1864-65: Edgar Beckwith Reed to Mary S. Reed

Edgar Reed (1845-1866) enlisted in the 1st New York Engineers on 5 September 1864.

The following letters were written by Edgar Beckwith Reed, son of Lucius M. Reed and Margaret Beckwith. He enlisted in the 1st New York Engineers on 5 September 1864 at Troy shortly before he turned 19. He mustered in as a private in Co. L on 5 September 1864 to serve one year; appointed artificer, 1 May 1865; and mustered out with his company on 30 June 1865, Richmond, Virginia.  His uncle, William Beckwith, and his cousin, Merritt Pierce, had enlisted and mustered in 31 August 1864.  He contracted malarial fever during the war and died 25 Oct 1866.

Edgar wrote the letters to his friend Mary S. Reed who married his cousin, Merritt Pierce in 1867.

[Note: These letters are from the personal archives of Carolyn Cockrell and were transcribed by her husband Chuck and posted on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Letter 1

Camp in the field near Varina, Virginia
19 November, 1864

Miss Mary S. Mead
Dear Friend,

I received your letter of October 30th in due time and was glad to hear from you. I am always glad to hear from any of my friends at home. Your letter took me by surprise a little, but I do not think that any excuses were necessary for leap year and being in the army is excuse enough I think at any time. It does a soldier good to get letters from friends at home and if they knew how much the soldier enjoys them, they would write more and often.

I should have answered your kind letter before, but my time has been pretty well taken up by my duties so that I could not write before. A soldier does not have a great deal of spare time I can tell you. I have enjoyed soldiering pretty well so far and think I shall continue to like it. My health has been good ever since I enlisted but Merritt [Pierce] and William Beckwith have both been sick, but they are now well and so that they go out to work.

It has been very pleasant her this fall especially through October but for the last few days it has been rainy and has rained here today. Well, it is time for the rainy season to commence but I wish it were not for it makes the mud so deep–too deep to travel with ease.

There is not a great deal going on here now and we call it pretty dull though there is some fighting on the lines all the time. I am sorry that the people of Petersburg are frightened so as to leave their homes. I think that they are frightened unnecessarily. What do you think? Perhaps I am not capable of judging being so far away from the scene of action.

I like to have a person write as they talk for then it seems as if I were talking with them. You say that you cannot go to war but that you can write letters. Well, that is what the soldiers want of you ladies at home to write letters to them. I thank you for your kind letter and hope that you will again write to you soldier friend.  I think that you must have had quite a time camping out in the woods so you can imagine something about a soldier’s camping out only instead of good covering overhead he has a shelter tent.

Merritt and William Beckwith wish to be remembered to you and your folks. I have not time to write more now. Remember me to your parents and any other friends I may have. Hoping to hear from you again. I remain your true friend,  — Edgar B. Reed

P. S.   Direct as before.

Letter 2

Camp of Co. L, 1st New York Volunteer Engineers
Near Jones Landing, Virginia
January 10th, 1865

Dear Friend [Mary S. Mead],

I received your very welcome letter some time ago and was glad to hear from you. You must pardon me for not answering your letter before, but our company has been on the move, and I have been kept busy at work all the time so I hope you will deem my excuse reasonable.

It has been raining very hard here today accompanied with a great deal of thunder—some difference between here & Clinton County. I guess that you would think it strange to have a thunderstorm in January. We have had a good deal of stormy weather here lately consisting of rain, hail, snow, and very hard winds. I presume that the weather is not so changeable where you are. We have had some very cold weather here and it seemed like the Old Empire State.

Our company broke camp during the month of December & marched to this place which is three miles from our old camp where part of the regiment now is.  

You wished to know how I spent Thanksgiving so I will tell you about Christmas & New Years also. On Thanksgiving I did not work any and I had a visitor from the 96th New York Volunteers. I will tell you what we had for dinner:  bread, fresh beef (boiled), beef broth, mince pie, cookies, and cheese. We did not see any of those turkeys that so much was said about [up]north. On Christmas I did not my [unreadable] the rest of the [unreadable]. For dinner we had soup, hard tack, and bread, a small assortment for Christmas. On New Year’s I was better prepared as my box had come two or three days before. I had fried sausage, bread & butter, some stewed plums & berries with some of your mother’s [Harriet Boadwell Mead] maple sugar to sweeten them and a piece of fruitcake that my mother made for Christmas but got here for New Year’s. So, you can see how I spent the holidays.  

I hope that you are having pleasanter weather now than when you wrote last. I received those papers you sent, and I had quite a laugh over them. I thank you for sending them. I have no time to write more so please excuse this short letter [and] all mistakes and write soon.

My address is 1st New York Volunteers Engineers, Co. L, Army of the James via Fort Monroe, Virginia. Your friend, — Edgar B. Reed

Letter 3

Bermuda Hundred, Virginia
March 18th, 1865

Dear Friend,

I received your letter some time ago & was very glad to hear from you. I guess that you will not think I am very punctual about writing but I can’t help it. Since I wrote to you last our company has changed around some. When I wrote last, we were at Jones’s Landing. On the 17th of February (Friday) we broke camp and went back to old headquarters. Lay there just two weeks to a day when we broke camp again & marched to Broadway Landing which is on the river Appomattox 4 miles above City Point and about ½ mile from the hospital at Point of Rocks. Our company is drilling on a pontoon at that place & we expect to take charge of a pontoon bridge there or somewhere else. You will see by this that we have changed considerably. I am carrying the mail for the company now which brings me down to Bermuda and City Point every day, so you see I am on the go most of the time.

We have been having very pleasant weather & now it looks like spring. The grass is getting up and the fields are looking quite green. I suppose that the ground up north is still covered with snow–no signs of grass yet. I see by your letter that you have been having pretty gay times this winter. I think that you made a pretty good beggar for Elder [C. C.] Hart’s donation by the amount that was taken in. I think that you will not lack for singers next summer. I do not see why they should be afraid to let visitors visit the prison at Dannemora, but I suppose it because they are afraid of a raid from Canada. What do you think about it?

There has not been any fighting near here lately, but we expect it will commence any day now that fair weather has commenced again. I expect that we will put an end to this rebellion before next fall & so do all the soldiers that I have heard say anything on the subject. What do you think about it? You will agree with me of course.

Where our company now is near the hospital, we have a chance of seeing a great many sick & wounded men and [they are] very vast. Their burial ground is not far from us & we can hear the roar of the guns (most all of the time) which they fire over their graves. It is a sad sight I can tell you. Everything portends a big fight for the sutlers have all been ordered to the rear and the small field hospitals have all been broken up & the patients all sent to the general hospitals. Point of Rocks is one of those. I am in a hurry for it [to] commence & get through.

Well, it beats all how time flies. It don’t seem as if I had been here over 6 months and was now on the last 6 months, but such is the fact. I guess that you will find this letter very unconnected, but I hope you will excuse it with all mistakes. I have not time to write more. You will want to direct your letters the same as usual.

Please remember me to your folks and write soon. From your friend, — E.B. Reed

Letter 4

Manchester, Virginia
April 28th 1865

Dear Friend,

I received yours of the 5th in due time & was very glad to hear from you. I found your letter waiting for me at Richmond when I arrived there on the 20th of this month. Perhaps you may wonder where I have been so I will tell you.

Our company—all but 30 men—left Broadway Landing the 28th of last month with a pontoon train. We were at Hatcher’s Run [un]til the day before Petersburg and Richmond surrendered when we moved to the left of Petersburg and on the morning of the capture found us on the road to Lynchburg with the army in pursuit of the Rebels. We chased them from that time [un]til they surrendered. At the time of the surrender, we were only 5 miles from the place, and we moved near there the next day. The road that we followed runs beside the Southside Railroad & by looking on the map you can see the country that we went through. At Farmville we laid a bridge which enabled our artillery to get at with the Rebs and give them a finishing touch. I had a great time foraging on the route and we all lived well at the expense of the inhabitants. The march was a fatiguing one for we were on the move for 24 days & sometimes it was all night too. But it is over and great have been the results and yet it is all clouded by the events at Washington, D.C.  It was a severe blow to the nation, but I hope that all will end well.  

I am sorry to hear that you are so poorly off for singers at our church, but the boys will be home in the fall if all things go well & then I shall expect to see the gallery filled. I think you must have had a nice time at those concerts, and I would like to have attended them. In regard to that letter which contained a peach blossom & to which there was no name signed I know that you will not have to look further than Merritt Pierce as the author.

I don’t think you had better save that sugar for me, but I wish you to eat it for me for it may be some time before I see home again—4 months & a few at least. I think that sugar tastes much better in the woods than anywhere else.

I should think that spring was quite early up north by all that I hear.  Here you might call it summer though it is not May yet & we have not very warm weather, but it is a coming. I was sorry to hear that the smallpox had closed the Baptist Church & I hope that it will not spread any further. On Thursday night that you said you were to have a party at your house & was so kind as to give me an invite & I thank you very much for it, but I could not go as I was forced to march all day & all night in pursuit of Lee & his army. I will eat some peaches for you as soon as they get ripe. They are now just out of the bloom. I wish they grew up north & then you would have a chance to see plenty of them for I think that they are a delicious fruit, but I must close for want of time to write more.

Please excuse all mistakes & poor writing & write soon as you can conveniently. Yours truly, — Edgar B. Reed

Letter 5

Manchester, Virginia
June 5th, 186[5]

Dear Friend, 

Yours of May 12th was received some time ago & was very welcome I can assure you. We are still encamped in the same place as when I wrote last and hard to work building the bridge across the river here. There are 3 companies besides ours to work at it with a large infantry detail helping us. We do not expect to get discharged [un]til the bridge is finished and that will take a month yet so that if we are not on our way north by the middle of July, I shall expect to serve my time out. Well, that won’t be long as I have only 3 months longer to stay which will soon pass away.

You say that you read that the 1 year [enlistees] were to be sent home. I don’t think that that applies to this regiment, and I am pretty certain that no 1-year men will be discharged before the regiment is unless their time expires.

I suppose that by this time you have got through house cleaning and that dreaded job is over for I know that it is always dreaded.

June 6th

I was interrupted yesterday when I had got so far, and I did not have a chance to write again. I have changed my quarters since I commenced this letter, and I am now at the headquarters of the regiment, and I was sent up here yesterday forenoon in company with 50 others from our battalion. Merritt is here with me, but he came because I did. He received a letter from you night before last and he would probably have answered it today, but he has gone on guard and now I suppose that he will not write before tomorrow.

I would [have] liked to have been at your house the night you invited me to be for I see by your letter that you must have had a pleasant time. Well, I suppose that I will be at home sometime between now & fall.  We have plenty of rumors about going home but we pay no attention to them.

If you was here now you would see ripe cherries, green peas, apples, and all kinds of garden sauce for sale. We have had strawberries but are about gone. So you see that we have things early down here. The peaches are growing fast and if I stay here much longer, I shall be able to eat some as they will be ripe, and you may depend on my going my duty in that line.

But I must stop for I have not time to write more.  Remember me to all inquiring friends.  Please excuse all mistakes and write soon.

From your friend, — Edgar B. Reed

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