1861: J. G. C. to his Cousins

This early war letter was datelined from Martinsburg, Virginia, on 5 July 1861, by a Union soldier who signed it with only his initials, “J. G. C.” and addressed it to his cousins, Annie, Alice, and Sally, location unknown. There is very little in the letter that would help to identify the author as he was among several thousand soldiers then occupying the strategic center of the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad.

The author writes of the camp discipline that has been imposed that requires soldiers to be be escorted by officers to and from their water source “like so many cattle.”

Martinsburg, Virginia (Harper’s Weekly Magazine)a city with more pro-Union residents than Secessionists.


Martinsburg [Virginia]
July 5th [1861]

Dear Cousins—Annie, Alice, and Sally,

As I have nothing much to do, I thought I would amuse myself (though I can’t say there is fun in it either) by writing a few lines to you. I suppose you had a fine time at your house yesterday, had Dr. Dixon and the Savery up there, & had Em. Wood & C. over to spend the evening & look at the fireworks? At least I know that is the sort of a time you had last fourth when I was with you. But your poor unfortunate cousin spent a rather different one this year. I had to amuse myself walking up and down in the hot sun to guard you from being captivated by the rebels.

We had some little excitement here though. I think it was the dullest 4th I ever spent. At noon the artillery fired a salute of 34 guns. Then men were called out & reviewed, the bands played the national aires, & they had quite a time for about an hour. The bells in the city were also rung.

Yesterday several thousand more troops arrived here making the number here now about 30,000. The rules are very strict here now. I cannot help laughing sometimes when I think of how we are treated. When we want to get water, we have to get an officer to lead us down (like so many cattle), wait for us until we fill our canteens, & then lead us back again. At night we are called together, counted—or rather our names called, & started off to bed. They give about five minutes to get fixed when the drum raps & we have to put out our lights, &c. or rather that was the case when we had tents. But now that we sleep in the open air, we do not get candles.

The rebel troops are thought to be at least 30 miles distant & I am very much afraid I shall have to come home without making the acquaintance of any of them as I hear there is a strong probability of our regiment remaining here to keep the road open to Williamsport [Maryland].

Tell Uncle William I will answer his letter some time soon. Give much love to all & write soon to your affectionate cousin, — J. G. C.

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