This letter was written by Peleg Edwin Peckham (1835-1865), the son of Rowland and Mary Johnson Peckham of Charlestown, Rhode Island. He married at New York City, Martha Emily Ennis (1834-1892) in May 1860. Aug. 1, 1862, Mr. Peckham enlisted as a private in Company A, but was mustered as fourth sergeant September 4th, commissioned second lieutenant Company E, Jan. 7, 1863; first lieutenant of same March 1st; captain Company B, July 25, 1864, and brevet major of volunteers July 30th. From January, 1865, he served as acting assistant adjutant-general on the staff of his brigade commander, Gen. John I. Curtin, until he was mortally wounded early in the day, April 2d. The brigade staff were lying in the rebel trench in front of Fort Hell waiting for something to eat. There was continuous firing, but a somewhat heavier momentary fusillade caused them to rise, when a bullet struck him over the right ear coming out at the eye. He was taken to the Cheever house which General Curtin had occupied as headquarters, though most of the staff, including Major Peckham, had tented in the yard. He received the unremitting attention of Dr. W. R. D. Blackwood, of the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania, the brigade surgeon, but with little avail. He did recover sufficiently to say to the doctor, ‘Write to my wife and tell her.’ Later he was sent in an ambulance to the City Point Hospital, where he died next day, April 3d.
Peckham is mentioned in the letters of Herbert Daniels who also served in the 7th Rhode Island Infantry. See–1862-1864: Herbert Daniels to Salina (Brewster) Waterson.
Peckham wrote the letter to David R. Kenyon (1833-1897) who formerly served as captain of Co. A, 7th Rhode Island Infantry. Kenyon was wounded in the leg at Fredericksburg and resigned in March 1863. Shortly after this, he was commissioned a colonel in the 8th Rhode Island Militia. Peckham also mentions having written to “Alf.” This may have been Alfred Matthews Channell (1829-1884) who served as Captain of Co. D, 7th Rhode Island Infantry.
Peckham’s letter speaks to the malcontent of the officers remaining in the regiment as petty jealousies ripped asunder the esprit de corps of the once proud fighting unit. In this respect, the regiment was hardly alone. By this stage of the war, most foot soldiers shared the following general sentiment (paraphrased), “We volunteered to fight for the Stars & Stripes, the officers for the Stars & Eagles.”
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Rob Grandchamp and was transcribed and published by express consent on Spared & Shared.]
Camp 7th Regiment Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry
Burnside Point, Kentucky
February 6th 1864
I have been for two or three weeks looking for a letter from you, but despairing of receiving one, I thought I would write again not knowing but the three I have written to you and as many to Alf had been miscarried, for I cannot believe that you have forgotten your old friend of 1862 & 3 so I attribute this long delay to the mails and not to negligence on your part.
Colonel, the Old 7th is still in existence yet—I am sorry to say sadly demoralized—and I think I am not far from the truth when I say the officers more than the men. But this confidentially of course for I would not say ought of the 7th to injure her well earned credit at home. But so well and harmoniously as the officers and men of the 7th used to pull together for the distinction and renown which has been acquired to us, jealousies and hard feelings now arise and sadly wiped out the quietude and pleasures of the little band. “H_____” that now compose our thinned and decimated ranks ranks.
We are now stationed as a Post Guard at Burnside Point 1 which is fast acquiring and destined to be a large and extensive place of supplies. We have a steam sawmill in full operation which turns off one thousand feet of lumber per our. Three hundred carpenters have been at work for six weeks building warehouses, commissary buildings, offices, and shops & stables, &c., and we already boast of a town. Our duties are rather severe and laborious too, yet we are satisfied to do it rather than go farther toward Knoxville. Burnside Point is situated on and between the North & South Fork of the Cumberland River 75 miles south of Nicholasville, Kentucky, and 110 miles north of Knoxville. The country around us is sparsely settled and but little cleared land—almost an unbroken forest of very large and beautiful timber. It is also hilly and mountainous and the clay soil at this season of the year is very pliable. In fact, worse than Virginia.
The boys of Co. A are all in fair health and those that have been affected with the chills are fast getting better. We have good water and plenty to eat and now & then a ration of whiskey which seems to animate and strengthen us all. And in fact, if that union and harmony that used to characterize the 7th existed today, I would be as contented now as ever.
But to the matter of my former letters, I wrote you in them & I have also written to Alf that I would, if possible, get a commission as captain in the 3rd Rhode Island Cavalry. I stated in one of those letters that I would give him $50 to obtain it for me. Now Colonel, is there any chance? Please see him (Alf) and ascertain and write me for if there is none, I wish to try to get in the 14th (N-i-g-g-e-r). That I can do here at Cincinnati—that is, if I can pass an examination before Old Gen. [Silas] Casey. It is rumored that our regiment will soon come East again in order to accompany General Burnside on an expedition to some point to us yet unknown for we never get a newspaper here. I have not seen one in three weeks so you see I am three weeks behind time in new.
But I must close. Please write me on receipt of this and oblige.
Yours truly, — Peleg E. Parkham, Lt. commanding Co. B, 7th R. I. V.
Via Cincinnati. Burnside’s Point
1 First named Point Isabel, Burnside was settled in around 1800 by pioneers from the Carolinas and Virginia. During the Civil War in 1863, the Union Army set up a troop rendezvous and supply base here as a prelude to the East Tennessee campaign of General Ambrose E. Burnside. The area then became known as Camp Burnside. Years later, that land is now under water.