Graphic from Wikimedia Commons
On June 7, from a camp near Fair Oaks, Virginia, just outside of Richmond, Alpheus wrote home to describe the details of the battle of May 31 at Fair Oaks.
Dear Sister Delie — I wrote to Harriet a few days ago to let you know that I was safe, until I could get time to send you the particulars of the battle, which I know you will all be anxious to hear. The newspaper reports are not altogether reliable, as they are more or less interested in distorting, hiding or misrepresenting the facts in the case. Newspapers are like men, each has its particular prejudice and interest to support, and must puff everything on its side, and blow everything on the opposite side, at least this is too much the case; and it is best for wise men to sift the true from the false, accept the truth let it out where it will, and discard the false let it have been ever so long a cherished falsehood. The newspapers we have received since the battle, all seem to be viewing with each other into puffing it into a great victory. The simple truth of the matter is that they made a sudden, unexpected and concentrated attack on our left wing, with the hope of turning it, which if they had been successful would have ruined us. They drove us in the course of the day about two miles, and darkness put an end to the fight. During the evening and night reinforcements came to our help, and the next morning we drove them in turn and recovered our lost ground. They failed in the accomplishment of their object, and so far it was a victory for us, but they had the best of the first days’ fight. Sunday evening after the fight our lines were almost exactly where they were Saturday morning before the fight began. The general disposition of the forces on our side before the battle, so far as I could see, I consider to be good.
Gen. Casey’s division held the front. — Gen. Crouch’s division next — and Gen. Kearney’s [sic] (our own) immediately within supporting distance, in the rear. The enemy had made an attack upon Casey’s pickets for four or five days previous to the real attack, at just about the same time of day, and when the real attack came, the mend had grown careless. Some of them were washing their shirts, some had them on the bushes drying, expecting the attack was a feint, like the previous ones. A fatal mistake for them. — As the enemy was upon them in overwhelming numbers, Casey’s division was driven back, a mob, instead of a division of fighting men. They lost everything, artillery, camp equippage and all. Some of the regiments ran without firing a gun, others made slight resistance, but not enough to stop the enemy a moment. — Couch alarmed by the firing and the fugitives, got his division under arms and here the enemy met the first serious resistance. And although Couch outnumbered, outflanked and driven from position to position, yet he gave back blow for blow, shot for shot, and held them until we came up to his support. We got there not a minute too soon; his men were breaking and giving way in every direction. The enemy flushed with his success was pressing them back in every direction. Our regiment led the brigade, and were ordered to the left, into the pine woods, and we piled in without much order or regularity, but finally got into something of a line, and let me assure you that for an hour it was no child’s play. Our loss tells its own story. Old Kearney [sic] is the most notorious fighting man in the army, and he declared on the battlefield that he was satisfied with the conduct of our regiment. After the first hour the enemy’s fire slackened in front of our position, and we held the ground until dark. But in the meantime the enemy had turned our right [flank], and our brigade fell back to the line from which we had marched to support Crouch’s division. At this place we had a good position, and expected to make another fight in the morning.
But when daylight came we found old Dick’s division in front to relieve us, and our part of the work was done. The fight on Sunday was soon over, our troops drove them at every point of attack, and by the time you at Middleville were wending your way quietly to church, everything here was quiet also. On Monday we buried our dead. I was so used up on Saturday that Id did not have the heart or strength to go out on the battlefield a second time. Those who did go out report the loss in killed to be very large on both sides, and that there was nearly two rebels to one of ours lying on the ground, though I think perhaps some allowance must be made for such reports.
Today [June 7] the field of battle can be smelled for a mile. The enemy buried but few of their own men and left part of their wounded although they had possession of the field all of Saturday night and part of Sunday. We found a few of our own wounded who had been missed Saturday night in the darkness and hurry. One poor fellow of our company had been forty-eight hours badly wounded before we found him, and then he was found by men of another regiment. O! the horrible, terrible, sufferings one such an action as this entails upon its victims. Imagine to yourself every house and dooryard in Middleville filled as thick as they can lay on the floors and grass, and have the attendants pass among them; some groaning in their agonies, others lying quietly and apparently easy, but the quickening breath and glazing eye tell their own sad tale of approaching death.
Ab. has just come in from Fortress Monroe where he had been in care of our wounded. He looks strong and healthy, and I think will get through all right. From his position as musician he is not very much exposed to the dangers of the battlefield, his duty being to carry off and care for the wounded. Many of the newspapers seem to carry the idea that the great battle is fought. I don’t think so. I think our last action was the skirmish which precedes the main battle. And there is every indication that it will come off immediately, perhaps before you receive this. We are gradually tightening our lines around the city [Richmond] step by step, today the division in front of us advanced to a new position. One or two moves more and we shall be within shelling distance of the capitol of the Confederate States. McClellan tells us that we must expect to fight and I think he is right.
In case I should get wounded I shall try to get to Washington or Baltimore. Harriet could not get here if she was to try, they would not let pass Fortress Monroe, unless she could get strong influence in official quarters. If I should get wounded I have not much expectation of surviving it, because I have not strength. My vitality seems to be expended. The coming battle will no doubt be decisive of the war, should it prove to be so, sick or well, I shall go home as nothing would induce me to stay here a moment beyond the actual necessity of the case.
I have just received two letters from home, one from Albert and one from Harriet and Lottie for which I am much obliged and will answer as soon as possible. Enclosed Ab. sends to grandmother a ball which passed through the leg of one of our poor fellows. Good-by, a kiss for little May.
Sometime in the summer of 1862 Alpheus became seriously ill and was reportedly hospitalized in August and September of 1862. By October was on detached service in Michigan, apparently recruiting for the Regiment in Barry County. While Alpheus was at home recruiting, a curious story appeared in the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune on December 20, 1862, which reported that one “Alpheus M. Hill, of Middleville, Barry County, who served for some time as a private in the 3d Michigan regiment, has been commissioned a Captain in the 7th cavalry, and will raise a company in Barry County.”
In fact, Alpheus remained with the Third Michigan and was reported on recruiting duty in Michigan from through April of 1863 when he probably rejoined the Regiment.
Alpheus was admitted from the field to Douglas general hospital in Washington, DC, on June 12, 1864, suffering from “typhoid pneumonia,” and he died of “typhoid pneumonia” on June 16, 1864, at Douglas hospital. It was noted by the hospital that his sister sent his remains home, although the War Department reported that he was buried on June 18 in Arlington National Cemetery. In fact there is a marker for him, along with his wife and son, in Mt. Hope Cemetery, Middleville, Barry County.
It appears as though my poor 3 great grand Uncle had little incentive to live from his statement that if he was wounded, he didn’t think he would survive. I attribute this to losing his wife and only child a few years before he enlisted, plus it seems the war was not at all what he thought it would be. Although he was not wounded in the war, he caught an illness that was the death of him. He said he would come home, sick or well, but instead he came home to be buried beside his wife and son he mourned. May he rest in peace – his service to our country will not be forgotten.
My thanks for the many hours of research represented on this website.