1862: Eugene Albert Burnham to Marvin Burnham

This letter was written by Eugene Albert Burnham (1840-1925) of East Homer, Cortland county, New York, who enlisted as a private on 4 October 1861 in Co. A, 76th New York Infantry (the “Cortland Regiment”). Eugene was sent to a hospital on 11 September 1862 and was absent from the regiment from then until his transfer to Co. C, 14th Veteran Reserve Corps in July 1863.

I could not find an image of Eugene but here is one of his brother Uberto who served in the same regiment. (Find-A-Grave)

Eugene wrote this letter to his parents, Marvin Burnham (1811-1891) and Caroline Webster (1813-1894) of East Homer. Eugene’s older brother, Uberto Adelbert Burnham (1837-1930) also served in the same regiment as Eugene. He enlisted as a private in Co. D, October 4, 1861, and on the organization of the Regiment, was made First Sergeant. He held this position until February, 1863, when he received a commission as First Lieutenant, and was soon after appointed Acting Regimental Quartermaster, by Colonel Wainwright. Uberto Burnham was a prolific writer, and many of his letters and diaries are preserved in the New York State Archives at Albany. The collection consists of 222 items, 114 of which are letters written to his family and friends between 1857 and 1864. 

Eugene wrote the letter in April 1862 from Fort DeRussy—one of the forts defending the Nation’s Capitol—where the regiment was garrisoned and drilled until May 1862. The fort was built in 1861 by the 4th New York Heavy Artillery and named for the regiment’s commander, Colonel Gustavus A. DeRussy. The fort was sited on the high ground of the western bank of Rock Creek and controlled movement along and across the valley. The fort coordinated its fire with Fort Stevens on the east and Fort Kearny on the west. It was built originally in the shape of a trapezium, armed with 7 guns, and afterwards expanded to mount 11 guns and mortars, including a massive 100-pounder Parrott rifle located at reshaped northeastern angle. The fort was heavily engaged during the Battle of Fort Stevens on July 11-12, 1864.


Fort DeRussy
[Washington D. C.]
April 4th [1862]

Dear Parents,

I will try and write a few lines to you before drill time though I don’t feel much like writing. We drill five hours a day now and that you see keeps us pretty busy with dress parade and so forth.

It is very pleasant weather here now. I received a letter last night dated March 30th saying you were going to send a box of sugar &c. the next day to us. You have of course written to Bart about it.

I am as well as usual and so are all the East Homer boys except Jenison. he is troubled with the rheumatism. I have not seen Bert since last Saturday but I expect him over here next Sunday. If he don’t come, I shall go over there Monday.

Well we have got through two and a half hours drill again and now I will write in this letter some. I think the prospects now are we shall stay here some time yet and it is as good a place as need be. It is healthy here—more so than at Fort Massachusetts or [Fort] Slocum as there is not as many here and we have better water. I don’t know but I had rather stay here than to go to Kentucky though some of the boys are spoiling for a fight. I would like to see an action before I come back but ain’t quite ready for it yet as we are not well enough drilled though if all the regiments [companies?] were as well drilled as Co. A, we would be be a very well drilled regiment. But they don’t commence.

You have of course heard of Tommy Gough’s death. It must have been a hard blow to his folks. I did not hear that he was sick until after he was dead. His funeral was attended at E. Homer, I suppose. When you write, write all the particulars about it.

How does Uncle John’s folks get along? Do they ever come to our house now? I saw Thomas Dodd when I was on Meridian Hill. He said Paris got along very well but did not make much of a soldier.

I must close this letter and make up a fire and fry some beef steak for supper as we had more than we wanted for breakfast so we saved it for supper. Write soon and oblige. Yours son, — E. A. Burnham

How does Josephine get along washing out? Tell her she must write to me. She & Em can both write.

I have received that paper you sent me (I mean the Gazette & Banner) and every time I see it, I think of her who sent it & of the many long hours you worked to get the money. We can appreciate such presents here.

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