Jacob S. Winans

We are reproducing below an item found at the Cowan's Auctions site. It pertains to a Winans descendant, who is listed as 1-5-1-3-5-1-1-1 in Mrs. Egy's Winans Family Genealogy. We hope the purchaser of Major Jacob Winans' letters will make them available to the world via some museum or library.

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58 letters, photograph, newspaper.

The 9th Pennsylvania Reserves distinguished itself for gallantry on both the Peninsula in 1862 and on their home soil at Gettysburg in 1863. The young son of a physician from Beaver Co., in western Pennsylvania, Jacob Winans enlisted as a private, soon rising to sergeant, in the 9th in May 1861, caught up in the first enthusiasm for the war, and by August, he was under arms, stationed in the defenses of Washington.

Although the regiment was still green, still learning formations and undergoing training, they were thrown into a fight almost immediately, catching their first fire near Chain Bridge, Va., in mid-September. An educated man, the son of a physician from New Bedford, Pa., Winans learned valuable lessons in these early stages of the conflict. I noticed another thing, that is, that men like Same Venn, W. Parish, Tom, Dimond, and other hard customers are the best and most reliable men we have, although their were drunken, worthless fellows at home they have never caused me any trouble on that account. You know how worthless John Murphy was, he has been drunk about two times since he left New Brighton, have never to tell him more than once to do any thing." Winans also quickly concluded that not every infraction was equally bad. He noted that one soldier who had twice fallen asleep on guard should be reported, but if he were, he would surely be shot. If I report him he would surely be shot, but I have concluded to let him this time and I think it will be the last for him as well as others. It is really doing injustice to the whole regiment to let such things pass unpunished. It is hard enough to keep spies out side of the lines when all are awake and it gives them a greater chance when a sentinel or two is asleep.

In November, Winans was elected Lieutenant, and from the authority of his new position, he provides excellent descriptions of camp life, a new officer's duties, and the hard marches endured during the first winter and spring of the war. His comments on military discipline suggest how quickly he was growing into his position. After Reynolds replaced Ord as commanding general, Winans wrote: General Reynolds is more strict as to discipline than Gen. Ord was. He has the brigade out drilling in review nearly every day.. If he notices a man with his head down or his gun out of position he us sure to tell him. He puts on more style than Gen. Ord. I think he has some notion of making regulars of us. Ord, he notes, has taken command of a division of troops from eastern Pennsylvania. They are fancy soldiers. One brigade made their appearance with white gloves. They are the first fancy soldiers we have seen. There is quite a contrast between them and the rough looking soldiers in the Reserve Corps. Our men march with the steadiness of regulars while they have a kind of careless swing when marching. (May 23, 1862)

After a relatively quiet winter and early spring, the 9th moved near Fredericksburg as they entered into the Peninsular Campaign. On June 24, he boasted that his regiment was nearer Richmond than any other part of the army. At that time, two companies of the 9th were drawn into a skirmish, but things soon ramped up. Six days later, Winans wrote home to describe the fierce fighting his regiment had gone through, and after the battle of White Oak Swamp, reported that he had been wounded. My wound is slight, only a flesh wound and not much of that. I was struck by a buck shot near the close of the engagement. It entered the shoulder from the side, did not touch the bone... We have lost heavily, but our loss is nothing in comparison to the loss of the enemy. We commenced fighting the 25th of June and have been fighting and marching ever since. We (Reserve Corps) fought the battle of Mechanicsville on the 26th. Alone we had about 8,000 men & the Rebels had 40,000. We held them in check for twelve hours. Our loss was light, the rebels lost a great many. Our regt. and one battery covered the retreat next day to Gaines Mill. We then went into the fight there. Had hard work. The enemy had been reinforced and was 80,000 strong. We had more than 35,000. After fighting all day we finally drove the enemy from the ground and slept on the field. At Savage Station we were marched forward & some other troops took out place in the rear. They had a fight and drove the enemy back with great loss. On the 30th we had another battle. It was very severe. (July 5, 1862). A total of three letters cover the role of the 9th in the campaign.

For battle content and importance, the letters of the next several months stand out. The first, written after South Mountain and Antietam, gives a chilling account of some of the worst days of fighting ever on the continent. We stormed the Hights at South Mountain on Sunday evening after a march of 14 miles. Our loss was light. The Rebel force was larger than ours and had the advantage of position. We had to descend a hill, we soon drove them out of the hollow then up the mountain. At dark we were on the highest part of the Mt. . [At Sharpsburg] We then took the Road leading the right of Sharpsburg. We marched about 2 or 3 miles, then maneuvered around until dark before we found the enemy. We attacked them, but did not accomplish much. The enemy's artillery played on us until about 9 P.M. We slept on our arms. Were awakened several times during the night by them firing a volley or two at our pickets. We commenced the battle next morning about 3 o'clock. We went out under a shower of shells & shot in front of our battery and laid down along a fence waiten for the rebels. The field in front (a cornfield) was on a little raise. Part of Kings division were in it engaging the Rebels. They fell back soon after we got into position. We waited until they were all out and until the Rebels came within 30 or 40 yards of us. At the word the 9th gave them a withering volley. The enemy halted and fired but their balls went high & did little damage. The enemy (a Texas brigade) did not stand long, they fell back in disorder and a fresh brigade took their place & commenced firing from the opposite side of the field. Much more, including a partial list of casualties.

Winans' next letter was written opposite Fredericksburg on Dec. 10, as the 9th prepared. We are on the eve of a move. I think we will cross the river tomorrow. We cross on pontoon boats under cover of Gun Boats. It is probable we will have a fight. I have 40 men fit for duty, but only about half of them can be relied on. Most of our good men have been killed or wounded, and I am affraid that the men we have will not sustain the reputation that the 9th Regt has gained heretofore.

With losses and resignations in his regiment, Winans was promoted to captain in March 1863, and assumed duty as the 9th settled into the routine of occupation duty in northern Virginia, dealing with a populace as hostile as the Confederate army. Among the most interesting incidents of the late spring, Winans describes an incident with the Fifth Column. I arrested a man named Stewart, he wrote, (said to be an uncle of Genl. Stewart's) a brother in law of Jackson (the murderer of Ellsworth). A union man living at Lewinsville gave me information that Stewart was in the habit of forwarding mails to the Rebels. Stewart was not at home when I went to his house (at noon). I searched the house but could not find anything wrong. Mrs. S__ was very much opposed to the search, and stormed and scolded at a furious rate. She did give me heck from the start. I placed a guard around the house and instructed them not to allow any person to leave and to arrest Stewart when he returned. He came home about dark. He was brought to me and I never saw so innocent a man, that is, to believe what he said. I sent him to Washington. This part of the country is full of such men, nearly all have taken the oath of allegiance, but they don't respect it much. This same letter also discusses the arrest by Rebels of a valuable spy named Sherman. (April 19, 1863).

In June, the regiment was called out of their position near Washington at rumors of J.E.B. Stuart's approach, and were drawn into the most famous engagement of the war, Gettysburg, and engagement in which they and the rest of the Reserves were credited with turning the tide of battle by their timely arrival. Arriving with his regiment on the field on July 2, Winans' wrote: As we came up we could see the Rebel line advancing, driving the 5th Corps before them. Our 1st Brigade and one Regt. of this brigade went in on Charge, drove the rebels back. We were double quicked to the left of the line where the rebels were making desperate attempts to flank us. The right of the Brigade came upon the rebels and charged, took the position. We built about 2 miles of stone wall, four feet high, worked almost all night of 2nd. We expected an attack next morning, were told that we were to hold that position, so we prepared for a desperate fight. We were in the woods at the foot of a high rocky hill. It had been the battle field of the day before. Many guns were strewed about. We gathered them up and loaded them, had them distributed along the regts, so that almost every man had two guns.. I never saw the men so eager for fight. All were anxious to try the strength of the wall, and were determined to club muskets with the enemy before they would give up. We were shelled pretty several on the 3rd, but there were so many large rocks that we escaped without injury. The rebel sharp shooters watched us close, one man shot at me three times as I was passing a cleared place near our battery. The Rebels had been whipped completely. They were driven back at every point.

During most of the fall and winter, the 9th Reserves were stationed in the vicinity of Warrenton and Manassas, fighting guerrillas and occasionally responding to moves by the Army of Northern Virginia. The last letter in the collection is dated May 1864, just before the company mustered out of service on May 12. Winans was rewarded with a brevet promotion to Major.

The photograph of Winans is larger format (6x8") oval portrait in uniform is accompanied by a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer for Feb. 4, 1864, featuring an article of the battles of the Pennsylvania Reserves on the Peninsula.

Winans' letters provide insight into the mind and activities of a motivated, ambitious soldier, one whose ability to write matched his ability as a leader of men. A rare opportunity to acquire a collection with great content on some of the signal battles of the war written by a man with strategic, as well as tactical knowledge of the events. Good condition throughout, most letters with envelopes.

(EST $4000-$5000)

Price Realized: $9,200.00

Price includes buyer's premium.

This page was last updated 22 Nov 2007.