1862-63: Benjamin Franklin Blatchford to his Family

Blatchford in his Lieut. uniform later in the war.

The following letters were written by Benjamin (“Ben”) Franklin Blatchford (1835-1906), the son of William Blatchford (1788-1864) and Mary Gott (1806-1873). Ben was married to Emily (“Em”) 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.

Service records indicate that Ben first enlisted as a 1st Sergeant in Co. B, 50th Massachusetts Infantry on 20 August 1862 and that he mustered out on 24 August 1863 at Wenham, Massachusetts. He was later commissioned 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.

To read letters by other members of the 50th Massachusetts Infantry that I have transcribed & published on Spared & Shared, see:
William G. Hammond, Co. A, 50th Massachusetts (1 Letter)
Rufus Melvin Graham, Co. F, 50th Massachusetts (29 Letters)
Jackson Haynes, Co. F. 50th Massachusetts (1 Letter)
William Rockwell Clough, Co. G, 50th Massachusetts (5 Letters)
Benjamin Austin Merrill, Co. K, 50th Massachusetts (5 Letters)
Moses Edward Tenney, Co. K, 50th Massachusetts (1 Letter)

Letter 1

Camp Banks, Long Island, New York 1
November 28th 1862

Dear Mother & Father,

I suppose you have been looking for a letter from me but I have not had much chance to write to anyone yet and I have not much of a chance to write now. But I take this time and will try to give you a idea of the voyage here and the prospects ahead. When we went through Boston, I saw very few that I was acquainted with. We went on board the cars in Boston and went through the city of Worcester and arrived in Norwich about 9:30 p.m. when we went on board the steamer City of Boston and left for New York. We had a very pleasant passage. Just inside of Throgg’s Point, we passed the Great Eastern at anchor. She is what I call a large ship. We went near enough to her to read her name.

We arrived in New York about 9 a.m. and marched down Broadway and into the Park and halted in front of the City Hall, stacked arms, and got our dinner in the Park Barracks. We then marched down Broadway to Franklin Street and went into a large building and stopped about 40 hours when we packed our knapsacks and left for this place. We had a march of about six miles and got here about 4 p.m., stacked arms, and went to the Quartermaster’s and got our tents and had them pitched before it was very dark and turned in on the ground. We could get no hay that night. I put my rubber blanket under and my woolen blanket over me and went to sleep and concluded sleeping on the ground in a tent was not so bad after all.

We are very comfortable here. We live in small A tents, six men in one tent—rather snug quarters. The men as a general thing are well. Joseph Beals is no better (if he is so well as when we left home). I never felt better in my life than I do now and never had a better appetite and the men all say I grow fat and I think I do myself.

I don’t want you to answer this letter until you hear from me again. I expect we will be off from here by Monday sure, for four companies from this regiment leave today and the rest will follow as soon as the transports are ready. They say we are bound to Fortress Monroe and wait for the rest of the Division or Expedition which is said will consist of fifty thousand men. There is a light battery going with us that will fire 160 shots per minute. It has 25 barrels and is breach loading and has a rake of 45 degrees and is considered the most destructive weapons now in use.

As soon as you find out where we are bound, I want you to write and let me know all the news. Ask Mr. Lowe to write too and tell him I will write to him as soon as anything turns up that will be of interest to him. I wrote Em the other day and have had no answer yet but I expect a letter from her today.

I think I like it better than I did at first and am getting on first rate. I had my sword engraved in New York and it looks first rate. Give my respects to Dr. and Capt. Haskell and tell them we are well. Tell Robert that Andrew is well and has been all along and can lug his knapsack with the best of them. Ask him to write to me when he has a chance and tell Louisa to write as soon as she finds out where we are. You can send this to Em or write one to her just as you see fit—only be sure and let her know you have had a letter and she will write as soon as she finds out where we are. I don’t get much time to write or I would write to her today.

If you can see some New York papers, you will find out when we start. I expect it will be Monday and it may be before. Give my love to each of my brothers and sisters and tell them to write to me as often as they can. Don’t let anyone out of the family see this letter for it was wrote in double quick time and I ain’t had or got time to read it over to see what is right and what is wrong. But the next letter I write I will try to make it more interesting and I will write slower. You can let Mr. Lowe read this if he can. I can’t hardly myself. Give my respects to all and tell Uncle Jack that I will write to him and his wife as soon as I can find anything of interest to write about.

If you receive any letters from Henry that are directed to me, I want you to send them to me after you have read them. I have got work to do now so I must say goodbye for this time but I will write again after we land—that is, as soon as I have a chance after. Tell Em what I have wrote or send her this just as you have a mind to.

— Benjamin F. Blatchford

1 In a letter to his father, 18 year-old drummer boy Rufus Melvin Graham described Camp Banks to his father not long after the regiment arrived: “Our camp is a very level place—the Union Trotting Course—but bleak and cold. It is situated right under some hills and the wind blows over on to us. We left New York at 11 o’clock a.m. and marched down to the ferry boat and crossed the ferry to Williamsburgh, then formed a line and marched to camp—a distance of 10 miles through the mud.” [Rufus Graham to his Father, 23 November 1862]

Letter 2

Camp N. P. Banks
December 11th 1862

Dear Mother & Father,

I suppose you have been looking for a letter fro me for some time but as there is not much going on here that would be of interest to you, I have not wrote to you before for sometime, and I only write now to let you know that I am as well as ever and hope to get out of this soon. It is rather cold here. During the cold snap that we have had it has been uncomfortable here. One night it was so sold that our canteens froze solid and one canteen with whiskey in it froze. But of late we have had warm and comfortable weather. We all want to get off before we have another cold snap. It has not been so cold as to cause much suffering (but uncomfortable).

Our situation is—or would be—very pleasant in the summer. We are on the Union Race Course and within a half a mile from here is a burying ground where six hundred soldiers are buried. Part of our regiment went on board the steamer yesterday and we expect to go soon.

I would like to have Louisa write to me as soon as you receive this. Tell William I will write to him after I get off and if anything turns up that will be of interest and as I find time. I will write to Dudley and the rest of the folks. I wrote to Em three days since and she will send the letter to you or write one to you soon.

We have 11 men on the sick list but none of [them] are very sick. All that is the matter with most of them is bad colds.

Benjamin F. Sleeper has had the Shakes or the fever and ague but he is all right now. John M. Tuttle has been sick for about a week but he is better now and he will be ready for duty in a day or two.

The rest of the Rockport boys are well with the exception of slight colds. I am well and have been all along. My back don’t trouble me any and I think I am as well as I ever was in my life and I like it as well as ever.

If I have time, I will write again before I sail and if I don’t find time to write, you will see when we go by the papers. As soon as you find out where we land, I want you to write and let me know all the news. Tell Dr. Haskell I would like to have him write and I will answer it as soon as I find time. Since I have been writing, I hear that we are going to New York tomorrow but I don’t believe it yet. The news is too good to be true. At any rate, you can tell when we go by the papers. Write to Em or send this and let her know that I am well and if I don’t go away, I shall expect a letter soon.

The men don’t get half of the letters that is sent to them and if you don’t get letters as often as you expect to, you must not think I don’t write for I shall write to you or Em as often as I find time and I want you to tell Em to write as often as anything turns up of interest and do the same yourself.

Give my love to all. — Benj. F. Blatchford

Letter 3

Delaware Bay
December 15th 1862

Dear Father & Mother,

On the 12th we received marching orders and I was left behind to take charge of the sick and see to the striking the tents and see that the baggage and everything was forwarded to Brooklyn which I done and gave satisfaction to all concerned. At nine o’clock p.m. I went on board of the steamer Niagara and at 2 p.m. on the 13th, we sailed for parts unknown. Everything went on well until the morning of the 14th when we began to mistrust that something was wrong—and so it proved, for she had sprung a leak and we was making our way for a harbor as fast as steam would drive her. At 10 o’clock Sunday we arrived at Delaware Breakwater and pumped and bailed the water out of her and got a pilot and now we are bound up the Delaware Bay for the port of Philadelphia (as near as we can judge) where this craft will be condemned—or had ought to be—for she is so rotten.

The Salem Register, 18 December 1862

After we arrived at Delaware Breakwater, the officers met and called upon men that had been to sea and decide whether it was best to proceed with the voyage or not. The officer had not been to sea but there was plenty of men in Co. B that had and the first thing that I knew, I was sent for by the Colonel and he asked me several questions about the craft and I told him just what I thought without making anything out any worse than it actually was. Everything that I said they wrote down; also the questions that was asked. You will see the questions and answers in some papers soon after this affair is settled.

After he was through with me, he sent for five or six more of our men from Co. B and asked them about the same questions. He also wrote them down and concluded to abandon the voyage in such a craft as this. I call it the meanest thing that I ever saw done—to send men to sea in a boat like this, and if I had known how bad she was before I went on board, I never would thought of throwing my life away by going in such mean craft as this. But as we are to get out of her, I won’t find fault for you will hear by other letters than mine and see some of the rotten timber that comes out of her best beams, for some of the boys are going to send home some of the pieces and the rest of the companies on board say that if it had not been for Co. B, they would had to go or went in her and they say if they had, they would all went to pot. 1

I never saw a set of men more pleased than these six companies are at the prospect of getting out of this boat. THey all say they are willing and ready to take their chance on the battlefield, but they are not willing to throw their lives away by going in such a craft as this. I may write again before I go further South, but if I don’t get a chance now, I will write the first chance after I arrive. I can’t write any more now for I have got work to do soon. Give my respects to all. Let Uncle Jack read this is he wants to and any of my brothers and sisters that happen to be at the house while this happens to be there. And tel them that I will write to all of them if I can find anything of interest to write about….

Our Rockport men are all well except Mr. Beals. He improves every day. I am as well as ever. My respects to all. You must excuse blunders as this was wrote in haste and the old boat shaking and I ain’t got time to look over to see whether it is written wrong.

We are in Philadelphia. No time to write more.

1 Drummer boy Rufus Melvin Graham of Co. F, 50th Massachusetts also felt relieved to have found safe harbor in Philadelphia: “All the time we were coming, the steam pumps were at work and when we got into Philadelphia, there was—they say—ten feet of water in the hold. The old boat trembled and it was awful dangerous. We all think that we are lucky to come off with our lives. it was a great wonder that the old shell didn’t sink before we got here but here we are all alive and feeling as well as circumstances will permit. We are anchored out in the steam opposite the Navy Yard and we don’t know how long we shall stay here but we will stay here till we can get a steamer that can keep above water at least. There is five companies on this craft and in this port. Companies C, D, F, G, [and] B is with us. Companies A, K, [and] E are gone on board of the Jersey Blue and have gone to their destination, I guess. And Company H has gone on board some other steamer and our regimental baggage with them and they have gone I don’t know where and our Band has gone in another boat and I don’t know where they are. We have got all of staff officers with us on this boat. We shall all meet together again at our destination, I don’t know when or where. It was well that the men did not know what danger we were in night before last. If they had, we should have surely have gone to the bottom. The old boat lasted us in here and that is about all. [Rufus Graham to his Father, 15 December 1862]

Letter 4

Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
January 15th 1863

Dear Mother and Father,

When I wrote to you before I told you to direct your letter to Fortress Monroe as I expected to be there by this time, but as it is, I shan’t go down there until the middle or last of next week. The reason that I have not gone is I want to get fairly well before I start and I have made up my mind to stop here until I get about as strong as ever. I am not sick now but I am a little weak and I want to get strong before I leave here. The ship Jenny Lind left here with the 50th [Mass.] Regiment on board one week ago today. She has not arrived yet, or at least I have not seen her reported but I expect to hear from her every hour.

The boys from Rockport was all well enough to go on board the ship except Joseph Beals and myself. I am here at this private hospital but Beals is in a General Hospital off 5th Street. He is not very well and I think he will get his discharge or not he will not be able to go any further. I think if you answer as soon as you receive this, I shall get it. Direct your letter to Sergt. Benj. F. Blatchford at the Volunteer Refreshment Saloon, foot of Washington Street, Philadelphia, and I shall get it. But it will be no use to write if you put it off. You want to write as soon as you receive this and I shall be here long enough to receive it. And when you write, tell me all the news and how the folks are getting on.

This is the first time that I have been sick. I never got the least cold on Long Island while almost all the rest had colds and was sick, but I was taken sick on board of the Niagara and ain’t hardly over it yet. But I think I shall take good care of my health above everything else after I go back to the Regiment this time. Tell Robert I think Andrew is (or was) well for he came in to see me twice the day before he went away. He was well then with the exception of a cold. Ask Rob to write to me and let me know how Ann and the children get along. As soon as my head is entirely well, I shall write to my brothers and sisters. Give my love to all and tell them I shall write to them soon.

I have had one letter from Louisa since I left home but I don’t blame her for I think she has wrote more—only I ain’t had the good luck to receive them. But I shall expect an answer from this the first of next week. When you write, let me know where Henry [Lowe] is. I would like a letter from him very much. I think about [his boy] Frank every day. A few days more and he will be one years old. I want you to write and tell me how his eye is and ask Dudley and Bill to write and tell me how Sam York lost his sloop. I heard she was lost and that is about all the news I have heard, and I don’t know as that is true. Tell all the folks I am getting on first rate. Write as soon as you receive this. — Ben

Letter 5

Addressed to Mr. Henry M. Lowe, Newbern, N. C., On board U. S. Steamer Southfield

Rockport [Massachusetts]
August 1863

Dear Brother [in-law],

I received a letter from you this forenoon and was glad to learn that you was in good spirits but was sorry to know that you are troubled with the shakes. I wrote to you when I first got home but you did not say that you had received a letter from me. But in case you don’t get that letter, I will commence and give you a short account of the part we took in the siege of Port Hudson.

On the 27th of May at daylight the first battle commenced. We were ordered to support batteries which we did until about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when we was ordered to the left center to take part in the charge. This was rather hard for us as we had marched upwards of 20 miles and had had but about an hour’s rest. But we had made up our minds to go into Port Hudson that day and off we started. But the men was so tired they could not hold out to march under the burning sun so a great many fell out and lay be the wayside. And when we halted at the battlefield, our company numbered [only] 15 men and 8 of that number I was glad to see belonged to Rockport.

After halting a while, quite a number of the boys that fell out caught up with us and we fell in again and started for the front which was about 600 yards. We had not gone but a short distance when we were ordered into the edge of the woods and order[ed] to lie down which we did under a middling sharp fire where we lay about 2 hours when our whole force began to retreat leaving—as the boys all think—about 1900 killed, wounded and missing. 1

Our regiment then went back to the right center and supported the Marien Battery which was about 700 yards from the Rebel works. After supporting this battery for about 10 days, we built more breastworks of cotton 300 yards from the Rebel works. This work we done in the night without losing a man out of our company and only one out of the crowd. So when daylight came, the Rebs found 4 pieces of Mack’s Battery 2 within 300 yards of their noses.

We supported this battery until the 13th of June when we was ordered to take part in the charge which was to come off the next day (Sunday, the 14th). So at 10 o’clock at night, we formed a line, had the whiskey, and started for the left of our line where we joined the advance column. Here we were ordered to save our powder until we were close on them when we was to fire and then give them the bayonet. This began to look like war. As the rebs opened a sharp fire, men began to fall. We passed over a number of dead and wounded until we, or the regiment ahead of us, came to a deep ravine and could not get across so we had to lie down the rest of the day and get off when it came dark. One company within 25 yards of us lost 13 men that day. We did not lose any but a number was wounded in the regiment. 3

After we got out of this—the worst battle we ever had at Port Hudson—we went back to Mack’s Battery within 300 yards of the Rebel works and supported that battery until the surrender. Then I was willing to come home, but I never wanted to come home until Port Hudson was ours.

While our company was in the service, we lost 16 all told. The last one that died that you was acquainted [with] was William Goday. Solomon Choate is sick but he is getting on first rate. About 20 of our company are sick here in Rockport. I don’t know how many in other places. Ten of our regiment died on the passage home. We came up the Mississippi and had a good chance to see the Western States. Joseph Devon of our company we left sick in Mound City, Illinois. Also Solomon Choate & Ephraim Brown. The two latter are at home but Devon’s case is hard.

I was down to your Mother’s last night. She and Susan send their love. I have not seen Edward yet. He is at Dover. Your Father is down East.

I was onboard of Arthur Parson’s vessel at Port Hudson a number of times. He is promoted to Ensign. George Rowe is dead. John Rowe’s George—the one that married Eliza Gilbert, he died at Louisville, Kentucky. He was in the 35th [Mass.] Regiment.

Father is about the same as when you left home. Your boy is a great friend of mine. He is trying to help me on this letter but I think he does more hurt than good and half of the blunders here you must charge to him. I found him a smarter and bigger boy that I expected. We soon got acquainted and now we are chums. He tries to help me in everything I do but I don’t think he does much good, but as he thinks he does, it’s all right. He calls me Ben and every time I come upstairs he takes hold of my hand and leads me into the room.

A short time since, Louisa wrote to you and put a letter in the box she sent. She also wrote two letters beside. She will write again in a day or two. She wants you to look out for that box that she sent August 12th. It was worth or cost her $28. I was very, very sorry to find you off when I got home for I had not seen you for so long. I had planned a good many good times and was sure you was at home until I heard the contrary in Boston. But I am in hopes to see you before many months as I expect to come that way soon.

We was sorry to hear that Addison [Pool] is so slim but as cold weather comes on, we are in hopes he will be better. Of the whole number of the drafted men that you mentioned to Louisa, all are exempt with the exception of Frank Farr, James Gott, Arta Gott, Joseph Haskins. These had to fork over $300 each. And of the whole number drafted, no one that I know of are going. And that man that worked for Dr. Haskell took an axe and cut two fingers off of his right hand as soon as he found he was drafted. This of course cleared him.

You wanted to know what we think of the prospect of the war coming to an end. Well, I have heard the Mississippi called the backbone of the rebellion from the beginning of the war. Within a few weeks I had the opportunity of traveling over that backbone from Port Hudson to Cairo and did not see a sign of a reb except what was prisoners and fighting in the Southwest is about over. And of the 1500 prisoners I went with (as a guard) from Port Hudson to Red River, Vidalia, and Natchez, very few say they will fight again.

And as Charleston is called the Head of the Rebellion, we think as the walls of Fort Sumter have crumbled away before our gunboats, the head of the rebellion has received a dreadful shock and the prospects for peace is brighter now than it has been at any time during the war. As I have no more room, I must draw this to a close. Write soon. — Ben. F. Blatchford

1 Drummer boy Rufus Melvin Graham of Co. F, 50th Massachusetts, kept to the rear for duty as stretcher bearer, was more direct in his assessment of the days fight: “The next morning our regiment was ordered to go and support a battery as soon as light. They went off without any breakfast. They supported a battery all the forenoon and in the afternoon went into battle (the 27th). Our folk made a charge upon the breastworks and got driven back. We accomplished nothing but had a lot of men killed and wounded. We had two men wounded in our company—Charles Stickney ¹ in the ankle and Hugh McDermott ² in the hand. Our regiment was in the thickest of the fight. The rebs fired grape and canister and horse shoes and pieces of railroad iron and almost everything. Our batteries fired at them all the time.” [Rufus Graham to his Father, 19 June 1863]

2 Capt. Albert G. Mack commanded the 18th Battery, New York Light Artillery that was attached to Augur’s Division in Banks’ 19th Corps at Port Hudson. The battery was also known as the “Black Horse Artillery.” The battery was active at Fort Bisland, the Amite river, Plains store, and the siege of Port Hudson, La., where it participated in the assaults of May 27 and June 14.

3 Drummer boy Rufus Melvin Graham wrote his father of this day’s action as well: “On the 14th of June (Sunday), we had another battle. Our folks stormed the fort again and two companies succeeded in getting inside of the fort. That was all. They were taken prisoners. We lost in killed and wounded 2,000 men and accomplished nothing. Gen. [Halbert Eleazer] Paine was wounded twice and when they were carrying him off the field on a stretcher, he was shot through the head and killed. That day our regiment was down on the left supporting a battery and were under fire all day and had no one hurt. [Rufus Graham to his Father, 19 June 1863]

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