These letters were written by Merritt L. Pierce (1842-1869), the son of Proctor Pierce (1811-1874) and Huldah Ann Reed (1816-1872) of Morrisonville, Schuyler Falls, Clinton county, New York. Merritt was 22 years old when he enlisted on 31 August 1864 at Troy as a private in Co. L, 1st New York Engineers. His decision to join the Engineers was clearly a last minute decision. Just days earlier he intended to enlist in the Navy but found the lines too long to wait in. Less than a year later, he mustered out of the regiment as an artificer on 30 June 1865 at Richmond, Virginia.
Merritt died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1869 at the age of 28 but not before marrying Mary S. Mead (1845-1922).
Earlier in the war the 1st New York Engineers were used primarily building breastworks but by late 1864 and 1865 they were attached to Gen. Butler’s Army of the James and performed other tasks such as building corduroy roads, dredging the Dutch Gap Canal, building pontoon bridges, &c.
[Note: After publishing three of Merritt’s letters, I was contacted by Carolyn Cockrell who informed me that Merritt was her maternal 2nd great-grandfather and that she had many more letters to share and a couple of diaries. Those materials (scanned in black & white) are being added to this virtual digital archive over time.]
Morrisonville [New York]
August 18th, 1864
Cousin Ed[gar B. Reed],
I guess you think I am a mean lazy fellow for not writing to you. I will own that I am lazy about writing letters & I am very much ashamed of it too. I most always wait 4 weeks or more unless I sit down and answer them as soon as I receive them. I received your letter some days since [and] was pleased to hear from you & know you were all right, although I was quite certain you would keep yourself all right.
I am well today & I am enjoying myself fine. I helped Geo[rge Pierce] work at his house this a.m. & have been blackberrying this afternoon. I picked about 6 quarts in an hour & a half & then picked some that I do not make any account of because they have gone where all good things go to. I ate enough so that my stomach did not growl for more. I’ll warrant you had better hurry home & take your share of the good things while they are going.
There is not much news to write this time. The girls are all right but very lonesome on the account of your absence, so I think you had better hurry home & not be the cause of so much distress. We have fine times boat riding this summer. Every Saturday night we meet at Morrisonville & take a boat ride. We have gay times you might as well believe. They talk of having a Sunday School celebration next week on Wednesday. We think of taking a boat ride on Lake Champlain. It is not decided at what place we shall go, but it will be in some grove on the lake shore, so you had better hurry home & enjoy the good things while they are going. There is going to be a camp meeting week after next & one the next week after. One is to be held at West Chazy & the other just above Keeseville.
Well Ed, what do you think of the draft? I think the old fellow has made a loud call & I don’t know but it is time I was doing something for Uncle Sam to help him out of his difficulty. I think every able man should be at his post. I think I shall, for one. There is a chance to enlist in the Navy now & I think I shall enlist there. Silas Moore & Elvin [Moore], Joseph Canfield & Will Beckwith 1 say they will enlist if I will. Our town quota is 33; 14 have enlisted. I think we shall have a draft in spite of all we can do & I don’t care much if they do—the quicker the better.
Well, I must close for it is getting late. Write soon or hurry home. Yours Truly, — Merritt
1 Will Beckwith was the brother of Lucius Reed’s wife.
New York [City]
August 27th, 1864
I am well & doing well—though perhaps you might think I was not doing as well as I would be at home, but I am satisfied with my lot so far. I have not enlisted yet but expect to tomorrow. We arrived here Friday p.m. 4 o’clock [and] went directly to the office of the marshal to get our papers made out & enlist but could not as there were some two hundred ahead of us. So we just looked up a stopping place (which is the Erie Hotel) & took supper. [James] Mattocks then left us & went to his brother-in-law’s in Brooklyn. We saw nothing of him until next day when we met him on Broadway.
Will [Beckwith] & I called on D. Herrick & Bellina Buck. 1 They were much pleased to see us & would have invited [us] to their homes if their families had been there. They were in the country visiting. Billina says he is acquainted with the commanding officer of the receiving ship & will fix our matter all right. Mr. Herrick introduced us to a Mr. Gilbert who gave us much information in regard to enlisting & also our duties in the navy. Mr. Gilbert has a son in the navy. He enlisted only a few days ago & without his father’s leave. He is only 18 years old. Mr. G. says he shall try & get him out & give him a chance to enlist for more bounty. Mr. Gilbert is a member of the Baptist Church & has been deacon so of course we think the information we get is reliable.
Will & I have been thinking of taking a trip to Australia or California, but I think it not for the best. I saw 2 bars of silver which arrived here day before yesterday from Australia which was worth two thousand dollars.
I wish I had time to write & tell you what I have seen since I came to this city & I have not seen half of it yet. If I had had more money, I should have seen more of it, but I have to be sparing as I do not know for certain as I can get through tomorrow. We get the U.S. bounty which is one hundred. We get 33 down [and] the rest within the year. Father will get my bounty at Plattsburgh when the papers reach there.
I did not see Eddy [Reed] at Poughkeepsie but sent the letter Uncle Lucius [Reed] sent by me to the college, but I was certain he had gone home. I went to church this a.m. & shall go again this evening. I did not attend a Baptist church as it was too far to walk.
You can tell Mr. Emery [that] Almond is all right & doing well. He borrowed some money of the doctor [Mattocks] which he will pay as soon as he gets his bounty. He thinks New York the largest city he ever saw. He says tell his folks not to worry about him. Tell Eddy he had not better enlist yet—wait and see how we like it.
Give my respects to all who inquire. I cannot tell you where to direct a letter yet but will write soon. Excuse mistakes & poor writing as I have written in a hurry. This from your son, — Merritt
1 Bellina Buck was born 1824/25 in Troy and died 4 Mar 1872. In 1860 he lived in 3rd district 8th ward of New York and worked as a postal clerk. Residence in 1857 was 26 King St; 1868, 79 Morton St in Brooklyn. 1850 census and 1870 census list occupations as railroad conductor and liquor store respectively. His death record lists his occupation as a salesman. He was married in August 1850 to Sarah Jane Derry in NYC. He is listed among the members of Lodge 523, Masons. His name is also spelled Belina, Bellini, and Bellina. [Source: Chuck Cockrell]
A letter from 1846 penned by Merritt’s father, Proctor Pierce, informs us that Bellina Buck was a descendant of Proctor’s “Uncle Buck” who lived 60 miles southwest of Chicago at that time. The letter is archived in the Clinton County Historical Association and reads as follows:
October 15, 1846
My dear Wife,
Six weeks have now passed since I left home and I have traveled three thousand miles. I have visited all the cities and towns on the way and am now in the city of Chicago. Uncle Timothy is keeping the Vermont Temperance House. Tomorrow I intend leaving town for the purpose of visiting Uncle Buck, living about sixty miles southwest.
Now I have a word to say to the boys. Tell George to be a good boy and mind his grandpa and grandma and likewise Merritt. I have not yet concluded to return home this fall. My money is going some and as business is brisk and wages high, I shall probably go to work and earn more. I think the best business in these parts is doctoring and preaching funeral sermons. This is a beautiful country—the face of it consists of vast prairies, some of them twenty miles square, destitute almost of trees but possessing a soil the most fertile that can be found in the Union. They are, however, tilled very poorly and consequently in a great many instances no more than two-thirds of a crop is yielded. Then the tillers consider they have an abundant harvest. The method which they pursue in breaking up the prairies is as follows: They have a tremendous plough of about twelve feet in length with a land side (board) four feet and a mold board having a regulating wheel. It can go into the ground but about two inches, but it turns over a furrow of from 18 to 22 inches in width. On this sod they go along with a hoe, give it a little hack, and put in the corn, kick a little dust over it, and leave it till husking. The weeds often get ahead of the corn and sometimes in the fall they are much the higher.
They pursue much the same barbarous method with their wheat, but as the soil is rich, it springs up thick and smothers the weeds. The fact of it is the farmers, before they came here, were puffed up with the idea that things would grow on the prairies without much labour and they have not labored much accordingly, but I think they will come to that in a little while. There are perhaps five hundred loads of wheat coming in daily on an average and among all the farmers who bring them in, it is rare to see a respectable looking man. They look more like Arabs. Some of these have built tolerably fair houses, but the most of them live in log cabins through the sides of which you can see the stars. Their living is pretty uniform, consisting of potatoes, bacon, johnny cake, milk and sometimes coffee. Very often you will find in the log cabins (if you drop in at night) two or three dogs, a flock of ducks, sometimes a pet pig. I lodged in one of them and was surprised in the night to hear a dozen biddies crowing in the loft.
I come now to speak of the dress. This by no means consists of broadcloth and silk, but of the coarsest homespun. The Norwegians are coming in by the hundreds and farming large settlements. Many of the people in this region are moving still farther West, some of them going even beyond the Mississippi and a few to the Rocky Mountains. The country between this and the Mississippi in a northwesterly direction is made up of prairies and a few groves. The land along the Mississippi is very hilly and the climate very unhealthy. There is a town within four miles of it on the edge of Wisconsin with only one house inhabited. The rest are deserted on account of sickness. It is the town of Parish. The fact is, sickness has raged over the country to a great extent and the great mass of people present a sickly appearance. You will meet people in the streets and in the country in great numbers who look almost like corpses so pale and thin are they. A man who presents a healthy appearance here is soon noticed by the pale-faced, ague-shaken, fever-scorched natives, and marked as one who will soon be a victim to the climate.
I must now conclude, although the half is not told. I will reserve the rest for the next letter. With this I remain your affectionate husband, — Proctor Pierce
Troy, New York
August 31st 1864
I am in Troy at present but expect to leave here tonight for New York. We have enlisted for the town of Argyle, Washington County. We get 800 dollars down besides the U.S. bounty which is 100 dollars. We enlist[ed] in the Engineer Corps, Co. I where Saff[ord Taylor] is. Billina introduced us to the gentlemen from that town as honest, upright men, men of his acquaintance. We thought it the best thing we could do. I understand the draft is put off but it does not make any difference with us—we are bound to enlist. Almon [Emory] has enlisted with us. We could have got him a place to work if he wished to do so but he preferred to go with us. We shall deposit our money in the 2nd National Bank Plattsburgh. You will do the best you can with it. We shall send our clothes by express to Plattsburgh. William [Beckwith] & I are at Edgar’s store. Shall take dinner with him today. I am well & enjoying myself first rate—better than I shall when get to fighting I presume. Please not to borrow any trouble about me. I will write again soon. From, — Merritt
Hart Island [New York]
September 4th, 1864
I am well & doing well—like soldiering very well so far. It rains today & I should be lonesome if there was not plenty of company. There has been a perfect rush since I have been here. There was fifteen hundred left here yesterday for New Orleans. They were substitutes. I saw that little butcher from Plattsburgh—the one we had so much deal with. He went with the subs. There was 8 hundred arrived here last night.
I wrote you a letter while in Troy stating what my intentions were. We mustered into service that same day (Wednesday). Edgar [Reed] got a release for us & we stopped with him all night. We reported next morning at 10 o’clock, stopped there (marshal’s office) the rest of the day & night. Took cars next morning for New York, arrived there at one o’clock. Took boat for Hart Island at 5, arrived there at half past 6. There was 130 of us soldiers on board the boat. We was marched from the wharf to the barracks which is only a short distance. There we answered to our names as they were called. Then we marched to the department of Co. A where we stayed all night.
Next morning we were routed at 5 o’clock and marched around to the surgeon’s office & vaccinated. Then went to breakfast. Then marched to quarters [of] Co I where we are now. I do not know how long we shall stay here. I hope not long. I am anxious to get to my regiment and company. There is two hundred going to leave today. I did not learn where they were going.
I have enjoyed myself first rate since I came here. Have had no duty to do since I came here. I went in swimming yesterday in Long Island Sound. I enjoyed it gay. We bore inspection this morning. No fault found with me.
Will [Beckwith] & I are sitting on our bunk leaning on our knapsack with a board on our knees (guess what we are doing). Almon [Emory] is lying in his bunk eating cheese. He is enjoying himself first rate. He says tell his folks he is all right. He has not been sick a minute. Neither has Will or I.
I wish you could look in here a minute if it would not make you nervous. Some are writing. Some are playing cards. Some reading, playing flute & some making all the noise they can. I notice a good number reading their testaments. There are some very hard boys here & some very good. I think they are as good looking a set of men as I ever saw.
Hart Isle is 25 miles from New York between Long Isle and Connecticut and a very pleasant place. I expect to work tomorrow. I don’t know [what] it will be but digging dirt & hauling it, I guess. I don’t feel bad about it as [I] want something to do. Well, I don’t know as I have anything more to write this time. I should like to have you write soon as I don’t know how long I shall stay here. I had the marshal send my money by express to Plattsburgh. Write soon & oblige. From your son, — Merritt
P. S. I have seen nothing of Eddy. I would advise him not to enlist. He is not strong enough.
Direct [to] Hart Island, N. Y.
Hart Island [New York]
September 9th 1864
I am well & think I am doing well. Have not worked an hour since I left home. Edgar [Reed] arrived here last Tuesday night. He came in company with some 300 men. He had to sleep on the barrack’s floor the first night. Since that, he has bunked with Will & I. I never saw a fellow more pleased than Ed was when he found us & I must confess I was pleased too.
We are having gay times here—have nothing to do but visit, sing, go in swimming, play, & eat our grub which is nothing extra. We have bread & coffee for breakfast. For dinner we have bread, beef soup with some beans in it, sometimes rice. We have the same for supper. We call for plum pudding & pie but it don’t come. I don’t buy but very little of the sutlers. They ask such prices for their trash. Many of the soldiers pay out more than their wages every day to the sutlers. They ask 75 cents per pound for butter & everything else in proportion. I have not tasted butter since I left Troy & I don’t mean to while I am here.
We expected to leave here yesterday morning but was disappointed. We don’t know the reason, but I think we shall go this afternoon or tomorrow. We are detailed at Ft. Schuyler. Billina says we shall stay there until our time is out. It was through his influence that we got detailed. Billina is a big bug among the officers. He has been here twice since I have been here. The last time he came here he stayed all night with the officers. I saw him twice. He said if things did not go right, just let him know and he would make it right. So, you can see we are not without friends. Billina is acquainted with Gen. Dix and many other officers. Edgar says he is a free mason of high degree & that is what tells the story.
If we are detailed at Ft. Schuyler, we can get a furlough to go home once in the course of the year & we can go to New York quite often. I should just as soon go to our corps as far as I am concerned but I thought you would much rather I would stay here as I should be in no more danger than I would be at home. I received those things you sent by Eddy—was much pleased to hear from you. You no need to have sent the Bible. Eddy has one & that would be sufficient for us all. Our packs are heavy enough without carrying anything unnecessary, but if we stop at the fort, we shall not have to carry knapsacks. They have Testaments to give away at the post office so that all who want them can have them.
Edgar is sitting by my side. He says tell them I am all right & enjoying myself first rate. Will [is] the same. Almon does not like to have us leave him, but I don’t think we can keep him with us. I cannot give him a very good recommend[ation]. He is very wild & reckless, plays cards & gambles. He has lost some of his money in betting. I have talked to him as well as I know how but it does no good. It is good thing that he sent his money home.
I had a little bad luck last night. I lost my diary with 6 dollars in it. No great loss but it was all I had. I am all right. Billina says when you want anything just call on me. He offered to lend me some money, but I expect to receive the one third of my U.S. bounty in a day or two. Please excuse mistakes for there is so much confusion here I can hardly hear myself think. There was 400 men arrived here tonight, 600 last night. Our barracks floor was covered with men last night & so it will be tonight.
No more, from your son, — Merritt
Camp near Petersburg [Virginia]
September 19th 
I left Hart Isle rather unexpected. We were called up the next day after you left Hart Isle & signed the payroll, received our pay & the next morning were shipped on board a transport bound for City Point. From there we were sent to Bermuda Hundred, from there back to City Point & from there to the front of Petersburg where we are now.
I should have liked to have stopped at Ft. Schuyler for the reason that my parents would have felt more at ease concerning me, but as for myself I am well suited where I now am & so are the other boys. We are having easy times, fare much better than we did at Hart Isle. We thank you for the interest you took in our welfare while there & shall ever remember your kindness towards us.
I would like to know if you have received that money I borrowed of you. I have not heard from home since I left there, consequently I do not know whether they have received the letters I sent them or not. I have written home since I came here & shall receive an answer soon.
Our camp is only one mile & a half from Petersburg. We can see the steeples from here quite plain. The trees about our camp are marked with minié and cannon balls which looks to me as if there had been some fighting here. I think the engineer service the best branch of service in the army. We have no picket duty to do, we are always protected by infantry, we have good tents to sleep in & much better rations than infantry. We have potatoes, onions, soft bread, beef, salt or fresh pork, hard tack, & whiskey twice a day (that is if we want it). The regiment are in good health excepting one or two. As for me, I never enjoyed better health in my life.
Edgar & William send their best respects to you & I the same. I shall be glad to hear from you soon, yours truly etc., — Merritt Pierce
Direct [to] 1st NY Engineers Co. L, 10th Army Corps, Va.
Camp six miles from Richmond [Virginia]
October 3rd, 1864
I received a letter from you a few days ago. Should have answered it before if I could. I was much pleased to hear from you. It seemed to me as if I never should hear from home again. Edgar was almost beside himself. I am well and doing well, still. My health is as good as need be—much better than it was at home. Edgar & Will have been some unwell, but they are better now & are here with the regiment.
The work we have to do is not hard or I might say we make easy work of whatever we have to do. We are at work today on a breastwork. Will & I have been splitting stakes & sharpening them. Ed has carried a few rails into the work—just enough to say he has done something. I think Ed is going to stand it first rate. He will get tough as bear in a short time.
I know I could not stand the exposure at home that I do here without taking cold. I have seen what you would call hard times since I left camp near Petersburg. Ed & Will stopped at headquarters of the regiment as they were unwell, but I went on with the regiment.
We marched nearly all night then stopped for a short time to rest, eat breakfast, then crossed the James River & marched about 2 miles & a half further to a fort which had been taken by our troops that morning. I got there just in time to see the Rebs skedaddle. I saw hard sights while there that morning, I can tell you. I saw what I hope I shall never see again. I have read of the horrors of war but never could realize what it was.
I was in no danger until about 9 o’clock in the afternoon when the Reb gunboats opened on us a perfect storm. We retreated back a short distance out of range of them. We stopped there a short time, then marched into a field & camped for night. It rained that night & the next day quite hard & I had nothing but my rubber blanket with me. A young fellow in our company & I found an old bed tick which we made a tent of. We then split some rails & laid the soft side up for a bed, then spread our rubber over us & took our rest.
Well, I must stop for it is time to go to work. You will excuse mistakes, poor writing & dirty paper, etc. for I am sitting on a pile of rails with my tin plate to write upon. Why did you not write about my bounty? You did not say whether you had received it or not. I want you should send me some cayenne pepper in the next letter you write. I want a small quantity to put in my whiskey. Ed & Will wish for some too. You can send a little at a time in your letters.
I don’t want you should borrow any trouble about me at all. I feel safe—perfectly safe—for I have a Friend that will never forsake me while I trust in Him & my trust is in Him. There is not one tenth the danger here there is in the infantry.
Goodbye. Write soon & oblige. From your son, — Merritt
Camp near Chaffin’s Bluff
October 9th 
I received a letter from you a few days ago. Was much pleased to hear from you. I should have written before but Edgar had just wrote home & I knew you would hear from me. I am well today & am enjoying myself first rate. I had to drill a short time this morning & expect to drill again this afternoon. We have easy times yet but I expect to see some hard times before this fall campaign is over.
I think this fall will wind up rebellion in Virginia, if not though the South. The Johnnie’s are deserting all the time. There was 6 deserted last night from a reb gunboat into our lines. They said they were sick of fighting for no pay at all. Besides they had poor clothes & poor feed. I have seen many Johnnies after they had been taken prisoners. Some of them were quite well dressed & some of them had not enough to cover them.
Edgar wrote in his letter that our right flank had been turned & we were ordered to retreat. Well, it was a mistake about the Rebs flanking us. They tried it hard but were repulsed, drove 9 miles & lost 500 of their men which we took prisoners. We retreated a short distance from where we were & camped. We still remain in the same place. It is a very good place for a camp. It is on dry ground & good water not a great way off. There is a strip of woods on the north & west side of us which breaks the wind off very much. We are about one mile & a half from [the] James River.
I presume you will read about the battle at Chaffin’s Bluff & the taking of Ft. Harrison. I was there in less than an hour after it was taken & saw some of the fighting. I worked on the fort the night after it was taken in the morning.
Well, who do you think I saw here the other day. Doc Mattocks [and] Mr. Wood from Chazy & Mr. Bowen of Saranac. I was glad to see them. You might as well believe Doc M. & Mr. Wood slept in my tent the night they were here. Ed & I sent 40 dollars by him home. He will let Uncle Lucius [Reed] have it & you will get 20 dollars of Uncle L. when Mattocks gets home. William is getting better. He has been quite sick. Hiram Ketchum was very sick but is some better now. He has gone to the hospital. I rather you would not tell Mrs. Beckwith’s folks about it for it would only make them feel bad & they could not do them a bit of good.
Edgar stands it well, but I am afraid for him sometimes. He is so light & small. I think if he can get detailed at Ft. Schuyler, he had better go. He just received a paper from home. They wrote a few lines to him in the paper & ask[ed] if he would go to Ft. Schuyler if they (Billina) could get the chance. He don’t know what to do about it. I advise him to go by all means.
I am very well suited here but I begin to feel the confinement some. I have enough to eat—such as it is. I have what you would [call] hard feed but I grow fat every day. I am as fleshy as I ever was. You would scarcely know me. I have let my whiskers grow all over my face. Orderly says fall in for drill. I’ll finish when I get through. If you could only see me sometime when I am right dirty you would think me a Nig sure.
I was surprised to hear about Albert Shaw’s taking what did not belong to him. Don’t believe it. Tell [my brother] Frank I got his letter & it was just the best thing I have seen for a long while. I was glad to hear he was helping Father. Tell him to keep on doing so. I don’t want Father to sell my colt for less than 125 unless he think it for the best. I want you to keep my letters at home. I have no good pen & no good place to write. Am writing on a newspaper. Almon well.
Write soon. Your son, — Merritt
Camp near Chapin’s Bluff, [Virginia]
October 15, 1864
I received a letter from you last night. Was glad to hear from you. I wrote you a letter day before yesterday but as I have received a letter & Ed is going to write, I thought I would write you a few lines. I was on guard when Will brought me the letter. It was about 9 o’clock. I was walking my beat when Will came up and said, “Here is a letter for you.” I said to him, “All right, I am glad, but where is your letter?” “Haven’t got any & it’s too bad,” said he, [adding,] “Should write & tell them if they cannot write more often, they need not write at all.” He felt quite bad. I sat down by a fire which was on my beat & read my letter aloud to him. It seemed to revive his spirits & make him feel quite well.
I was on guard yesterday for the first time [when] Ed & myself were together. He walked one beat & I another. We met on the corner as often as we chose. We would stop and talk a few minutes and then go on. It is not hard to do guard duty if it is pleasant & last night was a beautiful night. There was not a cloud to be seen & the moon shone bright. We are relieved once after we have been on two hours. We are on two hours and off 4. That makes us go 8 out of 24 that we are on duty. Then we have the next 24 hours to ourselves. But we expect to be detailed out tonight as there is a great amount of work to do. But perhaps we shall not. I hope not for I like to take my ease as well as any fellow.
I saw Will Bibwell today. He came into our camp & stayed about an hour. He is in a hospital about two miles and a half from here. He had been up to his regiment & was on his way back. He looks healthy. Says he enjoys good health. Will Beckwith & Alman [Emery] are on guard today. John Hunter is at work to the front today. I see him every day. Sometimes I am at work with him. His tent is about 4 rods from mine.
We are having first rate times now. The weather still holds dry which makes it very pleasant. We expect to see Richmond this fall. Our boys are just driving the Johnnies every time. Day before yesterday we took two forts, two line of works, & 500 prisoners. Three hundred passed here. The Johnnies are deserting all the time. Three passed through our camp yesterday. They are fine-looking fellows.
Well, guess I’ll stop & take a snooze so as to be in readiness for an emergency. I think I am writing too often. It won’t be any variment at all if I don’t quit it. I am well. So are the other boys. I think my money is safe where it is but how long did Father let it for & what interest doe he get? I sent 20 dollars by Mattocks home. You will get it of Uncle Lucius [Reed]. All send their respects to you. This from your son, — Merritt
Write as often as convenient.
Camp near Chaffin’s Bluff
October 19th 
I have received no answer from my last letter yet but expect to soon. I received two papers night before last—was pleased to get them. I am well this morning & in good spirits. Ed has gone out to the front to work today (he is in no danger). Will is at work cleaning out the streets. He is working like a good fellow. He is only about 2 rods from me now.
The streets are not like Beckwith & Mason Streets. They are about 12 rods long & 2 rods wide. The tents are built on a line & quite close together. There are 4 rows of tents which makes 3 streets. Each row is a company. There is only 4 companies here now. They are centered about in one place & then in another just as they are wanted. The headquarters are here now.
Ed, Will, Almon & myself tent together now. We fixed up our tent yesterday so that it is quite comfortable. Each of us draw one piece of tent cloth. We button them together & stretch them over a pole which is placed in two crotches. This makes a tent 4 ½ feet high, nearly 6 feet wide at the bottom & 10 feet long. I fixed Ed & myself a bunk yesterday out of some old boards which I took from a house lately vacated by the Rebs. The boards were about the right length to lay cross ways in the tent. So I took the boards & laid them in the tent, raising them up from the ground about 5 inches. Then I got some pine boughs & dry leaves [and] placed them upon it. Then I spread one rubber blanket over the bunk. At night we spread one blanket over the rubber. Then we have one blanket & rubber to spread over us. The rubber keeps out the dampness. We usually put on our overcoats to sleep in. I have slept warm every night since I have been with the regiment excepting one night & then it was impossible for I had nothing with me but my rubber. We were on light marching order. Ed & Will were not with us then—lucky for them that they were not. I stood it first rate.
I have been well since I left home & I am very thankful for it too. I have not missed a single roll call since I joined the regiment.
The boys that joined companies south left here day before yesterday. I had the privilege to join Company I or any other I chose but I prefer this company & this place for all South Carolina. I should like to see Saff[ord Taylor] but I am afraid of the climate. Those in the regiment that have been there say they would not go there on any account. Will B[eckwith] was quite a mind to go & I don’t know but he would if Hiram Ketchum had been well. Hiram is sick in the hospital. I think he will stay with us when he comes back.
We have got the best orderly sergeant in the regiment. His name is Charles Webber but he don’t look nor appear like Steve Webber’s son Charles. Our orderly is pleasant, agreeable, & obliging. He thinks everything of his company & his company thinks everything of him. He has served two years in the army as private.
We have a fine colonel. Smart as steel. He don’t let his men go into danger if he knows it. His name is [Edward W.] Sorrell [or Serrell].
Well, I will stop & eat my dinner. Then I’ll finish this letter.
I have just finished my frugal meal of beans & hard tack & I feel a little better. It is quite pleasant today—wind west, some clouds, about such weather as we have north the first of September. It holds dry yet—roads good. Fine time to march. There was a charge this morning out at the front but it is still now. We expect a battle soon. A good many think we shall have winter quarters in Richmond this winter, but I guess not.
Well, I must close for now. I want you to write often & write all the news. The papers are a great deal of company for us. We look for letters every night or papers. We get our share or at least the boys think so. I want a pair of knit gloves to handle my gun with. I think you can send them one at a time in a paper. Will & Ed want a pair, no particular hurry. I want a fine comb—so does Ed & Will. We want to keep the animals off our heads. The recruits brought some here with them, consequently left a few here. We don’t want our shirts, butter, etc. until we get into winter quarters. I have signed for a blouse & a pair of boots. Will get them next month. Sold my boots for one dollar. They were good for nothing in the mud.
I can’t write all I want to in this. — Merritt
I thought when I began to write that I should not write one sheet full but somehow when I get to writing I don’t know when to stop. I was speaking about the recruits bringing lice here. Well, they stopped some time at City Point & those animals are plenty there. I mean to keep clear of them if I can.
I saw [An]twine Martino yesterday. He was here in camp most all the p.m. He came out to get some things at the sutlers which is a short distance from here. He knew me at first sight. [He] was glad to see us. The 118th is about two miles from here. Almon [Emery] & a fellow by the name of [Alfred J.] Hewitt has gone over there this afternoon. This Hewitt is relation to the Hewitts in Peru. He is from St. Lawrence County [and] is a fine fellow too. He is in our company.
I can hear our gun boats bang away once in a while which makes me think that war is going on. The news is that [Philip] Sheridan has gained another victory. It seems to me that rebellion must go down & go so low that it won’t come up again.
I put in a vote for Old Abe the other day. I thought it was my duty to do so. I could not vote for McClellan on the Chicago platform. I could not vote for a man that the Rebs would cheer for they have done it & say if he is elected, they will have their rights & I don’t know what rights they want unless it is secession. They have had every other right offered them. Enough of this.
How are you getting along? Is Frank [Pierce] helping Father still? Tell him to keep the rifle in good trim for we shall want to take a hunt next fall.
It seems as if it were only a day since I left home. Time passes very rapidly in the army. [I] only think I have been in the U.S. service one month & a half. Ten months & a half more & my time is out. That is if my life is spared. Death is certain no matter where we are—at home or abroad. We cannot escape it. My prayer is may I be prepared to meet it. It is not all of life to live nor all of death to die. If we live as we should, death will be a welcome visitor. Oh, what a pleasure to leave this sin cursed world & enjoy the presence of that Savior who died for us. I know it is natural for us to cling to life, but I ask where is the enjoyment? We look forward & expect to find something that will satisfy, something that will give us true enjoyment, but does it ever come, unless we trust in Jesus? In Him dwelleth all fullness. What more can we ask than to dwell with Him. He can satisfy. None other can.
I see a great deal of wickedness in camp—more that I expected. It is [a] hard place for a young person. Edgar [Reed] is getting to [be] quite a different boy. He reads his Bible often & appears very thoughtful. The letters he gets from home are having an influence on him. He does not associate much with the other boys—especially those that are vulgar. Edgar & I sleep together & are together most of the time. Tell his folks not to worry about him. It is my opinion that the climate will agree with him. He don’t look like the same boy he did when I saw him on Hart Isle. He is quite fleshy for him, has a good complexion, & feels first rate.
Will [Beckwith] is sick or terrible well all the time. He tells of every bad feeling he has & every good one. He will tell you he feels bully & then in ten minutes he will tell you he feels very mean & so it goes all the time. Ed calls him the old man; he is so notional.
Well, I must stop, or I never shall get through. All send their respects to you. I write with a lead pencil because I have no pen & ink. Ed’s ink is most gone & we want to save it to write on envelopes. If you can read this, I will write with a pencil. If you can’t, I will write after this with ink.
Accept much love from your son, — Merritt Pierce
Camp on Chaffin’s Farm
October 25th 
Yours of October 18th was received last night. I also received a paper night before last with a fine comb in it. Also, a letter 2 days before I received the paper. I was very glad to hear from you & hear you were well, but I was sorry to hear you were so troubled about me. Now for pity sake, don’t borrow any more trouble about me. It is time enough when trouble comes to feel bad. I had rather go through one fight than to hear of your feeling as bad as I think you did when you wrote last. If you must feel bad, don’t write to me about it.
You ask what it means for me to be handling a gun. Well, it means just this: that we must have something to defend ourselves with in case the Rebs should cut off our retreat & then again there must be a guard kept. There are 9 men on guard constantly & of course they must know how to use them properly. I have been on guard 3 times since I joined the regiment. I was on guard yesterday. We go on at eight in the morning & come off at eight next morning. I was on first relief, no. 3, that is, I took my post in front of the guard house at eight, walked my beat two hours. Then I am relieved four hours. The four hours I have to myself, but I must remain near the guard house. Today I have to myself. So, on the whole, I don’t think it very hard to be on guard. I got about 4 hours sleep last night. I slept on the ground with nothing over me. I spread my rubber down by the side of the guard house & near a small fire. Then I put on my overcoat & lay down without a sign of a covering over me & took a fine snooze.
Now don’t borrow any trouble. I don’t know why it is, but I can stand as much again exposure & not take cold here as I could while at home. I think I am getting tough as a bear. I wish you could see me just as I am now. I think you would open your eyes & say “I want to know if this is you.” But you can imagine how I look in my suit of blue, my face all covered with whiskers so can scarcely see my eyes. I am full as fleshy as I ever was. Think I would weigh over 150.
Eddy don’t much as he did when I saw him on Hart Isle. He is quite fleshy for him & he looks quite like a French boy I think. I don’t suppose he would thank me for the compliment as he has got to Lieutenant’s Clerk (company clerk). He will be with us all the same & it will be much easier for him to remain as he was for it will clear him from camp duty.
Will is still on the sick list. I think he must be homesick for he has a great deal to say about home & the good things he used to have. He told me this morning that he felt pretty well & guessed he would not go to the doctor but the first chance he had he started for the doc tent. By going before the doctor, he gets put on light duty which is much easier than to go to the front or work on the road. When a person gets put on light duty they work about camp—clean the streets, scour rusty guns, fetch wood for the guard, etc.
John Hunter has been sick for few days past but is better now. He was on light a day or two, but he goes to work with the rest of the company now. You wished me to speak of J. Hunter in my letters. I will write a few words about him every time I write.
Will received a letter from Hiram Ketchum last night. He is still sick in the hospital. His disease is pleurisy. He was some better when he wrote but was very weak.
Well, I don’t know as I have anything more to write this time. I am some tired & quite sleepy so you must excuse mistakes. I notice them after I get through but then it is too late to correct them. I thank cousin Clelu for the compliment she gave me in regard to letter writing, however I don’t feel vain about it.
Tuesday night. I have just received a paper from you with two cakes of sugar. I divided one of them with the boys & the other I shall keep for future use. Ed has got two letters & a paper. Will has also got a letter. The boys feel gay. Almon looks quite sober & says he don’t see why his folks don’t write. Ed is almost frantic with joy. He says “got a letter from Grandpa too.” Allow me to be judge & I should say that he was perfectly happy.
We have not received the medicine yet, likely we shall soon. You need not send me anything until I send you word. We may remain here 4 weeks & perhaps not 2 days but likely we shall stay here some time.
The weather is fine here—have not had any rain to speak of in two weeks. The nights are rather cold, but the days are as warm as September. Well, I must close for it is about time for roll call. Please write soon. This from your son, — Merritt
Camp on Chaffin’s Farm
October 30th 
I received your letter of October 23rd yesterday. Last night I received 2 papers with those meats that Frank [Pierce] sent me. Tell him that I am very much obliged to him. I receive all the letters & papers that you send & they are not molested either. Ed received a pocket handkerchief in his paper yesterday. He was very much pleased with it.
You ask what it means that I am on guard. Every regiment in the army is obliged to keep guard. We are in no danger here at all. We have no picket duty to do whatever & we shall not be put into the ranks either. I see you are bound to borrow trouble & I don’t see as there is any use of my saying anything more to you for you will have you own way.
I am quite well today. Yesterday I had a headache caused by a foul stomach. I have eaten too much fat meat since I came here for my own good, but I don’t like the soup we get here at all but the pork I relish first rate. I seem to require something hearty, but the old soldiers say it will not do to eat much. I think I shall buy some cheese & butter of the sutler. I have bought some & it makes our bread & hard tack go much better. We have bought some condensed milk to put in coffee & I can tell you it is quite an improvement. The sutler charges big prices but I think more of my health than I do of money. Butter is 75 cents per pound; cheese, 50. It is a good article, however. Other things are as high in proportions, but we don’t buy much beside cheese & butter.
Have you sent Billina [Buck] that 20 dollars I borrowed of him? I wrote you while on Hart Isle about it but have received no reply to it. If you have not sent it to him, send it without delay. Has [James] Mattocks got back yet?
I began this letter early this morning, but I had to stop & get ready for inspection, but it did not take me long as my gun & equipment were in good order.
Thomas Kirby 1 came here this afternoon & I had a good visit with him, but the poor fellow has seen hard times. He had just come out of a hard fight—only 3 of his company escaped, the rest were killed or taken prisoner. Lester Moore is taken prisoner. The 96th [New York] regiment are most all taken & a good share of the 118th regiment. I have not time to give you the particulars. You will undoubtedly get the news before this reaches you.
There has been a fight in the direction [of] Petersburg. We have not heard the particulars but there has been a victory won there.
Well, how are you all tonight. Well I hope & enjoying yourselves but I am afraid you are lonesome & are thinking too much of an absent one. It is an assurance most dear to know they miss me at home, but Mother don’t dwell too much on my absence. I wish that I had some of those nice apples & a pie, but I think Will would enjoy the nice things better than myself.
I think we can get along with our fare. It is much better than most regiments get. We expect to go into winter quarters here or at Fort Monroe. I had as soon stay here but a good many of the boys had rather go to Fort Monroe but however, we shall not go into winter quarters just now.
Well, I must close for it is getting late. Please excuse mistakes & poor writing for I have been cramped up with a poor light & poor pen & several persons talking at the same time. So you need not think strange of this poor disconnected letter.
Give my respects to all inquiring friends & accept much love from your son, — Merritt
I don’t like to have you send my letters away especially some of them for I see too many mistakes. I would like to have you send me [brother] George’s gold pen if he does not use it.
1 Thomas Kirby served in the 96th New York Infantry. Three of his letters can be found on-line at the SUNY Plattsburgh Special Collections:
Sunday, Nov 27th, 1864
Yours of Nov 20th was received last night. [I] was pleased to hear from you. The pens were in the letter all right. I also received a paper with the case enclosed.
I am well & am enjoying myself first best. My health is good & I think if I am careful, I shall enjoy the best of health. I am nearly as fleshy as I was before I was sick. My appetite is extra good. I can eat fat pork like an Irishman. We are living first rate now. We have pork, fresh beef, hardtack, soft bread 4 times a week, bean soup, beef soup, coffee, whiskey, etc. (I don’t drink much). We get some things of the commissary on an order. We make out an order of what we want & get the lieutenant to sign it. We can get things in this way much cheaper than we can of the sutler. We can get what we want of the commissary nearly as cheap as we could get them at home. We buy flour, candles (we draw one each week, but we want more), bread, sometimes sugar, etc. We get pepper, salt, vinegar, etc. at the cook house. It costs us nothing but the trouble of getting it. Butter is very high. We pay 45 cents per pound, but it is the first quality—most as good as you make, Mother.
I wish you might step into our cabin some evening & see us fry pancakes. I am chief cook but not bottle washer. I mix up the batter & fry my share, then Ed[gar Reed] & Will [Beckwith] fry theirs. I had rather poor luck once or twice at first frying up the batter but now I get them so they are very nice. I made a short cake this morning & Will said it was bully. Ed did not get up in time to get his share, so I fried him three large pancakes. Ed bought some beef steak this morning & we are going [to] have it for dinner. I am bound not to starve when I can get plenty.
I can live very well & save a part of my wages. The 10 dollars you sent me came safe. I was sorry that I was obliged to send home for money but thought it for the best. You know I lost 6 dollars on Hart Isle. I bought a rubber blanket & overcoat which cost me 4 ½ dollars & sent you 20 dollars, so you can see that I have not used a great deal. Then I lent 5 dollars to a fellow that lost his knapsack & all that was in it. His name is [Alfred J.] Hewitt—a fine fellow he is too. He promised to pay me some time ago but the money that he received from home was state money & would not pass here, so he sent it back & has not heard from it yet. I shall get my pay on payday if not before. The government owes me most 50 dollars or will in a day or two. Well, I must stop & eat my dinner for I feel somewhat hungry.
It took us some time to get dinner & quite a while to eat it. It was three o’clock before we got it ready & then it took about an hour & a half to eat it. [We] then went out in the woods & cut some wood for the night which used up the day. It is now about 7 o’clock. There is a good fire in the fireplace. The light shines all about our cabin, so bright that we can see to read quite plain. I think it is splendid. We brought the brick about one third of a mile to build it with. I hired a mason to build it & it smoked very bad. We stood it a day or two & then I went at it & tore it most all down & built it up to suit me & it goes like a kite. They tell me I beat the mason all out. Besides laying it up so it does not smoke, it is layed up in better shape. I don’t mean to brag any about it, but I do feel a little proud about it.
We have a nice little cupboard to put our dishes on & a table to eat on & write on. Perhaps you would like to know how we come by all these things. I will tell you how I got the boards for the cupboard. I was detailed to draw brick for the officers to make fireplaces from an old house about one mile from camp. When I got my brick loaded, I just took the boards out of the stair way [and] put them in the wagon for my use.
We get a great many things out of the houses that the Rebs have been drove out. We have got a nice little hatchet & two sharp axes in our house. We can keep them as long as we please. The engineers have privileges that infantry don’t. We have shovels, pickaxes, axes, nails, spikes, etc. that we can get to use for our own benefit. I think I hit the nail on the head when I enlisted for the engineer service.
Well, what are you doing & what are you doing & what is the news in the town of S[chuyler Falls]? You wrote me some news in your last letter & it was the best news I have heard for a long while & this is it: that you had been able to go to church. I was very happily surprised to hear of it. If you only could get your health once more I would give ten bounties if I had them. I was glad to hear that Father was better. [I] hope he is entirely well by this time. How is Frank [Pierce]? Tell him I want to hear from him again. I like his letters very much indeed. I would like some more gum. The gum he sent me was beautiful.
Well, guess I had better stop writing on this sheet or you will be bothered to read it. I have just come in from roll call. It is just 8 o’clock now. Guess I’ll write a few lines more.
December 7th 
I received your letter night before last, [and] was much pleased to hear from you. You did not date your letter, but I saw by the envelope that it was mailed Nov 29th. I am well & enjoying myself first rate. It rains today quite hard & looks like a heavy rainstorm. [Cousin] Ed is in the orderly’s tent writing. Will is on guard today. He has a good beat to walk, for when it rains, he can go under cover. He has just come in from off his beat. He has now 4 hours to himself. He is sitting beside me mending his pants. There is a pine-knot in the fireplace burning slowly which makes our tent warm & nice. I imagine if you could look in for a moment you would think we’re seeking comfort by the whole-sale.
I am very glad that I stopped here instead of going to S. C. & I am glad that I came into this regiment for all of any other. John Hunter says he had rather serve in this regiment one year than 3 months in the infantry & I think just so too. My duty is very light at present. Will, John H., [Christopher] Soulia and myself are on the same detail yet. It makes it very pleasant for us to be together. We chop a short time, then sit down & visit a while, sometimes smoke, then go to work. This Soulia that is on the same detail is a Frenchman & yet he is very much of a Yankee. He makes me think of Frank Gadson very much. He has lived with a Mr. Clark for 14 years. Mr. Clark lives in the west part of Peru. I have heard Father speak of the Clarks often—those men that keep so many sheep. Well, I must stop & get my dinner.
I have been to dinner & have made John H. a good visit & certainly I feel better. John Hunter is well & is enjoying himself first rate. We have fine times visiting back & forth. His tent is about 8 rods from mine on the same side of the street.
There are a great many troops massing in here now. We think there is going to be a move before long if the roads don’t get too bad, though it is rather late to do much in Virginia. The officers are making all preparations for winter quarters here. Today they have several men on detail digging a well. There is a fine spring of water about one third of a mile from here, but it is too far to go in bad weather. There is a regiment of cavalry encamped about 15 rods from here. There is a splendid band of music attached to it & I enjoy it very much. They play for an hour at a time. Last night they played beautifully. Will and Ed are trying to sing & I declare the music don’t charm me a bit. Will makes a noise like a chipmunk & Ed like a drone-bee so you may imagine the beautiful chords.
Ed says I must stop & shave him. I tell him he must give his face a good soaking or I can’t shave him. Well, I have taken Ed’s very coarse beard off & I think he looks quite like a gentleman. Ed has just received a letter from home. Its date is Dec. 3rd. I expect that a box of things will be along soon. Now don’t send all the good things you have for we don’t need them. We are living very well for soldiers. I think we live the best of anyone in our company & it don’t cost us one half as much as it does them for candy & the like that they buy at the Sutlers. We don’t buy anything except butter apples, sweet potato, &c., & we buy sparingly of these things.
Well, how do you do tonight? I would like to make you a visit & tell you what I have seen in Old Virginia, but I expect to see much more than I have seen yet & when I get home, I will tell you all about my travels & escapes if I am spared to do so. I was glad to hear that Father was better. Tell him to be careful & not work any. I think he is able to live without work. He can do chores when he feels like it, but he must not try to work. Tell Frank I eat the gum he sends & it is very nice. You ask me if [I] would like a night cap. I thank you very much. I think I can get along without. If I ever get to be an old woman, I’ll have one made. Now mother I want you to be careful & not overdo & get sick. I am afraid you borrow trouble about me & you must not. It will not do. I wrote a letter to George & Em last Sabbath & presume you will see the letter. Well, I must close. Write often & write all the news. Tell me all that is going on. My respects to all & much love to you. From your son, — Merritt
December 18th, 1864
Yours of December 11th was receive night before last. [I] received one from [brother] George too. I was very glad to hear from you all. George wrote me a good long letter. He gave me lots of information & it was just the kind I wanted to hear. Tell him to write another just like it (only not exactly like it) & I shall be much obliged to him. It does a fellow good to hear all that is going on. Things which seem but trifling to you are very interesting to me. I received a letter a few days ago from you. I will answer both of them now.
I am quite well & am enjoying myself first rate, but I declare I think if I was at home I could [be] enjoying myself better or full as well certain sure. It is quite warm today—wind northeast & cloudy. Yesterday was a very warm & pleasant day. It seemed more like June than December. We have had two right cold days since we have been here & that is all. They all say (those that have been here) that it has been unusually warm & pleasant.
There are but few details out today. Most of the boys are in camp. Will [Beckwith] is fetching water from the spring for the cooks. Ed[gar Reed] has been writing to someone, I don’t know who. He has just gone to fill up the canteens with water.
Frank Regan is just asleep on his bunk. F.R. is a young man that tents with us. He is not just such a young man as I wish he was, yet on the whole I take him to be a fine fellow. He has been in the infantry service 2 years so he must understand camp life pretty well. He is quite an intelligent person, very much like Nell—only more man-like. He is a good cook—tasty, free-hearted, and always willing to do his part. I would not have taken him in with us but for certain reasons. There were certain persons that wished to come into our tent & I did not like to refuse them and have them in the tent. I would not do it any how & then too we have been getting a good number of recruits & are likely to get more & I knew if we should get many more that we would had have to take one person into our tent for we have four pieces of tent cloth. I think we shall get along first rate together.
I am still on the wood detail. [I] still like it well as ever. I like it because there is no one to oversee us. We work when we choose & sit down when we choose. Some days I don’t chop longer than two hours in the course of the day, but I have to be in the woods from eight until twelve & from half past on until half past four.
Well, the band has begun to play & I can hardly think what to write. I wish Frank [Pierce] could hear them play. I think he would look wild. How is Frank getting along now days? I expect he will be quite a gentleman by next fall. Tell him if he will be a good boy & help Father you will buy him a nice shotgun, one that will kill a partridge 10 rods every time if the Old Daddy holds it right.
Well, I shall expect that box along by the last of this week. We shall have great times over it I expect. I am glad you did not [pack] a great deal of good stuff for I am afraid we should eat too much.
I was very much surprised to hear the news about Joseph Canfield getting married & that George Bradford is going [to] marry Miss Amarilla Canfield. What will happen next, do tell.
Well, I must close my letter for it is getting quite dark. Excuse mistakes. Write often & oblige. Give my respects to all who inquire & accept much love form you son, — Merritt
Sunday evening after roll call. Have been having a fine sing with some of the boys. Two of the fellows here were Methodists & fine young men. Enclosed you will find [a] book for Frank. Frank Regan is writing his name in it. You will find two pieces of stone which were blasted out of Dutch Gap Canal. Frank is drawing a picture of our cabin in the back part of Frank’s little book. The book was given me by the Christian Commission today. Good night.
Camp near Jones’s Landing
January 4th, 
Yours of December 25th was received day before yesterday. It found me well with the exception of a very bad boil & I am not rid of it yet but expect to be in a day or two. I think it is the meanest one I ever had. I have not had the privilege of sitting down this year & I think it a hard case. Well, the mean thing broke last night & I feel 50 percent better today. I think I shall go to work tomorrow. I have not done any duty for 6 days past & two days I lay flat on my back.
My ink is so poor that I can’t use it. I must finish my letter with a pencil.
We are having fine weather here now but rather cold for this place, but it is much warmer than New York weather. I think you have had very cold & rough weather of late. [I] hope it will [be] more pleasant the rest part of the winter.
The box came all right. The shirts are just the thing. They will do good service. Your butter is very nice. I let some of the men have a little just for a taste & they said it was splendid. The mittens are just the fit & just the sort. I would not take 2 dollars for them. I would like a pair of socks but am in no hurry for them. You can send them by mail. The cake is very nice. It is as good if not the best I ever tasted. Tell Mrs. [Harriet Broadwell] Mead I am greatly obliged to her for the sugar she sent me. I am much obliged to Frank [Pierce] for the sugar he sent me. I will try & do him a favor some time. Tell him to help Father all he can & oblige me. I am sorry Father is so troubled about his breath. I wish he might find something to help him.
You wished me a pleasant Christmas & a happy New Year. I thank you very much & wish you many of them. I worked all day Christmas on our tent & New Year’s Day I lay in my bunk for the least exercise put me in much pain. I do not complain of my lot. Many were worse off than myself. I think I have been wonderfully prospered since I have been in the army. I have not had a cold since I have been here & I have been very much exposed many times.
Well, I would like to see you all tonight first rate & have [a] good visit. [I] think we should enjoy it much. I don’t think it will be any damage to me coming down here. I shall know how to prize the privileges of a home & good society.
Well, the boys are raising perfect Cain here tonight. Some are singing, some telling stories, some playing cards, some fifing & drumming & dancing. Will [Beckwith] is trying to write but he says it is hard work. There [is] so much confusion. Mr. [John] Hunter is well & is enjoying himself first rate. He is writing home tonight. Ed[gar Reed] is about somewhere. [I] guess he is in the other tent.
Well, I must close for this time. I will write again soon. Much love to all. Good night. This from your son, — Merritt.
Camp near Jones Landing
February 1st 
Yours of January 22nd was received January 30th (night before last). I received a letter from George [Pierce] today & one from Mark which were very acceptable. I can tell you I think George writes very interesting letters indeed & so do you. You seem to think of everything that is interesting & just what I want to her. I was very glad of the money Frank [Pierce] sent me. It was just what I wanted but I thought more of the letter he wrote than the money. Tell the young gentleman he writes a very, very interesting letter. I can’t say too much in praise of it.
You need not send me much money for we expect to be paid soon. I had one dollar left when I received the money you sent me so I shall be provided for a while yet.
I am quite well except some cold & a sore throat, but I think I shall get over it soon. The White’s Elixir you sent me is just the thing. Will [Beckwith] is well. He is sitting by my side writing a letter home. Ed[gar Reed is] well also & seems to enjoy a soldier’s life first rate. Mr. [John] Hunter is well—just got better of his cold.
I took cold working on the bridge. It is a very bad place to work on the account of taking cold. Most all the men have taken cold since we have been at work there. We are building the draw to the bridge now [and] shall get through in a day or two. I don’t know where we shall go when we leave here, probably not to headquarters though.
We have had some very cold weather since I wrote you, but it is pleasant now. Today has been a splendid day as ever I saw—warm as summer. I think Father would like to live here. It is so much more mild here than it is [in] New York. There has not been two inches of snow here this winter put it all together, but we have had plenty of mud & that is what I hate.
Well, I must close for it will soon be time for taps & then our lights must be put out & all noise cease. If you don’t read the letters I write with a pencil readily, I will write with a pen. You must excuse mistakes for I have written this in a hurry. We had to work til dark tonight. Tell Frank I will write him a letter in particular when he sends me his picture. I shall be much pleased to see him. Well, Mother, I have been in Uncle Sam’s service 5 months yesterday, my time most half out. What do you think of that. I must repeat the same old story. I think the war will end soon.
Much love to you all. Good night. From—Merritt
Camp near Jones Landing
February 10, 
Yours of January 30th was received yesterday. Was glad to hear from you. The 25 cents came all right. I was greatly obliged to you for it. Will try & do you as good a turn sometime. I am well & am enjoying myself as well as possible under my present circumstances. I have been on drill today with some 20 others of the company. We are nearly through with the bridge & I don’t know what we shall do next or where we shall go. There is some talk of building a dock near the bridge. If they do, we shall stay here some time but I hope we shall leave here soon for I don’t like to stay where there is so many together.
Will is well & so is Edgar [Reed]. Mr. [John] Hunter also. I went to meeting last night (near Jones Landing). Heard a good sermon. It made me think of home some. I wish you could hear the colored people talk in meeting. It is very interesting indeed. I went to the meeting in company with a young man by the name of Whitney. He is a very fine young man. He is from St. Lawrence county. He wishes me to go out there & buy a farm near him. I tell him I’ll see about it.
Well, I must tell you that I have quit chewing & smoking tobacco. I found that I was forming a habit that there would be great difficulty in breaking off from & if I should make a practice of using it, it would cost me quite a little pile beside being a damage to my health. It costs me some struggles for I love it dearly. You know it use to make me sick to chew tobacco. Well I can chew it all the time now & it don’t seem to affect me at all.
Well you seem to think my picture looks quite like myself. I am glad you think so for I was afraid you would think that I looked wolfish. I think you are having a cold winter up in New York. Well it will soon be spring & the birds will sing pleasant songs (look on the bright side). Father wishes to know if there are any birds here. There are a few. Plenty of crow & turkey buzzards here.
I saw a boat load of prisoners from Richmond last Sabbath. There were 1100 of them & they looked as if they had not long to stay. They were the most disconsolate looking fellows I ever saw. Some of them dressed in grey; some in blue. All were very ragged. Some of them had their clothes patched with old socks.
I received a letter from Soff last night. He was well. He likes stopping in South Carolina first rate. He says a good many of the recruits are sick. Well, I must stop for the present. I will write again soon. Goodbye.
I received a letter from Frank in yours. It was very interesting indeed. I was sorry he was disappointed in getting his picture taken. I will excuse all mistakes. Tell him I can read it without any trouble.
Camp near Broadway Landing
[Sunday] March 19, 
I have a few moments to spare this afternoon & I think I will improve them in writing you a few lines. I have just finished my dinner. It consisted of a small piece of pork, a cup of coffee, and some hard tack. I have got so I like the Government rations first rate and they agree with me well. I have not tasted butter since I ate the last you sent me which was 4 weeks ago. Many of the boys are sick since pay day just in consequence of eating too much,
I went to church this forenoon at Point of Rocks Hospital (it is nearly a half mile from our camp). I heard a very good sermon indeed. After church I went & made Charlie Ford a visit. He was very glad to see me, He knew me at first sight. I did not know him—he had grown much since I saw him last. He is looking well. I think he will soon get his health.
Well today is a most beautiful day—clear, warm & pleasant, wind north. The birds are singing sweet songs. I forget for a moment many times that I am in a land of war and deadly strife. If I listen but a moment, I hear the roar of cannon which reminds me of where I am, but I am so use to hearing the noisy things that I don’t mind them in the least (I must stop. There is an inspection).
Inspection is over and no fault found with the company excepting one of the men had his pants rolled up & the Captain told him not to come on inspection again in that condition. Ed has gone to Burmuda [Hundred] after the mail, This is his job every day. It is an easy one too—much better than laying pontoon bridges, but I have got so I like it very much. It is about a half mile up the river where we lay the bridge & we go there in small boats. Each boat carries about 20 men & such times as we have, racing to and from the bridge is a caution. We construct a bridge & take it up in the forenoon and one in the p.m. It took us just 40 minutes to lay the bridge yesterday p.m. and it is much further across than the bridge at Morrisonville. What do you think of that?
Well, we are expecting to leave here soon, but where we shall go, it is impossible to tell but it will be somewhere with a pontoon train. I think I had rather be a Pioneer than an Engineer. Don’t think there is as much danger in laying bridges as there is in building breastworks, & as for taking up bridges, I don’t calculate we shall have any of that to do for I think we shall whip them (the Rebs) every time. The fact is, the Johnnies are getting discouraged & think there is no hope for them. They are deserting very fast now & very soon they will have a chance to desert as fast as they are a mind to. The Army will soon be on the move for Richmond. They are moving on the left of our lines now. I know that Father will laugh at what I say but I can’t help it. I must tell you what I think about matters and things.
Well, to change the subject, I wish I was at home this afternoon. I imagine what I should do. One thing I would do, that’s certain, & that would be to play and sing a few tunes in the parlor where I used often to go for a few moments to enjoy a little harmony & pass time away. I enjoyed that much better than I enjoy a game at cards. I have not played a game in some time. Guess I had not better play anymore. But I get so lonesome once in awhile for a little amusement & it comes so handy to have a game.
Now Mother, if you think I had better not play, I’ll quit for I can do it as easy as I did using tobacco, According to my manner of thinking, I have not got a great many bad habits for a soldier boy that is exposed to temptations on every hand. I have the privilege of attending meeting every evening now. We have very interesting meetings indeed. The house is much larger than our meeting house & it is crowded full every night. The house is but a short distance from here (about as far as the red house is from ours). It is most time to get ready for church. I don’t have to fix up much for I have not got the fixings to put on—just black my boots & brush up a little & then I am ready for church.
Well Ed has just come in with the mail. I must go and see if there is any mail for me. Indeed, I have got a letter & what do you think I found in it—a picture of Frank P’s, a good picture it is too. Will says tell Frank it is first rate. Ed says so too & of course it must be so. I have shown it to several & they all say it is a young Pierce. Good night. I’ll finish some other time.
Monday morning. I am well. Have just got my breakfast & I feel fine. It is a very beautiful morning. The air is cool & refreshing. My cabin door is open and it seems like summer to look out and see the sun shining so pleasantly. Edgar went to City Point on Friday last. Sent him money home. I sent $50 dollars with his. You will get it from Uncle Lucius. Well Ed goes on duty today. One of the drummers is going to carry the mail hereafter. I went to church last evening. Heard a very excellent sermon. The text was, “The wages of sin is death.”
Well time and paper bids me stop writing. Please send me a little linen thread. The gum Frank sent was nice. I should like to [hear] from George. No more. From — Merritt
Camp near Hatcher’s Run
April 1st 
Yours of March 23rd was received today. [I] was very glad to hear from you. I also received a pair of socks. I do not need them much for I have been very careful of my socks & they are quite good yet. However, I am much obliged to you for them.
Well, I presume you will be some surprised at the heading of this letter. I did not go to North Carolina as was expected. The order was countermanded & we were ordered to the left of Petersburg. [We] had a long march. [We] started in good season Tuesday morning & marched until dark. [We] marched 26 miles (what think you). The next morning [we] started on & marched until noon where we camped until yesterday morning. It rained hard Wednesday night & Thursday all day [but] cleared off Friday morning. Friday morning about 10 o’clock we were ordered to Hatcher’s Run with a part of the train. Before we got there the train was ordered back to camp & we to the front to make a corduroy bridge in place of a pontoon. It is about two miles to Hatcher’s Run. We got there about 11 o’clock & worked hard all day & until 12 o’clock at night when we started back to camp. It was a dark night & we had hard work to find the way back, but we got back safe at last.
Well, this morning I got up bright & early [and] went to work at my tent [and] fixed it up so it is quite comfortable. Then [I] washed my clothes & mended them & now I have seated myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well & feeling first rate.
Well, Mother, I have been obliged to witness battle scenes again. The wounded are coming in from the front all the time. I have been up to see them once or twice. The depot is but a few rods from camp where all the wounded are taken from the ambulances & put on board the cars & taken to City Point (18 miles from here). I am thankful that I am not in the infantry. I am glad we are a pontoon company. We have our knapsacks & haversacks carried which is quite an item, I can tell you. Ed[gar Reed]—the scamp—had to come out here with us but he stands it pretty well.
A part of the company is back at Broadway Landing. I had the privilege of staying if I chose. There was 20 from our company wanted, so the orderly says sick, lame, & lazy fall out. I was a little lame but could not see staying back. Ed was one of the brave boys. Will [Beckwith] came with us too. He is well but says he is pretty much used up.
Well, it is getting late & I must close. The Johnnies are coming in in quantities every day—prisoners & deserters. I can hear musketry constantly. Grant is going to Richmond before long.
Have you received the money that I sent home & the clothes? I have found a good blanket & overcoat, so I am all right for clothes. I received that one dollar you sent me. Tell Frank [Pierce] I miss his letters very much, but I take a look at the [photograph of the] boy often. Much love to you all. Goodbye. Write soon & oblige. I [will] write more next time if I have time. Direct as before.