1864: Nelson Garey to Mary Garey

A very grainy image of Sgt. Nelson Garey sold by Cowan’s Auctions in 2020. He’s wearing a state jacket with sergeant stripes and NCO sword at his side.

This letter was written by Sgt. Nelson Garey (1835-18xx) who wrote the letter to his wife while serving in Co. B, 38th New Jersey Infantry. Nelson was drafted and entered the service on 5 September 1864 and mustered out of the service at City Point, Virginia, on 30 June 1865.

The 38th New Jersey never participated in any major battles—only minor skirmishes. They were attached to the Army of the James, Department of Virginia and North Carolina. Most of the time was spent in garrison duty at Fort Powhatan on the James River.

When Nelson registered for the draft in June 1863, he was enumerated in Hunterdon county, New Jersey, and identified as a carpenter and married.

In the 1885 State Census, Nelson Garey was residing in Harmony, Warren county, New Jersey. Their boys names were Wilson and George.

Fort Powhatan on the James River below the Pontoon Bridge. Alfred R. Waud, artist. (LOC)


Addressed to rs. Mary Garey, Stockton Post Office, Hunterdon county, New Jersey

Camp of the 38th N. J. Vols.
Fort Powhatan, Virginia
Christmas Sunday in Virginia
December 25th 1864

My Dear Wife,

I now sit down to answer your kind and welcome letter that came to hand night before last and was glad to hear from you and the children and to know that you was all well. I would a have wrote yesterday but I had to go out on picket and I had no time and I am glad I did not for I got a letter from sister Mary and one from her daughter Anna and now I can send them to you to read.

I am well at present and I hope this will find you in the same state of health. It is Christmas today and I have not received them things yet. I think I will get them about New Year. [Just] so I get them, I don’t care when.

Our artillerymen on the fort has got trees set in the ground. They have all kinds of things hung on them for Christmas trees. They are boxwood and we have got them all around the fort and it looks very nice.

My company went out last night on a scout after rebs and they did not get in camp till this morning about five o’clock. Our negro cavalry went out yesterday and they met with some five or six rebel scouts and they killed three of them and the other three got away and our company and Company D went to hunt them up but they did not find none. One negro got wounded in the breast with a pistol ball but it is not dangerous. It won’t kill him.

I was not with my company last night. I had to stay in camp. I was Sergeant of the Guard. We have to guard the camp when the company is gone so I saved a twenty-mile march, but I wanted to go.

I have not heard from brother yet. He is on the march yet and he cannot write when they are on a march. You spoke about that money. I got the money all right. I have got all the things you have sent me yet but the box and that has not had time to get here yet. They don’t through as quick as a letter does.

Well, they talk of giving some furloughs when the weather get so bad that we cannot drill. I don’t know whether we will get them or not. You need not tell anyone about it. Maybe we won’t get them. You need not look for me till I tell you. I will write to you if I should have such good luck. I hope they will. I would give a farm if I could see you and them little bubs of our’n. They are almost crazy up in the pine swamp since I told them I was a going to come up and bring you up to see them when I come home—if I lived and kept my health.

Well, I have not much more to write this time. I have told you all the news that I can think of so I will close hoping to hear from you soon as possible. You wished me a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I will say thanky for it but it would be more merry and happy if I was home with you. But keep good spirits. The time will come yet to see you all and I hope for the best.

I will send you Mary’s letter and Anna’s letter to read for yourself. Them little locks of hair was very nice and I cherish them very dear. Well, goodbye for this time. Write soon. Take good care of the children and my tools. Give my love to all the people and friends if I have any. Well, I will close so goodbye from your affectionate husband till death. My best love to you and the children and many kisses.

From Sergt. Nelson Garey

I am a going to write to sister this afternoon and Anna, you can write too. Remember me when this you see, though many miles apart we be. Write often as you can. Goodbye.

Both of these articles belonged to Sgt. Nelson Garey. The rubberized canvas rainproof cap with visor was a private purchase (not government issued) . The Model 1858 smooth side canteen with pewter spout and jean cloth cover is marked “N. G.” (his initials) in black paint.

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