1862: George Thomas Perkins to Betsy (Sampson) Perkins

This letter was written by George Thomas Perkins (1836-1880), the son of Dr. Thomas Spencer Perkins (1818-1870) and Betsy Bartlett Sampson (1820-1906) of Boston.

George Thomas Perkins after his promotion to Asst. Surgeon, ca. 1863 (Ron Coddington Collection)

George was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1838. He received an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1858. He also attended Johns Hopkins University. Perkins enlisted in the Union army in 1861. He joined the Massachusetts 22nd Infantry Regiment as a hospital steward, and was promoted to assistant surgeon in 1863. He held this position until 1864. He then joined the Massachusetts 32nd Infantry Regiment as an assistant surgeon, and was promoted to full surgeon later that year. He joined the Massachusetts 26th Infantry Regiment, where he served as surgeon until 1865. After the war, Perkins practiced as a physician in Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts, from 1865 to 1870. He became coroner of Middlesex County in 1869. 

In this letter datelined from Camp Winfield Scott near Yorktown in May 1862 while servicing in the 22nd Massachusetts, George wrote his mother early on the day in which the Confederate troops surreptitiously retreated from Yorktown. Less than two months later, George was wounded in the right lung and captured in the fighting at Gaine’s Mill but was exchanged after five weeks captivity. Lt. Col. Griswold reassured the Perkins family that George was “by no means severely wounded” and that he would “soon be transferred to Turkey Bend where many of our wounded are collected.”

See my friend Ron Coddington’s article entitled, “Left for Dead in Virginia” published on 28 June 2012 which tells the tale of the 22nd Massachusetts at Gaine’s Mill and of Perkin’s wound.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent on Spared & Shared.]


Camp Winfield Scott
Near Yorktown, Va.
May 3, 1862

Dear Mother,

I received your letter a few days ago and take this my first chance to answer it. I received a letter from Annie yesterday and shall answer it tomorrow. In it she speaks of not being well. Do please look after her a little and make her take good care of herself for she is more precious to me than all else in this world and I should never be fit for anything again should I loose her. Do be careful of her for my sake.

Our position here is a very trying one. The shot and shell are flying about us in all directions and making the most horrid noise as they hiss through the air. Our works is going bravely on, however, in spite of all the Rebels can do to prevent it. Every morning discovers a new breastwork, road, or bridge. Our men are at work night and day perfecting the works and daily long siege trains pass our camp with large guns and mortars on their way to the breastworks in front. Our brigade is in front and upon the extreme right of the line. The camp of our regiment is upon the banks of the York River making one of the finest camps we have had since we left Massachusetts.

We heard yesterday that New Orleans had been taken. I hope it is so for the sooner this war is ended, the better. For my part, I should like it to end tomorrow that I could return home once more. I never knew what hardship was before I became a soldier, but I do now. I have been hungry and could get nothing to eat. I have been tired and wet through after a hard day’s march through Virginia mud and could get no dry clothes nor place to sleep except in the open fields and have stretched out upon wet ground and slept night after night. But after going through all this, I find my health still good.

Tell Annie she can no longer say that I have weak lungs. Give my love to Annie and the children, keeping a share for yourself. I must now close this disjoined letter hoping to hear from you soon and often. Yours &c.

— George

Tell Annie to write oftener. I wrote to Mother yesterday.

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