From The Constitution, Wednesday, February 17 1864 (volume 27, number 1364)
Dear Mother: Our heavenly Father has again conducted your son through another battle, and one of the worst kind, it having taken place in the night. Yesterday morning about five o’clock, we were aroused from our slumbers by the order “to pack up and fall in.” We took up our line of march for the river Rapidan at about nine o’clock in the morning, and reached the river about an hour after. We crossed the Rapidan about noon by fording it. It was nearly up to our breasts. It is a very rapid stream, so much so that if we had accidentally slipped, we should probably have been carried down the stream, and have stood a good chance of having found a watery grave. But as far as I am aware there was no accident of that kind. Occasionally one would slip as he was crawling up the bank, which was very steep, but no serious harm was done to my knowledge, with the exception of giving them a good ducking and wetting their cartridges. The water was very cold, and it made ones feet and limbs ache, but the command was given and we must obey. One regiment, however, known as the Garibaldi Guards, a New York Regiment, composed of foreigners, refused to wade across because, they said, the water was too deep, but Gen. Hayes jumped from his horse, without saying a word, leaving his horse by this side of the river, waded across to the other side, picked out good footing and then returned and mounted his horse. This example was sufficient, and without further hesitation they waded across, and landed safely on the other side. I suppose that you have heard of fighting Elleck, this is the name he goes by; he is our division commander. I tell you, he is a regular tiger. He rides along the lines of skirmishers, with his hat in hand, cheering them on. He thinks the old 14th is about right; he is always praising us. He was with us in the thickest of the fight, the balls all the while flying about his head like hail-stones. He did not flinch in the least. We marched to a hollow facing the rebel breastworks, and remained there until about five o’clock, within rifle shot of their rifle pits. They sent a few shells over to us, but most of them passed over our heads, and done us no harm, with the exception of two or three which took effect, killing two or three and wounding several. They only fired a few shots, when it was ascertained that they had a strong line of battle advancing on us. We were all then ordered to advance, the bully 14th taking the lead. We charged on at a double quick time. They met us half way, and poured an everlasting fire into our ranks, which caused us to wave for a moment, and then with deafening yells we made a rush, pouring a volley of blue pills into them, which made an evacuation in their ranks, and which they won’t soon forget. We then pressed them hard, and drove them to their rifle pits. By this time it was dark. We could not discern our foe until we met them face to face. Some rushed on to one another, and knocked their brains out with the butts of their muskets. We were fighting in squads most of the time, each man for himself. Co. B. and G. were at the left, and met a strong party of rebel skirmishers, but we charged on them with our rifles, and with deafening yells rushed on and loaded and fired and drove them back to their rifle pits. We then, under cover of the darkness, skulked to within a few rods of their rifle pits, and popped away at them until we were sent for to go to the support of our boys on the right, for the rebs were trying to flank us. We went at a double quick, over fences, over ditches, and charged on a cluster of houses which were full of rebels. They swarmed in great numbers around the building, firing from the windows and around the corners of the houses, but we made a rush on them, driving them like sheep, they taking their wounded with them; the houses were full of the gray-backs. A squad of us smashed in the doors, which were closed and fastened. As we rushed in some of the rebels grappled with us, but we soon overpowered them. We only succeeded in taking one prisoner, they making their escape by one of the back windows before we were aware of it.—They afterwards retired behind their breastworks, and we stretched out a long line of pickets and remained so until we were relieved, which was about one o’clock a. m., by the 1st division. We then re-crossed the Rapidan on a sort of a bridge, which was built for us. The rest of the troops re-crossed the river again soon after. They were not molested.—
It was a daring undertaking in landing this division into such a nest of rebels. I don’t see why that we were not all captured, for we only numbered Three Thousand men. The rebels undoubtedly were ignorant of our real strength after dark, or they might have taken advantage of us, and drove us into the river, and cut us all to pieces, but we escaped remarkably well. I think they felt the weight of our bullets before we parted with them. We had no artillery to support us on that side of the river. Our killed, wounded and missing amounted to one hundred and fourteen. Our color sergeant’s body was brought into camp and buried by the regiment with the band. He was a noble fellow and fell doing his duty. One of my tent mates was shot through the breast, and it is thought he will not recover. One or two other tent mates of mine were severely wounded. James Ingles, of Middletown, was wounded in the leg. Albert Crittenden also got a slight wound. Our Major was slightly wounded in the leg. Capt. John C. Broatch, of Co. A., had his finger blown off by a ball, and is detailed to go after recruits. Lieut. [Robert] Russell, the present commander of our company, is all right, and acted with great bravery throughout the fight. I will write to you soon again, and therefore will conclude by subscribing myself Your affectionate Son,
L. E. B. [Lucius E. Bidwell?]
Co. B. 14th Regt., C. V."
Researched & Compiled by Susan Donnelly