This letter was written by bootmaker John O. Gay (1836-1907) of Weymouth, Massachusetts, who enlisted on 9 August 1864 in Co. G, 4th Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. He served with the regiment until discharged on 17 June 1865.
In the late summer of 1864, fourteen companies of heavy artillery were raised throughout Massachusetts for the purpose of coastal defense of the state. They were to be “unattached,” thus not part of a regiment, and sent to various military locations for a one-year term. They were numbered 17 through 30, and were the Unattached Companies of Heavy Artillery. They encamped on Gallops Island in Boston Harbor, where they organized and were mustered in during latter part of August and into the first days of September 1864. In September, they were ordered to Washington, DC for garrison duty in the forts surrounding the capital.
John’s parents were Willard and Roda (Penniman) Gay. His wife was Susan A. Ware (1830-1891).
Though John’s headstone application clearly stated he served in the 4th Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, the US Government erroneously supplied a headstone with the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery on it.
Fort Ethan Allen
Dear wife & friends,
I received your letter with pleasure and if my letters give you as much joy as yours do me, I should want to serve my time out that way. You tell me to write often if I have leisure time. I can tell you my time is pretty well occupied—more so than any of the old soldiers that have been out before, so they say. We have some with us. In the morning when the drum beats and answer to our names and then we have breakfast at six and then we have to drill from seven until eight and they they mount guard at half past eight and then we have to go out and drill from nine until eleven o’clock a.m., dinner at twelve, and then we have to go out at two o’clock and drill until four, and then supper at five, and go out on dress parade at half past five which takes until dark and then roll call at half past eight in the eve and then go to bunk right off. You may not understand all this.
I got a pass from the Captain and went to the city today. I walked most all the way there and back. You may believe I am tired. I saw Uncle Abe just as he was going into the White House. He had about twenty cavalry horsemen doing escort duty with him. I did not get a good view of him because it was raining. I also went into it. It is a splendid building and them pictures that were hung up there you and Mrs. Shaw would admire them and the park in front—the best that I ever saw.
But Washington is a nasty city. I was disappointed. There is no order about the streets and they throw all the slops right in the streets and muddy too and they are not paved and not much business done there as I expected to see. I had my miniature taken while there. If you do not like it, you can put it out of sight and look at my old one. [Elisha] Faxon Shaw was with me. He had his taken in full but I thought you would be better pleased to have only my head and shoulders and not show more of my military suit. They say it is a good one but I am a little thin in flesh now. Well you know that the original is rather homely. You could not expect a good looking one.
Well Mrs. Shaw, I have got to go out at roll call now. Good night.
Thursday morning. I will send my picture and that will excuse me for not writing any more but I would write more if I had time. But if I did, you would not get it this week. Taking it for granted that you want to see such a pretty picture. God bless you all. My love to you all, — John O. Gay