Execution of three deserters by firing squad at Leesburg

Date Written

June 20, 1863

Member of Series

The following was written 160 years, 5 months, 18 days ago.
It was a Saturday.

Leesburg (VA)
June the 20th, 1863

Dear Brother and Sister,

It is with pleasure that I take my pen in hand to write you a few lines. I am well. We have had some hard marching. We are now at Leesburg. We expect a battle soon. We don't know where it will be. We got here night before last. We have had a rest. It is raining hard here now. It rained last night.

I witnessed the greatest sight yesterday that anyone could witness. I saw 3 men sat on their coffins and shot. They was shot for desertion. Two out of the 146 Pennsylvania and one married man that belonged to the 13 New Jersey. They are in our brigade. It was a hard sight. I have heard about men being shot in old times, but I never expected to see the like my self. It hurt my feelings more to see them brought out and sat down on their coffins than it did to see them shot, but when the muskets were leveled on them and fired, they was gone. There was four detailed out of our regiment to shoot at them. There was 10 in a squad when they shot them. The whole division was takin' out and formed a hollow square around them and they all seen them shot and after they was shot their shirt were opened and we all was marched by them. One of them had 6 balls put in just above his heart. Their breasts were all shot to pieces. Two of them was shot through the heart with 3 or 4 bullets and some other places about them was hit. The 2 men stared when they were shot. They fell back on their coffins and the one that had the 6 bullets shot in above his heart came very near getting up. One of the bullets went through his neck. He was shot just as that is marked. It was a bad sight. The poor fellows lays about rods from me now. The poor fellows see their graves and coffins before they was shot. They were shot so dead that they never bled a quart apiece. It was a hard sight. If they had been killed by the rebs I could not thought so much about it. One of them was a young boy about 18 years of age. The other about 20 and one was a married man. He had a wife and 4 children... I never want to see another man shot on his coffin.

Frank is well. We are all now right amongst the Rebs. I wish Jim was down here. I would get him a good young horse and send him home with it. There is lots of the boys got horses. They allow us to take anything we come to. We get lots of onions. The boys will go in the cellers and get butter and milk and anything that is good to eat. Some of them take the last horse a man has got. You ought to see the boys go into the onion bed. Such pawing and scrapping you never saw. The old women will come out and gaw and sputter. There will be a hundred at one bed. If they get two a piece they are a doing well. The one that first is the best fellow. I have got another letter that I have wrote when I was on the march and the mail did not go out and I couldn't send it. They both will go out tomorrow morning. Ez, be sure and send that money. This is all from your brother,

William E. Vanauken

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