This letter was written by Ralph Carlton (1827-1862) of New Durham, Strafford county, New Hampshire. Ralph served as the Captain of Co. I, 3rd New Hampshire Infantry during the Civil War but was did not survive the Battle of Secessionville on James Island in South Carolina—where the regiment saw its first action on 16 June 1862. During that engagement, the regiment loss was 105 killed, wounded or missing. Capt. Carlton was shot in the left leg, which had to be amputated, but he died of his wound later the same day.
Ralph’s biological parents were John Folsom Cloutman (1804-1854) and Patience Tash Edgerly (1803-1894) of Strafford county. Ralph’s birth name was actually Erastus F. Cloutman and he served under that name in the 3rd Infantry during the Mexican-American War, and was married under that name in 1849 to Amanda M. Pearl (1832-1903), but sometime during the 1850’s he had his name legally changed to Ralph Carlton. Amanda gave birth to as many as seven children by the time Ralph entered the service in 1861 though they did not all survive infancy. In the 1860 US Census, Ralph was enumerated with his family of wife and four children in Farmington, New Hampshire, where he earned his living as a shoe cutter—a somewhat surprising occupation of menial labor given Ralph’s excellent penmanship and vocabulary which suggests a better than average education.
In the regimental history (p. 703), Ralph was described as a “fine-looking fellow, with flowing black beard, clear, black eyes and black hair.” He stood 5′ 11″ tall and had a commanding presence. “He was a popular man, not only at home, but in the regiment as well. He was the leader of the Farmington Cornet Band when he left for the war….In March 1862, Capt. Carlton having become sick, obtained a 60 days’ leave,” and returned home where he “somewhat” regained his health. On returning to his regiment, the steamboat (Oriental) he was on was shipwrecked off Hatteras and he and the other passengers had to be rescued by another steamer, resulting in a relapse of his health and he returned home once more. He did not return to the regiment until early June, just in time to participate in the Battle of Secessionville where he lost his life. One soldier who saw Ralph being removed from the battlefield wrote, “He was conveyed past us on an old door, mangled and dying. We had never seen such before. His white face contrasted strangely with his jet black hair and flowing beard.”
Ralph’s body was taken to Hilton Head and buried but soon after exhumed and placed in a metallic casket and sent North in charge of Musician Flanders of the Band. “Sad and solemn were the funeral services which took place at Farmington on 6 July 1862. The ceremonies were held in the Freewill Baptist Church.”
The letter reveals that Ralph wrote letters to the Boston Journal under the pseudonym “Santiago.” Unfortunately I have not been able to find any of these articles.
Ralph wrote the letter to Alonzo Havington Sawyer (b. 1827) who was appointed the postmaster of Alton during Lincoln’s Administration. He held the post for 22 years.
Port Royal [South Carolina]
March 8th 
Yours of February 25th is at hand and I am pleased to hear from old Alton. I can’t promise you much of a treat in the way of news for you get our “movements” in the papers a devilish sight faster that we can make them, however I will endeavor to fill up the sheet with something if it is not very interesting. I send a letter to the Boston Journal at the time I send this and you can take a portion of that as belonging to you for I wrote it for N. H. folks. It is over the signature of Santiago as usual. I mention this so you can excuse me from mentioning the same things in this letter.
As for myself, I am sick. I have done no duty for six weeks. My complaint seems to be of a sort of billious nature which causes pain in the side, &c. I am going to apply for a “leave of absence” and if I obtain it I will call up and see the citizens of Alton and I want you to tell Maj. Savage to have the necessary arrangements made at the “Cocheco” [Engine Company] and of course I shall expect the Alton B[rass] B[and] to escort me from the depot. Where is “Am? I suppose he is in full blast.
Well now, to affairs at Port Royal. 1st the “3rd New Hampshire” still remain at Hilton Head and are selected by Gen. [Thomas W.] Sherman to remain here permanently. Capt. [Josiah Ingals] Plimpton of Co. E is erecting a sawmill and will soon be getting out lumber with which to build barracks 1 but although we are to have our headquarters here yet, we are not deprived of some of the fun for we go out on “secret service” once in awhile and get a sight of Pulaski and even Savannah occasionally. Seven companies of the regiment have just gone out on one of those errands and will be gone two days. My company don’t go this time on account of my being sick.
Capt. Miller of Co. B (from Exeter) is under arrest for a pretty rank offense, being no less than advising one of his men to desert and go home and offering to furnish him a change of clothes; also promising to furnish him with his pay from time to time as it became due which would oblige him (the captain) to make a false muster roll. These are serious charges and will cost him his commission if proved.
Our regiment is in good repute with Gen. Sherman and he has assigned Col. [Enoch Q.] Fellows to the responsible position of Commander of the Post and sent all the Brigadiers away to other places. Still the force under Col. Fellows is the largest of any as you will see by my letter in Journal. I think that if Savannah is taken and Gen. Sherman goes down there, he will take us with him for he seems to have a partiality for the 3rd [New Hampshire]. You will remember that when the latter named place is taken, it will be mostly accomplished with the Navy unless the present program is changed. but I have no idea that it will be attempted at present for we have not sufficient force to hold it provided the rebels should be driven down en masse into the Gulf States which seems probable no and we can take it from a large force about as easy as from a small one. But you may soon look for the fall of “Pulaski” for that little pile is doomed.
We have two drills per day—one a battalion drill, and one a company drill. Col. Jackson is now in command and is an excellent man.
In regard to contrabands, see my letter in Journal.
The weather is tip top part of the time but I tell you we have to catch it sometimes for we have a real “simoon” occasionally—the wind blowing a perfect gale and the sand flying like snow in winter. Then, tis now the rainy season and when it does rain, it pours.
We don’t get any of the luxuries you mention unless we purchase them of the sutlers put up in tin cans! Please tell Miss Young is she is at your place now that her brother has got well and returned to duty. Our regiment have lost by death in all 17 men. My company has lost two—one from Wakefield and one from Winchester. There are many more things I might mention but as I intend to go up to New Hampshire soon, I will wait and give you a verbal account of affairs. Remember me to Maj. S.; also to Hon. Daniel and Charles Mooney and in fact to everybody who loves the Stars and Stripes.
If I go home I shall arrive not far from the first of April. The 4th New Hampshire are with Gen. Wright but are doing nothing that I can hear of. Yours truly, — Ralph Carlton
[to] A. H. Sawyer, Esq.
[It should be noted that by the time this letter was written in March 1862, the 3rd New Hampshire Infantry were no longer wearing their state-issued grey uniforms. They did, apparently, wear their old grey uniforms when on fatigue duty. See 1862: Arthur Sidney Newsmith to Annie Nesmith, letter dated 22 March 1862 from Port Royal, S. C.]
1 In February, 1862, Capt. Plimpton was detailed at Hilton Head to build a saw-mill, and had several men assigned to him as carpenters for that purpose. The spot chosen was near Drayton’s Plantation, not far from camp and close to the river (Broad). This service continued several weeks. There were several men from the Third New Hampshire detailed to work at this saw-mill.