This letter was written by John DeLaite (1819-1881) to his sister-in-law, Nancy (Ames) DeLaite (b. 1833), the wife of Samuel “Pierce” DeLaite (1831-1864). John and his younger brother Samuel served together in the First District of Columbia Cavalry. In this letter, John informs his sister-in-law of her husband Pierce’s death in action on Kautz’s first raid on 8 May 1864.
In the letter, Corporal John DeLaite shares a few particulars of the action in which his brother was killed near the bridge where the Weldon Railroad crossed the Nottaway River. In a regimental history by Edward Parsons Tobie, the action was described as an “obstinately contested fight.” The dismounted troopers with their repeating rifles were ordered to charge a much larger force of the enemy along the railroad near the bridge. The rebels retreated into the covered bridge but were ousted and forced to withdraw into fortifications on the other side of the river, allowing the troopers to set fire to the wooden bridge on their retreat. In the fight, Lieutenant Jackson of Co. E fell mortally wounded as did the “brave private” Samuel P. Delaite.
Samuel served previously as a sergeant in Co. E, 15th Maine Infantry from December 1861 to June 1863.
City Point, Virginia
May 20, 1864
My dear sister Nancy,
It is under the most pained circumstances I sit down to pen a few lines to you. Never in my life have I been called upon to fulfill so hard a duty but it is so I am called upon to let you know that your husband is no more. Nancy, I know it is hard but the ways of God is just and I suppose we should submit to them all. But sometimes it’s impossible for us to do it.
We started on our route on Thursday the fourth day of May. On Saturday [the] 6th we had a little skirmish at Stony Creek where we [went] to burn the railroad bridge. Then we went into camp until Sunday morning when we saddled up & started down the road to burn a bridge on the same track. The rebs had breastworks at that bridge & we had a smart little fight before we could fire the bridge. The 11th New York went two miles below to cut off their retreat. Two Pennsylvania regiments formed in line of battle in line of the road & the four camps of the First D. C. dismounted & formed in line of battle & went from the turnpike down to the railroad. The battery shelled them out of their breastworks but when we came on them with our repeating rifles, we struck a punnie on them and they fled back into their works again. Then we had to make a charge on them in order to fire the bridge. It was a hard one to make but we came out of it in good shape. Did not lose a man out of our company in the charge but poor Pierce was doomed to lay in a soldier’s grave. It was to be so. God willed it must be so.
He was foremost in the charge, went up to the bridge, and after it was fired, fell back almost out of range. [He] sat down with a comrade in a little grove to rest & was shot through the body by a rundown shot [spent bullet] & killed almost instantly dead, after going up to their breastworks where the bullets flew like hail stones. O, Nancy, I can sympathize with you to be parted in that way after being together since the first of January last.
We slept together, our horses stood together, our places in the ranks came side by side. When we went on picket, we went on together. In fact, we had [never] been separated any. But alas! he has gone the road we must all travel before long. God in His wisdom has seen fit to take him from us. But O, Nancy, I can mourn & feel for the loss of a brother under the sad circumstances. But what is my loss to yours. I feel for you. I wish I could see you. I could talk with you but I cannot write to you. I will [write] to you again in a few days after I rest & try and collect my scattered ideas a little.
From your afflicted brother, — John DeLaite
My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.