1863: Calvin Shedd to his Wife

An unidentified 2nd Lieutenant from New Hampshire (Dave Morin Collection)

This letter was written by 37 year-old 2Lt. Calvin Shedd who enlisted in September 1861 as a sergeant in Co. C, 7th New Hampshire Infantry. He was promoted to 1st Sergeant on the 4th of July 1862 and accepted a commission as 2nd Lieutenant of Co. A two weeks later.

There are 44 letters that were written by Calvin Shedd between 1862-64 that are housed in the South Carolina Library under the title, Calvin Shedd Papers, 1862-1864. Connected with that collection comes the following biographical sketch:

Calvin Shedd was born in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, in 1826. A devoted husband and father, Shedd enlisted as a private in Company C, Seventh Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers, on 6 November 1861, at the age of thirty-five. He was appointed sergeant on 15 November 1861, and achieved the rank of first sergeant on 4 July 1862. Shedd was promoted to second lieutenant, Company A, on 23 July 1862, and discharged with a disability on 31 December 1863. Shedd returned to New England and then travelled to Illinois and Indiana to support his family in the years after the Civil War. He eventually returned to New England and died in Tewksbury on 11 June 1891 at the age of sixty-five. Much of Shedd’s life remains a mystery. For two brief periods, however, from 1861 to 1863 and 1865 to 1869, a series of letters and documents illuminates his life. Many questions remain: What of Shedd’s life prior to 1861? What did he do between his discharge from the Union Army in 1863 and his travels in Indiana and Illinois? How did Shedd spend the final twenty years of his life?

The Dartmouth College Library collection includes an interesting group of letters written by Shedd to his wife and children in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. A brief note penned in 1859 is followed by a letter of introduction, signed on Shedd’s behalf by several citizens of Enfield. The letter attests to Shedd’s military training in the Massachusetts militia and, coupled with Shedd’s abilities, likely played a role in his early appointment to sergeant. Letters from 1861 and 1862 find Shedd relating his Union Army training experiences at Camp Hale in New Hampshire and shortly thereafter in New York City.[1] Ironically, this portion of Shedd’s military service was among his most difficult and dangerous, as severe overcrowding, poor diet and quarters, and abysmal sanitary and health conditions created a deadly environment that travelled with Shedd and the Seventh Regiment from New York by boat to Key West, Florida. The Dartmouth letters then resume after Shedd’s Civil War service, and document his efforts to receive back pay (1863 to 1865) and his travels to Indiana and Illinois, where he sought work and wages to support his family (1865, 1867, 1869). This essay reproduces only selected documents relating to Shedd’s military discharge and salary matters. As with his Civil War letters, Shedd’s missives from the Midwest offer thoughtful, descriptive observations on his life and activities, as well as heartfelt advice and yearnings for his dear wife and family.

This letter is from the private collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent.


General Hospital
Hilton Head, South Carolina
October 10th 1863

Dear Wife,

The mail does not go today but will in the morning. I am feeling stronger and better. If I can get rid of the pain and soreness in my bowels & stop their bleeding, I think I shall soon be fit for duty. [Lt. Col. Joseph C.] Abbott went North yesterday in the Continental. The Arago will go tomorrow. I hear nothing of my leave yet. If it don’t get around soon, I shall go to the regiment as soon as I am any way fit for duty. As badly as I wish to see you all, I can stay away till my time is out if I live so long. I want to see you extremely—now that is a fact, but I have made up my mind not to be disappointed if I don’t get home providing I get better.

I have not been paid yet. I hear that the paymaster is up to Morris [Island] and shall expect to be paid when he returns.

I don’t think of anything to write. There is one thing if Abbott don’t get about 200 conscripts, he can’t be mustered as Colonel. That will be a “grain” of comfort if he stops my promotion.

Yours anyway, — C. Shedd

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s