This letter was written by Orderly Sergt. George R. Payne (1841-1864), Co. E, 134th Regt. New York Volunteers. George was a resident of Richmondville, Schoharie county, New York, when he mustered into service on 22 September 1862 at the age of 22. He was killed in action at the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge, Georgia, on 8 May 1864.
The entry for George in the New York Town Clerk’s Registers of Men Who Served in the Civil War states that George was “taken prisoner at Gettysburg & recaptured a few days after. Afterwards shot dead.” One source says he was a Lieutenant when he was killed but I see no evidence of a commission.
George was the son of William Payne (1799-1863) and Gertrude (“Gitty”) Crapser (1802-1885) of Schoharie county, New York.
Lookout Valley, Tennessee
February 1, 1864
You must imagine the satisfaction it gave me to receive a letter from you. I have been anxious to hear from you, but was in rather a worse fix than you were, as I had no idea where to address you; and I want you to continue directing letters by guess to me, if they all come through in time like the one in hand. I have often thought of you and the pleasant, though short, association we had together. Although our acquaintance was short, I believe our friendship is as permanent and lasting as life itself, which I would wish, if possible, to enjoy in a more personal manner than with a pen.
I am sorry that you had to stop in Washington. I was in hopes to hear from you in California or the West: at least I was in hopes you would go to Philadelphia., Newark, or some other northern city. I believe if you were in either of the above-named places you would enjoy yourself and be contented. As for me, I am better satisfied and contented than I was at the hospital. And more healthy also. You would hardly know me I have fleshed up so.
When I reached here (17 Dec.) I did not find the regiment. They with the Corps were gone up to relieve Burnside of Longstreet, but they returned the same night and you can bet we were glad to see each other. I did hardly else for a couple of days but talk over matters and events that transpired since I left them. They had been gone since the Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga fights, which was about four weeks, during which time, as they left their knapsacks behind, they had no shelter or blankets and marched 240 miles. They were barefooted, ragged, and lousy, and that in December during some of the coldest weather we have had. Some of the boys marched over a hundred miles barefooted. They drew no rations and what they had was picked up along the rout. The whole army were on short rations from the time they came in here (that is, when Rosecrans took Chattanooga) until the cars came through from Bridgeport to Chattanooga, about two weeks ago. Previous, all our supplies were fetched up on boats which were insufficient to supply the whole army. Since I have been here, we were two days without a ration. Before Hooker opened the way from Bridgeport to Chattanooga, Rosecrans’ army was on the point of starvation for the rebs had possession of this valley and wold fire on the boats and wagon trains on the other side of the river and nearly stopped transportation.
The Western Army were glad to see them come, and were surprised that they came through right under the guns on Lookout and the Valley, which also has minor mountains on which were reb’s breastworks and infantry. Our boys say it is nothing but fun to fight Bragg’s Army; they do not fight like Lee’s. The western troops highly applauded our boys for taking the Valley and Lookout. There were only fourteen wounded in my regiment; none killed.
Today is like spring and has been so for three or four weeks—sometimes too warm for comfort. I do not know what it will be in the summer. On the other hand we had a week of very cold weather and it snowed about half an inch. It is probable that we will have rain soon, but we are prepared for it, having first rate stockade tents and good fireplaces. We built these soon after I came back and have enjoyed ourselves first rate since.
We are right in view of Lookout Mountain and three miles from Chattanooga and presume we will remain along this railroad this summer, as the western generals think Old Joe has won laurels enough. This is a very mountainous country and it is surprising how we drove the rebs off from them. Lookout is a second Gibraltar. I have been up on it and is only accessible on this side by the assistance of ladders; on the other side, a road leads up by tacking along the mountain. On the opposite side of the Valley is Raccoon Mountain. I was on this also the other day hunting. I only shot a rabbit and came very near getting a shot at a deer. Four other fellows that were hunting also shot at it but did not kill it. There is once in a while a bear and wild hog shot. There is hundreds of acres of woods on these mountains and plenty of the latter.
The next morning after I got here, the Captain saw the Colonel and appointed me orderly of my company. When it was read off on dress parade, it said, “promoted for meritorious conduct.” Is not that a compliment? I have it very easy now as the company is small and we have a commissary sergeant. Our regiment numbers only about 200 at present and the Colonel and Major are trying to get it filled up but I am afraid they will not succeed. There are a great many enlisting in the counties in which our regiment was raised but cannot get them as we have no recruiting officer there, although the Colonel has tried to send some.
We had a pretty tedious time coming from Washington and were two weeks weeks on the road. We went to Camp Chase, Ohio, where we expected to stay awhile but remained only one day and started for Cincinnati where we stopped two days, giving us a chance to look around the pork metropolis, which is rightly named from the quantity I saw there. From there we took a boat down the Ohio River 150 miles to Louisville, Kentucky, remaining there one day. Then our course lay directly south across the states of Kentucky and Tennessee, passing through Nashville, to Bridgeport. Alabama, from which place we came afoot—a distance of thirty miles. Ohio is a fine state and well cultivated but Kentucky and Tennessee, being equally fine, need Yankee enterprise to make it the finest country in the world. They are about half covered with heavy timber and I hardly saw a frame house and the log houses were miserable things—not as good as our tents. They do not appreciate good buildings or have the ingenuity to build them. And if the ladies I saw are specimens of “southern chivalry,” where else no real beauty and symmetry is found. I think the sooner they are got rid of the better for as the boys say, they will all firk. One of the “chivalry” said, “we’ens think it no harm down here, as you’ens do.”
I would like to give you a more minute description of my journey here but have already wearied your patience and think I hear you say enough, enough. So I forbear and suffice it to say, I felt well repaid for the tiresome side of sixteen hundred miles.
I am glad to hear and see so many old regiments reenlisting for the war or three years. It is a severe blow at the rebellion, discouraging to them and greatly encourages us. I hope this administration will be [successful] getting out the 800,000 new recruits; then I think we can walk through anywhere. I hope Congress will repeal the commutation clause and allow no money substitutes, but it seems they are doing nothing. I hope to hear from you again soon and believe me as ever, your sincere friend, — G. R. Payne
Direct to Sergt. G. R. Payne, Co. E, 134th Regt. N. Y. Vol., 11th Corps, Nashville, Tenn.