Extra Voices: A Thirst For Battle

Anne SK Brown Military Collection

In the Voices section of our Fall 2022 issue we highlighted quotes about the thirst for battle that consumed many Union and Confederate soldiers. Unfortunately, we didn’t have room to include all that we found. Below are those that just missed the cut.

“With what eagerness do we thirst for the blood of our enemy and tear down the fabric made in God’s own image. I confess there is something terribly intoxicating in battle….” —Colonel Francis T. Sherman, 88th Illinois Infantry, in a letter to his mother, June 7, 1863

“[W]hen you go into battle you dont think of being killed all you think of is push a head and kill all you can….” —Union soldier HenryPippitt, in a letter to his mother, June 20, 1864

“I felt a joyous exaltation, a perfect indifference to circumstances through the whole of that three days fight, and have seldom enjoyed three days more in my life.” —New York artillerist William Wheeler, in a letter home about his involvement in the Battle of Gettysburg, August 9, 1863

“I did not know that I could stand fire so well. I never felt so gay in my life as I did when we charged with the sabre.” —John P. Sheahan, 1st Maine Cavalry, in a letter to his father about the Battle of Brandy Station, July 10, 1863

Library of Congress

“As for myself, I never felt better then I did when making that grand charge.” —Pennsylvania officer Benjamin Ashenfelter, on a counterattack he participated in during the Battle of Gettysburg, in a letter to an acquaintance, July 29, 1863

“There is something grand about it—it is magnificent. I feel elated as borne along with the tide of battle.” —Confederate soldier Robert Gill, in a letter to his wife about his experience under fire in the fighting for Atlanta, July 28, 1864

“Braving danger … has its compensations…. In the excitement of a charge, or in the enthusiasm of approaching victory, there is a sense of pleasure which no one should attempt to underrate. It is the gratification which is always born of success, and, coming to one at the supreme moment of a favorable crisis in battle, rewards the soldier for many severe trials and perilous tasks.” —Union officer Horace Porter, in a reminiscence of the war

“I am willing; yes, anxious to brave the leaden storm once more.” —Amos Kibbee, 4th Illinois Cavalry, in a letter describing his “desire for a speedy peace which can only be accomplished through the enemy’s utter and complete overthrow” shortly after fighting at the Battle of Shiloh, May 11, 1862

Sources: C. Knight Aldrich, ed., Quest for a Star (1999); Reid Mitchell, Civil War Soldiers (1988); In Memoriam: Letters of William Wheeler of the Class of 1855 (1875); John Parris Sheahan Papers, Maine Historical Society; Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Johnny Reb (1943); Horace Porter, “The Philosophy of Courage,” The Century Magazine (June 1888); Wiley Sword, Courage Under Fire (2007).

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