to go to the commissary, get seven days rations and be ready to move at daylight. We were ready by 6 o'clock, each man with forty rounds of ammunition in his cartridge box, and one days ration in his haversack. Colonel Irvine went to Wheeling to consult with Colonel Kelly of the 1st Virginia regiment, and it was determined that the Virginians should precede us. So we did not get away till 11 o'clock. Four companies on the right of our regiment took the cars at Benwood, opposite Bellair on the Baltimore & Ohio railroad at 11 o'clock A.M., under command of Lieut. Col. Fulton. We were in the first two cars, as you know we are the first company on the right. Doctor Robison and Col. Fulton rode on the engine. We were told we might expect a skirmish with the rebels during the day, as they had assembled at Grafton about fifteen hundred strong well armed and had burned several railroad bridges, about thirty miles west of Grafton, and entirely cut off communication to the eastward, on the Baltimore & Ohio railroad. We stopped frequently near bridges and sent out carpenters to inspect them, so our progress was slow. About 2 o'clock in the afternoon Colonel Fulton stopped the train as we were approaching a curve. A hill obscured the view of the road, except for a few hundred yards in front. Col. Fulton orders us to disembark and form on the hill side. WE all expected the rebels were on the other side of the hill waiting for us. Our companies were quickly formed, Company C on the right, and away we went up the brow of the hill. When we had nearly reached the summit, we were commanded to halt, told to rest our men and go back to the cars, as there was no body there to fight with, and the order had only been given to see how well we could behave.

We reached Mannington, which is fifty six miles from Bellair, between 7 and 8 o'clock in the evening. Four miles east of this was the first bridge. There the Virginia regiment was encamped. We slept that night in a church. I slept in the pulpit. It was the first time I had ever occupied one. Some have been appropriated to worse use. About 11 o'clock at night, Col. Irvine arrived, bringing two additional companies and the baggage train. The next morning we built our camp fires at 4 o'clock, and were ready to move at 6. We got aboard the cars, went down to the burnt bridge and encamped on the banks of the creek. The creek is about one hundred and fifty feet wide. Detachments were taken from each company to cut timber, remove the rubbish of the old bridge, and build a new one. The rest of us spent the day in drill. Tents were issued to us here, and on Tuesday night May 29th, we slept under canvas for the first time.

In the forenoon of Tuesday, Captain Kershner and Captain Mill's companies were sent on foot sixteen miles in our advance to protect a bridge a few miles east of Fairmont. One of Kershner's men, about the middle of the day, accidentally discharged his gun, wounding himself in the arm so as to render Amputation necessary and slightly wounding two others. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon Lieut. Cunningham was sent forward with ten men to bring back the wounded men. He found them so well provided for as to render it unnecessary to bring them back. He and his detachment returned at 9 o'clock on Wednesday morning. Captain Nichols and myself received orders to march immediately to the support of Kershner and Mills as word had been received that the secession forces had left Grafton early that morning, and it was supposed they might try to attack our advanced party.

We started about 10 o'clock leaving Lieut. Cunningham and his detachment behind to take care of the baggage, and rest, as they had done some pretty hard marching. A train had come down from Grafton, and awaited us beyond the burnt bridges, so we had not much marching to do. At Fairmont our boys began soldier life in earnest. We had to extend picket lines to the south and east about a mile and send detachments to guard two bridges, and as the other two companies had made a pretty long and rapid march, and been on duty all the previous night, it fell to Captain Nichols and myself to supply all the picket guards. We had only men enough for the reliefs, so the boys were kept on guard half the time from 3 o'clock Wednesday P.M., to 8 o'clock Thursday A.M. At that time Col. Kelley with two companies of the Virginia regiment arrived and four companies got aboard the train and started for Grafton. The train stopped within a mile of Grafton. Our battalion was formed, the Virginia boys on the right, and we marched into Grafton and took possession of the quarters occupied a few days before by the secession troops. About three hundred mounted men armed with all sorts of weapons, from a double barrel shot gun to a Minnie rifle, were drawn up to reserve us. They were mostly from Morgantown and the adjoining counties in Pennsylvania, who had come over to help drive out the secessionists. Grafton is very strongly for the Union. There was only one vote cast there for secession, and that man came five miles to vote. The secession troops had come from the adjoining counties to overawe the Union men. They said they had come to protect them. Such protection as vultures give to lambs - covering and devouring them.

Here we were quartered in a large stone building - a machine shop, which as I said the secessionists had occupied. Here we received word (which of course our officers knew before) that two Ohio regiments were advancing on the Northwestern Virginia R.R. which joins the Baltimore & Ohio road at this place.

Up to this time our march had been more like a triumphal procession than an invasion of an enemy's country. Every where the people rushed to meet us, to welcome us, to feed us. Through Ohio, we were saluted with cheers and every demonstration of joy. But the display was more like a holiday display, and the effect something like the effect of a fourth of July celebration at home. But here there was an intensity of feeling, an earnestness depicted on the countenances of the people that we had not seen or felt any where else. They seemed to have been worn down and depressed with anxiety and dread, and our presence seemed to give them a sense of relief and security. Every where they carried us provisions and supplies of every thing we needed, and which it was in their power to furnish. God bless you, God grant you success, God give you a safe return, were the meeting and parting salutations that greeted us every where. At Mannington men shook our hands, and with tears in their eyes, thanked us for coming and told us that the night of our arrival was the first night that they and their wives had slept with any feeling of security for a week. One of the men took six of my boys to breakfast with him and another eight, and said they would continue to do so while we remained. At Fairmont they voluntarily and gratuitously subsisted two companies one day, and four companies the next day and when we thanked them for what they had done for us they said it was nothing to what we had done for them. Although in the counties through which we passed, the Union men were very largely in the majority, the secessionists, owing to their forces consisting largely of reckless and desperate men, and their being sustained by the state government, had completely overawed them. You can never understand how completely such a pitiful minority could lord it over such a large majority until you come and see it. You can rely on this. Western Virginia can never be driven out of the Union if the federal government will sustain or encourage her.

At Grafton there is a large platform at the junction of the two railroads, and there the gay and lovely girls of Grafton assembled nightly, to dance with the bold soldier boys. All acted as though they had been old friends; no introductions were necessary, and the soldiers were gallant, as they were brave. Not a single rude or profane word did I hear uttered in the presence of a lady. Officers and men all joined in the joyous pastime. There were quite a number of little-girls, not more than eight or ten years old, that astonished and delighted everybody by the ease and grace with which they performed the most difficult dances. On Sunday morning between 9 and 10 o'clock, we received orders to bid adieu to Grafton and its pleasures, and march instanter. We had heard that the secession troops who had left Grafton had gone to Philippi, about eighteen miles distant, and we supposed the object of the expedition was to attack them.

We started, however, in an opposite direction. The brigade consisted of six companies 1st Virginia regiment, Col. Kelly, six companies 16th Ohio, Col. Irvine, and nine companies 9th Indiana, Col. Milroy, Col. Kelly commanding. The men took forty rounds of ammunition in their cartridge boxes. We got aboard the train and went eastward about four miles. We assembled and commenced our march afoot, the Virginians in front, we next, the Indiana boys in the rear. The men started with their knapsacks on their backs but it being exceedingly hot, wagons were procured on the road, to relieve them. We continued to march, resting occasionally for a few minutes till 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when we stacked arms in a large meadow, and quickly demolished a large supply of provisions which the farmers along the route had quickly gathered up and brought after us. We then resumed our march and did not halt except to let the companies close up, till about 9 o'clock at night, when we stacked arms in a field by the roadside , through which there ran a small stream of water. At 10 o'clock we had our camp fires built, our baggage collected from the baggage wagons and were ready to lie down and sleep. It then commenced to r ain and rained at intervals throughout the night. Or rather it rained almost incessantly the whole night. I did not lie down at all. At 12 o'clock we were ordered to turn out and resume our march. In a few minutes we were under arms and marching in the same order. Virginians in the advance, Ohioans next, Indianians in the rear. We then learned we were within 8 miles of Philippi. The men were ordered to sling their knapsacks, which, as their blankets were wet, were very heavy. My company did so, some did not. Others piled up their knapsacks by the road side and left a guard to bring them on next day. I solicited permission for my men to do so, but was told they had better carry them, and they did so. The first hour it was very dark, the road muddy and slippery and up one steep ascent and down as steep and difficult a descent. If you never saw roads in Western Virginia a description would be useless. About 2 o'clock we came to a creek that had to be forded, so in we plunged, the water about two feet deep and on we went through rain and mud. About 4 o'clock we halted, and were told that we were within one mile of Philippi. We waited a short time for the rear to close up, and then received the command, Forward. We had not yet been ordered to load. We advanced a few hundred yards when we heard a musket fired on the right and in front followed quickly by the discharge of a cannon. We had all loaded in the morning before starting, but owing to the rain had been ordered to draw our loads at midnight before resuming our march. One company in our rear, and at this time obscured from our view, had not done so, and as soon as they heard the firing, their Captain ordered them to discharge their pieces.

Company C. led the 16th, Col. Irvine at the head of our column, and hearing the rapid discharge of musketry on our left and supposing the secessionists to be over the brow of the hill, he ordered us to stop and load which we did in a twinkling. Supposing the cannon which we saw on a hill west of town to be worked by the secessionists, I supposed we would be commanded to charge, so I ordered the men to unsling their knapsacks and throw them in the fence corner and detailed a guard to watch them. By this time, the rear of the Virginians were about fifty yards in our advance, when the command forward, double quick was given, and away we went on the run. Although Company C had carried more luggage than any other company they came up in solid column, leaving the other companies in the rear.

Dr. Robison was riding near Col. Irvine, at the head of the Ohio battalion, and, as I came up about six or eight paces in advance of the column, he remarked very cooly: Do you hear the cannon balls whistling. And sure enough, immediately after each flash, we could distinctly hear the whizzing of the ball. We never slackened our pace till we came into the square in front of the court house. As we turned the corner to come up the street the Virginia boys had already hoisted the stars and stripes, and then followed some tall yelling by the Wooster boys.

Col. Kelly was shot in the shoulder just as we came up the street. We came in on the north east of the town. As we afterward learned the 14th Ohio, the 7th Indiana, and Lieut. Col. Sturges' battery having entered Virginia by the Parkersburg railroad, were acting in concert with us, and had taken their position west of the town. It was intended that the Indiana boys who were in our rear, should have passed to the east of the town, but one of the secessionists' pickets discovered Col. Sturges' battery before the Indiana troops had reached their position, and fired the musket which caused the alarm and led Col. Sturges to open on the town immediately, the secessionists rushing out of the town on the south east over the thickly wooded hills while we entered at the north east. So, the cannon balls we heard were intended for our enemies and not for us. We captured all their horses - about fifty in number, all their baggage wagons, their colors, several cases of muskets, their stores of provisions, &c. One secessionist had his leg shot off by a cannon ball as he was about to mount his horse. He is the only one we know to have been wounded. They scampered off through the woods before we got within musket shot. To the credit of company C, I can say that they were the first Ohio boys in the town - that they came in on the run for half a mile in solid column without a straggler - that not a man broke ranks until ordered to stack arms in the court house yard. The only regret on our part is that, after marching thirty miles (not including the distance we rode on the cars,) from 10 o'clock on Sunday morning till 4 o'clock on Monday morning, over hills that would have intimidated a Scotch Highlander, for the sake of exchanging a few shots with the scoundrels, they should have so far forgotten the far famed Virginian courtesy as to have gone off without gratifying us.

We are under marching orders for tomorrow morning again however, and may yet overtake the fleet-footed gentlemen. Our boys were on picket guard last night again, after their forced march, and it rained all night. Not a man of them however is sick. All are in the best of spirits, and anxious for another chance at the rebels.

Today one negro shot another through the heart. The one that was killed had hauled a load of baggage for us from Grafton. He is said to have been a free negro and to have owned the team he drove. I know nothing about the particulars, but it is said to have been a wanton murder. The negro who did the act is arrested. I saw the dead negro in a stable this afternoon.

Col. Kelly's wound is not considered dangerous. He is one of the bravest and best men I think I ever met. It is but one week since I first met him, and I am sure I never knew a man in whom, on so short an acquaintance, I could have placed more confidence and reliance. I hope that he will speedily recover.

On last Saturday morning, R. B. Hardy made a narrow escape from being killed. On the evening before I had given him a navy revolver, to take care of for me. In the morning as he was stooping down to build his camp fire it fell from its sheath striking on the hammer, which caused its discharge. The ball entered exactly over his heart and penetrated nearly through a memorandum book, lodging against the fly leaf.

Yours, Truly,

Soldiers Letter Index 16th OVI Home Page