This letter was written by 17 year-old school teacher Garland W. Mead (1843-1863), the son of Henry Mead (1794-1860) and Betsy Kent (1796-1853) of Lanesborough, Berkshire county, Massachusetts. Garland wrote the letter to his older brother, William H. Mead (1835-1894).
Though Garland grew up in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts, he enlisted with Co. G of the 34th New York Infantry in June 1861. Perhaps he was teaching a select school in or near Herkimer where the company was recruited at the time.
The 34th New York, sometimes referred to as the “Herkimer Regiment,” was composed of five companies from Herkimer county, two from Steuben, one from Albany, one from Clinton and one from Essex county. They mustered into service at Albany on 15 June 1861 for two years. They left the state for Washington on 3 July and were quartered at Kalorama Heights until July 28, when they moved to Seneca Mills. The regiment moved to Edwards Ferry on 21 October, to Poolesville, on 23 October, and there established Camp McClellan, where they remained until late February 1862.
The regiment spent March in camp at Berryville, Virginia, and later in the month moved to Washington where it was ordered to the Peninsula. It shared in the siege of Yorktown; lost 97 members killed, wounded or missing at Fair Oaks, and again lost heavily during the Seven Days’ battles. It was then in camp at Harrison’s landing until Aug. 15, when it was ordered to Newport News, and there embarked for Acquia creek. Subsequently it returned to Alexandria and was again at the front during the Maryland campaign. At Antietam, the regiment lost 154 in killed, wounded and missing, of whom 41 were killed or mortally wounded—over 13% of the 311 engaged.
Garland was one of the casualties at Antietam. William McLean, a sergeant in the 34th, was with the regiment as they marched out of the East Woods to a point 20 yards in the rear of the Dunker Church where they met the enemy coming up the hill beyond in force. He wrote:
“We fired two or three tremendous volleys, which thinned their ranks: but we in turn received quite as warm a fire as we were able to give, and being flanked and cross-fired upon, were obliged to fall back. We did so at first, in good order, loading and firing as we could: but the advancing of the rebels and their deadly fire was at last too much for the famed 34th, as well as for many regiments, and we broke for a time and ran about thirty rods: then we rallied and turned upon the foe, who gave way before us. The action was short, not exceeding fifteen minutes, and our loss in killed, was 32 and wounded, 108. All this was the fault of some one who led us into the face of the foe unsupported on the left. We were within ten rods of the enemy when the first fire was opened, and before we fell back far, they came so close as to take ten prisoners, and others were wounded with gun-stocks, &c. This we could call nothing better than outright slaughter, and the time and number of victims show it was nothing else.”
Other letters by members of the 34th New York transcribed & published on Spared & Shared include:
Orlando R. Chamberlin, Co. E, 34th New York (Union/1 Letter)
Francis R. Bailey, Co. F, 34th New York (Union/1 Letter)
Francis R. Bailey, Co. F, 34th New York (Union/1 Letter)
Isaac G. Campbell, Co. G, 34th New York (Union/1 Letter)
Judson Hewitt Gibson, Co. I, 34th New York (Union/1 Letter)
James R. McCarrick, Co. I, 34th New York (Union/1 Letter)
Washington [D. C.]
July 6th 1861
The 34th [New York] Regiment did leave Albany Tuesday at 7 o’clock bound for the seat of war. We were out aboard of an old propeller and as there wasn’t room enough, we had a barge in tow. After steaming all night, we found in the morning that we were approaching Poughkeepsie. From that time till we reached New York, I kept my station on deck looking at the objects which came in sight as we passed along. It seemed more to me that we were on a pleasure excursion than on our way to the field of battle.
Arriving at New York about 3 o’clock, we anchored in the North River. The officers went on shore but the privates were not allowed that privilege so I have not seen much of the city yet. The quartermaster finally came on board with two days rations for each man. These were distributed and we pushed off again and anchored for the night. I slept on deck as I did the night before—[Erwin] Fuller with me. [Albert] Doty was on guard. There was considerable firing during the night but it did not seem like the 3rd of July night.
In the morning we heard some tall firing at the Battery and over on the Jersey side. At 10 we pushed across to Elizabethport about 12 miles and there we got aboard of the cars for Baltimore. We came by way of Harrisburg, passing through Philipsburg, Bethlehem, [and] Allentown. Reached Reading about ten. There we changed engines and kept right on all night. Passed Harrisburg about 3 in the morning and Little York about 6. There we stopped and washed up and eat all the gingerbread, pie and cheese we could find in the place. I don’t believe there was a shop in the place where they kept anything to eat or drink but was bought out.
About ten miles the other side of Baltimore, 20-ball cartridges were given to each company to be used in case we should meet with any disturbance but we passed through Baltimore without any trouble at all. We had quite a march from one depot to the other. At every other town or city we were welcomed and cheered, but here nothing was said. Occasionally we would see a handkerchief waving and hear a cheer but after we got to the depot and the company got aboard, I managed to get liberty till the train started which was about an hour and I talked with some of the men. They said that the Union feeling was strong there now, but if there are any secessionists, they dare not show their heads now for Gen. Banks has taken up their policemen and they have now none but Union men. They won’t allow the news boys to sell secession papers. I tried hard to get one but couldn’t. I got the Clipper & Patriot which I send on to you.
There were five companies of the 22nd Pennsylvania Regiment encamped near the depot and 2 Maryland regiments. The Massachusetts 8th and two or three Pennsylvania regiments are encamped just out of the city. The Allen Guard are stationed at the prison at Baltimore as guard. This a soldier told me at the Relay House. If I had known it before, I could have gone and seen them.
We got into Washington about 10 o’clock at night and we marched about half a mile to the place where we are quartered at present. All but two companies are in a large and commodious building on D Street North. We are on the left flank of the Battalion so we were put in another building which is a dark hole. The Captain says if we don’t get orders to encamp out of the city or different quarters here, he will put his men aboard of the cars and go home. Since [then], we hear that we go out of the city tomorrow certain.
I have been up to the Capitol and stayed an hour or two. But we were expecting marching orders all the time so we came back again. But now Lieut. [Warren J.] Mack says [Albert] Doty and I can go where we have a mind to till night and we are anxious to improve the chance so I must close and write more tomorrow. I am well. Doty the same. Fuller on the sound list too. Love to all, — G. W. Mead
P. S. There is no excitement here among the people and I don’t hear the citizens say much about the war. The Zouaves have just tore down and burned up a drinking house where one of their number was shot last night.
Doty says tell them we are proof against Jersey lightening and Washington flies—the two greatest nuisances we have met with yet. Write soon and direct to Company G, 34th New York Regiment, Washington, District of Columbia, and I think I shall get it wherever we may march in the morning.
[to] Wm. H. Mead