The following letter was written by Henry S. Olney (1831-1907), a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. G, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery from February 1862 to August 1862, six months and 5 days, serving as the regimental quartermaster. When this letter was written in November 1863, Henry had been discharged from the service for 15 months and was working as a manufacturer in South Scituate, Providence county, Rhode Island.
Henry was the son of Amos Atwell Olney and Elizabeth Williams. He wrote the letter to Col. Edwin Metcalf of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery. At the time of this letter, the 3rd Rhode Island Heavies were still stationed on Morris and Folly Islands near Charleston, South Carolina.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Greg Herr and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
South Scituate November 15th 1863
Yours of the 1st ult. received night before last. If you had borne in mind that the subscriber lived at South Scituate instead of North, I should have received it two or three days earlier. I receipted for all the ordnance furnished the 11th after it left Rhode Island and accounted for it in my returns and I will send you a certificate to that effect though I I wish you had sent the form.
I have never got a certificate from the auditor yet so that I could get my last two months pay though I paid my proportion of Parkhurst expenses to W. to attend to getting all the accounts audited and he came back and said they are all right and that I should get it in a few days.
I suppose you will. know that Gov. Sprague was married Thursday in Washington before you receive this. That is all the news of much importance just now. People are holding their breath expecting great news from Meade & Grant but Charleston has got to be an old story and the opinion is that you won’t take it this winter.
I saw Lt. Col. [Charles R.] Brayton a few minutes when he first arrived home and I saw Day in the street with some ladies but did not get a chance to speak to him. How came he to resign?
There is a Sergeant [James W.] Slocum in Co. L of your regiment who is from this town. He was pretty well posted in the drill before he went to South Carolina and has written me once or twice to try and get him promoted. I wish if you can you would give him a lift. He is a pretty good fellow & more deserving of shoulder strop than many that wear them. If you don’t want him there, please recommend him for the 14th [Corps]. Some of the 11th [Corps] are going out in the 14th & some in the 3rd Cavalry.
Thomas, I see, has a 1st Lieutenancy—this is wonderful, isn’t it. I should have thought Parkhurst would have kept him out. I was sorry I could not have seen you and had a long talk when you were North & intended to have done so but I was starting the old mill & did not have much time to stay in town. Write me again sometime. Please remember me to Brayton. Tell [him] he owes me a letter.
The following letters were written by Frederick Metcalf (1847-1864) who was mustered in as 2nd Lieutenant of Co. K, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery on 1 October 1863. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on 6 May 1864 and transferred into Co. B on 27 May 1864. “Fred” was serving as the Acting Regimental Adjutant when he wrote the first letter while on special duty at Fort Pulaski.
The second and third letters were written in July 1864 from the encampment of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavies just outside of Fort Welles on Hilton Head Island. Unfortunately for Fred, he did not survive the war. He died of disease at a hospital at Beaufort on 28 August 1864, less than a month after he penned the third letter.
Fred was the son of Providence attorney Edwin Metcalf (1823-1894) and Eliza Spear Atwell (1824-1863).
[Note: These letters are from the personal collection of Greg Herr and were transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Headquarters U. S. Forces Fort Pulaski & Tybee Island, Georgia February 23rd  11 o’clock P.M.
I suppose you think, and very justly too, that is about time for that scrapegrace cousin of yours to answer some of your letters—very acceptable they are too him, I assure you—although he takes such a poor way of showing it. If you only knew what a bore and detested thing it is for me to write letters and how many stings of conscience it takes before I can bring myself down to it, you would forgive me I am sure.
We are having a few days of busy life and a little excitement down here in the land of all that is detestable, but I am not allowed to say anything about the movements of the army and so you must be content to know that I do not see as I shall have any chance of going on any of the expeditions, if there are any. And so you see that as I cannot say anything of the movements of the army, there is not much to write of. I might describe the islands to you but they are all the same thing—mud, mud, mud, nothing but mud anywhere except where artificial ground has ben made around the fort. I sometimes go over to Tybee and there there is a little more variety, some trees, &c., but nothing worth mentioning except the light house which the rebels burnt when they left and the old Martello tower, Some deserters come in once and awhile. A sergeant came down from Savannah the other day. e had on a very fair pair of boots. I asked him what they cost and he replied that he paid $125 for having a pair of old legs footed. What do you think they are coming to up there?
I have not heard from Sam since he was here but suppose he writes home much more regularly than I do. I enclose an invitation that I received to a ball at Beaufort. But i assure you that there was altogether a different ball going on not many miles from here that took our attention during the day.
It is getting quite late now and I must go to bed. I have been writing this in my office and by the light of a government candle. A pet kitten has been running all over the table most of the time and I suppose it will be a hard scrawl to read. The sentry on the parapet has just called 11 o’clock and “All’s well.” So goodbye.
Very affectionately your cousin, — Fred
Camp Co. B, 3rd Rhode Island Artillery Fort Welles, Hilton Head, South Carolina June 21, 1864
I received yours of the 5th yesterday. It was the first letter I had received for two weeks. It is getting very hot out here. we live with our tents up on all sides to allow the air to come in and then are nearly suffocated sometimes. We have been moving for the week past. Have changed camp four times and that with it raining all the time nearly. One night the Captain and myself had no tent pitched and had to sleep in a guard house the darkies had just left. I could stand [not] that, however, and moved my bunk outside. We are still settled now, however, and are encamped just outside Fort Welles, the captain being in command of the fort. We have also an infantry company under our command—one of the 144th N. Y. Vols. and are instructing them in artillery.
I witnessed the most impressive sight I believe there is in the world last Sunday—I mean a military execution. It was a clear, hot morning. All the troops on the island were formed in a hollow square on a large plain. The prisoner was marched into the centre, seated on his coffin, and there after his eyes were blind-folded, he was shot at a signal from the Provost Marshal. We were then wheeled into columns of companies and marched in review by the corpse. A most impressive spectacle, I assure you, but a soldier has to get used to such scenes. The man deserved it. He was caught deserting to the enemy. 1
I am boarding now at the house of a refugee from Charleston. The fare consists of “bully” beef and potatoes. The price six dollars per week. This is very cheap for down here but would be considered high at home for board and lodgings both. I have paid as high as $40 a month at Pulaski for simply my board. My washing bill is about a dollar and a half a week and my servant I pay $10 a month and yet they talk about an officer’s pay being large. I tell you, “Sis”, an enlisted man as a general thing can save more money than an officer.
Well, I think that I have scribbled about enough—particularly as I was up late last night. The men got some liquor from the Drago & had a little “toot” but they soon found out who was “boss” and kept pretty quiet. We never have any trouble with our men except through liquor and even then they know enough to mind when spoken to.
Give my love to all. Excuse the writing as we have no table yet and this I wrote on my knee.
Ever your affectionate cousin, — Fred
1 The soldier executed by firing squad at Hilton Head would have been John Flood of the 41st New York Infantry. He was executed on 19 June 1864.
Camp Co. B, 3rd Rhode Island Artillery Hilton Head July 31st 1864
I received yours of the 17th instant by the Fulton. Also one from Father. Both very acceptable. I was very glad to hear that you are enjoying yourself so much and dear little Tott. I know it will do her good to be by the salt water. I am feeling rather mean today because I got wet through last night. My tent leaks like a sieve and I awoke about 12 o’clock last night and found a puddle of water on my bed and all over the tent. One of our showers had come up and wet everything. I sleep under a rubber blanket every night now. Gen. Grant has issued an order that officers shall draw no more tents but sleep under shelters—that is, a piece of canvass about 6 feet square.
Everything is quiet here at present. We have a new officer to our company—Remington—late a corporal in the Second. We have plenty of watermelons now but our other fare is very poor. Some beef that Gen. Birney captured in Florida and which we call Florida Venison and it is tough enough, I assure you. This and commissary ham is about all we have.
Our company is still at this old sand heap and the fleas grow thicker every day. They almost poison me with their bites, but that is a petty annoyance, easily born with. I would describe our fort, &c. to you but that is strictly forbidden and you must wait until I get home and then I shall [share] a store of conversation.
Talking about home, from all that I hear, I suppose it will be another year—perhaps two—before I see home again. I tent now with a very gentlemanly young fellow named [George S.] Reed—the senior second lieutenant of our company. Our quarters are about eight feet square. In this small space we have two bunks, two trunks, and one table. The bunks answer for seats. That leaves us just room enough to undress and dress in. So you see I shall learn not to be very dainty when I get home. My bed consists of a bunk made of fine boards, a sack filled with hay, and a couple of blankets. My overcoat serves for a pillow. Sam gave me some sheets when he went home but the last time we moved, they went the way of all such things—even to ruin.
When I left home, I should have thought it hard to have to sleep between blankets, but now I like it and if it does not rain and wet everything, I sleep like a top. It would make you and grandmother groan to see how recklessly everything is thrown away when a regiment moves.
There, I have scribbled nonsense enough. And now, kiss Tott. Give my love to Aunt Mary and Grandmother, and my regards to the Tileston family. Believe me ever your affectionate cousin, — Fred
This letter was written by Lt. Henry H. Metcalf (1842-1904) of Co. C, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery while serving in the Post Adjutant’s Office at Hilton Head, South Carolina, in September 1863.
Edwin Metcalf (1823-1894) was a Harvard-educated lawyer and Rhode Island state legislator when he resigned his seat to join the war. Commissioned as Major of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, he immediately made a name for himself and the regiment when he led the first battalion in the battle of Secessionville, SC.
Promoted to Colonel and transferred at the governor’s request to command the new 11th Rhode Island Infantry, Metcalf was with the Army of the Potomac only a short time before being recalled to South Carolina. Yellow fever had swept the ranks and claimed Col. Brown of the 3rd RI HA, as well as several other officers, and Metcalf was seen as the one to revitalize the demoralized regiment. He commanded the regiment and served as Chief of Artillery until January 1864, when he returned to Providence on medical leave. He resigned due to illness on February 5, 1864.
[This letter is from the private collection of Greg Herr and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Headquarters U. S. Forces Hilton Head, S. C. September 11th 1863 Post Adjutant’s Office
Colonel [Edwin Metcalf]
Having finished my work on passes and of course you know that is no small job, I will endeavor to tell you the news. For the last week I have been acting post adjutant as George was sick with the fever but Sunday he begins again. We are all looking for your return but come come until you are strong.
This morning Gen. [Quincy Adams] Gilmore and his staff arrived from Morris Island. They visit Beaufort today and inspect the hospitals. Eighty-one prisoners came down with them—a hard-looking set. The Quartermaster has just come in and will send you a new South. Of course you have heard of [Forts] Wagner & Gregg being taken. Our boys are in first rate spirits and are to turn their guns toward Charleston. The other day Lieut. Irwin received an order to report to [ ]ick Light Co. E. Col. [John] Frieze is still engaged on the court martial and our camp looks about deserted.
Sunday I went to ride on Billy to Fort Mitchell. Lieut. [J. P.] James keeps everything in ship shape and while there, Col. [DeWitt Clinton] Strawbridge came. He inspected everything and said nothing could be better. Fred says tell you about the Post Fund. Gen. Gilmore has ordered that it shall not be divided but shall be used here in the Bakery and the Post Band is to be enlarged. Ingalls went North on the Arago. It has made quite a stir but I guess it has gone over. The Bakery is to be enlarged so as to bake 15,000 rations a day. Maj. Ames was down from Ft. Pulaski last week. To all accounts, Savannah is about scared to death. A deserter from there said there were only 15 men at Fort Jackson [on the Savannah river] and 300 at [Fort] Thunderbolt [on the Wilmington river] . A contraband came down yesterday and said Bragg’s forces were in Savannah, Burnside & Rosecrans having beaten them. Of course you know how to take such stories.
The last news from Wagner were our monitors were firing on Ft. Moultrie. One of them [the Weehawken] was aground fast and the others were trying to get her out or they never would have gone up there. The magazine of the fort had exploded. I taking Wagner, our forces of course got fooled. We bombarded the place two days and the assault was made on the 3rd day. During the night of the 2nd day a deserter came in and said they had vamoosed. Five me were sent forward and after looking round the fort, came back. Then the wildest confusion prevailed in the trenches. We took 15 men in the fort and then pushed on to Gregg. There we took 85 in the water. But if we had assaulted Wagner, we would have had our match. All around the ditch, pikes had been placed and between them were torpedoes. Everything would have gone against us but Gen. Terry says his plan would have taken the fort. Ahem.
Capt. [David B.] Churchill met with an accident the other night which has laid him up for a short time. His horse struck the chain at the barn and of course the Captain took French Leave but the horse followed him in his somerset and fell on his arm. Lieut. Robinson was mustered yesterday. Our new doctor has arrived and is now flying round with his red whiskers in the wind. I like this business first rate and Col. Strawbridge [of the 76th Pennsylvania Infantry] is a good commandant.
We have had quite cool weather since you have been North but no rain. Your horse the other night ran with me and there was music for a short time. That head would turn and look me right in the eye but the ring is too much for him. The old Orderly is back behaving himself first rate and everything is going just as you would like to have it (except the Post Fund). I hope you will soon be with us but don’t come until your health will permit it. Give my love to Mother & all hands. I send you a paper with this. Also a letter received here for you.
I am yours truly, — Henry H. Metcalf
We have got the meanest Navy the Lord ever did float.
And send their best respects and hope that you will soon join us.