Thomas William Dick Papers

Thomas William Dick Papers
Number of Pages: 
August 1861 - May 1864

Thomas William Dick served with Company H, 12th Pennsylvania Reserves from 1861-1864. He fought through all of the major battles of the 12th as they campaigned through Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  Many of the engagements are mentioned in the letters, all of which were written by Dick to his family and friends back home in Indiana County, Pennsylvania.  Dick gives brief descriptions of most of the major engagements the 12th Reserves participated in, from the skirmishes of 1861 in Northern Virginia to the Peninsula Campaign on the Virginia Peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and Richmond, in Spring and Summer 1862, where the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps saw their first major actions. In his letter from July 6, 1862, Dick describes the engagements in the Seven Days Battles outside Richmond:

“The reserve lost heavily when we came here we were eight thousand strong when we came to this landing we hadent more than three thousand of course a great many has come in since at all events there is not more than half our number left.”

Thomas Dick and the 12th Reserves continued north where they helped stop the Confederate invasion of Maryland in September 1862. In his letter written a few days after the Battle of Antietam, Dick states: “I tell you we have done some tall marching and fighting too.” The letter continues to list the actions of the Battles of Antietam and South Mountain as well as the casualties of the 12th Reserves.

Dick next moved on to the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, where the Pennsylvania Reserves were one of the only formations to pierce the Confederate lines. Their attack however, was unsupported, and they were forced to fall back. On the other side of the battlefield in front of Marye’s Heights, the Federal Army was slaughtered in brave, yet fruitless attacks.  Dick shares the feelings of many Federal soldiers towards their leadership and their cause in his letter written a few days after the Battle of Fredericksburg:

“No wonder our army is discouraged we have been slaughtered for nothing. we have always been led to expect great things and nearly always been disappointed. We are all willing to do or to suffer anything for our glorious cause but we are not willing to see our comrades cut down beside us and still accomplish nothing All we want is good leaders God fearing men who will do their duty.”

The 12th PA Reserves fought in the great campaigns of 1863, including the Battle of Gettysburg. In his July 1863 letter, Dick does not even mention the battle, only his visits to York and Harrisburg. He does however mention his delight and the news of General Lee’s Army retreating across the Potomac.

While he does not describe the Battle of Gettysburg in detail, he does, however, describe an event just as important in American history. In his letter from December 3, 1863, Dick describes his presence at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. He mentions several governors giving speeches and other commemoration events, yet does not mention the two minute speech of President Lincoln, or even the presence of the President. It shows just how unpopular the speech that later became famous as “The Gettysburg Address” was at the time.

Thomas Dick’s last letter, dated May 21, 1864, describes the horrific Overland Campaign of General Grant, followed by the upcoming discharge of the 12th Reserves at the end of their enlistments. Thomas Dick’s description of the battles and life of the men of the 12th Reserves is a full and descriptive account of life in the Union Army, and the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps during the American Civil War.

Note: Digital copies of these letters are available by following this COLLECTION LINK.

Gift of John S. Bowman
MC 2001.10