Category Archives: 1st New York Engineers

1865 Diary of Merritt L. Pierce, Co. L, 1st New York Engineers

The 1st New York Engineers at work on Morris Island earlier in the war when they were used extensively for building earthworks. By 1864 and 1865, they spent their time built corduroy roads, dredged the Dutch Gap Canal, and built pontoon bridges.

This 1865 diary was kept by Merritt L. Pierce (1842-1869), the son of Proctor Pierce (1811-1874) and Huldah Ann Reed (1816-1872) of Morrisonville, Schuyler Falls, Clinton county, New York. Merritt was 22 years old when he enlisted on 31 August 1864 at Troy as a private in Co. L, 1st New York Engineers. His decision to join the Engineers was clearly a last minute decision. Just days earlier he intended to enlist in the Navy but found the lines too long to wait in. Less than a year later, he mustered out of the regiment as an artificer on 30 June 1865 at Richmond, Virginia.

Merritt died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1869 at the age of 28 but not before marrying Mary S. Mead (1845-1922).

[Note: The following diary is from the personal collection of Carolyn Cockrell. Merritt Pierce was her maternal 2nd great-grandfather. The diary images were made available for publication by express consent. The transcription of the diary was done by Chuck Cockrell.]

January 1865

January, Sunday, 1. 1865—Camp near Jones Landing. Clear & cold, wind west. Dutch Gap was blown out today. I remained in camp with the company. Ed[gar Reed] went to Co. E with their mail.

Monday, 2—Clear & cold in morning. Quite pleasant in p.m. I remained in camp for I had a painful boil.

Tuesday, 3—Cold & cloudy in morning. Snowed in p.m. about one inch. I am still obliged to remain in camp.

January, Wednesday, 4. 1865—Cloudy & cold. I am still in camp but am getting better quite fast. Think I shall be able to go on duty tomorrow.

Thursday, 5—Cold but pleasant. Did not feel quite well enough to go on duty.  Will [Beckwith] is at work getting out timber for bridge.

Friday, 6—Cloudy & quite warm.  Looked like rain. Went on detail cutting timber for the bridge. Did not work very hard.

January, Saturday, 7. 1865—Warm & pleasant.  I am on detail cutting railing for bridge.  Will is on the same detail.

Sunday, 8—Cold but pleasant. We are not on detail today, except those that missed roll call during the week.

Monday, 9—It has rained all day quite hard. Did not do any duty.  Received a letter from Safford Taylor.

January, Tuesday, 10. 1865—It is very unpleasant. Rained most of the day.  No work.

Wednesday, 11—Clear & pleasant. Am on detail cutting railing for bridge.

Thursday, 12—Warm, clear & pleasant. Had the day to ourselves. Wrote a letter home & played gentleman the rest of the day.

January, Friday, 13. 1865—Very warm & pleasant. I had a detail of Niggs & teams to get out posts & braces for bridge.

Saturday, 14—Wind south. Looks like rain. Am on the same detail.

Sunday, 15—Very warm & pleasant. We remained in camp all day. In the evening some twenty of us went to meeting. The meeting was held by the Christian Commission about a half a mile from camp.

January, Monday, 16. 1865—Clear & pleasant.  I was detailed to work on the bridge. Did not work much. Will & myself helped to row a small boat across the river three times & back for our day’s work.

Tuesday, 17—Cloudy & cold in the morning but quite pleasant most of the day.  Will & I got a pass & went to City Point. Had a first-rate time. We saw Frank Ketchum 1 & got our pictures taken.

1 Franklin Soules Ketchum, son of Henry Ketchum and Mary Ann Soules (see town register of soldiers), brother of Hiram Henry Ketchum and Sylvia L. Ketchum who married Israel Stickle who was in the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers. He was a Sergeant Major in the 16th New York Volunteer Infantry with his brother who subsequently reenlisted into the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers. Frank Ketchum was discharged due to disability in fall of 1862.

Wednesday, 18—Wind northeast. Cloudy & quite cold. Am on detail rafting timber for bridge. I received this diary from home. I am very much obliged to them.

January, Thursday, 19. 1865—Cold & cloudy, wind north. Am not on duty today. Wrote a letter home & sent them my picture.  [James] Cummings & myself carried dinner to the detail at work on the bridge. We took a boat ride.

Friday, 20—Clear & pleasant, wind east. Am on detail cutting timber for bridge.  Did not work much.  Saw Versal Spalding. It is ration day.  We have a fresh supply of good grub, sure.

Saturday, 21—It has stormed hard all day, wind northeast.  Went to commissary & bought 4 loaves of bread & 5 pounds flour in company with Will.  Cost 55 cents.  The boys in our tent have got their boxes.  We did not get our mail today.  Don’t like it much.

January, Sunday, 22. 1865—Unpleasant, quite foggy, rained some in a.m.  Remained in camp in forenoon. Worked about 2 hours in p.m. getting out stringers.  Had a good sing with Whitney, Thomas & Johnson. Have enjoyed myself pretty well.

Monday, 23—Rainy & unpleasant. Deep mud. Worked on bridge in forenoon. Remained in camp in afternoon. Some picket firing last night.  The boys are raising cane tonight throwing boots & hard tack at each other.

Tuesday, 24—Clear & pleasant, wind west.  We were ordered out of camp at five in the morning with our arms & equipment on.  Went to Jones Landing. Were ordered on board several barges & be ready to sink them. Heavy cannonading all night & part of forenoon.  Were ordered into camp at 3 o’clock p.m.

January, Wednesday, 25. 1865—Clear & rather cold, wind west.  Heavy firing of gunboats all night at Reb ram sunk yesterday. I have been at work cutting spiles. Ed has gone to City Point. Will is not well. Had short cake for supper.

Thursday, 26—Clear & rather cold, wind west. Was on detail cutting spiles in forenoon. Remained in camp in p.m. & did my washing. There is but little firing today from gunboats. Received a letter from home last night.

Friday, 27—Clear & cold, wind west. Worked on bridge all day. Saw a monitor pass up the river. Received a paper from home.

January, Saturday, 28.  1865—Clear & very cold, wing northwest. Were sent to work on bridge but it was too cold & the lieutenant ordered us back to camp. Will & I bought 4 loaves [of] bread, 10 pounds potatoes, 37 ½ cents. Doctor here today.

Sunday, 29—Clear & very cold, heavy northwest wind. Worked on bridge in a.m. & part of p.m. Cut two spiles in afternoon. The roads are very good. Dust flies all day. Drew bread today.

A work party placing mortars at the Crows’s Nest (visible above tree at right center) overlooking the James River opposite Dutch Gap.

Monday, 30—Clear & pleasant, wind northwest. Was detailed to work on bridge but got excused & went to Crows Nest Battery in company with Corporal Whitney. Received a letter from home with one dollar 50 enclosed.

January, Tuesday, 31. 1865—Clear, warm & pleasant.  Worked on the draw of the bridge. There was crossing on the new bridge today & large number troops crossed on it. I have got some cold & sore throat.

February 1865

February, Wednesday, 1–Warm & pleasant, wind north. Worked on bridge today. Received a letter from George [Pierce].  Also, one from Mark. Answered a letter.

Thursday, 2—Pleasant in morning but cloudy & chilly most of the day, wind north. Most of the company worked on the bridge. I did not go on duty. Had sore throat. They are going to put in the draw to the bridge tonight.

February, Friday, 3. 1865—Cloudy & unpleasant. The company worked on bridge. I remained in camp. Feel much better than I did yesterday.  Received a call from John Kelly. Will remained in camp, did not feel well.

Saturday, 4—Warm, clear & pleasant, wind west. Have been on detail grinding axes. The company working on bridge. Heavy firing toward Petersburg. Received a paper from home & one from Will S[cribner]. Very still in out tent tonight.

Sunday, 5—Clear & rather cold, wind northwest. Remained in camp. Went to Jones Landing. Saw eleven hundred of our prisoners from Richmond. They look very bad.

Lt. William Henry Baldwin (Dave Morin Collection)

February, Monday, 6. 1865—Clear & rather cold in forenoon, pleasant in afternoon, wind north. Worked on the bridge. Put on railing. Two recruits for our company. Lieutenant [William H.] Baldwin came back. Three cheers for him.

Tuesday, 7—Cold & heavy storm from northeast.  Remained in camp.  It’s a dreary day to me.

Wednesday, 8—Cloudy & unpleasant, wind west. Worked at the bridge.  Lieutenant Baldwin took command of Co. L. Received a paper from home.

February, Thursday, 9. 1865—Clear & rather cold, wind northwest. Worked at the bridge. Received a letter from home. Went to meeting in evening. Heard a good sermon.

Friday, 10—Clear & pleasant, wind southwest. I was left in camp to drill. Had a good time of it. Wrote a letter home. It is quite still in the barracks tonight. Drew bread & candles today. Received 25 cents in a letter.

Saturday, 11—Clear, warm, still, & pleasant. Worked on bridge in forenoon. Finished the bridge today. Had a game at ball in afternoon & wrote a letter for Almon Emery. We expect [  ] tomorrow. Received clothing.

February, Sunday, 12. 1865—Clear & cold with a heavy northwest wind. Went down to meeting but no preaching so we came back & spent the day as best we could reading & singing. It is the coldest night we have had this year.

Monday, 13—Clear & very cold in forenoon but quite pleasant in afternoon, wind north. The company drilled today. Mr. [John] Hunter, Mr. [Peter F.] Burdick, Will, & myself built a fire in the woods to keep warm.

Tuesday, 14—Clear & quite pleasant. We were on drill (the company) a.m. & p.m. Lieutenant [John] Archer took command of Co. L. I went to meeting in the evening in company with Mr. Hunt.

February, Wednesday, 15. 1865—Raining & unpleasant all day. Inspection ordered but did not appear on inspection on account of rain. Had a good sing with Whitney, Johnson, & company. Went to commissaries. I weighed 160 pounds.

Thursday, 16—Clear & pleasant. No details today. The company on inspection. Have orders to march at 7 tomorrow morning.

Friday, 17—Cloudy & unpleasant, rained some in afternoon. Started for headquarters early in morning. Arrived there about 10 o’clock a.m. Formed our shanty in very bad conditions. Fixed it so we slept comfortably.

February, Saturday, 18. 1865—Clear, still warm & pleasant. Worked all day fixing up our tent. Have things quite comfortable tonight.

Sunday, 19—Clear & pleasant, wind north. No details today. Have enjoyed myself first rate. Had a sing with Whitney, Johnson, & company. Received a paper from home.

Monday, 20—Clear, warm & pleasant. Most of company on detail. Will & I on wood detail. We hung two axes & ground them in a.m. I did my washing. Will & I helped to load 4 loads of wood in p.m. Received a letter from home.

February, Tuesday, 21. 1865—Clear, warm & pleasant, wind north. Chopped wood for camp. Wrote letter home.

Wednesday 22—Clear & pleasant. Worked quite hard chopping wood. Washington’s birthday. Salute of 41 guns fired. Turned over my gun to Frank Regan.

Thursday, 23—Raining & unpleasant all day. Worked loading wood in forenoon. Inspection in afternoon did not amount to much. 

February, Friday, 24. 1865—Clear & pleasant, wind north. Worked all day loading wood. The 2 teams drew 20 loads. Frank R. is sick. Had a sing in evening. Some clouds at night. Looks like rain.

Saturday, 25—Cloudy & unpleasant all day. I did not work in woods. Will & I ground our axes & cut some firewood for ourselves then played gentlemen. Received a paper from home.

Sunday, 26—Clear & very warm. On inspection in forenoon. Dress parade in afternoon. Had a good sing with Whitney, Frank Regan. Does not get any better.

February, Monday. 27. 1865—Clear & pleasant, quite warm. Chopped wood for camp. Mr. Hunter on our detail. Received a letter from home. Folks all well.

Tuesday, 28—Cloudy & unpleasant, rained some in a.m. The regiment mustered for pay in a.m. Inspection in p.m. Uncle Sam owes me 129 dollars. Wrote letter home. Frank very sick.

March 1865

March, Wednesday, 1—Cloudy & unpleasant, wind east. Cut wood in forenoon.  Went for a load of cedar in p.m. with Corporal [William] Claude [Company M]. Frank went to hospital. Wrote a letter home last night. We feel quite lonesome.

March, Thursday, 2. 1865—Rained quite hard all day. No details. 27 recruits for our regiment. Frank Regan no better.

Friday, 3—Cloudy & unpleasant. Co. L marched to Point of Rocks to take charge of pontoon bridge. Stayed in tool house first night.

Saturday, 4—Heavy southwest wind, rained some in forenoon, rather pleasant in p.m. I stopped in lieutenant’s tent at night. Did not do much at quarters. Had a nail inspection.

March, Sunday, 5. 1865—Clear & cold in morning, pleasant in p.m., wind north. Whitney, Thomas, Reed & myself built a tent together. Was on guard. [Michael] Glennan & [Charles] Berry * under arrest. 

* Charles Berry is also known as Charles Krensser or Creusere (1845-1922) born in Paris; immigrated to Brooklyn in 1854; became a citizen after the war; married Mary Mahoney then Evelyn Burt and died in Detroit.  Ancestry info seems pretty good. There is a photo of him in old age.

Monday, 6—Clear & pleasant, wind north. Worked on tent. Built chimney, etc. Most of our quarters built today. Have got things quite comfortable tonight.

Tuesday, 7—Clear, warm, & pleasant. Did not drill today. Ed went to Bermuda for mail.  I received a  letter from home. Will & I went for a load of wood.

March, Wednesday, 8. 1865—Cloudy & unpleasant, rained some, wind south. Was on drill a short time in morning. It rained some & we stopped work. I wrote a letter home.

Thursday, 9—Cloudy & unpleasant in forenoon, quite pleasant in p.m. The company on drill in p.m. All took a good boat ride. Whitney & Thomas arrested for missing roll call.

Friday, 10—Raining & unpleasant in forepart of the day, cleared off in afternoon. We took boat ride in afternoon. Lieutenant [Charles D.] Otis * takes command of Co. L. Wrote a letter for Almon Emery.

* Lt. Charles Otis (1832-1905) is also know as Charles Cowdrey; born in Plymouth, New Hampshire; married Eleanora Sanburn; died in Queens.

March, Saturday, 11. 1865—Clear & rather cold, wind north in a.m., south in p.m. On drill about 5 hours. Thomas on guard. Whitney on wood detail. Reed went after the mail as usual. Had sing in evening.

Sunday, 12—Clear & pleasant, wind southwest. Inspection in a.m. & p.m. Received a letter from home. Wrote a letter to Julia Moore. Went to meeting in a.m. Walked out with Whitney & Thomas in p.m.

Monday, 13—Clear & very pleasant, wind southwest. We laid a pontoon bridge for first time. Did first rate too. Captain Lion present. Whitney on guard. Thomas wrote to his [  ].

March, Tuesday, 14. 1865—Clear & very warm, wind south. Laid bridge in forenoon. Loaded pontoon wagons in p.m. Worked very hard. Washed some clothes in afternoon.

Wednesday, 15—Wind southwest, cloudy & looks some like rain. Worked on pontoon wagon train in a.m. Took up pontoon bridge in p.m. Received a letter & paper from home.

Thursday, 16—Heavy south wind quite warm. Signed payroll & got my pay, 64 dollars. Went on drill in p.m. Wrote a letter home. Drew 2 loaves of bread. [Alfred] Hewitt paid me 3.50. Ed went for mail in afternoon.

March, Friday, 17. 1865—Clear & rather pleasant, wind west. We built one bridge in forenoon & took it up. Also one in p.m. Wrote a letter for Almon Emery. Went to church in evening.

Saturday, 18—Clear & pleasant, wind west. On detail fixing wagons for inspection in a.m. Laid bridge & took it up in p.m. Ed & C. Tomas went to City Point. No mail today.

Sunday, 19—Clear & very pleasant. Inspection in a.m. & p.m. Went to church in a.m. & evening. Saw Charlie Ford at the hospital. Wrote a letter home. The text in evening was this—the wages of sin is death.

March, Monday, 20. 1865—Clear & very warm. On drill in forenoon & p.m. Went to Sanitary Commission. Got some paper & thread. Fixed up a box to send home. Bought a blanket, gave 2.00.

Tuesday, 21—Cloudy & unpleasant, rained in p.m. I was on drill in a.m. On detail in p.m. laying fence. Ed went to City Point. Took a box of clothing to send home. Wrote a letter to M.

Wednesday, 22—Clear & quite cold in morning, heavy west wind. Took up bridge & loaded it on wagons in a.m. Helped to drive across bridge a drove of mules. Ed on detail. Got marching orders. Went to meeting in evening. Text 39th [  ].

March, Thursday, 23. 1865—Clear with a heavy west wind. Am on detail loading chess & putting boats together. [Patrick] Donnelly & [Charles] Berry got back from furlough. Let Almon have 2 dollars. Went to meeting in evening. Heard good sermon.

Friday, 24—Clear & rather cold, heavy west wind. Got marching orders in morning. Started for somewhere with pontoon train in p.m. Went as far as Deep Bottom & stopped for the night. Very cold night.

Saturday, 25—Cloudy & looks some like rain. Got up at ½ past 2 in morning. Started at daylight. Arrived at Chickahominy River at 2 o’clock p.m. Built a bridge across. Fixed a tent & stopped for the night.

March, Sunday, 26. 1865—Clear & rather cold, wind north. Took up the bridge in morning & started back. Halted just above Deep Bottom. Lost one of our Engineers Officers & one sharpshooter. Stopped at James River for night.

Monday, 27—Clear & very pleasant. Started for Broadway Landing early in morning. Arrived at Broadway in p.m. one o’clock. Worked the rest of p.m. loading boats on barge. Part of Co. L going to North Carolina, the rest to Hatcher’s Run.

Tuesday, 28—Clear & pleasant. Started on. March[ed] twenty-five miles. Arrived at Weldon Railroad at dark. Sheridan’s Cavalry with us. Also, Potomac Army.  Went into camp about 8 o’clock at night.

March, Wednesday, 29. 1865—Clear, warm, & pleasant, wind south. Started in good season. Arrived within one mile of Hatcher’s Run about noon. Stopped there for the night. Looks like rain. Southside Railroad taken.

Thursday, 30—Wind south, rained hard all day. Remained in camp all day. Some fighting in afternoon. Saw a great many wounded men. Also, some Reb prisoners.

Friday, 31—Rainy in morning but quite pleasant most of the day. Went to front to build a bridge across Hatcher’s Run. Fighting all day. Did not get back until one o’clock morning.

April 1865

April, Saturday, 1. 1865—Clear, heavy west wind. Remained in camp. Fixed up quarters. Heavy firing all day. Our lines are advanced. A good many Johnnies taken prisoners. Received a letter from home. Wrote home.

Sunday, 2—Clear, warm & pleasant. Two inspections in a.m. Struck tents at noon & marched to signal station. Heavy cannonading all night. Petersburg captured this morning. Stopped near signal station for the night.

Monday, 3—Warm & pleasant. Richmond captured. We are on the road to Lynchburg. Saw Grant & Meade. Stopped for night. Some 2 miles on Southside Road. Looks as if the Rebs left here in a great hurry.

April, Tuesday, 4. 1865—Cloudy & quite cold in morning, pleasant most of the day. Started forward at 9 o’clock morning. Came 22 miles on Southside Road. Boys caught some sheep, hens, etc. I am on guard.

Wednesday, 5—Some cloudy in morning but warm & pleasant through the day. Started in good season. Marched all day. Arrived at Nottaway Station in evening. Stopped 2 hours. Then marched until morning.

Thursday, 6—Cloudy & some raining in morning, pleasant the rest of the day. Stopped a short time to rest & eat, then went on. Arrived at Burkeville at noon. Stopped there overnight. We hear good news all the time.

April, Friday, 7. 1865—Lousy & unpleasant most of the day. Cleared off just at night. Start off in good season. Marched all day & laid a bridge across the Appomattox at Farmville. Got through 12 o’clock [at] night.

Saturday, 8—Clear, warm & pleasant. Took up bridge & started on after the army. Stopped for the night some 12 miles from Farmville. It is reported we have captured 40,000 prisoners. I feel very tired tonight.

Sunday, 9—Clear, warm & pleasant. On our way toward Lynchburg in good season. Went into park at 3 o’clock. Lee has surrendered his army to Grant but many doubt it. But however it is so, we are living high.

April, Monday, 10. 1865—Rainy & unpleasant most of the day. Started out in afternoon & marched [un]til night toward Appomattox Court House. Passed a battlefield on our way. Saw several citizens today, all well.

Tuesday, 11—Unpleasant, foggy all day, quite muddy. Started off quite early on our way back to Petersburg. Marched until 4 o’clock p.m. & stopped at Davis Hill [?]. Several Reb parole cavalry passed us at night. Ed & I on picket.

Wednesday, 12—Cloudy & still in forenoon, heavy southwest wind in p.m. Started on our way in good season. Arrived at Prospect Station at 12 o’clock. [ ] teams. Ate dinner. Went on. Did not go far. Bad roads. Stopped for night, 12 miles from Farmville.

April, Thursday, 13. 1865—Clear & pleasant, wind west. Broke camp & travelled nearly to Farmville & camped for the teams are most played out. I had a good supper at a farmhouse. Did not get back until 10.

Friday, 14—Very clear, warm & pleasant. Broke camp at 9 o’clock. Arrived at Farmville at noon. Stopped for the night three miles beyond Farmville. Built a bridge across Bush River. The roads are very poor.

Saturday, 15—Unpleasant, it has rained most of the day. We have come 6 miles today. Very bad roads. Went into camp quite early. I killed a beef & we are faring first rate. The country does not look very fine here abouts.

April, Sunday, 16. 1865—Clear & pleasant, wind west. Broke camp at 7 o’clock. Arrived at Burkeville at tow o’clock pm. & went into park. Ate dinner, then unloaded train. Camped for the night. Reported Lincoln, Seward shot.

Monday, 17—Clear, warm & pleasant. Remained in camp [un]til night when we took the cars but did not make more than 10 rods for the reason that the cars ran off the track. There is a great many Johnnies waiting for transportation.

Tuesday, 18—Clear, warm & pleasant, wind southwest. Started for Peterburg at 8 a.m. Arrived at Peterburg at 5 p.m. It is quite a large town. Had warm bread & cheese for supper. Ed & myself are on guard.

April, Wednesday, 19. 1865—Clear, warm, pleasant. Took cars for Richmond at 9 o’clock. Arrived there at 12 o’clock. Went to where the rest of our company was & stopped for the night. Received a letter from George & one from home.

Thursday, 20—Warm & pleasant, some cloudy & rained a little in afternoon. Wrote a letter home in a.m. Moved camp to south side river in p.m. Ed & I fixed up a tent together. Camp is pleasant.

Friday, 21—Clear, warm & pleasant, wind south. Remained in camp in forenoon. Cleaned my gun. Wrote a letter for Almon. Fixed my tent. Worked on bridge in p.m. Ed is quite sick. Received a letter from home.

April, Saturday, 22. 1865—Cloudy, wind southwest.  Worked on bridge all day & finished it.

Sunday, 23—Cloudy & quite cool, wind blows quite hard from the west. Inspection in forenoon. Wrote a letter home, also to Julia. Wrote a letter for Almon Emery. Some of the boys are quite blue tonight.

Monday, 24—Clear & pleasant. I remained in camp in forenoon. Was on detail to unload a boat of lumber boards. Ed is sick. 30 recruits for Co. L. Abner Baker one of them.

April, Tuesday, 25. 1865—Clear, very warm & pleasant. On drill in forenoon. Remained in camp in p.m. Received a letter from home. Ed is some better. A squad of men away on detail.

Wednesday, 26—Clear, warm & pleasant, wind south. I am on guard. Ed is better, is doing duty in office. I wrote a letter for Almon.

Thursday, 27—Clear & pleasant. I remained in camp in a.m. Went all through Richmond in company with Mr. [John H.] Hatton. It is a beautiful city. Visited Castle Thunder, Libby Prison, the Capitol, Jeff’s house & many curiosities.

April, Friday, 28. 1865—Clear & pleasant most of the day, a slight squall in p.m. Worked on bridge all day & quite hard too. Reported surrender of Johnson. Booth shot dead.

Saturday, 29—Cloudy, wind south, rained some just at night. Worked on bridge below here. Took part of it down & put it on barge & took it to Richmond. Worked pretty hard.

Sunday, 30—Clear & pleasant but looks like [rain] tonight. Inspection at 8 morning. Mustered in afternoon. Wrote a letter home, also one for Emery.

May 1865

May, Monday, 1, 1865—Cloudy & quite cold. Remained in camp all day. Wrote a letter to Miss Mary [S. Mead]. Borrowed 19 dollars of Abner Baker. Ed at work in office.

Tuesday, 2—Some cloudy, quite cool, wind northwest. On detail to get a stick of timber from shipyard in a.m. Remained in camp in p.m.

Wednesday, 3—Clear & pleasant, wind northwest. On detail loading timber. Moved into a tent with Whitney.

May, Thursday, 4, 1865—Clear, warm & pleasant, wind west. I am on guard. Received a letter from Elder [C. C.] Hart. 5th Corps came here today. Mr. Goodridge came to our camp at night.

Friday, 5—Clear & very warm. Remained in camp in forenoon. Eddy Stickles came here to camp. Went to 91st Regiment in p.m. Saw Mr. [Cyrus W.] Gavin, Charles Pascal, [Gilbert] Jesse.’

Saturday, 6—Clear & very warm, wind southwest. 3rd Corps passes through Richmond on their way to Washington. I am on detail all day. Worked on the bridge 1 in a.m. Unloaded barge in p.m.

1 This is the first entry Merritt makes in his diary of working on “the bridge.” He is referring to Mayo’s Bridge over the James River at Richmond which was destroyed by fire except for the stone piers. The Richmond Whig announced on 4 May 1865 that the bridge was going to be rebuilt. The Engineers worked quickly. By 13 June 1865, the Richmond Whig announced that the bridge would be completed by the end of the week. A week later they announced it was open to foot traffic and that it would soon be ready for vehicles. By the end of June 1865, the bridge was completed and the two pontoon bridges were taken up.

Ruins of Mayo’s Bridge over James River at Richmond, 1865

May, Sunday, 7, 1865—Clear & pleasant. Inspection of quarters in a.m. Went to church in company with Abner Baker. Heard a good [  ] sermon. Wrote a letter for A. Emery.

Monday, 8—Clear, heavy south wind. Worked on bridge. Received two papers from home. Did not do much. Will on guard. Ed still remains in camp.

Tuesday, 9—Cloudy & rained some in course of day. Worked on bridge. Got one stringer across the canal. Received a letter from how. Lost my pocketbook & found it. [Ransome C.] Alford is looking on.

May, Wednesday, 10, 1865—Clear, pleasant, wind south. Worked on bridge. Sherman’s troops crossing river today. Sent box [of] clothes home. Wrote letter home. Ed is getting quite smart. Two men under arrest.

Thursday, 11—Clear & warm, wind south, looks like rain at night. Sherman’s troops passing all day. Worked on bridge. Had whiskey for supper. Whitney is a little unwell.

Friday, 12—Cloudy & cold in morning but pleasant most of the day, had a severe thunderstorm last night. Am on guard today. Wrote a letter for A. Emery. Took a boat ride at night.

May, Saturday, 13, 1865—Clear & very warm. Smith & I went to 118th.  Saw [William] Bidwell & Ed[ward K.] Stickle. It is reported the 24th Corps is to leave next Tuesday. We took a sail in the evening.

Sunday, 14—Clear & pleasant, slight wind from south. Went to Baptist church in forenoon.  Received a letter from home & answered it. Whitney & Will are sick.

Monday, 15—Clear & pleasant. At work unloading timber at the bridge. Took a boat ride at night. Hewitt left camp to work in sawmill. Will is some better, also Whitney. Ed not on detail.

May, Tuesday, 16, 1865—Clear, warm & pleasant, wind southeast. I am not on detail. Half of company is off detail now every day. Received a letter from Miss M. & answered it. Took a boat ride.

Wednesday, 17—Clear, warm & pleasant, wind south. Worked on bridge. Worked quite hard for me. Drew on pair of pants, one pair of shoes, one blouse. Will on sick list. Whitney, too.

Thursday, 18—Very warm, wind southwest & some cloudy. Took a boat ride in forenoon. Went to Richmond in p.m. with [Christopher] Soulia. Had a glass [of] beer. Will & Co___ still in camp. Co. H and M are here to camp.

May, Friday, 19, 1865—Clear & pleasant, wind south, clouded up & rained some at night. Worked on bridge. Boys got back last night from Fredericksburg.

Saturday, 20—Cloudy & showers, wind southeast. Remained in camp all day. Took a boat ride in afternoon. Received a letter from home.

Sunday, 21—Clear & pleasant most of the day. Rained some, just at night. Went to Episcopal church in forenoon. Remained in camp in p.m. & wrote a letter home. Will is sick.

May, Monday, 22. 1865—Clear most of the day & very warm. Remained in camp in a.m. Worked on bridge in p.m. Tom Clary came here today.

Tuesday, 23—Clear, cool & pleasant, wind west. Remained in camp in forenoon. Worked on bridge in p.m. Tom Clary here. Will B. is sick, also Smith, Thomas. Whitney on detail for first time in a week.

Wednesday, 24—Clear, pleasant, slight wind from west. Worked on bridge in forenoon. Remained in camp in afternoon. Tom Clary here, gave me a cutlass. Will is still on sick list. Thomas has news, we expect to leave soon.

May, Thursday, 25, 1865—Clear & pleasant. Worked on bridge. Wrote letter to Saff[ord Taylor]. Received a letter from Julia. I am not very well. Thomas is sick. 4 of Co. E boys fell from bridge, were badly hurt.

Friday, 26—Rained all day, heavy northeast wind. Remained in camp all day. Wrote a letter to Julia Moore. [Smith] Thomas promoted to Sergeant, also [Henry S.] Reed & [James] Douglas.

Saturday, 27—Cloudy & rained most of the day. Detail went out in forenoon. I did not go out. Very lonesome day. Did not receive any mail.

May, Sunday 28, 1865—Clear & pleasant. Inspection in morning. Went to Baptist church in Manchester in company with Whitney & Burdick. Heard good sermon. Webber starts for New York.

Monday, 29—Clear most of the day, quite pleasant. Am on trusses detail. Worked a short time in morning. Remained in camp all day. Ed received a letter from home.  Kirby Smith, same.

Tuesday, 30—Clear, warm & pleasant. Remained in camp in forenoon. Worked on bridge in p.m. Received a letter from home.

May, Wednesday, 31, 1865—Clear & very warm. Remained in camp in forenoon. Wrote a letter home. Worked on bridge in p.m. I helped to put in three braces. Ed & I went in swimming.

June 1865

June, Thursday, 1—Very warm & pleasant, wind west. No details today (fast day). Went to first Baptist Church in morning. Whitney got singing book (Carmen). We had a good sing.

Friday, 2—Warm, clear & pleasant. Worked on bridge. Went to Richmond with Smith. Got a bottle of ink. Received a letter from home.

June, Saturday, 3,  1865—Clear & very warm, slight wind from west. Wrote part of a letter home. Will & I went to a farmhouse & got all the cherries we wanted. Worked on bridge in afternoon.

Sunday, 4—Clear & very warm. Inspection in forenoon. General Hall inspected us. I wrote a letter home in p.m. Received a letter from Miss Mead. Am not very well.

Monday, 5—Clear & very warm in forenoon. Cloudy in p.m. & had quite a hard shower. Ed is ordered to the regiment with some 30 others from Co. L.  I went with them. Received a letter from George [Pierce], all well.

June, Tuesday, 6,  1865—Cloudy & quite cool, wind north. I am on guard. Ed is in the adjutant’s office at work. Colonel Hall says we are going home & no humbug. I stayed in guardhouse at night.

Wednesday, 7—Some cloudy in morning but clear & pleasant most of the day. Went down to Co. L in forenoon. Got a gun. Review of a part of the 24th Corps in p.m. Wrote a letter to M.

Thursday, 8—Clear & very warm. Went to Co. B to stop for a while. Am on detail in p.m. Ed also. I feel quite unwell today. Received a letter from Saff Taylor.

June, Friday, 9, 1865—Clear & pleasant, wind south. Went to doctor in morning a.m. On light duty. Did not do any. Ed & I lay under a shade tree most of the day. Went to camp Co. L in p.m. Received a letter from home.

Saturday, 10—Cloudy, wind west. Went to doctor. Am on light duty. Remained in camp all day. Ed went to Co. L in p.m. I feel much better today.

Sunday, 11—Some cloudy, wind west, very pleasant. Started for camp Co. L early in morning to remain there. Moved in with Whitney. Went to church in a.m. Heard good sermon. Wrote letter home. Walked out with Will.

June, Monday, 12, 1865—Some cloudy, very pleasant. Went to Richmond with Will B. in a.m. Worked on bridge in afternoon. Began to plank the bridge today. Muster roll here.

Tuesday, 13—Clear & warm in a.m., showery in p.m. Am on guard today. Went fishing in a.m. & swimming in p.m. Did not do much on bridge for want of timber. Ed received letter.

Wednesday, 14—Very warm, some cloudy in p.m. Went blackberrying. Did not get many. Wrote letter for Emery. [Joseph Schliter] & [Charles] Berry have been fighting today.

June, Thursday, 15, 1865—Cloudy & lowery part of the day. Will, Ed & myself sent home a box I carried to Richmond. Whitney & I on bridge but work under Captain King. Had a good supper.

Friday, 16—Cloudy, warm & muggy. Whitney, Will & I worked on bridge, finished fixing braces on north side bridge. Whitney & myself went to Richmond in p.m. Had some ripe apples.

Saturday, 17—Clear in a.m., showers in p.m. Remained in camp in a.m. George Farnsworth came to camp. I got pass & went to City Point with him.

June, Sunday, 18, 1865—Clear & pleasant. Started for Manchester 8 a.m. Arrived at Petersburg 9 a.m., at Manchester, 11 a.m. Versal Spalding came with us. Received paper from home, George letter.

Monday, 19—Clear in forenoon, rained in p.m. Am on guard today. Went to Richmond with Will in a.m. Thomas on bridge detail. Ed is working on muster rolls.

Tuesday, 20—Clear in a.m., cloudy in p.m., heavy shower at night. Am off duty today. Went to Richmond to carry box for Ed. George Farnsworth came to camp. Will went to City Point. Received a letter from home.

June, Wednesday, 21. 1865—Cloudy in a.m., very warm in p.m. Remained in camp & wrote a letter home in a.m. Worked on bridge in afternoon. The boys had an Irish wake at night.

Thursday, 22—Clear & very warm, rained some at night. Remained in camp in forenoon. Worked on bridge in p.m. Worked pretty hard. Received a letter from home. All well.

Friday, 23—Clear & very warm. Went to Richmond in forenoon after gun. Did not get any. Worked on bridge in p.m. & I worked very hard. Ed found me a gun.

June, Saturday, 24, 1865—Clear & very hot.  Remained in camp in forenoon. Worked on bridge in p.m. I worked very hard. General Hall says we will be mustered out Wednesday.

Sunday, 25—Some cloudy & very warm. Inspection in forenoon. Officers very particular. George Farnsworth came to camp. Will & I went to Manchester with him.

Monday, 26—Clear & very warm. Went to Richmond in forenoon with Ed. Had a good dinner. Worked on bridge in pm. Teams passed on the bridge today. Major King crossed first.

June, Tuesday, 27, 1865—Clear & pleasant. All the company on detail in a.m. We finished Mayo Bridge in forenoon. Abner Baker & myself went to Richmond. Got some papers & a book.

Wednesday, 28—Clear, warm & pleasant, wind south. Drilled a short time in forenoon with guns. Remained in camp in p.m. Captain [Richard W.] Coe came to Co. L. Expect to be mustered out tomorrow.

Thursday, 29—Clear & warm, wind southwest. Went to headquarters & was mustered out of U.S. service in forenoon. Remained in camp in p.m.  Expect to leave for home Saturday.

June, Friday, 30, 1865—Clear most of the day & very warm, wind southwest. Remained in camp all day. Struck tents in forenoon. Slept in cars overnight. Expect to leave in morning.

July 1865

July, Saturday, 1—Clear & very warm in a.m., heavy showers in p.m. The regiment takes transportation for Baltimore. Started from Richmond ½ past 9 o’clock a.m. On guard today.

Sunday, 2—Cloudy & cool most of the day. Sailed all day. Arrived in Baltimore at 5 pm. Went to soldiers home. Took supper (poor one too).  Took cars at 8 in eve for Philadelphia.  [  ] all night.  

July, Monday, 3. 1865—Clear & pleasant. Arrived in Philadelphia 6 a.m.  Went to Volunteer’s Restaurant & took breakfast (good one too). Took cars for Amboy, 9 o’clock a.m. Arrived in Amboy ½ 3 p.m. Took boat arrived in New York at 5.

Tuesday, 4—Clear & pleasant, wind west. We have the day to ourselves. Whitney & myself took walk in morning. Great fire works in evening. Will & myself went to City Hall. Got back a little past 9.

Wednesday, 5—Clear & pleasant. Remained at the Armory. Expect to [get] paid tomorrow. Went to Billina & took my gun. A good share of boys drunk. Went about the city where I chose.

July, Thursday, 6. 1865—Clear & pleasant. I am still in the city & not much signs of getting paid up. The regiment assembled & marched to Mechanics Hall. Heard speach.

Friday, 7—Clear & quite warm. Ed & I called on Billina in forenoon. Mr. Herrick in p.m. Borrowed 10 dollars of Mr. Herrick. Took supper at the 8th Armory. Will, Ed, I went to Erie [Hotel].

Saturday, 8—Clear & pleasant. I feel first rate today. Had a god night’s rest. Went to 8th Armory in morning. Found out that we should be paid off Tuesday next. Will received a letter from home.

July, Sunday, 9. 1865—Clear & pleasant. We are still at the Erie Hotel.  Went to Episcopal church in morning. Remained at the Erie the rest of the day.

Monday, 10—Clear & pleasant. Went up to 8th Armory in morning. The company got paid. We are still waiting patiently for pay. I feel pretty well tonight.

Tuesday, 11—Rainy in forenoon, pleasant in p.m.  Went to 8th Armory in morning.  General Hall said we were to be paid on Thursday. Went up on Broadway in p.m. Ate supper at the Armory.

July, Wednesday, 12. 1865—Cloudy but rather pleasant. Took breakfast at the Continental Hotel. Rambled about the city in a.m. Visited Barnum’s Museum in p.m. Saw sights. Don’t get paid.

Thursday, 13—Some cloudy, wind southwest. Went to Amory at 10 a.m. to get paid but are put off another day. Barnum’s museum took fire & burned up.

Friday, 14—Clear & pleasant. Reported at 8 a.m. Signed payroll & was paid 2 p.m. Bought suit clothes, 40. Took steamer for Troy at 6 p.m.  Am happy to know that I am free man.

July, Saturday, 15. 1865—Some cloudy but pleasant. Arrived in Troy 8 a.m.  Took breakfast at Troy House. Called on Fred Bullis.  Called on E. Beckwith. Went to Albany. Saw Harvey Dodge.

Sunday, 16—Rainy & unpleasant. Went to church in forenoon in company with Mrs. Beckwith. Remained at Mr. Beckwith’s in p.m. Had a good sing. Enjoyed myself well.

Monday, 17—Rainy & unpleasant in forenoon.  Pleasant in p.m. Took cars for Whitehall 7 a.m. Arrived in Whitehall at 10 o’clock. Took boat & arrived in Plattsburgh at 6 p.m. Got home, just dark.

July, Tuesday, 18. 1865—Clear & pleasant, wind west. Went to Grandpa’s in forenoon. Called on Mrs. Beckwith’s people in p.m. Went to Morrison at night.

Wednesday, 19—Cloudy & looks like rain. Went to west lot in forenoon. Killed a woodchuck. Went to mill in p.m. Rains some at night.

Thursday, 20—Cloudy, wind west, quite pleasant. Went to Falls with some rolls[?]. Aunt Mag went with me. Went fishing up Henry Brook. Caught 25 trout.

July, Friday, 21. 1865—Cloudy & looked like rain in a.m., quite pleasant in p.m. Remained at home in forenoon. Went to Morrisonville in p.m.

Saturday, 22—Clear, warm & pleasant. Went to Grandpa’s in a.m. Settled with Ed & Will for boxes.  Went to Plattsburgh in p.m. Got two teeth filled & check cashed.

Sunday, 23—Clear & pleasant. Went to church in a.m. & p.m. Heard two excellent sermons. Took Sib & Mary Mead home. Had a pleasant time.

July, Monday, 24. 1865—Clear & quite warm, wind southeast. Went to west lot & cut a load of hay. William Weaver came her at night. Let him 150 dollars.

Tuesday, 25—Clear in forenoon, rainy in pm. George & I cut a load of hay & got it in. [unreadable] helped mow.

Wednesday, 26—Cloudy, heavy west wind. Finished mowing up to west lot. Came home at night. Had garden peas for dinner.

July, Thursday, 27. 1865—Cloudy in forenoon, pleasant in p.m. George & I finished haying to west lot. Worked until 9 o’clock. Mr. Mead, Mary, & [Charlotte] Lot Dodge called at George’s.

Friday, 28—Clear & very warm. Dred [?] a load of oats & corn to Mr. Howe. There was 1797 lbs oats, 498 lbs corn. Price corn 1.00 70 pounds, oats, 55 cts. 92 lbs.

Saturday, 29—Cloudy, wind west. Went to upper wood lot. Made bargain to sell a part of it. Went to Morrisonville in evening to sing. Did not sing much.

July, Sunday, 30. 1865—Clear & very pleasant. Went to church in forenoon & afternoon. Heard a very good sermon from Elder Brown. His subject was the society in heave. Had very good singing.

Monday, 31—Clear & pleasant, wind south. Went to west lot in forenoon. Drew some rails for fence. Remained at home in pm. Baker is cutting hay for us. Frank went to [George’s?].

August 1865

August, Tuesday, 1—Clear, warm & a fine hay day. Finished cutting grass.[   ] I helped Beach. Sold Mrs. O’Brien 25 acres of wood lot. She let us have a cow & a two-year-old heifer towards it.

August, Wednesday, 2. 1865—Clear & warm. Worked for Beach in forenoon. Finished haying. George & I went to Plattsburgh in p.m. Will B. & I went to Mr. [Silas]Taylor’s. Saw Safford.

Thursday, 3—Clear & very warm. Got some stone for George’s cistern & put them in. George is quite sick today. Will & I went to Morrisonville at night.

Friday, 4—Some cloudy but very warm. Went to [   ] got some plank for George’s [ ] shed floor in a.m. Helped him to lay it in p.m. & cut the grass in lane & got it in barn.

August, Saturday, 5. 1865—Clear & pleasant. Went to see Eddy in forenoon. Went to covenant meeting in p.m. Will Beckwith & myself went to Smith Mead’s in eve.

Sunday, 6—Clear in forenoon, cloudy & looks like rain in p.m. Went to church. Attended a concert at the Methodist house. Took Sib & Mary M. home.

Monday, 7—Cloudy with heavy west wind. Took grist to mill. Wet to west lot. Helped George fix cistern. Alfred Parrott came here.

August, Tuesday, 8. 1865—Clear, heavy west wind. Worked to lot cutting rye. Did not do much.

Wednesday, 9—Clear, warm & pleasant. Worked for James Henry. Drew three loads of wheat from Plattsburgh. Received a letter from Whitney.  Miss Fuller & Jule to George’s.

Thursday, 10. —Clear & pleasant, wind south. Took Miss Fuller & Jule home. Went to mill in p.m. to get two pigs of Mr. Henry. It looks like rain.

1865: William Darwin Beckwith to Safford Silas Taylor

The following letter was written by William (“Will”) Darwin Beckwith (1841-1922), the son of Daniel Beckwith (1791-1851) and Sylvia Soules of Schuyler Falls, New York. Receiving an $800 bounty from his town for volunteering, Will enlisted on 31 August 1864 with Merritt Pierce at Troy as a private in Co. L, 1st New York Engineers to serve 1 year. At the time of his enlistment, he was described as a blue-eyed, black-haired farmer who stood approximately 5 feet 9 inches tall. He was appointed artificer on 1 May 1865. He mustered out of the regiment on 30 June 1865 at Richmond, Virginia.

After the war, Will married Josephine M. Norris (1847-1910) in 1867 and in 1871 moved with his family to Wisconsin. Shortly afterwards they moved on to Kansas. In 1901, the family moved to Fresno, California.

Will wrote the letter to his friend, Safford (“Saff”) Silas Taylor (1840-1895), the son of Silas Maxon Taylor (1799-1880) and Rebecca Perry (1801-1844) of Schuyler Falls, New York. Safford enlisted on 19 December 1863 at Schuyler Falls: mustered in as a private, 1st New York Engineers, Co. I on 19 December 1863 to serve 3 years. He was appointed artificer on 1 July 1864 and was mustered out of the regiment on 19 July 1865 at Hilton Head, South Carolina. He died in Schuyler Falls on 23 Jan 1895.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Carolyn Cockrell and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Manchester [Virginia]
May 2, 1865

Friend Saff[ord Taylor],

Your most obedient servant has seated himself this fine afternoon (after a pleasant walk through Manchester) for the purpose of answering your last, which I received Sunday. Right glad I was to hear from you for it has been a long time that I have not had an opportunity to get letters for we have been on the march almost every day since the 24th of March. Finally, we brought up in Richmond a few day[s] ago feeling somewhat worn out but in good spirits. I will give you a short history of our journey.

March the 24th we started with our pontoon train from Broadway Landing direction northeast, bound for the Chickahominy River which we reached the second day about noon and laid a bridge over it before dinner for Sheridan to cross over with his cavalry. But we learned that night that he had crossed the day previous three miles below us so we dismantled our bridge and started back following Sheridan to the extreme left, south of Petersburg. We built a bridge over Hatcher’s Run with logs about fifty rods from where they were fighting [but] they could not see us—we were in the woods. We worked most all night on it.  

The next morning the Rebs had to leave [as] our troops [were] in hot pursuit and Co. L with, our pontoon train (consisting of forty wagons, eight mules to a wagon), bringing up the rear. You may guess there was some excitement along the road. We would march all day—sometimes all night—no one thinking of being tired as long as we were after Lee. Our troops drove the Rebs through Farmville about April 7th noon & they burned the bridge after them. They were just over a hill making preparations to shell the village which is nearly as large as Plattsburgh. We came on with our train a little after dark and throwed a bridge over to let the artillery cross and the Potomac Army. Their pontoon train got stuck in the mud but came on the next morning and relieved us.

On we went through the mud and rain towards Lynchburg. Lee was captured at Clover Hill, 1 some eighteen or twenty miles from Lynchburg. I have been within a mile of where he was captured.

April the 10th we started back, bound for Richmond. Our mules were so tried and worn out we could not march but 10 miles a day. The roads were getting worse every day. Sixteen of our mules fell in the traces [and] we were obliged to shoot them. At Burkeville, some 82 miles from Petersburg, we put our train on board the cars [and] went to Petersburg, spent one night there, then on to Richmond. Our flag now gleams in the morning beams from many a spire in Richmond. We have got through marching on. Next, we will go home from Richmond.

We are now quartered on the south side of the river a little below Manchester. Just across the river stands Libby Prison and Castle Thunder. We have a fine view of them from our camp. I have been into Libby. It is a hard looking place. I have not room to describe it. I have been all over the city. The upper part is splendid. The business part is nearly all burned down.

The two pontoon bridges laid across the James River between Richmond and Manchester in April 1865 (Library of Congress)

We have two pontoon bridges over the river. We have got thirty new recruits for our company—a pretty large company.  A part of the company started last Thursday on another expedition, not knowing where. The rest of the company and Co. M and H are to build a bridge here. We are at work getting timber there now. Merritt [Pierce] is all right. He says you owe him a letter. [Napoleon] Flanders has gone on that expedition.

No appearance of war here. I think the fighting is over. We will have a good time yet playing with the girls when we get home. That time I think is not far distant. We will probably meet before we are discharged. Yours, if you can read it. — Will

1 Originally the village of Appomattox Court House was known as Clover Hill. It was a small settlement with a few houses around the tavern, a stopping-off point on the main Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road. When the county of Appomattox was formed in 1845, Clover Hill was chosen as the county seat and renamed Appomattox Court House. The next year the county courthouse was built. Slowly the settlement grew into a village of homes, stores, and lawyers’ offices. Among the original structures still standing from 1865 are the Clover Hill Tavern, Meeks Store, Woodson Law Office, Peers House, Mariah Wright House, and Jones Law Office. (National Historic Park)

1864-65: Safford Silas Taylor to Merritt Pierce

Safford S. Taylor (Ancestry)

The following letters were written by Safford Silas Taylor (1840-1895), the son of Silas Maxon Taylor (1799-1880) and Rebecca Perry (1801-1844) of Schuyler Falls, New York. Based on letters, he was probably a member of West Plattsburgh Baptist Church with Merritt Pierce prior to enlistment.

Safford enlisted on 19 December 1863 at Schuyler Falls: mustered in as a private, 1st New York Engineers, Co. I on 19 December 1863 to serve 3 years. He was appointed artificer on 1 July 1864 and was mustered out of the regiment on 19 July 1865 at Hilton Head, South Carolina. He died in Schuyler Falls on 23 Jan 1895.

Safford wrote all three letters to his friend, Merritt L. Pierce of Morrisonville, Schuyler Falls, Clinton county, New York. Merritt was 22 years old when he enlisted on 31 August 1864 at Troy as a private in Co. L, 1st New York Engineers. 

[Note: These letters are from the private collection of Carolyn Cockrell and were transcribed and posted on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Letter 1

Elmira, [New York]
January 18, 1864

Friend Merritt,

I have a few moments to spare and so I will pass the time in talking with you. Talking! I wish I was where I could have a little talk with you, but never mind. I got here all safe three weeks ago last Thursday night and early the next morning they detailed me to act as clerk in Headquarters at Barracks No. 3. 1 Well, I stayed there in those cold barracks nights and worked in the office daytimes until one week ago today. One week ago last Friday, the officer who has the charge of receiving recruits moved his quarters down here into the city and last Monday the adjutant in command of the barracks sent me down to his office where I am now. I don’t know how long I shall have to remain here—probably till spring and perhaps longer as they have taken my name from the list of those to be sent off.

I have got a grand, good place as far as that is concerned and am having first rate times. There are 4 clerks in this office and two more in the office overhead. They are all good fellows. One of them is the son of Elder Waldron’s that preached at Morrisonville last summer. We sleep in a little room that opens into our office. We have a cook detailed to cook for us in the back room of the office and live first rate. I have a pass and am allowed to go where I am a mind to. We don’t have to write more than four hours a day on an average. The rest of the time we have to ourselves. Young Waldron is a good chess player. He has bought a set of chess men and we have some good games. I have played some with our lieutenant too.

Yesterday I went to meeting for the first time. I had the pleasure of hearing the Rev. Thomas Beecher who preaches in this city. He is a half-brother of Henry Ward Beecher. So now you see I am pretty comfortably situated.

I suppose you have given up all idea of enlisting before this. I wish I could be there a week or so with you, but I should want to come back again. I saw R. W. Caster here the other day. He said that you and Will [Beckwith] had both enlisted but I thought he must be mistaken. The other boys that came have not left yet and will not for some time probably. Steve is in the cook house at Barracks No. 3. He will probably be left there.

We have all kinds of men here in camp and the most wickedness I ever saw in my life. The night before I left Barracks No. 3, there were three men in the barracks I stayed in [who] had delirium tremens….One man in the barracks cut his throat the other night. He was scared because some of the boys cried out that the rebels were coming.

Safford S. Taylor, Co. I, 1st N. Y. Engineers, 18 January 1864

We have all kinds of men here in camp and the most wickedness I ever saw in my life. The night before I left Barracks No. 3, there were three men in the barracks I stayed in [who] had delirium tremens. But it is all still and nice here. One man in the barracks cut his throat the other night. He was scared because some of the boys cried out that the rebels were coming.

Have you heard from Nel[son Bullis] since I came away? When you write, give me his P. O. address. Give my respects to all of the young folks, old folks, and little folks. Now write as soon as you get this and give me all the news. Direct to Elmira, Chemung County, New York.

Yours Truly, — Safford

1 Elmira Prison was originally a barracks for “Camp Rathbun” or “Camp Chemung”—a key muster and training point for the Union Army. The 30-acre site was selected partially due to its proximity to the Erie Railroad and the Northern Central Railway, which crisscrossed in the midst of the city. The Camp fell into disuse as the war progressed, but its “Barracks No. 3” was converted into a military prison in the summer of 1864. It was the prison holding the largest number of Confederate POWs. Its capacity was 4,000, but it held 12,000 within one month of opening. A different source says that Camp Rathbun had a capacity of 6,000 recruits, but that it was turned into a prison for 10,000 and the Union Commissary General was given just 10 days to make it happen. [Wikipedia]

Letter 2

Hilton Head
July 16, 1864

Friend Merritt,

Yours of the third inst. was received yesterday and I will now answer it so as to send it by the return mail. I was glad to hear from you. You sent me a good long letter and gave me lots of news. I want you to do just so again. You have probably received my other letter which I wrote to you in answer to the one you sent me at Elmira before this.

Since I wrote last, I have been quite sick—not so but I was up and around but so that I couldn’t do any duty. I was sick over two weeks with the fever, but the doctor broke it up at last.

Since I wrote, there has been some fighting down here. General Foster left here with a lot of troops the 1st of July bound on an expedition. He went up on James Island and gave the Rebs a big scare. His object probably was to draw troops from the army under Johnson and to let the Rebs know that we were alive down here. There were some of our men went. I wanted to go with them but was sick and the doctor wouldn’t let me go. There were but few of our men killed—none of our regiment. I think there will be another expedition before long. General Foster is not a man that remains idle lone when there is a chance of making raids.

Much obliged for that picture. I think it is a very good one. When you get a good chance, borrow some (when they don’t see you) of those girls and send me. I will take good care of them and send them back to you if they make any fuss, but I guess they won’t. Oh! Who do you think I came across here last night, downtown. Why Harv Dodge. 1 If I wasn’t rather surprised to see him here. I supposed he was in Sherman’s army in Georgia, but it seems he was discharged there. He is clerk for the Chief Paymaster of the Department and I guess is doing pretty well. We had quite a talk about old times and about the folks at home.

I wish you could be here a week or two. I would like to go around with you and show you something of Southern life. The longer I stay here the more I feel contented.

Well, Merritt, I had to stop writing and draw rations. I have got through with that, and also the issuing of the rations to the companies, and having just finished eating a piece of large watermelon, I feel first rate. I wish you could see some of the watermelons that the darkies bring in here to sell. It would make your mouth water. They bring in some of the largest melons I ever saw.  We get some extras now days. For instance, a man came along today and gave the regiment a lot of turnips, beets, and pickles. He said they were furnished by New York State. Each company of the regiment is furnished with ice every morning by the Sanitary Commission, so we get all the ice water we want to drink.

I expect a box today from home and won’t I have a feast if it comes. Won’t you come and have supper with us? We are going to have potatoes, beef steak, green corn. Mind, we don’t always live as well but some of our boys went huckleberrying today and as they didn’t find any berries, they hooked some corn. 

I should [have] liked to have been with you a fishing up at the lakes. Our boys go fishing with a seine every few nights close by here. We have nice times bathing here in salt water. It is a nice place—a sandy beach. We don’t go out far for fear of sharks. I saw a dead one on the shore the other day, nearly six feet long.

I want you to take care of yourself and as more as you can get time to do. I hear that you and Carrie Finn are getting pretty thick (the idea!). I’ll tend to you, old fellow, if that is your play. I am sorry to hear about Nel[son Bullis]. I hope it may prove to be a false report. But I must close. Write me a good long letter soon and tell me about everybody. My best respects to all the old friends. I am, yours truly, — Safford

Sunday morning,

Well, Merritt, how are you this morning? I am well–wish I were there to go to meeting with you this morning. I have just been down on the beach and had my picture taken with the rest of the company. The three companies all had their pictures taken by companies this morning. Our box came last night. Cyrene and Steve are down from Beaufort today. Cyrene sends his respects to you. I am going to write to Will this forenoon, but I am afraid I shan’t be able to get it in before the mail closes.  Write soon, — Saff

1 Harvey K. Dodge, b. 1839, was a sergeant in Co. G, 1st Wisconsin Infantry. He enlisted in August 1861. He was the son of Rev. Harvey B. Dodge and Eliza Ann Beckwith, a sister of Edgar’s mother.

Letter 3

Camp 1st New York Volunteer Engineers
Savannah [Georgia]
May 29, 1865

Friend Merritt,

Your letter, long looked for, has arrived at length. Something is the matter with the mail for letters of last March are just arriving, but never mind. I hope the time is not far away when we will be so situated that we will not have to wait two months after asking a question to get an answer to it.

Well Merritt, we have all been anxious to hear from you fellows up there to know when you are going home, for I suppose we will go out together. I don’t know where to direct this letter to but will direct to Washington as I think it will be sent to you from there. The last northern papers contain an account of the Great Review at Washington. I wish I could have been there with them.

We still remain at Savannah. The company has but a very little to do—only work 4 hours a day. It is fine weather here now. Some hot days but they don’t trouble me much as I don’t have to work in the sun. I wish you could be here to go blackberrying with me. I have been a number of times. You spoke of going fishing. I hope we may live to have a good many more days of piscatorial sport in the wilds of Hardscrabble and Rand Hill.

There has been a great many changes as you say and many of our companions and friends have gone never to return. You have heard me speak of Elder Waldron’s son that was with me at Elmira.  I received a letter last week stating that he had died in a Rebel Prison is this state. He was a fine boy. 1 Two of our company have lately died—James Leonard and Horace Van Aranam. The latter was from Ellenburg and was a tent mate of mine. Steve Stickle is at home on furlough. We expect him back this week.

All kinds of vegetables are to be had in the market for the money but “that’s what’s the matter” for we haven’t been paid for 8 months. Apples and plums are ripe, and peaches soon will be.

You have had a chance to see something of war lately I suppose. I wish we would be ordered to join you in Virginia, but I don’t know what they intend doing with us. When you write I want you to tell me what the prospect is of going out and whether we will have to join you and what the regiment are all doing and all about it.  I haven’t had any news from home for a long time. I expect Steve [Stickle] will bring some. Jeff Davis passed through here the other day.

But I must close. Tell me where to direct in your next. Write soon and direct to Hilton Head, South Caroline and much oblige.

Yours truly, — S. S. Taylor

1 John O. Waldron served in the 14th New York Heavy Artillery. He died at Andersonville in 1864.

1864-65: Edgar Beckwith Reed to Mary S. Reed

Edgar Reed (1845-1866) enlisted in the 1st New York Engineers on 5 September 1864.

The following letters were written by Edgar Beckwith Reed, son of Lucius M. Reed and Margaret Beckwith. He enlisted in the 1st New York Engineers on 5 September 1864 at Troy shortly before he turned 19. He mustered in as a private in Co. L on 5 September 1864 to serve one year; appointed artificer, 1 May 1865; and mustered out with his company on 30 June 1865, Richmond, Virginia.  His uncle, William Beckwith, and his cousin, Merritt Pierce, had enlisted and mustered in 31 August 1864.  He contracted malarial fever during the war and died 25 Oct 1866.

Edgar wrote the letters to his friend Mary S. Reed who married his cousin, Merritt Pierce in 1867.

[Note: These letters are from the personal archives of Carolyn Cockrell and were transcribed by her husband Chuck and posted on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Letter 1

Camp in the field near Varina, Virginia
19 November, 1864

Miss Mary S. Mead
Dear Friend,

I received your letter of October 30th in due time and was glad to hear from you. I am always glad to hear from any of my friends at home. Your letter took me by surprise a little, but I do not think that any excuses were necessary for leap year and being in the army is excuse enough I think at any time. It does a soldier good to get letters from friends at home and if they knew how much the soldier enjoys them, they would write more and often.

I should have answered your kind letter before, but my time has been pretty well taken up by my duties so that I could not write before. A soldier does not have a great deal of spare time I can tell you. I have enjoyed soldiering pretty well so far and think I shall continue to like it. My health has been good ever since I enlisted but Merritt [Pierce] and William Beckwith have both been sick, but they are now well and so that they go out to work.

It has been very pleasant her this fall especially through October but for the last few days it has been rainy and has rained here today. Well, it is time for the rainy season to commence but I wish it were not for it makes the mud so deep–too deep to travel with ease.

There is not a great deal going on here now and we call it pretty dull though there is some fighting on the lines all the time. I am sorry that the people of Petersburg are frightened so as to leave their homes. I think that they are frightened unnecessarily. What do you think? Perhaps I am not capable of judging being so far away from the scene of action.

I like to have a person write as they talk for then it seems as if I were talking with them. You say that you cannot go to war but that you can write letters. Well, that is what the soldiers want of you ladies at home to write letters to them. I thank you for your kind letter and hope that you will again write to you soldier friend.  I think that you must have had quite a time camping out in the woods so you can imagine something about a soldier’s camping out only instead of good covering overhead he has a shelter tent.

Merritt and William Beckwith wish to be remembered to you and your folks. I have not time to write more now. Remember me to your parents and any other friends I may have. Hoping to hear from you again. I remain your true friend,  — Edgar B. Reed

P. S.   Direct as before.

Letter 2

Camp of Co. L, 1st New York Volunteer Engineers
Near Jones Landing, Virginia
January 10th, 1865

Dear Friend [Mary S. Mead],

I received your very welcome letter some time ago and was glad to hear from you. You must pardon me for not answering your letter before, but our company has been on the move, and I have been kept busy at work all the time so I hope you will deem my excuse reasonable.

It has been raining very hard here today accompanied with a great deal of thunder—some difference between here & Clinton County. I guess that you would think it strange to have a thunderstorm in January. We have had a good deal of stormy weather here lately consisting of rain, hail, snow, and very hard winds. I presume that the weather is not so changeable where you are. We have had some very cold weather here and it seemed like the Old Empire State.

Our company broke camp during the month of December & marched to this place which is three miles from our old camp where part of the regiment now is.  

You wished to know how I spent Thanksgiving so I will tell you about Christmas & New Years also. On Thanksgiving I did not work any and I had a visitor from the 96th New York Volunteers. I will tell you what we had for dinner:  bread, fresh beef (boiled), beef broth, mince pie, cookies, and cheese. We did not see any of those turkeys that so much was said about [up]north. On Christmas I did not my [unreadable] the rest of the [unreadable]. For dinner we had soup, hard tack, and bread, a small assortment for Christmas. On New Year’s I was better prepared as my box had come two or three days before. I had fried sausage, bread & butter, some stewed plums & berries with some of your mother’s [Harriet Boadwell Mead] maple sugar to sweeten them and a piece of fruitcake that my mother made for Christmas but got here for New Year’s. So, you can see how I spent the holidays.  

I hope that you are having pleasanter weather now than when you wrote last. I received those papers you sent, and I had quite a laugh over them. I thank you for sending them. I have no time to write more so please excuse this short letter [and] all mistakes and write soon.

My address is 1st New York Volunteers Engineers, Co. L, Army of the James via Fort Monroe, Virginia. Your friend, — Edgar B. Reed

Letter 3

Bermuda Hundred, Virginia
March 18th, 1865

Dear Friend,

I received your letter some time ago & was very glad to hear from you. I guess that you will not think I am very punctual about writing but I can’t help it. Since I wrote to you last our company has changed around some. When I wrote last, we were at Jones’s Landing. On the 17th of February (Friday) we broke camp and went back to old headquarters. Lay there just two weeks to a day when we broke camp again & marched to Broadway Landing which is on the river Appomattox 4 miles above City Point and about ½ mile from the hospital at Point of Rocks. Our company is drilling on a pontoon at that place & we expect to take charge of a pontoon bridge there or somewhere else. You will see by this that we have changed considerably. I am carrying the mail for the company now which brings me down to Bermuda and City Point every day, so you see I am on the go most of the time.

We have been having very pleasant weather & now it looks like spring. The grass is getting up and the fields are looking quite green. I suppose that the ground up north is still covered with snow–no signs of grass yet. I see by your letter that you have been having pretty gay times this winter. I think that you made a pretty good beggar for Elder [C. C.] Hart’s donation by the amount that was taken in. I think that you will not lack for singers next summer. I do not see why they should be afraid to let visitors visit the prison at Dannemora, but I suppose it because they are afraid of a raid from Canada. What do you think about it?

There has not been any fighting near here lately, but we expect it will commence any day now that fair weather has commenced again. I expect that we will put an end to this rebellion before next fall & so do all the soldiers that I have heard say anything on the subject. What do you think about it? You will agree with me of course.

Where our company now is near the hospital, we have a chance of seeing a great many sick & wounded men and [they are] very vast. Their burial ground is not far from us & we can hear the roar of the guns (most all of the time) which they fire over their graves. It is a sad sight I can tell you. Everything portends a big fight for the sutlers have all been ordered to the rear and the small field hospitals have all been broken up & the patients all sent to the general hospitals. Point of Rocks is one of those. I am in a hurry for it [to] commence & get through.

Well, it beats all how time flies. It don’t seem as if I had been here over 6 months and was now on the last 6 months, but such is the fact. I guess that you will find this letter very unconnected, but I hope you will excuse it with all mistakes. I have not time to write more. You will want to direct your letters the same as usual.

Please remember me to your folks and write soon. From your friend, — E.B. Reed

Letter 4

Manchester, Virginia
April 28th 1865

Dear Friend,

I received yours of the 5th in due time & was very glad to hear from you. I found your letter waiting for me at Richmond when I arrived there on the 20th of this month. Perhaps you may wonder where I have been so I will tell you.

Our company—all but 30 men—left Broadway Landing the 28th of last month with a pontoon train. We were at Hatcher’s Run [un]til the day before Petersburg and Richmond surrendered when we moved to the left of Petersburg and on the morning of the capture found us on the road to Lynchburg with the army in pursuit of the Rebels. We chased them from that time [un]til they surrendered. At the time of the surrender, we were only 5 miles from the place, and we moved near there the next day. The road that we followed runs beside the Southside Railroad & by looking on the map you can see the country that we went through. At Farmville we laid a bridge which enabled our artillery to get at with the Rebs and give them a finishing touch. I had a great time foraging on the route and we all lived well at the expense of the inhabitants. The march was a fatiguing one for we were on the move for 24 days & sometimes it was all night too. But it is over and great have been the results and yet it is all clouded by the events at Washington, D.C.  It was a severe blow to the nation, but I hope that all will end well.  

I am sorry to hear that you are so poorly off for singers at our church, but the boys will be home in the fall if all things go well & then I shall expect to see the gallery filled. I think you must have had a nice time at those concerts, and I would like to have attended them. In regard to that letter which contained a peach blossom & to which there was no name signed I know that you will not have to look further than Merritt Pierce as the author.

I don’t think you had better save that sugar for me, but I wish you to eat it for me for it may be some time before I see home again—4 months & a few at least. I think that sugar tastes much better in the woods than anywhere else.

I should think that spring was quite early up north by all that I hear.  Here you might call it summer though it is not May yet & we have not very warm weather, but it is a coming. I was sorry to hear that the smallpox had closed the Baptist Church & I hope that it will not spread any further. On Thursday night that you said you were to have a party at your house & was so kind as to give me an invite & I thank you very much for it, but I could not go as I was forced to march all day & all night in pursuit of Lee & his army. I will eat some peaches for you as soon as they get ripe. They are now just out of the bloom. I wish they grew up north & then you would have a chance to see plenty of them for I think that they are a delicious fruit, but I must close for want of time to write more.

Please excuse all mistakes & poor writing & write soon as you can conveniently. Yours truly, — Edgar B. Reed

Letter 5

Manchester, Virginia
June 5th, 186[5]

Dear Friend, 

Yours of May 12th was received some time ago & was very welcome I can assure you. We are still encamped in the same place as when I wrote last and hard to work building the bridge across the river here. There are 3 companies besides ours to work at it with a large infantry detail helping us. We do not expect to get discharged [un]til the bridge is finished and that will take a month yet so that if we are not on our way north by the middle of July, I shall expect to serve my time out. Well, that won’t be long as I have only 3 months longer to stay which will soon pass away.

You say that you read that the 1 year [enlistees] were to be sent home. I don’t think that that applies to this regiment, and I am pretty certain that no 1-year men will be discharged before the regiment is unless their time expires.

I suppose that by this time you have got through house cleaning and that dreaded job is over for I know that it is always dreaded.

June 6th

I was interrupted yesterday when I had got so far, and I did not have a chance to write again. I have changed my quarters since I commenced this letter, and I am now at the headquarters of the regiment, and I was sent up here yesterday forenoon in company with 50 others from our battalion. Merritt is here with me, but he came because I did. He received a letter from you night before last and he would probably have answered it today, but he has gone on guard and now I suppose that he will not write before tomorrow.

I would [have] liked to have been at your house the night you invited me to be for I see by your letter that you must have had a pleasant time. Well, I suppose that I will be at home sometime between now & fall.  We have plenty of rumors about going home but we pay no attention to them.

If you was here now you would see ripe cherries, green peas, apples, and all kinds of garden sauce for sale. We have had strawberries but are about gone. So you see that we have things early down here. The peaches are growing fast and if I stay here much longer, I shall be able to eat some as they will be ripe, and you may depend on my going my duty in that line.

But I must stop for I have not time to write more.  Remember me to all inquiring friends.  Please excuse all mistakes and write soon.

From your friend, — Edgar B. Reed

1864-65: Merritt L. Pierce to Proctor & Huldah (Reed) Proctor

A post-war CDV of Merritt L. Pierce

These letters were written by Merritt L. Pierce (1842-1869), the son of Proctor Pierce (1811-1874) and Huldah Ann Reed (1816-1872) of Morrisonville, Schuyler Falls, Clinton county, New York. Merritt was 22 years old when he enlisted on 31 August 1864 at Troy as a private in Co. L, 1st New York Engineers. His decision to join the Engineers was clearly a last minute decision. Just days earlier he intended to enlist in the Navy but found the lines too long to wait in. Less than a year later, he mustered out of the regiment as an artificer on 30 June 1865 at Richmond, Virginia.

Merritt died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1869 at the age of 28 but not before marrying Mary S. Mead (1845-1922).

Earlier in the war the 1st New York Engineers were used primarily building breastworks but by late 1864 and 1865 they were attached to Gen. Butler’s Army of the James and performed other tasks such as building corduroy roads, dredging the Dutch Gap Canal, building pontoon bridges, &c.

[Note: After publishing three of Merritt’s letters, I was contacted by Carolyn Cockrell who informed me that Merritt was her maternal 2nd great-grandfather and that she had many more letters to share and a couple of diaries. Those materials (scanned in black & white) are being added to this virtual digital archive over time.]

Letter 1

Morrisonville [New York]
August 18th, 1864

Cousin Ed[gar B. Reed],

I guess you think I am a mean lazy fellow for not writing to you. I will own that I am lazy about writing letters & I am very much ashamed of it too. I most always wait 4 weeks or more unless I sit down and answer them as soon as I receive them. I received your letter some days since [and] was pleased to hear from you & know you were all right, although I was quite certain you would keep yourself all right.  

I am well today & I am enjoying myself fine. I helped Geo[rge Pierce] work at his house this a.m. & have been blackberrying this afternoon. I picked about 6 quarts in an hour & a half & then picked some that I do not make any account of because they have gone where all good things go to. I ate enough so that my stomach did not growl for more.  I’ll warrant you had better hurry home & take your share of the good things while they are going.

There is not much news to write this time. The girls are all right but very lonesome on the account of your absence, so I think you had better hurry home & not be the cause of so much distress. We have fine times boat riding this summer. Every Saturday night we meet at Morrisonville & take a boat ride.  We have gay times you might as well believe. They talk of having a Sunday School celebration next week on Wednesday. We think of taking a boat ride on Lake Champlain. It is not decided at what place we shall go, but it will be in some grove on the lake shore, so you had better hurry home & enjoy the good things while they are going. There is going to be a camp meeting week after next & one the next week after. One is to be held at West Chazy & the other just above Keeseville.

Well Ed, what do you think of the draft? I think the old fellow has made a loud call & I don’t know but it is time I was doing something for Uncle Sam to help him out of his difficulty. I think every able man should be at his post. I think I shall, for one. There is a chance to enlist in the Navy now & I think I shall enlist there. Silas Moore & Elvin [Moore], Joseph Canfield & Will Beckwith 1 say they will enlist if I will. Our town quota is 33; 14 have enlisted. I think we shall have a draft in spite of all we can do & I don’t care much if they do—the quicker the better.  

Well, I must close for it is getting late.  Write soon or hurry home. Yours Truly, — Merritt

1 Will Beckwith was the brother of Lucius Reed’s wife.

Letter 2

New York [City]
August 27th, 1864

Dear Parents,

I am well & doing well—though perhaps you might think I was not doing as well as I would be at home, but I am satisfied with my lot so far. I have not enlisted yet but expect to tomorrow. We arrived here Friday p.m. 4 o’clock [and] went directly to the office of the marshal to get our papers made out & enlist but could not as there were some two hundred ahead of us. So we just looked up a stopping place (which is the Erie Hotel) & took supper. [James] Mattocks then left us & went to his brother-in-law’s in Brooklyn. We saw nothing of him until next day when we met him on Broadway.

Will [Beckwith] & I called on D. Herrick & Bellina Buck. 1 They were much pleased to see us & would have invited [us] to their homes if their families had been there. They were in the country visiting. Billina says he is acquainted with the commanding officer of the receiving ship & will fix our matter all right. Mr. Herrick introduced us to a Mr. Gilbert who gave us much information in regard to enlisting & also our duties in the navy. Mr. Gilbert has a son in the navy. He enlisted only a few days ago & without his father’s leave. He is only 18 years old. Mr. G. says he shall try & get him out & give him a chance to enlist for more bounty. Mr. Gilbert is a member of the Baptist Church & has been deacon so of course we think the information we get is reliable. 

Will & I have been thinking of taking a trip to Australia or California, but I think it not for the best. I saw 2 bars of silver which arrived here day before yesterday from Australia which was worth two thousand dollars.  

I wish I had time to write & tell you what I have seen since I came to this city & I have not seen half of it yet. If I had had more money, I should have seen more of it, but I have to be sparing as I do not know for certain as I can get through tomorrow. We get the U.S. bounty which is one hundred. We get 33 down [and] the rest within the year. Father will get my bounty at Plattsburgh when the papers reach there.

I did not see Eddy [Reed] at Poughkeepsie but sent the letter Uncle Lucius [Reed] sent by me to the college, but I was certain he had gone home. I went to church this a.m. & shall go again this evening. I did not attend a Baptist church as it was too far to walk.

You can tell Mr. Emery [that] Almond is all right & doing well. He borrowed some money of the doctor [Mattocks] which he will pay as soon as he gets his bounty. He thinks New York the largest city he ever saw. He says tell his folks not to worry about him. Tell Eddy he had not better enlist yet—wait and see how we like it.

Give my respects to all who inquire. I cannot tell you where to direct a letter yet but will write soon. Excuse mistakes & poor writing as I have written in a hurry. This from your son, — Merritt

1 Bellina Buck was born 1824/25 in Troy and died 4 Mar 1872.  In 1860 he lived in 3rd district 8th ward of New York and worked as a postal clerk.  Residence in 1857 was 26 King St; 1868, 79 Morton St in Brooklyn.  1850 census and 1870 census list occupations as railroad conductor and liquor store respectively. His death record lists his occupation as a salesman. He was married in August 1850 to Sarah Jane Derry in NYC. He is listed among the members of Lodge 523, Masons. His name is also spelled Belina, Bellini, and Bellina.  [Source: Chuck Cockrell]

A letter from 1846 penned by Merritt’s father, Proctor Pierce, informs us that Bellina Buck was a descendant of Proctor’s “Uncle Buck” who lived 60 miles southwest of Chicago at that time. The letter is archived in the Clinton County Historical Association and reads as follows:

Chicago, Illinois
October 15, 1846

My dear Wife,

Six weeks have now passed since I left home and I have traveled three thousand miles. I have visited all the cities and towns on the way and am now in the city of Chicago. Uncle Timothy is keeping the Vermont Temperance House. Tomorrow I intend leaving town for the purpose of visiting Uncle Buck, living  about sixty miles southwest.

Now I have a word to say to the boys. Tell George to be a good  boy and mind his grandpa and grandma and likewise Merritt. I have not yet concluded to  return home this fall. My money is going some and as business is brisk and wages high, I shall  probably go to work and earn more. I think the best business in these parts is doctoring and preaching funeral sermons. This is a beautiful country—the face of it consists of vast prairies, some of them twenty miles square, destitute almost of trees but possessing a soil the most  fertile that can be found in the Union. They are, however, tilled very poorly and consequently in a great many instances no more than two-thirds of a crop is yielded. Then the tillers consider they have an abundant harvest. The method which they pursue in breaking up the prairies is  as follows: They have a tremendous plough of about twelve feet in length with a land side (board) four feet and a mold board having a regulating wheel. It can go into the ground but  about two inches, but it turns over a furrow of from 18 to 22 inches in width. On this sod they go along with a hoe, give it a little hack, and put in the corn, kick a little dust over it, and leave it till husking. The weeds often get ahead of the corn and sometimes in the fall they are much  the higher.

They pursue much the same barbarous method with their wheat, but as the soil is rich, it springs up thick and smothers the weeds. The fact of it is the farmers, before they came here, were puffed up with the idea that things would grow on the prairies without much labour and they have not labored much accordingly, but I think they will come to that in a little while. There are perhaps five hundred loads of wheat coming in daily on an average and among all the farmers who bring them in, it is rare to see a respectable looking man. They look more  like Arabs. Some of these have built tolerably fair houses, but the most of them live in log cabins through the sides of which you can see the stars. Their living is pretty uniform, consisting of potatoes, bacon, johnny cake, milk and sometimes coffee. Very often you will find in the log cabins (if you drop in at night) two or three dogs, a flock of ducks, sometimes  a pet pig. I lodged in one of them and was surprised in the night to hear a dozen biddies crowing in the loft.

I come now to speak of the dress. This by no means consists of broadcloth and silk, but of the coarsest homespun. The Norwegians are coming in by the hundreds and farming large settlements. Many of the people in this region are moving still farther West, some of them going even beyond the Mississippi and a few to the Rocky Mountains. The country  between this and the Mississippi in a northwesterly direction is made up of prairies and a few  groves. The land along the Mississippi is very hilly and the climate very unhealthy. There is a town within four miles of it on the edge of Wisconsin with only one house inhabited. The  rest are deserted on account of sickness. It is the town of Parish. The fact is, sickness has raged over the country to a great extent and the great mass of people present a sickly appearance. You will meet people in the streets and in the country in great numbers who look almost like corpses so pale and thin are they. A man who presents a healthy appearance here is soon noticed by the pale-faced, ague-shaken, fever-scorched natives, and marked as one who will soon be a victim to the climate.

I must now conclude, although the half is not told. I will reserve the rest for the next letter. With this I remain your affectionate husband, — Proctor Pierce

Letter 3

Addressed to Proctor Pierce, Morrisonville, Clinton county, N. Y.

Troy, New York
August 31st 1864

Dear Parents,

I am in Troy at present but expect to leave here tonight for New York. We have enlisted for the town of Argyle, Washington County. We get 800 dollars down besides the U.S. bounty which is 100 dollars. We enlist[ed] in the Engineer Corps, Co. I where Saff[ord Taylor] is. Billina introduced us to the gentlemen from that town as honest, upright men, men of his acquaintance. We thought it the best thing we could do. I understand the draft is put off but it does not make any difference with us—we are bound to enlist. Almon [Emory] has enlisted with us. We could have got him a place to work if he wished to do so but he preferred to go with us. We shall deposit our money in the 2nd National Bank Plattsburgh. You will do the best you can with it. We shall send our clothes by express to Plattsburgh. William [Beckwith] & I are at Edgar’s store. Shall take dinner with him today. I am well & enjoying myself first rate—better than I shall when get to fighting I presume. Please not to borrow any trouble about me.  I will write again soon. From, — Merritt

Letter 4

Hart Island [New York]
September 4th, 1864

Dear Parents,

I am well & doing well—like soldiering very well so far. It rains today & I should be lonesome if there was not plenty of company. There has been a perfect rush since I have been here. There was fifteen hundred left here yesterday for New Orleans. They were substitutes. I saw that little butcher from Plattsburgh—the one we had so much deal with. He went with the subs. There was 8 hundred arrived here last night.  

I wrote you a letter while in Troy stating what my intentions were. We mustered into service that same day (Wednesday). Edgar [Reed] got a release for us & we stopped with him all night. We reported next morning at 10 o’clock, stopped there (marshal’s office) the rest of the day & night. Took cars next morning for New York, arrived there at one o’clock. Took boat for Hart Island at 5, arrived there at half past 6. There was 130 of us soldiers on board the boat. We was marched from the wharf to the barracks which is only a short distance. There we answered to our names as they were called. Then we marched to the department of Co. A where we stayed all night.

Next morning we were routed at 5 o’clock and marched around to the surgeon’s office & vaccinated. Then went to breakfast. Then marched to quarters [of] Co I where we are now. I do not know how long we shall stay here. I hope not long. I am anxious to get to my regiment and company. There is two hundred going to leave today. I did not learn where they were going.  

I have enjoyed myself first rate since I came here. Have had no duty to do since I came here. I went in swimming yesterday in Long Island Sound. I enjoyed it gay. We bore inspection this morning. No fault found with me.  

Will [Beckwith] & I are sitting on our bunk leaning on our knapsack with a board on our knees (guess what we are doing). Almon [Emory] is lying in his bunk eating cheese. He is enjoying himself first rate. He says tell his folks he is all right. He has not been sick a minute. Neither has Will or I.  

I wish you could look in here a minute if it would not make you nervous. Some are writing. Some are playing cards. Some reading, playing flute & some making all the noise they can. I notice a good number reading their testaments. There are some very hard boys here & some very good. I think they are as good looking a set of men as I ever saw.  

Hart Isle is 25 miles from New York between Long Isle and Connecticut and a very pleasant place. I expect to work tomorrow. I don’t know [what] it will be but digging dirt & hauling it, I guess. I don’t feel bad about it as [I] want something to do. Well, I don’t know as I have anything more to write this time. I should like to have you write soon as I don’t know how long I shall stay here. I had the marshal send my money by express to Plattsburgh. Write soon & oblige. From your son, — Merritt

P. S.  I have seen nothing of Eddy. I would advise him not to enlist. He is not strong enough.

Direct [to] Hart Island, N. Y.

Letter 5

Hart Island [New York]
September 9th 1864

Dear Parents,

Edgar Reed (1845-1866) of Morrisonville, Clinton county, NY, was Merritt’s cousin. He enlisted in the 1st New York Engineers on 5 September 1864.

I am well & think I am doing well. Have not worked an hour since I left home. Edgar [Reed] arrived here last Tuesday night. He came in company with some 300 men. He had to sleep on the barrack’s floor the first night. Since that, he has bunked with Will & I.  I never saw a fellow more pleased than Ed was when he found us & I must confess I was pleased too.

We are having gay times here—have nothing to do but visit, sing, go in swimming, play, & eat our grub which is nothing extra. We have bread & coffee for breakfast. For dinner we have bread, beef soup with some beans in it, sometimes rice. We have the same for supper. We call for plum pudding & pie but it don’t come. I don’t buy but very little of the sutlers. They ask such prices for their trash. Many of the soldiers pay out more than their wages every day to the sutlers. They ask 75 cents per pound for butter & everything else in proportion. I have not tasted butter since I left Troy & I don’t mean to while I am here.

We expected to leave here yesterday morning but was disappointed. We don’t know the reason, but I think we shall go this afternoon or tomorrow. We are detailed at Ft. Schuyler. Billina says we shall stay there until our time is out. It was through his influence that we got detailed. Billina is a big bug among the officers. He has been here twice since I have been here. The last time he came here he stayed all night with the officers. I saw him twice. He said if things did not go right, just let him know and he would make it right.  So, you can see we are not without friends. Billina is acquainted with Gen. Dix and many other officers. Edgar says he is a free mason of high degree & that is what tells the story.

If we are detailed at Ft. Schuyler, we can get a furlough to go home once in the course of the year & we can go to New York quite often. I should just as soon go to our corps as far as I am concerned but I thought you would much rather I would stay here as I should be in no more danger than I would be at home. I received those things you sent by Eddy—was much pleased to hear from you. You no need to have sent the Bible. Eddy has one & that would be sufficient for us all. Our packs are heavy enough without carrying anything unnecessary, but if we stop at the fort, we shall not have to carry knapsacks. They have Testaments to give away at the post office so that all who want them can have them.

Edgar is sitting by my side. He says tell them I am all right & enjoying myself first rate. Will [is] the same. Almon does not like to have us leave him, but I don’t think we can keep him with us. I cannot give him a very good recommend[ation]. He is very wild & reckless, plays cards & gambles. He has lost some of his money in betting. I have talked to him as well as I know how but it does no good. It is good thing that he sent his money home.

I had a little bad luck last night. I lost my diary with 6 dollars in it. No great loss but it was all I had. I am all right. Billina says when you want anything just call on me. He offered to lend me some money, but I expect to receive the one third of my U.S. bounty in a day or two. Please excuse mistakes for there is so much confusion here I can hardly hear myself think. There was 400 men arrived here tonight, 600 last night. Our barracks floor was covered with men last night & so it will be tonight. 

No more, from your son, — Merritt

Letter 6

Camp near Petersburg [Virginia]
September 19th [1864]

Cousin Billina,

I left Hart Isle rather unexpected. We were called up the next day after you left Hart Isle & signed the payroll, received our pay & the next morning were shipped on board a transport bound for City Point. From there we were sent to Bermuda Hundred, from there back to City Point & from there to the front of Petersburg where we are now.

I should have liked to have stopped at Ft. Schuyler for the reason that my parents would have felt more at ease concerning me, but as for myself I am well suited where I now am & so are the other boys. We are having easy times, fare much better than we did at Hart Isle. We thank you for the interest you took in our welfare while there & shall ever remember your kindness towards us.  

I would like to know if you have received that money I borrowed of you. I have not heard from home since I left there, consequently I do not know whether they have received the letters I sent them or not. I have written home since I came here & shall receive an answer soon.

Our camp is only one mile & a half from Petersburg. We can see the steeples from here quite plain. The trees about our camp are marked with minié and cannon balls which looks to me as if there had been some fighting here. I think the engineer service the best branch of service in the army. We have no picket duty to do, we are always protected by infantry, we have good tents to sleep in & much better rations than infantry. We have potatoes, onions, soft bread, beef, salt or fresh pork, hard tack, & whiskey twice a day (that is if we want it). The regiment are in good health excepting one or two. As for me, I never enjoyed better health in my life.

Edgar & William send their best respects to you & I the same. I shall be glad to hear from you soon,  yours truly etc., — Merritt Pierce

Direct [to] 1st NY Engineers Co. L, 10th Army Corps, Va.

Letter 7

Camp six miles from Richmond [Virginia]
October 3rd, 1864

Dear Parents,

I received a letter from you a few days ago. Should have answered it before if I could. I was much pleased to hear from you. It seemed to me as if I never should hear from home again. Edgar was almost beside himself. I am well and doing well, still. My health is as good as need be—much better than it was at home. Edgar & Will have been some unwell, but they are better now & are here with the regiment.  

The work we have to do is not hard or I might say we make easy work of whatever we have to do. We are at work today on a breastwork. Will & I have been splitting stakes & sharpening them. Ed has carried a few rails into the work—just enough to say he has done something. I think Ed is going to stand it first rate. He will get tough as bear in a short time.  

I know I could not stand the exposure at home that I do here without taking cold. I have seen what you would call hard times since I left camp near Petersburg. Ed & Will stopped at headquarters of the regiment as they were unwell, but I went on with the regiment.

“I got there just in time to see the Rebs skedaddle. I saw hard sights while there that morning, I can tell you. I saw what I hope I shall never see again. I have read of the horrors of war but never could realize what it was.”

Merritt L. Pierce, Co. L, 1st New York Engineers, 3 October 1864

We marched nearly all night then stopped for a short time to rest, eat breakfast, then crossed the James River & marched about 2 miles & a half further to a fort which had been taken by our troops that morning. I got there just in time to see the Rebs skedaddle. I saw hard sights while there that morning, I can tell you. I saw what I hope I shall never see again. I have read of the horrors of war but never could realize what it was.

I was in no danger until about 9 o’clock in the afternoon when the Reb gunboats opened on us a perfect storm. We retreated back a short distance out of range of them. We stopped there a short time, then marched into a field & camped for night. It rained that night & the next day quite hard & I had nothing but my rubber blanket with me. A young fellow in our company & I found an old bed tick which we made a tent of. We then split some rails & laid the soft side up for a bed, then spread our rubber over us & took our rest.  

Well, I must stop for it is time to go to work. You will excuse mistakes, poor writing & dirty paper, etc. for I am sitting on a pile of rails with my tin plate to write upon. Why did you not write about my bounty? You did not say whether you had received it or not. I want you should send me some cayenne pepper in the next letter you write. I want a small quantity to put in my whiskey. Ed & Will wish for some too. You can send a little at a time in your letters.

I don’t want you should borrow any trouble about me at all. I feel safe—perfectly safe—for I have a Friend that will never forsake me while I trust in Him & my trust is in Him. There is not one tenth the danger here there is in the infantry.

Goodbye. Write soon & oblige. From your son, — Merritt

Letter 8

An ink and pencil sketch of Chaffin’s Bluff on the James River thought to have been drawn by Sgt. John A. Bland of the 34th Virginia Infantry when occupied by the Confederates.

Camp near Chaffin’s  Bluff
October 9th [1864]

Dear Parents,

I received a letter from you a few days ago. Was much pleased to hear from you. I should have written before but Edgar had just wrote home & I knew you would hear from me. I am well today & am enjoying myself first rate. I had to drill a short time this morning & expect to drill again this afternoon. We have easy times yet but I expect to see some hard times before this fall campaign is over.

I think this fall will wind up rebellion in Virginia, if not though the South. The Johnnie’s are deserting all the time. There was 6 deserted last night from a reb gunboat into our lines. They said they were sick of fighting for no pay at all. Besides they had poor clothes & poor feed. I have seen many Johnnies after they had been taken prisoners. Some of them were quite well dressed & some of them had not enough to cover them.

Edgar wrote in his letter that our right flank had been turned & we were ordered to retreat. Well, it was a mistake about the Rebs flanking us. They tried it hard but were repulsed, drove 9 miles & lost 500 of their men which we took prisoners. We retreated a short distance from where we were & camped. We still remain in the same place. It is a very good place for a camp. It is on dry ground & good water not a great way off. There is a strip of woods on the north & west side of us which breaks the wind off very much. We are about one mile & a half from [the] James River.

I presume you will read about the battle at Chaffin’s Bluff & the taking of Ft. Harrison. I was there in less than an hour after it was taken & saw some of the fighting. I worked on the fort the night after it was taken in the morning. 

Well, who do you think I saw here the other day. Doc Mattocks [and] Mr. Wood from Chazy & Mr. Bowen of Saranac. I was glad to see them. You might as well believe Doc M. & Mr. Wood slept in my tent the night they were here. Ed & I sent 40 dollars by him home. He will let Uncle Lucius [Reed] have it & you will get 20 dollars of Uncle L. when Mattocks gets home. William is getting better. He has been quite sick. Hiram Ketchum was very sick but is some better now. He has gone to the hospital. I rather you would not tell Mrs. Beckwith’s folks about it for it would only make them feel bad & they could not do them a bit of good.

Edgar stands it well, but I am afraid for him sometimes. He is so light & small. I think if he can get detailed at Ft. Schuyler, he had better go. He just received a paper from home. They wrote a few lines to him in the paper & ask[ed] if he would go to Ft. Schuyler if they (Billina) could get the chance. He don’t know what to do about it. I advise him to go by all means.

I am very well suited here but I begin to feel the confinement some. I have enough to eat—such as it is. I have what you would [call] hard feed but I grow fat every day. I am as fleshy as I ever was. You would scarcely know me. I have let my whiskers grow all over my face. Orderly says fall in for drill. I’ll finish when I get through. If you could only see me sometime when I am right dirty you would think me a Nig sure.  

I was surprised to hear about Albert Shaw’s taking what did not belong to him. Don’t believe it. Tell [my brother] Frank I got his letter & it was just the best thing I have seen for a long while. I was glad to hear he was helping Father. Tell him to keep on doing so. I don’t want Father to sell my colt for less than 125 unless he think it for the best. I want you to keep my letters at home. I have no good pen & no good place to write. Am writing on a newspaper. Almon well.  

Write soon. Your son, — Merritt

Letter 9

Camp near Chapin’s Bluff, [Virginia]
October 15, 1864

Dear Parents,

I received a letter from you last night. Was glad to hear from you. I wrote you a letter day before yesterday but as I have received a letter & Ed is going to write, I thought I would write you a few lines. I was on guard when Will brought me the letter. It was about 9 o’clock. I was walking my beat when Will came up and said, “Here is a letter for you.” I said to him, “All right, I am glad, but where is your letter?” “Haven’t got any & it’s too bad,” said he, [adding,] “Should write & tell them if they cannot write more often, they need not write at all.” He felt quite bad. I sat down by a fire which was on my beat & read my letter aloud to him. It seemed to revive his spirits & make him feel quite well.

I was on guard yesterday for the first time [when] Ed & myself were together. He walked one beat & I another. We met on the corner as often as we chose. We would stop and talk a few minutes and then go on. It is not hard to do guard duty if it is pleasant & last night was a beautiful night. There was not a cloud to be seen & the moon shone bright. We are relieved once after we have been on two hours. We are on two hours and off 4. That makes us go 8 out of 24 that we are on duty. Then we have the next 24 hours to ourselves. But we expect to be detailed out tonight as there is a great amount of work to do. But perhaps we shall not. I hope not for I like to take my ease as well as any fellow.

I saw Will Bibwell today. He came into our camp & stayed about an hour. He is in a hospital about two miles and a half from here. He had been up to his regiment & was on his way back. He looks healthy. Says he enjoys good health. Will Beckwith & Alman [Emery] are on guard today. John Hunter is at work to the front today. I see him every day. Sometimes I am at work with him. His tent is about 4 rods from mine.

We are having first rate times now. The weather still holds dry which makes it very pleasant. We expect to see Richmond this fall. Our boys are just driving the Johnnies every time. Day before yesterday we took two forts, two line of works, & 500 prisoners. Three hundred passed here. The Johnnies are deserting all the time. Three passed through our camp yesterday. They are fine-looking fellows.

Well, guess I’ll stop & take a snooze so as to be in readiness for an emergency. I think I am writing too often. It won’t be any variment at all if I don’t quit it. I am well. So are the other boys. I think my money is safe where it is but how long did Father let it for & what interest doe he get? I sent 20 dollars by Mattocks home. You will get it of Uncle Lucius [Reed]. All send their respects to you. This from your son, — Merritt

Write as often as convenient.

Letter 10

Camp near Chaffin’s Bluff
October 19th [1864]

Dear Parents,

I have received no answer from my last letter yet but expect to soon. I received two papers night before last—was pleased to get them. I am well this morning & in good spirits. Ed has gone out to the front to work today (he is in no danger). Will is at work cleaning out the streets. He is working like a good fellow. He is only about 2 rods from me now.

The streets are not like Beckwith & Mason Streets. They are about 12 rods long & 2 rods wide. The tents are built on a line & quite close together. There are 4 rows of tents which makes 3 streets. Each row is a company. There is only 4 companies here now. They are centered about in one place & then in another just as they are wanted. The headquarters are here now.  

Ed, Will, Almon & myself tent together now. We fixed up our tent yesterday so that it is quite comfortable. Each of us draw one piece of tent cloth. We button them together & stretch them over a pole which is placed in two crotches. This makes a tent 4 ½ feet high, nearly 6 feet wide at the bottom & 10 feet long. I fixed Ed & myself a bunk yesterday out of some old boards which I took from a house lately vacated by the Rebs. The boards were about the right length to lay cross ways in the tent. So I took the boards & laid them in the tent, raising them up from the ground about 5 inches. Then I got some pine boughs & dry leaves [and] placed them upon it. Then I spread one rubber blanket over the bunk. At night we spread one blanket over the rubber. Then we have one blanket & rubber to spread over us. The rubber keeps out the dampness. We usually put on our overcoats to sleep in. I have slept warm every night since I have been with the regiment excepting one night & then it was impossible for I had nothing with me but my rubber. We were on light marching order. Ed & Will were not with us then—lucky for them that they were not. I stood it first rate.

I have been well since I left home & I am very thankful for it too. I have not missed a single roll call since I joined the regiment.

The boys that joined companies south left here day before yesterday. I had the privilege to join Company I or any other I chose but I prefer this company & this place for all South Carolina. I should like to see Saff[ord Taylor] but I am afraid of the climate. Those in the regiment that have been there say they would not go there on any account. Will B[eckwith] was quite a mind to go & I don’t know but he would if Hiram Ketchum had been well. Hiram is sick in the hospital. I think he will stay with us when he comes back.  

We have got the best orderly sergeant in the regiment. His name is Charles Webber but he don’t look nor appear like Steve Webber’s son Charles. Our orderly is pleasant, agreeable, & obliging. He thinks everything of his company & his company thinks everything of him. He has served two years in the army as private.

We have a fine colonel. Smart as steel. He don’t let his men go into danger if he knows it. His name is [Edward W.] Sorrell [or Serrell].  

Well, I will stop & eat my dinner.  Then I’ll finish this letter.

I have just finished my frugal meal of beans & hard tack & I feel a little better. It is quite pleasant today—wind west, some clouds, about such weather as we have north the first of September. It holds dry yet—roads good. Fine time to march. There was a charge this morning out at the front but it is still now. We expect a battle soon. A good many think we  shall have winter quarters in Richmond this winter, but I guess not.  

Well, I must close for now. I want you to write often & write all the news. The papers are a great deal of company for us. We look for letters every night or papers. We get our share or at least the boys think so. I want a pair of knit gloves to handle my gun with. I think you can send them one at a time in a paper. Will & Ed want a pair, no particular hurry. I want a fine comb—so does Ed & Will. We want to keep the animals off our heads. The recruits brought some here with them, consequently left a few here. We don’t want our shirts, butter, etc. until we get into winter quarters. I have signed for a blouse & a pair of boots. Will get them next month. Sold my boots for one dollar. They were good for nothing in the mud.

I can’t write all I want to in this. — Merritt

I thought when I began to write that I should not write one sheet full but somehow when I get to writing I don’t know when to stop. I was speaking about the recruits bringing lice here. Well, they stopped some time at City Point & those animals are plenty there. I mean to keep clear of them if I can.

I saw [An]twine Martino yesterday. He was here in camp most all the p.m. He came out to get some things at the sutlers which is a short distance from here. He knew me at first sight. [He] was glad to see us. The 118th is about two miles from here. Almon [Emery] & a fellow by the name of [Alfred J.] Hewitt has gone over there this afternoon. This Hewitt is relation to the Hewitts in Peru. He is from St. Lawrence County [and] is a fine fellow too. He is in our company.

I can hear our gun boats bang away once in a while which makes me think that war is going on. The news is that [Philip] Sheridan has gained another victory. It seems to me that rebellion must go down & go so low that it won’t come up again.

I put in a vote for Old Abe the other day. I thought it was my duty to do so. I could not vote for McClellan on the Chicago platform. I could not vote for a man that the Rebs would cheer for they have done it & say if he is elected, they will have their rights & I don’t know what rights they want unless it is secession. They have had every other right offered them. Enough of this.

How are you getting along? Is Frank [Pierce] helping Father still?  Tell him to keep the rifle in good trim for we shall want to take a hunt next fall.

It seems as if it were only a day since I left home. Time passes very rapidly in the army. [I] only think I have been in the U.S. service one month & a half. Ten months & a half more & my time is out. That is if my life is spared. Death is certain no matter where we are—at home or abroad. We cannot escape it. My prayer is may I be prepared to meet it.  It is not all of life to live nor all of death to die. If we live as we should, death will be a welcome visitor. Oh, what a pleasure to leave this sin cursed world & enjoy the presence of that Savior who died for us. I know it is natural for us to cling to life, but I ask where is the enjoyment? We look forward & expect to find something that will satisfy, something that will give us true enjoyment, but does it ever come, unless we trust in Jesus? In Him dwelleth all fullness. What more can we ask than to dwell with Him. He can satisfy. None other can.

I see a great deal of wickedness in camp—more that I expected. It is [a] hard place for a young person. Edgar [Reed] is getting to [be] quite a different boy. He reads his Bible often & appears very thoughtful. The letters he gets from home are having an influence on him. He does not associate much with the other boys—especially those that are vulgar. Edgar & I sleep together & are together most of the time. Tell his folks not to worry about him. It is my opinion that the climate will agree with him. He don’t look like the same boy he did when I saw him on Hart Isle. He is quite fleshy for him, has a good complexion, & feels first rate.

Will [Beckwith] is sick or terrible well all the time. He tells of every bad feeling he has & every good one. He will tell you he feels bully & then in ten minutes he will tell you he feels very mean & so it goes all the time. Ed calls him the old man; he is so notional.

Well, I must stop, or I never shall get through. All send their respects to you.  I write with a lead pencil because I have no pen & ink. Ed’s ink is most gone & we want to save it to write on envelopes. If you can read this, I will write with a pencil. If you can’t, I will write after this with ink.

Accept much love from your son, — Merritt Pierce

Letter 11

Camp on Chaffin’s Farm
October 25th [1864]

Dear Parents,

Yours of October 18th was received last night. I also received a paper night before last with a fine comb in it. Also, a letter 2 days before I received the paper. I was very glad to hear from you & hear you were well, but I was sorry to hear you were so troubled about me. Now for pity sake, don’t borrow any more trouble about me. It is time enough when trouble comes to feel bad. I had rather go through one fight than to hear of your feeling as bad as I think you did when you wrote last. If you must feel bad, don’t write to me about it.

You ask what it means for me to be handling a gun. Well, it means just this: that we must have something to defend ourselves with in case the Rebs should cut off our retreat & then again there must be a guard kept. There are 9 men on guard constantly & of course they must know how to use them properly. I have been on guard 3 times since I joined the regiment. I was on guard yesterday. We go on at eight in the morning & come off at eight next morning. I was on first relief, no. 3, that is, I took my post in front of the guard house at eight, walked my beat two hours. Then I am relieved four hours. The four hours I have to myself, but I must remain near the guard house. Today I have to myself. So, on the whole, I don’t think it very hard to be on guard. I got about 4 hours sleep last night. I slept on the ground with nothing over me. I spread my rubber down by the side of the guard house & near a small fire. Then I put on my overcoat & lay down without a sign of a covering over me & took a fine snooze.

Now don’t borrow any trouble. I don’t know why it is, but I can stand as much again exposure & not take cold here as I could while at home. I think I am getting tough as a bear. I wish you could see me just as I am now. I think you would open your eyes & say “I want to know if this is you.” But you can imagine how I look in my suit of blue, my face all covered with whiskers so can scarcely see my eyes. I am full as fleshy as I ever was. Think I would weigh over 150.

Eddy don’t much as he did when I saw him on Hart Isle. He is quite fleshy for him & he looks quite like a French boy I think. I don’t suppose he would thank me for the compliment as he has got to Lieutenant’s Clerk (company clerk). He will be with us all the same & it will be much easier for him to remain as he was for it will clear him from camp duty.

Will is still on the sick list. I think he must be homesick for he has a great deal to say about home & the good things he used to have. He told me this morning that he felt pretty well & guessed he would not go to the doctor but the first chance he had he started for the doc tent. By going before the doctor, he gets put on light duty which is much easier than to go to the front or work on the road. When a person gets put on light duty they work about camp—clean the streets, scour rusty guns, fetch wood for the guard, etc.

John Hunter has been sick for few days past but is better now. He was on light a day or two, but he goes to work with the rest of the company now.   You wished me to speak of J. Hunter in my letters. I will write a few words about him every time I write.

Will received a letter from Hiram Ketchum last night. He is still sick in the hospital. His disease is pleurisy. He was some better when he wrote but was very weak.

Well, I don’t know as I have anything more to write this time. I am some tired & quite sleepy so you must excuse mistakes. I notice them after I get through but then it is too late to correct them. I thank cousin Clelu for the compliment she gave me in regard to letter writing, however I don’t feel vain about it.

Tuesday night. I have just received a paper from you with two cakes of sugar. I divided one of them with the boys & the other I shall keep for future use. Ed has got two letters & a paper. Will has also got a letter. The boys feel gay. Almon looks quite sober & says he don’t see why his folks don’t write. Ed is almost frantic with joy. He says “got a letter from Grandpa too.” Allow me to be judge & I should say that he was perfectly happy.

We have not received the medicine yet, likely we shall soon. You need not send me anything until I send you word. We may remain here 4 weeks & perhaps not 2 days but likely we shall stay here some time.

The weather is fine here—have not had any rain to speak of in two weeks.  The nights are rather cold, but the days are as warm as September. Well, I must close for it is about time for roll call. Please write soon. This from your son, — Merritt

Letter 12

Camp on Chaffin’s Farm
October 30th [1864]

Dear Parents,

I received your letter of October 23rd yesterday. Last night I received 2 papers with those meats that Frank [Pierce] sent me. Tell him that I am very much obliged to him. I receive all the letters & papers that you send & they are not molested either. Ed received a pocket handkerchief in his paper yesterday. He was very much pleased with it.

You ask what it means that I am on guard. Every regiment in the army is obliged to keep guard. We are in no danger here at all. We have no picket duty to do whatever & we shall not be put into the ranks either. I see you are bound to borrow trouble & I don’t see as there is any use of my saying anything more to you for you will have you own way.

I am quite well today. Yesterday I had a headache caused by a foul stomach. I have eaten too much fat meat since I came here for my own good, but I don’t like the soup we get here at all but the pork I relish first rate. I seem to require something hearty, but the old soldiers say it will not do to eat much. I think I shall buy some cheese & butter of the sutler. I have bought some & it makes our bread & hard tack go much better. We have bought some condensed milk to put in coffee & I can tell you it is quite an improvement. The sutler charges big prices but I think more of my health than I do of money. Butter is 75 cents per pound; cheese, 50. It is a good article, however. Other things are as high in proportions, but we don’t buy much beside cheese & butter.

Have you sent Billina [Buck] that 20 dollars I borrowed of him? I wrote you while on Hart Isle about it but have received no reply to it. If you have not sent it to him, send it without delay. Has [James] Mattocks got back yet?

I began this letter early this morning, but I had to stop & get ready for inspection, but it did not take me long as my gun & equipment were in good order.

Thomas Kirby 1 came here this afternoon & I had a good visit with him, but the poor fellow has seen hard times. He had just come out of a hard fight—only 3 of his company escaped, the rest were killed or taken prisoner.  Lester Moore is taken prisoner. The 96th [New York] regiment are most all taken & a good share of the 118th regiment. I have not time to give you the particulars. You will undoubtedly get the news before this reaches you.  

There has been a fight in the direction [of] Petersburg. We have not heard the particulars but there has been a victory won there.

Well, how are you all tonight. Well I hope & enjoying yourselves but I am afraid you are lonesome & are thinking too much of an absent one. It is an assurance most dear to know they miss me at home, but Mother don’t dwell too much on my absence. I wish that I had some of those nice apples & a pie, but I think Will would enjoy the nice things better than myself.

I think we can get along with our fare. It is much better than most regiments get. We expect to go into winter quarters here or at Fort Monroe. I had as soon stay here but a good many of the boys had rather go to Fort Monroe but however, we shall not go into winter quarters just now.

Well, I must close for it is getting late. Please excuse mistakes & poor writing for I have been cramped up with a poor light & poor pen & several persons talking at the same time. So you need not think strange of this poor disconnected letter.

Give my respects to all inquiring friends & accept much love from your son, — Merritt

I don’t like to have you send my letters away especially some of them for I see too many mistakes.  I would like to have you send me [brother] George’s gold pen if he does not use it.

1 Thomas Kirby served in the 96th New York Infantry. Three of his letters can be found on-line at the SUNY Plattsburgh Special Collections:

Letter 13

In Camp
Sunday, Nov 27th, 1864

Dear Parents,

Yours of Nov 20th was received last night. [I] was pleased to hear from you. The pens were in the letter all right. I also received a paper with the case enclosed.

I am well & am enjoying myself first best. My health is good & I think if I am careful, I shall enjoy the best of health. I am nearly as fleshy as I was before I was sick. My appetite is extra good. I can eat fat pork like an Irishman. We are living first rate now. We have pork, fresh beef, hardtack, soft bread 4 times a week, bean soup, beef soup, coffee, whiskey, etc. (I don’t drink much). We get some things of the commissary on an order. We make out an order of what we want & get the lieutenant to sign it. We can get things in this way much cheaper than we can of the sutler. We can get what we want of the commissary nearly as cheap as we could get them at home. We buy flour, candles (we draw one each week, but we want more), bread, sometimes sugar, etc. We get pepper, salt, vinegar, etc. at the cook house. It costs us nothing but the trouble of getting it. Butter is very high. We pay 45 cents per pound, but it is the first quality—most as good as you make, Mother.

I wish you might step into our cabin some evening & see us fry pancakes. I am chief cook but not bottle washer. I mix up the batter & fry my share, then Ed[gar Reed] & Will [Beckwith] fry theirs. I had rather poor luck once or twice at first frying up the batter but now I get them so they are very nice. I made a short cake this morning & Will said it was bully. Ed did not get up in time to get his share, so I fried him three large pancakes. Ed bought some beef steak this morning & we are going [to] have it for dinner. I am bound not to starve when I can get plenty.

I can live very well & save a part of my wages. The 10 dollars you sent me came safe. I was sorry that I was obliged to send home for money but thought it for the best. You know I lost 6 dollars on Hart Isle. I bought a rubber blanket & overcoat which cost me 4 ½ dollars & sent you 20 dollars, so you can see that I have not used a great deal. Then I lent 5 dollars to a fellow that lost his knapsack & all that was in it. His name is [Alfred J.] Hewitt—a fine fellow he is too. He promised to pay me some time ago but the money that he received from home was state money & would not pass here, so he sent it back & has not heard from it yet. I shall get my pay on payday if not before. The government owes me most 50 dollars or will in a day or two. Well, I must stop & eat my dinner for I feel somewhat hungry.

It took us some time to get dinner & quite a while to eat it. It was three o’clock before we got it ready & then it took about an hour & a half to eat it. [We] then went out in the woods & cut some wood for the night which used up the day. It is now about 7 o’clock. There is a good fire in the fireplace. The light shines all about our cabin, so bright that we can see to read quite plain. I think it is splendid. We brought the brick about one third of a mile to build it with. I hired a mason to build it & it smoked very bad. We stood it a day or two & then I went at it & tore it most all down & built it up to suit me & it goes like a kite. They tell me I beat the mason all out. Besides laying it up so it does not smoke, it is layed up in better shape. I don’t mean to brag any about it, but I do feel a little proud about it.

We have a nice little cupboard to put our dishes on & a table to eat on & write on. Perhaps you would like to know how we come by all these things. I will tell you how I got the boards for the cupboard. I was detailed to draw brick for the officers to make fireplaces from an old house about one mile from camp. When I got my brick loaded, I just took the boards out of the stair way [and] put them in the wagon for my use.

We get a great many things out of the houses that the Rebs have been drove out. We have got a nice little hatchet & two sharp axes in our house. We can keep them as long as we please. The engineers have privileges that infantry don’t. We have shovels, pickaxes, axes, nails, spikes, etc. that we can get to use for our own benefit. I think I hit the nail on the head when I enlisted for the engineer service.

Well, what are you doing & what are you doing & what is the news in the town of S[chuyler Falls]? You wrote me some news in your last letter & it was the best news I have heard for a long while & this is it:  that you had been able to go to church. I was very happily surprised to hear of it. If you only could get your health once more I would give ten bounties if I had them. I was glad to hear that Father was better. [I] hope he is entirely well by this time. How is Frank [Pierce]? Tell him I want to hear from him again. I like his letters very much indeed. I would like some more gum. The gum he sent me was beautiful.  

Well, guess I had better stop writing on this sheet or you will be bothered to read it. I have just come in from roll call. It is just 8 o’clock now.  Guess I’ll write a few lines more.

Letter 14

In Camp
December 7th [1864]

Dear Parents,

I received your letter night before last, [and] was much pleased to hear from you. You did not date your letter, but I saw by the envelope that it was mailed Nov 29th. I am well & enjoying myself first rate. It rains today quite hard & looks like a heavy rainstorm.  [Cousin] Ed is in the orderly’s tent writing. Will is on guard today. He has a good beat to walk, for when it rains, he can go under cover. He has just come in from off his beat. He has now 4 hours to himself. He is sitting beside me mending his pants. There is a pine-knot in the fireplace burning slowly which makes our tent warm & nice. I imagine if you could look in for a moment you would think we’re seeking comfort by the whole-sale.

I am very glad that I stopped here instead of going to S. C. & I am glad that I came into this regiment for all of any other. John Hunter says he had rather serve in this regiment one year than 3 months in the infantry & I think just so too. My duty is very light at present. Will, John H., [Christopher] Soulia and myself are on the same detail yet. It makes it very pleasant for us to be together. We chop a short time, then sit down & visit a while, sometimes smoke, then go to work. This Soulia that is on the same detail is a Frenchman & yet he is very much of a Yankee. He makes me think of Frank Gadson very much. He has lived with a Mr. Clark for 14 years. Mr. Clark lives in the west part of Peru. I have heard Father speak of the Clarks often—those men that keep so many sheep. Well, I must stop & get my dinner.

I have been to dinner & have made John H. a good visit & certainly I feel better. John Hunter is well & is enjoying himself first rate. We have fine times visiting back & forth. His tent is about 8 rods from mine on the same side of the street.

There are a great many troops massing in here now.  We think there is going to be a move before long if the roads don’t get too bad, though it is rather late to do much in Virginia. The officers are making all preparations for winter quarters here. Today they have several men on detail digging a well. There is a fine spring of water about one third of a mile from here, but it is too far to go in bad weather. There is a regiment of cavalry encamped about 15 rods from here. There is a splendid band of music attached to it & I enjoy it very much. They play for an hour at a time. Last night they played beautifully. Will and Ed are trying to sing & I declare the music don’t charm me a bit. Will makes a noise like a chipmunk & Ed like a drone-bee so you may imagine the beautiful chords.

Ed says I must stop & shave him. I tell him he must give his face a good soaking or I can’t shave him.  Well, I have taken Ed’s very coarse beard off & I think he looks quite like a gentleman. Ed has just received a letter from home. Its date is Dec. 3rd. I expect that a box of things will be along soon. Now don’t send all the good things you have for we don’t need them. We are living very well for soldiers. I think we live the best of anyone in our company & it don’t cost us one half as much as it does them for candy & the like that they buy at the Sutlers.  We don’t buy anything except butter apples, sweet potato, &c., & we buy sparingly of these things.

Well, how do you do tonight? I would like to make you a visit & tell you what I have seen in Old Virginia, but I expect to see much more than I have seen yet & when I get home, I will tell you all about my travels & escapes if I am spared to do so. I was glad to hear that Father was better.  Tell him to be careful & not work any. I think he is able to live without work. He can do chores when he feels like it, but he must not try to work. Tell Frank I eat the gum he sends & it is very nice. You ask me if [I] would like a night cap. I thank you very much. I think I can get along without. If I ever get to be an old woman, I’ll have one made. Now mother I want you to be careful & not overdo & get sick. I am afraid you borrow trouble about me & you must not. It will not do. I wrote a letter to George & Em last Sabbath & presume you will see the letter. Well, I must close. Write often & write all the news. Tell me all that is going on. My respects to all & much love to you. From your son, — Merritt

Letter 15

Sabbath afternoon
December 18th, 1864

Dear Parents,

Yours of December 11th was receive night before last. [I] received one from [brother] George too. I was very glad to hear from you all. George wrote me a good long letter. He gave me lots of information & it was just the kind I wanted to hear. Tell him to write another just like it (only not exactly like it) & I shall be much obliged to him. It does a fellow good to hear all that is going on. Things which seem but trifling to you are very interesting to me. I received a letter a few days ago from you. I will answer both of them now.

I am quite well & am enjoying myself first rate, but I declare I think if I was at home I could [be] enjoying myself better or full as well certain sure. It is quite warm today—wind northeast & cloudy. Yesterday was a very warm & pleasant day. It seemed more like June than December. We have had two right cold days since we have been here & that is allThey all say (those that have been here) that it has been unusually warm & pleasant.

There are but few details out today. Most of the boys are in camp. Will [Beckwith] is fetching water from the spring for the cooks. Ed[gar Reed] has been writing to someone, I don’t know who. He has just gone to fill up the canteens with water.

Frank Regan is just asleep on his bunk. F.R. is a young man that tents with us. He is not just such a young man as I wish he was, yet on the whole I take him to be a fine fellow. He has been in the infantry service 2 years so he must understand camp life pretty well. He is quite an intelligent person, very much like Nell—only more man-like. He is a good cook—tasty, free-hearted, and always willing to do his part. I would not have taken him in with us but for certain reasons. There were certain persons that wished to come into our tent & I did not like to refuse them and have them in the tent. I would not do it any how & then too we have been getting a good number of recruits & are likely to get more & I knew if we should get many more that we would had have to take one person into our tent for we have four pieces of tent cloth. I think we shall get along first rate together.

I am still on the wood detail. [I] still like it well as ever. I like it because there is no one to oversee us. We work when we choose & sit down when we choose. Some days I don’t chop longer than two hours in the course of the day, but I have to be in the woods from eight until twelve & from half past on until half past four.

Well, the band has begun to play & I can hardly think what to write. I wish Frank [Pierce] could hear them play. I think he would look wild. How is Frank getting along now days? I expect he will be quite a gentleman by next fall. Tell him if he will be a good boy & help Father you will buy him a nice shotgun, one that will kill a partridge 10 rods every time if the Old Daddy holds it right.

Well, I shall expect that box along by the last of this week. We shall have great times over it I expect. I am glad you did not [pack] a great deal of good stuff for I am afraid we should eat too much.

I was very much surprised to hear the news about Joseph Canfield getting married & that George Bradford is going [to] marry Miss Amarilla Canfield. What will happen next, do tell.

Well, I must close my letter for it is getting quite dark. Excuse mistakes. Write often & oblige. Give my respects to all who inquire & accept much love form you son, — Merritt

Sunday evening after roll call. Have been having a fine sing with some of the boys. Two of the fellows here were Methodists & fine young men. Enclosed you will find [a] book for Frank. Frank Regan is writing his name in it. You will find two pieces of stone which were blasted out of Dutch Gap Canal. Frank is drawing a picture of our cabin in the back part of Frank’s little book. The book was given me by the Christian Commission today. Good night.

Letter 16

Jones Landing on the James River

Camp near Jones’s Landing
January 4th, [1865]

Dear Parents,

Yours of December 25th was received day before yesterday. It found me well with the exception of a very bad boil & I am not rid of it yet but expect to be in a day or two. I think it is the meanest one I ever had. I have not had the privilege of sitting down this year & I think it a hard case. Well, the mean thing broke last night & I feel 50 percent better today. I think I shall go to work tomorrow. I have not done any duty for 6 days past & two days I lay flat on my back.

My ink is so poor that I can’t use it.  I must finish my letter with a pencil.  

We are having fine weather here now but rather cold for this place, but it is much warmer than New York weather. I think you have had very cold & rough weather of late. [I] hope it will [be] more pleasant the rest part of the winter.

The box came all right. The shirts are just the thing. They will do good service. Your butter is very nice. I let some of the men have a little just for a taste & they said it was splendid. The mittens are just the fit & just the sort. I would not take 2 dollars for them. I would like a pair of socks but am in no hurry for them. You can send them by mail. The cake is very nice. It is as good if not the best I ever tasted. Tell Mrs. [Harriet Broadwell] Mead I am greatly obliged to her for the sugar she sent me. I am much obliged to Frank [Pierce] for the sugar he sent me. I will try & do him a favor some time. Tell him to help Father all he can & oblige me. I am sorry Father is so troubled about his breath. I wish he might find something to help him.

You wished me a pleasant Christmas & a happy New Year. I thank you very much & wish you many of them. I worked all day Christmas on our tent & New Year’s Day I lay in my bunk for the least exercise put me in much pain. I do not complain of my lot. Many were worse off than myself. I think I have been wonderfully prospered since I have been in the army. I have not had a cold since I have been here & I have been very much exposed many times.

Well, I would like to see you all tonight first rate & have [a] good visit. [I] think we should enjoy it much. I don’t think it will be any damage to me coming down here. I shall know how to prize the privileges of a home & good society.

Well, the boys are raising perfect Cain here tonight. Some are singing, some telling stories, some playing cards, some fifing & drumming & dancing. Will [Beckwith] is trying to write but he says it is hard work. There [is] so much confusion. Mr. [John] Hunter is well & is enjoying himself first rate. He is writing home tonight. Ed[gar Reed] is about somewhere. [I] guess he is in the other tent.  

Well, I must close for this time. I will write again soon. Much love to all. Good night. This from your son, — Merritt.

Letter 17

Camp near Jones Landing
February 1st [1865]

Dear Parents,

Yours of January 22nd was received January 30th (night before last). I received a letter from George [Pierce] today & one from Mark which were very acceptable. I can tell you I think George writes very interesting letters indeed & so do you. You seem to think of everything that is interesting & just what I want to her. I was very glad of the money Frank [Pierce] sent me. It was just what I wanted but I thought more of the letter he wrote than the money. Tell the young gentleman he writes a very, very interesting letter. I can’t say too much in praise of it.  

You need not send me much money for we expect to be paid soon. I had one dollar left when I received the money you sent me so I shall be provided for a while yet.

I am quite well except some cold & a sore throat, but I think I shall get over it soon. The White’s Elixir you sent me is just the thing. Will [Beckwith] is well.  He is sitting by my side writing a letter home. Ed[gar Reed is] well also & seems to enjoy a soldier’s life first rate. Mr. [John] Hunter is well—just got better of his cold.

I took cold working on the bridge. It is a very bad place to work on the account of taking cold. Most all the men have taken cold since we have been at work there. We are building the draw to the bridge now [and] shall get through in a day or two. I don’t know where we shall go when we leave here, probably not to headquarters though.

We have had some very cold weather since I wrote you, but it is pleasant now. Today has been a splendid day as ever I saw—warm as summer. I think Father would like to live here. It is so much more mild here than it is [in] New York. There has not been two inches of snow here this winter put it all together, but we have had plenty of mud & that is what I hate.  

Well, I must close for it will soon be time for taps & then our lights must be put out & all noise cease. If you don’t read the letters I write with a pencil readily, I will write with a pen. You must excuse mistakes for I have written this in a hurry. We had to work til dark tonight. Tell Frank I will write him a letter in particular when he sends me his picture.  I shall be much pleased to see him. Well, Mother, I have been in Uncle Sam’s service 5 months yesterday, my time most half out. What do you think of that. I must repeat the same old story. I think the war will end soon.

Much love to you all. Good night. From—Merritt

Letter 18

Camp near Jones Landing
February 10, [1865]

Dear Parents,

Yours of January 30th was received yesterday. Was glad to hear from you. The 25 cents came all right. I was greatly obliged to you for it. Will try & do you as good a turn sometime. I am well & am enjoying myself as well as possible under my present circumstances. I have been on drill today with some 20 others of the company. We are nearly through with the bridge & I don’t know what we shall do next or where we shall go. There is some talk of building a dock near the bridge. If they do, we shall stay here some time but I hope we shall leave here soon for I don’t like to stay where there is so many together.

Will is well & so is Edgar [Reed]. Mr. [John] Hunter also. I went to meeting last night (near Jones Landing). Heard a good sermon. It made me think of home some. I wish you could hear the colored people talk in meeting. It is very interesting indeed. I went to the meeting in company with a young man by the name of Whitney. He is a very fine young man. He is from St. Lawrence county. He wishes me to go out there & buy a farm near him. I tell him I’ll see about it.

Well, I must tell you that I have quit chewing & smoking tobacco. I found that I was forming a habit that there would be great difficulty in breaking off from & if I should make a practice of using it, it would cost me quite a little pile beside being a damage to my health. It costs me some struggles for I love it dearly. You know it use to make me sick to chew tobacco. Well I can chew it all the time now & it don’t seem to affect me at all.

Well you seem to think my picture looks quite like myself. I am glad you think so for I was afraid you would think that I looked wolfish. I think you are having a cold winter up in New York. Well it will soon be spring & the birds will sing pleasant songs (look on the bright side). Father wishes to know if there are any birds here. There are a few. Plenty of crow & turkey buzzards here.

I saw a boat load of prisoners from Richmond last Sabbath. There were 1100 of them & they looked as if they had not long to stay. They were the most disconsolate looking fellows I ever saw. Some of them dressed in grey; some in blue. All were very ragged. Some of them had their clothes patched with old socks.

I received a letter from Soff last night. He was well. He likes stopping in South Carolina first rate. He says a good many of the recruits are sick. Well, I must stop for the present. I will write again soon. Goodbye.

From Merritt

I received a letter from Frank in yours. It was very interesting indeed. I was sorry he was disappointed in getting his picture taken. I will excuse all mistakes. Tell him I can read it without any trouble.

Letter 19

Broadway Landing; Pontoon Bridge over Appomattox River

Camp near Broadway Landing
[Sunday] March 19, [1865]

Dear Parents,

I have a few moments to spare this afternoon & I think I will improve them in writing you a few lines. I have just finished my dinner. It consisted of a small piece of pork, a cup of coffee, and some hard tack. I have got so I like the Government rations first rate and they agree with me well. I have not tasted butter since I ate the last you sent me which was 4 weeks ago. Many of the boys are sick since pay day just in consequence of eating too much,

I went to church this forenoon at Point of Rocks Hospital (it is nearly a half mile from our camp). I heard a very good sermon indeed. After church I went & made Charlie Ford a visit. He was very glad to see me, He knew me at first sight. I did not know him—he had grown much since I saw him last. He is looking well. I think he will soon get his health.

Well today is a most beautiful day—clear, warm & pleasant, wind north. The birds are singing sweet songs. I forget for a moment many times that I am in a land of war and deadly strife. If I listen but a moment, I hear the roar of cannon which reminds me of where I am, but I am so use to hearing the noisy things that I don’t mind them in the least (I must stop. There is an inspection).

Inspection is over and no fault found with the company excepting one of the men had his pants rolled up & the Captain told him not to come on inspection again in that condition. Ed has gone to Burmuda [Hundred] after the mail, This is his job every day. It is an easy one too—much better than laying pontoon bridges, but I have got so I like it very much. It is about a half mile up the river where we lay the bridge & we go there in small boats. Each boat carries about 20 men & such times as we have, racing to and from the bridge is a caution. We construct a bridge & take it up in the forenoon and one in the p.m. It took us just 40 minutes to lay the bridge yesterday p.m. and it is much further across than the bridge at Morrisonville. What do you think of that?

Well, we are expecting to leave here soon, but where we shall go, it is impossible to tell but it will be somewhere with a pontoon train. I think I had rather be a Pioneer than an Engineer. Don’t think there is as much danger in laying bridges as there is in building breastworks, & as for taking up bridges, I don’t calculate we shall have any of that to do for I think we shall whip them (the Rebs) every time. The fact is, the Johnnies are getting discouraged & think there is no hope for them. They are deserting very fast now & very soon they will have a chance to desert as fast as they are a mind to. The Army will soon be on the move for Richmond. They are moving on the left of our lines now. I know that Father will laugh at what I say but I can’t help it. I must tell you what I think about matters and things.

Well, to change the subject, I wish I was at home this afternoon. I imagine what I should do. One thing I would do, that’s certain, & that would be to play and sing a few tunes in the parlor where I used often to go for a few moments to enjoy a little harmony & pass time away. I enjoyed that much better than I enjoy a game at cards. I have not played a game in some time. Guess I had not better play anymore. But I get so lonesome once in awhile for a little amusement & it comes so handy to have a game.

Now Mother, if you think I had better not play, I’ll quit for I can do it as easy as I did using tobacco, According to my manner of thinking, I have not got a great many bad habits for a soldier boy that is exposed to temptations on every hand. I have the privilege of attending meeting every evening now. We have very interesting meetings indeed. The house is much larger than our meeting house & it is crowded full every night. The house is but a short distance from here (about as far as the red house is from ours). It is most time to get ready for church. I don’t have to fix up much for I have not got the fixings to put on—just black my boots & brush up a little & then I am ready for church.

Well Ed has just come in with the mail. I must go and see if there is any mail for me. Indeed, I have got a letter & what do you think I found in it—a picture of Frank P’s, a good picture it is too. Will says tell Frank it is first rate. Ed says so too & of course it must be so. I have shown it to several & they all say it is a young Pierce. Good night. I’ll finish some other time.

Monday morning. I am well. Have just got my breakfast & I feel fine. It is a very beautiful morning. The air is cool & refreshing. My cabin door is open and it seems like summer to look out and see the sun shining so pleasantly. Edgar went to City Point on Friday last. Sent him money home. I sent $50 dollars with his. You will get it from Uncle Lucius. Well Ed goes on duty today. One of the drummers is going to carry the mail hereafter. I went to church last evening. Heard a very excellent sermon. The text was, “The wages of sin is death.”

Well time and paper bids me stop writing. Please send me a little linen thread. The gum Frank sent was nice. I should like to [hear] from George. No more. From — Merritt

Letter 20

Camp near Hatcher’s Run
April 1st [1865]

Dear Parents,

Yours of March 23rd was received today. [I] was very glad to hear from you. I also received a pair of socks. I do not need them much for I have been very careful of my socks & they are quite good yet. However, I am much obliged to you for them.

Well, I presume you will be some surprised at the heading of this letter. I did not go to North Carolina as was expected. The order was countermanded & we were ordered to the left of Petersburg. [We] had a long march. [We] started in good season Tuesday morning & marched until dark. [We] marched 26 miles (what think you). The next morning [we] started on & marched until noon where we camped until yesterday morning. It rained hard Wednesday night & Thursday all day [but] cleared off Friday morning. Friday morning about 10 o’clock we were ordered to Hatcher’s Run with a part of the train. Before we got there the train was ordered back to camp & we to the front to make a corduroy bridge in place of a pontoon. It is about two miles to Hatcher’s Run. We got there about 11 o’clock & worked hard all day & until 12 o’clock at night when we started back to camp. It was a dark night & we had hard work to find the way back, but we got back safe at last.

Well, this morning I got up bright & early [and] went to work at my tent [and] fixed it up so it is quite comfortable. Then [I] washed my clothes & mended them & now I have seated myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well & feeling first rate.

Well, Mother, I have been obliged to witness battle scenes again. The wounded are coming in from the front all the time. I have been up to see them once or twice. The depot is but a few rods from camp where all the wounded are taken from the ambulances & put on board the cars & taken to City Point (18 miles from here). I am thankful that I am not in the infantry. I am glad we are a pontoon company. We have our knapsacks & haversacks carried which is quite an item, I can tell you. Ed[gar Reed]—the scamp—had to come out here with us but he stands it pretty well.  

A part of the company is back at Broadway Landing. I had the privilege of staying if I chose. There was 20 from our company wanted, so the orderly says sick, lame, & lazy fall out. I was a little lame but could not see staying back. Ed was one of the brave boys. Will [Beckwith] came with us too. He is well but says he is pretty much used up.

Well, it is getting late & I must close. The Johnnies are coming in in quantities every day—prisoners & deserters. I can hear musketry constantly. Grant is going to Richmond before long.

Have you received the money that I sent home & the clothes? I have found a good blanket & overcoat, so I am all right for clothes. I received that one dollar you sent me. Tell Frank [Pierce] I miss his letters very much, but I take a look at the [photograph of the] boy often. Much love to you all. Goodbye. Write soon & oblige. I [will] write more next time if I have time. Direct as before.