This letter was written by Alburtus H. Peckham (1841-1919), the son of William Robinson Peckham, Jr. (1816-1886) and Maria Schermerhorn Kettle (1819-1887) of Cortlandville, Cortland county, New York.
At the age of 23, Alburtus enlisted on 1 September 1864 as a private in Co. F, 185th New York Infantry—a one-year regiment. He was wounded (gun shot through left thigh) on 29 March 1865 in the fighting at Quaker Road (see Battle of Gravelly Run) and transported to the Lincoln Hospital in Washington D. C. where he was discharged on 8 June 1865.
After the war, Alburtus was a merchant in Virgil, New York. He married Lydia Ann Smith (1842-1903) in 1870 and moved to Michigan prior to 1900.
Alburtus wrote the letter to Asahel G. Eggleston (1813-1897) and his wife, Louisa Kenney (1818-1897) of Cortland, New York. Asahel was a farmer in Cortland county. Alburtus does not appear to have been a relation but perhaps he had been previously employed by Asahel as a farmhand.
Camp on the front
October 15th 1864
Mr. and Mrs. Eggleston,
I have a little time this morning and I do not know that I can spend it more agreeable than to write a little. The Army of the Potomac is at present rather inactive—or at least it is not in fighting activity. But how long this quiet will last is something only the future can develop. Very soon indeed may the deathly missiles of war be put in motion and the rebellious soil of Virginia be saturated with the blood of our American people. We heard heavy firing all night and we understand this morning that it was gunboats down on the James River. We think there must be a move somewhere pretty soon.
We were the witnesses of rather a solemn affair yesterday. At about half past nine, a member of the 2nd Maryland was marched to the rear of our camp to be shot for desertion. 1 Four men carried his coffin and the 9th Brigade Band played the “Death March” as thousands moved to the place of death. Many hearts beat in sympathy for the poor victim but from the history of his military life all were assured that he ought to die. We have too many men of such character in our army and doubtless many patriotic hearts have bled in consequence of them.
Our camp at present is located on the farm of a rebel officer. It does not look much like farming here now. Not a building except the house nor a fence is to be seen. The ground was the past summer covered with tobacco and cotton. We find occasionally a cotton plant standing now. I have not seen a stone of any kind since I have been in Virginia. Some of the company have seen one or two. The principle timber here is pine and the boys use it too, just as if it was not worth anything.
I did not have time o finish and mail this letter last Saturday and today finds us in a different location. Sunday we were ordered to march so we took our house and furniture on our backs and started for some part, we knew not where, but we soon found out for we only moved about a mile farther toward the front.
We now again occupy the front line of breastworks, over which the Rebs take the privilege to boost a shell once in awhile. We have not been troubled any yet but the old troops that were here before us used to get “woke up” once in awhile. Along the front of our breastworks was once a large piece of woods but now they are all cut down and present a wasteful appearance as they are mostly large pines, and appear to be of much worth—at least to northern people.
Maj. Waters has been at our regiment and taken their votes. The regiment went almost wholly for “Old Abe” as most sensible people do. There was some deserters came into our camp the other day from the Rebs and they said if Lincoln was elected, they would have but little hope and it would be a hard matter to get many of them to fight anymore. The coming election is looked to with a hope of its having something of an influence for the better, and such we think will be the case, but of course we cannot tell. No more at present for I have no time to write.
Shall be glad to hear from you at anytime. My love to all. Yours in Dixie, — A. H. Peckham
1 The soldier from the 2nd Maryland who was shot for desertion on 14 October 1864 was Charles H. Merling.