1863: “John” to Mrs. Sarah F. Gordon

The author of this brief letter remains unidentified. It appears that he has signed his name “John” and he has given the name of a comrade but it is not easily read. It turns out that envelope is of no help because I don’t believe it actually belong with the letter. It was addressed to Mrs. Sarah F. Gordon of of Exeter, New Hampshire, who was a 61 year-old widow at the time this letter was written. Since the soldier has called her his “dear little sister, ” this seems improbable. Besides the envelope was postmarked in Baltimore in April, and the handwriting of the envelope does not match that of the letter. The soldier is clearly an enlisted a man as he is consigned to a shelter tent of small proportions.

From searching regimental histories, it seems most likely that the author served in either the 23rd Massachusetts, the 9th New Jersey, the 81st New York, or the 98th New York. These four regiments comprised the 1st Brigade of Negley’s 2nd Division in the 18th Army Corps that moved onto St. Helena Island on February 10th, 1863—the day before this letter was penned.

[Note: This letter was transcribed by Annaliese Vonheeringen; edited and researched by Griff]


Addressed to Mrs. Sarah F. Gordon, Exeter, N. H.
Postmarked in April, Baltimore, Maryland
[Not convinced the envelope goes with the letter; month wrong, handwriting different]

St. Helena Island
Feb. 11th 1863 

My dear little sister,

Here we are landed on this island to take the air and in order & in order to wash out our boots. Oh, we were very dirty. I have no news to tell—am still well and happy. Yesterday I strolled over the island and saw many new and interesting sights. The island is covered with orange and palmetto trees. The oranges are just gone but were very plenty. I saw one branch with 8 or ten golden fellows on it. On one plantation was a pretty garden with violets, verbena, arborvitae & orange trees. Oh how I thought of you when I saw the verbena. I enclose a sprig.

Sketch of tent dimensions

We live in shelter tents of the following dimensions [drawing of tent with dimensions 5 ½ feet L by 5 ½ feet diagonally L. 3 ½ feet tall and 6 feet wide at the entrance]. I have no chance to write here but when we get back on the boat, I’ll write more. 

With the verbena, I send a brother’s warmest love. May the time soon come when I may be with you in person & prove how much I love you. 

Your brother —John 

P. S. You needn’t send any more stamps for a month. I have several now. Denen just came in and says give my love to Mollie 


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