James Hemphill Maclay:
His Civil War Letters
His service and dedication to his country are inspirational.
His heroism on the battlefield was extraordinary.
He was a true American hero.
I am proud that he was my great-grandfather.
James Hemphill Maclay : His Civil War Letters
James Hemphill Maclay, the only son of John Herron Maclay and Margaret Hemphill Maclay, was born in Lurgan Township, Franklin County, Pennsylvania on June 12, 1839. His only sister, Jane Ellen, had been born in 1837. James' great-great-grandfather, Charles Maclay, was born in Ireland in 1703 and had emigrated with his wife, Eleanor Query, and their infant son, John, to Pennsylvania in 1734. He and his family finally settled (about 1742) in what was to become Lurgan Township. Charles built a grist mill on a site on the west side of the Conodoquinet Creek and the area came to be known as Maclay's Mill. The mill continued in operation throughout the years and was taken over by James' father when his father died in 1839.
Certainly James had some farming and mill chores to do in his youth. But the countryside was rural and quaint with winding dirt roads, and James had a horse and must have enjoyed riding to visit his aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Most Americans in 1860 felt they were the luckiest and happiest people anywhere. Poet Walt Whitman wrote in I Hear America Singing in 1860:
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong...
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day - at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
This idyllic world came to an end on April 13, 1861 when a Rebel flag flew over Fort Sumter after a thirty-four hour, 4000 shell bombardment caused the Union forces to surrender. Fort Sumter was Federal property, a brick fort on an island near the mouth of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. When Fort Sumter fell, the country's army had only about 16,000 men. Volunteer state militias would have to be organized and a call to arms brought vigorous recruiting throughout the North. A huge wave of patriotism in support of the Union and the constitution spread as appeals were made (this one on a poster) to "all patriots and lovers of their country to step forward at this most important crisis, in aid of their beloved country, in her efforts to preserve the Union and protect her constitution."
At twenty-two years of age, James answered the call "to share in the heroic sentiment of the time" by enlisting in the Union Army, serving in Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, 43rd Regiment, 14th Reserve Union Army. The command was formally mustered into service on June 28, 1861, attached to General John F. Reynolds' First Brigade of General George A. McCall's Division of Pennsylvania Reserves. James was mustered in at Harrisburg on August 5, 1861. This battery came to be known as Cooper's Battery B, after Captain James H. Cooper, who commanded it more than three years. It was part of the Army of the Potomac that saw action in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania and whose main goals were to defend Washington and capture Richmond. James' original enlistment was for three years and when it expired in early 1864 he still believed so strongly in preserving the Union that he reenlisted for the duration of the war, attaining the rank of sergeant.
James came from a very close-knit, religious family and when he found himself away from home he carried on a letter-writing correspondence with his family. The letters he wrote home have been preserved over the years by family members. It seems that it was mainly his sister, Jane Ellen, whom he called Jennie, who took on the responsibility of receiving and answering James' letters.
James could have waited to be drafted as others did that he knew, but he would have none of that. He had strong opinions of those who chose to be drafted rather than enlist. In an October 29, 1862 letter to Jennie he stated:
So Hugh Fraser is drafted. Good for him. No man but a coward would permit him self to be driven into the service but such men. I think such men ought to be in the Rebel Army where all the conscripts are.
And on November 10th:
So Ditzler says he is not hired to Uncle Sam. I think he has done worse for Conscripts are Uncle Sam Slaves. The old Reserves don't like the idea of filling up thare Regt. with drafted men. Thay say thay want men that will fight & not these Baby Conscripts.
Those acquaintances who were in for a short time received James' criticism also:
Well, Sister. I must tell you what I have been doing to day. This morn. I left Camp about 7 o'clock & went to visit the 126 Regt. which is 7 miles from me. I saw most of the Lurgan Township Boys. They are looking well and harty. Thay are making great calculations on going home soon. You ladies must not pet these worn & mangled veterans whose time of 9 months is about to expire. Some of the Patriotic boys of Franklin Co. is greatly discouraged. Thay think playing soldier is not what is cracked to be.
As the war lengthened, volunteerism began to fall off so new recruiting methods had to be devised. The Congress passed a conscription act in March of 1863. It required all men from the age of twenty to forty-five to be liable to military service. However, it exempted anyone who paid $300 or provided a substitute. It was a terrible loophole and James didn't like it at all. In August, 1863 he wrote:
I am glad to hear of Hugh Frazer being drafted. I hope he & all the rest of drafted men may turn out in the field. This thing of drafting men & let them pay thare 3 dollars is not much of a benefit to our Army. We will never fill up the ranks in this way of doing things. Every man thats drafted should feel it his duty to respond to his countrys call. The way it sees best to call upon him. If the people of the North wants peace, why dont thay come themselfs & not send thare 3 dollars. It is men we want not money. But I suppose thay think if thay pay us soldiers we will fight it out for them. (Stay at Home cowards & traitors) A man that buys his independence in the field should never call U. States his Home, or at least he should never be treated as an American citizen.
James enjoyed his military life at first. He wrote on August 12 and September 3, 1861:
I am enjoying my self finely. Better by far than I expected. I keep good health and take the living first rate.
I like Soldiers life verry well far Better than I expected. We get plenty to eat & drink. And for sleeping we are furnished with Uncle Sam Bed that nathure gave him witch is verry pleasant only in rainy weather.
James was very interested in the social goings-on at home and regularly asked for news about his friends:
How is Carrie getting allong. Does she have as many boys as usual. Who pays the most attention to her.
What has become of Ras. Frazer. Is she going to return to the West. Have you any quire meeting this Fall. What has become of Walt. Means. Is he gallanting any of the ladies. & Martha Hays Wherys & McCunes. Are thare any gents paying attention to them. (I want you to answer all these questions.) You must keep me better posted in the young peoples affairs in the Neighbor hood.
In a letter to his parents early on, he kidded Jennie about one of his friends who continued his social visits even though James wasn't now at home:
Papa I think you must let Billy Linn's horse loose when he comes to our house. I allways thought he came to see me but I must have been mistaken by what I hear.
He was always interested in the ladies and who might get married:
Sister how are all the Newburg ladies getting allong. Who pays attention to Mary Smith or Shumaker. Is Dr. Lam married to Miss Green. I wonder who might be married next. I know (perhaps your-self)
Jennie must have written and told James that she wasn't enjoying her social life as much now that he was away:
Sister, I think you should of attended the pic-nick. You must not stop attending parties & so on in account of my being away. You should attend when ever you can.
James engaged in some gossip of his own:
So Brose Nesbit has been paying Cumbld Valley a visit. Do you think Miss Brown will marry a batch so old as him. Thare is a mistake to his riches somewhare. I can pretty nearly give you amt. of his wealth. He made 3000 doll. in Cal. and that is all he is worth at this time. He will become heir to his fathers estate when he dies so the Line may be worth 10,000 doll.
It wasn't long before they saw action. James was at Big Falls, Potomac River, Maryland. He wrote to Jennie on September 12, 1861:
I suppose you have heard of the skirmish we had here. We were fired at by Six cannon on Last Wensday morning from the other side of the River. There was no person killed or hurt. Except W. Harper from Shippensburg. He was slightly wounded in the arm he is allmost well. Thay fired at our guns for 1/2 hour. The Col. would not let us fire our guns at them till we were reinforced for we could not tell the number of Rebbels thare was. So we went back out of reach of there guns. When thay were firing at us Before we left we laid flat on the ground & let the balls pass over us. Some of them pased prety close to us. You can see rockets allmost every night flying up from the other side of the River.
He told his parents on September 26:
How are you all getting allong by this time? If you are getting allong as well as I then it will be pleasantly. I could not wish for Better times than I have. I am in a tent with fine fellows. We came back to camp Tenally last Monday one week ago. I do not know how long we will remain here. I hope not long. I would like to get over to Virginia soon. We were paid off today. I got 12 dollars. We were paid for one month. ... We have receaved our new U. States uniforms wich are verry nice. If you were to meet me you would barly know me to see me in a new bright uniform & high hat.
In a letter dated November 16, James was in Camp Pierpont, Virginia. He wrote to one of his friends:
What kind of weather have you in Newburg. we have the most disagreeable weather here I ever saw. This evening it is blowing a perfect hurricane. About every ten minutes you can hear some one hollering Ketck that tent. It is blowing over. We have roll call at 8 o'clock at night and at sunrise in the morning. We drill allmost every day. We drill 4 hours a day & the rest of the time we have not anything to do. We get plenty of hard bread, not verry good at that. I get allong about as well as any of the boys & I think a little better for I have not been unwell an hour since I came into the Army. We have some ten or twelve sick at the present time. We receaved our pay today. We were paid of in silver and gold. Just fresh from the mint. Some of the boys said it had hardly got cold yet.
He had been promoted to corporal on October 10, 1861 and wrote on December 4:
I am on guard to night. I have got above standing sentry. I have been promoted to a high Corpl. Birth, but as I said I am on guard. I am Sargt of the guard. All I have to do is to releive the guards every two hours.
The soldier got a lot to eat, but some of it was not very good. The basic ration, especially while on the march, consisted of salt pork and hardtack. Hardtack was a large, thick, tough soda cracker. It could be good when fresh, but unfortunately it sat around in warehouses for quite a time until it was finally used. They also had coffee and sugar. The average northern soldier had an average height of five feet eight and a quarter inches and weighed 143 pounds. James was five feet ten and a half inches tall. There were times when he ate very well. He wrote:
If I keep on getting fatter I'll weight 200 lbs by Spring. I weigh 175 lbs at the present time. (Dont say soldiers dont live well.).
Mother, if you were to see your Big Son you would hardly know him, for he has got to be quite a big punchy fellow. I weigh 180 lbs. Some of the boys says I look more like a alderman or a lager beer man than a soldier. to tell the truth I never felt better than I do at the present time.
Sometimes they had to buy their food and sometimes they foraged for it:
We recvd our pay last sabbath. We have to pay 20 cts for a loaf of bread & then it ways only 20 oz. And potatos sells for 5 cts per pound.
We had a big Reconnoissens the other day. In the direction Leesburg. We all came back safe. Without seeing any of the Rebels. I cant say without seeing any for we took 3 or 4 prisoners. We had some wagons allong for forage. Wich we filled with Rebel grain & hay & whatever we could find. We took some 50 fat hogs.
They had not been paid for a while in November of 1862, so food was hard to get:
We have not yet been paid & its hard to tell when we will. We are rather hard up at the present time. We hardly can get as much as we can eat. Some days we only get 10 crackers and other days we dont get anything to eat. We get plenty of fresh beefs.
No cooks were enlisted in the Union army throughout the entire war. Each soldier was expected to cook for himself. James and five fellow soldiers were living together in January of 1863. They worked out a plan for sharing food costs:
We have what is called a mess fund. We all pay so much & then buy whatever we want. So we generally have something good to eat. We buy such things we cant draw from the comesary. We buy such things as potatoes.
James took his turn at cooking for his group and told Jennie he'd like to cook her one of his meals:
This is my week for cooking. We all take our turn at it. So I come on cooking every six weeks. Well I must tell you what we had for dinner. Coffee pork & soft bread. We generally have better dinners but just at present we are somewhat short of rations. We get soft Bread four days in a week. Sister I am getting to be a splendid cook. If I was at Home I'd get you up a regular Army meal just to show you how I cook.
Sutlers were civilians who had stores or followed the army with their wagons full of provisions such as wines, brandies, Bourbon, cakes, canned fruits, cheese and other delicacies, which they sold to the soldiers. They usually charged exorbitant prices. On February 14, 1863, James wrote to Jennie:
We have been living verry high on good things for the last few days. In the shape of jellys can fruit pickels candies & I must tell you how we got them. We looted them from a Sutler. The Sutlers gets to asking to much for thare goods. So we get two or three together and take thare goods from them. Thats what we call hooting them. Our mess got a box of jelly and dozen herring.
In a letter dated December 31, 1862, he described a great meal they had on Christmas Day:
I had a splendid Christmas dinner. I must tell you what we had. We had rather a costly meal. We bought two cans of tomatos, which we had to pay 2 and one half dollars for. 25 cts of shugar cakes & aples. We had to pay 5 cts a peace for them. So you may judge we lived richly. To Morrow is New Years. I do not know how Il spend it. If I was at Home I think I know how I would spend it. I would be shure of a good dinner. I think you would get up something extra for me.
However, the next day's meals weren't all that great:
This is a cold frosty morn. I wonder what you are doing to day. I had a cup of frozen potatoes for breakfast this morn. I expect to have some sweet potatoes for diner. We have to pay 10 cts. pr. pound for them.
James was determined to maintain his up-bringing and abide by what his parents had taught him:
If it was not for the bad company I could allways be a soldier. Nothing I hate more than swearing & bad company. We have some hard cores in our company. But I hope I'll never be one of them.
In a letter to his mother:
We have not had much preaching in our camp till lately. Mr. Furguson has preached to us several times. I allways attend services whenever I get an oppertunity. Thare is a great deal of wickedness in the Army. I have allways tryed and lived up to the rules that you taught me. And I hope that I may never be led astray from them. I think if my life is spared to get through this War, it will be a benefit to me in after years.
James was very pleased to report in March of 1863:
We had preaching in our camp by a young Rev. Mr. Furgason of Lawrence Co. He is a brother of Mrs. Sharp Fullerton. He is a splendid speaker. He is not yet licensed to preach. But was appointed by some Communion Society for to preach in the Army whare thare are no chaplins. He was a classmate of Ralph Maclays. at Canonsburg & also of Tom Orrs at Alegheny. He is making his Home in our tent for the present. Quite highly honored are we not. Its not every soldier that can say thay have a minister in thare tent.
James was always looking for letters from home and from friends:
I want you to send me all the news that you have when you write. Tell Uncle Jack I have not got any Letters from him yet. I waunt you all to write Soon: Good bye from one that will allways rememer friends.
Occasionally he would scold Jennie or complain about not getting enough information in the letters:
Sister why cant you send me the names of who was drafted & who went to the Army. You never mention the name of any one that goes. If I had the convenience of writting you have I think I could do it more justice than you do. But sitting here in the cold one cant do much at writting.
In another letter he answered his mother's concerns for his health and then complained to her about Jennie's lack of the kind of news he would have liked to receive:
Mother you need not trouble your self for I am injoying good health. The reason why I do not write oftener is the weather has been so cold I can scarcely can write. Do you & Father keep good health this winter. Sister hardly ever tells me how you are all. She has so much to tell me about her preachers friends & so on that I dont care any thing about. I think she might give me more news than what she does. Why dont Father sit down & write me a good long letter. I think he might, dont you.
In a January 1, 1863 letter to his mother, he asked her help again in getting his father to write more often:
Why dont Father write to me more frequently. I think he has plenty of time to write once a week to me. So I would allways get two letters from Home a week. I am looking every day for a letter from home.
He was really disgusted in August 1864, when he wrote:
I had thought of not writing for two or three weeks, for I had not recvd. any from you since the 10th of this month. So hearafter if you dont write more regular you cant expect me to be regular. You plead not time. I have to incounter more difficulties for between fighting, marching, digging breastworks & many other things I can hardly write. If we had a shingled roof & a table to write on I think I would write more frequently. But as I have neather claim table or covered roof, you must pardon me for not writing oftener.
Many people in the North were opposed to the war. Members of an anti-war group that was very active and especially vocal were called Copperheads - they wore lapel pins that were cut from Indian head copper pennies. They were pictured in an 1863 cartoon as snakes who would strike the Union without warning. On June 7, 1863 James wrote:
All we soldiers want is the friendly feelings & sympathy of people of the North. While we have so many traitors at Home. This war will never prosper. I would give my next years pay to lead a Regt. of our troops in the field up North to muster up some of the copperheads. I would eather make them come up to the mark or strech necks.
He asked on January 6, 1864:
How does the people like the way thay are drafting this time. How is the Genl. on War matters at this time. Are thay as many Copperheads arround in the country as thare was some time ago.
Secesh were those who believed in secession for the South. James heard about some of them back home:
And E. Ditzler he is turning Secesh is he. Tell him if is Secesh that it would not be good for him if I was at Home for I have of taken revenge on Seceshs. I never want it to be said after the war is over that thare were trators living near Maclay Mill. If I were at home and I heard any person speaking in favor of the South I would help to have him tieded up to a tree for I dont beleve it is right for them that wont come and fight for thare country to say any thing abbout it, for them that can come and dont come when this War is over. They will barly have the life of a dog. Thay will be like the three Hunters one of them shot a large bear. And the other two came up to whare it was lying & sayed "Wasant that a fine bear we shot." So it will be with some of the boys that stayed at home. When this War is over thay will say "wasnt that a big battle we had" or so on. When thay had no part in it.
And he didn't want Jennie to socialize with any of them. He asked about the choir leader at her church:
Who are you going to have for a leader in your quire meeting. I hope you will not have such a Secesh as Billy Means. Will you take my advise & stay at home with Father & Mother. It will do you more good than attending such meetings.
James stated in a letter dated September 6, 1862 the trouble he had in returning to his outfit after a furlough home:
I must try & give you an account of my many travels since I left Home. I did not leave Harrisburg till on Thursday. I could not get transportation till then. That's why I did not get off sooner. There were some 100 of us left together for Fortress Monroe. We were under charge of a Col. So he had to turn us over to our Regements. As I was the only Corpl. I had to stay & take charge of some men. I stayed at Fortress Monroe two weeks. I heard our Div. had shipped for Acqui Creck. So I started for to gain my company. Two other men of our Div. came allong with me. Arrived at Falmouth on the 22nd. Our Battery had left three days before I got thare. Our troops were fighting some at the Rappahanock Station. So I with some other boys of our Div. started on foot for to overtake them. We encamped out all night. The next morn. we started bright & early. We traveled some 15 miles & we came up with our waggons witch had been left behind. I was quite glad to see some of our boys. That day we reached Warrentown Junction. We had to stay hear for two days till we could find out whare our Battery was. We heard it was at Warrentown. So off we started. We reached the Battery that eve. I found the boys all in good spirits.
James was among the many enlisted men in the Army of the Potomac who greatly admired General George B. McClellan. McClellan was a graduate of West Point's class of 1846 and was a veteran of the Mexican War. His first assignment was to command an army that was being formed in Ohio. He led it to western Virginia and easily defeated a small Confederate force there and continued on and handily defeated a larger Confederate army of 4,500 men. His activities were somewhat exaggerated in the press. After a fiasco with green troops at Bull Run, it was determined that a real army would have to be put together. McClellan was put in command of the Army of the Potomac on July 27, 1861. McClellan was very adept at organizing his army and made his men feel like soldiers. They in turn gave him their confidence and deep affection.
Throughout the winter of 1861-1862, McClellan was pressured to take the offensive, but he wrote "the necessity for delay is not my fault." He began to be distrusted by the radical Republican politicians in Washington, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. They questioned his will to fight and some even claimed he was willing to let the enemy win the war.
McClellan lost the Peninsular Campaign and Lincoln shuffled generals around. He made General John Pope head of a new Army of Virginia in northern Virginia, some 50,000 men. At Second Bull Run, on August 30, 1862, some of McClellan's divisions had joined Pope and had joined in the battle. McClellan was off someplace else and was not at Second Bull Run. But Pope's army was badly defeated and driven north in disarray. A few days after the battle, on September 6, James was near Munson Hill and wrote to Jennie:
Well Sister we were in the 4 days fight at Bull Run & it was a perfect run for some of the troops. Fricroys fight was the hottest fight our Battery was ever in. We lossed 4 men killed & 15 wounded. ..... Several of our boys had thare limbs shot of. Some of them were cut in two. That day the Rebels fired at our Battery with 3 Batteryes of Artillery. Our Infintry would not stand thar ground. On Saturdays fight we lossed 1 man killed & 7 wounded. In all we lossed 5 killed & 22 or 23 wounded. Satterdays fight was a hot time. We fired out of our gun 700 rounds. The Infintry gave way & run. We lossed our Caissons & some 24 horses. The Rebels made a charge to take our Battery. But we made out to get our guns off. I was helping to limber up & thar was a Rebel struck at me with his musket but did not hurt me any. Thay drove us for some distance. We fell back to Centerville on Sunday Morning. Monday we went to Fairfax Court House. Tuesday we went to Arlington Heights. Wednesday we went to the Arlington House. Thursday we came here & are here yet. Do not know how long we will remain here. ..... If we had Gen McClellan on the field in plase of Pope & McDowell we would have captured the whole Rebel force. McDowell is a perfect traitor & a Rebel. Our troops sayes thay will never fight under him again. Thay will fight for no Gen. but McClellan. How does Gen. McClellan stand in old Penna. Has he still as many enemy as when I left. If you hear any person speaking against him tell them thay had better fight under him first before thay say anything against him for thay know nothing abbout him. I know one thing if we would have had him at Bull Run we would have fought better. Our troops have no dependence on Pope or McDowell. ...... The Rebels the first days fight fired so fast with skill that we scarsely fired our guns for as fast as we would go up thay would drive us back. I cant see how we gott off so safe.
McClellan didn't accomplish much for six weeks after the Battle of Antietam and then when he began a new offensive he moved slowly with much deliberation. The President lost confidence and gave the Army of the Potomac to Major General Ambrose E. Burnside. McClellan was in retirement. General John Reynolds led the First Army Corps to which Battery B was attached. On December 18, 1862, a few days after the Battle of Fredericksburg, James wrote to his father:
I suppose you have heard of the late battle having been fought near here. No dought you have got news from it thar. I can give you but I'll try to give you some news. We crossed the River on Friday a mile below Fredericksburg on a pontoon bridge. That day we marched to the front of the lines. All was quiet except a few guns that kept up a firing at our troops crossing. Satterday morn. we took our position on the left. We advanced one mile when we were fired upon by the Rebel Batteries. Thay opened fire on our front & right flank. We were soon engaged in hot contest. The Rebel Sharp Shooters were only 50 yds from our Battery. All the men we had wounded were hurt by them. We had five men wounded by then. ... Abbout 1 o'clock that day our Div. made a charge on the enemy under the cover of our Battery. Thay drove the enemy before them for some time when the enemy was reinforced & drove our men back. Our Infintry broke & fled in a hurry. The Rebels still following them till thay up to within 75 yds of our Battery. When they halted & drawed up in line to take our Battery. By this time thare was a Regt of Infintry had come up to support us. The Rebels advanced in near mass to capture our guns. When to thare sorrow we let loose with double charge of canister & the Infintry raised up and poured in volley after volley. Thay did not stand it long but fled. Gen. Reynolds stood by our battery & cheered the boys on. After the enemy had fled he came up to Capt. Cooper & put his hand on his shoulder & said if it had not been for him our left would have been turned. That he had senced a regular stampede. We had a hotter fight this time than we ever had before. The Reserved losses in killed wounded & missing 2100 men with the loss of one Brig. Gen. Gen. Jackson Comd. 1st Brigade. ... Our guns blew up several of the enemy caissons. Sabbath night at 8 o'clock we began to recross the river by day light. All our troops have crossed safely. I forgot to tell you I escaped safely & dont feel any the worse of the fight. I think if we would of had Killer Mac [McClellan] to lead us we would not have been whipped.
The Army of the Potomac had a new leader by the early months of 1863 - Major General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker. James answered Jennie's question about Hooker on February 7, 1863 and continued to praise McClellan:
You inquired I thought of Hooker or Fighting Joe. think he will soon be like all the rest. (Soon play out) I think if we want to bring this War to a close soon we will have to get a new sett of men at Washington & Gen. McClelland to take command of the Army.
Hooker mishandled the army at Chancellorsville during the first week of May and the Army of the Potomac suffered another defeat. James wrote on June 7, 1863:
Thare was heavy canonading up the River. Have not heard the result of it yet. I dont think it is the intention of Gen. Hooker for to cross all his force near this plase. If Hooker gets defeated this time I think he had give this rout up. For every time the Army of the Potomac have been in a fight we have been whipped. I hope that we may be successful this time for it will soon be time we are doing something in this department.
In July, Gettysburg was a turning point for the Union. Still, James was promoting McClellan in August of 1863:
I suppose the people of the North say put in that Gen. & this Gen. to command the Army & then we will soon whip the Rebels. I would like to know how the People of the North knows when we have a good or bad general when thay never worked under him. When the soldiers had a man that thay would fight to the last for we could not keep him. Give us back Gen. G. B. McClelland & we will protect U. States right. But must quit talking such language or you will take me as one out of his wits.
The President's Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863. It broadened the war by declaring that the Northern government was against slavery. James was critical and becoming disillusioned with the war in a letter dated March 6:
But I hope this War will soon terminate. So that we soldiers may return to our peacefull vocation & think no more of armed rebellions & bloody battlefields. But we will have many hard battles to fight yet before we close this War. I am afraid we will have some bigger fight than we have had yet. Since the Prest. Proclamation I am nothing but a 13 dollar target for Uncle Sam. What does he care for a white soldier. Nothing. Thay have done nothing in Washington this winter but talk on the Niger question. I think if the North ever wants peace thay will all every man shoulder his rifle or musket & march down through Dixie & back to Washington and burn it. Then we may talk peace.
And on March 17:
For Old Honest Abe I have not much to say. But I am beginning to think he has lost the first part of his title or at least Honest. I think we had better leave the Niger question alone for the present & try & have peace restored once more. Fight will never end this Rebellion. It will have to be done by peace parties and that by people out of office. Or at least from Washington. the office holders of Washington & the peopple are trying to have this War go on as long as possible for thay are reaping heavy proffits by the War. Thay are getting the most parts of the Soldiers pay in one way & another. The way things are going it sometimes gets me a little angry. I think if I were clear of this you would not ketck me in such a War as this is soon again. Not that I am tired of soldiering. But it is the way it is carried on. When I enlisted it was for this Constitution & the Union. But now it has changed its title; now it is who takes command & the Niger. As the saying is: Now let the War go allong as it will. Il be gay & happy still.
When the Proclamation went into effect, it followed that if the Negroes were free and if the Union Army was in the south to free them, then they were eligible to join the army and fight for their freedom. It was an idea that took getting used to; not many of the rank and file wanted the Negro to participate as a soldier. James wrote in early 1863:
What do you think of raising Negro Regt for our Army. I think it is a perfect shame & a disgrace to the people of the North. If we cant raise white men anoff in the North to put down this rebellion we had better stop fighting.
On April 7, 1863, Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont sent eight ironclad ships into Charleston Harbor in an attempt to blockade the Confederate port. The guns of Fort Sumter blasted them. James read about it in the newspaper and commented on April 17:
What do you think of our repulse at Charlestown. I think it was a perfect peace of nonsence of our boats trying to pass these forts. Thay might of known that the Rebs would batter thare ships to peaces.
James was pleased in January of 1863 when Battery B was inspected:
Yesterday we were inspected by Col. Wainright, Chief of Artil. on Gen. Reynolds staff. Our Battery took the praise of being the Best in the Corps.
And again in April:
Last Thursday we or our Corps was review by Maj. Gen Joe Hooker. He complimented us to Gen. Reynolds very highly. Gen. Reynolds has given our Battery a new name. When Gen. Hooker asked Reynolds what Battery we were he told him it was his fighting Battery. Yesterday our Battery was inspected by it self by Gen. Reynolds. He examind the Non. Commissioned officers very closely. He gave us great credit for being so well drilled.
Throughout the early months of 1863, James had been requesting and looking for a box from home. It finally arrived and he wrote on April 10:
Well Sister your gift in the shape of a box with something good to eat came safely to hand on last Sabbath morn. Every thing kept safe & were all good. Tell Becky & Aunt Mary I am under a thousand obligations to them for sending me those pickled eggs. For thay were splendid. Thay were the first pickled eggs I ever eat. And also the cake. Yesterday our Corps were reviewed by the President & severale Major Gen. All the troops in the corps were all out. Sister you may consider your self very highly favored for having one of Major Gen Reynolds Staff officers with the rank of Col. eat part of your cake. When we were out in the picket yesterday the Col came to our Battery just as I was giving Liut Nisbet a slice of cake. So of course I handed the Col. a slice. He thanked me very kindly.
Major General John Reynolds was killed by a sharpshooter's bullet on the morning of July 1 at the Battle of Gettysburg. Several months later James wrote to his uncle:
The Infintry of our Corps is guarding the Railroad from this place to Manassas Junction. So we have pretty good prospects of remaining here for some lenth of time. This thing of being so far in rear of the front I don't like verry well. For thare has never been a fight in the Army of Potomac but what the First Corps opened the Battle. And generally Battery B shot the first shell. We have a verry good Genl. but far from what Genl. J. P. Reynolds was. Thare is not the get up in Genl. Newton as was in Reynolds. We have eight Batterys in the first Corps all comd. by Col. Wainwright. All the arty. forms a brigade. Sometimes our Capt. has command of the Arty. He being the ranking officer. Capt. Cooper is oldest ranking Capt. of Arty in the Army of Potomac. He has been offered a Major-ship two or three times but he says if he could get a Brig. Genl.-ship he would not except it.
In September of 1863, Jennie had asked him if a furlough was possible:
Sister, you said you wanted me to come Home in Oct. I am sorry to tell you it is out of the question to get a furlough. Then if thay were granting furloughs, I dont think I could get one. Not till some of the boys that were not at Home last winter. Thare are a great many of them that has not been at Home for more than two years. You need not look for me till May, '64. Then our term of enlistment will expire. We have only eight month to serve in the U. States service.
By December of the year, James wrote to his father about his plans to reenlist:
Father, I am not going reinlist at the present time. I'll first serve out my first enlistment than It will be plenty time if I wish to enter the servise again. I think thare will be as much honor if I should return home and spend a few months then reinlist as if I should do it know. I cant say I like soldering so well that I intend making it my occupation. But I fully believe it is my duty to serve through this wicked Rebellion for I am young and strong. By my serving it might be the means of keeping some married poor man at home. The again I may be filling some of the Copperhead tribes place.
The Union army depended mainly on volunteers right up to the end. The original enlistment term of service was three years for most of the soldiers. By late 1863 and early 1864, many of those terms were expiring and the army was faced with finding many more recruits. Those veterans who had been through the horrible battles of Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and all the rest had done their duty and certainly deserved to go home. They had survived and knew all too well what war was like. Amazingly, in spite of all the hardship, many of them voluntarily reenlisted - some 30,000 in the Army of the Potomac. If a certain percentage in a unit reenlisted, it was entitled to refer to itself as a Veteran Volunteer Regiment, something to take a great deal of pride in. Quite a few of the veterans in the battery were reenlisting. In December James wrote:
I will not be Home on furlough till my time expires, for it is very difficult to get leave of absence just now. Thare are so many going reinlisting and going Home on thirty day furloughs.
A letter in January of 1864 stated:
Thare is nothing new in the First Corps. Thare has been quite a number reinlisted in the veteran corps. Thare was some twenty reenlisted in our Battery. Thay are going Home on thirty-days furlough tomorrow.
James also decided to reenlist and did so on January 1, 1864 at Culpepper, Virginia. He was promoted to sergeant and had a furlough starting on February 10. By mid June, General Grant's plan was to capture Petersburg, some twenty miles south of Richmond. All but one of the rail lines to the Confederate capital passed through there so if Petersburg were taken, Richmond and Lee's army would not get food and other supplies. Then it would just be a matter of time until the end came. Unfortunately, the chance to capture was badly bungled and the option that remained was a siege. It would take almost ten months to finish the job. James' outfit was digging in and he wrote from the front of Petersburg on July 25, 1864:
Thare is nothing of interest transpiring in our Corps, Except the Infintry are building a fort just along side of us. We expect to move our Battery in it soon. We are now on the extreme left of the Army. We have not changed position for three weeks. I think our corps dont intend seiging much. It will be down in front of the 9th & 18th corps. Our lines are verry strongly fortified. The most of the breast works are covered to protect them from mortar shells. Every day our men throws mortar shell. The enemy throws mortar shells regular every day. We have not done any firing for some time. It will not be long till we pay them our compliments in the shape of a ten pound shell.
He wrote on August 7:
All has been verry quiet allong the lines for the past few days. Two days ago the Rebels attemted to drive our lines but we've handsomely repulsed with heavy loss. We had a covered rifle pit witch thay took for a fort. Thay underminded it and blew it up. But did no harm.
He wrote to his father concerning his health on September 21:
I have had a very servere tooth ache the past week. And I have had it taken out. But I still am suffering from the effects of another tooth. I have had the verry best of health this fall. I think I am a great deal fatter than I was when at home.
The Presidential election was going to take place in the fall. Lincoln was unanimously renominated on the first ballot in June. In August, none other than James' favorite general, the retired George B. McClellan, was nominated by the Democrats. But the Copperhead wing of the party was very vocal and dictated a platform which stated that "justice, humanity, liberty and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities." Elect Lincoln and the war would be continued to a winning conclusion at any cost. Elect McClellan and the war would be declared a failure. The nation would be re-established as before. He may have been James' favorite general, but McClellan didn't rate as a politician. James got on the Lincoln bandwagon. He wrote to his uncle in October:
Yesterday thay had it reported that Petersburg was being evacuated but it not altogether credited. It cant hold out much longer the way things looks. The "Jonny" are sertinly seeing some dark times. I cant see what holds the Rebels together so long. For thay shurely cant stick it out much longer. If Lincoln is elected, the Rebels will kick the bucket three months or less time. Uncle, you men of the North must all work together and vote in Mr. Lincoln. For the Democrats are using every means in thare power to defeat our good old Prest. and it will never do to have Sheep & Wolfs in the same pen, or thay will destroy what we have been getting together for the past three years.
Grant ordered a major assault on Petersburg at dawn on April 2, 1865, and the siege was over. That evening the Confederates evacuated Petersburg and Richmond. Lee tried to take his army south but instead was forced west and the end came on April 9, Palm Sunday, at the McLean House in the little village of Appomattox Court House. James wrote to Jennie on April 16:
Our Battery men was amongst the first to enter Petersburg. Some of the boys went along with the skirmishers. Petersburg is quite a large city. Thare are some real splendid houses. The majority of the inhabitants are good loyal people. I am on guard to night or rather it is morning for it is three o'clock. Last evening we recvd word that thare was guirrillas arround and not far off. At 12 o'clock thare was some 40 or 50 mounted arty men sent out to reconnoiter the country. Thay have not yet returned. Nearly all the troops arround City Point have left. I would not be surprised if some of the night the guirrillas were to capture some of us. For thare is no infintry near us. Yesterday we sent 30 head of horses to the front. I am of the opinion thay will have us discharged or else turn in for Cavelry. I would like to play as cavelry for awhile.
Lincoln was shot on Good Friday evening, April 14, and died early the next morning. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was still in North Carolina with his army. General William T. Sherman met him there and offered him a surrender proposal. James' unit was still at City Point near Petersburg and he was not very optimistic about his immediate future. He wrote to Jennie on April 20, 1865:
Sometimes you hear we are going to return to our states, then again we are going to Washington Charleston or somewhere else. For my part I dont believe we will go any-place soon, and as for returning to the state I dont expect to get thare in the inside of six months. For if Johnson [Johnston] has surrendered as it is reported it will be some time to we get the small squads of Traitors dispersed. And it would be policy to discharge the troops for some time after the War has really closed. It will take a large Army to garrison these Southern forts and we cant have sutch a large Army and by next month the one and three years men thare term of service will expire. So that thare will not be so many left in the field. Some people think as Lees Army and Richmon is taken the War is at an end. But it is not the case. Thare will never be any great Battles to be fought, but thare will I am afraid a guirilla Warfare for some time. The Army has not recovered from the assassin of Pres. Lincoln. Thare is not a Soldier but mourns his loss as the dearest friend. The death of so eminent man at this time is fully felt.
This was the final letter in the collection of war letters. Cooper's Battery B was involved in twenty-five engagements over the four year period; among them were Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg. James was there for all of them except when he was on furlough. He had three furloughs home. One in the summer of 1862, thereby missing the Seven Days' Battle on the Penninsula, a second after the battle of Gettysburg, and a third in February of 1864 when he reenlisted. His father visited him in northern Virginia shortly after he entered the Army, and Jennie visited him at Sharpsburg, Maryland in September of 1862, after the battle of Antietam. It is also said that he was thought to be dead at the Battle of Gettysburg and that his father went there to find him.
On September 11, 1889, First Lieutenant James Gardner of Cooper's Battery B delivered an address at the dedication of a monument that commemorated Battery B's actions at Gettysburg. He stated, "Turning in our guns and munitions of war, we were mustered out at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, June 9, 1865, after full four years' service."
James operated the family mill after he returned from the Civil War in 1865. He met the woman he would marry and in a letter dated June, 1867, he wrote:
Annie, it seems that I cant content my self for an hour at a time. My thoughts are allways on you. I feel as if I was not worthy half the love and interest you take in me. Would that I were a Christian that I might pray to God more sincerely and with a better heart to guard and protect us from all sin. That we might walk through this world unspoted by sin, and when death lays his cold hand upon us that our souls will go to the one who died for us. Oh, how pleasant would it be. Had we the right hearts to ask God's blessing for every thing we do. I feel my heart is a little changed to what it used to be. But I am far, far from being a Christian. It seems that God is trying me or else I do not pray in the right way. Annie, write to me when you receive this for you know your absence casts a sort of melancholy gloom over me. But I must go to bed. So Good Night and a kiss on this paper for you.
James married Anna Margaret Fickes (b. June 6, 1844) on September 19, 1867 in the Middle Spring Presbyterian Church. Anna was the daughter of Josiah and Elizabeth Fickes of Roxbury, Franklin County. They had eleven children, six girls and five boys, over a period of nineteen years. James ran the mill until his eldest son, Ralph Fickes Maclay (b. February 4, 1868, d. November 20, 1957), was able to manage it from about 1888 until it no longer operated because of improved methods of grinding grain.
Descendants recall that throughout later life James enjoyed reunions with Civil War comrades who were frequent visitors and camped at the Maclay homestead at Maclay's Mill. Perhaps James and members of his family were in attendance at the dedication event at Gettysburg in 1889. The address included a brief description of the actions of Battery B throughout the war.
James and Anna celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in September 1917. They moved from Maclay's Mill to Shippensburg, a distance of about six miles, in 1918. Anna died at their home there on Sunday evening, November 3, 1918, after seven months of illness from a complication of diseases. She was 74 years old. James died at his home in Shippensburg on Saturday evening, August 20, 1921, aged 82 years. Interment was made in the Middle Spring Presbyterian Church cemetery.