1861: Joseph M. Mathews to Richard Gregory

Two members of the 51st New York Infantry, both are in full uniform standing at attention with bayonets ready. Enhanced buttons and belt plate. Camp scene in background.
(Raynor’s Auctions)

The following letter was written by 23 year-old Joseph M. Matthews who enlisted on 2 August 1861 at Kellogsville to serve three years in Co F, 51st New York Infantry. Joseph was mustered in as a corporal in October 1861 and promoted to a sergeant in April 1862. He rose in rank to 1st Sergeant of his company on 14 March 1863 and reenlisted as a veteran in November 1863. He was killed in action on 6 May 1864 at the Wilderness, Virginia.

The 51st New York Infantry was organized at New York City under the command of Colonel Edward Ferrero—the hard-drinking dance studio instructor who incredibly rose to the rank of Major General and was best known for his unbecoming conduct at the Battle of the Crater. This letter was penned from Camp Burnside where the 51st was attached to Reno’s Second Brigade and being readied for Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Greg Herr and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Addressed to Mr. R. Gregory, Auburn, Cayuga county, New York

Headquarters 51st [New York] Regiment, Co. F
Camp Burnside [Annapolis, Maryland]
December 15, 1861

Dear Friend,

With pen in hand I write you a few lines. I am well and hope these few lines will find [you] the same. I have written to you once since I have been here but it appears that you have not got it or you have not wrote to me so I think I must write you once more.

Well, Rich, I have not much news to write—only we won’t stay here long but will move further south where we expect to be in a battle soon. Some say in two weeks but I think not so soon.

Yesterday the 14th we had a General Review. We was reviewed by General Foster and it was as nice a sight as any I seen. It was in a large field. The 51st New York was counted the best drilled regiment in the lot. We marched past the general column front the first time around in quick time. The second time in double quick time. The 51st is in the Second Brigade and second on the right of the brigade and I think General Foster will put us in the First Brigade. If he does, the [better] but it don’t make much difference where we are so we fight [ ] and so I can get a shot at Jeff Davis and if I do, he must fall [even] if I have to fall after him.

But I don’t think this war will last long. What do you think about it? But what does the folks at the North think about the war? We don’t get any news here—only we are afraid we won’t see any fighting. But if we don’t, we will think it a hum bug.

Well, Rich, I have acquainted with one of your cousins here. He is in the band. His name is [Edmund C.] Gilbert from Butternuts. The whole band is from thee and we have the best band in the division.

Well Rich, I suppose you are in the poultry business this winter. If you are, just send me a duck so I can have one for New Years’ Dinner.

Well, Rich…I must close and go to church. Give my love to the family…Direct to Corporal Mathews, 51st Regiment NY S. V., Company F, in care of Capt. [Francis E.] McIlvaine, Annapolis, Maryland

Write as soon as you get this but tell Mc___. .. Tel Lib to write &c. Goodbye. Yours, — J. M. Mathews

to Richard Gregory

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