Letters & Diary of Daniel Converse Smith, Co. I, 44th Massachusetts Infantry

The following letters and diary are housed at East Carolina University and have graciously been digitized and made available to the public though I can find no record of them having been previously transcribed. There are 20 letters in the collection and a partial diary that spans the period from mid-February 1862 to mid-May 1863.

The letters and diary are titled “Civil War Diary” and “Letters from Daniel to Susie” and are described as follows:

I could not find an image of Daniel but here is an unidentified member of Co. F wearing the uniform of the 44th Massachusetts Infantry (Photo Sleuth)

“Written by a soldier named Daniel while his company was camped at Brice’s Creek, North Carolina during the Civil War. His surname is unknown, but he was a private serving in Co. I of the 44th Massachusetts Volunteers Regiment. In his diary, Daniel talks about everyday life at the camp and what they do in their spare time. In their spare time, they would read, write, play games like badminton and dominos, pray, sing, and sew. The other parts of their day involved doing guard duty drilling and chopping wood for the kitchen and quarters. Besides everyday camp life, Daniels does mention the comings and goings of militia groups. Some of the militia groups that he encounters are the 3rd NY Cavalry, 51st Regiment, 17th Regiment, 43rd Regiment, and 45th Regiment.

Though the university knew the soldier’s name was “Daniel” and that he served in Co. I, 44th Massachusetts Infantry, they did not know his surname. Actually it took very little effort to discover that his name was Daniel Converse Smith, b. 10 March 1836 in Waltham, Mass., and died 15 December 1907 (aged 71) in Cambridge, Mass. See Find-A-Grave. Not only was Daniel the only “Daniel” serving in Company I but he recorded in his diary on 10 March 1863 that it was his 27th birthday which is consistent with his birth/death date.

I have transcribed the first eight letters and portions of his diary that I found interesting. It should be noted that the majority of the time Daniel was at New Bern, he was on duty at the Brice’s Creek Blockhouse due to his lameness. Other than his participation on the Tarboro Expedition, he did not go on any other expeditions with the regiment. He gives a great description of the blockhouse and vicinity in his letters and diary.


Letter 1

Newbern [North Carolina]
October 27, 1862

Dear Sister,

I arrived safely in Newbern Sunday, October 26 at twelve and half o’clock, for the first time placed my feet on Southern soil. It looks very different from what I expected—very sandy—the trees mostly pine. From the steamboat we rode in an open car in a pouring rain from thirty to forty miles and arrived at dark and quartered in a storage house. We could see between each board. I slept as well as could be expected under the circumstances. Our barracks are not done yet. I am now waiting for our tents to be made. The barracks will be done this week. They are better ones than we had at Readville. There is three tiers and made very strong and wider than those at Readville. We had quite a quick passage but not a very pleasant one to me being sick considerable of the time but was all well as soon as I reached land.

My breakfast I took at a Capt. of the 23rd Regiment which was the first meal that I have enjoyed since I left Boston. I cannot stop to write more now. From your brother, — Daniel

Please direct letters to Newbern, N. C., Co. I, 44th Regt.

The 44th Massachusetts troops were transported on open rail cars in the pouring rain from Beaufort Harbor to New Bern. (Sketch from Regimental History)

Letter 2

[The following letter was written shortly after the two expedition to Tarboro. It failed to accomplish all that it intended but was still considered a success. A correspondent for the New York Herald wrote the following: “Before reaching Williamston we had a fight by moonlight, which lasted nearly an hour. On the rebel side there were engaged parts of three regiments and two pieces of artillery—all this on an elevation and behind intrenchments. In this little fight the Marine Artillery, Belger’s battery, a portion of the Third New York artillery, and the Massachusetts Forty-fourth (part of Col. Stevenson’s brigade), were engaged….When we neared Hamilton the rebels abandoned their intrenchments, nearly a mile long, on Rainbow Bluffs. The first flag to float over them was that of the Signal Corps, under command of Lieutenant Taylor. We then advanced to within eleven miles of Tarboro. From this point two reconnoissances were made—one by Major Gerrard, of the Third New York cavalry, who met the rebels in force, had two men killed, and retreated without further loss. The other reconnoissance was made to within five miles of Tarboro by Major Fitzsimmons, of the Third New York cavalry…At these points the rebels were found to have massed a large force, with reinforcements constantly arriving; therefore it was deemed impolitic to attack them. Besides, in front of us was an extensive swamp. The weather indicated rain. If we had crossed this swamp, in all probability we would have lost all our artillery, as the swamp becomes impassable after a twelve hours’ rain. By a system of strategical movements we made good our retreat to Williamston without the loss of a man, and even before the rebels knew what we were doing…On our return march the weather was very severe on the troops. It kept snowing and hailing for eighteen hours. One rebel female said she knew the Yankees were coming, because they brought their snow and cold weather with them.”]

Newbern, N. C.
November 9th 1863

Dear Sister,

Although not hearing from you since I wrote, I thought you would like to hear from me. We have just arrived at Newbern again after being absent two weeks on an expedition. We first took the steamer and went to Washington, N C. Then went on foot I should think from one hundred to one hundred and fifty miles. I had a much walking as I wished.

At Lloyd’s Creek we had a skirmish with some Rebels about five hundred in number. They fired pretty lively for awhile. From our regiment they killed two and wounded seven. It was after dark, bit giving us a very good chance. At first they was stationed just beyond a creek with a hill on the other side. They had every advantage. They soon showed their heels. I had to stand in the water about fifteen minutes. There were about thirty or forty Rebels killed and quite a number wounded. I felt rather peculiar hearing the bullets on every side whizzing by and some striking very near us.

After we got through, returned to a field for the night (it was then three o’clock) with wet feel and legs. Started again in the morning. Did not see any more rebels but saw places they had just left, some leaving their table all set and other things so that we knew they had just left. We fared very well in the cities, living high and sleeping in private houses. They killed pigs, cows, geese, chickens, with sweet potato and vegetables to go with them. We found a large pile of potato to each house. I feel thankful once more to return to Newbern in good health and spirits. It seems like getting home to go into barracks as I am very glad to be in them.

There is such heavy dew you would think it had been raining and such cold nights. I cannot sleep but a short time at once. We keep fires burning all night, sleep a little, then sit by the fire. One night I slept till ten, then sat by the fire the rest of the night. and sometimes we were marching. My feet are rather sore. Otherwise I am all right. Some other time I will write more. Give my love to all the folks. Write very soon and tell all the rest of them to write.

Letter 3

[The following letter was written from Brice’s Creek, an outpost several miles from New Bern near the mouth of the creek where it flows into the Trent River. The duty was light and lonesome. It was garrisoned by a detachment of the 44th who had failed to withstand the fatigues of the Tarboro Expedition. They were styled the “Invalid Guard” and often referred to as the “block-house squad.”]

Brice’s Creek, N. C.
Thursday, December 18, 1862

Dear Sister Susie,

I received two letters written November 16 and 23rd from you. I can assure you they gave me a good deal of pleasure. I suppose you know that another expedition has stated. We have had some glorious news from them but cannot tell whether it is true or not. They started the 11th of December [on the Goldsboro Expedition]. I should have been very glad to have seen them off, but they started at daybreak and the last of them commenced marching at nine o’clock. I was told it was from twelve to fifteen miles long. Not being with the regiment, I have not much to write.

We are very comfortably situated. I have a cot bed just big enough for myself. It is about six inches from the floor. All the rest have bunks with matresses on them. There is a platform all round the building just wide enough for the bunks and about eighteen inches from the floor. The room is about 24 feet square. It is a very substantial. We have nothing to fear from bullets and I think we shall not be troubled with cannon. I think I am in a very safe place. The roof is rather light. There are slats nailed to the rafters about two inches wide and about four inches apart, For furniture we have chairs, tables, stools, boxes, and have plenty to eat with good conveniences for cooking. The worst of it is that we are rather lonesome, taken away from the regiment and especially from Charley Fuller and having little or nothing to do. [But] when I think of the other boys on the march, I feel perfectly satisfied. Marching is hard work—I know from experience. I hope they will not have to be marched so fast as they were before.

How do you all do at home? There has been four boxes brought here, some came with poultry and mince pies and were all moulded. There was another without the poultry and was perfectly good. A box I should like very much but there is some risk so will leave it all with you. I don’t know as I shall want any clothing except stockings and a pair of slippers. I do not expect one, but if you do, I should like to have you see or write to David, 98 Court Street and ask him to ask Miss Stetson for some tracts. She can get them for nothing for soldiers. Some apples too.

This is not very interesting to you. Give my love to all the folks. My health is good and shall try and keep it. Your brother, — Daniel

Letter 4

Brice’s Creek, N. C.
Saturday, December 27, 1862

I received a letter from you the twenty-second and I also sent one to you. Perhaps you will think I am begging on a large scale but I will try and make it all right when I see you. I am just through breakfast. It is a rainy day—the first we have had for a long time. It is quite warm. I wish we might have a thermometer so we might see how warm it is. I should think it averages fifty degrees above zero. I do not pretend to wear anything but my blouse and sometimes not that except at night and in the morning a little while—there is such heavy dews. I have plenty of time to write but have not much news since I came here from the regiment. I write about a letter a day.

I went to the camp Christmas day. It seemed very good to see the boys and especially Charley Fuller, it being the first time I have seen him since I came from the camp. He said the last march was a hard one. It made him some lame. He said the last they marched thirty-two miles which is equal to about fifty northern miles. He said our regiment was in four battles. I guess they had a pretty hard time. They had their knapsacks with them. I should feel satisfied to stay here if I could feel that I was doing anything for my country for which I came here. If I have to stay here [at Brice’s Creek], I shall be so lazy when I get back that I cannot do anything.

I was on the police yesterday. I swept out the house upstairs and down and helped pick up some wood round the house to burn in a bonfire so we shall look respectable if we have any visitors. The chaplain was here last night. He gave us a box of dominoes and some chess men and a checker board. They boys are playing with them now.

I was very glad to receive a letter from Henry. I could not think who it was from at first but soon found out. I have received eight letters from home and one from Mary J. Also Charley. Photographs also. The other xix you sent by Mrs. Alexander although she did not come. They came in a box. Te papers I have also received.

I have drawn from the government a pair of shoes that I am now wearing. My boots are spoilt. Thanksgiving day was a very lonesome day. Most of the companies had their usual dinner turkeys and pudding and all the fixings. Our company had their usual fare. Charley and I made some hoecakes for dinner which were very good. I thought of you at home once in awhile. I can assure you it was not on account of sickness that I am here for I never was better. My foot is some lame but it does not trouble me much. I have some lineament that I run on it.

Did father send the apples? We have a horse and wagon so there will be no trouble getting anything that is sent to me. One of the men expects a barrel to come the same way.

Letter 5

Brice’s Creek. N. C.
Sunday, January 4, 1863

Dear sister and folks at hoe,

I received a letter from you the first day of the year—also the puzzle. I had been thinking of it a few days. It came just in time and I am very glad you sent it. I think you had better not send the book but if Charley will copy a few more and send them by mail with a letter of his own writing, I should like to have him.

It makes no difference whether you put on Brice’s Creek or not. Some of us are at camp [Stevenson] every day. We have passes two a day. I went day before yesterday and when I came back I thought somebody had taken possession. There was a company of the 51st [Massachusetts] here. They thought they was going to put us out but found it not quite so easy. We told them we had orders to come here and should stay here until we had orders from them to fo. The corporal went to Newbern to find out and Gen. Foster told us to stay here until we had orders to go. We let them into the lower floor and three or four up with us and in the morning we found six pounds of sugar and all of our onions [missing]. I call that rather mean after giving them a lodging place.

They are building a bridge close to our house. They say it is to pass over troops. They are in a great hurry for another expedition to go. There is a lot more of troops arrived. Quite a number of brigades. I hear that our brigade is not going.

This is a warm, pleasant day. You may judge whether it is warm or not. They are washing themselves all over out of doors. How I wish I could get into a church where I could feel that we had a Sabbath and a day set apart to think and prepare for our eternal home to which we must all go very soon. I liked the services better than usual today. The time is going fast and if it is God’s will, I shall return and once more enjoy the privileges of the hour of God. I can enjoy sweet communion with Him but the influences around me are bad. I do not have anyone that I can talk with freely.

I am expecting my apples every day but have not received them. I have been to Mr. Blagg’s store and he is expecting the vessel every day. There is a large mail in and we shall get it tomorrow. I long to get hold of my part of it. The last mail left here with 38 thousand letters somebody writes. Did you get the letter that had the list of what I wanted? From your distant brother, — Daniel

Letter 6

Brice’s Creek, N. C.
Thursday, January 8, 1863

Dear Sister Susie,

I received a letter from you dated January 6, It was written December 28. That came pretty quick. I love to see them come. I guess you did not care about seeing a letter I wrote to you for the things I wanted. There are so many. I will square up when I see you. You must help yourself to interest money if I have any.

You would laugh if you could see us some mornings cooking our own breakfast. This morning I cooked some griddle cakes. They was licking good. I will tell you how I made them. Yesterday afternoon I cut up in small pieces some bread that I had. It was dry and put some water in it to soak. I stirred it up once in awhile and crumbled it up as much as I could and et it stand till morning. Then mixed in a little flour and stirred it considerable and had a spider to cook them in and some coffee. Did I not live high? Butter costs forty cents per pound, sugar 25, molasses $1 per gallon, raisins 40 cents per lb. and other things accordingly. Do you blame me for wanting those things and seeing the other boys’ boxes come? It makes my mouth water. I am expecting my apples every day. The vessel has arrived. When it is taken from the vessel, I shall get them. I feel very thankful to father for them.

I received your letter and puzzle you sent me. I had been thinking about it for a few days and am very glad to receive it.

It seems to me that I am just as safe here as when I was in Boston. I cannot realize that I am in an enemy’s country—at least I feel so. I guess I have received everything you have sent. Charley’s photograph, Journey’s, Sentinels, Inquirer, and letters, and the six photographs you give David. They come in a box the day before Charley’s come. I wrote to Eliza in a day or two after receiving hers. It took her letter a month to come.

I only take off my shoes. I go out just when I please and stay as long as I wish. There is a company of the 51st [Mass.] here. They do picket duty at night and walk out once in awhile in the day time. If I stay here the rest of the time, I do not know but I shall be too lazy to do anything. I am on police tomorrow. We have two darkeys to help us such as wash dishes, bring water and wood. I wash my own dishes. My health is very good and hope it will continue so.

Give my love to all the folks, Mary J. and Alice, Francis and Sarah and yourself. From your soldier brother, — Daniel

Letter 7

Brice’s Creek, N. C.
Sunday, January 18, 1863

I received yours and Charley’s letter last Thursday. He done so well I would suggest that he should try again….

It has been quite cold for a day or two. I got another blanket. There has been three men discharged. It got it off one of them. They sailed this morning. They was very glad to go. They was from the block house. I have moved my bunk to the other side of the house. There is five more men from the 51st [Mass.] coming with us. We have had a cannon come here and they are going to take care of it. We have had very little to do and plenty [of time] to do it.

We have a cat here which is very useful. Before we got her, we could hear the mice and rats running round on all sides. I seldom hear them now. Sunday we have but two meals. This morning I had some hashed meat and potatoes, so toasted bread and coffee. We are going to have beef steak for dinner and supper. That makes us have a good appetite. If I could be at home on Sunday, I should be satisfied. I enjoy reading in my testament and some religious papers that are sent me. My best friend is here and takes care of me and if it is His will by and by, I shall come and see you and the many friends that I have left behind. That will be a happy time to me if I can return in health and safety.

Remember me in much love to all the folks, you and all. From your brother at the war. — Daniel

Letter 8

Brice’s Creek
February 15, 1863

Kind sister,

I received two letters from you a few days since and since then I have received that box with the sausages and pickles and other reading matter and the letter from you…

Our regiment did not go on the large expedition but it did go on a small one near Plymouth and was gone ten days. I heard that they was all taken prisoners but I did not believe it. They came back safe and well. I was at camp the next day and got the mail. Six letters! just think of it. They only had one day and night’s marching through the mud. E. Stevens told me to give his love to you. They slept on board the Northerner. That was good but Charley told me that it was not entirely free from insects and they brought some away with them.

My lame foot is about well. My barrel and box I have got from you. What did you say they were making for Mr. Hill? I cannot make it out.

Anyone that has the least thing ails them, they ought to come into the army. Anything lasts a good while. They do not have the care that they would at home. A good many in the blockhouse have had colds—I with the rest, but not so bad as the rest. It was a coughing cold.

The big apple was spoilt in two places. They are little more than half gone now.

I have kept a journal since Thanksgiving…I have written about forty letters since Thanksgiving. You are the only one that I owe a letter. I have taken pleasure in eating some of those sausages that Aunt Maranda fried for me….

I guess that there is no possibility of an attack. It would take a very large army to go into Newbern. It is protected by gunboats.

Today is Sunday. i got up at seven, put on clean clothes and washed at the creek, ate breakfast of baked beans, sausages, pickles, pepper and vinegar, then went into the woods alone with my testament and I had a blessed good time. All quiet and I read aloud. My heart went with thankfulness that my life and health had been spared and could enjoy another Holy Sabbath—the best day of the week, and if faithful, shall go where it is one continual Sabbath. That is where we all shall meet, Love to all and thanks for all the favors shown me. Yours affectionately, — Daniel

Diary Segments

Brice’s Creek, Monday, February 16, 1863—What U have done today. I got up at 7 even o’clock and dressed myself. I take everything off but my drawers. I do not take them off ten because the blankets do not feel good, and I took my towel and other things and started to wash me and I heard our negro Dan in the woods, and Mr. Brice and I went out there and he had a possum in a tree. We sent him after an axe and Mr. Brice cut him out or cut till we saw him and Dan got him by the tail and pulled him out. It is about the size of a woodchuck and gray with a nose the shape of a pig. Dan brought him to the cook house and put him in a barrel and Mr. Brice has two mice that he is training. Then got my breakfast. I had some sausages. They are good. I suppose they are some that David made. Afterwards I mended my pants on the knee, then wrote a letter to Mr. Roundy, a young man in the Temple choir, then cut the specks out of some sweet potatoes. We do not draw any potatoes now. Then it was dinner time. I had baked beans warmed up and pickles. After dinner I went out to the wood about six rods from the house and cut and split wood little more than an hour alone. I scalded my apple sauce and poured it out into tins, then the team came from camp and brought a mail, I had a letter from you and Charley. That was all I got this time, and Mr. Copeland had a box there—always great excitement when a box comes—and he bought some fresh bread and I bought a loaf off him and paid him 15 cents. Then it is supper time. I do not like coffee for tea so I made some tea that tasted like home. It tastes very different when I make a little in my dipper. I am glad you sent it and I had some fresh bread—the first for a week or ten days. Then sit down to write. Our cook got a letter from one of the men that was discharged. He had a very hard time getting home. After he went on board he did not start for a week and a bad place to stay and a hard time getting his pay and he advised us all to stay contented and not to try and get our discharges. I am very well contented but I have not got my Charley here now. I will go to reading and it rains….

Sunday, February 22, 1863—Washington Birthday. I got up at 7 and had a good breakfast of baked beans and went on guard at 8. When I first went out I was surprised at seeing a large amount of water. I might have gone most to the cookhouse in a boat and the trench was about half full of water. Two of the boys rode round the house in a boat. It is now 2 o’clock and I have just gone on guard the second time. I am sitting down in the lower story of the house, not much like doing duty at camp. It is the rainy season I should think…I am heavier now than when I left Boston. I weigh 143 without much clothing. I shave the side of my face and they say I look much better. I shaved my upper lip once when at camp but have not since. I have lately drawn a pair of pants and I bought a woolen blanket of one of the men that was discharged…

Wednesday, February 25 [1863]—It is a warm and pleasant day. I done my washing this forenoon and have just brought it in and hung it up in the house. They are most dry. Today I went about a mile and saw a review of the N. C. army corps. It was a splendid sight. There was a splendid sight. There was 21 regiments of infantry besides artillery and cavalry. I do not know have many more soldiers than I have seen for a great while. I do not want to brag but I did not see a regiment that marched better than the 44th. It was a grand sight. I stood side of Gen. [John Gray] Foster, He is 50 years old or more, I should judge. He knows how to ride horseback. When I got there, the staff had jus got through looking at them and then he took his position on a small hill and they all went by him and I had a good chance to see them….

March 3, [1863]—There is a surgeon examining us. He is going to send us to camp or discharge us I believe he from Washington. I guess he will send me to camp. He has examined me and said he thought I could go back to camp. I cannot stop to write more now. In haste, your affectionate brother, — Daniel

March 4, 1863—Brice’s Creek. I got up and changed all my clothes and washed those that I took off after I heated the water…Tomorrow is my day to go on guard. They are drilling on the cannon some of the 51st [Mass.] I shall expect till I get my orders to pack up to go to camp, we may be here some time. I think quite a number will be discharged that are here. I had rather wait and go with the regiment. We shall probably be home in three months. That is not long—just as long as I have been at the blockhouse. Three months ago yesterday I left Newbern.

Tuesday, March 10 [1863]—This is my birthday and a very rainy day—27 years old, and I am on guard.

Thursday, March 12 [1863]—I went to camp today. I started early and walked both ways. When I got to Newbern, I stopped and had 4 pictures taken. They cost $1. I think they are pretty good. I will send you one and let you see, I give one to Charley for his wife. I bought a singing book today. Charley is fat and healthy. I wish he was here with me. He seems just like a brother to me. We talk and sing together.

Saturday, March 14 [1863]—I heard guns most of the day. The rebels are coming near Newbern. We expected an attack last night but did not. There was some cavalry went out a little ways out and saw some rebs and saw them firing rockets for signals. There was 7 thousand and at another place 15 thousand. I think they would have got a warming though perhaps I should be taken prisoner. There is no danger now, I guess.

Sunday, March 15 [1863]—This is a warm pleasant day. I hear guns once in awhile. The corporal went to town and got a mail…

Tuesday, March 17 [1863]—Our regiment went on an expedition and started night before last to Little Washington….

Saturday, April 4 [1863]—Our regiment have been to Washington about three weeks. They sent for their knapsacks a short time ago. There was some rebs come near Newbern but dare not return in. They fired some and hit our barracks once. Fort Anderson is not the one that was attacked. We are south of Newbern and the creek empties into the Trent river a little ways from us. I am on guard once in six days. There is seventeen to do duty—all that are here are able to. The same ones are here that came first when I did. All the alterations is three of them have been sent home…

Saturday, May 2 [1863]—The mosquitoes are beginning to make their appearance but have not troubled us much yet. There is a great many bugs here of all sorts and sizes too numerous to mention. Capt. Smith of Co. H was here yesterday. He said we were to be paid off today. If we are not, I shall not expect again till I get home… The orderly sergeant that came here to drill us had not had us drill yet. He does not know the drill. One of their sergeants came down and showed him once or twice and that is al that has been done. Col. Lee said we drilled very well. The Colonel looks well now. He have very heavy whiskers. He has had them trimmed and wears a garrote collar. Did you ever see him? Gen. Foster says the 44th have done more than any other nine months troops (Sud cakes). The others do not like us very well. I shall do as much as I can. They call doing provost duty a good place. Gen. Foster offered it to Col. Lee. He did not ask for it. It has been offered to him before but her refused it. Two of our companies are still on picket…

Camp Meigs, Co. I, 44th Massachusetts, taken at Readville, Mass. on 17 June 1863. Smith is not in the photograph; he may have reached Readville after the others as he was assigned to accompany the baggage.

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