The following seven letters were written by Nelson L. Bullis (1835-1864), the son of John Hiram Bullis (1783-1861) and Sally Parish (1790-1873) of Schuyler Falls, New York. “Nell” enlisted on 15 August 1862 at Troy to serve three years in Co. G, 125th New York Infantry. At the time of his enlistment, he was described as a 26 year-old, grey-eyed, black-haired farmer who stood 5 feet 5 inches tall.
Nelson was among the Union troops who were surrendered at Harpers Ferry to Stonewall Jackson’s men on 15 September 1862 and was paroled later that year. Some six weeks before Grant’s Overland Campaign in the spring of 1864, Nelson wrote, “I hope in one year & 5 months more to be so I can go where I choose—that is, providing a rebel bullet does not find me.” Sadly he was killed in action on 16 June 1864 in front of Petersburg.
Nelson’s brother, Mefflin Smith Bullis, served in Co. G, 26th New York Cavalry.
Nelson wrote the letters to his friend, Merritt L. Pierce (1842-1869) of Schuyler Falls, New York.
[Note: These letters are from the personal collection of Carolyn Cockrell and were transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
September 26th, 1863
Yours of the 21st was received today. It surprised me some though. I heard from Saff[ord Taylor] you were intending a western tour, but how happens it, old fellow, that Miranda was entrusted to your care? Where was George Farnsworth? 1 How would he have once felt & talked & still later that schoolteacher who is now in the 9th Vermont or was when I was in Chicago. They would have objected perhaps had they been near. But being in the army is a certain method of being forgotten of the girls. Take care Merritt that going West does not have the same effect.
I no longer belong to Cousin Jeff. I am exchanged & have allegiance only to Uncle Sam & my correspondents. I will not give in yet that I had the blues that time but I may be too much like Charlie, not willing to own any displeasure. But receiving letters from or writing to you has an effect of rendering me silent & sad or perhaps homesick would be a better term.
But if you could enter our reading room you would not wonder. To see a couple play chess or checkers for hours without as much as a smile & to think of the way we used to enjoy it. Then the readers, such faces, some emaciated, others lame or lost a limb, some showing marks of wounds & all wearing a look of such sadness. I never saw it equaled. They act more like prisoners for life & are undergoing repentance for crimes committed. Then the knowledge that your own face wears the same woe begotten look–is it not enough to make a fellow have the blues.
I shall be glad to get back to the regiment & still dread to join it so late in the season. I have had no opportunity to have my likeness taken but if I can get a pass next week, I shall have it all right. I did not suppose you intended staying west but I hope you will be home when I get there if I ever do make out to get home. I am glad to hear from Mark. I did not know but he like many another had gone to the wars.
So you are in the land of Hoosiers. By the time you answer this you will have had a better opportunity of judging of the society. I think one always on his first appearance in a place thinks it worse than it is. I hope you will find it so.
I am gaining rapidly. I shall be able to leave if the powers-that-be see fit to send me off, but still I do not expect to be sent away for 2 weeks unless there is a rush of sick into this hospital.
I hope you will have good success in your western trip & will not be homesick. The other boys made a mighty short stay not [as long?] as I did. You will think my letter rather unconnected. I am talking and reading, have been playing cards and two of the boys are now playing. If it were not for cards, soldiers would find some long hours. I will wait a while to finish this.
1 George Parsons Farnsworth in Beekmantown in 1860 census, served in Co. A, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. Married Emily Miranda Moore of Schuyler Falls.
October 3rd 1863
Yours was received in due time with a little astonishment for the address though that was somewhat lessened by Saff[ord Taylor]’s writing me of your intentions of taking a western trip so I was looking for some account of your departure to the land of Hoosiers & prairie chickens. So, you expect to stay until you get homesick. My hope is that you will get homesick before you get the ague. My thoughts of the West may be erroneous, but I think 5 out of 6 who go from [New] York State to Indiana or Illinois have the ague before they have been there 2 years in spite of what the acclimated say.
You do not seem to wholly like the society. Did you ever visit a strange church & notice how homely the women were & by often going & becoming acquainted finding them as good looking as the generality of people? It is the same in judging of the society. We are apt to see & hear of the worst part first. There are few who do not in giving a description of persons or places or societies who do not give evil side the greatest notice & do not qualify it be telling of good acts or feelings or beauties. But when they speak of praiseworthy things, qualify them by their ifs & buts & evil actions so as entirely to overcome the effects of their praises. So you see I think in my extreme wisdom you will change somewhat your opinion of the society & find many worthy associates if not friends.
I wrote one letter a number of days ago but delayed sending it [un]til I could send my picture but I was refused pass & have tried every day since but the paymaster has been here & payed off those who had been here over 2 months & as soldiers will get drunk when they have money & drunkenness is against the law so our doctor means to stop it by stopping all passes for a few days. I hardly think it will do more than delay the evil & I am afraid it will like waters rage the worse for being confined.
You think I had the blues. It might have [been] so. I own I am thinking of home & its friends more when I write to you or receive a letter from you than any other time. This might have given a coloring or tone to my letter, but I assure you I was not troubled with what I should call the blues. Today I have been somewhat lonesome but no wonder—nothing to do but read & gaming. It is enough to ennui anyone. I always believed myself lazy & no friend of working but here I have often wished to be working on the farm or at the least working so as to take of[f] that sense of feeling that I am a deadbeat to the government & myself as well.
I dread the consequences of exposure on my return to the regiment before my system has recovered its natural tone & may not have to, but I am in a hurry to be of some use to somebody or something. There is no use denying it the exposures. Scant food or something else have had a great effect on my body. It does not recover its strength & tone after being sick as it used to. I feel but a very little stronger that when I came but still am around on the move most of the time. I will send my likeness in the next if not in this. I shall try again tomorrow for a pass.
So, Miranda accompanied you a part of the way—bully for you that George Farnsworth & that schoolmaster who is in the 9th Vermont were not at Morrisonville. They would have given Merritt a severe talking about. Did you talk to her as you used to when we used to spend some of evenings there and more of them kicking dirt. I wish we could do it tonight if it did not rain. And Mark is not.
I could not get to town so will send this & the first one & have a mind to write a 3rd & send it.
January 31, 1864
At last you have mustered up enough courage and spunk to write to my dull P.O. address. It must have been a mighty risk to run. A person in the army changes his address so often & then letters are never forwarded. Old fellow, don’t let me hear you make such an excuse again & you had better stop insinuating about Merritt [Pierce]. I was all the time advising him not to enlist & you–you scoundrel–trying to coax him off. Will [Beckwith] ought to have come but Merritt nary time.
It seems the notion to enlist must have took you sudden. You didn’t speak of it while I was at home. Why did you not for my sake come into the 125th, but for yours I am glad you did not. We are bound to be in the hottest of the fighting & bullets fly mighty careless. Your regiment will not be apt to see man or very hot fighting. You had better remain where you are as long as you can. You have you a soft thing but as for me, give me my regiment as long as they are as friendly as now. There is a feeling as deep as among one family & we feel lonely to be separated as to leave home. But you have not that feeling & camp life will be hard for you to endure.
I understand we have some recruits there [Elmira] for our regiment. I hope you will have them well drilled before you send them along for if the regiment has any recruits the whole of us will be obliged to drill.
I have not played chess in quite a while. There is but one to play with & he is on duty most of the time. If I were there, I believe I could beat you—what do you say?
I expect a letter from Merritt this week. I’ll tell him how you talk. You were casting insinuations when you said there were two chaps who took strange freaks. You did not mean me for I always told everybody what I was going to do & then done as I had a mind to. I think Mart will teach a good school, but it will be his last one. He will not like it. I am not in very good humor for writing & so shall quit. Write soon & oblige, — Nelson Bullis
Company G, 125th New York Infantry Vagabonds, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 2nd Corps, Washington, D.C.
Camp near Stevensburg, Virginia
February 10th, 1864
Yours was received in due time & I will try & answer it. We are about 40 miles from Washington, 2 miles from Brandy Station on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. Perhaps you can get a pass from the Provost Marshal at Washington in Alexandria. The last I knew of [unreadable] he was head clerk in the office at Alexandria. He could furnish you with a pass if he is still there. If my advice can influence you any, you will stay where you are as long as you can. There is not much of fun in that, but too much of severe earnest, you could not content yourself in the army at all.
I can adapt myself to circumstance as well as anybody I ever saw & still there are times it seems as though I must go crazy or get away from the monotony of camp life; when the boys are all in it is well enough but sometimes all but one or two are out on detail, then it is terrible. Yesterday every able man not on other duty were out digging rifle pits. They seem to expect an attack from Lee in return for us going to visit him.
I believe 126th New York Regiment recruited there. If so, you must have heard great stories about their bravery. I think so by the colored accounts I have seen and heard. When the Corps got to the Rapidan, our Regiment—the 125th— was in the advance. 100 of our boys, including Co. G of course, were taken from the left of the regiment and told to cross. They forded the river, took 25 prisoners and were the first to form a skirmish line & the last to recross the river & we were not driven over by the bayonets of the 126th. I don’t think it would be very healthy for that regiment to try force with us either. It is true that there was not one of our men hit but the Rebs fired at them enough. It makes us swear some to see the accounts in the papers giving the praise of crossing the river first to the 126th. [See the Battle of Morton’s Ford]
We were ordered to have an inspection today, but the rain & wind has stopped it so far & I think it will for the rest of the day. I don’t believe you can read this, but I am sitting or lounging on the bunk & cannot write any better. I guess I shall not scold you again–you answered so promptly that time.
I understand that 18 men have got to come from Schuyler Falls for the last quota. Smith is recruiting officer. I don’t how they can raise the men. I think Merritt & the Beckwith boys will yet have to come. I hope it will never take Merritt. If he is obliged to come, I wish he would join Co. G. I supposed Orville [Stickle] and Steve [Stickle] were in the regiment with Israel [Stickle]. He is out in the Potomac Army. If you hear where Orville is, give me his Corps, Division, Brigade, & Regiment. We can then find each other sometime. I will close hoping to hear from you again.
— Nel[son] Bullis
3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 2nd Corps, Company G, 125th New York Volunteer Infantry, Washington, D.C.
Camp near Stevensburg, Virginia
March 14, 1864
Friend Safford [Taylor],
Yours was received in due time & I cannot tell whether it is answered or not. If not, here goes for what it is worth. If yes, why the loss is small for Amelia sent me the paper & envelope and [my brother] Levi the stamp. It only cost me the time & that is a drug. Besides it rains & I have nothing to read. I got a letter from Merritt the other day. He will run the South school this summer. Fannie is to teach it.
I wish Tim Newcomb was with his regiment. They lay about 80 rods from here. Never mind the grammar but the Johnnies hold him fast. We would have some sport I’ll bet. Well, do you still stick to your resolution of going to your regiment. I believe I have answered yours, but I shan’t back out. The boys I heard of enlisting in our regiment did not go to Elmira. They went to Fort Schuyler, New York Harbor. Elvin was still teaching at Plattstown. I thought he would be disowned before the first month was past but he seems to stick to it. I wish you could be in our regiment for 3 months now & then if you chose could go back to Elmira. You would be contented to remain there, I think.
The summer campaign will commence soon if the weather remains as fair as the past month. Then for a tramp—a long tramp—& we will some of us tramp never to return ary once. Well, never mind. There will be enough left for the good of community as long as I remain in the rear, & I think a good ways in the rear will be the best.
Well, old fellow, how do you look dressed up in soldier’s toggery or do you wear citizens clothes yet? I motion (excuse my boldness & lack of maidenly reserve) that in course of the ensuing ages we exchange photo-, daguerreo-, ambro-, ferro-, basso relievo printing or some other kind of types in which we can cogitate on the innumerable changes caused by the fingering of old Time’s own self & Uncle Sam’s hard tack—which by the way you know but little about. I sent mine home—that’s a lie for it is not mailed yet but it is ready to send. I look as “sojerfied” as Polly Cresset. We do not belong to the dignified division now.
Oh, by the way (in secret you know), do you correspond yet [with] Delia Annie? She has somehow forgotten or purposely refrained from writing to me. I did not know but the charms of yourself of letters or something had changed the direction of the current of her affections. Now I don’t want to scare you into a lie but just tell me, won’t you? If you don’t, I will tell Merritt. He says you want my address. I am glad Add has got more than one. As for mine, they are lousy & you don’t want to mix the Potomac & conscript lice together. They would not agree as well as veterans & bounty jumpers. Don’t forget to tell me Orville [Stickle]’s regiment & where stationed if you know.
Say Saff, I am sleepy & it is now noon. What shall I do? Can you read this? I can’t near do as I want to. Is that the way with you? I heard a fellow make that remark about a letter he received. He did not like to get long letters. It was too much work to read them. Are you corresponding with C. Bidwell now? I wrote to him. He did not answer in 2 months. I wrote again & got a letter the same night & answered it. He has not written again. — Nel[son Bullis]
Camp 125th [New York] Regiment near Stevensburg
Culpeper Court House
March 20th, 1864
Friend Merritt [Pierce],
Yours was received in due time but laziness had too strong a hold of me. I could not, or rather did not, shake it off. I am enjoying life gay. Our lieutenant has resigned & we have the [Lt. Elam S. P.] Clapp to boss us now as lieutenant. He will keep me for a while in my position. I am glad of it for I do not have to go on guard & get rid of many an inspection.
I do not have the blues much now days, but I do want some maple sugar. I hope your party had a good time. I am sorry I could not accept your invitation. I hope in one year & 5 months more to be so I can go where I choose—that is, providing a rebel bullet does not find me. By the way, report says we are going to move again soon. There was an alarm the other day. Wasn’t we thankful that it was in the daytime. We stayed in line near an hour. We at first thought it meant fight as our cavalry had not got back, but it was a false alarm.
I sent a likeness home the other day. It shows that I am not very sick. I got a letter from Saff[ord Taylor] last night. He is well & for a wonder, Jabe wrote to me. If you see Lewis Spalding, tell him I want him to write to me for it has been 2 months since I wrote to him & he has not answered it. I suppose George [Pierce] will soon move. It will seem strange for him & Emma to keep house. She will be a little lonesome I am thinking.
Write me all about all the folks, how the new schoolmarms get along, & how often you carry Fannie home. For her sake, be careful about going to the school house very often for she has the greatest set of hectors I ever knew & I ought to know them well. Perhaps you are laughing & thank Nell for unasked advice. Well, never mind. It don’t hurt me much & perhaps you enjoy it. I want to know how the town meeting went & all about it. I have a faint recollection that I have answered it before & I will let it run & close by hoping you will answer soon & oblige, — Nel[son Bullis]
Camp 125th Regiment New York Volunteers
April 6th, 1864
Friend Merritt [Pierce]
Yours was received in due time. Then I knew I had answered yours twice though while writing the 2nd there was a remembrance of an answer made, but it is as well. I received a paper from you. It was like a stranger or an old friend in a strange country to see a [Plattsburgh] Sentinel in Virginia. We [get] a great many of them, but they are not printed. Your mother [Huldah Ann Reed Pierce] enclosed a piece. Tell her it was first rate & I wish that all York State felt the same.
I am glad to find myself so kindly remembered. When I received it, I was enjoying a headache. I wished for you to do as I once did to you even to sitting me on the floor but that would have been hard work while I was lying on my bunk. It is well now. It was the only bad spell I ever had with the regiment when in the field.
So, Mary Jane is married? How did that suit the old folks of the Weaver family? What are our folks doing? I sent a picture a long time ago & have heard nothing since. I mean to wait this week out & see if they write. I guess they are waiting to send me some photographs I wrote for.
We are having wet weather this month. It is paying us up for the fine weather of the winter. So far this month we have had more rain than since last November [un]til April & it still looks like raining. The boys are getting ready for 3 days picket. It is tough in wet weather. I get rid of all such work. I am a man of business. I sometimes write 15 minutes in a day & then for two weeks not at all. At the end of each month there is a little more to do but not much. I think I can retain it as long as I please—especially as we have no officers of our own in command of us he is willing to keep me. I will not resign as long as wet weather holds unless they drill us too much.
I see by yours that there will be no draft in York State. I am glad of that. It will fill up our army which needed it sadly. Then General Grant is clearing out the heavy artillery [soldiers] around Washington. Some have been there over 2 years & reenlisted as veterans expecting to remain there the rest of the time. I am glad they are sent out. One regiment is now here—the 4th New York [Heavy Artillery—numbering over 2300 present; nearly twice as large as our old brigade. They received recruits who looked for an easy time. I am glad they have to act as infantry. They came in a bad time. The mud is very deep & [it is] raining all the time. They cannot get stockades & have to put their shelter tents on the ground & lie in the mud. Their tents cannot be made high enough to stand up in. I presume Fannie will soon commence her school. Remember me to your mother. Write soon & oblige. — Nel[son Bullis]