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.
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.
September 13, 1863
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.
October 14, 1863
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.
November 22, 1863
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.