1864-65: Safford Silas Taylor to Merritt Pierce

Safford S. Taylor (Ancestry)

The following letters were written by Safford Silas Taylor (1840-1895), the son of Silas Maxon Taylor (1799-1880) and Rebecca Perry (1801-1844) of Schuyler Falls, New York. Based on letters, he was probably a member of West Plattsburgh Baptist Church with Merritt Pierce prior to enlistment.

Safford enlisted on 19 December 1863 at Schuyler Falls: mustered in as a private, 1st New York Engineers, Co. I on 19 December 1863 to serve 3 years. He was appointed artificer on 1 July 1864 and was mustered out of the regiment on 19 July 1865 at Hilton Head, South Carolina. He died in Schuyler Falls on 23 Jan 1895.

Safford wrote all three letters to his friend, Merritt L. Pierce of Morrisonville, Schuyler Falls, Clinton county, New York. Merritt was 22 years old when he enlisted on 31 August 1864 at Troy as a private in Co. L, 1st New York Engineers. 

[Note: These letters are from the private collection of Carolyn Cockrell and were transcribed and posted on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Letter 1

Elmira, [New York]
January 18, 1864

Friend Merritt,

I have a few moments to spare and so I will pass the time in talking with you. Talking! I wish I was where I could have a little talk with you, but never mind. I got here all safe three weeks ago last Thursday night and early the next morning they detailed me to act as clerk in Headquarters at Barracks No. 3. 1 Well, I stayed there in those cold barracks nights and worked in the office daytimes until one week ago today. One week ago last Friday, the officer who has the charge of receiving recruits moved his quarters down here into the city and last Monday the adjutant in command of the barracks sent me down to his office where I am now. I don’t know how long I shall have to remain here—probably till spring and perhaps longer as they have taken my name from the list of those to be sent off.

I have got a grand, good place as far as that is concerned and am having first rate times. There are 4 clerks in this office and two more in the office overhead. They are all good fellows. One of them is the son of Elder Waldron’s that preached at Morrisonville last summer. We sleep in a little room that opens into our office. We have a cook detailed to cook for us in the back room of the office and live first rate. I have a pass and am allowed to go where I am a mind to. We don’t have to write more than four hours a day on an average. The rest of the time we have to ourselves. Young Waldron is a good chess player. He has bought a set of chess men and we have some good games. I have played some with our lieutenant too.

Yesterday I went to meeting for the first time. I had the pleasure of hearing the Rev. Thomas Beecher who preaches in this city. He is a half-brother of Henry Ward Beecher. So now you see I am pretty comfortably situated.

I suppose you have given up all idea of enlisting before this. I wish I could be there a week or so with you, but I should want to come back again. I saw R. W. Caster here the other day. He said that you and Will [Beckwith] had both enlisted but I thought he must be mistaken. The other boys that came have not left yet and will not for some time probably. Steve is in the cook house at Barracks No. 3. He will probably be left there.

We have all kinds of men here in camp and the most wickedness I ever saw in my life. The night before I left Barracks No. 3, there were three men in the barracks I stayed in [who] had delirium tremens….One man in the barracks cut his throat the other night. He was scared because some of the boys cried out that the rebels were coming.

Safford S. Taylor, Co. I, 1st N. Y. Engineers, 18 January 1864

We have all kinds of men here in camp and the most wickedness I ever saw in my life. The night before I left Barracks No. 3, there were three men in the barracks I stayed in [who] had delirium tremens. But it is all still and nice here. One man in the barracks cut his throat the other night. He was scared because some of the boys cried out that the rebels were coming.

Have you heard from Nel[son Bullis] since I came away? When you write, give me his P. O. address. Give my respects to all of the young folks, old folks, and little folks. Now write as soon as you get this and give me all the news. Direct to Elmira, Chemung County, New York.

Yours Truly, — Safford

1 Elmira Prison was originally a barracks for “Camp Rathbun” or “Camp Chemung”—a key muster and training point for the Union Army. The 30-acre site was selected partially due to its proximity to the Erie Railroad and the Northern Central Railway, which crisscrossed in the midst of the city. The Camp fell into disuse as the war progressed, but its “Barracks No. 3” was converted into a military prison in the summer of 1864. It was the prison holding the largest number of Confederate POWs. Its capacity was 4,000, but it held 12,000 within one month of opening. A different source says that Camp Rathbun had a capacity of 6,000 recruits, but that it was turned into a prison for 10,000 and the Union Commissary General was given just 10 days to make it happen. [Wikipedia]

Letter 2

Hilton Head
July 16, 1864

Friend Merritt,

Yours of the third inst. was received yesterday and I will now answer it so as to send it by the return mail. I was glad to hear from you. You sent me a good long letter and gave me lots of news. I want you to do just so again. You have probably received my other letter which I wrote to you in answer to the one you sent me at Elmira before this.

Since I wrote last, I have been quite sick—not so but I was up and around but so that I couldn’t do any duty. I was sick over two weeks with the fever, but the doctor broke it up at last.

Since I wrote, there has been some fighting down here. General Foster left here with a lot of troops the 1st of July bound on an expedition. He went up on James Island and gave the Rebs a big scare. His object probably was to draw troops from the army under Johnson and to let the Rebs know that we were alive down here. There were some of our men went. I wanted to go with them but was sick and the doctor wouldn’t let me go. There were but few of our men killed—none of our regiment. I think there will be another expedition before long. General Foster is not a man that remains idle lone when there is a chance of making raids.

Much obliged for that picture. I think it is a very good one. When you get a good chance, borrow some (when they don’t see you) of those girls and send me. I will take good care of them and send them back to you if they make any fuss, but I guess they won’t. Oh! Who do you think I came across here last night, downtown. Why Harv Dodge. 1 If I wasn’t rather surprised to see him here. I supposed he was in Sherman’s army in Georgia, but it seems he was discharged there. He is clerk for the Chief Paymaster of the Department and I guess is doing pretty well. We had quite a talk about old times and about the folks at home.

I wish you could be here a week or two. I would like to go around with you and show you something of Southern life. The longer I stay here the more I feel contented.

Well, Merritt, I had to stop writing and draw rations. I have got through with that, and also the issuing of the rations to the companies, and having just finished eating a piece of large watermelon, I feel first rate. I wish you could see some of the watermelons that the darkies bring in here to sell. It would make your mouth water. They bring in some of the largest melons I ever saw.  We get some extras now days. For instance, a man came along today and gave the regiment a lot of turnips, beets, and pickles. He said they were furnished by New York State. Each company of the regiment is furnished with ice every morning by the Sanitary Commission, so we get all the ice water we want to drink.

I expect a box today from home and won’t I have a feast if it comes. Won’t you come and have supper with us? We are going to have potatoes, beef steak, green corn. Mind, we don’t always live as well but some of our boys went huckleberrying today and as they didn’t find any berries, they hooked some corn. 

I should [have] liked to have been with you a fishing up at the lakes. Our boys go fishing with a seine every few nights close by here. We have nice times bathing here in salt water. It is a nice place—a sandy beach. We don’t go out far for fear of sharks. I saw a dead one on the shore the other day, nearly six feet long.

I want you to take care of yourself and as more as you can get time to do. I hear that you and Carrie Finn are getting pretty thick (the idea!). I’ll tend to you, old fellow, if that is your play. I am sorry to hear about Nel[son Bullis]. I hope it may prove to be a false report. But I must close. Write me a good long letter soon and tell me about everybody. My best respects to all the old friends. I am, yours truly, — Safford

Sunday morning,

Well, Merritt, how are you this morning? I am well–wish I were there to go to meeting with you this morning. I have just been down on the beach and had my picture taken with the rest of the company. The three companies all had their pictures taken by companies this morning. Our box came last night. Cyrene and Steve are down from Beaufort today. Cyrene sends his respects to you. I am going to write to Will this forenoon, but I am afraid I shan’t be able to get it in before the mail closes.  Write soon, — Saff

1 Harvey K. Dodge, b. 1839, was a sergeant in Co. G, 1st Wisconsin Infantry. He enlisted in August 1861. He was the son of Rev. Harvey B. Dodge and Eliza Ann Beckwith, a sister of Edgar’s mother.

Letter 3

Camp 1st New York Volunteer Engineers
Savannah [Georgia]
May 29, 1865

Friend Merritt,

Your letter, long looked for, has arrived at length. Something is the matter with the mail for letters of last March are just arriving, but never mind. I hope the time is not far away when we will be so situated that we will not have to wait two months after asking a question to get an answer to it.

Well Merritt, we have all been anxious to hear from you fellows up there to know when you are going home, for I suppose we will go out together. I don’t know where to direct this letter to but will direct to Washington as I think it will be sent to you from there. The last northern papers contain an account of the Great Review at Washington. I wish I could have been there with them.

We still remain at Savannah. The company has but a very little to do—only work 4 hours a day. It is fine weather here now. Some hot days but they don’t trouble me much as I don’t have to work in the sun. I wish you could be here to go blackberrying with me. I have been a number of times. You spoke of going fishing. I hope we may live to have a good many more days of piscatorial sport in the wilds of Hardscrabble and Rand Hill.

There has been a great many changes as you say and many of our companions and friends have gone never to return. You have heard me speak of Elder Waldron’s son that was with me at Elmira.  I received a letter last week stating that he had died in a Rebel Prison is this state. He was a fine boy. 1 Two of our company have lately died—James Leonard and Horace Van Aranam. The latter was from Ellenburg and was a tent mate of mine. Steve Stickle is at home on furlough. We expect him back this week.

All kinds of vegetables are to be had in the market for the money but “that’s what’s the matter” for we haven’t been paid for 8 months. Apples and plums are ripe, and peaches soon will be.

You have had a chance to see something of war lately I suppose. I wish we would be ordered to join you in Virginia, but I don’t know what they intend doing with us. When you write I want you to tell me what the prospect is of going out and whether we will have to join you and what the regiment are all doing and all about it.  I haven’t had any news from home for a long time. I expect Steve [Stickle] will bring some. Jeff Davis passed through here the other day.

But I must close. Tell me where to direct in your next. Write soon and direct to Hilton Head, South Caroline and much oblige.

Yours truly, — S. S. Taylor

1 John O. Waldron served in the 14th New York Heavy Artillery. He died at Andersonville in 1864.

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