- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

On Christmas Eve 1864, Pvt. John F. Hill found himself a long way from home.

He had turned 18 the previous summer and enlisted in the Army, accepting a bounty and joining Company K, 123rd New York State Volunteers. Hill would spend Christmas in Savannah, Ga., and he wrote the following letter to his family the night before. (Spelling and punctuation are his.)

Savannah

Dec. Saturday 24, 1864

From 123 Regt.

Dear Father

as it is the day before Cristmas I thought that I would write a few lines to you I am well & I hope those lines will find you the Same & the rest of the folks up there so you can eat a good Cristmas supper I am a going to have a gay old supper Some hard tack & some Coffee booley for hard tack & coffee I have not much news to write I am hear to the city of Savannah it is a nice place but who cares for that I don’t for I rather see little Granville Corners the rebs did not fight anuff to speak a bout they dug out as fast as they new how they left a lot of cannons whare they was fortified around the city & a lot in the city & 12 railroad ingines & cars of any a mount & steam ships I suspose they had heard that I was a cuming is was what a made them leaf so quick I am having good times now but you can’t tell how long good times will last hear how many potatoes have you got in your Seller & how much corn did you have I cant think of any more to write this time I guess that I will write a little to Ella So good by for this time give my best respects to Mr Granger & Mrs Granger

from your son

John F. Hill

Who was Pvt. John F. Hill? He was typical of the many men who left their homes to fight for the Union. On turning 18 in the summer of 1864, Hill decided to enlist in the Army. In his pension file, he stated that he was born on June 11, 1846. He volunteered in Albany, N.Y., on Sept. 7, 1864. His enlistment states that he was 5 feet 8 inches tall, had black eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. He was a farmer before enlisting. He was mustered in on the same date in Company K of the 123rd New York State Volunteers for one year. He received $33.33 of his $100 bounty.

His service records at the National Archives show that on Oct. 3, 1864, he was at Hart Island, N.Y. Pvt. Hill is shown as “Present” with the company starting in November 1864 and continuing to be present until April 1865.

“The Union Army,” an eight-volume set of books that provides short histories of Union regiments and batteries, published in 1908, states that the 123rd N.Y.S.V. was raised in Washington County, N.Y., and was mustered into service on Sept. 4, 1862, for three years of service.

The regiment moved to Virginia and was assigned to the 12th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Its first fight was at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where it lost 148 men killed, wounded or missing. From there, the regiment went north with the Army of the Potomac to Gettysburg. The 123rd was only slightly engaged there, losing 14 men. In the fall of 1863, the regiment went west with the corps and joined the fighting in Tennessee.

The 123rd then went south with Gen. William T. Sherman’s army in the advance on Atlanta. The regiment saw action at Resaca, Cassville, Dallas, Kennesaw Mountain, Peachtree Creek and finally the Siege of Atlanta.

On Nov. 15, 1864, Sherman began the March to the Sea. The 123rd was one of the regiments that made the march, and Hill joined the unit in time to march with them. He probably saw action in a number of places as the Federal forces moved through the Carolinas.

With the surrender of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army, the troops moved into Virginia and on to Washington for the Grand Review on May 23 and 24, 1865. Hill was mustered out on June 8, 1865, in Washington. The government still owed him $33.33 of his bounty.

Eighteen years after the war, in April 1883, he filed for a pension based on his claim of losing the sight in his right eye because of a shell fragment hitting him on Dec. 9, 1864, at Cherokee Hill. In “Reminiscences of the 123rd Regt. N.Y.S.V.,” Sgt. Henry C. Morhous describes the events of that day:

“December 9th the Regiment did not move until eight o’clock in the morning. The boys were marching along, joking, laughing and singing as usual, when all at once a shell exploded directly over their heads. If ever soldiers were surprised it was the boys of the 123rd Regiment, about noon on the 9th of December, 1864.”

Later the account states, “Several shells were thrown over, but no one was injured.” This account supports Hill in that shells were fired at the unit; however, it hurts his case in reporting that no one was wounded.

Hill’s pension file includes copies of several letters written to support his claim, but other letters say the loss of sight was caused by a work accident in a machine shop in 1866. He had to prove the cause because there is no casualty report in his service records.

Finally, in July 1888, he began to receive a pension of $2 per month based on the testimony of several of his comrades. By 1903, it had been raised to $6 per month and in 1907 to $12 per month because of his reaching age 62. Hill, a bachelor, passed away on April 21, 1918.

Joseph Stahl lives in Fairfax.

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