1863: Benjamin Franklin Shorey & John Shorey to Zebedee Rowell

Two unidentified brothers wearing the Federal uniform

This letter was written in two parts—one part by Benjamin Franklin (Frank) Shorey (1834-1864) and the other by his older brother, John Shorey (1830-1877). They were sons of Lot Shorey (1804-1882) and Eliza A. Ayer (1805-1868) of Somerset county, Maine. John’s mother Eliza was an older sister of Sarah Ayer (1812-1882) who was married to Zebedee Rowell (1808-1879)—the recipient of this letter and the boys’ Uncle.

The brothers were conscripted into Co. D, 3rd Maine Infantry in late July 1863 and were serving in this regiment when they wrote this letter together in November 1863, after the Bristoe Campaign and during the advance on the line of the Rappahannock, describing the fight at Kelley’s Ford on 7 November 1863.

They were both transferred to Co. F, 17th Maine Infantry on 28 June 1864, the same day that Frank died from a severe wound in the right leg that he received on 10 May 1864 while fighting at Spotsylvania Court House. He was buried in Arlington (Section 13, Site 6522). John survived the war, finishing his term of service in Co. F, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery to which he was transferred in December 1864.

To read other letters I’ve transcribed by members of the 3rd Maine Infantry and posted on Spared & Shared, see:
Rufus Crockett, Co. B, 3rd Maine (1 Letter)
Laforest H. Hinton, Co. B, 3rd Maine (1 Letter)
Hannibal A. Johnson, Co. B, 3rd Maine (19 Letters)
Bainbridge P. Brown, Co. D, 3rd Maine (4 Letters)
Stephen Adams Dodge, Co. D, 3rd Maine (2 Letters)
John R. Day, Co. H, 3rd Maine (1 Letter)

[This letter was transcribed by Alan Thompson/further edited & researched by Griff]

Transcription

Addressed to Mr. Zebedee Rowell, South Solon, Maine

Camp near Germantown, Virginia
November 2, 1863

Dear Uncle and Aunt Rowell,

I take this opportunity to inform you of my health which is good and never better. I hope you will excuse all bad writing and spelling and dirty paper.

Last night I had a letter from home. They was all well the 27 of October. Well, I suppose you want to know how we like [the service]. We live better than we expected to. The last time I was weighed I had gained 4 pounds. Then for the last 10 days I have been to work on the railroad that the Johnnies tore up for us 40 miles. It is going down again fast. I have enough to say if I could write. I am going to fill this [sheet] before we send it. If you could see how I have to write, you won’t think it bad writing laying down on my knapsack.

I have seen something of the world since I left home. I am satisfied with my lot for I have got good officers. They are all from Bath and Augusta. Captain [Alfred S.] Merrill [is] from Bath. And as for living, I lived the poorest at Augusta that I have since I left home. I will tell you the prices of the sutlers: potatoes 10 cents a pound, cheese 60 cts, butter 60, raisons 50 cts, eggs 60 cts a doz[en]. But last night I had a letter from home. Lydid says Joel Huntress has sent a box to Henry [Huntress] and she has sent some butter in it for me. 

Henry tents with John [Shorey] & I and we have heard some fighting and have been in sight of some of it and expected to be into it, but did not get a chance for the Johnnies, as they are called, did [not] stand. They left. I saw them run. I was close enough to see it one night on picket. We was ordered to put out our fire from 9 o’clock till morning. We was ordered to hold the road at all hazard but they did not come then. We don’t pretend to know so much here as we would at home for all we know is what we see and hear, but we can’t tell anything about it till we are ordered to start. We don’t know where till we get there. Our captain says he don’t know any more about it than we do. 

The time goes very fast with us here. I can’t think of much to write now. Last month at Fairfax Station we saw a man shot for desertion from a Michigan regiment the second time. He was a large, stout fellow. 1 There has [been] a great many of the recruits that come out when I did has run away. Some of them has got caught. Some of them has got to be shot. One to be court martialed soon. One to be for stealing whisky and selling it when he was on guard over it. When we was on detail work on the road part of time we [got] it twice a day dealt out to us.

We find all kinds of people and colors and it [is] a hard-looking sight to see how things have gone to ruin. The 22nd of last month there was 4 of us stood guard to a house about a half mile from the detail. The men steal all they can get ahold of. At 12 o’clock in the night I was on post while my relief stood with me. The 4 men come to steal some pigs. There were 7 in the pen but they got halted and left and while the corporal stood his trick between 3 and 5 in the morning they come and got two—the best hogs he had—and got off with them. I think it was a contrived plan with the corporal and the thieves did not belong to my company. My captain gave me orders that if a man disobeyed my order and did not leave when I told him to take a[n] arm or a leg from him. I think if I had been on post at the time between 3 and 5, the pigs would not [have] went. They take anything they want if it [is] not guarded. Then they will get it if they can.

I can’t think of much to write now though. We shall have a soup for dinner today. We shall fill this up with something before we send it. I would like to have you to go over and see Lydia [Robbins] as often as you can and let Harlow [Kilgore Rowell] & Antoinette [A. Rowell] go over and make a visit and write to us as often as you can for we like to hear from you or any one that will write to us.

It is now about 4 o’clock. They has just come 240 to our regiment, twenty-two to our company. We are under marching orders with 8 days rations of hard bread and pork, coffee and sugar. They is some hard looking men and as green as the cook. The regiment will muster about 600 now. We are in a very good ground to drill on. It is a large field, smooth, no stone nor bushes, nothing but tents as far as I can see on all sides. I expect a move soon but don’t know where. I hear that the pontoon bridges have come to Warrenton Junction [Virginia]. It looks to me though they would [not] bring them if they did not think of using them this fall. We crossed the Rappahannock on the pontoons once this fall about 9 o’clock in the evening and took the bridge up along with us that afternoon. We was brought into line [of battle] three times before dark, then we marched till 3 o’clock in the morning before we stopped. It was Sunday. Monday we laid by. Tuesday morning at 12 o’clock we fell into line about a mile off and staid till light. Then we traveled. The night we crossed the river, the men set fire to two straw stacks. It made a large light. The General [John Henry Hobart] Ward had a order read to the men about setting fires for it exposed the army too much to the Rebs by the light. Ward led us all the time.

Nov. 4 – It is very pleasant this morning. Now there has got to be some drilling done now. Some is off washing their shirts and stockings. The water is very poor here and some ways off. There has [been] one or two gone to Washington [to]day.

Nov. the 8 – I take my pen in hand to let you know that we are well and hope the few lines will find you the same. The 6th day of this month we broke camp and advanced. About two o’clock we found them in rifle pits on the other side of the river. Shooting for about 3 hours, not but a few wounded. We took 200 out of the pits. They say that we have army enough to eat them. That night I was on picket where I could hear them talk and cough on their post. In the morning at 4 o’clock we separated about 3 rods apart and advanced to the woods about 150 yards and stopped till light. There was five Rebels come into our lines and gave themselves up. Yesterday we expected a battle but we got out of it. I hear that our people took 5 pieces of artillery & 1500 prisoners. I saw over 200 myself that we took. One said he had been 10 days from home. They seem to feel well about it. One says we are going to Washington where we can get something to eat. One says give my respects to General [Robert Edward] Lee when you see him. Some of them are ragged looking fellows and others look hard. [See Battle of Kelly’s Ford]

Yesterday morning before daylight I came across one dead, lay[ing] on the field covered up with his blanket. He was one of our regiment, got wounded in the shoulder. Some came close. One went into a knapsack in our regiment; one got his hair cut a bit. I think this [war] will be closed soon. Where I stood on picket I could hear them drive their teams very plain. In the morning we went thru the woods to where they left in the night. They had their winter camps all built in good shape. We are in the woods now. I am laying on the ground now writing. John will finish this so good day.

Germantown, Virginia
November 2, 1863

Dear Aunt & Uncle,

I thought as Frank was going to write I would put in a few lines to let you know that we had not forgotten you. We are well and hope that these few lines will find you the same. My health is better than when I was painting but my camp life is a lazy one I tell you. 

We had baked beans this morning. They was first rate. The poorest living we have had was at Augusta but since we got into army we have better living. I wish you could step in and see us eating our grub. We cook for ourselves when on the move as we have been since we came here, but we have a good cook now. He is from Bath. So is our captain. He is a good fellow. All of our regiment or the most of it from Maine. I like it much better than I expected to. I won’t find fault if they keep me as well all the time as they do now. 

I tell you this war makes desolation everywhere it goes. They use all they can get to use buildings and fences and wood lots. It makes it look deserted in all the places that I have been yet. We have marched about 150 miles in all and expect to march as much more, then go into winter quarters to den up till spring. 

We are under marching orders now. We don’t know when nor where we shall go. The captain don’t know any more than we do but the most of them think we shall cross the Rapidan and give the Johnny’s a brush if they will accept of it, then go into camp till spring. When it begins to rain they will have to for they can’t move in this mud anyway. It is a great thing to move all the army I tell you in the mud. 

November 5th – I will scribble some more to fill up. Frank is on guard today. [He] has just come to his dinner. I had it all ready for him. It is a pleasant day here and we enjoy ourselves well as we can for the times.

We expect to go somewhere but don’t know where but would like to go into winter quarters. We shall before long. All the folks think so anyway.

At 3 o’clock we have got to go on battalion drill. We don’t have to go a great way for it is close by. It will take 2 hours, then we don’t go on duty till tomorrow morning. 

I can’t think of much to write now. When we get in camp we will write again. We would like to hear from all of you.

Brandy Station [Virginia], November 9, 1863 – [I] will try to finish as we are not moving. Saturday we moved on to this place and our division had a brush with the Rebs. We took some 200 prisoners, and the bullets flew lively some time over our heads till dark, then they retreated. 

Sunday we put after them and had another brush with them. We took 5 pieces of artillery & 1500 prisoners. They look ragged and dirty, I tell you, and some was glad to get into our lines. Some said they had been 10 days from home. They left last night. What could they keep coming in today. Some of the prisoners say we have got army enough to eat them up. Frank has wrote all the news. It snows now but it is but a squall. It is cold now.

November 10 – You will think that it takes a great while to write a letter but we have to do it by piecemeal now till we get settled. 

Last night we moved about 2 ½ miles and camped. Today we moved about 50 rods and pitched tents. The Rebs have got some nice shanties built for winter but had to leave them. I am on guard today sitting under an oak tree. The wind blows hard so I can’t write much more. I will write to Chena a few words, and you may give my love to all that enquire after me and expect a large share to yourself. Write and tell Nett to write all the war news and all that is going on in Solon [Maine]. This is from your nephew – John Shorey

November 10 – Well, Chena, I will write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope that these few lines will find you the same. I have not been so well for 10 years as I am now. It agrees with me first rate to lug knapsack and lay in camp. I have gained in health and strength since I have been here. I have marched some 170 miles since I have been here. I think that I can lug as well as the most of them. We have to carry our bed and (bread or board) with us on a march. Sometimes I wish you was here to camp [us]. We would have a good time I tell you but when the bullets fly and whistle, it ain’t so pleasant. But we have not had much yet but don’t know how soon we may but I don’t think we will have much this fall. They don’t like to stand it much, I tell you.

Tell David R. that I would like to see him out here. We would kill a pig. We did this morning and had some liver and fresh pork for dinner. It was good as ever I eat. The grey squirrel have to take up. We killed a lot of them yesterday. We are in oak growth. The acorns are thick and hogs and squirrels get fat on them. I have not seen anyplace yet that suits me as well as Maine. Everything is destroyed where the army has been. It looks deserted. All the fences gone and all that makes a country look pleasant is gone, all but the yellow girls and black ones. Where we had a brush Saturday with the Rebs, there was 3 black ones. A cannon shot went through the chimney and roof of a brick house and through the adjoining house. It made quite a hole in it.

The Rebs put some shells in the fire place and chimney to blow up our folks if they built fire in it but there was one that burst but did not do any hurt so they found them. There is some fun as well as sorrow in the army. When in camp we enjoy ourselves well but if you are sick, it is a poor place for anyone. I can’t think of much to write now but I want you to write me all that you can think of and more to us when you can and when I see you, I will tell you more than I can write. My hands is cold. I am sitting on the ground under a tree. It is a cold day out of the woods I think for the wind blows hard. We had a snow squall yesterday and last night. When I went to bed I layed on the ground with 3 blankets over me. I layed warm. Tonight I will lay in tent when I lay at all for I am on guard. Frank and Huntress will be in tent all night, but I will be out 4 hours. Then I will go in. Now I must close by sending my love to all the girls in Solon that enquire after me. Write soon and tell all that is going on. This is from your friend — John Shorey


1 The soldier shot for desertion was Henry C. Beardsley of the 5th Michigan Infantry. He was executed by firing squad on 17 October 1863 at Fairfax Station, Virginia.

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