1864-65: William D. Semans to Adam S. Miller

Pvt. William D. Semans, wounded at Ft. Stedman
Find-A-Grave

These two letters were written by William D. Semans (1844-1924), the son of Nelson Semans (1819-1891) and Hannah Briggs (1826-1905) of Starkey, Yates county, New York. William enlisted as a private in Co. L, 14th New York Heavy Artillery, in December 1863. He was wounded in the jaw by a shell fragment at Fort Stedman on 25 March 1865, five weeks after writing his friend, “I have not got a scratch yet nor do not want any.” He was treated for his wound at Armory Square Hospital in Washington D. C., from which place he was discharged from the service.

The 14th New York Heavy Artillery saw hard service. After manning the batteries in New York Harbor, they were ordered to the front as infantrymen in the 9th Corps. They passed through the Wilderness, then suffered heavily at Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the first assault on Petersburg. In the Battle of the Crater they were one of the first to plant the colors on the enemies works. They occupied Fort Stedman at the time of the enemy attack in March 1865 and fought their way to Fort Haskell.

The letter was addressed to Adam S. Miller of Starkey, Yates county, New York, who enlisted in August 1862 but mustered out of the regiment on 8 January 1864 for disability.

Letter 1

[Fort Richmond, New York (?)]
January 6th 1864

Remembered friend,

I received your welcome and unexpected letter. I was glad to hear from you. I thought you had forgot me, I had not heard from you in so long a time. I was sorry I did not see you before I left home. I suppose your soldiering is is done, or did you like it well enough to enlist over if your health was good? Sometimes I like it and again I am sick of it. When we have a long march or a hard fight, then I am sick of it. But when we are laying still [with] not much to do, then I like it. But it is all in three years.

“Tell them if they want to see hard times, to go for a soldier. But take Billy’s advice and live free while they can. Soldiering will do to talk about when you are in the bar room or some other safe place.”

— Pvt. William D. Seman, Co. L, 14th N. Y. Heavy Artillery

You must keep things all straight around there. Have you seen Arch lately? Do you remember what good times we used to have up there? What good times we had running up and down the lake all day Sunday, fishing and swimming, nothing to eat in all day—only berries. But those times have passed away and us three boys have parted and are far from each other and God only knows whether we will ever meet together again or not. I for one hope we may, but the case is a dark one. I have got two dark years before me. I would like to see Henry Welter and all the boys. Tell them if they want to see hard times, to go for a soldier. But take Billy’s advice and live free while they can. Soldiering will do to talk about when you are in the bar room or some other safe place.

It is raining now very hard and I guess I will have to go on picket tonight. God damn the luck. Jennison 1 is on picket now, I think. This rain will give him a good washing. It will loosen up his hide so he will grow. Write and tell me how things stand around there. Answer soon. From your friend, — William Semans.

1 George A. Jennison (or Jamison) enlisted at age 18 with William Semans in December 1863 in Co. L, 14th New York Heavy Artillery. He was wounded on 12 May 1864 and again on 25 March 1865. He mustered out of the regiment from Lincoln US General Hospital.


Letter 2

[Fort Stedman near Petersburg, Va.]
February 18th 1865

Remembered friend,

I now take my pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and well. I received your letter a long time ago and am almost ashamed for not writing sooner, but you must not wait for me but keep a writing as you have more time than I do.

We are lying in the same place as we did when I wrote before. We have been here about six weeks and have had only one man wounded in our company but there has been several killed and wounded in the regiment. I have not got a scratch yet nor do not want any. I would like to see the old lake once more and to roam up and down its shores with you and Old Carmer. Then was when I enjoyed myself eating berries and stealing Mr. Conkling’s apples. But apples are scarce here. They cost five cents apiece and not very large at that.

You spoke about your sweetheart Nelly. Tell me her other name so if I ever get a furlough, I can find her. There is not much firing going on here. They get to shelling every two or three days. There has three shells bursted in our company. Only wounded one and scared the rest pretty badly. Please answer soon from your friend.

— William Semans

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