1861: Jehiel Rayner to William Henry Rayner

I could not find an image of either Jeheiel or Frederick but here is a tintype of Russell Towsley who served in Co. C, 7th Michigan Infantry wearing his early war uniform (Ancestry.com)

The following letter was written in part by Aaron “Jehiel” Rayner (1841-1919) of Co. B, 7th Michigan Infantry. The other part was written by Frederick R. Searl (1843-1874) of the same company.

Jehiel was the son of John Raynor (1804-1879) and Emily Meech (1817-1873) of Mason, Ingham county, Michigan. He enlisted in the 7th Michigan on 22 August 1861 and was discharged at Petersburg, Virginia, on 22 August 1864 after three years service. His 1919 obituary states that Jehiel saw “much active service, being engaged in a number of important battles such as Fair Oaks, Antietam, Gettysburg, and numerous smaller engagements. While in the service he had many close calls, but was never seriously wounded, although his horse was killed under him at Spotsylvania.” [Not sure why an infantryman would have been riding a horse unless he was on a special detail.]

Frederick R. Searl was the son of Elisha Randal Searl (1809-1879) and Martha Hurd (1815-1862) of Mason, Ingham county, Michigan. He enlisted with Jehiel in August 1862 in Co. B, 7th Michigan and was wounded on 31 May 1862 in the Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia. The would was so severe that his right arm had to be amputated, necessitating his discharge for disability on 18 July 1862. He died twelve years later.

The letter was addressed to Jehiel’s older brother, William Henry Rayner (1836-1905) of Mason, Ingham county, Michigan.

This letter was written from Camp Benton on the Maryland side of the Upper Potomac. The 7th Michigan was brigaded with several Massachusetts regiments known as Lander’s Brigade. It was penned just two weeks prior to the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Fortuitously, the 7th Michigan did not participate in this federal disaster because it was deemed “unfair to put them into battle with the poor arms they had.” These “poor arms” were converted Belgian flintlocks that were very unreliable and inaccurate. Before the end of the year they were provided with Springfield rifled muskets.

To read another letter written from Camp Benton by Roger Noble of the 7th Michigan Infantry written on 28 October 1861, see Roger Noble Letter-October 28, 1861. MSU Libraries.


Camp Benton
October 7, 1861

Dear Brother,

I have been quite unwell but I am getting a little better. I think I have seen a great curiosity in my journey. I have seen almost everything. I cannot tell you much about what is a going on here but I will tell a little about it. Last week there was twelve cannons all firing at once down by the river. That was a great sight for me. We expect to be called out every minute.

The guards shot twice the other night. The [ ] wouldn’t give the countersign so they shot but [did not get] him. There is more sick in our company than in the rest of the regiment.

Dear brother, I would like to come home and see you all but as it is, I can’t come.

Our water [is] just like crick water. That is one thing why there is so many sick here.

Mother, I wish you would send me a few newspapers. Give my best respects to all of my friends, — Jehiel Rayner

Friend William

I have an opportunity to write to you. There is no news here only that we expect to join the Michigan Brigade at Munson’s Hill. The rebels throw shells over this. The nearest they came to [us] is a half mile. I am glad that you are Orderly Sergeant for I think that you will like it. The rest of our boys are out on Battalion Drill. Our battery shelled a rebel mill across the river. The officers correspond from here to Washington with sky rockets. They have the same countersign in every brigade and when a guard deserts his post, there is three sky rockets thrown up and the countersign is changed.

I expect that you have got through seeding but the farmers haven’t begun out here yet. It is very warm here. There hasn’t been but little rain out here. The railroad is guarded all the way from the Maryland line to Washington. The night that we stayed in Washington there was fourteen hundred stayed in one room.

Write to me and let me know how all the folks get along. Give my respects to all enquiring friends. — F. R. Searl

The Corps Badge of the 7th Michigan Infantry from later in the war.

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