These letters were written by William Compton (1839-1863) of Co. H, 2nd New York Cavalry (a.k.a. “Harris Light Cavalry”). He wrote the letters to his father, Terrick Timbrook Compton (1812-1897)—or to his brother Francis (“Frank”) Compton—of Fountain county, Indiana. After Terrick’s first wife, Mary Ann Barshier (1821-1846) died in 1845, he married Mary Ann Neal in 1846, and then Ruth Herrel in 1849.
According to muster rolls, William enlisted on 3 August 1861 at Chambersburg, Orange County, Indiana, as a private in Co. H, 2nd New York Cavalry, to serve three years. He was killed in action at Middleburg, Virginia, on June 19, 1863. Sometime prior to his death he had been promoted to a sergeant.
Poor Terrick Compton lost all four of his sons in the Civil War. They were:
Pvt. Richard Compton (1837-1863) served in Co. D, 63rd Indiana Infantry; he was discharged for disability, came home and died on 17 June 1863.
Pvt. John Compton (1838-1862) served in Co. C 17th Illinois Infantry; he was discharged for disability, and died before he could get home on 11 May 1862.
Sgt. William Compton (1839-1863) served in Co. H, 2nd New York Cavalry; he was killed in action on 19 June 1863 at the Battle of Middleburg.
Pvt. Francis M. Compton (1842-1865) served in Co. I, 154th Indiana Infantry; he died of disease at Harpers Ferry on 29 July 1865.
[Note: These letters were found in the Pension Files of the National Archives and have never been previously published to my knowledge.]
Washington [D. C.]
September 3, 1861
Dear Father and Mother,
I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well at present and hoping these few lines may find you well. We are all here enjoying ourselves very well. We have to drill 5 hours every day and I hate about soldiering. They wake me up too soon. They wake us up every morning at five o’clock every morning. I dreamed last night that I was back in Old Fountain [County] a cutting around [with] my old gal. I will not tell you anymore about my dream.
We have plenty to eat.
I seen sixteen rebels at Columbus, Ohio, as we come through. They came in while we was there. They was hard-looking bats, They was taken up Virginia somewhere by scouts. We was out on parade last evening. There was about twenty regiments out or there was not one out.
No more at present for I have a very bad place to write. You must write soon. Direct your letters this way:
Harris Light Cavalry
Camp Oregon, D. C.
In the care of S. McIrving
D. C. stands for District of Columbus
October 13, 1861
I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well and I hope these few lines may find you enjoying the same state of health.
Frank, I will tell you something about the times here. I have to go and let my horse pick for we have no feed and I will tell you something more when I come back. I have got back now and my horse got a good belly full of clover.
We moved yesterday and we are [with]in a half mile of Munson’s Hill where the rebels was drove from there about two weeks ago and we are [with]in about nine miles of Bull Run where we heard that the rebels was a driving our pickets in last night and we was ordered to saddle our horses. I was asleep when they hollered at me and I thought it hard to get up from there and thought whether I should get my horse or not. I got up, rolled my blankets, and put on my saddle and sabers ad spurs and we was out about two hours and we was ordered to unsaddle and then go to bed.
It looks some like fighting here but I think there is enough here to clean them out very easy/ We have not got anything to fight with but our sabers. When we get our arms, we will make a charge on them.
We have got twelve dollars, sixteen cents from Uncle Sam and he pays every month. We have plenty to eat. I send my overcoat home by John Clickner and told him to leave it with William Gross at Chambersburg and you can get it. It will make you a good coat if you want it….
You must write soon for I like to hear from Old Fountain [county]. I would write more if I had time. No more at present. You can direct your letter the same as you did and they will come.
Still remain your brother, — William Compton
To Francis Compton
Camp near Munson Hill
October 26, 1861
It is with great pleasure that I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well at present and hope these few lines may find you all well.
I received your letter this evening and was very glad to hear from you all. Frank, I would like to know what kind of a tale that Wilse Riley could make if he says that he got an honorable discharge. You must ask him to show his discharge [papers]. He got his discharge one morning after breakfast. They did not hunt for him much for they thought he was not worth hunting for. Well, I guess I have said enough about a deserter.
Frank, I will have to stop for tonight for it is roll call and I will finish some other time. So good night.
Well, good morning to you, Frank. I have been on guard yesterday and last night and I don’t feel very well but I will be alright when I get to take a nap. We are talking of moving today but I don’t know whether we will or not.
Frank, I will tell you what a time we had last Tuesday. It was a raining all day here and about the middle of the afternoon we was ordered to saddle up. Our squadron saddled up and we was marched about two miles off in the country and we found a a oats stock and we brought it in and then when I was about to go to bed, they called me out to go with the wagons after feed and I didn’t care much for I wanted to steal something. Well, I got ahead of cabbage and four nice beets and lots of turnips.
Frank, you said there was plenty of wild turkeys there and you killed two but if I was there, you would stand but little chance for I could kill one every time at a 100 yards with my revolver. I was out the other day a trying how well I could shoot. I think I could kill a man every time at a hundred and fifty yards.
Frank, you said they was plenty of parties there. I would like to be there and show them how I could shake my old foot. We have a dance here every night but it don’t go as well as if we had some ladies here. I think I will be at home this winter some time and I want them to prepare themselves for big parties.
Well, I must bring my scratching to a close. You must write soon. So no more at present but still remain your brother, — William Compton
to Francis M. Compton
Camp Palmer, Virginia
November 17, 1861
It ’tis with the greatest of pleasure that I take up writing to you to inform you that I am well at the present and hope [when] these few lines comes to hand, they will find you all well.
Frank, I sent fifteen dollars home with Jake Dice and I want you to get it and write to me when you receive it. You can lend it to anybody that is good and will give their note and good security but if you can let it out, do it, if it will make anything for me. And if I never come back, you can have it. But there is no such good luck as me to never come back there for all thunder could keep me from there.
Well, I must tell you something about my horse. He is about seventeen hands high and he will be 5 years old next spring and he is all horse but the tail and it is a sprouting. His ribs would make good washboards from the looks of him. I gave him a good currying last evening and I think he will get fleshy now. I have been a wishing we would get in a fight so he would get shot and then I think I could get another better one. If we don’t get in a fight soon, I will gouge his eyes out and then I know that I will get another one.
I am on stable guard today but that is not very hard. The hardest work we have is standing guard. I must tell you what a glorious time I had standing guard the other night. I laid down on the ground to take a snooze and when I waked up, it was raining like all thunder and the water was running all over me. I got up and shaking [my]self and thought nothing of it. If I had exposed myself at home as much as I have since I came here, I would have been dead long ago.
There is a good many of the boys sick now. There are six of the boys out of this company has went to the city hospital. There is only one that you know—that is Joseph Shumaker. Them that went to town has got the measles. John Cooper and Dave has been very sick. They’re at the hospital now but they are getting a good deal better. I think they will be able to come back to their tent in a day or two. There is about sixteen on our company sick at this time. I have had good health ever since I have been here—only when I was vaccinated and then I was sick for a day or two.
Mary, I send you those feathers to show you what kind we wear on our hats. Id I had a chance to send you one of them, I would be glad for I know you would fancy one of them very much. Mary, I would like to be there and take another dance with you and that other girl. I hope that you had a better time than we had that night when I was at home. I want you when you have another dance to let me know and I will come over and stay a week or two.
I guess I have wrote all that is necessary for this time. You must write soon. So no more at present but still remain your brother, — William Compton
To Francis Compton
Camp Palmer, Virginia
December 8, 1861
Dear Father and Mother,
I take this opportunity of writing to you to inform you that I am well at the present and hope when these few lines come to hand, they will find you all well.
Father, I must tell you about our Grand Review that we had last Thursday. Uncle Abe was out to see us and he presented the Stars & Stripes to our regiment and we was very thankful to have them. we do nothing but go on reviews here. For my part, I would rather go into a fight than to go to a review. I don’t know whether we will get in a fight this winter or not but I don’t think we will. But when we get out on picket, maybe we will have a chance to get a shot at some rebel.
There was three of our boys out the other day on picket and one of them shot two men but they happened not to be rebels. They was Union men that went to try their sentinels. They let on like they was rebel cavalry [and] as they come up, it was very dark and our boys could not see who they was. They stepped to one side and said [they’s] shoot if they came any closer, so they Coe up a little closer and our boys let slip at them and shot one of them through the arm and hurt him very bad and the other one did not get hurt very bad. And when they come ups they said they had done wrong. When they fool with the hoser [hoosier?], they will run against a snag.
Mother, I was very sorry to hear that Mary had left you for I know you have too much work there to do yourself and I think Mary is as good a girl as you could get. I hope you will get one as good as Mary. Frank said that Naomi Beals was gone to live with you. I guess she is a very good girl for work.
Frank, I want to give you a little advice. I heard that you was a running with Lames’ girls and if you want to go in decent company, you had better not let anybody see you with them. I want you to go wit somebody better than them for I know you can, or I think you could if I was there. If you hear from John, you write to me.
I guess I must bring my few lines to a close for it is a getting near roll call. You must write soon for I like to get letters from home every week. So no more at present but still remain your son till death, — William Compton
Camp on the ford near Fredericksburg
May 13, 1862
I seat myself down to write you a few lines to inform you that I am well at present and hope when these few lines come to hand, they will find you well. I just received your letter and was very glad to hear from you. Frank, I suppose you have of the little fight we have been in. It was on the 17th of April. We marched from Catlett Station to Fredericksburg, Virginia, and we drove the rebels before us for about twelve miles and we took several prisoners and we got one of our Lieutenants killed. We followed them till dark and then we camped till about one o’clock in the morning and then we was rousted up and we got our horses and started after the retreating rebels.
We went about five miles and we was fired into. by the rebels and we made a charge on them and they made their bullets fly pretty thick around our heads. They was several fellers shot right by the side of me. I thought I would be shot but I come out safe and sound.
Frank, I will give you the list of the killed and wounded:
George Weller killed, from Osborn Prairie
Josiah Kiff, killed from Newtown
Cyrus Romaine, wounded
James Baker, wounded
William Ranken, wounded
Patrick Ambrose, wounded
Lewis Crane, wounded
Jacob McClean, wounded
This is the list of the killed and wounded in our company. Frank, you said that you was a going to lend my money out. I want you to keep it and don’t lend it out for I think I will be at home in a month or two and then I will need it. I set fifteen dollars more too but you you was gone and so old Josey Bever has got it for me and he will keep it till I come home. Frank, you can spend some of my money if you need it and then you need not take up your wages till you get done working and then it comes all in a bunch—that is, if the man is good that you work for, and I suppose he is from what you say. I don’t think wages is very high there this spring. I get fourteen dollars a month and then I make right smart a [ ]. We got paid a two weeks ago and I sent fifteen dollars to you and I have got about twenty dollars yet and they is about three months pay a coming to us yet. We are going to get paid in a day or two.
Frank, you must write soon and tell me about John and how he is and whether you have heard from him. Well, I guess I have wrote all I can think of at this time. So no more at present but still remain your brother, — William Compton
Sunday, June 29, 1862
Dear Father and Mother,
I once more take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to inform you that I am well and hope when these few lines comes to hand, they will find you all well. Father, the reason I did not write soon, I was waiting for an answer from you and I though that I would write again to you and see if you had. Well, I must tell you what a good time I have had. I was up at Alexandria and Washington and I got to see [brother] Richard and all the rest of the boys from around Old Fountain [county]. I was glad to see the boys. They all look well and I think they will make good soldiers. They all think they see hard times but I think that [if they] would come out and travel through the Virginia mountains awhile, they would think of hard times.
We have got back to Fredericksburg and I think we will go into Richmond or that is the talk now. We are seeing very good times. We don’t have to do everything now. We don’t have to drill any. WE don’t do anything but tend to our horses. Well, I must tell you about the crops. The corn is only about ankle high. They are cutting their wheat around here. The wheat is very good wheat, There is [lots] of it.
Well, I must bring these few lines to a close. You must write soon. So no more at present but remain your son, — William Compton
Camp near Fredericksburg, Va.
July 24, 1862
I seat myself to write you a few lines to inform you that I am well at this time and hope when these few lines does to hand, they will find you enjoying the same health. Frank, I have not received any letter from you for a good while and I think you might write as often as I do. This makes the third letter that I have wrote and I have not received any answer yet.
Well, I must tell you a little about the times here. Everything is still here but the cavalry. We are scouting every day. We started out on the 19th and we was gone thirty hours and we went eighty miles in thirty hours. And we went [with]in thirty miles of Richmond and we tore up the railroad and burnt up what they call Beaver Dam Station and took several prisoners.. You better believe we had a big fire there. There was several barrels of powder in the depot and there was several boxes of cartridges in there two and a good deal of other stuff. You will see it I the papers better than I can tell you.
We just got in last night about twelve o’clock. We was on another railroad yesterday. We burnt up Hanover Station and done them a good deal of damage. We had several skirmishes with the rebels. We killed four of them. We had none of our men hurt. We burnt a rebel camp and took about forty horses and several prisoners.
Well, Frank, I want you to keep that money that I sent last for I am coming home the last of next month—that is, if I can get a furlough, and I think I can. It will cost me about fifty dollars there and back. Frank, I want you to write a little oftener than you do. So no more at this time but still remain your brother, — William Compton
Camp near Fredericksburg, Va.
July 29, 1862
I once more seat myself to write you a few lines to inform you that I am well at this time and hope when these few lines come to hand they will find you enjoying the same health. Frank, I received your letter this evening and was very glad to hear from you. You say you have not heard from John since you left home. I received a letter from home a few weeks ago and they stated that John had got his discharge. I was very glad to hear that he has got out of the service. Frank, if I was out of the service, I think the government would have to be in a very bad fix if I went to help save it although I am here and I am a going to do the best I can.
I am a coming home next month—that is, if I can get a furlough. I heard from Richard last week and he was well. You said you did not know his captain’s name. His name is Johnson.
Frank, I would like to be there to some of them dances that you was speaking about. You must give my best respects to all of the girls around there. If I get to come home next month, I think I shall see some of them myself. I was glad to hear my money had got home safe. So no more at present but remain your brother, — William Compton
You must write as soon as you receive these few lines. So goodnight.
[Washington D. C.]
October 1st 
I once more seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know how I am a getting along. I have been sick for four weeks. I am a getting about well now except I am very weak yet. I think I will be able to go to the regiment the last of the week or the first of next. I am in the hospital at Washington. It is three weeks ago last Saturday since I are here and it seems like a year to me for it is very lonesome here and I hope when these few lines come to hand, they will find you enjoying food health.
Frank, I wrote you a letter the day before I came to the hospital and ain’t received any answer yet, but I expect there is a letter at the regiment for me. I ain’t heard from the regiment since I have been here. I wrote a letter to the Orderly last [week] and told him if there was any letters come for me, to send to me and I am looking for one today.
Frank, I will give you a little of my opinion of the war. I think the war will come to a close in less than three months. It is the report now that here is commissioners from the South that came as peace makers and I hope they will come to terms. For my part, I have seen fighting enough, but I think if they don’t come to terms, we have got men enough in the field to whip the hell out of them. The rebels thought they was sure of Washington when our army was a falling back [but] they did not know they was a running themselves into a trap. When Gen. McClellan got after them, he showed them where they was.
Frank, I have said enough about the war for this time. I want you to write as soon as you receive these few lines and I don’t want you to wait a week or two, and I shall be very prompt in answering yours. I want you to write every week and I will do the same as near as I can. You can direct your letters as you have heretofore. I want you to tell me all the news about the draft and how you are a getting along and whether you are working at the same place.
So no more for this time but still remain yours, — William Compton
To Francis M. Compton
June 16, 1863
Dear Father & Mother,
I seat myself to write you a few lines to inform you that I am well at the present [time] ad hope when these few lines Coe to hand, they will find you all enjoying good health. I received your letter and was very glad to hear from you.
Well, Father, we have got back to the Army of the Potomac. We was in a fight on the [June] 9th at Brandy Station. It was a very hard cavalry fight. We had it hand to hand with the rebels. Our regiment made a charge and we had cutting and slashing. The fight was mostly done with the saver. The rebels is a marching to Maryland and we are after them. You may hear of some hard fighting soon.
Father, you say the Copperheads is plenty back there. I think if they would hear a few bullets whistle about their heads, they would think war was not the thing it was cracked up to be. You told me to not get discouraged. That is not my gripe. We lost five men out of our company, 2 missing, 2 wounded and Wheeler Mallett was wounded in the back and left on the field and we suppose him to be dead. If not he is a prisoner.
Mother, I am very sorry to hear that you are crippled. I would like to been there to that show you had there. Although a battlefield is a bigger show than all the shows that you can have there but maybe not such a nice sight.
Mother, I want to know who is doing your work. I must bring my few lines to a close for it is a getting night and we are expecting to move so no more but remain your affectionate son, — Wm. Compton
Write soon. Direct this way. Co. H, Harris Light Cavalry, Washington D. C.