Corporal David B. Patterson enlisted on Aug. 13, 1861 and served in Battery “B” of the 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery. He saw action at Ball’s Bluff, the Siege of Yorktown, 7 Pines, Gaines Mill and Savage Station.
This letter was written just before Patterson’s unit marched toward Richmond on the 28th June 1862. They arrived at Savage’s Station on the York River and Richmond railroad at sunrise on the 29th where Confederate commissary warehouses were set afire by members of the 15th Massachusetts. By dusk, the unit was placed into reserve position in a field near the Williamsburg Road on elevated ground, but was later ordered to return to the road and move several miles in retreat. During this movement, while passing quickly around wagon trains that blocked the road and forced the battery into stubbled cornfields, David Patterson was thrown off the chest on which he was riding and tragically run over. In David’s own words:
On Sunday, June 29, 1862, on the retreat from Savage’s Station, Va., I was thrown from the limber box of the sixth piece, as was also Joseph Luther and Allen Burt, who I believe escaped unhurt. The wheel of the gun carriage passed over my left thighs and right ankle, breaking both badly. I was carried to a tree out of the way of the moving trains and left there. The rebels soon occupied the ground and I was held a prisoner at Richmond until July 29th, just one month, when I was put on board a freight car with others and taken to City Point, on the James River. My limbs had not been set while in Richmond and my thigh, which had just began to heal, was broken again by the jolting of the cars, subsequently my legs were set at the hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania. The doctors finding that my left leg was three inches shorter than my right, pulled and strapped it down as far as they could, but when healed it still remained one a a quarter inches shorter than the right. The knee joint also became quite stiff; but I was thankful to regain partial use of my legs instead of losing them altogether. — David B. Patterson
Patterson was finally discharged by Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability on 1 January 1863. He resided in Worcester, Massachusetts until at least 1890.
Fair Oaks, 6 miles from Richmond, Va.
Friday afternoon, June 27th, 1862
Dear Sister and Mother,
I suppose by the time this reaches you, Mother and brother Andrew will be at your house. I thought that as they would be in Providence on 4th of July week, that this would just have time to reach them before they left for Worcester. We were paid for the months of March and April last evening. We left our camp on the 25th and came to do picket duty about ¾ of a mile nearer Richmond. We are supported by the 1st California Reg’t., late [Col. Edward Dickinson] Baker’s. Yesterday, we heard the firing of Gen’l. [George A.] McCall’s Div. in the big fight [at Beaver Dam Creek near Mechanicsville]. It was late in the evening when they ceased, and after they had done, we heard great cheering by the secessionists who are encamped about ½ mile in front of us and their band played lively airs. We all began to feel very down-hearted, but pretty soon there was cheering on our right, and pretty soon the California Reg’t. was called in to line, and our victory was announced to them and an order from McClellan told them they could have as much music the rest of the night. And such shouts that went along our line were pleasing to hear, which no doubt would discourage the rebels a great deal. Among the bands that played so beautiful was the band of the 15th Massachusetts Regiment which lays just a little to our right. They have all new musical instruments and their tunes were pleasing to hear.
There was a great many shells fired at the rebels this morning by the union artillery. This afternoon there was quite a sharp skirmish in front of where we are. Between us and the rebels there is about 500 feet of woods — the woods having been cut about 1,000 feet between us and the woods. General [William W.] Burns came to our Lieut. and told him to fire a few Spherical Case shot at the rebels. Our piece fired 6 rounds at them and when we had fired them, the rebels had retreated. We threw 3-second fuses — that is 840 yards. I expect there will be some tall fighting here before the 4th, but you nor mother must not fret about the safety of myself as I think I will return safe.
You will present this check to the same man as you did before, only at No. 20 West Water Street. The check he has got has your name on it and where you live. Tell brother Andrew that I received his letter of the 19th and 20th inst. on the 24th inst. Tell him that I was much obliged to him for his long letter. Joseph Luther drew 35 dollars from the 6th of February and he sent 30 home to his father. I am going to direct this also to brother Horatio in case you may have moved, and I would rather have this envelope looking full than lose the contents of this letter. It is getting dark now so I suppose I must close.
Saturday morning, June 28th. I intended to finish my letter last night and had written the word close when there was a great roar of musketry in front of us — the rebels again trying to break our lines. There was sharp firing for about 15 minutes when the rebels made an inglorious retreat. My piece this time fired 10 more Spherical Shot, making 16 rounds. It fired yesterday a Spherical Case Shot or Shrapnel Shell. It is a hollow iron ball wit 76 iron balls in it a little larger than the common musket balls.
This morning about 4 o’clock the rebels again tried to break our lines on our left, but they were driven back there the same as they were here. In the papers, I suppose it will say there has been some sharp skirmishing along our lines on the 27th. If these so-called skirmishes had taken place the first part of the Rebellion, they would be termed battles. Hoping you all are enjoying good health like myself. I remain your ever affectionate and loving brother, — David B. Patterson
P. S. Answer this as soon as possible