This letter was written by former shoemaker Charles S. Smith (1839-1864) of Marlborough, Massachusetts who enlisted on 29 June 1861 as a private in Co. F, 13th Massachusetts Infantry. Charles was promoted to corporal sometime prior to his being taken a prisoner at Spotsylvania Court House on 15 May 1864. He died a prisoner of war at Salisbury, North Carolina, on 24 December 1864.
In the 1850 US Census, 11 year-old Charles was enumerated with his 10 year-old brother George in the residence of his parents, Loren and Betsy Smith of Rome, Kennebec county, Maine.
Slaughter Mountain, Virginia
Camp of the 13th Massachusetts Vol. Militia
January 26, 1864
This day has been a most lovely one. It seemed like a May day in New England and the last few nights have been like summer nights. There is no frost now in the ground and the mud is fast disappearing. Everything is still quiet so I have no news to write of any consequence. Reenlisting goes on bravely except in the thirteenth regiment. Only about thirty have reenlisted in this regiment yet, and none of them represents Company F.
There are Rebel camps in plain sight of ours just across the river (Rapidan) not more than five miles from here and so we sit, like two dogs watching each other. I heard just now that some dozen negroes have just made their escape from Rebeldom but were fired into by the Rebels when crossing the river and some of them wounded and drowned. They say that they had nothing to live on through the winter. Lee’s army, they say, are going north again in the spring to get supplies.
I got the Journal you sent me last week. The selectmen of Marlboro have made us a visit. What object they came out for, I don’t know. They stayed a few days and left for home. We have all the picket duty to do that we want. Today we have been under arms. This is to support the picket in case of an attack. Each regiment takes its turn at it for one day at a time. Tonight we have orders to keep our equipments on all night and to be ready to fall in at a moments notice. This is what we call a scare and have some fun about such orders but they may not have been issued without cause.
I am going to send Albion a dollar bill in this. It is on the gold pen bank. Tell him not to spend it. I suppose the boys are off skating now and then when there is ice. I have made up my mind that that picture is Milton’s that Emma sent me.
I expect there is a letter on the road for me from home by this time. Also one from Foxborough. We have just had two recruits for Company F. We now have thirty-four members in this company. It is the largest company in the regiment.
Wednesday morning January 27th. Another lovely day. The Smith’s have just got through with breakfast. We had beef stake fried. Soft bread steamed in a spider with coffee. Today must be washing day for George has gone to washing clothes.
We have not been paid for the months of November and December yet. I don’t think we will be paid until March. Then there will be four months due us.
The other night when I was on guard I saw a very large meteor in the East. It was one-fifth as large as the moon in appearance and it seemed to flicker like a blaze as it went through the air. It must be a sign of war, of course. If it had not been a moonlit night this meteor would made it light enough to read, I think. It was larger than that one we saw on the hill in Rome. Do you remember how that one lighted up the house?
I want the boys to write to me. It will do them good to practice writing. Yours, — Charles