Richard Watkins' letter to his wife Mary gives an account of his participation in General Stuart's raid into Pennsylvania in October 1862. The letter also has an interesting description of General Stonewall Jackson.
My Precious Mary
On last Thursday the day on which Capt Berkeley left us Genl Stuart and I and a whole [unclear: parcel] of fellows about 1800 in all concluded that as times were getting dull on this side of the river we would ride over and see what the people were doin on the other side. Started about 10 o'clock in the morning in the direction of Winchester and then turning to the right we reached the Potomac about midnight and encamped near Hedgesville above Wmsport: a thick cloud of dust enveloped us the whole of that day & we saw nothing worthy of note. Raining next morning & at daybreak
next morning we crossed the river [unclear: drove] in the enemy's pickett taking six prisoners and passing rapidly through a portion of Maryland entered Pennsylvania about midday and then what a sudden change in the appearance of things all the inhabitants astonished, startled, terrified first cheering us for Union troops then suddenly turning pale, quaking, trembling with fright. One poor woman was so enthusiastic in the cause of the Union that she snatched up her babe and ran through a hard rain to meet us nearly a half a mile in order to hurrah for the Union. You can imagine what a change came over the spirit of her dream when our boys laughed at her and told her that we were live rebels. The order was soon given to detail men to catch horses and I wish that you could have witnessed the scene which followed it. Our large body continued to move rapidly on towards Mercersburg and over every field & in every direction men could be seen chasing horses each one trying to take the most. They would meet wagons in the road take every horse & leave the poor wagoner either swearing with [unclear: rage] or mute with astonishment. Citizens on horses & in buggies were dismounted & turned loose afoot. Any threat or exhibition of [unclear: rage] was only laughed at. Every trooper seemed to be in the best humor imaginable and it was really the greatest frolick that I ever witnessed. At Mercersburg we halted, fed our horses bountifully from the corn fields of the good old Dutchmen and talked familiarly with such citizens as had the courage to approach us. At this place occured the only thing which I sincerely regret about the trip. Some of the men broke open a store and rifled it of a great many goods mainly though such things as they needed badly such as shoes hats &c. I regret exceedingly that this occured indeed I doubt the propriety and the policy of even taking horses but this we were ordered to do by our General when there was no authority & certainly no order for the other. The doctrine of retaliation is to me odious and I took nothing not even to the value of a pin while in the state. But to the trip -- from Mercersburg we continued our march to Chambersburg, a large and wealthy town which I reckon contains from fifteen to twenty thousand inhabitants at least and is one of the most beautiful places that I ever saw. Reached Chambersburg about sunset and the home guard threatening to oppose us Genl Stuart sent in a flag of truce and informed them that if they made the least resistance he would shell the town. They at once gave him permission to enter. There we encamped for the night just outside of the town, and seeing a large straw stack I did not unfold my blankets but burrowed under the stack and slept all night quite comfortably although my books & overcoat were saturated with water, and nearly all of my clothes wet from the constant rain. The next morning Saturday we were aroused and started again. Took a most meandering route from Chambersburg to Emmetsville M.d gathering several hundred horses as we went. When we touched the Maryland line near Emmetsville the order was given that nothing was to be seized under the penalty of death. As soon as we entered the town the citizens discovered that we were Stuarts Cavalry they began to cheer and I have never seen a more cordial & enthusiastic reception than we there received. Such a contrast with what we had witnessed in Pennsylvania; and Emmetsville [unclear: too] only a half mile from the line but filled to overflowing with secessionists. From Emmetsville we continued our journey through M.d. & entirely around McClellans army, first approaching near Hagerstown then through Woodville near Frederick, through Liberty near Baltimore, through New Market & then to Barnesville near the Potomac and thence to the river opposite Leesburg We reached the river about 10 or 11 o'clock Sunday morning, having marched eighty five miles in 28 hours without dismounting a single time from our horses (the whole of Saturday & Saturday night & Sunday morning till eleven o'clock). On approaching the river we found that the enemy was in possession of the ford with infantry artillery & cavalry. The moment seemed to be a critical one indeed, but Genl Stuart remained perfectly composed and by a rapid manuevering of the trooops & a tolerably sharp skirmish he succeeded in crossing us all over, without the loss of a single man. Just as the rear of our column reached the Virginia shore quite a large force of the enemy appeared on the opposite hills. But all were over & safe. That night we encamped at Leesburg, and next morning as Genl Stuart rode by the whole column gave him three rousing cheers and we came on at our leisure to camp. This morning I am perfectly well, fully refreshed.
Oct 17-- Whilst writing the above news reached us that the enemy were advancing in large force and of course we were ordered to horse. They came and drove our pickett from [unclear: Charlestown] and occupied it. Our regiment was ordered on a scout to ascertain their force if possible and went almost to Harpers Ferry before getting the information returning to Camp about Midnight. By daybreak yesterday we were aroused by [unclear: videttes] stating that the enemy were also advancing from Shepherdstown & were almost upon us. We were soon on our horses and other regiments of our brigade coming up were drawn up in line of battle to receive them. Their cavalry came in sight & halted. I was sent out in chase of some videttes to watch their movements. Purnall Dickinson rode boldly out into a clear field very near their picketts & commenced firing at them. Other videttes soon found him and the firing was kept up for some time. This checked the enemys movements, but about eleven o'clock we were relieved by a portion of the 9th Va and as I called in my videttes and started off, several thousand of the enemy came pouring out of the woods formed in the line of battle & halted about that time our regiment was ordered to the rear of our cavalry to feed our horses having been on duty 24 hours Whilst there Genl Lee (Robt E) Genl Jackson & Genl Stuart rode by together going over to take a view of the enemy. Genl Jackson is entirely different in appearance from what I expected. He is about my size, perhaps not quite so tall, with darker hair & whiskers and entirely genteel in his appearance though planely dressed. Nothing rough or uncouth about him. The enemy remained in position until the afternoon when suddenly from some cause unknown to me they became panic stricken and beat a hasty retreat across the river. We pursued their cavalry & artillery with cavalry & artillery and skirmished with them until we forced them entirely across then posted our pickett and returned to this our old camp.
This morning I was delighted at the reception of another letter from you dated Sept 24th & Oct 4th. I am so sorry to hear that you have been sick. Oh how I wish that I could be with you. Will apply for a furlough as soon as Capt Berkeley gets back I
have one. If you see him tell him to make haste and come in the mean time if your sickness returns write me and I will come anyhow. Am very glad to hear that you have short hair in [unclear: afine] that you look now just as you did when at school at Ms Ballantines, I want to hurry home before it grows out again I thank you so much for writing before Archer Haskins returned & s I await his return impatiently in order that I may get another letter. My poor horse John Wesley broke down just as we crossed the Potomac on our way from Pennsylvania but fortunately Magruder is in tolerably good order and I am riding him again. My little bay at home is worth two hundred & fifty or 300 dollars [unclear: according] to his condition. If he can be sold at that it would be well for [unclear: paps] to sell him. Has mother sold her [unclear: folio]? Please ask her or [unclear: Conv] Purnall to have mine sold at the same time & also my wheat I do not get any papers and cannot watch the market at all. Please write me about my tobacco & corn crop of the present year and write me a great about yourself, especially about my Mary, my darling precious one. Write about her, her little [unclear: shelter] & all. Write about your thoughts & dreams & acts by day & night. Write write.
I wish to all the best for
Yr own R