The following letter was written by 32 year-old Arial S. Noyes (1829-1907), a shoemaker from Haverhill, Massachusetts, who was private in Co. D (the “Haverhill Light Infantry”), 5th Massachusetts in 1861. This three-month militia unit tendered its services to the US Government on 15 April and left for Washington D. C. a week later where they were mustered in on 1 May.
From this letter we learn that the regiment was quartered in the interior courtyard (the “enclosure”) of the Treasury Building on West 15th Street. They moved across the Potomac river to Alexandria, Virginia, at 10:30 p.m. on the day this letter was written—25 May 1861—-where they remained in camp until the Battle of Bull Run in which they were engaged on 21 July and lost 9 men killed and two wounded, including Col. Samuel C. Lawrence. Twenty-three men were taken prisoner.
After the regiment was mustered out of service at the end of July 1861, Ariel reenlisted as as sergeant in Co. D (later transferred to Co. C), 17th Massachusetts and served until the end of the war. He was wounded at Wise’s Creek in North Carolina on 8 March 1865.
Ariel wrote the letter to his older brother, Rev. Daniel Parker Noyes (1820-1888), an 1840 graduate of Yale College and, at the time of this letter, serving as the Secretary of the Home Missionary Society in New York City.
May 25, , 4 p.m.
While eating dinner we were ordered to march with nothing but our equipments for immediate action, word having been sent from Alexandria for reinforcements and that they [were] not at it. In 30 minutes we were on our way but were stopped on the bridge 3 miles from our quarters. we returned to quarters and received orders to be ready to march in one hour. At 5 o’clock—as near as I can find out—we go into camp in Virginia. How far I can’t tell but will inform you as soon as I find out. Ten thousand men are to leave tonight. Eight regiments went over the river—though as you will see by the papers before you get this—and a part of them took Alexandria.
I think we shall have hot work soon. But as we stand at the top of the ladder, we shall try to maintain our position on the field of battle, putting ourselves in the hands of Him who ruleth all things. I bid you farewell for a time. I shall not send this till we are on the march. You can inform Sarah that we have changed out position.
Your brother, — Ariel
6 o’clock. Since writing I have received one from you. I have time for but a word. Our baggage is loading. I have more clothing than I can carry. Send me nothing unless I write for it. Rest assured I commend my soul to God, my body to my country if it is so to be. I can’t find out where we are going but you will probably find out about as soon as I do.
Your affectionate brother, — Ariel