1867-68: George M. Alverson to William Alverson

The following postwar letters were written by George M. Alverson (1847-1876), the son of William Alverson (1811-1898) and Rhoda Snow (1820-1888) of Beloit, Rock county, Wisconsin. Being too young to serve in the Civil War, George enlisted in the US Regular Army on 19 June 1866 when he was 19 years old. He served three years in the 1st Infantry and was mustered out of the service in June 1869 at Fort Wayne, Michigan.

George’s overtly racist remarks will be difficult for many Americans to read today but he merely expressed what was felt by an overwhelming majority of white Americans who had been raised with the widely held belief that blacks could not be anything but ignorant “mokes”—as George called them—and therefore incapable of assuming the roles of American citizenship. His letters remind us how wide the breach was between harmonious race relations in the post-war era.

After his stint in the army, George relocated to Eureka township, Greenwood county, Kansas, where he took up farming. There was one black family that lived in the same township as George in 1870 which is surprising given his vow to “go where I will never see another nig if I have to go to China or Iceland.” The racial diversity in Eureka township remains 100% white to this day (though there are only 264 inhabitants).

Letter 1

One of the many important rights that African Americans pursued after emancipation was voting, seen in this image during the 1867 election in New Orleans. The streets are filled with African American men of varying statuses as they utilize their new found freedoms at the ballot box. African American men maintained that their manhood and military service during the Civil War justified their rights as citizens, including and especially the right to vote. Even with the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments that secured African Americans’ status as citizens and black men’s right to vote, the post-Reconstruction era challenged and briefly negated the gains that has been made for black rights after the war.

Sailors Home
New Orleans
May 21st 1867

Dear Folks at home, dear Mother,

I received your kind letter in due time and was glad to hear from you. I am well and feeling first rate as my picture will indicate to you. I want you to understand that is a “Yankee Soldier”—all the way from the North. Well, I had 3 or 4 of them taken just for the fun of the thing to see how they would look. I will have some taken in July with a different tog on altogether. Perhaps you will like them better, but then this one that I send you “is me all over.”

Since I last wrote you we have had a grand display of military. They got the 1st Regiment all together and G Co. of the 6th Cavalry and Battery K, 4 pieces of artillery, and then we marched through the City in full uniform—infantry in front, cavalry next, and then the artillery next. “Splendid display.”

Arthur Goss is well as usual & lazy, &c. like myself.

It is astonishing to a white man to see how things are carried on here in this city. They have erected a stand in the center of Lafayette Square where they have speaking by these nigger-loving pups from the North. They come here and get up there and tell them—the nigs—that they are just as good as a white man, Mr. [William D.] Kelley 1 of Pennsylvania told them if they was not white men enough for office, elect the colored white man, and so on—the “black louse.” And there is Senator [Henry] Wilson [too]. 2 He is another one of the speakers. There will be fun here yet, I hope. The next thing that will be up will be to get the white man equal to the black man. Such is life. I’ll tell you one thing, when my time is out, I am going where I will never see another nig if I have to go to China or Iceland. So much, so good.

Charlie Stoddard seems to be raising in the world. Does Willie Harner stop with him yet? Well, I have wrote you a long letter so I will close. Regards to enquiring friends. Yours as ever. — G. W. Alverson

Co. A, 1st US Infantry, New Orleans, La.

Be careful not to let any of the girls fall in love with my picture. It would be a great catastrophe.

Published in the Southwestern, Shreveport, Louisiana on Wednesday, 22 May 1867

1 William Darah Kelley (1814-1890) was an abolitionist, a friend of Abraham Lincoln and one of the founders of the Republican Party in 1854. He advocated for the recruitment of black troops in the American Civil War, and the extension of voting rights to them afterwards. He served as a Republican member of the US House of Representatives for Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District form 1861 to 1890.

2 Senator Henry Wilson’s opposition to slavery drove him to enter politics. “Freedom and slavery are now arrayed against each other,” he declared in 1844. “We must destroy slavery, or it will destroy liberty.” In 1855 the Massachusetts legislature elected Wilson to the Senate where he joined the new Republican Party. Wilson influenced Civil War legislation as chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and continued to call for the abolition of slavery. In April 1862 Congress passed and the president signed the DC Emancipation Act, originally written by Wilson, freeing slaves in the nation’s capital. Wilson introduced the first post war civil rights bill in 1865 and influenced Congress’s passage of constitutional amendments to guarantee citizenship rights to African Americans. Elected vice president in 1873, he became ill shortly after taking office and died on November 22, 1875.

Letter 2

Sailors Home
New Orleans
June 16, 1867

Dear Folks at Home,

Sunday! It is so quiet and raining, I thought I would scratch a few lines home. I am well as usual at present. I got those papers you sent me. The Beloit paper looked like home and to read over the advertisements it was very interesting to me. I would like to get some more of them when it comes convenient to you.

One year ago today, where was I? “That’s whats the matter—and more too.” When I think of it, it don’t seem as though it had been a year [since I enlisted] but then it must be. I wished the other two years were in but I don’t know but that I am just as well off here as anywhere. There is 14 men that will be discharged in July out of my company. It will make our company look different. They are all old fellows that have served 8 to 13 years and as high as 18 years.

Well, there is not much news here. The nigs have quieted down some. They have got about a dozen on the police. I saw one or two. They are as black as the “ace of spades.” They are putting on a good deal of style. There was 8 or 10 going around yesterday with clubs picking up goats in the streets for the pound. They was coming down by our quarters with about 40 boys a pelting them with stones and as they got under my window, I let a pailful of water on to their heads—the nigs—to cool them, and such hollering I never heard by the citizens. The best of it was no one knew who it was.

I will draw this letter to a close. Yours as ever, — G. M. Alverson

Co. A, 1st US Infantry, New Orleans

Love to Carrie. Write soon and papers.

Letter 3

Addressed to Mrs. R. Alverson, Beloit, Wisconsin

Sedgwick Barracks
Greenville [Louisiana]
July 6, 1868

Dear Mother,

I received your kind letter in due time and was glad to hear from you again. I am enjoying as good health as I ever did in my life. I think now that I would have just as good health here as anywhere in the world.

We have been on the stir for the last week all the time. We were called out to quell a riot (or would have been if’n we had not went down there) at the Mechanic’s Institute where the Legislature and Senate are sitting. They did not like the looks of the Lieut. Governor [Oscar Dunn] 1 of the State. He is as black as a pot. Half of the members are niggers. Just think of having an old moke that ought to be on a plantation over you.

We have to furnish two (2) companies of our US every day to guard them so they will not get disturbed by citizens while they—the mokes—are making laws for the state. Oh! it is awful. I never thought that I would ever see such things. I have heard Mr. Chreiton and Father talk of such things but I didn’t think it would happen.

The Fourth of July is over once more. We paraded the streets of New Orleans and were reviewed by Gen. Buchanan and returned home. Had a very good dinner. I think I shall have a better one next fourth if I have my health. I should think Mr. Potter was crazy of moving his family to California. By the way, I wish that I would get discharged there. I think I should stay there awhile.

You were speaking about Nathan Brazier’s being dissatisfied when he enlisted. I know that he was and so is every man in the service excepting those that have always been in the service and always expect to be in it. If father had used me right the winter before I left home, I would not be here—that is certain. But it is past now. It rains every day.

Your affectionate son, — G. M. Alverson

Co. A, 1st Infantry, Greenville, Louisiana

1 Oscar Dunn (1822-1871) was born into slavery in New Orleans. Though his father was freed by his owner in 1819, because his mother was a slave, so too were all of her children. Running for lieutenant governor, Oscar Dunn beat a white candidate for the nomination, W. Jasper Blackburn, the former mayor of Minden in Webster Parish, by a vote of fifty-four to twenty-seven. The Warmoth-Dunn Republican ticket was elected, 64,941 to 38,046. That was considered the rise of the Radical Republican influence in state politics. Dunn was inaugurated lieutenant governor on June 13, 1868. He was also the President pro tempore of the Louisiana State Senate. On November 22, 1871, Dunn died at home at age 49 after a brief and sudden illness. He had been campaigning for the upcoming state and presidential elections. There was speculation that he was poisoned by political enemies, but no evidence was found. According to Nick Weldon at the Historic New Orleans Collection, Dunn’s symptoms were consistent with arsenic poisoning: vomiting and shivering. Only four out of the seven doctors who examined Dunn signed off on the official cause of death, suspecting murder. No confirmation was made because Dunn’s family had refused an autopsy.

From an article published by Nick Weldon entitled “Political poisoning?”

Letter 4

Sedgwick Barracks
Greenville [Louisiana]
August 4, 1868

Dear Mother,

I received your kind letter in due time and was very glad to hear from you again. I am enjoying good health at present—as good as I ever did in my life. The weather is quite cool. Yesterday the thermometer at 3 o’clock a.m. was 81. That is about the average. It rains every day and that is what keeps it cool I suppose.

A Democratic Party Campaign Ribbon from the Presidential Election of 1868

This new drink they have got up is a good thing they say. It is called “Butler’s Punch.” You stir it up with a spoon, squint one eye, drink it down, put the spoon in your pocket, and you go. Refreshing! 1

Since I wrote you, another affair took place which resulted in the death of another one of our number. July 24th I was on guard. On the main guard there was some difficulty between two of the prisoners and finally one of them was stabbed in the side so that he died from the wound. As yet there is no sickness among us this summer.

Potter, I think, done very foolish in undertaking a trip to California. Uncle John will be a rich man in a few years if he keeps on. Tell Aunt Becky I hope I shall see her inside of another year….

From your affectionate son, — G. M. Alverson

Co. A, 1st Infantry, Greenville, La.

Hurrah for Seymour & Blair—the White Man’s Choice!

1 More likely a popular New Orleans joke than a new drink. Those familiar with the cross-eyed “Spoons” Butler will appreciate the humor. Others will not.

1864: Henry Martyn Duffield to Frances (Pitts) Duffield

The following letters were written by 21 year-old Detroit native Henry Martyn Duffield (1842-1912), the son of Rev. George Duffield (1794-1868) and Isabella Graham Bethune (1799-1871). Henry attended public school in Detroit, the University of Michigan and Williams College. He married Frances Pitts (1844-1906) on December 29, 1863. It was to his wife “Fannie” that he wrote both letters.

Duffield entered service in the Civil War on September 10, 1861 as a private. He was soon promoted to the post of Adjutant in the 9th Michigan Infantry. He was made acting Assistant Adjutant General of the 23rd Brigade on March 18, 1862. Duffield was taken prisoner at Murfreesboro, Tennessee on July 13, 1862. He was exchanged on December 3, 1862 and returned to his regiment. He commanded the mounted Provost Guard for the 14th Army Corps from June to August, 1863. Duffield was wounded in action at Chickamauga, Georgia on September 30, 1863. He was made acting Provost Marshal General from February to May, 1864 and Assistant Provost Marshal General for the Department of Cumberland from May to October, 1864. He was discharged at the end of his service on October 14, 1864.

Duffield returned to Detroit and his law practice. He was an active Republican and took part in politics at every level but did not seek office. In 1898, Colonel Duffield volunteered for the military service and was commissioned Brigadier General. During the Spanish American War, he participated in the siege of Santiago. While in Cuba, he contracted yellow fever and recovered after many months of nursing care. In 1903, he was brevetted the rank of Major General.

Both of Duffield’s letters describe surviving not one, but two separate train accidents while returning from a Veteran’s furlough to the battle front in February 1864 reminding us of the uncertain and precarious state of 19th century transportation.

An 1864 image of rolling stock and roundhouse at Atlanta, Georgia

Letter 1

Addressed to Mrs. Henry M. Duffield, Care of Samuel Pitts, Esq., Detroit, Michigan

Lahr House
Lafayette, Indiana
February 21, 1864

My own darling,

I take advantage of a short stay here to drop you a line lest the papers should contain an exaggerated account of the accident we met with here and you might be anxious.

As we nearing the town and only a few rods from the round house, the axle tree of one of the baggage cars broke throwing that car and the two in the rear of it off the track and also breaking the truck of the passenger car in the rear of it, tearing it up pretty badly and smashing the seats and furniture generally. It is a great wonder that no one was injured as we run with three cars off the track for two or three rods the entire length of our very long train. I felt nothing of it but slept right through although the others in the car said they were jerked pretty severely.

Mrs. Bangs and Hull are with us intending to go as far as Nashville, I believe. Sometimes when I look at them, I am selfish enough to wish that my darling was with me but when I think of leaving you alone in such a bleak, miserable hole as Nashville to [ ] backwards, weary, lonely, and down-hearted, I cannot but think that I was right, and that it would be sacrificing your comfort and health to have brought you along with me. You know my sweetest how dearly I should love to have you with me and how desolate and cheerless every place is without you. Notwithstanding, the cheerfulness I tried to put on while parting with you, it seemed as if the light of my life was gone and I went back to my lonely room to pack up feeling as if I must take the next train and again see you. Our time on the cars was so hurried that it cut short our adieus and they did not seem like a real goodbye.

I suppose you must have learned ere this that we did not go on Friday but marched down and were met with orders not to go until Saturday. Saturday morning at 11:00 we started, making very good time. But they have sent for me, and I must go. Goodbye my own sweet wife. May God bless and keep you safe, well, and contented, and soon return me to your loving arms is the prayer of your own, — Harry

Tell mother I received her letter and will answer soon. Did not get the ring.

Letter 2

Mrs. Henry M. Duffield, Care of Samuel Pitts, Esq., Jefferson Avenue, Detroit, Michigan

Headquarters 9th Regiment Michigan Infantry Veteran Vols.
Nashville, Tennessee
February 24, 1864

My darling Fannie,

I fully intended writing to you at Louisville but we passed directly through, not stopping any time at all. I was going to telegraph you of our second railroad accident but the cars ran into the telegraph pole and broke the communication which was not repaired until we got to Jeffersonville and there I telegraphed General Robertson knowing he would publish it and you would feel no anxiety about your waif. It is a wonder that none were killed and so few injured seriously. Seven cars were all broken including the car in which I was which finally brought up on its side sliding us all down into one indiscriminate huddle after jerking and jumping about at a fearful rate. The boys were crowded up with the cars that were overturned and some of which the floors were all stove out and the seats shattered to pieces and yet with two exceptions, neither of which was fatal, there was no one seriously injured. The wreck of the cars though gave me the idea that the majority of those in the car were killed or badly injured.

I thought of you my darling the first idea I had on feeling the car jump and bolt like a vicious horse and was so thankful that you were not in the car with me. I had been feeling lonely all the day and night (the break occurred about 12 at night on the 21st) and wishing I had brought you along with me as Bangs and Hull had their wives. But when I felt the danger we were in, my selfish wishes fled away and I hardly felt the danger we were in. The glad consciousness that you at least were safe at home and that come what might, my darling would not suffer thereby, and much better still be left to me, for the only way I can endure your absence is by recollecting that soon I will no longer be a soldier and separated from you, but a citizen and my own master with no one to tear me away from you and home where you know, my darling wife, my heart longs to be and remain.

Recollect one thing though, my Pet, that if you need me—if circumstances make my absence unendurable, all you need do is send me word and I come. You have the right now to ask of it of me and I have the wish to grant it. Your family may break up or scatter and the now pleasant home circle grow lonely and cheerless, and then it is your husband’s duty to come to you and [ ] you from your loneliness. And you know, my darling, that he will gladly fly to you at your call for his heart is always with you…God knows I would give anything to be with you save the one thing that keeps me away—that is a feeling of duty.

I dined today with Mrs. Irwin and her husband. We shall leave here for Chattanooga tomorrow or the day after. I will let you know of our arrival thre by letter. Give my love to all the family, mother, sisters, and Tom. Keep a brave heart, my darling and trust for the best. you can be assured of one thing to comfort you and that is that I love you if possible better more truly than ever. — Harry

1854: Andrew Clarkson Dunn to Nathaniel Dunn

The following letter was written by Andrew Clarkson Dunn (1834-1918), the son of Nathaniel Dunn (1808-1889) and Charlotte Leonard Tillinghast (1798-1838). Andrew’s father was for forty years an eminent educator, being the first principal of the Wilbraham Academy of Massachusetts, and for many years Professor of Chemistry in Rutger Female College in New York city.

Andrew was educated by his father, and commenced reading law at an early age, under the instructions of Edward Sanford, Esq., and also Judge Campbell, of New York city, and for some time taught school at Fordham, New York. In April, 1854, he came to Minnesota, and was admitted to the bar in the autumn of that year, at a term of Territorial Supreme Court held at St. Paul. He practiced his profession for a few months at Sauk Rapids, and then located in St. Paul, where he was in practice for nearly two years.

In the 1860 US Census, Andrew was enumerated in Verona, Faribault county, Minnesota, making a living as a lawyer. He was married on 1 January 1859 to Diana Jane Smith (1836-1913) and they had an 8 months old daughter named Mary born in late 1859. He was living in Winnebago, Faribault county in 1900, enumerated as a 65 year-old lawyer. According to State history, Andrew is credited with having been the founder of the town of Winnebago. He served as Clerk in the House of Representatives (1864-1866) and as a State Representative (1881-1882. His home in Winnebago is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The 1857 Minnesota Territory Census for the County of Faribault. Andrew C. Dunn is enumerated as a 25 year-old White Male, born in New York, and a lawyer by profession. You’ll notice he was also identified as the Assistant Marshall at upper right.


Addressed to Nathaniel Dunn, Esq., No. 74 East 23rd St., New York

Benton county, Sauk Rapids, M. T.
June 14th 1854

My Dear Father,

I was just lying down here on a lounge in this wild northwest country when the thought struck me that as the ail went out on Friday (day after tomorrow), that I would write you a few lines, thinking doubtless that you would be glad to hear from me. You will see by the above that I am in “Sauk Rapids” now. “S.R.” be it known to you is as yet merely a town in name—a few houses & few people, and the noble Mississippi flowing at our very feet. S. R. is about 100 miles above St. Paul and about 90 above the Falls of St. Anthony by the course of the river, but somewhat nearer by land as the river is very circuitous in its course.

I am now truly in a new country, 90 miles from a doctor, no stores of any consequence, and nothing but log houses with the exception of one. There is, however, and excellent water power formed by the Mississippi falling some 6 feet in a few rods. This water power is what attracted me hither as it is about to be improved, &c. to the amount of $25,000. A hotel, church, &c. built, and fair prospects of a town growing up around. This is also the county seat of Benton county—a rich agricultural county, &c.

I have been at work today at manual labor. I find that I have to take hold with my hands as well as with my profession to succeed in this new country. I am going to help lay out the town here and in return to receive a good building lot worth little now but may be valuable in time. I hope it will. I am in hopes to get some law business to do here, however. Indeed, I have had one suit here already to [ ] before a county justice for which I will receive] 2 or 3 dollars—better than nothing however. I shall have to work here at all kinds of work—harvesting, building, carpenter’s work, &c. I am bound to make it go somehow.

Fort Ripley

I received a letter from Mary & write her by this mail. I wish you would get a late map of Minnesota and I will write you as I think that which will interest you about my trips over the country. The other day I went up to Fort Ripley, the last post on this frontier. It is about 60 miles further up the river than this place. It is built entirely of logs & only intended to awe the Indians. I am within 2 miles of Indian ground & see plenty of Indians of the Winnebago tribe. They disturb no one unless drunk.

While at Fort Ripley (which is in Chippewa country), I enquired about “Copway.” They say he is not a chief of the Chippewa tribe & they don’t acknowledge him as such. They all know him, however. A war party of 30 canoes & seventy warriors passed here in their canoes this a.m. to take “Sioux” scalps. They will not return without them, I know, as the “Sioux” took four of theirs last week.

There is to be a government payment to the Indians (Winnebagos) four miles above here in the course of a week or two. I shall attend it & will write you an account of the proceedings. I have seen 2,000 Indians together in their lodges at their villages 40 miles below here on the Elk River. They are a dirty, miserable race, take them together. The men won’t do a hand’s turn & make the squaws go after & cut wood & do all the labor. I have see the squaws loaded down with tent equipage &c. and the men with their guns or bows and arrows walking leisurely along & seeing them put to it. What a contrast between civilization and barbarism.

Court sits here next week. I may get something to do then. After I have been here six months, I can get some little offices which will help me o live. I want to get Charley out here as soon as I get well started. If I can afford it, I shall come to New York next summer to try and purchase a few law books. Ask Charley if he has done as I requested relative to law books for me. I need some very bad.

Early Benton County Maps gave the town’s name as “Watab” but it was later changed to Sauk Rapids.

Now father, do write me often as I take such pleasure in receiving letters from you. Make them as cheerful as you can as I want encouraging letters so far from home. Tell Mary to get the son, “Do they miss me at home?” & sing it for me. I sing it sometimes here and it makes me sad to think I am so far from home. But all young men that come here do well and I think I can. If you get the map, you will find on it instead of Sauk Rapids “Watab” but it is a late one. You may find Sauk Rapids laid down.

Direct me at Sauk Rapids, Benton county, M. T. Now goodnight, fear father. My love to mother, Lotty, Ginny, and all. Bless them and keep them for me. Write soon. I never have received the letter with the money in it as yet. I fear it is lost.

Your affectionate son, — Andrew C. Dunn

I’m broke to $1.50.

1864-65: Frederick Mortimer Gale to Nellie A. Putnam

Fred M. Gale when in the 13th Vermont Infantry

The following letters were written by Frederick (“Fred”) Mortimer Gale (1839-1934), the son of Julius Collins Gale (1811-1859) and Almira Drury. In the 1850 US Census, the Gale family was enumerated in Lowell, Massachusetts, where 10 year-old Fred’s father was identified as a “peddler.” Fred’s mother having died before he was ten, his father remarried to a woman named Abby S. Emmons in June 1850. By 1856, Fred’s father was employed as the proprietor of the City Hotel in Lowell. When he was only 15 years old, Fred began working as a general store clerk in South Danvers, Massachusetts. After his father passed in 1859, Fred went to live with his uncle in Barre.

In August, 1862, Fred enlisted in Co. I, 13th Vermont Infantry—a nine-months organization. In December 1863, he re-enlisted in Co. E, 8th Vermont Infantry, serving as a private with this regiment until the close of the War. On his first enlistment Mr. Gale was with his regiment when it was transferred to the Army of the Potomac and participated in the battle of Gettysburg. It is said that when his comrade Calvin E. Seaver’s leg was shot off at Gettysburg and the air was filled with missiles of death, and everybody was laying low, he corded Calvin’s leg and stopped the loss of blood.

The 8th Vermont served in the Department of the Gulf under General Banks and then returned north to the Army of the Shenandoah, being engaged at the battles of Winchester, Cedar Creek, and others. Frank was described as “a spare, frail looking soldier, and wore glasses, but he was in every respect a true man, and that kind always made good soldiers. Although not as robust as some of us, he never shirked a duty.”

Fred wrote both letters to his fiancée, Helen (“Nellie”) A. Putnam (1847-1935) who lies buried by his side in the Bronswood Cemetery in Oak Brook, DuPage county, Illinois.

Letter 1

Addressed to Miss Nellie A. Putnam, Johnson, Vermont

Frederick, Maryland
August 1st, 1864

Friend Nellie,

Your king letter came to hand tonight. Was pleased to hear from you so soon. I can give you no kind of an idea what we have done since we arrived at Washington. We got there at noon on Wednesday,  July 13, and started at once to join the 6th Corps. We marched 3 days and over took them at Poolesville, Maryland. From there we went to White’s Ford in the Potomac and waded across and invaded the “sacred  soil”—marched to Leesburg—from thence through Snicker’s Gap,  and into the Shenandoah Valley. Remained there in a piece of woods in line of battle till dark when we retraced our steps, marching all night and till 12 o’clock the next day when we reached  Goose Creek, 2 miles south of Leesburg.

In that night and day’s march,  we waded the Shenandoah river twice and crossed the Blue Ridge  Mountains once, making 30 miles. From there we went by easy marches to Chain Bridge near Washington. We expected we were in permanent camp then but remained there only two days when we started on another raid. Left Chain Bridge last Tuesday noon and went to Rockville—thence to Monocacy Junction where we rested on the battlefield ten hours, then marched all night again, through this City and on to Harper’s Ferry. We went three miles from there and camped on the heights. We had hardly got our knapsacks off, however, before orders came to return to Frederick [Maryland]. We started at once and Sunday eve at 5 we reached this camp. This last march from Washington has been a hard one for the most of it has been done in the night. The last few days has been oppressively hot and the men have fell out by dozens. In the five days we have averaged 18 miles each day. It’s  no use. I have not seen a line distinctly in the last page and a half and will adjourn till morning.

I never saw so many stragglers in my life as on this march. I verily believe our whole division is not so large as a brigade was when we started. The men are foot sore and worn down. We have  marched fast and hard and slow and harder. For you must know that slow marching—that is, where there are frequent stoppages and not  time to rest at either—is the hardest of all marching. We have  endured fatigue and hunger—heat and dust, and I wish I could say rain, the dust has been so bad. The men generally have been very patient, but there are some who would find fault “even if they were going to be hung.” You think a soldier’s life hangs lightly on me—well we had our holiday service while in Louisiana and it could not be otherwise. But I’m afraid some “impatient words” might have escaped my lips this last march had not a kind Providence blessed me with so sore a mouth I have been glad to keep it “securely closed.” But really, a campaigning life suits me—only I do not like to be pressed beyond endurance. I never have intended to flatter you but only hope  my letters may be as welcomely received and cheerfully answered as yours are. A soldier has enough to do to make his lot always pleasant  and you have no idea how much cheerful letters assist him.

This war will not always last for all things must have an end. I have  strong hopes that one year will settle it. How glorious ’twill be for the nation once more to be free from the horrors of war.  Write again soon and direct thus:

Fred M. Gale, Co. E. 8th Vt. Vet. Vols., Washington, D. C.

Letter 2

Summit Point, Virginia
February 26, 1865

Dear Nellie;

In my last I wished that the guerrillas would call on us slightly “just for excitement,” and sure enough my wish was  gratified before the setting of another day’s sun. It was a bold and well executed affair and not at all creditable to the watchfulness of our pickets. We send out wood choppers every day to cut wood for the use of the camp. They used to take arms but lately in our fancied security, the arms have been left behind. This of course was soon known to every rebel for miles around  through the she rebels who are allowed almost free access to our camps. Therefore, it was not surprising that the “Johnnies” came upon the men in the woods unawares and captured some of them. But it is singular that they succeeded in coming up to, and capturing a picket post, and carrying off the mules from a team in plain sight of camp. With many others, I was quietly looking on, saw them gathered around the team, and never dreamed that they were rebels till they started off with their prizes—eleven men, sundry watches, wallets, jackknives, and fourteen mules. To give chase was folly for infantry can’t outrun cavalry anyhow, and it  is somebody’s fault that there’s no cavalry here. The female seceshers here enjoyed it amazingly, but I assure you they laughed out of the other corner of their mouths before night, for the news of the fall of the Capitol of South Carolina came in the evening  papers and we were willing to offset that against the few mules they took from us.

[On] Washington’s Birthday we had another alarm and the  regiment was called out and part held in reserve, the rest sent out scouting, but nothing was accomplished. About one o’clock the General (Davis) called us down to his Headquarters and I guess they—the officers—celebrated the day by the way the liquor  flowed. And by the way, the news of the fall of Charleston came in that day and who blames them if they celebrated a double amount. It commenced raining in the afternoon, but the General was not done with us. He wished us to visit an “old friend” who lived some five miles distant and wanted the Band to go along too, so he sent three ambulances after us, furnished a guard of mounted men, and we went. The house was surrounded with a guard of a hundred men from the 47th Pennsylvania, (we were outside the picket line) while we  stayed there, and we enjoyed the occasion much, arriving home a little after midnight, “at peace with all the world.”

Friday the  news of the occupation of Fort Anderson came in, and on Saturday, Wilmington was ours and the rebels were perplexed as to what the successful Sherman would next do. They seemed to think the Lion in his path, hath proved only a harmless sheep, and one of the Richmond papers in its frenzy to keep up rebel spirits actually  declared that the “fall of Charleston was a matter that should inspire cheerfulness rather than gloom.” Oh! ye blind leaders of the blind, when will the scales be removed from your eyes?  It is reported in Richmond that Beauregard is crazy. “So mote it be,”  for “whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

Yesterday the choppers were again attacked by guerrillas who captured one man’s gun and hat. We in camp heard it was one of the “band boys” and could think of no one but Warner likely to get caught in that way. So we made “arrangements” to give him a grand reception when he came in. I made a picture of a guerrilla mounted & reaching down for the man’s hat, while the man with a frightened look was passing up his gun. The other boys all had something ready to open on him with, but it turned out that he was not the unfortunate man and we lost all our pains.

You may tell Mr. H. for me—if you please—that we have the satisfaction of knowing that the Northern people are not all cowards, but there are enough left yet who are willing to “fight it out on this line” till the rebels are annihilated and their northern allies if need be. And that rebels cannot bully the people into submission to their terms if they could the “dough face” representatives in Congress a few years ago. When peace comes, it will be to a regenerated land. I can write but a few words more and those words shall be the expression of my affectionate regard for the best of my friends and the purest of her sex. Always remember me as kindly as ever, — Fred

1864: Franklin Garland to Elmira (Whitcomb) Garland

An unidentified sailor (Library of Congress)

The following letter was written by Franklin (“Frank”) Garland who enlisted at the age of 19 on 20 November 1861 as a Landsman in the US Navy. He was later promoted to a Paymaster’s Steward and then mustered out of the Navy on 10 December 1864. He was initially on the receiving ship USS Ohio but then assigned to the USS Commodore, a side wheel steamer built in New Orleans and fitted for service with the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. She was renamed the Fort Gaines on 1 September 1864. He may have possibly served aboard the USS Portsmouth as well.

Frank was the son of Leonard Sawyer Garland (1815-1876) and Elmira H. Whitcomb (1817-1880). He was the eldest of several children the next oldest being Ann (“Annie”) Elizabeth Garland (1844-1936) whose name appears on this envelope. Frank was described in Navy records as standing 5′ 8″ tall, with hazel eyes and brown hair.


Addressed to Annie Garland, Newington, New Hampshire, Ships Letter

US Steamer Fort Gaines
New basin off New Orleans, La.
September 28th [1864]

Dear Mother,

I now seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well as usual and I hope these few lines will find you enjoying the same happiness. I received a letter that you wrote to the Captain of the Portsmouth. He opened it and then sent it to me. You say that you haven’t heard from me since June but I can’t see into that for I wrote to you in July & August. They must have got miscarried somehow. I am very sorry because it only made you worry about me for nothing.

I wrote to Annie not long ago. I don’t see where all my letters go to. I wrote in my last letter for my clothes to wear home if they are fit to wear. My time is out now in a little while and then I will be a free man once more which I never was yet.

You said something about the colt in your last letter. Tell father to not keep him on my account for perhaps I would never want to use him. Please send my over coat if nothing more as I can’t get one here short of $25. I will draw to a close now as I have nothing more very interesting to write. So goodbye. From your son, — Frank

By the way, please direct to the U.S. Steamer Fort Gaines of N. Orleans, La. Our [vessel’s] name has been changed by order of Admiral Farragut.

1863-65: Thomas Richard Petrie to Gertrude Emily Sanders

I could not find an image of Thomas but here is a cdv of Edward F. Possen who was a corporal in Co. C of the 152nd New York Infantry (Photo Sleuth)

The following letters were written by Thomas Richard Petrie (1841-1923), the son of Robert Petrie (1808-1873) and Margaret Harter (1816-1906). He wrote all four of his letter to Gertrude Emily Sanders (1842-1924), his future wife.

Thomas was 21 years old when he enlisted on 5 September 1862 as a corporal in Co. F, 152nd New York Infantry. He was promoted to a sergeant on 11 February 1863 and mustered out of the service on 13 July 1865. For a couple of weeks during August 1864, Thomas served as the First Sergeant of his company.

The 152nd New York Infantry was recruited in the counties of Herkimer and Mohawk and mustered into the U. S. service on 15 October 1862. The regiment left on the 25th and was stationed in the defenses of Washington until the succeeding April, when it was ordered to Suffolk and assigned to Terry’s-brigade, Corcoran’s division, 7th corps. After sharing in the defense of Suffolk, it served under Gen. Keyes on the Peninsula and in July was ordered to New York city during the draft riots, remaining there until October, when it joined the Army of the Potomac and was assigned to the 1st brigade, 2nd (Webb’s) division, 2nd corps. In this command it shared in the Mine Run campaign, being engaged at Robertson’s tavern. In the Wilderness campaign it fought in Gibbon’s division, 2nd corps and was active in all the series of battles ending with the surrender of Lee at Appomattox. Its heaviest losses occurred at the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, North Anna river, Cold Harbor, first assault on Petersburg, Weldon railroad, Strawberry Plains, Reams’ station and Boydton plank road. Its losses during the whole campaign amounted to a total of 303 killed, wounded and missing. Its last battle was at Farmville two days before Lee’s surrender. 

Letter 1

Addressed to Miss Gertrude E. Sanders, Eatonville, Herkimer Co., New York

152nd Regt. New York State Volunteers, Col. L[eonard] Boyer
Company F, Capt. David Hill
Camp Marcy, Va.
January 11th 1863

My Darling Betrothed,

Again it is Sunday and I find myself as usual writing to my distant and much loved friend. I often think and ask myself the question why do I write so often and the only definite answer that I can give is that it is a pleasure to me. I said the only answer I could give was that it was a pleasure to me but it is not only that, but I think and trust it is also a pleasure to you to receive and peruse my letters, no matter how often. I have good reason for thinking so too, judging from what you have written from time to time. And besides, I know it is a pleasure for me to receive a line from you no matter how often, and I know of no reason why it should not be as great a pleasure to you. But if I should trouble you too often, please make it manifest, will you?

Hank has got supper ready and I must adjourn. We are going to have an oyster soup.

Sunday eve. Again I have taken up my pen to finish my letter. Gertie, you do not know how hard it is for me to write a letter. If it was anybody else but you, I could not write as often. But if my writing is poor and my composition is still poorer, I think and trust that my friend and companion of former times will not criticize my letters too closely. And if she does, I hope will excuse all imperfections.

Then Git [Gertie] and the General went to the ball? I could not think why you sent me the mittens until I received your last letter. I did not think when I sent to see my southern friends and neighbors that you would hear of it so soon, but so it is at last. Mr. H. J. H. has accomplished his end. And now you cling to the old stand by. Git, I did not think that was your only refuge. If I judge rightly, you did not have a very good time at the party. I am sorry to hear it. You did not run over anybody, did you? If you had, I think you would have told me. Your sleighing must have been delightful without any snow. I suppose Heman had those big bells and a two-horse tree and drove up in big style as is his wont.

Git, you may think I am rather dull of comprehension in speaking of that dear old watch after your spelling it such plain letters. It was very plain at first.

Your father wished to know how his friend Mr. [Ebenezer] Pearl gets along. Well, I will tell you. The old fellow is rather bad off. He is sick and has been five or six weeks. Besides, I think he is a little homesick. Today I heard that he was a going to be taken to the hospital. The health of the regiment is not very good in general. 1

It was news to me to hear that Shully Petrie and Lieut. Conern were engaged but there has been stranger things than that happened. Git, you said in your letter that you could hardly bear the idea of my being gone three years. I will say without boasting if you do not see me within three years, you need never expect to see me. This sheet is nearly full. I have a little more spare time and I will take another.

[rest of letter is missing]

1 Ebenezer A. Pearl was 44 years old at the time of his enlistment. He was discharged for disability on 28 February 1863.

Letter 2

Four miles from Petersburg, Va.
Sunday, June 26, 1864

My darling Gittie,

I do not write to you today to only assure you how fondly and dearly I still love you (which you know is the case), but to ease your anxious mind and let you know I am still unhurt and well.

It has been some time since I last wrote. If I remember correctly, it was four weeks ago today. But as my thoughts wander back over those four weeks, it does not seem more than as many days. But what has been accomplished with this great Army of the Potomac in that time? Enough to fill pages in history, and until then it will never be known what was transpiring all along the long lines of our armies.

But Gittie, without giving a detailed account of all that came under my observation, I might relate some few things that I have seen that would make your blood run cold. But I will not do it. I will try and choose some more pleasant subject than relating the horrors of the battlefield.

I see by the Journal & Courier (of which I believe you are a reader) that there was a full description given of the 152nd [New York Infantry] in their first charge upon the Johnnies and what an imperishable name they have won. But Git, there is but few of them left at present to wear the laurels they so nobly won and richly deserve. All there is in the regiment at present is between 90 and 100. The rest are killed, wounded, and prisoners. There was about 50 taken prisoners this week.

As I think of the regiment and then think what if I had been with them, I cannot help but feel thankful that I was so fortunate as to be detached from them in this great and trying struggle—not so much for myself do I care, but [for] my darling Gittie. How much anxiety and trouble have you been saved from by my staying where I am and how could I help but feel thankful for saving my dearest friend from care and sorrow.

It is almost the 4th of July again. As I think of it, I can hardly believe it. Still it is so, and we have been celebrating that day for almost two months, both day and night with shot and shell. There is hardly a night passes over without there is an awful fight. To hear the roar of 40 or 50 guns and see the shells as they go shrieking through the air on their deadly missions, and the thousands of muskets as they break at irregular periods upon the midnight air, it altogether makes one of the grandest, still the wildest sight that I ever anticipated.

Gittie, how do the boys feel about the coming draft? I should think they would sell themselves at present pretty cheap. What think you? I hear that Minerva Searle is teaching school this summer. How does she and Mr. H. L. A. make out? As well as ever I hope.

The weather here has been very warm for the past week and we have not had a drop of rain in 5 or 6 weeks. Lieut. [John W.] Quinby is about returning to school to Fairfield again. He wrote that he thought he would pass near Eatonville and he would be happy to do me any favor in that vicinity I wished him to and he spoke particularly of speaking a good word for me to Miss G. E. S. so if you should happen to see him, you need not be alarmed if he would speak of me.

I am sitting today under the shady branches of a large oak and it is comparatively cool to what it is out in the sun. But how I wish I might change my seat here for one where if only for a few hours—I will leave you to answer where I would like to change this seat for.

Gittie, I have not had a letter from you in more than a month. Why is it? Please write as soon as convenient. Give my respects to all your people and remember me as your most sincere and loving friend, — Thomas

I send you a picture of E[dward] C. Townsend, formerly Orderly Sergeant in Co. F, 152nd. Now captain in Colored Troops [23rd USCT]. He wants I should accept a commission in that branch of the service. What do you think of it?

Letter 3

Burkeville Junction, Virginia
April 29th 1865

My dearest friend,

How happy I am this afternoon to be able to sit down and acknowledge myself the recipient of another of your truly kind and loving letters. If your happiness is governed somewhat by my letters and I do not doubt it, whose letters do you suppose mine is governed by? I little expected a letter so soon but must say I was gladly surprised this morning upon the receiving of your letter of the 23rd inst. I must give my friend the praise of doing extremely well in writing so often to her very unworthy friend.

You will see by my last that I had received your letter of the 17th and I might here remark that I thought when you were writing that letter, you was very low spirited and perhaps not in the humor. But I may be doing my friend great injustice in entertaining any such thoughts. If I am, I most humbly beg your pardon. Do not think, Gertie, by my writing as I have, that I mean anything harsh or bad, but only wish to find out your true feelings when writing it. You say in your last in speaking that, “you were not very happy.”

Yes, Gittie, the assassination of our President proved but too true. You ask can the northern soldiers ever look upon the south with the least degree of respect? I think if they were again called upon to fight the southern traitor—Rebel or assassins—whatever they may be called (none of those names being appropriate for them), their watchword would be, “Remember our President!” While they know it was a northern man who held the weapon that killed our much lamented President, they also know and bear in mind that it was treason fired it, and that too approved by J. Davis and more of its leaders in the so-called “Confederate States”—but Confederate States no more. Yes, Gittie, and will but feebly express our grief for our President this particular time. Still, I think his sucessor a very able man and will not show much mercy to Rebels.

Then you are happy in thinking our soldiers will soon get their discharges and peace shall again reign? And if it should prove true, you know of one who would be happy to welcome back her soldier friend and ask me if I can guess who? Now Git, you know I am the poorest hand in the world to guess. So won’t you tell me who that person is? …

[the last two pages may or may not be from the same letter]

…How sad is the fate of our much beloved President. I wish the assassins could be caught and their fate left to be decided with the soldiers. They would meet their just doom in a short time, I will warrant you. His death has caused, I think I may safely say, the most general mourning throughout the land of any person ever known, and it seems so much worse at this particular time when the whole Nation were rejoicing over recent victories and as we thought were about to see the war satisfactorily settled. The Nation and the people, and soldiers, have lost one of their truest friends. And I think the most of them appreciate his worth…


Letter 4

Headquarters Second Army Corps
Richmond, Virginia
Friday, May 5, 1865

My Dearest Friend,

At last I have seen the Rebel Capitol and am now within its precincts enroute for home. We broke camp at Burkesville Junction on the afternoon of the 2nd and got here this morning at 9—a distance of 55 miles, and tomorrow morning we start for Washington, another little journey of 140 miles to go on foot—that is, the troops (myself excepted of course). It will take us 12 days from here and I thought I would write my friend a line while here to inform her of our whereabouts. It is thought we shall be mustered out of service as soon as we arrive in Washington. What a pleasant thought—a day that we have long been looking for.

I am going over into the city as soon as I finish this letter to see some of the principal buildings such as Castle Thunder, Libby Prison, Spottswood Hotel, and the Rebel Capitol, and whatever else may come in my way. So if I am either brief in my remarks this afternoon, my friend I am sure will excuse me for our time is short here. You will not again hear from me until we arrive in Washington and then I will write soon after our arrival. With the thoughts of soon returning to home and friends, our journey will be very much lessened of its hardships. It hardly seems like reality on come home soon, but it is the prevailing opinion that we will all be home by the 4th of July and perhaps sooner.

Well, Gittie, please excuse lead pencil writing and all mistakes, and with kind regards to all inquiring friends and with a (goodbye kiss) and much love, I remain as ever yours and yours truly, — Thomas R. Petrie

1864: Lewis Josselyn to Elizabeth (Bates) Josselyn

A cdv of Lewis Josselyn, Co. K, 38th Massachusetts Infantry, taken in Baton Rouge in 1864 (Michael Cunningham Collection)

This letter was written by Lewis Josselyn of Co. K, 38th Massachusetts Infantry. Lewis was a shoemaker like his father when he enlisted at the age of 20 to serve three years. He was mustered out of the service on 30 June 1865 at Savannah, Georgia.

In the 1860 U.S. Census, 17 year-old Lewis was still residing at the home of his parents, Cyrus Barker Josselyn (1814-1898) and Elizabeth Barker Bates (1811-1885) in Hanover, Plymouth county, Massachusetts.

Lewis wrote this letter from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while the 38th Massachusetts was attached to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 19th Army Corps, Department of the Gulf. A few weeks later, the 38th participated on the ill-fated Red River Campaign.

See also:
Lewis Josselyn, Co. K, 38th Massachusetts (letter dated 11 December 1863)
Lewis Josselyn, Co. K, 38th Massachusetts (letter dated 16 February 1864)


Baton Rouge [Louisiana]
March 9 [1864]

Dear Mother, &c. 

We had a terrible thunder shower last night. Sometimes it would sound as if forty thousand cannon were fired off at once, it was so hard. It has not cleared off yet and is now very dark and rainy. I tell you what, it don’t know how to rain in Massachusetts as it does here. When it is a mind to, it comes down in perfect floods. One would think the bottom of the washbowl had come out and all was coming down on us at once.

I got another letter from you this morning and one last week. I did not write an answer to that one for I had just put a letter in the office for you this morning. I did not expect one again this morning, but I was going to write today or tomorrow whether I had one or not. I am glad that Edith and all of you are better again and I wish I could write the same. I for one am as well as can be, but Eli he gets along rather poorly. He has been quite unwell since I wrote last. The first of it, he thought it was the medicine he was taking for his diarrhea that made him feel so bad, and it might have been that. Anyway, he is far from well. Lime is some better of his sore throat than when I wrote before, but it is not well yet. Mark, I guess, feels quite smart now. I don’t ever think to ask him how he is for he is round carrying on as much as he ever is, if not more. You know he was always more quiet than Lime was.

Last night Butt and I went to a show that is now here for a few nights. It was a Polyorama (they call it) of the war from New York. It was paintings the same as a panorama or I could not see any difference in it. It was the best show of the kind that I ever saw. The paintings were as natural as life. One of the pieces was a fight between the Monitor and Merrimack. It first showed the Cumberland (the one that Hugh was in) and Congress in the Hampton Roads rocking in the water. The waves looked as if it was the sea itself. Then in steamed the Merrimack, going up to the Congress as if to run into and sink her, but the Congress then was aground and she dare not venture up to her, so she turns upon the Cumberland and runs into her, and then runs back and tries it again, this time making a hole in the Cumberland, and she sinks, with her colors still flying at the mast.

The Monitor now comes in, and engages the Merrimack. She finally finds the Yankee cheese box too much for her and she has to retreat. As she does so, she fires a shell at the Congress and sets it on fire and is destroyed. This was done the best of anything of the kind I ever saw. I go to the Theatre every few nights. They now have it closed to us and our boys go as guard. I could go every night if I wanted to, but I don’t want to go every night unless they are going to play something pretty good—better than it generally is, for it is a poor theatre.

Yesterday there was quite a fight outside between the rebs and our cavalry. For several days the rebs have been hanging round our cavalry pickets and our cavalry have been out a number of times but could not find them. Day before yesterday they were at the Plantation on which two of our company are stopping as guards and took a mule and a horse, They did not go to the house where they boys are or they would have been taken prisoners, They scared the niggers most to death. There was about twenty-five of them.

Yesterday a Lieutenant and a small squad of cavalry went out and they came on about fifty rebs. The rebs were hid in the bushes and fired on our cavalry, killing the Lieutenant and wounding one. They then sent a messenger right in and the rest of the cavalry went out and two regiments of infantry and some of a battery with muskets instead of cannon. The cavalry caught up with the rebs and took quite a lot of them prisoners and killed a lot, so some say, but there is so many stories aging, I can’t get the truth of it yet. I know they took two for they were brought to the judge’s office and I took them to jail. One of them was complaining all the way up there. He said one of the cavalry struck him on the back with his revolver. I thought it was mighty lucky for him that he did not get a bullet through him instead of a blow. They bother our pickets a good deal by coming up and shooting at them every little while. Our folks had ought to use them a little harder than they do when they catch them for it is not considered fair upon each other’s pickets.

Three days ago our regiment and another went out eight miles to see what they could find. They returned the same day without seeing a reb. It was quite a little tramp for the boys, they not being used ti it lately. I was glad we did not gave to go.

Waltham Sentinel, 29 April 1864

Day before yesterday there was an eating saloon keeper killed here by a soldier. They had a little fuss about something when the soldier drew his revolver and shot him dead. The soldier escaped and has not been found yet. I wsa past the saloon yesterday and the corpse lay in there with four candles lit around him—two at his head and two at his feet as the Catholics always do. It looked kind of queer to see a corpse that way.

George [B.] Oldham has been up to see us since I wrote last but he has now gone back again to New Orleans and from there he is going up round through the Tesche country (we call it where we marched last summer) recruiting for his [USCT] regiment for he has got to get a certain number of men before he can be mustered as an officer. He had on a new suite of clothes—an officer’s suit, and he makes a splendid looking officer.

I wrote you that Lime talked of applying for a commission. He says he does not want the folks to know anything about it so you need not say anything to anyone about it if you have not. He may have given up the notion now.

I wrote you to send some postage stamps some while ago but soon after that I had a chance to buy some do I got a lot—enough to last me a long time. You need not send me anymore unless I write for you to. I hope they will conclude to have a railroad run through Hanover and down round our way as you say there is some talk of, but I am afraid it will turn out more talk than cider for I don’t believe they could make it pay. It would be a mighty fine thing if I could when I come home ride as near home as the old forge in the cars.

We have just had another thunder shower but it was not so hard a one as we had last night. I guess it will now clear off. Everything here now begins to look like spring. All the trees are leafing out and the peach trees have all bloomed and blown off, and I noticed today on a fig tree that had leafed out some small figs.

That man I wrote to you about who is sentenced to be shot is still in the jail, but I don’t hear anything about him now. You ask me if I remember Mr. Morris. I do but he don’t probably me anymore than that I was one of those that were sick in the hospital while he was one of the nurses there. It would be curious if he did for he belonged to a different company and there was a good many in the hospital at the time I was. You say Barker talks of going to Abington again to work. I should think it would be rather lonesome for him to work alone in the shop after he has had company so long. I hope he will be lucky enough to get drafted on this call or any other for I think after this call is filled up, that there will be troops enough in the field to wipe this cursed rebellion out. I sincerely hope so. I believe the rebs will get fits before this summer is out. Someone of our company got up a petition to send to Gov. Andrews to have our 2nd Lieutenant made a 1st Lieutenant rather than have him resign as he talks of doing. Most of the boys signed it and so did I for we all like him as a lieutenant and we would like to have him stay but when he was made a lieutenant, all of the boys would have been pleased enough for him to resign and would have paid something if they could get clear of him that way.

Yours till death, — Lewis

1863-64: George Washington Sheldon to Benjamin Sheldon

I could not find an image of George but here is Pvt. Robert M. Burnard of Co. A, 47th Ohio Infantry (Tom Liljenquist Collection)

These two incredible letters were written by George Washington Sheldon (1845-1864), the son of Benjamin Sheldon (1811-1872) and Louisa Gustin (1824-1927). In the 1860 US Census, 15 year-old George was enumerated with the rest of the family on his parents farm in Perry township, Brown county, Ohio. However, letters mailed home to his parents during the Civil War were addressed to Blanchester in Clinton county. According to muster records, George enlisted at the age of 17 in Co. F, 47th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) on 7 August 1861. It’s possible he may have only been 16 and lied about his age. Sometime after his enlistment he seems to have been transferred to Co. E.

The first letter published here was datelined from the camp of the 47th OVI in the rear of Vicksburg on 24 May 1863. After spending the early months of 1863 in a futile attempt to dig a canal that would allow Union gunboats to sail around the Confederate stronghold out of reach of the enemy’s cannons, the regiment was participated in Grant’s advance upon Vicksburg’s rear. By May 18, the regiment had arrived at Walnut Hills, Mississippi, on Vicksburg’s outskirts. On May 19 and 22, 1863, the 47th attacked the Confederate position on Cemetery Hill. The regiment seized this position on May 22, 1863 and occupied the Cemetery Hill Fort for the duration of the Siege of Vicksburg.

The second letter published here was datelined from line of battle before Atlanta on 23 July 1864. The first part of the letter was written by George just prior to Lt. General John B. Hood’s attack on Maj. General William T. Sherman’s troops in what would be the Battle of Atlanta. The second part of the letter was penned by William (“Bill”) H. Orr, George’s bunk mate, who informed George’s parents that George had been taken prisoner in the battle. We learn from prison records that George was taken to Andersonville where he died of diarrhea on 10 September 1864 and was buried in Grave 8319.

Letter 1

Camp in the rear of Vicksburg
May 24th 1863

Dear Parents,

I take my pen in hand to let you know that I have received your letter and that it gave me great pleasure to hear you was all well.

I have been in an awful battle. It has now lasted six days and [involved] about 25 or twenty-six thousand of our men. I have made two desperate bayonet charges with my company. I will now tell you who fell in defending our liberty in the great siege of Vicksburg.

In Company E—that is my company and as brave a set of men as ever went out to battle for their country: Lieutenant [John W.] Duchemin, Orderly Sergeant Peter Hallsted, Sergeant Adrian A. Shields, Privates Francis [M.] Glancy, Mahlon T. Hall killed. Only one man killed. The rest are wounded. One man is killed, I suppose, who we cannot find. Many a poor soldier lies rotting on the battlefield. Jonathan Casto is killed. Jim Jester is killed and a great many more whose names I do not know, and God only knows how many more will fall.

The Old 47th Ohio done as good work as any soldier ever done in this or any other war. We have abandoned the idea of ever taking the city by storm so we are now fortifying and we have laid siege to the town and expect to starve them out. We have captured 13 or 14 thousand prisoners but they have a very large force yet.

That 50 dollars—you hire hands with it if you want to. Do just as you please with it. Isaac is all well. He is now elected to the office of Corporal. I can’t write much for I am in 150 yards of the Rebs’ breastworks and they are shooting all the time. But I am behind a hill and there is no danger. Bill Boggs is driving team. I got them postage stamps all right.

There is a good many more things that I would like to mention but I have no time. Goodbye. I hope I will get through this battle but if I should fall, remember I fall in a good cause. No more. Tell Benejah to write.

— George W. Sheldon

Letter 2

In line of Battle near Atlanta, Georgia
July 23, 1864

Dear Parents,

I take my pen in hand to let you know I am well & hope you are all the same.

The Rebels abandoned their first line of works last night and we moved forward this morning. We are now within one mile and a quarter of the City. The artillery is keeping up a constant roar from both sides. Several shells have [ ] near where I am sitting. There is a 12 pound spherical case shell lying close to me. It came [with]in 3 or 4 feet of Bill Orr while he was picking blackberries. It was filled with musket balls.

July 24, 1864—Mr. Sheldon. Dear sir, I sit down to inform you of our sad disaster yesterday. Shortly after your son George stopped writing, the enemy moved on us in solid column and after twenty minutes heavy fighting, they took our works. We clubbed muskets with them but they over powered us and we were driven back in disorder. 1 Our company lost 20 men. Your son is a prisoner.

“General Logan road along the line and cheered up the boys. He said he would have a rally before the sun set.”

William H. Orr, Co. E, 47th Ohio Infantry, 23 July 1864

As I said, we were driven back nearly one and three-quarters of a mile and rallied. General Logan road along the line and cheered up the boys. He said he would have a rally before the sun set. We formed in line of battle and when the signal was given, we moved forward and retook the works and as many prisoners as they took from us. Their dead lay thick around our works. We expect them to try us again this evening. If they do, they will find it more of a task than they did yesterday.

After Maj. General James B. McPherson was killed during the pitched fighting of 22 July 1864, Maj. General John A. “Black Jack” Logan took command and rallied the troops by riding along the line, hat in hand, and organized a successful counterattack in the Battle of Atlanta.

Our regiment lost 107 men. Our company lost 20 men killed, wounded, and missing. I will give you a list of the company below.

Sergt. [Galen B.] Ballard killed
Sergt. P[eter] L. Hallsted killed
Sergt. [Jesse] Shumaker wounded severely
Corp. [Thomas J.] Rogers wounded severely
Private [John N.] Eckes wounded in 3 places
Private [Jacob B.] Flory killed
Private [William] Garrett wounded severely
Private [George W.] Lazure wounded in 4 places severely
Private [John K. R.] Torrie wounded in two places severely
Corporal Liddel, R[obert] M.
Corporal Craig, A[braham] T.
Corporal Justin, Isaac
Private Dungan, A[ndrew] W.
Private Garrison, Peter
Private Means, Wm.
Private Moon,
Private Sheldon, George W.
Private Rude, [Nicodemus]
Private Girton [George W.]
Private Fisher, J[oshua W.]

A few of the envelopes George used to send letters home to Ohio

That is a full list of to-date in our company. Our Lieut-Col. [John Wallace] was wounded and taken prisoner. One of our color bearers was killed and the other wounded. The Rebs got hold of our flag and one of the guards killed him and brought the flag off the field. The staff of the battle flag was shot in two 4 times and the stars and stripes was shot in two pieces. Neither one has got a staff now. 2

We have the 5th Sergeant to command the company. I believe I have said enough as your son was a bunk mate of mine, I thought it my duty to write and inform you of his capture.

I am your truly, — Wm. H. Orr

1 “At the works a fierce struggle and hand-to-hand conflict occurred over our colors, in which the enemy were punished most severely. In this struggle Corporal McCarthey, of the color guard, was captured; Corpl. Abraham T. Craig, of the color guard, wounded and captured, and Henry Beckman, color–sergeant, wounded. Lieut. Col. John Wallace, commanding the regiment, and Capt. H. D. Pugh were captured while bravely laboring to form a new line.”  [After action report by Thomas T. Taylor, Maj., Commanding.]

2 “After proceeding a short distance, one small company and men from various regiments joined my line, swelling the number to about 250, with whom, wholly unsupported, I charged, and succeeded in approaching within a few feet of the works, when, such was the storm of fire which swept over this gallant band, that both flag-staffs were shot off and the regimental standard torn from the staff by the fragment of a shell. One of the color bearers, Corpl. Joseph Ludborough, was killed, Corporal Roemhild, of the color guard, wounded.”  [After action report by Thomas T. Taylor, Maj., Commanding.]

1861: Thomas J. Williams to John Dawson Clise

I could not find an image of Thomas but here is Oren Fletcher of Co. F, 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry (Jim Mayo Collection)

The following letter was written by Thomas J. Williams of Co. A of “Harlan’s Independent Light Cavalry,” which retained that name until 13 November 1861 when it was attached to Pennsylvania and called the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry. He was carried on the company roster as Thomas “P.” Williams but only because he had a way of writing his middle initial in a manner that looked more like a “P” than a “J.” According to regimental records, he was mustered in as a private on 27 September 1861 and discharged on a surgeon’s certificate on 29 January 1863.

During the summer of 1861, Secretary of War Simon Cameron authorized the creation of twelve cavalry companies, with each company coming from a different state. Colonel Josiah Harlan was to organize Ohio’s company, but United States law prohibited the establishment of single companies from individual states. As a result of this prohibition, after Harlan’s Light Cavalry mustered into service on August 31, 1861, officials assigned the company to the 11th Regiment Pennsylvania Cavalry, which was stationed at Hesterville, Pennsylvania. The members of Harlan’s company became Company M of the 11th and consisted of recruits primarily from Marion, Crawford, Meigs, and Wyandot Counties, Ohio.

Upon joining the 11th, Harlan’s Light Cavalry and the rest of the regiment left Hesterville for Ball’s Crossroads, Virginia, where the Northerners remained until November 1861. 

Thomas wrote the letter to John Dawson Clise (1830-1912), a merchant in Dunleith, Jo Daviess county, Illinois. He was appointed postmaster of Dunleith in March 1861.


Addressed to Mr. J. D. Clise. Dunleith, Illinois
Franked as “Soldier’s Letter” by “Maj. Samuel Wetherell, Harlan’s Cavalry”

Camp Palmer [near Ball’s Cross Roads], Virginia
October 25, 1861

Dear Sir,

I have taken my pen in hand to inform you that I am well at present and hope these few lines will find you enjoying the same good health.

We have had a hell of a time since I saw you the last time. We get about half enough to eat but I got a horse, saddle, and bridle and saber. We are five miles from Washington in Virginia. We are where the Rebels were about three weeks ago today. There was three skirmishes.

By God, the boys keep such a noise. There is a great many soldiers around [in the] woods. The Rebels [are] about two miles [from] them. We are starved to death this winter. If we have to stay outdoors, we will all freeze.

Dear brother, this is Sunday. There are a great many soldiers. There is about one hundred thousand soldiers. I am about half a mile from Upton Hill and two miles from Munson Hill. I expect will be marched at any moment. Yours truly, — Thomas J. Williams

P. S. I forgot to ask you to favor me a little by sending me a few letter stamps for we can’t get to the City to get any and the sutler has broke down and it is impossible for us to get them. Tell the boys over to the State House that Jo sends them his respects.

I was on guard last night and I could see the camp fires of our brave brother soldiers on all sides. I suppose there is in this vicinity about 250 thousand.

The ring is sound and has no end
And so am I to you a friend

You can direct to T. J. Williams, Company A, Harlan’s Regiment, Washington City

1861: Gabriel Toombs to George H. Thompson

Senator Robert Toombs—Gabriel’s more famous brother.

The following letter was written by Gabriel Toombs (1813-1901), the son of Maj. Robert Toombs (1760-1815) and Catherine Huling (1789-1848) of Wilkes county, Georgia. Gabriel was married in 1838 to Mary Susan Richardson (1819-1885) and had at least seven children by the time this letter was written in 1861. Gabriel was plagued with ill health and therefore unable to pursue a college education. Though he lived a long time, his health was always described as frail and delicate. He made his home on his father’s estate in Washington, Georgia, but—as mentioned in his letter—had a plantation near Columbus.

Gabriel’s accomplishments in life were wholly eclipsed by that of his older brother, Robert Toombs (1810-1885) who became a successful lawyer, fought in the militia against the Creek Indians in the 1830s, and then became active in politics, leading the “State-rights Whigs” in the 1840s, first in the US House of Representatives and later as a US Senator. When the crisis of 1861 arose, he advocated disunion and stumped across Georgia asserting that the North would no longer respect the constitutional rights of the South, necessitating secession as the only remedy. He initially accepted the position of Secretary of State in the new Confederacy but resigned in a few weeks to take the commission of brigadier-general in the army. He led his command at Bull Run in July 1861 which took place roughly five weeks before this letter was written. Gabriel mentions his brother in the letter, writing that his brother maintained that “this contest is not to be settled by diplomacy but by the sword.”

Gabriel wrote this letter to his friend, George Hargraves Thompson (1814-1896) of Glennville, Barbour county, Alabama. George was married to Sarah Willis Richardson (1821-1891). In the 1860 US Census, his real estate holdings were valued at $19,000 and his personal estate at $80,000.

Gabriel Toomb’s Home in Washington, Georgia, where he most likely penned this 1861 letter.


Addressed to George H. Thompson, Glennville, Barbour county, Alabama

Washington, Georgia
August 31, 1861

Dear Thompson,

Just as we begun to count certainly on the pleasure of seeing you & family at our house, I received your letter of 25th inst. dispelling our find hopes. “Man prospers but God disposes.” I trust you will keep this anticipated visit in your future plans.

The cause of the present disappointment is an additional source of regret to us. I trust, however, that yours is but a light affliction & that Sarah will be more favored than usual in her condition.

The gloomy accounts you give of the cotton is the same I am receiving from my brothers and my plantation. We are, however, making food enough for man and beasts, and if we can raise money enough to carry on the war successfully, we ought to be satisfied.

Mr. Cato & family left us on the 17th inst. We have not heard from them since.

I don’t know when I will go out to Columbus. Perhaps before long, as my overseer was sick the last I heard from him. I will go with Lois whenever she wishes to leave us as I have but little to keep me at home except poor health. It will not be prudent for her to come out before the weather is colder after being absent from there so long.

I disapprove of my brother’s going into the army but he seemed to think it his duty to do so. He says this contest is not to be settled by diplomacy but by the sword.

A friend has just called to see me so I must close by wishing you much prosperity & happiness. Your friend, — G. Toombs