This letter was written by 1st Lt. John G. Vanderzee (1827-1884) Co. G, 25th New York Infantry. John began his service as a lowly private in Co. F, 44th New York Infantry but was transferred out of that regiment when he was offered a commission in the 25th New York as the 2nd Lieutenant of Co. C on 10 January 1862. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant of Co. G on 27 May 1862 and to Captain of Co. G in August 1862.
In the following letter, written from the Union lines before Yorktown, John speaks of death and dying, attempting to reassure his friend Maria that his chances of dying were low, and pragmatically speaking, it was “only borrowing grief before hand. It is time enough for that when it comes.”
John G. Vanderzee was the son of John Becker Vanderzee (1798-1880) and Elizabeth Rowe (1798-18xx) of Bethlehem township, Albany county, New York. He married Elizabeth Briggs—not Maria Becker—in September 1864.
Army of the Potomac
Near Yorktown [Virginia]
Sunday, April 27th 1862
I was overjoyed last night as the mail brought me two letters from you—one of 17th date and that of 22nd also. I had many days looked for a note from your pen as I thought one person in Bethlehem at least would write to me of others could not find the time. The mail of last night brought me a note from home also which was written the 17th. I am sorry my folks fret about me as it is only borrowing grief before hand. It is time enough for that when it comes. I don’t feel alarmed about my friends at home at all unless ill health visits them, &c.
Maria, if you will accept the best advice of a soldier I would say unto you, don’t never borrow any fears about the safety of any person. This world at best makes our whole life a season of great trouble and trials, and to most of mankind a life not worth living for. I take up affairs along the path of life as duty requires and strive to be ready for all demands as time runs along.
I am under the impression that you often worry in mind and imagine that all who go to war will be shot (I mean your friends in the army & not all the soldiers in service). I want no one to imagine such a thing at all. I am only one of the army and my chances are equal to all the rest. I may fall, or may not.
I have many things of news to tell you about the work going on here but cannot in letter correspondence of a friendship nature. Since my change of positions in the army, a great increase of labor has fallen to me and I cannot write a full history of events that occur to me daily. And time will not even permit me to write to many persons. I have marked off of my list of correspondents all but four, two at home and next my Maria and Chum Sanford, and now and then to acquaintances. I may not at all times write to you frequently but rest assured my love towards you will never diminish any if the same finds a response in your heart. The people may be anxious at Chippian Hook to know how often I write to you &c. They can soon find out that fact by attending to report of “Madam Rumor.”
Maria, I feel as though this note is the most unfinished one I ever wrote to you. I write to you this afternoon because time may not afford me the pleasure of so doing for several days after this as we are diligently working day and night at our forrtifications. I will write to you again in a few days.
I visited the 44th on Friday night and found them in good spirits. Remember my best wishes to your Pa and Ma. Write to me soon. I must close bidding you a good night and happy dreams. While the warmest regards of a soldier are ever around your path and following you through silent though. From your army correspondent, — Lt. Van
Direct hereafter to 25th Regt. N. Y. S. V., Washington D. C.
The army has a man there who sends all notes directly by express.
In reading over this note, I notice it is not worth the postage to send, but what it lacks in words of news, I retain in my heart love towards you. Your friend, — John G.