Galusha B. Balch - Civil War Letters

It's amazing the things you can find online these days. I was checking out Ebay's web site when I found some interesting Civil War Letters. These letters happen to be by a man who the seller referred to as G.B. Balch. Balch was an assistant surgeon for the Union Army during the Civil War and has some interesting observations. The seller only referred to the author of these letters by his first two initials but I believe that the author may have been Galusha B. Balch author of Genealogy of the Balch Families in America. In Galusha's book he writes an autobiography for himself that includes his military service in the very same military units the Ebay seller referred to.

In this portion of my web site I have included what the seller wrote about these letters plus a link to some excerpts from the letters. Here's what the seller says about the letters:

"Archive of letters from G.B. Balch, Assistant Surgeon in the Union Army. Various places: Covers the years 1862, 1864, and 1865. 8vo and 4to. Mostly accomplished in ink, a few in pencil. Contains 31 letters from 1862, 51 from 1864, and 31 from 1865. All contain folds. One or two contain some ragged edges. Otherwise in excellent condition. A fascinating archive of letters from Balch detailing his term in the Union Army as an assistant surgeon. Balch entered the Union Army with the 98th Regt. N.Y. Vols. and also served with the 1st N.Y.Artillery, the 2nd N.Y. Vet. Cav., and the 1st Texas Cav. Vols. His letters are written from various locations including Washington D.C., Newport News,VA, Yorktown, VA, Baltimore, MD, Transport Boats, New Orleans, LA, Morganzia, LA, Talladega, AL, Pascagoula, MS, Barraneus, FL, Union Springs, AL, Montgomery, AL, and Indianapolis, IN. An educated man, his letters are well written and detailed. They contain interesting observations on war time hospitals, camp life, the personalities and character of various officers and doctors,and vivid descriptions of the countryside, towns, villages, plantations, etc. around where he served."

These letters also contain important accounts of his transport to New Orleans, scouting and raiding expeditions throughout Louisiana and Mississippi, violent skirmishes with rebel forces, and details of men wounded, killed, or taken prisoner. Balch is a keen observer of the presidential campaign of 1864 and states his support of Lincoln. His final letters from 1865 convey descriptions of the last gasp battles of the South, the surrender of rebel soldiers, and his time in Florida and Alabama during the months immediately after the end of the war. The following are some excerpts:

Head Quarters Empire Battery April 26, 1862:

"Last Tuesday we advanced about three miles so that it brings us clost to the enemy. I have been out to the outposts and have seen the rebbel entrenchments. I saw several shots exchanged between our sharpshooters and the enemy. It was quite amusing to se them work. Our men would be quiet behind their entrenchments untill a rebbel would expose himself then quicker then thought out one would jump (/) at him and back before the rebbels could shoot hime. But they usually tried their luck. One shot from our sid was replied to by three from the rebbels. I understand that our men went across the river to day and spiked three guns and took fifteen prisoners. We are going into earth works shortly where we can throw shells into the enemy. Col. Crocker and Major of his Rett. (93 N.Y.V.) deserted or were taken prisoners lastThursday night. I have seen several wounded men since I have been here. They were shot while on picket duty. The Seventh Main suffers the worst. Col. Durkeehad a Rebbel bullet sent after him the other day but it did not catch him."

Camp Before Yorktown May 9, 1862:

"It has fallen to my lot to be left behind with the sick while our army has been making the advance. I expected before this to have gone on but I was ordered to remain untill the sick were removed. I have some sixty five patients under my care. I expect to go with them to Yorktown tomorrow. There was more than a thousand men left in camp just about here that were unable to march last Sunday and nearly all of them with typhoid and intermittant fever. I have been over into the Rebbel fortifications and on up into the country beyond. Their forts were almost impregnible made so both by nature and art. Breastworks were thrown up without number. We could not have taken them with out a great loss of life. But the rascalls ran and we after them. They set traps in the shape of shells for our men to step on and blow them up. One man was killed and several wounded in one of the regiments."

Head Quarters 2d Vet Cav. N.Y. Vols. In the Field 4/18/64:

"Your letter of the 20th of March was received just as we were breaking camp at Grand Ecore to cross the River we got across the river about 5 p.m. and were ordered to start in light marching order on a raid of about 40 miles. So we left nearly everything in camp there being but one army wagon to the brigade that to carry ammunition in. I took my ambulance and the surgeon of the 3 R.I. We came out about 15 or 16 miles and met the enemy. We took some 4 or 5 prisoners and lost as many. Among our lost was 1st Lieut. Lackey of Co. D. He was shot in the head and taken prisoner. He was the advance and fell upon the enemy in force and they werre to many for him."

Head Quarters Vet.Cav. N.Y.V. Alexandria May 3, 1864:

"April 12th we had just moved our camp. The Rebs were getting most to neighborly night before last they made an attack on our picket and killed and wounded nine of the 3 R.I. We were continually being called up into line of battle to resist an attack. Last evening we retired about 3 miles and now we have a brigade of Infantry and a battery in front of us."

May 7th, 1864:

"On the morning of the 4th very soon after sick call, Boots and Saddles was sounded which means saddle up and prepare to march. We went out in light marching order. Marched down to Ex Gov. Moors plantation 5 miles from camp and halted. We remained here all night. Gen. Smith was here with a (?) of his command. He sent a few shell over to the enemy with his compliments (Gen. Taylor with a considerable force is between us and N.O. and are trying to blockade the river and hem us in. It was this force we were facing)."

Head Quarter 2nd VetCav. N.Y. V. May 18th,1864:

"We broke camp to start on this retreat on the 13th. We remained just at the outskirts of the town and, in town all day our Brigade was left as the rear guard. In the morning some miscreant set fire to a store and before the flames could be checked nearly the whole city had been laid in ashes.Our brigade worked forth fully to subdue the flames and save the property of the citizens. We remained until near morning with our horses saddled ready for a start we left the town just at dawn. We over took the army about six in the morning. We saw nothing of the enemy untill about eleven a.m. when they commenced driving in our skirmishers. They did not come on for we showed front and they lay still. We had no more trouble until the 16th on the morning of which day the enemy showed front at Marksville. Our whole army was drawn out and we had quite an artillery duel in front. After a little the enemy retired and first we knew they were after our train in the rear. So back the cavalry went, the enemy opened on the 2nd with shell. We had one man shot by a rifle ball in the groin. One had a shell strike his horse in the neck pass through and out at his flank. The concussion was so great that it broke his saddle in two and strained him very much. One man was slightly wounded on the hand by a fragment of a shell. On the 17th we skirmished nearly all day with the enemy. We had but one man in our Regt. slightly wounded by a rifle ball. The enemy threw a great many shell. One struck about 20ft. short of me another some 60 ft. both shots were just in range. Just at sun down we opened on the enemy with two or three batteries. We were close by and it was a grand sight to see the flash hear the report and hear the whistle of the shell and the explosion. I never saw any thing so grand and magnificent as that canonading at twilight."

Head Quarters 2 Vet.Cav. N.Y.V. Morganzia, Louisiana May 22, 1864:

"We broke camp at Sims Port on the morning of the 19th but did not leave until the morning of the 20th. We then started and crossed Bayou (?) which from near the mouth of the Red River to the Gulf of Mexico we marched about 15 miles that day and encamped. Yesterday we marched about 20 miles to this place. We have had no trouble on this march. The 18th N.Y. Cav. lost a lieut. Col., a Capt., a Lieut.and about 80 men taken prisoners on the retreat from Alexandria… We have had a hard campaign and have been badly beaten. It does not appear to one that it ought to have been so disasterous if we had had good management. Some of our Commanders acted as if they were scared. On the morning of the fifth we were ordered to advance about a mile from where we wee encamped. We came upon the enemy. They slowly retiring and we advancing skirmishing as we went. When we had drove them about two miles they opened with cannon on us. I got out once when I could see the grey backs and two shots came so close that I thought I had no business there and retired in good order. I not being the north to bring on a general engagement we commenced falling back as soon as we charged their position. All the forces that were engaged was our brigade and one regt.of the 1st. we had no artillery or infantry. Just at sun down as the two last squadrons (one was from the 2nd vols. the other from the 18th N.Y.) were about to cross a bridge the rebs made a charge. We saw them and the two squadrons about faced and charged to. And the way the rebs skedaddled was a caution. Our men unsaddled 4 rebs in the operation. But such a dust and yelling for minute or two was terible. Our men behaved nobly. I must say our brigade is a brave one and the 2nd vols. officers and men remarkably so."

Camp 2nd N.Y. Vet. Cav. Morganzia, Louisiana Aug. 12th, 1864:

"Several brigades were sent out in different directions to scour the country. One party came upon a camp and captured two men and took eight horses and equipment. The remainder got into the cane brake a few feet. The start of our men was enough to make them secure. Another party chased two and fired upon them. One fel the pursuing party could not reach them on account of a very deep ditch. another party scouting in that vicinity found a man laying upon the ground insensible. They took him to the nearest house and sent for me. I went over and found the man in a dying condition. He proved to be Major McGoffinon General majors staff in the Confederate Army. He was on leave of absence for the pupos of getting married. He died before we left. His death was caused by the rupture of a blood vessel in his head. I could find no external injury. When we got ready to leave rOtards fire wasset to his corn cribs and in a very short time several thousand bushels of corn was destroyed. At 6 p.m.we started on our return. We took two routs to meet at Geo. Johnson's plantation on Bayou Maringun near its junction with the Gros. Tate. Each party took a prisoner. The party I was with took a Lieut. Edward a brother to the one that escaped the night before. He was armed with a carbine and two revolvers. I have one of the revolvers. We halted that night at the above mentioned place. during the night we took one prisoner and one of our pickets had his horse shot. On the morning of the 11th we started for camp. We had gone about two miles when our advance was fired upon and one man wounded. Soon after as we were passing by some thick bushes three caps were snapped. But fortunately the piece did not go. It was undoubtedly aimed at officers. Once it was ment for either Major(?)or my self. The fellow lay very clost to our column and could hardly have missed his mark."

Camp 2nd Vet. Cav. N.Y. Vols. Morganzia, La Aug. 29th, 1864:

"At daylight we found ourselves at Port Hudson with several thousand infantry under command of Gen. Lewis. We here learned that Gen. Lee was about to leave Baton Rouge with a body of troops and we wee to cooperate with him in moving upon Clinton, La. We left Port Hudson at 3 p.m. Aug. 24th under command of Major Gen. Heron. Our Regt. had the advance followed by a negrow regt. of Cav.We marched slowly on acount of the infantry. About 2 a.m. we captured a rebel Cap. At 3 a.m. our advance guard arrived at what we call the crossroads. About one and a half miles from Jackson, La. Suddenly the enemy came up the Jackson road with a Battery and some mounted infantry. Our advance became mixed up among the rebs. It being dark the enemy did not discover them at first but when they did they gave orders to fire upon them. They put spurs to their horses and all came out safe. They then put a gun in position to sweep the road up which we were coming. Our column was not more than six rods from the cannons mouth. I could hear them give their commands as distinct as I ever heard commands given."

Camp 1st Texas Cav. Vols. Morganzia 9/14/64:

"I think you are about right in thinking Lincoln is the man to support in the coming election. I have a great facilities for learning what the Confeds think of the two candidates and universally they favor Mc. Some are free to express their belief that he will grant them all they ask. And they think if Lincoln is elected they shall surrender to the north. The Rebs are realy tired and sick of the war. The soldiers are going for Lincoln strong. At Baton Rouge there was seventy eight votes for the State of N.Y. and seventy wee for Lincoln. Every company in this regt. gives a large majority for Lincoln. Companies G. & B. all but two in each company are Lincoln men. I shal not be able to vote as I belong to Mass. Much as I once loved Mc so much more do I detest him and such is the feeling generally of the soldiers that were under him."

Morganzia, La January 19th, 1865:

"The confederacy is very much devided. Jef Davis is hated by the majority at the South. The people cannot find words strong enough to express the bitterness of their feelings. The only hope that the mases had at the South of being an independent Government is crushed and only a few political demegogs who forced Secession now holdout. Soon the peoples voice will be heard and peace be restored. The army that we are now opposing is disheartened. The Chivalry of the South with which we first had to contend now slumber in their graves. Where are the armies of Hood and Price? Vanished and flown like chaff, before Thomas, Smith and Pleasonton."

Camp 2nd Vet. Cav. N.Y. Vols. Near Blakeley, Al. Sunday April 2nd, 1865:

"We left Barrancuson the 19th and marched on the 20th. We stuck along the Mud. until the 24. On the 25 we met the enemy and fought them. We took 101 privates and 18 commissioned officers. Among the no. was Genl Clinton and Staff. The Gen. was shot through the body. We also captured their colors and cleared the country of Rebs. We went as far as Polland. All this fight took place on the Escambia, near the state line between Al and Fla. Polland is the junction of the Mobile and Al.R.R. and the Pensacola and Montgomery R.R. Three regts. the 1st Fla., 2nd Me,and 2nd Ill. Cav. went on the course and struck the R.R. at Green Weele Al. and marched down and met us at Canoe Station on the 27… Monday 3d. Up to yesterday morning our loss has been very slight. Yesterday morning the infantry went out and the roar of musketry and artillery has been incesent ever since. The cav. lay out of danger as quiet as though we were 50 miles away. Gens.Camby and Smith are below us to work at Spanish Ft. The expectation is that Blakely will be taken to day. Six regts. came up last night to reinforce us. The Rebs are up to all sorts of mean tricks. They planted torpedoes all about where our army had to march. We have dug up 21, 8 have been exploded killing one man wounding two and killing several horses."

Sibleys Mills near Blakeley, Ala. April 6th, 1865:

"The bombardment on Ft. Spanish has commenced since noon today. It has been quiet but last night and this forenoon the roar of Artillery was incesent. We have not fired a canon at Blakeley yet. The infantry are digging up to the defences. Our artillery is within one thousand yds of the enemys works. They say they shall not open until they are one hundred yds from the mand can see the white of their eyes then they will give them Hail Columbia. Our infantry advanced this morning and had a right smart skirmish. The rebs opened their artillery which combined with our musketry made quite a racket which somewhat disturbed my morning nap. It seems strange to me how cool and hardened one becomes. As I hear the roar of cannon and rattle of musketry which is dealing death and destruction to mortals I think no more of it than if it were a holliday salute."

Union Springs, Ala. May 1, 1865:

"On Sunday the ninth we left Blakely for a scout. Before leaving we learned of the fall of Spanish Ft. Our Brig. composed of the 1st La., 2d Ill,2d N.Y., & 2nd Mass. Battery. On the eleventh at abouth 10 we met the enemy at Mt. Pleasant. The 1st La in advance drew sabors and charged the mand those of the enemy who were not killed, wounded, and prisoners took shelter in the swamp and we marched on to Claibourn where we halted until the 15th when we received orders to return… We returned from Clibournas far as Stockton when we received notice of the taking of Blakeley and Mobile and Orders to march back into the Country… On the 1st we we reat Union Springs. We had been notified that there was an armistice. Gen. Pillow came to our camp and passed through claiming that we could not take him be reason of the Armistice from the U.S. We moved slowly on toards Engola until on the 2nd we received official dispatches stating that Gen. Johnson had surrendered all eastern Ala. We about faced and marched towards this place. We met with a great many Rebs returning home. Some with and some without their parroles. All thoroughly satisfied that they were badly beaten and willing to obey the laws of the United States. A few women talk Secesh and that is all. We arrived in this town today about 12 p.m. Gen's. Steel and A.J. Smith are here. Hen. Steel has just received dispatches that Gen. R. Taylor has surrendered. His forces which comprise all east of the Mississippi River also a rumor that Gen.(?) Smith is negotiating to Surrender his forces which comprises all west of the Miss. I look upon the war as virtually ended."

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