1864: Frederick Metcalf to his Cousin Evelina

Frederick Metcalf (1848-1864)

The following letters were written by Frederick Metcalf (1847-1864) who was mustered in as 2nd Lieutenant of Co. K, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery on 1 October 1863. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on 6 May 1864 and transferred into Co. B on 27 May 1864. “Fred” was serving as the Acting Regimental Adjutant when he wrote the first letter while on special duty at Fort Pulaski.

The second and third letters were written in July 1864 from the encampment of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavies just outside of Fort Welles on Hilton Head Island. Unfortunately for Fred, he did not survive the war. He died of disease at a hospital at Beaufort on 28 August 1864, less than a month after he penned the third letter.

Fred was the son of Providence attorney Edwin Metcalf (1823-1894) and Eliza Spear Atwell (1824-1863).

[Note: These letters are from the personal collection of Greg Herr and were transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Letter 1

Headquarters U. S. Forces
Fort Pulaski & Tybee Island, Georgia
February 23rd [1864] 11 o’clock P.M.

Dear Cousin,

I suppose you think, and very justly too, that is about time for that scrapegrace cousin of yours to answer some of your letters—very acceptable they are too him, I assure you—although he takes such a poor way of showing it. If you only knew what a bore and detested thing it is for me to write letters and how many stings of conscience it takes before I can bring myself down to it, you would forgive me I am sure.

We are having a few days of busy life and a little excitement down here in the land of all that is detestable, but I am not allowed to say anything about the movements of the army and so you must be content to know that I do not see as I shall have any chance of going on any of the expeditions, if there are any. And so you see that as I cannot say anything of the movements of the army, there is not much to write of. I might describe the islands to you but they are all the same thing—mud, mud, mud, nothing but mud anywhere except where artificial ground has ben made around the fort. I sometimes go over to Tybee and there there is a little more variety, some trees, &c., but nothing worth mentioning except the light house which the rebels burnt when they left and the old Martello tower, Some deserters come in once and awhile. A sergeant came down from Savannah the other day. e had on a very fair pair of boots. I asked him what they cost and he replied that he paid $125 for having a pair of old legs footed. What do you think they are coming to up there?

I have not heard from Sam since he was here but suppose he writes home much more regularly than I do. I enclose an invitation that I received to a ball at Beaufort. But i assure you that there was altogether a different ball going on not many miles from here that took our attention during the day.

It is getting quite late now and I must go to bed. I have been writing this in my office and by the light of a government candle. A pet kitten has been running all over the table most of the time and I suppose it will be a hard scrawl to read. The sentry on the parapet has just called 11 o’clock and “All’s well.” So goodbye.

Very affectionately your cousin, — Fred

Letter 2

Adjacent to Fort Welles, Hilton Head

Camp Co. B, 3rd Rhode Island Artillery
Fort Welles, Hilton Head, South Carolina
June 21, 1864

Dear Cousin,

I received yours of the 5th yesterday. It was the first letter I had received for two weeks. It is getting very hot out here. we live with our tents up on all sides to allow the air to come in and then are nearly suffocated sometimes. We have been moving for the week past. Have changed camp four times and that with it raining all the time nearly. One night the Captain and myself had no tent pitched and had to sleep in a guard house the darkies had just left. I could stand [not] that, however, and moved my bunk outside. We are still settled now, however, and are encamped just outside Fort Welles, the captain being in command of the fort. We have also an infantry company under our command—one of the 144th N. Y. Vols. and are instructing them in artillery.

I witnessed the most impressive sight I believe there is in the world last Sunday—I mean a military execution. It was a clear, hot morning. All the troops on the island were formed in a hollow square on a large plain. The prisoner was marched into the centre, seated on his coffin, and there after his eyes were blind-folded, he was shot at a signal from the Provost Marshal. We were then wheeled into columns of companies and marched in review by the corpse. A most impressive spectacle, I assure you, but a soldier has to get used to such scenes. The man deserved it. He was caught deserting to the enemy. 1

I am boarding now at the house of a refugee from Charleston. The fare consists of “bully” beef and potatoes. The price six dollars per week. This is very cheap for down here but would be considered high at home for board and lodgings both. I have paid as high as $40 a month at Pulaski for simply my board. My washing bill is about a dollar and a half a week and my servant I pay $10 a month and yet they talk about an officer’s pay being large. I tell you, “Sis”, an enlisted man as a general thing can save more money than an officer.

Well, I think that I have scribbled about enough—particularly as I was up late last night. The men got some liquor from the Drago & had a little “toot” but they soon found out who was “boss” and kept pretty quiet. We never have any trouble with our men except through liquor and even then they know enough to mind when spoken to.

Give my love to all. Excuse the writing as we have no table yet and this I wrote on my knee.

Ever your affectionate cousin, — Fred

1 The soldier executed by firing squad at Hilton Head would have been John Flood of the 41st New York Infantry. He was executed on 19 June 1864.

Letter 3

Camp Co. B, 3rd Rhode Island Artillery
Hilton Head
July 31st 1864

Dear Evelina,

I received yours of the 17th instant by the Fulton. Also one from Father. Both very acceptable. I was very glad to hear that you are enjoying yourself so much and dear little Tott. I know it will do her good to be by the salt water. I am feeling rather mean today because I got wet through last night. My tent leaks like a sieve and I awoke about 12 o’clock last night and found a puddle of water on my bed and all over the tent. One of our showers had come up and wet everything. I sleep under a rubber blanket every night now. Gen. Grant has issued an order that officers shall draw no more tents but sleep under shelters—that is, a piece of canvass about 6 feet square.

Everything is quiet here at present. We have a new officer to our company—Remington—late a corporal in the Second. We have plenty of watermelons now but our other fare is very poor. Some beef that Gen. Birney captured in Florida and which we call Florida Venison and it is tough enough, I assure you. This and commissary ham is about all we have.

Our company is still at this old sand heap and the fleas grow thicker every day. They almost poison me with their bites, but that is a petty annoyance, easily born with. I would describe our fort, &c. to you but that is strictly forbidden and you must wait until I get home and then I shall [share] a store of conversation.

Talking about home, from all that I hear, I suppose it will be another year—perhaps two—before I see home again. I tent now with a very gentlemanly young fellow named [George S.] Reed—the senior second lieutenant of our company. Our quarters are about eight feet square. In this small space we have two bunks, two trunks, and one table. The bunks answer for seats. That leaves us just room enough to undress and dress in. So you see I shall learn not to be very dainty when I get home. My bed consists of a bunk made of fine boards, a sack filled with hay, and a couple of blankets. My overcoat serves for a pillow. Sam gave me some sheets when he went home but the last time we moved, they went the way of all such things—even to ruin.

When I left home, I should have thought it hard to have to sleep between blankets, but now I like it and if it does not rain and wet everything, I sleep like a top. It would make you and grandmother groan to see how recklessly everything is thrown away when a regiment moves.

There, I have scribbled nonsense enough. And now, kiss Tott. Give my love to Aunt Mary and Grandmother, and my regards to the Tileston family. Believe me ever your affectionate cousin, — Fred

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