1862: John Blatchford to William Blatchford

I could not find an image of John but here an unidentified infantryman from Massachusetts who appears to be about the same age as John (Dave Morin Collection)

The following letters were written by 41 year-old John Blatchford (1821-1912), the son of William Blatchford (1789-1864) and Betsy Foster (17xx-1832), and the husband of Lydia Wright (1827-1913). John was working as a brick mason in Boston, Massachusetts, when he enlisted on 16 August 1862 as a private in Co. F, 40th Massachusetts Infantry. At the time of his enlistment, he had two sons—Frederick (age 8) and William (age 6).

According to military records, John served with his regiment until 7 February 1865 when he was discharged prematurely for disability at the age of 43.

The regiment arrived at Fort Ethan Allen across the Potomac from the Capitol on 12 September 1862. It remained manning the defenses of Washington DC, under the operational and administrative control of the 2nd Brigade, Abercrombie’s Division, Military District of Washington, until February 1863. This time was relatively uneventful for the regiment save for the response to a raid on 28 December by Stuart’s rebel cavalry where they arrived only in time to capture a small number of the cavalry’s rear guard. The regiment remained in the defenses south of Washington through the winter and early spring of 1863. On 2 February, the forces defending Washington were reorganized into the XXII Corps. 

Letters by other members of the 40th Massachusetts Infantry that I have transcribed and published on Spared & Shared include:

Mahlon N. Thatcher, Co. B, 40th Massachusetts (14 Letters)
Warren P. Searles, Co. C, 40th Massachusetts (1 Letter)
Charles Wilson Crocker, Co. E, 40th Massachusetts (1 Letter)
Edwin Augustus Lane, Co. H, 40th Massachusetts (10 Letters)
Wisner Park, Co. H, 40th Massachusetts (1 Letter)
Moses M. Ordway, Co. I, 40th Massachusetts (2 Letters)
Cyrus W. Conant, Co. K, 40th Massachusetts (4 Letters)
Robert B. Foster, Co. K, 40th Massachusetts (1 Letter)

Letter 1

Munson’s Hill
October 14, 1862

Dear Father,

I thought that I would write a few lines to let you know where I am. I do not know where we was when I wrote the last letter—we have been moving about so much, and [now] we are back to the same place. The regiment is on Munson’s Hill. Some think that we shall stop here all winter. We cannot tell anything about that.

I am stopping at a farm house about one mile from the camp with a sick boy. I have been with him two weeks. I think I shall have to stop one week more. The name of the farm is Summer Dale. They appear to be nice folks though some say that the man has been in the Rebel army and has three sons in it now, but I do not know how that is. They are very kind to Charley. Our pickets has a post in front of the house, one back of it, and for two miles on the road it is a desolate looking country. There is but few houses to be seen. They tell me that there has been 50 houses torn or burnt down within two miles around this place.

This is quite a farm. He has 500 acres and cultivates 280 acres. He has 40 acres of corn and they planted it with 3 men in 4 days. I think that is faster than Robert could get corn into the ground. They have just commenced to harvest. We had a snowstorm Friday and since then, it has been fine weather but quite cold. The day that it stormed, the boys tore down a house and barn to fix their tents. I can take no part in such things. I did not leave my home to steal or to destroy the property of any man.

I often think of home and its comforts but it is useless to complain. My country calls and I thought it was best for me to do my duty. How I miss the blessings of home. How I miss going to meeting and Sunday School and how the family prays. When at home, we could kneel together and thank Him for His kindness to us. But now when we try to pray in our tent, some one will be cursing [or] drums beating—it is not no easy to be a Christian—to be a follower of the meek and lowly. I do not know how I should be able to bear up under it but for the Bible. I can always find some words to cheer me on the way.

When I was in camp, a few of us would get in a tent and read and pray. A prayer in camp does not sound like one in church [where] it has a solemn sound and it goes to the heart of all that try to serve God. [In camp and] in prayer, it is hard to shut the heart to all sound that comes to the ear. I try to serve Him that has kept me from harm. Pray for me that I may be faithful to the end.

Benjamin (“Benny”) Franklin Blatchford

I had a letter from Benny 1 yesterday. I expect that he has left camp. He wanted me to answer to Father. Tell him when you write that I have answered his letter. I don’t know as you can find out what I have wrote. I have taken Charley out of bed four times while writing this page. Mother, when you go to Boston, call and see Lydia. She writes that Louisa came up. I think if William Blackford, Jr. had any Christian spirit or brotherly love, he would call and see her often. Time makes many changes in this world. I do not wish him to call if it will cause her much pain.

Give my love to all—William in particular. Ask them all to write. I cannot write to all but can write to you so they can all hear from me. When there is any news, I will write. We are in General Cowdin’s Brigade, Abercrombie’s Division. Burr Porter is our Colonel.

I shall have to bid you all good night for Charley is calling me. He has the typhoid fever. Ask some of the folks to write soon. Goodbye Father and Mother, — from John [Blatchford]

1 Benny was John’s half brother Benjamin Franklin Blatchford (1835-1906), the son of William Blatchford (1788-1864) and Mary Gott (1806-1873). Ben was married to Emily F. Snow (1833-1917) in Boston in August 1855 and was laboring as a carpenter in Rockport, Essex county, Massachusetts, at the time of the 1860 US Census. Emily was the daughter of David Snow (1793-1869) and Sarah Weston (1801-1850) of Easton, Massachusetts. Ben first enlisted as a 1st Sergeant in Co. B, 50th Massachusetts Infantry. He then became a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. K, 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in June 1865 and mustered out at Wilmington, North Carolina in September 1865. See Benjamin Franklin Blatchford Letters.

Letter 2

Members of the 40th Massachusetts in Skirmish Drill near their encampment on Minor’s Hill in 1862. [Digital Commonwealth]

Minor’s Hill, Virginia
October 26, 1862

Dear Father,

I received Louisa’s letter and was glad to hear from you. I should have answered it before if I had time. We have been moving from place to place. We went from Fort Ethen [Allen] to Munson’s Hill. It is a mile from there to Minor’s Hill. Then we moved to another hill and then back to Minor’s Hill. With the picket guard duty, and drills, and keeping ourselves clean, our time is mostly taken up. I cannot say much about the country anything more than it is a desolate looking place. There is only a few houses that I have seen. They have torn them down. Both armies has occupied the ground that we have so that everything is destroyed. If you look on the map, you can see where we [are] posted. It is two miles up from Falls Church and 1 mile back from the turnpike. We [are] in General Cowdin’s Brigade. Colonel Burr Porter of the 40th Regiment.

You wanted to know if we had enough to eat. Yes, we do—of such things as we get. We have fresh meat twice a week, soft bread 3 days in a week, good hard bread as much as we want, and good salt meat. We do not have many potatoes—only three times since we left Boxford. I like it as well as I expected. It is a lonesome day. It rains in torrents. I wish that I could drop home for today and see the folks. As that cannot be, I will rest contented.

I received Benny’s letter today.

It is Sunday. The weather is so bad that we cannot hold our meetings. We have them outdoors—the tents is so small. I am looking for the time when I can return home where I can have the privilege of attending meetings. I miss them very much. We have a few pious men in our company. We get together, ring and sing and pray. We cannot feel as we do at home for it makes me feel sad to hear so much cursing. Sometimes I can speak to them and they receive it kindly. At other times they do not like it but I trust in God for we cannot see that it does good. I feel quite contented in the army. I do not know the reason that I should. I never was used to camp life. I have gone so far without complaining and hope that I shall do my duty to my country and my God.

Father, do not worry about me. I have no fear and I have a promise that I shall be rewarded. I ask you to pray for me that I shall be faithful and hold out to the end. Tell Benny that I received his letter and was glad to hear from him. Ask him to write again. I would write often to all my brothers and sisters but I have not the [time] nor convenience. Only think of sitting on the ground writing letters.

I have not heard from William but once. I should think that he could send me a paper or letter. I should think if he cared for me he would call and see her (Lydia) and the children. Mother, I hope that Benny will come out here. If he does, we will have a good time. I write this for all. Give my love to all, and would write to all if I had time. Ask them to write to me. From John [Blatchford]

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