Category Archives: 124th New York Infantry

1863: Henry Spencer Murray to William M. Murray

The following letters were written by Henry Spencer Murray (1840-1874), the son of William Murray (1803-1875) and Ellen Maria Matlack (1809-1895) of Goshen, Orange county, New York. Henry’s father was a former US Congressman, representing New York’s 9th & 10th Districts in the US House of Representatives from 1851 to 1855. Two of the three envelopes were addressed to Henry’s older brother, William Matlack Murray (1838-1897), a tinner by trade.

Major Henry Spencer Murray, 124th New York Vols.

When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, Henry was rushed to the defenses of Washington D. C. with the 17th New York State Militia. They later guarded Baltimore. In the fall of 1862, he raised a company (Co. B) for the 124th New York Volunteers and entered the service with them as their captain. Part of the Army of the Potomac, the 124th New York participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863 where Henry was wounded and captured but afterwards paroled.

At the Battle of Gettysburg, both the Colonel (Ellis) and Major of the 124th New York were killed and Henry was promoted from the rank of Captain to Major and assigned to duty at the Camp of Paroled Prisoners at Annapolis, Maryland where he remained until regularly exchanged in January 1864.

After he rejoined the regiment, he was again wounded and taken prisoner in the fighting at Boydton Road on 27 October 1864. This time he was sent to Libby Prison where he remained until the end of the war when he was finally discharged. He never fully recovered from the effects of his first wound and he died at Goshen on 6 March 1874.

Though he does not speak of it in his letter of 22 November 1863, Henry married Sarah Dunning at Goshen on 10 November 1863 while home on furlough.

Letter 1

Addressed to William M. Murray, Goshen, Orange county, New York

Camp Parole
September 13, 1863

Dear Will,

Hon. William Murray

I wrote Father last week after I answered yours and although I have nothing new to write, do so far dear Father may think I don’t write enough.

I doubt whether an exchange will be effected soon, a pretty good sign being an order from Secretary Stanton granting furloughs of thirty days to all Maine men who go home to vote at the election Tuesday.

I am going to speak to the Colonel [Francis M. Cummins] tomorrow again about my going home. He promised me when I spoke about it before that I might go some time this month as soon as an exchange is effected but as it appears dubious about it coming off this month, I am in hopes he will allow me to go anyway.

I take back all I said in my last about Charlie Everett not answering my letter as since then I have received a good long letter from him. Remind Miss Murray that I have not heard from her in some days. Remember me to all the boys who enquire for me.

Love to all, — H. S. M.

Letter 2

Camp Parole
October 14, 1863

Dear Mother,

I have received your announcing Will’s good luck and also yours of Sunday. I knew nothing of the draft coming off or of the soldiers being in town until I learned of it from your letter as I have received no papers of any kind in a great while. I am sorry Will is drafted, although I knew it would be so as it is our family luck. It does seem too bad that A. S. & E. B. should escape. Henry Murray sent me a list of the conscripts. Twll Will when he writes that i want to know who was in that Draft Insurance concern & how many of them were caught. Was that Sawyer Frank’s son?

Excuse me if I am a little incoherent in my writing as I am slightly excited over some news that Colonel just gave me. He has approved & forwarded my application for twenty days & says there is no doubt of its going through all right. I’m afraid my luck is changing.

I sent $650 home by Express Monday & sent Father receipt by same day’s mail. Love to all. — H. S. M.

Letter 3

Camp Parole
November 22, 1863

Dear Will,

I have not written you since I left home but Mrs. M has done my correspondence & has written two or three times now. I can’t plead business as an excuse for I have not had enough to do since I came back to keep a moderately smart man at work over five minutes. All I have to do is to sign my morning report & then lay off the rest of the day.

We are boarding at a Mr. Welch’s opposite the camp—a very good place but strongly secesh. I expect the old man & I will have a blow out one of these days if he talks very strong. I have written to Bob & last night was down to the train to see if he was on board but I guess the rain or some other cause (probably some other) kept him at Washington.

The Colonel has not returned. When he does, we are going to make a dead set on him and either have him fortify us against being reported absent without leave from our regiments by an order of detail from the War Department or else send us to the field. As we stand now, we are in a rather delicate situation.

Briggs is recovering slowly from his diphtheria and Durkee is suffering from chills & fever, in bed one day and up the next. They had been sick all the while I was gone and besides had had a difficulty with the surgeons in account of Brigg’s calling in a citizen physician instead of employing one of them. They were glad enough to see me, I tell you.

I understand the Young Christian’s prayed for the “happy couple” on Tuesday night at the Academy prayer meeting. Just tell him for me that I will hire a regularly licensed “praying man” to do mine for me. Love to all, — H. S. M.

1863: Robert L. Rush to Friend Henry

An unidentified Yank of Robert’s age
(Will Griffing Collection)

This is a March 9, 1863 letter from 43 year-old private Robert L. Rush (1820-1863) of Co. C, 124th New York State Volunteers (“Orange Blossoms”) to his “Friend Henry.” The letter has an angry and frustrated tone, with considerable fury (of a racist nature) against Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, as well as toward General Hooker, who had recently taken over leadership of the Army of the Potomac—“he will show you how he can get the men slaughtered.” Sadly, Rush’s premonition proved all too true, when, two months later, Hookers troops were defeated by a much smaller force under Lee at Chancellorsville, where, on May 3, 1863 (the second bloodiest day of the Civil War), the 124th New York sustained 206 casualties, with Rush among the 38 soldiers in that unit who lost their lives.

Robert was the son of Samuel Rush (1797-1875) and Phoebe Lamoreaux (1803-1860) of Orange county, New York, and though he does not mention her in his letter, he was married to Caroline (Bates) Rush (1822-1903) and had at least five children, the youngest being just 2 years old at the time of his death in May 1863. When Caroline filed for a Widow’s Pension, she claimed her husband enrolled in the regiment on 15 August and was mustered into the service on 5 September 1862. As proof of her husband’s death while in the service, Caroline submitted a letter penned by the captain of her husband’s company, William Silliman, who less than a year later was promoted to Colonel of the 26th USCT.

Camp Stoneman, Va.,
May 13th, 1863

Mrs. Robert Rush,

It is alas too true that your husband Robert Rush fell in the battle of Chancellorsville on Sunday, ay 3rd. He was fighting bravely at my side when he was shot. The ball passed through his right arm near the shoulder and entered his body, probably reaching the heart. I saw him fall and thinking he was only severely wounded, did my best to bring him with us when we retired but he was dying in my arms before I could move him. Two of my men—William A. Homan & Duncan Boyd—and myself were with him to the last and until the regiment had gained some distance beyond us. I shall miss Robert more than almost the rest who were lost from my company. A more honest and faithful man I never knew—always ready and cheerful in the performance of duty. His good deeds will never be forgotten and a braver man will never stand by me in battle. He died easily and without apparent pain. Of course I cannot tell you where his body lies as the enemy now hold the battleground. May God be with you and your family in your trial.

Yours sincerely, — William Silliman

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Camp of the 124th [New York] Regiment
Near Falmouth, Virginia
March 9, 1863

Friend Henry,

I received yours of the 27th of last month. I was much pleased to hear from you but was sorry that times is getting so hard as to force you to take Roonies in the county [poor] house. You must try to weather the storm if possible & [at] the worst, you must [be]come black yourself & come down here & hire with Uncle Sam. He gives the niggers $25 a month when he can’t afford to give us white men but $13. Oh, how I wish I was a nigger. They are so much more respected than the poor, ignorant soldier of the North.

Now I see by the papers that all our teamster laborers around the commissary besides two men detailed out of each company is to be replaced by nigger contrabands which I think goes to show that our government is getting hard up for soldiers as by this means they will increase the ranks which is getting pretty thinned by bullets & sickness—two by sickness where there is one lost by bullets and I might safely say 10.

Henry, no doubt you see in the papers the improved condition of the Army of the Potomac. Now when you see this & singular other statements such as “all they want is another chance to meet the enemy again,” you can make up your mind that it is all a damned pack of lies for I have talked with a great many old soldiers & they are heart-sick of this war. They say they are willing to fight to reestablish the Union but they can’t go fighting for the nigger. They say they don’t care a damn which whips—like the old woman when her husband & the bear was fighting. And moreover, you have seen how the health of the Army is improved by Hooker’s new order of giving the men fresh bread & vegetables. The bread we have had some 3 or 4 times but I don’t see the vegetables. The officers gets them. We had some potatoes & onions twice & when we did get them, there was not enough for each man as a sick kitten could eat.

Bully for Hooker! He will show just how he can get the men slaughtered some of these days when the sign comes right. Look at the improved condition of the regiment. We came out here with nine hundred & fifty men. Now when the regiment goes on picket, we can raise but four hundred & fifty. Now what has become of them? There has not been one man lost by bullets but quite a number of them have left their bones laying in the ground & the rest is in hospitals & laying around camp crippled & sick & it is the same in all the Army. But thank God, I have good health yet which is a great blessing here.

Some of the boys from the 12th NYSV Orange Blossoms
(Library of Congress)

John Tompkins 1 has got all right & has returned to duty again. Isaac Odell 2 is coming up fast. He begins to feel quite like himself again & the Cornwall Boys generally is very well with a few exceptions. They are all on duty & kicking around. D[avid] L. Wescott 3 is complaining a little with lame back. We all know it is not caused by sleeping with the women for we don’t see one in three months. I feel myself under great obligations to you for them stamps you sent me. Tell Jess when you see him that I am as hearty as a buck, only I camp jump quite so high nor my horn is not quite so stiff.

I will now close hoping this may find you well & in Canterbury, not out back of Goshen as you was saying in your last. Take my advice & black yourself where you can get $25 worth of greenbacks. If gold comes down, par with them. I remain your obedient servant, — Robert L. Rush

Co. C, 124 Regt. N. Y. S. V., Washington D. C.

[in another hand]

Friend Henry, I saw in your letter to Friend Robert you used my name as having my eyes open at last. If a man can’t get his open here, I don’t know where in Hell he would go to get them open, but was not aware when I wrote to friend Faurat that it was going any farther, but as it has all right & if you would see more, ask G. Tompkins, Esq., or L. B. Faurat as I have written to him again on the subject of our country’s peril. Henry, I would be pleased to hear from you & if you will write, I will answer it. — Jonas G. Davis 4

1 John Thompkins was 25 years old when he enlisted in Co. C, 124th NYSV. He was captured while on picket on 23 June 1864 near Petersburg and was not released until May 1865.

2 Isaac Odell was 35 years old when he enlisted in Co. C, 124th NYSV. He was accidentally wounded at some point in the war and transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps until discharged in July 1865.

3 David L. Wescott was 41 years old when he enlisted in Co. C, 124th NYSV. He was mortally wounded in action on the same day as Robert. He died at the Potomac Creek Hospital on 24 May 1863.

4 Jonas G. Davis was 27 years old when he enlisted in Co. C, 124th NYSV. He was discharged for disability on 20 March 1863, two weeks after this letter was written.