1862: John Livingston Hathaway to his Sister

This letter was written by John Livingston Hathaway (1830-1891), the son of Erastus Hathaway (1796-1854) and Lydia Dunning (1796-1861) of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. John was married to Hannah Moyston Kellogg (1831-1867) in October 1852 and had three children by the time he accepted a commission in September 1861 to serve as a Captain of Commissary on the staff of Brig. Gen. Rufus King.

Union troops occupied Chatham for the first time in April 1862, when General Irvin McDowell set up headquarters at the house. McDowell brought a corps of 30,000 men to Fredericksburg. He halted his command at Fredericksburg for a month in order to bring up supplies, after which he planned to march on Richmond. President Abraham Lincoln journeyed to Fredericksburg to confer with McDowell about the proposed movement and on May 23 dined with him at Chatham. That very day, Stonewall Jackson’s Confederates attacked Union troops in the Shenandoah Valley and briefly threatened Washington, D.C. As a result of Jackson’s success, Lincoln ordered McDowell to forgo his march on Richmond and take a portion of his command to the Valley instead. General Rufus King took over command at Fredericksburg in McDowell’s absence and moved into Chatham.

Prior to his accepting a commission, John was working as a land agent in Milwaukee, having previously worked as a surveying engineer. After the war he returned to Milwaukee and earned a living as an insurance agent.

On the porch at Chatham are from left to right, Capt. John L. Hathaway (Com. of Subsistence), Capt. Robert Chandler (A.A.G.), Brig. Gen. Rufus King, Lieut. Albert A. Pitcher, 35th NYV, and Lt. Col. Kilpatrick. The 2nd & 7th Wisconsin Regiments of the Iron Brigade were encamped in the fields beyond the home.


Headquarters King’s Division
On Rappahannock River opposite
Fredericksburg, [Virginia]
Sunday, April 27, 1862

Dear Sister,

I wrote you a long letter on Friday last & enclosed it to Hannah to mail from Washington. I have not much news to communicate, but having time today in fearing that you may feel somewhat anxious about me now that we are in the heart of the enemy’s country. I improve the opportunity to write again. Since my last, nothing of importance has transpired here. A party of about 30 union troops crossed the Rappahannock a few nights since about 25 miles above here & surprised a squad of rebel calvary, killing two & capturing ten others. The prisoners were brought up here night before last, and are a fine looking, intelligent lot of men. They talk well & most of them are still sanguine of the success of their cause. They were surprised at the good treatment they had received at the hands of the Union army officers & men. They had heard a great deal of the barbarous treatment which they were told the rebel prisoners would receive & had received at our hands & were greatly pleased when they found it otherwise. They are now near here in a comfortable prison.

Last night General King thought of sending over a company of men to guard the few union people of Fredericksburg, & prevent the male portion of them from being impressed into the rebel service, &c. & asked me if I would like to command it. Of course I jumped at the chance & got my pistol ready &c., & was disappointed enough when I found that the General had finally concluded not to send them. Squads of rebel calvary still continue to come into Fredericksburg almost nightly & seize & carry off all men who can be made available for service, or are suspected of retaining union sentiments. We have had a good many Unionists over here to see us from there, & they are very anxious to have us occupy the town at once. It would have been a nice adventure if we could have gone over there last night & bagged a few Rebel Cavalry, horses & all, with little or no loss to ourselves, & I ached to go, but of course had to obey orders, but am consoling myself with the idea that there will be plenty more chances.

I shall try & go up to Washington to see Hannah this week. Had a letter from her today. She is very well indeed. Generals McDowell & Wadsworth (the latter is Military Governor of Washington) are downstairs talking with General King. We have not found out as yet how long we will remain here, or where we shall go to. As soon as I do, will advise you at once & will write as often as possible.

Love to all & kisses for the little ones. Hoping to hear from you very soon & very often, will bid you good morning until I write again. Your affectionate brother, — John

J. L. H. to sister, Falmouth, Va., April 27/62

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