1863: Martha Rebecca (Payne) Russell to Augusta L. Baldwin

How Martha might have looked in 1863

The following letter was penned by 19 year-old Martha Rebecca (Payne) Russell (1844-1924), the daughter of Harmon Payne (1819-1900) and Sarah Esther Hotchkiss (1820-1907) of New Haven county, Connecticut. One source gives the date of Martha’s marriage to Charles E. Russell (1840-1920) as 1 September 1862 though it appears the couple were living together prior to the June 1860 US Census in Hartford with a 6-month old daughter named Mary. Charles was employed as a “carriage trimmer.” During the war, when her husband was in the service, we learn from the letter that Martha earned a living hiring herself out as a housekeeper.

Martha’s husband volunteered in Co. A, 20th Connecticut with several other young men from Prospect. The company was raised in July 1862, and placed under the command of Colonel Samuel Ross, a former Regular Army officer. With him becoming brigade commander soon afterwards; for most of the war the regiment was commanded by its Lieutenant Colonel, William Wooster. Wooster was a businessman in civilian life and more popular than the stern disciplinarian Ross. The regiment became part of the 1st Division XII Corps and had its baptism of fire at the Battle of Chancellorsville. On May 2, 1863, at Chancellorsville, the unit suffered heavy casualties as they and other units of the XII Corps bore the brunt of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson’s surprise assault.

Martha’s letter to her cousin Augusta Baldwin (1846-1866) in Naugatuck was written in the days following the battle of Chancellorsville when she had yet to hear of his safety. A final page added to the letter shares the latest news received from the front.


Addressed to Miss Augusta L. Baldwin, Naugatuck, Ct.
Care of Monroe Terrell

[Prospect, Connecticut]
Monday eve, May 11 [1863]

I am at last seated to answer your long-neglected letter. I thought of it everyday but when I first received it I was cleaning house and now, Oh! me the fighting seems to me I shall go crazy for the 20th Regiment was in the battle. I have seen only the death of two from that company but quite a number from other companies. I have not known nor done anything for the last week. I cannot work. It makes me just about sick. I forget what I am doing half of the time. Made up my beds yesterday morning without putting on any sheets and that is just about the way I work. I pity anyone that has got any friends in this war. It seems awful to me to have so many lives lost. I can tell you I am not much of a Republican. Be you?

Augusta, I cannot write so I will bring my letter to a close hoping to hear from you soon. You must excuse me for not writing more. If you knew how I felt, you would not blame me for writing such a short letter.

Yours in haste, — Martha

I could not find an image of Charlie but here is Pvt. Henry Cornwall of the 20th Connecticut Vols.

Augusta, I will try and write a little more as I have a few moments. In what regiment is Ellen’s husband in—with the nine-month’s men, is he not? And your brother L[ouis], where is he? and is he well? I suppose if my folks could hear Charlie was dead, they would rejoice with exceeding great joy as the first words mother said to me after we were married was, “I hope he will die or never come back.” Was not that a comfort to me? Think I cannot bear to think of the thing but still I am afraid what news I shall have. It is two weeks since I have heard from him—two weeks this morning since they marched. Now do write to me soon for I am very lonesome and sad. Such times I never see in my life as the last week has been. I wish I could see you. Give my love to all inquiring friends if I may chance to have any in that vicinity and reserve a share for yourself. Excuse writing and mistakes. Write soon, sooner, soonest. From your cousin, — Martha R. Russell

I advise you not to go to Waterbury to doing housework to be made nigger of for the big bugs. I have had enough of it. Don’t say anything to anyone what I wrote about my folks for they would hear of it and only make matters worse. Bad enough at the best, I think.

Oh! Augusta, I have just finished [writing] your letter but Henry has come in and brought me a letter. It is from my dear Charlie. He has been in battle but come out all safe & sound. He says Frank Matthews 1 was hit by a ball and that Fred Williams, 2 John Platt, 3 & Jim Blakeslee 4 are missing. Whether taken prisoners or killed, he does not know. I do hope they will fetch back. I cannot help but think of poor Mrs. Henry Platt. I pity her from the bottom of my heart and the rest too. I cannot be thankful enough to think Charlie is all safe. I wish the rest were. — Martha

1 Sergeant John “Frank” Matthews of Prospect, CT, was wounded on 3 May 1863 and was discharged for disability on 15 May 1864.

2 Frederick H. William of Prospect, CT, died on 27 May 1863 of wounds received at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

3 John H. Platt of Prospect, CT, survived Chancellorsville but was wounded later in the war on 19 March 1865 and discharged for disability on 22 June 1865.

4 James (“Jim”) Blakeslee of Prospect, CT, was transferred to the Invalid Corps and died in a hospital on 30 April 1864.

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