This letter was written by Jane (“Ginnie”) M. Ayre (1844-1885), the 17 year-old daughter of English emigrant William Mason Ayre (1818-1899) and his Virginia native wife, Martha Ann Reid (1817-1889), of Centreville, Fairfax county, Virginia. Ginnie and her older sister, Mary Catherine (“Kate”) Ayre (1843-1926) were the oldest of nine children born to the couple. The William Ayre farm was located on present-day Stringfellow Road (Section 45-3) near Chantilly, six miles west of Fairfax. It was known as the Buena Vista Farm in later years.
She wrote the six-page letter to a dear friend named “Minnie” who probably resided in Maryland, beyond enemy lines, with whom she mostly likely had a previous acquaintance while attending the Fair Hill Boarding School for Girls. Ginnie married Leander Makely in 1878 but died seven years later. The mail had to be smuggled across enemy lines by those who were able to obtain passes—more easily done at this stage of the war than later.
In her January 1862 letter Jennie speaks of the family’s displacement from Fairfax to Farquier county, Virginia, due to the war and also of the depredations by Union troops in their former home near Centreville.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Benvanue 1 January 16th 1862
My dearest Minnie,
Months, long long months fraught with good and evil have passed. What have I been doing during this time? Moving from place to place, fleeing from our enemies. Oh, Minnie, you know not what we have suffered. You have been spared the many trials we have undergone—driven from our home in dead hour of night. I fear never again to enter its portals. Our once bright and happy home—the scene of so much happiness—is now nothing but misery and ruin. Where once the merry laughter which once resounded through its halls, the groans of the sick and dying are heard. I will not complain though for it might have been worse. I left home the 1st day of June and did not return until August & then left again in October and never expect to return.
We are [now living] about three miles from Rectortown at the “Old Glasscock House.” It is called Benvanue. It was once an elegant house. We did not succeed in getting our furniture from Fairfax. Our parlor though boasts of six chairs, centre table, two book tables, one writing desk with book case attached, piano, & a few pictures. I forgot a carpet. Now, is not it an elegant parlor [these] war times? The remainder of the house is furnished tolerably enough to say we are comfortably fixed. We came here two weeks before Christmas & have had company every day since; persons in the neighborhood are very kind. We had four soldiers to spend Christmas. Two of them were those “hot headed South Carolinians” as we used to say. Four South Carolinians left us last Tuesday. We are looking for a sick Lieutenant up every day & two Captains.
Oh, I have so much to tell you. I would give anything to see you tonight and have a good old Fair Hill talk. 2 Oh please come and see me soon. I would rather see you tonight than anyone in the wide, wide, world. Minnie, do come soon to see me. When the Yankees came up to Manassas, they pilfered our house—but only took two negroes. You must not say or think anything of my writing on this paper for I have better but Mother is from home and has the desk.
All I have written is about myself. How egotistical (one big word in this letter). How about Minnie? I know you do not think I deserve to be forgiven for not answering your letter before this—but did you know all circumstances, you would not censure me one particle but be surprised that I had lived long enough to write this. I heard you all had gone away and knew no better until last August. I passed through Hamilton and enquired at the toll gate and found report to be false and since them I have not had sense enough to write a letter and have not yet. Please forgive me this time and I will promise never to be so remiss again.
Lacie Glasscock was over to see me last week. We had a long talk about you & wished for you. I heard last week that Fair Hill school was quite full. A Mr. Brooke from Maryland, [who] escaped the same time Mr. Berry (Uncle [James] Thrift’s Lieutenant) [of Co. G, 8th Virginia] did, told me all about the Federals taking Bettie Posey & her parents prisoners 3 and sending to Washington D. C. [Gen. Dan] Sickles has their house for [his] headquarters. Mr. Brooke returns in February and will carry several letters for me. If you know Alice Matthews’ address, please send it to me. Would not you love to see Alice & Sallie Cole? I have had one letter from Edie Smee. It came home by private conveyance. Have you heard from any of them? I have so many things to tell you that I cannot write.
Pappa starts to Alabama next week and will be gone a month & when he returns, we all expect to move out. I believe it will break my heart if I have to leave Old Virginia. I’ll tell you a secret—I am not going there. I’ll tell you where I am going when we meet—-if we ever do, that is. I would come and see you tomorrow if I could. I expect I would talk you to death in one hour so I’ll not come. Please come and see me and stay several weeks with us. I would write with ink but there is company in the parlor and the only inkstand we have is in there. I am up in Mother’s room with slight headache (or heartache). I could write all night but old Professor Bartenstein 4 is here and is obliged to leave early tomorrow so I will have to take my music lesson tonight. I wish he had not come this evening.
When the Eighth [Virginia] Regiment 5 was at Leesburg, I visited it frequently and always thought of you as I passed through Hamilton. We have two lady friends of Mother’s from South Carolina staying with us. Minnie, I would not send you this scribble but knowing you will not think any less of me for it, for you know I am writing at night without paper, pen or ink—am I not excusable? I won’t have anything to do but write letters this whole winter and I expect you will get tired of reading my productions.
George Dandridge is down at [ ville]. Papa is going to Fairfax in the morning. He goes down about once every week. He expects to bring some soldiers up with him when he comes. I wish you could have seen Grandfather’s old place after the Yankees left it. They cut up all the carpets with their bayonets, poured out all the preserves, broke every door about the place, took all the wearing apparel of five families who had deposited them there & a quantity of bed clothes. Took all the horses on the place and then gave all the negroes free papers. Oh, you who have not seen them know nothing about the depredations they commit.
At our home, they were not quite so vicious. They enquired of the negroes where Kate and I were and sent their love to us. I expect some of our acquaintances were them. In fact, I know they were. Please don’t show this miserably written letter to anyone but burn it as soon as read. Please write soon—very soon—and the next letter I write I will promise to write more legibly.
I must go down now and take my music lesson. Please write soon. Your devoted friend, — Ginnie Ayre
Direct your letter to Rectortown P. O., Fauquier county, Va.
P. S. What has become of the Mr. Hopkins?
1 Built of stone construction, Benvenue was constructed around 1824 on 335 acres then owned by John P. Duval. Enoch Glasscock purchased the farm in 1849 and just as the Civil War began, Glasscock sold it to Samuel Tebbs. Interior chimneys are present on either end of the house. The facade (south elevation) holds a centrally located entrance that is flanked by tall six-over-six, wood-sash windows. A round-top transom is set above the entrance door and the bay is detailed with an elaborate pedimented aedicule surround. Other classical elements include the modillion blocks along the cornice line of the house. [See National Register of Historic Places.]
2The Fair Hill Boarding School for Girls (Fair Hill Seminary) was “one of the earliest schools in the county to include a program for girls. With the help of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Samuel Thomas and his wife Anna, both Quakers, opened a school for boys at Fair Hill in 1819. A year later, Margaret Judge added a girls’ department. The Thomases’ school closed in 1829; ten years later, Phineas Paxson bought Fair Hill, and turned it into a girls’ boarding school. In 1850, Richard and Mary Kirk took over the school, with William H. Farquhar as Principal. Mary Coffin, a young woman from New York state, taught at Fair Hill from 1854 to 1865, when the school closed. Her memoirs, published in 1916, provide a wealth of detail about the school during its last decade. According to her recollections, the school averaged 45 students a year, primarily drawing from Montgomery County. About a quarter of the students were Friends (Quakers), and some of these girls were from Quaker families in DC and Alexandria. In the early days of the Civil War, nearly two-thirds of the students withdrew, because of the school’s proximity to the fighting in Baltimore. The school closed for good in 1865 (the building itself burned down in the 1970s), although the Fair Hill Fund continued to provide money for local education.”[See Digital Maryland
3 Richard Barnes Posey (1806-1880), his wife, Elizabeth (Berry) Posey (1812-1887), and his daughter Elizabeth (“Bettie”) Posey (1844-1923) were all arrested and taken to prison in Washington D. C. on the charge that they signaled Union troop movements to Confederates by displaying signal lights (see newspaper clipping above). The family was released from prison in late November 1861, “no just grounds of suspicion having been established against them.” The Posey residence was described as sitting on an eminence “some sixty or seventy feet high” commanding a view of the Potomac river approximately “a half mile or so” from the river behind Budd’s Ferry in Charles County, Maryland.Bettie Posey probably was a school mate of Ginnie’s at the Fair Hill Boarding School.Ginnie claims that the Posey Home was used by Gen. Daniel E. Sickles for his Headquarters. See historical marker on the Port Tobacco Road.Sickles was in Charles county from October 1861 until March 1862 while training troops.
4Ferdinand Bartenstein (1815-1884) was a music teacher who resided in Alexandria, Virginia in 1860. He was born in Hochkirch, Saxony, Germany.He emigrated to the United States in 1846and married Elizabeth Cole Gordon in 1847.
5 Co. G of the the 8th Virginia Infantry (“The Bloody Eighth”) was recruited in Fairfax county by Captain James Thrift, Gennie’s uncle. The regiment took part in the Battle of Manassas. Held in reserve until afternoon, it then advanced to Henry Hill where they fought hand to hand with the 69th New York and the United States Marine Battalion. In August, they relocated to Camp Carolina, just outside of Leesburg where they remained until March 1862, taking part in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff during that time. In April 1862, Capt. James Thrift was promoted to Major of the regiment. He was mortally wounded in the Battle of Seven Pines. He died at Richmond on 2 June 1862.
The Fairfax )Virginia) Herald of October 5, 1888 contained the following article: “War Incident. An incident occurred after the battle of Gettysburg, at night, which shows how kindness is appreciated by soldiers who have been prisoners in the enemy’s hands. A private by the name of Iden, a member of one of the companies of the 8th Va. Infantry, being wounded and left in the hands of the enemy, but able to walk, asked to be taken to the officer of the day. He was conducted to that officer, who asked what he wanted of him. He politely asked him if he would make a detail and have the wounded of his regiment brought off the field and carried to the hospital and cared for. The officer asked him what regiment he belonged to. He answered, ‘The 8th Va. regiment of infantry.’ Whereupon he promptly replied: ‘Certainly; I was taken prisoner by that regiment at Ball’s Bluff and caried to Manassas by Capt. Thrift, of that regiment, who treated me so kindly while I was a prisoner under his charge, that it will give me a great deal of pleasure to render any assistance to that command to alleviate their sufferings.’ He at once had the detail of men made, procured a flask of brandy and went in person with Iden, and had every man of that regiment removed to the hospital that could be found that night. I am sorry that I cannot give the officer’s name. He belonged to a Massachusetts regiment. A member of the 8th Va.”
These letters were written by Sumner Hill (1838-1878), the son of Increase Sumner Hill (1806-1873) and Mary S. Perins (1806-1878) of East Boston, Massachusetts. Increase S. Hill made his living as a steamboat engineer and later as an inspector.
Sumner was married on 19 March 1860 in Boston to Caroline A. Keith (1839-1917), the daughter of Elbridge Gerry Keith (1804-1870) and Lucy Howland (1807-1883). In 1861, he appears to have been serving as chief clerk in the Salem Post Office. The Salem Observer posted a notice in the 27 February 1864 issue announcing the appointment of Sumner as a Justice of the Peace for the county of Essex. Sometime after the Civil War, he resigned his position on account of ill health and went to the Pacific coast where he regained his strength and took a position in the service of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, making frequent trips between San Francisco and Hong Kong. In the 1870 US Census, Sumner and Carrie were enumerated in the household of her father in San Francisco’s 7th Ward—her 66 year-old father laboring as a house carpenter and Sumner employed as a purser. Indeed, in 1874 there is notice of him serving as purser aboard the steamship Japan.
Sumner wrote the letters to his brother, John Hill (1836-?) who, in 1861, appears to have been on the crew of the Golden Fleece, a commercial clipper ship bound for San Francisco at the time. Other known siblings included Sophronia E. Hill (1832-1876) and Stephen C. Hill (1841-1903), the latter having served as an Ensign in the Navy during the Civil War.
Salem, Massachusetts September 18, 1861
My Dear Brother,
Nearly three months have passed since you left us and I presume by this time this arrives in san Francisco, your ship will not be far off from the same place. I expect however we shall have to allow 140 days for the passage. I see some ships are five months getting there but I hope you will not be so long. I was up to Boston two or three days of last week. Father wrote you while I was there. I am sorry, John, that Hattie is so inclined to go with other men during your absence but such is the case and you must now act the man—not a boy—for if she acts thus before you are married, God only knows how bad she may do after. I do not wish to meddle myself with your business but at the same time I feel as though I ought to advise you. The way I should act in this case would be to let her go. Don’t for heaven’s sake, John, marry a woman of that kind.
Another thing, there is time enough for you to think of getting a wife. You know you have got to get started in your profession before you can support one. Your aim now should be to go ahead as fast as possible. Work solely for the interests of those who employ you and when you get home, hold your head up like a man and have an independent feeling accompanying it. Damn this sorrowful look. It don’t amount to a red [cent]. I know it from experience. Now Johnny, take a fool’s advice and think of nothing but strive hard to get ahead and come home an officer if tis nothing but 3rd Mate.
My health is about the same as when you left us. One day I feel first rate and the next one all used up. Thus passes life with me. My lungs trouble me some. I am going to Boston next week to consult with a Doctor in regard to them. Carrie got through her sickness after a hard trial. We have a fine boy. I hope when you go home he will be able to walk a little. His name is Sumner Atherton. 1 Carrie sends her love to you. Be sure and call upon Mrs. Keith and tell her we have not heard from her for two months. Ask her to write me, also Carrie.
We had an awful fire in East Boston on the 4th of July. It commenced down on the point below the new Ferry and sweeped through New Street taking the Salt Factories, Iron companies, Union Guard’s Armory, Clifton’s Lumber wharf, and about 100 dwelling houses. I thought one time Father’s would go sure. Such a sight I never saw before from the top of our house. Every engine in Boston, also Charlestown, Cambridge, and as far off as here were there. The loss was estimated at about one million, I believe. Clifton’s loss was heavy as he had his wharf full of lumber. 2
Father seems pretty well now. He has been off to the lake for three or four weeks and I think he gained very much. I hope he will feel better now.
Everything is war now. I tell you, Johnny, they are at it in earnest. We have hd two or three hard battles and I am sorry to say lost the largest—I mean the Battle of Bull Run. Our loss was 6 or 8 hundred. You can bet that this is the first and the last we will lose for we have a man now to lead our troops—Gen. McClellan.
The coast guard has broke up and the state has their guns—thus you see it did not amount to much.
I am somewhat of a hurry now or else would write more. Will write again, however, before you sail. Tell George Williams I will write him in a few days. Don’t fail to write me sure as soon as you arrive. Direct to Salem as I am here yet. See Chase if possible and don’t let him leave the ship. I wrote him today. With much love, I remain your affectionate brother, — Sum
1 Sumner Atherton was born on 19 August 1861 and died on 21 August 1863 at Salem. Massachusetts Death Records attributed the child’s death to “Dropsy in head.”
2 According to the book, “A Complete History of the Boston Fire Department,” by Arthur Wellington Brayley, “The first destructive fire which visited East Boston was on July 4, 1861, and was caused by a fire-cracker. A large fire was then in progress on Albany street, Boston proper, and the assistance could not be given which was need. The fire started on Week’s wharf, at the foot of Sumner street, and burnt an area of eleven acres. At this time was consumed the sectional Dock—one of the finest dry-docks in the country, also numerous dwelling houses, planing mills, stores, mills, etc.”
Post Office, Salem, Massachusetts November 14, 1864
Dear Brother John,
Your favor of the 10th inst. was received this morning.
My time for P. O. Business grows “beautifully less” as I quit here tomorrow night, then goodbye post office for me fora spell anyway, for if I can earn my grub at outside business, you can bet that a P.O. won’t fetch me up very soon. I have my auction sale on Thursday and shall probably get up to Boston by the latter part of the week. I am not able to state now when the “D Cavannah: will get away but presume it will not be far from the first of December. Between now and that time I shall try for a consul’s berth but I am keeping it very quiet so don’t write home anything in regard to it as Father and myself only are in the secret of our family. Mr. Ryan who was the postmaster here when I came here, lives in Washington, and is now here on a visit but returns on Thursday and I am to send my documents on with him and he is a going to put them through the best he knows how. Of course there is nothing sure but you can’t tell what you can accomplish until you try. It don’t cost anything to try. I have got some 3 weeks before the Carannah sails and if anything can be done in that short space of time, I am bound to try it on. If I do nothing, why of course I got to China as at first anticipated.
We are all up in a heap at home, cleaning house, packing up &c. I shall be glad when I get all settled up down here so I can have a comfortable loaf in Boston. I wish you could get out of the Navy, but as you say, tis no use loafing. And as chances for officers in our merchant service are slim. I think on the whole (pecuniarily speaking) that you are better of where you are, I have no doubt that the time is only a little way distant when all you volunteer officers will have your “heads taken off” for in my opinion this rebellion will soon wind up. The overwhelming majority which “Old Abe” has received is the worst blow the rebs have yet received and as soon as they see this, they will conclude that a united North is against them adn all hopes of compromise, and all questions of peace, are settled, except upon our terms. The result of this election to the rebs has inflicted upon them more damage than the capture of 2 Richmonds would. I tell you, Johnny, that there is no way in which to bring them to terms except to whip them and I trust with the faithful leaders we now have, this will soon be accomplished and all enemies of our country, both South and North, will be on their knees pleading forgiveness. The mass of the people South desire peace, and on our terms also, but the damnable leaders are the men which we have got to subjugate. Those men once in our power and Southern Confederacy will be but a bubble.
Write us often and I’ll do the same. I enclose you the 24 stamps as you requested. Carried is well and sends love. I got a letter from Father this morning. He is better.
These letters were written by Dexter E. Buell (1842-1923), the youngest son of Samuel Buell (1782-1850) and Polly Dunham (1787-1872) of Lyons, Wayne county, New York. Eighteen year-old Dexter enlisted as a private on 5 July 1861 to serve two years in Co. B, 27th New York Infantry. He survived the war and mustered out with his company at Elmira on 31 May 1863. His service record indicates he participated in the battles of 1st Bull Run, West Point, Seven Days before Richmond, Crampton’s Gap, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.
Three months after he was discharged from the 27th New York Infantry, Dexter enlisted a second time. This time he enlisted in Co. C, 14th New York Heavy Artillery for a term of three years. He was prematurely discharged from that regiment in June 1864 by order of the War Department on account of a disability. He was released from the Philadelphia South Street Hospital.
Dexter married Laura Ann Hitchcock (1846-1900) in July 1865 and earned his living as a house painter in Lyons, New York, after the war. [Dexter’s son Edward’s biographical sketch claims his father “was a grainer in wood by occupation” and that he “served valiantly with the 27th Regiment” and “on his second enlistment with the 109th Heavy Artillery” taking part in “27 engagements and received wounds in battle.”]
In 1874, Dexter captured his memories of his service by publishing a book entitled, “A brief history of Company B, 27th regiment N.Y. volunteers, its organization and the part it took in the war.” It was printed at the Office of the Republican in Lyons and consisted on only 22 pages (sadly, no pictures). I will supplement any gaps in the records or footnote details from this book to aid the reader in gaining a more comprehensive understanding. The first excerpt I will transcribe comes from his description of the Battle of Bull Run since no letter exists connected with it.
Some of these letters are addressed to the “the folks” at home and some are addressed to his friend Robert Pollock Allee whose younger brother Edward served in the same company with Dexter until he was mortally wounded in the fighting at Gaines’ Mills. Robert’s younger brother Andrew Allee (1844-1895) later served with Dexter in the 14th New York Heavy Artillery. Yet another brother, George Allee, served in Co. C, 160th New York Infantry.
Extracts from Dexter’s book:
“The regiment was supplied with arms, &c. and left the State on the 10th of July, 1861, for Washington, via Harrisburgh and Baltimore. On its arrival in Washington the regiment was quartered in barracks on Franklin Square, where the boys remained for a few days only. A movement against the enemy was then under discussion, and the officers sought an interview with the War Department, with a view to having the regiment assigned to the field. This request was granted, and on the 17th day of July it took up its line of march from Washington, as part of the First Brigade (Col. Porter) and Second Division (Gen. Hunter). It reached Anandale on the evening of the 17th, and Fairfax Court House on the 18th, where a line of battle was formed, and the Rebs, driven from their rifle pits. On the 27th it reached the town, and pulled down an old Secesh flag that was floating on one of the rifle pits. The regiment bivouacked here for the night, the men, being hungry and tired after the day’s march, took their muskets and went out after some fresh meat. Some of the boys succeeded in bring in a fine steer, and some came in with turkeys, some with chickens, some with honey, has, sugar, &c. A large fore was kindled, and the boys resolved they would have a ‘square meal’—and so they did, that night.
At an early hour next morning the regiment was on the move. It reached Centreville in due time; after leaving which place it reached the Nine Mile Woods, where Company B was ordered out to deploy as skirmishers—and they did well, being their first trial. For nine miles the company scoured the woods. Every few minutes the bugle would sound to rally. The day was one of the hottest I ever remember. When the sun sank out of sight, and the whippowill commenced his evening song, the regiment halted for the night; and so ends the day.
On Sunday morning, July 21st, 1861, the booming of cannon was heard in the distance. As our brave boys marched along through field and woods o that memorable Bull run day, the water in their canteens gave out before reaching the field of action. Espying two porkers in a puddle of water near the roadside, they were summarily driven out; and the boys commenced to drink hastily of the vile fluid to quench their thirst. The water was stagnant, and made the boys vomit almost immediately. Some of them went here and there, with canteens to be filled.
As the 27th was going into action, the opposing force attempted to deceive it by displaying the Old Flag. Col. Slocum was distrustful, and directed Adjutant [John P.] Jenkins to ascertain whether they were friends or enemies. With a havelock on the point of his sword as a flag of truce, the Adjutant rode toward the commanding officer to make the necessary inquiry; but before he reached him, the Stars and Stripes were displaced by the South Carolina banner. The line of battle was formed and a fire opened on the 27th, which was promptly and vigorously returned. The Adjutant, thus unexpectedly placed between two fires, had a miraculous escape. The attempted deception so exasperated the regiment that the men fought like heroes and utterly routed their tricky foes.
Our next encounter was with the 27th Virginia, which fell back in confusion. We then met the 8th Georgia, which fell back until reinforced, when the regiment was in turn repulsed and took refuge under a hill. It was soon after ordered to charge a battery stationed on a knoll, and the oys moved to the work under a heavy fire, which soon told with fearful effect upon the ranks of the regiment. Col. Slocum was wounded; the color-guard was reduced from nine to two; and the movement was abandoned. Company B was then ordered to charge upon an old log house which stood near by, containing a number of the enemy’s sharp-shooters. Before reaching the house the Rebs was seen getting to the rear as fast as they could, but the boys sent a volley of balls after them and made them ‘climb’ still faster. Reaching the house, the door was instantly burst in, and before us stood one of the largest bloodhounds I ever saw—with bloodshot eyes and hungry jaws. He turned to attack his Yankee foes. One of the boys gave him a bayonet thrust. He leaped forward and broke the chain that held him, and away he went toward the enemy—between two fires. Whether the dog ever reached his master, no one knows.
The regiment fell back and joined the regiment; and Col. Slocum being wounded, Major Bartlett succeeded to the command. Major B. kept the regiment well in hand; and as it formed in line of battle for the last time, I think it was joined by the 14th (Brooklyn) commanded by Col. Wood. Other regiments joined on, but the Rebel forces coming upon and overwhelming us, our forces fell back to the rear where the confusion attending the retreat broke it up, as was the case with other regiments actively engaged in the battle. Portions of the regiment reached Fort Corcoran about nine o’clock on the 22nd, and at noon, was partially reorganized and marched to Camp Anderson, Franklin’s Square.
The regiment remained in Washington until sometime in September when it was assigned to Gen. Slocum’s Brigade with the 16th N. Y. of Gen. Franklin’s Division, moved to the site of Fort Lyon, where it went into camp and was engaged in the construction of this fort during the fall of 1861…”
The following summary comes from the website FirstBullRun.Co.UK:
FIRST BATTLE OF BULL RUN, 21 JULY, 1861
The 27th New York Infantry was stationed at B D Utterback’s/ Willow Spring farm, two miles east of Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia, in the morning on 21 July, 1861.
Advance to Sudley Ford, on the Bull Run River, 21 July, 1861: The 27th New York Infantry was ordered to Sudley Ford, on the Bull Run River, at 2 AM on 21 July, 1861.
Advance to J Dogan’s or Rosefield, on Dogan’s Ridge, half a mile northeast of Groveton, Prince Willaim County, Virginia, 21 July, 1861: The 27th New York Infantry was ordered across Sudley Spring’s Ford, on Catharpin Run, to northeast of J Dogan’s or Rosefield, on Dogan’s Ridge, half a mile northeast of Groveton, Prince Willaim County, Virginia, in the morning on 21 July, 1861.
Advance to Buck Hill, north of Young’s Branch, one mile west of the Stone Bridge, on the Bull Run River, 21 July, 1861: The 27th New York Infantry was ordered to Buck Hill, north of Young’s Branch, one mile west of the Stone Bridge, on the Bull Run River, in the afternoon on 21 July, 1861.
Note: Colonel H W Slocum, 27th New York Infantry, was wounded on Buck Hill, north of Young’s Branch, one mile west of the Stone Bridge, on the Bull Run River, in the afternoon on 21 July, 1861.
Withdrawal to Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia, 21 July, 1861: The 27th New York Infantry was ordered to B D Utterback’s/ Willow Spring farm, two miles east of Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia, at 4 PM on 21 July, 1861.
Camp Vernon Alexandria, [Virginia] September 7, 1861
I now take my pen to write you a few lines. I received your letter and was glad to hear from you and to hear that you are all well. I just come in from guard. The Boys started this morning for Munson’s Hill a little ways from here to build a fort. We are now in Gen. Slocum’s Brigade. You need not to be scared for Washington will never be taken. There are forts every little ways around here. This fort we are building is on top of a high hill so you can see all around for some miles. But one thing, we can see the enemy from there. They are throwing up breastworks close to Bailey’s Cross Roads. They say they are so near us they will have to come on or retreat back out of the state for they have not got provisions enough to keep them. An attack is daily expected.
One of our company went out and fetched in 4 negroes prisoners and 3 horses. They were either spies or scouts but we got them now tight as a brick. we will keep them awhile, I guess. Our pickets has been in sight of their camp. They are coming on closer all the time but they must not get in range of the rifle cannon on Fort Ellsworth. I have worked in the fort for give days now. Six goes at a time. They are detailed to work so long. It is a strong fort.
Well, [Melvin W.] Goodrich 1 is here and the Capt. all safe and sound. I wish you can send me some new postage stamps. We get our pay next week. We get about 22 dollars. I will send it home or get a draft and send. Send a few new stamps if you can and I will get some when we get our pay. We may probably see a battle in less than two days. They will put us in ahead of all the regiments because we know something about it.
Write as soon as you get this. No more for the present.
Ed, please give this to my folks. — D. Buell
1 Melvin W. Goodrich, 27 years old, was also from Lyons, New York. He enlisted on 2 May 1861 and was made 1st Sergeant of Co. B. He later received a commission as 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant.
“The regiment spent the winter in Camp Franklin. Fort Lyons was built by Slocum’s Brigade in the fall of 1861; ad later in that fall the regiment moved its camp to a site near Fairfax Seminary, toward the southeast—its former quarters near Hunting Creek having proved unhealthy—the new location was named Camp Franklin. here the regiment spent the winter of 1861-62, during which time the boys were occupied in building Fort Lyon, doing picket duty, and chopping wood from the Heights where now stands the fort. The regiment was very comfortably situated in winter quarters here. It was during this time that the 27th was assigned to the Second Brigade (Slocum’s) of General Franklin’s Division. This brigade was composed of the 27th and 16th New York, the 5th Maine, and the 96th Pennsylvania.”
Camp Franklin November 30th 1861
I received your letter this morning and was glad to hear from you and hope to say you are well. It snowed a very little here yesterday but it melted as fast as it struck the ground. I would like to be home to go a skating with the boys this winter but I can’t as I see so there is no use of talking. I don’t care much anyway. The boys have first rate times here. We like it good. We may all of us be home in a little while. We have not had any cold weather much—about 6 or 7 frosts and that hain’t nothing to what it is up there you know.
Bob, I will send my money to you next time we get pay and let you keep it until I come home. Bob, you must excuse this writing and all mistakes because I write this before we go on dress parade. I suppose you know that we have dress parade in the morning instead of night. They have changed the times.
Our camp [is] situated near the woods so the boys don’t have far to go after their wood nights and mornings. We are about two miles from Alexandria—just a good walk. The boys all take their turns in going down to the city. Alexandria is quite a large place—about 14 thousand people there before the war broke out. Now they are about 9 thousand. I have been all over the city a dozen times if not more. Scott’s Band are improving on playing every day. Bib, I wish you would let me know who them new recruits are that is coming.
After Dress Parade. Now Bob, I will take my time in writing. The boys are all well. I suppose you know Bill Swelling. He is coming home. [partial letter]
Camp Franklin Sunday, December 29, 1861
I now take the pleasure of writing you a few lines. Your letter came and I was glad to hear from you. I have been sick for about a week so that I could do nothing. This is the first letter I have wrote since I have got around. All of the boys have gone down to a funeral with Company G. One of their number is dead and our boys went down with them. Tell Henry Alford that I will answer his long letter just as soon as I can. We can’t get any postage stamps down in this region to send letters by. You must excuse me for not writing before for I could not sit up long enough to write to you. Tell Hank that Theodore Klumpp has got up here from the hospital. He has had a tough time of it I guess by what he said. He looks very pale yet. The doctor was going to take me to the hospital. I told him I guess I could stand it and so I did. You must excuse this writing for I don’t feel much like writing yet.
You can’t get nothing fit for a dog to eat down here unless you buy it yourself and a fellow must have something. Bob, I will tell you what we had for Christmas. We had some old boiled beans and some rotten pork as the boys call it, and coffee and some bread. That was Christmas. And for New Years I guess the same—maybe not so good. Bob, I could go out in the woods and live on rots and wild meat. I don’t think it would trouble me the least bit, There is lots of rabbits down here but they won’t let us go hunting.
We hain’t had any snow here yet. As soon as there comes some, you will see this chick shoulder his rifle and make for the wood. You will scare two or three out of the brush pile at a time. We have got a good hound dog here. Some of the boys stole [him] when we was out on picket guard. He is a good dog, I guess. He follows me to the woods most every night. But as soon as there comes 2 inches of snow so he can track them, I will have some fun. I am going to get a rabbit for New Years if I can and am well enough to get around. I will make a good dinner out of one if I catch him.
The boys have just returned from Alexandria from the funeral. I do not know what his name was. Bob, I am getting most tired of writing and not knowing what to write. If you will send me two or three postage stamps, I will pay you for them. I hain’t any stamp to send this by and so I will have to borrow one somewhere. Stamps are a scarce article down here in these parts. Tell Hank I will send him a government overcoat home in a little while. United States coat—they are a nice warm coat, I will send it in about a month. Me and Jones has got 4 coats—one for Jack Cosart. Tell Hank to sell one for Jack when we go west. Jones wants to come everyday. Bob, I must close. So goodbye and I still remain your sincere friend, — Dexter Buell
Write soon. Goodbye.
Camp Franklin February 8th 1862
I thought I would write you a few lines letting you know how I am getting along. I suppose you have received my likeness by this time. Write and let me know.
The weather down here is very curious. The mud keeps just so deep all the while—that is, about five inches deep all the while. We don’t know when we will have another battle but I hope we will have one soon and end the matter at once. Virginia ia a very unhealthy place. The water we drink down here makes all of the boys have the dysentery very bad. The water we drink is about like the canal water up there, That is the honest truth. I have not seen any good water in Virginia since I have been here. There is no wells down around here as I have seen in all the drilling we do.
We go out a target shooting. The boys are all getting to be good marksmen. We shoot the distance of 300 yards. The mark is about the size of a small cup. The target had 29 balls put through it but none hit the mark. Lieut. [William H.] Swan said he would make the first man a present that hit the small piece of leather in the center of the target. I told him that I could hit it [and] I would bet on it, and so I loaded up my rifle and pulled up the 300 yard sight and got down on one knee and rested and took good sight and shot. All of the boys said they seen the target wiggle. One of them went and looked. He said the ball went in the center of the leather and the boys begun [to] look at me [as if] they did not know what to make of it. But they all give up that they could not hit [the target]. I have not got the present yet. I don’t know what it is. It was all in practice that I hit the mark. The boys are learning the bayonet exercise to protect cavalry from coming up too near you. Take two men that understands it, they can whip six cavalrymen.
I must begin to close. So no more at present. From—Dexter Buell
Camp Franklin Sunday, February 10, 1862
I received your letter yesterday and I thought I would answer it today being I just came off from guard and nothing else to do. You say there is good sleighing up there. Well the mud down here is about five to six inches deep, That is the kind of sleighing down here. The going is awful bad, The wagons get stuck in the mud up to the hubs. Every little ways you can see a wagon stuck fast. I will tell you how it is down here. If you stand too long in one place, when you start to go, you will find yourself fast in the mud. I have had my boots pulled off more than once in this mud. The soil is all clay down here.
Bob, soldiering is about played out most. Bob, about the money, I think some of coming home but I don’t know certain yet. The water we drink down here is just about like the canal water up there. That is so—no joking. If I don’t come home next month, I will send you as nigh $26. I will try and get them in Treasury notes if you think that will be the best, If not, I will try and get the gold. I would like to have been at home this winter to have enjoyed the sport of skating and hunting with Hank and the rest of the boys. How does Hank get along? Tell him to write. How does Jack Cosart get along? Tell him to write once in awhile.
I suppose you have heard before this time that Fort Henry was taken and Lloyd Tilghman and staff and sixty others taken prisoners. Our army is slow but sure every time.
Ask Hank how many minks he caught this winter. Ask him if he wants to chop wood for Ira Mirrick again. Tell him, me and Frank Hicox has a laugh over that every little while. Bib, I must close so goodbye for this time and I remain your friend, — Dexter Buell
N. B. Tell Hank to write. Yours, — D. B.
Camp Clara Friday, February 28, 1862
I now take the pleasure to write you a few lines hope to say your are well. If I should tell you the news we have had, what would you think? Well I will. So here goes.
We are to march for Bulls Run. The whole Army of the Potomac—300,000 men—for a bloody fight. We start next week Tuesday about the time you get this letter. You must not answer this until I write again and I hope I will if I am not shot.
The railroad is stopped from carrying army news until after this fight. Probably this is my last letter. I am on guard today over to headquarters. The boys have got their knapsacks already packed, ready at a moment’s warning. If you write, I will get no answer until after the battle.
I must close by saying goodbye to you all and everyone. Give my best to them all when you write. So goodbye. From — Dexter Buell
Fairfax Court House March 12, 1862
I now take the pleasure of writing a few lines while I have got time. There is over 80,000 troops here. Centreville is evacuated and so is Manassas. Our troops occupy the old battleground where we was before. We are going to chase them as far as they can go. There is a large body of cavalry and infantry after the flying Rebels. They have blown up their powder magazines and their entrenchments and burnt all the bridges. We will have Richmond is less than a week.
Gen. McClellan has been to Manassas and gone back to Washington. We talk of going back to camp and take the boat and go down the river to help Gen. Burnside. He has got Norfolk. There is 300,000 men on the march after the Rebels. They fled from their strongholds and have destroyed everything. We took a few prisoners here yesterday.
You must not write until I tell you because I won’t get the letter. We don’t expect to be here only today. I will write in a few days. This is the largest army ever had been known, so they say. Melvin Goodrich sends his best respects.
Just as I am writing, there starts three regiments of cavalry on to Richmond and a large body of infantry and artillery. I must close. Yours in haste. From, — Dexter Buell
Fairfax Court House
Camp Clara Friday, March 21, 1863
I sit down once more to write you before going down the Potomac. Our Division expects to go Tuesday next week. I wrote to Eliza and told her to write to you about my going down the river. I though I would write before going. I could not begin to tell you the march we had for the past few days. We went to Fairfax Court House 16 miles. We started to go to Manassas but the Rebels, they all run.
There is five divisions going down the river. That is about 70,000 soldiers. We are going to make an attack on Richmond. Our regiment went up to the Seminary to serenade Major Gen. McClellan. He did not make any speech because he was thrown from his horse the other day. Yesterday we hd a Grand Review. Gen. McClellan reviewed us.
We don’t get no pay until the first of May. They are paying off the Western troops so we have got to wait. Mell [Melvin] Goodrich wants to know what the reason is you don’t write to him. When you write, direct to Adjutant, 27th Regt.
We live on hard crackers now instead of bread. You have to stomp them with the heal of your shoe about two hours before you can break it. Then pick them up and eat them. We are going to send some home to build side walks with. They will make a good store walk.
I have not had any letter from you in a month. Why don’t you write oftener?
To close with, I will tell you that I shook hands with Gen. McClellan and the other boys did [too] the night we serenaded him. His headquarters is in our Division. I must close so goodbye. Write soon as you get this, before we go.
— Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th Regt.
Camp Five Miles from Richmond May 15th 1862
I received your letter yesterday and was glad to get it. Have you received the $10 I sent? Next time you write, let me know.
We just came off from picket today. The Rebels are a fighting amongst themselves. We brought in two prisoners tonight. They state they are a fighting amongst themselves every day. You must excuse this writing and all of the mistakes. I write this on the top of my hat so you can judge my writing desk. There is nothing new much. Richmond is going to be taken by siege. All of the foreign generals say his plan can’t fail.
Mell [Melvin] Goodrich is well and playing with the boys as much as ever. We are drilling the bayonet exercise twice a day. We have got to drill until it is perfect—a very nice drill it is—so we can just show the whole of them how to drill with the bayonet. I have been studying on it all last winter. I know the [drill] perfect myself. I have to drill the company and the ret look on. The boys all learn very fast. If we live to come home, we will show you the nicest drill you ever saw or anyone else. Our company has only drilled a few times. We can beat any of hem now. There can’t no cavalry ever do nothing with us. We can whip all the cavalry in the South. One man well drilled can whip three cavalry—that’s so.
They say you are going to have lots of peaches this year. The trees down here are loaded with them.
George B. McClellan says he ain’t going to be in any hurry about the fight. The Rebs were on one side of he Chickahominy Creek and we on the other. They are out of reach of our rifles here but not of our 100 pounder siege guns which throw their load over there in the size of a wash tub which makes them scratch dirt pretty fast.
I must close so goodbye. Write soon. — Dexter Buell
The following letter describes the fight at Gaines Mills which took place on 27 June 1862. It then describes the next several days until the regiment arrived at Harrison’s Landing on the James River.In his book, Dexter describes the Battle of Gaines Mills as follows:
“The regiment crossed the Chickahominy about the 26th of June, at about 3 p.m., went into action about 5 p.m. on the extreme right of Porter’s Corps, drove the enemy from his position by a bayonet charge, and captured a large number of prisoners. It held its position until dark, when, after after expending all its ammunition, it was ordered to retire. It was here, in the battle of Gaines’ Mills, that Company B lost heavily, losing some of its best members—21 in all, killed, wounded and missing. Poor Bill McElwain, Edward Allee, Joseph Seavey—as long as there is a history, so long will their names be remembered at home by their loved ones. The battle being fought, our forces retired from the field, Captain White badly wounded. The regiment recrossed the river ad went into camp. All that night and until next morning the wounded kept coming in….Early the next morning the bridge over the river was blown up; then commenced the retreat of the Army of the Potomac.”
Camp on the James River near City Point 30 miles from Richmond July 6, 1862
I now take the pleasure of writing you a few lines in a hurry. I suppose you have heard of our fight with the Rebels. In our company there was one killed and 21 wounded. The captain is wounded. Billy McElwain badly wounded in the leg—the leg is broken, and Ed Allee in the leg, not broken. I can’t begin to tell you how many more. Half of them taken prisoners. The name of the one that was killed is Joseph Seavey. We all miss him very much. There was a shell came so close to Melvin Goodrich’s head that set him crazy. He is on the way home. Our Major is the same way. 1 All we got left is our Colonel. I suppose you will get the news before this reaches you.
I got a piece of a shell hit me in the leg but I don’t call that anything. Our regiment made a good charge on the rebels and drove them. I will write you more about the fight some other time. We are to work on a fort near the river. It is going to be a large fort. The[re are] gunboats here in the river—the Monitor and two or three others. We have had quite a time retreating back to the river. Our division was the rear guard of the whole army. We had to fight daytimes and march in the night. We had a tough time of it, I tell you. I must close for this time. I will write more next time. So goodbye.
From Dexter Buell. Co. B, 27th Regt., Franklin’s Division
I see Gen. McClellan most every day. Write soon. I got them postage stamps all right. Send more if you can.
Camp on the James River near (one mile from) Harrison’s Landing July 16th 1862
I now sit down to write a few lines. I expect you have received my letter before this time. I received your letter dated the 9th while I was on picket yesterday. I suppose you have learned the name of the wounded boys in our company by this time. There was 23 in all—one killed on the field. Captain [Henry R.] White was wounded but not dangerously. Billy McElwain 1 and Edward Allee 2 stood side by side in the front rank. The ball passed through Billy’s leg and hit Ed Allee’s leg. Ed’s leg is not broken, so they say. Our regiment made a charge on the enemy and drove them some distance, but finding the enemy too strong for us, we had to fall back. They outnumbered us three to one. What chance did we have? But we fought like tigers while we did fight. The only wound I got was in my leg by a little piece of a shell. It did not hurt me any. I do not call that anything. I took my knife and cut it out so you see I am alright. I’m just as sound as a brick. I did not tell anyone of it or else my name would be among the wounded. I knowed it would make you worry about me so I did not let anyone know it.
When we were going into the battle field—just this side of it—I stooped and got a drink of water and got some in my canteen. I started after the regiment and they was gone out of my sight. It was an awful warm day. I could not find them. I came across Lafe Sherman 3, one of our boys, so we went together. There is so many different regiments, they did not anyone know about our regiment so on we went. We come to the Duryée’s Zouaves and the enemy was close by. We laid on our bellies and fired some ten rounds of cartridges and the enemy came out and put a Black flag in front of the Zouaves—that is the sign they show no mercy—so the Zouaves made a charge on them and took the flag away from them.
There was a battle of artillery just ahead pouring in grape and canister into the enemy. Out come a whole brigade of Rebs charging towards this battery close to where I laid. [Then] up jumped a whole brigade of the Vermont Boys and into them. We sent them back quicker than they came. Oh! it was dreadful to hear the dying groan and the roar of the cannon and a continual roar of musketry all the whole time. I can’t begin to tell you all about it.
After I had been in awhile, I did not care for anything. The enemy commenced to flank us so we had to fall back. When we got off the field, we met the Irish Brigade coming in on double quick, hollering just as loud as they could holler. After that night we had to fight day times and march nights for nearly seven days. I went and so did the rest, without any meat to eat for five days I ate one or two hard crackers at a time and drink a little water so you can judge for yourself how we felt. One night [at Charles City Cross Roads] the Rebels had our division surrounded. We were the rear guard. They had us in just about the shape of a horse shoe so when they fired at us, they would kill their own men. If it had not been for General Kearny, we would all have been taken prisoners. He cut the center of them and made them fall back. Our division kept up a continual roar of cannon. We had eighteen pieces with us. We drove them away from their guns as they could not fire a shot and at dark we got out safe. So you see just how nigh we came from the Rebs that night.
1 William (“Billy”) McElwain died of his wounds on 2 July 1862.
2 Edward Allee died of his wounds on 29 July 1862.
3 Lafayette (“Lafe”) Sherman was later captured in the Battle of Fredericksburg but was paroled and survived the war.
Camp on the James River near Harrison’s Landing August 5th 1862
The news just reached us that your brother Ed [Allee] died at the hospital in Baltimore. We can’t hardly believe it but Lieut. Swan got a letter from a surgeon there in that city.
Bob, is it true? The boys don’t know what to make of it. If it is so, it is enough to make us crazy. I ca’t write you—can’t express my feelings, if so.
We are expected to have a battle in less than 24 hours. We can’t tell who will fall next. There has been awful heavy cannonading this morning. It has just stopped. No more this time.
Friend Bob, please write soon. I remain your friend, — Dexter Buell
Camp two miles from Alexandria near old Camp Clara September 4, 1862
We have just come to our old campground & received your letter and the postage stamps. I was glad to get them, you may believe.
We have had a very tough time of it for the past three months. We have just come from Centreville. We did not get there soon enough to have a hand in the fight but I will tell you what we did. We saved Gen. Pope’s Army from being cut [up] and captured—everyone of them. Just our division did it. I will tell you how we done it. Your regiment was on the right of the Brigade and our Brigade on the right of the Division. When we came within two miles of the battlefield, there was a panic got among the wounded and that scared all of the rest and the retreat became general—every man for himself. It certainly would have been another Bull Run. The battle was fought on the same ground
When the Rebel cavalry made a charge, we was there just in time. Our regiment tried to stop the stragglers who was running for their lives but we could not—there was such a panic. Our artillery came up just in time. When the Rebs came charging down the road, went sent the grape and canister into them so thick and fast, what was left of them turned and run like deers and our Division covered the retreat of Pope’s Army and we fell back to Centreville. While we laid there, the Rebs got in the rear of us. [But] Gen. Kearny’s Division whipped them and drove them a mile and a half and the same night each man in our regiment took sixty rounds of cartridges expecting to have them to make a dash on us but they did not.
The army wagons laid in the ditches turned bottom side up, all broke to pieces and the dead horses laid all in the roads. Everything was destroyed. I would fill five sheets of paper to tell you all.
We don’t know how long we are going to stay here. We expect to get our pay soon. I must close for this time. I will write you more next time. Don’t forget to answer. Goodbye. Send some more stamps and I will send the money.
— Dexter Buell, Co. B 27th Regt. N. Y. S. Vol. P. S. Direct as usual. If you want to find out any more, you might as k Hattie.
Headquarters 27th Regiment N. Y. S. Vols Camp near Harper’s Ferry September 19, 1862
I now hasten to write you a few lines. Perhaps you have received the letter I wrote the other day on Sunday last, the 14th of September. We were engaged in a battle at Stranton’s Gap [Cranston’s Gap]. Our regiment deployed as skirmishers and went within 500 yards of the enemy’s cannons and all the while the enemy kept firing shell and canister at us and on we went and we halted in the center of a large field and the word came “Foreward!” On we went. On came the enemy shells close to our heads. We came so close to the Rebel battery we silenced it with our rifles. We whipped them nicely and took about 2,000 prisoners. They were all Georgians. They belonged to Cobb’s forces where we whipped them.
The next day we took up our march for another battle. When we got there, we found out that Gen. Burnside’s Corps was engaged with the enemy and just as we came near the field, Gen. Sumner’s Corps went in and Gen. Franklin’s Corps was a reserve. We did not have to go in the battle. We went in a cornfield and halted. That cornfield was charged over five different times—the Rebs two and our forces three times. We drove from the field when they commenced to run. Our artillery poured the grape and canister into them and piled them in heaps. I counted 64 in a space not over three rods [including] one Colonel and one Major. That was the awfullest looking sight I ever saw. It was the largest battle I think that has been fought. The Rebs lost easy three to one in that cornfield.
We slept all night among the dead. You could hear them groan—the dying—all night long. It was an awful sight, I tell you. 1
We have now driven the enemy out of Maryland across the river into Virginia and expect we have got to take another trip towards Richmond. I lost all of my postage stamps in the battle on Sunday. We hain’t been paid yet. Please send one next time when you write and write soon. So goodbye.
Truly yours, — Dexter Buell, Company B, 27th Regiment Y. Y. Vol
1 46 year-old George A. Cook, a musician in Co. G, 27th New York Infantry, recorded in his diary that the regiment slept on the battlefield and worked all night “carrying off wounded—our men and Rebbels. Expect to fight again today [18th]. 10 o’clock a.m. Both parties burying their dead.”George was mustered out of the regiment on 18 October 1862.
The next three letters were written from the encampment of the 27th New York nearBakersville, Maryland—“an historic rural crossroads community located where one of the earliest east–west roads through western Maryland crossed the main north–south road from the Sharpsburg area. The region known as Carey’s Crossroads for a then prominent landowner George Carey, had become central to the mostly German settlement taking place in southeast Washington County during the mid to late 18th century…Bakersville was once home to a store, post office, doctor’s office and grist mill. 19th century census records list many C&O Canal workers and boatmen in the village and surrounding area.” [Wikipedia]
Camp near Bakersville, Maryland October 13th 1862
I received your letter while I was on picket guard so I could not answer it until we came in. I was glad to hear you were well. We have not been paid off yet and they hain’t any signs of it. We was so close to the Rebels while on picket, we would talk with each other—they on one side of the river and we on the other. They would come half way cross and one of our boys go half way and meet on a little island in the middle of the river and talk and exchange tobacco and knives and other articles. They think they are a going to whip us. One of our boys told them we would them or die a trying—everyone of us.
They say we hain’t going into winter quarters this season. The boys will freeze to death in their little tents without any blankets to cover them. I have not had a shirt on my back in over a month. The weather is growing cold down here. We are the raggedest set of boys you ever see. Most of the boys hain’t got no shoes but we are a going to draw some in a few days. We are worse off than the Rebs are, I think.
Colonel Adams is elected as colonel of the regiment. Bartlett is general. When you write, send me a postage stamp. I must close for this time so goodbye.
— Dexter Buell, Comp. B, 27th N. Y. S. Vol.
Write soon and don’t forget.
P. S. I received a letter from Eliza today.
Camp near Bakersville, Maryland October 18th 1862
Friend Robert [Allee],
As I have nothing to do for a few minutes, I thought I would write you a few lines to let you know how we are getting along. We just came off from picket guard day before yesterday. Bob, I will tell you just how close the Rebel pickets were to us. We were stationed almost within a stone throw of each other. We were on one side of the river and the enemy on the other—the river being about as large as the Clyde river at Lyons, and there was a canal close to the river called the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. We was stationed of a high bluff about three hundred feel above the river. We could look down and see every move the Rebels made. We would holler at each other and exchange all sorts of notes. They would come half way across and one of our boys would go half way and meet on a little island i the middle and talk and exchange tobacco with each other. We gave apples and [they] gave us whiskey.
We had a good time with the Johnny Rebs out on picket. We was near an old farmer’s house. He was an old Reb himself. He accused our company of stealing nine of his hogs and of milking his cows. He came to the camp and told Gen. Slocum. The general sent him to Col. Adams and every boy in our company swore against him and Col. Adams is going to put him through for it. Bob, I must begin to close my scribbling and write you some of my poetry about your brother Edward and Bill McElwain.
Poetry to R. P. Allee from Dexter Buell
The Brave volunteers who quickly rose to stand By the Union against its foes should ever have the estimation and greatful thanks to all the nation.
But some there was [two] who should ever be Held in remembrance by our whole country. Twas in battle the daring braves who now sleeps in a soldier’s grave.
Of the number who lingered in pain Was our brave comrade William McElwain And another brave Edward Allee, friends in life and in eternity and woe, they have passed from the land of pain.
They will fight no more battles here below But the twenty-seventh cannot spare many such brave spirits So free from fear But mothers and sisters weep no more for we trust they have gone to a happy shore. Where wars and sorrows never will come And you may meet them in that bright home.
Composed by Beverly Copes, 1 [Co. D] 95th Regiment Penn. Zouaves. A friend of mine. He is from Philadelphia City. Belongs to Gen. Slocum’s Division. Written by Dexter Buell, Company B, 27th Regiment, N. Y. S. V.
P. S. Bob, you can have the poetry wrote up good and keep it. You can give Mrs. McElwain one after you write it off. From your friend, — Dexter Buell
by by. P. S. Friend Bob, if you see our folks, tell them I received the box they set me when we were at Harrison’s Landing.
P. S. George [H.] Walrath sends his best respects and wants you to write.
[in a different hand, in pencil]
Dexter is writing so I think I will put a few lines in to you. How does No. 1 Hose & No. 3 stand it now? I heard they done well at the last fire. We boys that belongs to the Hose will be back with you next spring…We have lost one member—that is poor Ed. We mourn his loss very much. Julie B. feels very bad about Ed. Every letter I get from her she mentions his name. Give my respects to William Pugett & when you write give my respects to George Allen & tell him to write to a fellow. What company is he in? And respects to your mother and father. Tell them I am well and hope I will see them well when I come back to Old Lyons. Excuse writing. Write soon. In haste. Your friend, — Geo. W. Williams 2
1 Pvt. Beverly Copes of Philadelphia served in Co. D, 95th Pennsylvania Gosline’s Zouaves.He served from 17 September 1861 to 2 November 1864.
2 George W. Williams enlisted at Lyons with Dexter in May 1861 and mustered out with the company in May 1863. He subsequently served in Co. H, 22nd New York Cavalry.
Camp near Bakersville, Maryland October 29th 1862
I received your letter of the 22nd a was rather glad to hear from you. I have been looking for a letter from you for a long time and just received it. We have just come off from picket guard. We were on [the] post close to Dam No. 4—the Johnny Rebs just across the river in plain sight. We could see their reserve and their whole force. I went across the river in a boat and had a talk with them and came back.
I received he box you sent and I was glad to get it for that shirt just came in handy, it being the first one I have had on in over a month. The medicine you sent—there was three bottles of it broke. The glass in the likeness was broke. Also the medicine run all over the tobacco and handkerchief but it was good tobacco.
You spoke about how we sleep. We have one blanket over [us] as that is all. We have little tents we sleep under only they leak when it rains [s] you might as well be out doors as in. I will tell you what we live on mostly is hard tacks as the oys call them and coffee, and when we can we get tickets of the sutler. Then we can buy a few soft ones once in awhile. The boys have just drawed new pants. They have not had any in so long they don’t know how to feel—they are all pitting on airs.
I have got an old pair of shoes on with the bottoms all out and a new pair of pants. I am going to buy me a good pair of boots when we get paid off. We expect to get pay the 15th of next month. As I said, we expect to get 4 months pay $52. But out of that we have got to pay for all the clothing we lost on the Peninsula. I don’t know how much that will be. I will try and send home all I can when we get it.
I was glad you sent me them postage stamps for I have been wanting some a long [time]. They are worth about 25 cents apiece down here. If I had some, I would have written long before. I don’t hardly know what to write about. There is no news much. I suppose you know that General Slocum has left us and taken command of General Banks’ Corps. Brig. General Brooks has got command of this division. Some say we are going to Centerville, Va. to stay this winter but I don’t believe it. We don’t know what we are going to do one day from another so you are better posted than we are. We don’t see any papers—only what the Lyons boys get from home. We don’t know half as much as you do about the war only we see enough of it all the time.
I must close I guess for this time. I wrote this in a hurry so it could go out in the morning mail. I will close, so goodbye for this time. Don’t forget to write soon. From — Dexter Buell
Company B, 27th Regiment N. Y. S. Vols.
When you write again, send me some stamps and I will send the soap next time.
Camp near Warrington [Warrenton] Station in the woods November 10, 1862
I now sit down to write you a few lines to let you know about where we are and what we are a doing. We are resting here in the woods. There is very heavy cannonading about 8 miles ahead of us. They say the rebels are in sigh. We can’t tell how soon we will be engaged.
The boys are all cheering General McClellan. He and General Burnside just rode past the camp. They look first rate but one thing the boys don’t seem to like—they say that Gen. Burnside has superseded Gen. McClellan. The boys don’t seem to like it. How true it is, we can’t tell. You will probably know before we do. We cannot get any papers of no kind down here in this part of he country.
The whole country all around seems to be stripped of everything. You can’t hardly find rails enough to build a fire with. There is no eatables of any kind down here. The Rebel army being here and then our army, I tell you they make a clean sweep of everything as they go. The government or someone else don’t seem to use us right. The boys—half of them—go almost barefoot. The other day we had some snow for the first time about two inches deep. It came pretty tough on the boys to sleep in these little cloth tents. But I can stand just as much as any of the rest can. We don’t know whether we will go into winter quarters or not. The whole army seems to be moving. We don’t know where we will bring up nor don’t care. They only got six months more to drag us around. I must close my scribbling for this time.
I will let you know next time where we are going to stop or what we are going to do. When you write next time, send me a pair of gloves and I will pay for them double. It is too cold for my sore hand. You can send by mail I guess is the best way. So goodbye for this time. Written in haste.
— Dexter Buell, Comp. B, 27th N. Y. S. Vol.
Camp in the Woods 5 miles from Warrenton Village November 15th 1862
I now haste to write you a few lines. I wrote a letter the other day but could not send it because I had no stamp. There is very heavy cannonading going on this morning on the outpost. They keep up a continual roar all the while. We have new regulations in our regiment. We have three roll calls every day and if you’re absent, we have to give a good account or else get tied to a tree. Pretty tough but can’t help it. We expect to be brought in an engagement every moment. We can’t tell when.
When you write, sed some stamps. We expect the paymaster here this week to pay us off. I will send home all I can. I want to get a pair of gloves. It is getting too cold. You can send them by mail. It won’t cost much.
I must close writing because we expect to be called in line every minute. So goodbye. In haste.
— Dexter Buell, Comp. B, 27th N. Y. Vol. Write soon.
Camp in the Woods 5 miles from Aquia Creek Landing November 19th 1862
I now hasten to write you a few lines to let you know where we are and what we are a doing. We have been on the march for five days through the wilderness. Some days we would not see more than two houses. Then there was no one lived in them.
General Franklin’s Corps holds the extreme left of the army and General Hooker the center, and Heitzelman the right and Sigel is the reserve. We are laying still for a few days because the roads are too muddy to travel. I think we will see worse roads than we see now before the winter is over with. They all seem to think they are going to carry on a winter campaign. If they do, they will have to make a new call for troops in the spring, I tell you. We never can stand it and it will take many a poor soldier to his grave.
Them damn abolitionists are a blowing their horn, “Why don’t the army move? Why don’t they move?” I would like to have some of them down here with a knapsack on [that] weighs about 200 lbs. I would run them on a double quick all day long and if they did not go, I would run a bayonet through them. I will tell you one thing. There is no other general in the world that will do as well as General McClellan. The whole army will soon be fighting amongst themselves. There are officers resigning every day just because Gen. McClellan was turned out of his position and I don’t blame them for doing it. I must close for there is no use of talking—only 6 months longer.
Get a newspaper and pit some chewing tobacco in it and send it. It won’t cost any more. I have not had a chew in a week. We cannot get it down here. Don’t forget it. I have got a cotton bloom to send to you. I can’t send it without a paper. So goodbye.
— Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th N. Y. Vol.
Hurrah for [Gov.] Seymour!
Camp near Stafford Court House 5 Miles from Aquia Creek Landing December 3rd, 1862
I received your letter last night and was glad to hear from you. I received the gloves you sent me all right. I think a great deal of them but I would like a little tobacco the best. I will tell you I never see the boys suffer so much for tobacco before. They smoke coffee for tobacco. We can’t buy anything down here. We are here in camp. Some say we are going into winter quarters and some say we are not. Most all the boys in the regiment have got log houses put up. I am to work putting up mine. When you write, do the tobacco up and send it the same way you sent the gloves. I will get it. I have got a ball of cotton to send to you when you send me a paper.
What did you have for Thanksgiving dinner? I will tell you what I had. Our regiment was on picket guard. I had for dinner one hard cracker and a little piece of raw pork. Pretty good for a “snoger.” Sometimes we can’t get as much as that. Yesterday our regiment went to build corduroy roads so they would not get stuck in the mud.
They say apples and potatoes are cheap up North. We can’t buy apples here for ten cents apiece down here. I would like to be home one night with you to eat about two pan fulls. Never mind. A better day is coming. We have it pretty tough but we have got use to it. Don’t forget the tobacco next time.
I close my scribbling. I got a letter from Jerome Gates. He is home. They are all well. So goodbye. From, — Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th Regt. N. Y. Vol.
Three cheers for New York Volunteers. Write soon. 27th Against the World!
[Sadly there are no letters to describe the fight at Fredericksburg in mid-December 1862 and, surprisingly, Dexter does not devote a single paragraph to the battle in his book. A notice in a local paper reported at the time: “Co. B., in the Late Battle. The 27th Regiment was engaged in the recent battle of Fredericksburg. We have no particulars except that the men behaved bravely, and that Sergeant John C. Hooper, of Huron was wounded, and that Henry W. Brown of Lyons had his hip fractured.” Another newspaper notice stated: “Our former correspondents in the Twenty-Seventh Regiment are chary of their favors. Not one of them has written us concerning the part the Regiment took in the recent battle. We learn, however, from other sources, that the Twenty-Seventh was not found lacking in courage or determination; that it was in the thickest of the fight (under Sedgwick;) and that although it received no special mention at the hands of the puffers for the New York papers, no Regiment can show a cleaner record than the Twenty-Seventh. The casualties in this Regiment were comparatively few. In Company B, there were four men wounded: Sergeant John C. Hooper, (slight,) Henry W. Brown, B. Disbrow, (slight,) and G. Walrath, (slight.) Brown’s injuries are said by a correspondent of the Rochester Union to be slight; but other reports say that his injury is a fracture of the hip, caused by a musket-ball, and that his leg has been amputated. One or two others are reported missing, but as they may yet be heard from we refrain from giving their names at present.”]
Camp near Fredericksburg, Va. January 17, 1863
I received your letter last night and right glad to hear that you were all well. We just came in from picket yesterday. We are under marching orders. We expect to go across the river and try them once more but there is hundreds that will never cross the river. I have heard more that one half of the boys in our company [say] that they would never go in another battle. They say it is too bad to go through what we have and then slink out but they say they will do it.
This fighting for Niggers is played out. Some of them Black Abolitionists out to be made to fight their share of the battles.
We expect to be on the move before long. Can’t tell how soon. We have warm days and cold nights. We don’t expect to have much snow down here. Our men are working daily building corduroy roads for the Johnny boys same as they did on the Peninsula. All of the boys are getting sick of this thing. They begin to count the days thinking how near our time is out. I wish it was out tomorrow, if not sooner.
I have not received them things you spoke of yet but I guess I will before long. I must come to a halt for this time. Write as soon as you get this.
— Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th N. Y. S. V.
Answer soon. Don’t wait so long.
Camp near Fredericksburg, Va. January 27th 1863
To the Editor of the [Wayne] Democratic Press
As I have a few leisure moments, I thought I would write and let you know what is going on in camp. Our regiment has just returned from a great expedition. We marched ten miles from camp and got stuck in the mud and then we turned around and played mule and helped to get the pontoon train back to the rear, the mud being 1—2—3 feet deep. We returned to camp on Sunday and when we got there, General Bartlett gave the regiment their rum. We all got to feeling first rate when General Swan made his appearance and then there was quite a disturbance and then Col. Adams, just for spite, put the whole of Company B on guard 48 hours to take revenge. And at the same time, most of the officers was so drunk that they did not know how to enjoy themselves and as poor privates had to suffer the consequences.
The rest of the company [regiment] was drunk also but all was laid to Company B. But never mind. Our time is nearly expired and then we will let the people in Lyons know what is what. If we ever enlist again, we will have a captain from some other town but our own. We came out to fight for the Stars & Stripes but the officers came out to fight for the Eagle and Star.
I will close for this time and let you know more about the matter in my next. Yours respectfully, Comp. B
From the 27th Regt. N. Y. S. V. Signed “Old sport and hard luck”
P. S. Please put this in without fail and oblige — A good soldier.
[Camp near Fredericksburg, Va.] February 3rd 1863
As Tom Hilliard is going home, I though I would drop you a line. If you will go to the drug store and buy a bottle or box of hair dye to color whiskers with and send by Tom when he comes back, I will send you the pay for it just as soon as we get our pay which we expect to get this week and oblige.
We are just getting ready to go on picket guard.
— Dexter Buell, Company B, 27th N.Y.S.V.
Write soon. Only three months, Bob. How is No. 3 [Fire] Hose? All right? Write soon. Your friend, — D. Buell
Camp near Fredericksburg, Virginia February 14th 1863
I received your letter and was glad to hear from you. I suppose Tom Hilliard has reached Lyons before this time. I sent a letter by him to you. I suppose you have received it before now. I wanted you to get a box of hair dye to color whiskers with and send by Tom and just as soon as we get paid off, I will send you the money back. It will cost $1 and I am going to color up the boys whiskers for them. I keep a barber shop now-a-days. I shave most all of the boys on our company.
Bob, today is Valentine’s Day. I wish I had one to send to you. Bob, the boys are all busy making finger rings and pipes,&c. to fetch home with them. We make them out of laurel roots. I am making a pipe and ring for you out of laurel root. Bob, I guess you had a pretty nice time with the girls. I have not seen a girl in so long I forgot how they look. If we see a man with a citizen suit of clothes on, he looks like a Reb to us. Everything will seem strange to us boys when we get home.
Never mind about the letter I sent to be printed. I only wanted to let the people know something about it. But I guess Tim Hilliard can tell you [that] Adams & Swam are the biggest drunkards you ever see. Robbers—thieves—they would steal our ration of hard tack if they could make anything by it. All the boys swear revenge on Adams when we get out of Uncle Sam’s reach.
Bob, I want you to kiss a pretty girl for me, will you? Hw is Old No. 3 [Hose]? All right, I suppose.
I must begin to close my scribbling for this time as boys don’t have much to do now days. Time is passing swiftly by.
I wish I could send your pipe by mail but I am afraid you would not get it. I will fetch you something to remember Old Virginia. I must close for this time so goodbye. From your old friend, — Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th Regt. New York State Vol.
Please write soon.
Camp near White Oak Church, Va. March 21, 1863
I received your letter while we was on picket guard and was very glad to hear from you and to hear you was all well. We have been on picket duty for the past two days near the river. We can look down from the hill we are stationed on and see every move the Rebels make. We can see them out drilling and see their cars when they come in loaded with freight from Richmond.
I will tell you just what kind of houses we have to live in while on picket. They are made out of pine boughs put up on poles and when it rains or snows, then it comes pretty tough on the soger boy. We are here in camp now. The boys in the company are all well.
Old Joe Hooker is getting ready to make a move. The boys all wished that it would snow three deep so the Army could not move until the first day of May. They boys all say they have seen fighting enough to last them while they stay in the service. I think they have myself. This morning it snows quite hard and the snow is about two inches deep and it still snows.
We have not received any pay yet but I rather think we will in less than three months. The government is going to discharge the best troops in the field when they discharge us and they say so themselves. If they had discharged us two months ago they probably would have got the largest part of us back in the service but as it is, they won’t get a single man I don’t believe.
The boys have been making pipe and finger rings out of laurel roots to pass away the time.
I would like to send you my photograph if I could but there is no place to get it taken down in this miserable country. I wish you could look down and see the country. Just see how you like it. The wood is mostly all pine timber. The ground would not raise white beans. The soil is mostly all clay and when it rains, it makes very bad walking or riding. You can see thousands of acres down here with little trees and berry bushes of all kinds growing up on their farms. The look so they had not been plowed up in a dozen years or more. All they live on mostly is corn. They make what they call a hoe cake out of a little meal and water.
I guess I had better come to a close for I have a little dinner to eat. I would like to have one good meal of victuals. I suppose there is lots of oysters up North. I would like to be there a little while to eat about a dozen kegs or so.
Well goodbye for this time. You must write oftener for I don’t get a letter from you often enough. You must write all the news. Is the little black cat alive yet? Let me know. Truly yours, — Dexter Buell
Company B, 27th Regt. N. Y. Volunteers. Write often. — Dexter Buell
Camp near White Oak Church, Virginia April 13th 1863
I received your letter last night and glad to hear from you. Since my last we were reviewed by the President—old Abraham Lincoln. This morning the cavalry and artillery are all moving towards the river and we expect a fight before night but can’t tell. There are all sorts of rumors about the two years troops. Some say we will be in Elmira before this month is out. Yesterday we were on inspection and Col. Adams read an order that he received from the War Department that all two-years troops that will enlist after their time is out for one year will receive $50 bounty—one half to be paid down and the rest after the expiration of their term of enlistment. I rather guess they won’t get over 2,000 out of our regiment. The government paid 250 dollars for a lot of green men and now they offer us after we have been in the service two years 50 dollars to enlist? Can’t see the point, as our boys say.
We expect to be in New York State in less than two weeks. Bully for that.
I got a letter from Eliza the other day. They are all well. They want me to send them my photograph. We are hard up for tobacco down here but we can get along a little while longer. I don’t know of any more news to write. I can’t think of now. We are having nice weather here. The peach trees are budding out and will soon be in blossom. I will close for this time so goodbye. Excuse haste. Truly yours, — Dexter Buell
Co. B, 27th Regt. N.Y. S.V.
P. S. all are well as usual.
Elmira [New York] May 31st 1863
As I have a few leisure moments I thought I would drop you a few lines to let you know that we are all sound. We arrived at Elmira about eleven o’clock the same night we went across the Lake on the steamer P. H. Field. We had a good time. The boys are all well and anxious to get back to their old homes instead of laying around this miserable place. Robert, you may think this is rather queer writing paper but as it is raining, I thought I would not go down to the village.
Dick Putney is all well and sends his best respects to you and all. We expect to be mustered out of the service tomorrow and will probably be home this week. All are well. Give my best respects to all of the boys and the girls too.
From your friend, — Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th N. Y. Vol.
My best respects to your cousin, Miss Berry
Composed by Comrade Dexter E. Buell, Lyons, N. Y. Co. B, 27th Regiment N. Y. Volunteers [handwriting appears to be post war]
These 44 Civil War letters were written by John Boultwood Edson (1839-1863), the son of Elijah Edson (1812-1878) and Achsah Edna Wright (1818-1905) of Rochester, New York.
John enlisted as a private on 7 May1861 to serve two years in Co. E, 27th New York Infantry. He mustered out with the company on 31 May 1863 at Elmira, N. Y. Although some sources say that John “died in the service in December 1863,” I can’t find any evidence that he reenlisted unless he happened to go to California to bring mules back East as mentioned in the final letter.
Other family members mentioned in John’s letters include his sister Miriam Crane (Edson) Clements (1841-1891), who became the wife of Thomas Clements (1839-1902) in 1862. Albert H. Edson (1842-1863) who served in Co. Am 8th New York Cavalry until he was mortally wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg on 1 July 1863. Harriet (“Hatt.”) E. Edson (1832-Unk)
[Elmira, New York] Sunday, May 19, 
A I have finished a few lines to Ben, I thought I would say something in regard to my things that I left behind. My ink has run out so will be compelled to use the pencil. I have been to church this forenoon & remained to class meeting which was as interesting a one as I ever attended, there bring several volunteers present. I wish I could have some collars—straight ones—sent me as in probability we shall remain some time. Tell Father to try some of the boys & see if he could not get me a Wide-Awake cape. Some of the boys in Woodbury’s have them. He could for a very little sum. Should like to have another fine shirt.
Please send me a stick of that sticking plaster & a paper of peruvian bark. Capt. Wanzer [told] me again that I would pass. It was announced this morning that all the companies would leave this week for some distant post & I will not be back in the state until the end of 3 months which time they are sworn into the service of the United Sates. [ ] quite sick. The other day had a very bad diarrhea caused by the change of water. Everyone more or less has been affected with it.
Our fare is some better than at first. I feel very sleepy on account of having been on guard last evening. Whenever you wish to send anything to me you can do so by express free of charge no matter how small or large. Address John B. Edson, Elmira, N. Y., Care of Capt. Geo. Wanzer, Independent Zouaves
Headquarters Elmira [N. Y.] May 24th 
As I will have an opportunity of sending a few lines free of expense, I will give you a little more in respect to my life here. I have had pretty easy times as yet but tomorrow we are to drill from 10 a.m. until half past 1 p.m. and from 3 until 6 p.m., then from 8 until 9 in the evening so that will tell on a man if anything will. I’m ready for it, however, and will not [ ] as long as I’m able to stand upon my feet. I’ve had the misfortune to have the knife you gave me stolen and consequently am without a necessary article for a soldier’s equipment. I do not tell you this because I want you to send one—not by any means.
The Rochester Regiment re expecting every moment to receive marching orders. They have received their uniforms and equipments. They expect to be sent to Fort Monroe, Va.
I learned with great regret of Col. Ellsworth’s death while leading on his brave and undaunted men to the capture of one of the principal cities near our Capitol. But his death will only make another & still finer fire burn in the breast of every true patriot. May God protect that heroic band which when the incendiary flames were seething & hissing around one of the finest of buildings in the Empire City, counted death nothing compared with frustrating the designs of traitors. And now we behold those led by their noble leader who falls while the shout of victory rings in his ears.
There is one regiment yet to receive their uniforms, then comes our turn. We have had one case of the diphtheria in our midst but the prospects will now [page missing?].
I hope you try and send me those things that I mentioned in my last—the Wide-Awake cape especially for I will need one when on guard duty out of doors. I went down to see our barracks this afternoon and found it a pretty hard looking place. The drill ground—or what will be the same—is very stoney & consequently will be very hard on our feet. We are still in Schull’s Hall, Water Street. Will leave on Monday for our barracks. I shall try and come home and see you all before I go if possible—not without my uniform however. I would like a little money as I will have to get a shirt done up once a week at the least and my being sick took some of what I had when leaving which was not much, as you know. However, I can hardly bear to speak of it & will try and get along without any if possible.
It is getting very near time for our prayer meeting and I must close. I can’t tell the reason why I do not hear from you. I have written several times but do receive no answers. How is it? You spoke of your work being very hard. I knew from the first that you would not like it. But that’s not the question. Uncle James said he was going to Rochester in a few days. I hope you will tell him just your condition. Do not work hard. Take it easy. Men do not expect a man to kill himself or to overdo while in their employ, but what am I saying (trying to advise one what has had the experience you have).
I hope you will take care of yourself. Remember me to all my friends. I ever will remain your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
Headquarters, Elmira, [N. Y.] [June 1861]
Mrs. Blackford is waiting at the door, or rather passing through. She desired me to send a few lines to you. I hardly know what to say.
We came into barracks yesterday morning. Our sleeping apartments are first rate considering a soldier’s life is so rough. We are to be mustered in tomorrow.
Tell Albert I shall remember him when far away.
As soon as I get my uniform, I shall try and obtain a furlough for a day or two. The package you sent by our Sergeant came safe. I received it last [night]. Tell Albert I will write to him soon. Also Emeline. So goodbye for awhile.
Your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
Headquarters Elmira Barracks No St Com E. of Union Dpt. June 22, 
I received a letter from you yesterday. In it you stated not having received a letter from me for over a week. I have written two or three to persons around there—one to Fanny, one to Em. Semms so you could heard through them of me. My health is none of the best but considering the general health of our company, I do pretty well. We have some 7 or 8 under the physician’s care. The measles are going through the regiment, taking old and young. There have two men died in our regiment since we’ve been in barracks. The Oswego Regiment [ ] was sworn into the service of the U. S. today. They received their uniforms yesterday and a first one it is in comparison to the one of the Rochester Regiment.
I received the parcel you sent me ad it was very acceptable I can assure you. I’m going to try and go home the latter part of next week if possible—that is, if I get my uniform & pay.
Our new quarters are very pleasant. The race course where the celebrated horse Florence Temple won her laurels is close by. The [Chemung] river runs in the rear of our quarters—a fine bathing place. If you go down East, stop here on your way there. I guess you could or would it be out of your road?
We have started the prayer meetings again and I’m in hopes they will continue. If you have any things to send me, I will try and pat the Express charges, if they are not over 50 cents. I may have some money by the time you wish to send it. Our officers have deceived us in respect to our uniform & pay. The Rochester Regiment fares badly [missing page?]
…had to put up with. We are to have the same but they have not made their appearance yet. They are in the town. Our Colonel told us we might expect them [uniforms] so as to appear at dress parade Sunday evening. I very much doubt it, however. Our pay has not come yet. No knowing when it will come, the Major pledged his word we should have it today sure, but nary bit have we seen.
Our company was told to proceed to the Doctor’s room & be vaccinated. I did not go but suppose I will have to go as it is an imperative order and must be obeyed. The boys were going to see if our Captain will try and have us in Rochester on the 4th of July and show our proficiency in drill. I hardly think we will be here on the fourth, Gen. Van Valkenburgh having received a telegram to hurry off all the regiments now here as fast as possible within 20 days so it may be we will be in the Capitol of our nation before the fourth.
Give my respects to Homer Aylesworth and the boys there. Tell Emeline to write and Albert especially. I shall not write any more if I don’t get an answer more punctually. How does Em get along with her school? I received a letter from Will M_____ the other day. Tell Em that I wrote to P____the other week. If she sees him, tell him to answer it right away or prepare for a storm when I see him. I must close as I want to get this in the office this evening.
P. S. Go and see Ben Swift and tell him to answer my letter. I have never received a word from mine. He does not stick to his agreement. My love to all enquiring friends. I remain as ever, your son. — [J. B. Edson]
[On the eve of the Battle of First Bull Run]
In camp 5 Miles beyond Fairfax Court House and within 2 Miles of the Rebel Batteries July 20th 
My Dear parents,
I’m writing this under peculiar trials and circumstances as I’m seated in one of the camp wagons trying to write to you, my ever loved and to be loved parents.
We left Washington last Tuesday afternoon at 4 o’clock. The order for marching came very suddenly. We marched until 11 o’clock that night to a place 11 miles from Fairfax, there encamped until the next morning at 7 when we started on and such a march it beggars description—one of the hottest days I ever saw, if not the hottest. Men [were] falling out of the ranks at every step exhausted. I stood it until the last when men who had worked in the harvest fields at home in the morning said said if they had had another mile to march, should have dropped in the road. The rebels having poisoned several wells and destroyed others made it very bad for us.
We arrived at Fairfax at two o’clock. We expected to find a large secession force there but they had eloped. Consequently we were disappointed. We stayed in Fairfax from 12 o’clock of that day until 4 o’clock of the next day. We lived on the spoils taken from the secessionists. While there the boys took their guns and shot chickens, geese, pigs and even bullocks. One party went to a farmer’s house some two miles off and found 7 bottles of wine, pies, cakes, &c. No one at home. Fairfax was a deserted hole.
Started at 4 o’clock for this camp where we arrived at 7 o’clock [and] set our picket guard that night. That was a night indeed to me. I can assure you, I laid down upon the ground with a blanket over me [and] it commenced raining soon after and I was wet through. About 12 o’clock we were awakened by the firing upon our pickets. We all jumped up and seized our arms. During that hour volley after volley came pouring in. Such a sight! Men standing whispering to one another. Our Colonel came around and told us to lie down by our guns which we did only to be awakened by another alarm.
While I’m writing I hear the artillery booming in the distance towards the rebels’ batteries. I suppose you have heard of the battle on the 18th [see Battle of Blackburn’s Ford]. It was a small affair [paper creased] troops they having to retreat. The Colonel who led them on did so contrary to the orders of Scott. We lost some two hundred men. Gen. Scott is expected to be here this evening to plan the attack. It is this—to shell the batteries, then pour in shot until they are burned out, then bring on the infantry and give them the bayonet. We are waiting now for the shells to come on so we can proceed wit hthe battle. There will be severe fighting. We will in all probability be in Richmond some time next week. Our Colonel told our Orderly when he asked him for a sword that he would scarcely need one for we would all be home in three weeks. I tell you, it is tough. We will have all of Virginia in our possession before another month. I hope I shall live to see you all again. I often think of home and all its comforts. Tell all my friends if they write to direct to Washington.
John B. Edson, Company E, 27th Regt. N. Y. S. V., Washington D. C.
I wrote to you when in Washington but have received no answer. I will get it if you write. I have received no money yet. Probably will not until we are again in Washington. Let me know how you are getting along and what the people think of the movement of the army in Virginia. I hope to see you before many months are passed. It is very warm today. My love to all. Ever your affectionate son, — J. B. E.
Camp Anderson Washington D. C. July 25th 
My dear sister Hattie,
After the eventful scenes of Sunday last, my mind is much disturbed. I have no appetite for the trash that is presented to us. If you had been anywhere near to have perceived our army as it wended its way through the streets of Washington—it was raining very hard & had been for some time. My jacket I threw away as an encumbrance just before entering the battlefield. O! such a scene. It baffles description. But I’m not sorry. The 27th [New York] Regiment has established a name that will live in history. They, next to the Fire Zouaves of New York, are warm in the hearts of the citizens of Rochester.
The evening of our arrival, Ladies flocked around and with their kindness and attention, ministered to our wants. The Ladies of this place give me a supper this evening.
I can hardly realize that I’m in the land of the living when thinking of that hour. There is a feeling of thankfulness comes over me.
Johnny Clague told me why lying on the field that he was glad the victory was ours. Poor boy. He little thought before the time the afternoon was over we would be on the retreat. He died nobly, cool and collected as if on parade. I was with him all the time until the rebels fired into the house where he was but he died before they had time to torture his body further.
I’m trying to obtain a furlough of a week’s respite to recruit my strength. I hope I may succeed. Give my love to Anna M. I often think of her, and all my friends. Has Father found work yet and where? Get Ann’s and your likeness and send them to me and oblige.
Your brother, — J B. Edson
Tell Ben Swift I will write him in a few days.
Camp Anderson, Washington D. C. August 2nd 1861
My dear Sister,
I received a letter from you, Mother & Annie last evening as I was preparing to send some money $10 in gold by our Lieut. [Charles S.] Baker. He is to leave it at Mr. Blackford’s with Albert. He will deliver it to Father. You can tell him that I received $15 only. I send him 10 as I would probably lose it if I had it with me.
My mind is so confused this morning that I can hardly write at all. There is one thing I wish you and the rest of our folks to understand—also my friends—that I wish no more of my letters to be published or any extracts of them. If I see any more of them in any of the papers, I shall immediately cease writing. I’m not joking now. It is not very pleasant for me. You do as I tell you and all will be well.
Your letter came just in time as I had began to have the blues. The letter I received last night from you was the only one I received from home since I returned from Bulls Run. I expect every day to hear of the order for the Grand Army to proceed across the river again under the command of a man though younger in years than our former one, understands his business a great deal better, and one who will lead us to victory. We never will return but with victory perched upon upon our banner. You never heard of victory being achieved when contending against such odds. 18,000 men engaging 80,000 and they behind batteries concealed and manned with rifled cannons. But I have said enough on this subject.
You wished to know whether John Clague (all honor be to his memory) died contented with his fate, or rather, did he die a christian. I was with him the most of the time which he lived after he fell. I thought of speaking to him on the subject, but he was in too much agony—his pain being intense. You could touch him no place just what it seemed to torture him. God, I trust, has taken care of him. 1
Tell Annie I will surely write her within two days. I have been very unwell for the last 3 or 4 days having had the neuralgia in my face. Have you seen Bill Lockhart since the fight at Bulls Run? I don’t believe I will be able to go home. If my health does not improve enough by the time we have to march again, I will apply for an honorable discharge. Our [Colonel] will in all probability be elected to a Brigadier Generalship. His name has appeared first on the list for that post. You no doubt saw a piece in the paper (the [Rochester Evening]Express) about him. Oh! he is a noble man.
I should like to see home before I go into another engagement as I have a strong presentiment if in another engagement, I shall not escape. I often think of Annie McMillan. I thought of her once on the field of battle. Would I be saying too much, Em, if I should say it was love. But it is really so—she is a lovely girl both in looks and disposition. But as you say, there is no chance for me there. Dare you question her on such a subject? Give her my love.
Tell Albert to write to me immediately. Goodbye. God bless you.
1 Apparently God did take care of him. He was taken prisoner after the Battle of Bull Run and was among those 240 prisoners released from Richmond, Virginia, on January 3, 1862 and conveyed to Fortress Monroe for exchange. Other members of the 27th New York who were among these prisoners released included Solomon Wood, A. H. Cornell, P. Flarity, Charles Hunt, G. L. Mudge, V. Mudge, W. P. Smith, J. McAulay, G. F. Jewett, J. C. Fowler, C. A. Durnell, J. Chamberlain, H. P. Boyd, T. J. Briggs, J. Borden, W. P. Smith, C. Tucker, W. Trall, Ed Watrous, E. H. Warner, T. H. Yates, John Hogan, W. H. Merrill, H. Gerrick, and possible others.
Camp Vernon Alexandria, Virginia August 23, 1861
My dear sister Hat.,
I received your kind letter of the 18th a few moments ago & proceed as to answer it. Always be as punctual as I am & you will hear often from me—that is, as far as I am able to write a person. In regard to my health, it never was better. While away from the confinement of city life as we had while in Washington. I enjoy the highest of heaven’s blessings—good health.
With the blue waters of the Potomac in front of us & the healthful breezes of the ocean to fan our over-heated brows, we cannot complain much except when it rains hard. Our company was out on picket guard Monday and all Monday night. This is dangerous business & to put the climax on the thing, at, or rather in the eve about 8 o’clock after our guard had been set for the first part of the night (which was from 8 o’clock until one, I was on the same), it commenced to rain—and such a rain I never wish to see again much less to be out in. There was a brook close by which swelled to such an extent as to overflow the banks on either side. I was on the opposite side guarding the junction of two roads—one leading to Fairfax Court House and the other to Richmond. I saw if I did not cross then, I should not be able to that night so we plunged in, not thinking how deep it was. The consequence was a fine ducking. Then had to spend the rest of the night shivering like so many dogs. No one knows except those who are out here what we had to undergo that night.
I have just finished my dinner which consisted of boiled fat bacon & bread & water & some [ ] meal with a little something. Oh dear, I’m getting so fleshy—oh yes.
We are expecting an attack every day now. Our pickets have been driven in several times & we have destroyed the bridge crossing Hunter’s Creek in order to detain their coming across. They will meet with a warm reception. Our brigade had a sham battle in the presence of Gen. McClellan & staff. He is a young man & has an eagle’s eye. He is rising with fame/ Remember he is the hero of Western Virginia having never lost a battle while there. You will hear of him soon. Also of the Bloody 27th Regiment.
I have some news for you. There are five New York regiments to return home to recruit. We have every reason to expect our regiment is included in those five. It may be 3 or four weeks before we start as the government will wait until she has more troops to take our place. They are coming on by the thousands every day. We may me in Elmira very soon. If so, I will surely go home (what a delightful [ ]).
How often do I think of home, the dearest spot of earth. I want you to write and let me know how or what kind of a term you had at Mrs. Lockhart’s & if it was the German Society or the Asbury. How I wish you and Bell could be with each other oftener than you do. She has the best disposition of any one I know of. Give her my respects when you see her. Also to her mother.
Has Mr. Clague heard from [his son] John since Mr. Merrill’s letter?
The next time you write, send a postage stamp as I have no money. Yours as ever. Your brother, — J. B. Edson
[near Washington D. C.] [September 1861]
Dear sister Hat.,
Can you excuse a dirty piece of paper. I have no other. You say write a long letter but what shall I write? I know of nothing new. It is you who ought to write a long letter instead of me. There is very little of importance doing near us now with the exception of the erection of the new fort [Fort Lyon] which will be on a larger scale of any in this direction if the Rebels do not take it into their head to rout us out before we finish it, but we would like nothing better than to have them come. What a licking they would get. Excuse the phrase of course.
I was talking with a very wealthy man the other day when on picket duty who has been within a few days within the Rebel lines. He says they are in a desperate condition. A common sack of salt that will sell in Washington for $1.50, cost $7 dollars there. They cannot go so long if they happen to take any of our men prisoners, they strip them of their clothing & put their rags upon them. This man says he is perfectly satisfied that the government will succeed in crushing this rebellion.
So you see the stars and stripes must & shall wave over the land of the slave. Tell Annie McMillan I never expect to hear from her & have given up entirely. She surely could find 10 minutes to write. I don’t care how badly written and all this so I get one. It must be a long one, however, to pay up for waiting so long. Tell Fanny to write me a letter. I wrote Salone a letter and enclosed it in one to Father and you must have received it ere this.
I must close. Write soon. My love to all enquiring friends—Mr. & Mrs. Jackson in particular. I will try and write him a letter soon.
As ever, your brother, — J. B. Edson
Headquarters Army of the Potomac September 20th 
I received yours of the 15th yesterday & will today try and answer it. In the first place, you must not look too close at the piece of paper I’m scribbling on as it is all I have in the world. Not having received our pay yet, it is rather hard for me so if you should not hear from me as often as you desire, do not censure me for if I had the means you should hear from me at the least twice a week. Every other regiment in our brigade have been paid and we know not the reason why they should delay ours so long. I shall enclose this in a franked envelope, not knowing whether it will reach its destination, or as I believe I told you in my last letter that we were hourly expecting an attack, but as yet have had no engagement with the enemy.
The new fort [Fort Lyon] I spoke of in my last is in progress of erection. It is to cover 17 acres of ground & mount 100 guns. It will command 3 roads leading in the following directions—Fairfax Court House, Richmond, and Mount Vernon. Today was the day Gen. Beauregard told his men they should have a fight and march on Washington, but no demonstration of the kind has yet been made.
Our new rifles are a great acquisition to the boys. I’ve made some excellent shots with mine. I’m longing to have another turn at the Rebels now we have such a death dealing weapon. I shot at an object a foot and a quarter square 150 yards distant and put the ball through it. I shall try and take it home with me. I’m living in hopes that this struggle will terminate this winter so that next spring I may be home for good. There is a good prospect of it. While I’m writing I hear they are fighting in Missouri. The report came today that our forces last lost 800 men & the Rebels 4,000.
I was sorry to learn that you were out of work. If you were in Washington Navy Yard, I rather think you could get all the work you would wish for. They are very busy. When I was in Washington, I went all through the machine shops. It was very interesting. Can you not afford to send me a paper at least 3 in a week—that is, if you take any now. If you haven’t the materials for sending–that is, the wrapping paper—just take the papers down town to Ben Swift with the postage stamps and he will mail them. Tell Ben for me that I think he is not doing the fair thing by me—if he would only write me, I would do my best and try and give him an interesting one in answer to it.
There are times, dear Father, when my spirits are very low and much depressed & must have more letters from home. It has been more than a week since I heard from you or the family until I received the one yesterday. I’m now going to ask a favor of you. It is I’m told today that we will not receive any money until the first of next month. If you could get $3 dollars for me, I will send you six for the same when I get my money. I would not ask it but I sent my shoes—those I got of White before I left Rochester over in Alexandria to get fixed more than two weeks ago. I’m afraid the man will sell them. Also a pair of pants & a shirt to get washed. If you could send it, I will more than double pay you for your trouble. Write soon. As ever your affectionate son, — J. B. E.
Army of the Potomac October 8th 1861
Yours of the 5th came safe. Received it this afternoon. I have just returned from picket duty some 8 miles from camp. I was on the outer post. Allowing me to exaggerate, I will say I nearly froze. It was extremely cold. We could not make a fire until daylight as it might be the means of showing the enemy where we were stationed.
This morning a farmer living nearby where we were stationed—a Union man—came and asked two of us to accompany him to Mount Vernon, a mile and a half distant, he having some wheat he wished to bring away & take it to Alexandria to grind. I volunteered at one & in company with a comrade jumped into the wagon with our rifles and ammunition with us. Having arrived near the grounds, we left the man to go for his wheat while we visited the hallowed spot where the mortal remains of the immortal Washington [laid]. The grounds have been left to themselves, having been much neglected. I can tell you I felt proud as I gazed upon the scene and stood upon the same grounds as did the Father of his country. I enclose a leaf that I plucked from a vine that grew over the top of the tomb. It will be a little souvenir of the immortal Washington.
It is reported here in camp that there are 11 regiments to be taken from the Army of the Potomac & sent to Kentucky & that General Slocum’s Brigade is going. It is true that we are soon to leave our present position but where I do not know. You shall hear from me as often as convenient.
I should like to hear from George Carpenter very much. I wrote Miriam the other day but have not yet received an answer. Let me know if Albert has received his horse yet or no & whether the government will furnish it, which of course they ought to.
Remember me to all my friends, I shall send this by a young man who has obtained his discharge on account of ill health, he being consumptive. He will give you a good description of camp life. I remain your affectionate son, — John B. Edson
Camp Franklin November 8, 1861
Your letter of the 3rd inst. arrived this morning & right glad was I to hear from you. I believe I wrote to Emiline on Monday last. Mrs. Barnes arrived some day since. I was disappointed in not getting anything from home. To talk of Scott’s band coming here to the men of this regiment would not be believed by them. We have been disappointed so many times we are almost tired of hearing anything concerning the band.
I was hoping I could get home in time to see Albert before he left for Washington as I have many things to tell him of besides some advice. However, I will see him in Washington. Our regiment expects to get paid tomorrow. If I cannot get a furlough, I will try and send the girls some money. Will do better by them on the next payday. Look at things on their bright side and all will be well. I have many dark days but in God is my trust.
The weather is very changeable & the nights very cold. The days middling comfortable. If the army was on the move, I should like it better as I then should think there would soon be an end to this struggle. I have all confidence in our youthful commander.
In regards to Father getting employment, I should say let him be on the lookout for a chance in some ity like Springfield, Massachusetts. Get acquainted with some of the business men in the city, viz: Rochester. Let him write to Mr. Clark, make enquiries.
In regard to being reconciled to camp life, it is nothing more than I expected to encounter when I enlisted. I wish father would see Ben Swift and ask him as a favor if he will write me. I do not think he is doing right in not letting me know how he is prospering. I have not heard a a word from him since I saw him last in Rochester.
I shall write again in a few days but do not let this deter you from writing immediately on the receipt of this. My love to all. (I am waiting very patiently for those likenesses. When will they come? Echo answers when.)
Yours truly, — J. B. E.
P. S. Please excuse this sheet of paper as I am running short of the same. As ever, your son, — J. B. E.
Camp Franklin, Va. November 26 
My dear Mother,
I received a letter from Father and yourself this morning and was truly glad to get it. We have been having some pretty cold weather here for the last few days. Last Sunday eve, or rather night, we had quite a snow storm here, It looked really queer to see snow here so far south.
We have been kept in rather a fretful condition expecting to go to Beaufort, S. C., hearing every little while of orders to that effect. General Slocum is figuring to get his brigade down south.
Father mentioned in his letter of the probable movement of the Army of the Potomac. There is not much said here about it but ever since the review last week we have been expecting something of the kind.
The government does not provide gloves, mittens, or boots for [ ] the soldiers. I have had to get both of this for myself. I’m in hopes I shall be able from next payday to lay up some money. I am sure I can lend my money here in the regiment to good advantage. I do not know how this will meet with your’s & Father’s approbation. If you or Father think I had better send it home and have Father place in someone’s hands who will pay a good interest on it, let me know what you think about it. I should like to have a little money when I get home.
You had better continue to answer my letters & address them Washington as I should [paper torn]. I suppose Albert has by this time left Rochester for Washington. (God speed him!) May he never experience the hardships that I have is my prayer because I know his constitution cannot stand it.
How is it with Lockhart’s folks? I have not heard from them some time. Has Emeline been there lately?
I have been in hopes that we would [go] down to Beaufort as then we should have warmer weather. If we should make any move in [paper torn]..and let you know.
Move love to all. Ever remain your sincere and affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
Camp Clara, Va. [December] 15 
Dear Sister Hat,
I will again send you a few lines although you do not deserve one for not answering my last. I’m still enjoying good health, thank God.
The weather for the last 3 or 4 days has been splendid. It commenced to rain last evening and the weather since has been very bad. I suppose the folks up North are rejoicing over the late victories at Port Royal and also in Kentucky.
General McClellan reviewed our division yesterday. It was a grand sight, indeed. He appeared in sight with his aides and body guard. The artillery fired a grand salute, then the bands struck up. Just imagine an army of twenty thousand men marching in review. I don’t suppose you can, however.
He—the General—afterwards passed through our camp. Our regiment had all rushed on to the parade ground where they awaited his appearance. When he passed, such shouting and cheering you never heard, I know. I don’t believe there was a man but threw his hat up in the air. As he passed, he gracefully lifted his cap from his hair and bowed (en-militaire) He is the idol of the army. He predicts a speedy termination to this struggle in less than three months.
In regard to getting a furlough, it is utterly out of the question. No man—well man I mean—is or shall be allowed a furlough, so says our General for he says he does not know at what moment he may receive orders to take up the line of march. Our success down soouth will probably call some of Beauregard’s forces away from the Potomac. If so, them McClellan will move on. I rejoice that I am in the service of my country and the prospects so good for having another pass at them & I embrace it willingly.
But what of Albert? I hear nothing of him. I begin to think that the folks are getting tired of writing to me—especially Father and Mother. But I can stand it. If they fo not choose to write, it is all the same to me. I shall not write home again until I get one at least. The money I send enclosed is for yourself. I had hope that I could have sent more but next time will do better. Tell Miriam not to feel hard with me for not sending her some. I sed the photographs to her. Please give my love to all enquiring friends. write immediately on the receipt of this.
As ever your brother, — John B. Edson
Camp Franklin, Virginia December 18, 1861
It is now more than a week since—yes, ten days since—I have heard from home. How is this? If you do not wish to [write], I will relieve you from the task. A soldier of all other men ought to receive all the encouragement friends at home can give them, by writing frequently and when written to, ought to have all the news that can be gathered. Do not think me harsh for thus speaking. It is my nature to be plain. I mean no hard feelings.
In my last letter I mentioned have been over to Washington and seen [brother] Albert. He seemed in good spirits then. Since the there have been several men over here in our camp who belonged to Crook’s Cavalry. They said that their regiment was to be disbanded & if the men would join some of the infantry regiments now in want of men to fill up their ranks, that the government would then pay them for what time they have been in the service. Otherwise, they will be disbanded and sent home without any pay. This is because the government does not want any more cavalry. I wrote Albert a few lines and sent them by one of the men who were over here yesterday. I told him that if I was in his place, I would—if the regiment was disbanded—go immediately home for as I had enlisted as cavalry, I would not enter any other branch of the service—especially the infantry. I also told him before he took any step to come over and see me & then I could better advise with him.
Last week our regiment were out on picket for four days with us about three-quarter of a mile of Annandale & very near to our encampment the first night on our march towards Manassas.
How do you prosper? Does your work pay you well? Have you heard from Uncle Jana lately? I have not since we left Washington, I believe.
The weather in Virginia especially around here is splendid, not having had any wet weather his month. I have recovered my usual good health and am again hale and hearty. I have never had as much flesh upon my bones as at the present. I’m astonished at myself. If I don’t look sharp, I shall come home resembling jolly neighbor Jackson in rotundity. If Albert will conclude to go home, I will let him have money to take with him. The government will of course pay their fare.
Them men are all anxious to be on the march but as yet we do not see any indications that way. Hoping soon to see this struggle ended and of seeing you again soon, I will close also requesting you to be a little more punctual in writing.
Ever remaining your affectionate son, — John B. Edson
to Mr. Elijah Edson
Camp Clara, Virginia January 1st 1862
I received the box you and Mother sent with the contents last evening, it having been brought from the Express Office by our commissary. It having been 7 days on the road, it came just in time on New Year’s eve. If you could have been in camp last night you would have been pleased. Just as the New Year came in—boom! boom! from the different camps and then the different instrumental bands stood up making the night vocal with sweet music. The moon and stars shine forth in their brilliancy causing a delightful halo around the encampments. The weather is as beautiful as May. Still have brigade and battalion drill. Yesterday we were—that is, the whole division—reviewed by our Division commander General Franklin after which we were mustered for pay and will get it probably the last of this or the first of next. We as a squad—four of us—have had to get us a stove for our tent. I will try and send you some [money]. I cannot tell yet how I shall come out. I think I can let you have $10 or 12 dollars. That will help you some.
Albert will get his pay about the time we do. I heard they were making out hteir pay rolls. I have not seen him since I was over there. He is promising to come over here but as yet has not made his appearance. I know of nothing more of importance. Still waiting the word forward. I will now close & believe me ever your affectionate son, — John B. Eden
Dear Mother, I received your kind gift which was thankfully received. I will say nothing to the girls as I do not know whether they had any hand in it or not. I expect I should get a letter from each of the girls. By the bye, I must tell you how we passed Christmas. It was a pleasant day although somewhat cloudy. At dress parade in the morning we were told that there would be no drill so we busied ourselves as best we could. Our dinner consisted of some fresh beef fried & this with the [ ] constituted my Christmas dinner. It tasted too much as good as the best Christmas dinner could possible.
I sincerely hope Father will get into steady and profitable work this winter. Cheer up. I think you will come out all right. The family is a great deal smaller than formerly & Robert is paying his way. Consequently you and Father and the girls might live quite comfortably but if course you know best. I will send some money to you on pay day and that will help you some.
Did you send Emily’s letter I wrote her to her yet? I wrote to Salem some two weeks ago and sent it right through to Magara. Do you know where [ ] Edson is? I wrote Emily a good long letter and shall expect an answer. Have the girls write and let me know how their festivities went off. Is Miriam to be married this spring or next spring? If so, I will be to the wedding. Has her loving Tom [Clements] proved negligent? If so, tell her to send him down here and I will chasten him by putting him in the guard house.
Goodbye from your son, — J. B. E.
Camp Franklin, Va. January 12, 1862, Sunday evening
My Dear Parents,
I write you this under peculiar feelings knowing as I do by whose hands it will be delivered to you—one who but a few months ago I left for one of the slain as I suppose. But thanks be to God he yet lives and by what he says intends to rejoin his company. Yesterday was big day here. About 3 o’clock the regiment got underway and marched towards Alexandria to meet the [exchanged] prisoners. We met them about halfway to camp [and] drew up in line. The Colonel then ordered Open rank and they—the prisoners—marched through, the band taking the lead [and] playing a spirited air. We then marched [behind them] and whenever we would pass any of the many encampments, we would find invariably drawn up in line to receive us, giving the prisoners three cheers. [William H.] Merrell will not be able to join the regiment on account of his arm—it being weak caused by the wound in his shoulder.
I suppose you have or will have before this reaches received my other letter—the one I wrote the other day in answer to Miriam’s. Not wishing to lose the opportunity of sending this by [John T.] Clague, I thus embrace this chance. He can and will no doubt give you a greal deal of information respecting the rebels. I am perfectly satisfied with my condition. I could almost wish I had been a prisoner to receive all the encomiums and praises of a thankful people. It will be difficult for me or any other private to obtain a furlough.
There is no more news of importance just now so I desist for the present. Remember me to all my friends. As ever your son, truly, — J. B. Edson
Camp Franklin, Va. February 13th 
The parcel brought by J. T. Clague has come and am thankful for its contents—especially the ran and needles.
You spoke of a young man by the name of [George W.] Kent having called. I do not wish him mentioned again in any of my letters to me. He is a deserter, he having obtained a furlough for ten days, his mother being sick and not expected to live, as he said. He has been gone 23 days an has no intention of returning to the company. He is a thief in the bargain. He also obtained a coat on a loan of a corporal out of Co. K in this regiment. You would know it. It had two stripes upon each sleeve…the boys all despise him. He dare not come back now. Please send nothing by him for he is not to be depended upon. Have nothing to say to him. I was astonished when I read your letter.
We awoke this morning with the news from Burnsides Expedition ringing in our ears & gladdening our hearts.
I expected to receive more letters by John Clague than I did. Have you got the letter which I sent? It is time you received it and also one I wrote and sent before that one in which I sent home the photograph of General Slocum and Col. Bartlett.
You should have meantime received these letters as I thought a good deal of those photographs. Your truly, — John B. Edson
Camp Franklin, Virginia [Late February 1862]
You no doubt think me a queer kind of brother that I don’t once even in a great while write you. It is not because I do not think of you. On the contrary, every day I think of you and wonder what might you be [like] when I get home—if I ever do.
Bob, I’m soon to hear again the booming of the great guns at Manassas and again hear the minié balls whistling about my ears as I did something like 7 month ago.
You wish yourself old enough to be here no doubt. You may yet have a chance. I hear you have charge of an engine. Go on, study much & gain all the information you can. Spend your evenings at home studying and prying into things. Father will gladly help you in such things as pertain to engineering. Do not pattern by me. Many, many is the evening have I spent in [ ] when it might have been spent so as to prove advantageous in after years.
It may be I shall not be permitted to ever see you again but remember my last thought will be of loved ones at home. It will be a hard conflict but I have no fears for the result. Be a good boy—especially to Father and Mother & Ide—and you will not be sorry. Please write your brother, — J. B. Edson
Camp Franklin, Va. February 27, 1862
I send this box with the letters I have received since the Battle of Bull Run. Also some books that I have gathered together since I’ve been in the army. As we are only allowed so much clothing, I thought it would be advisable to send all these unnecessary articles. The cap I want preserved until I return—if I do. If I don’t, you may give it to Bob. We may start at any moment.
I do not wish to have any anxiety on my account felt by you as it was my own free will that I’m where I am. “Listen.” “Listen” for good news soon. News that will make the heart of the nation glad. Remember me to all inquiring friends. As ever, your son, — J. B. Edson
[Camp Franklin, Va.] Monday morning, March 31st 1862
Here I’m still writing and it’s now 9 o’clock and I have had no breakfast, there being no sugar at the commissary and you know I could not drink coffee with[out] my supply of that necessary article. I always used so little when at home. Well Hat, is Mat Willis married yet? I heard here that she was. John Hall was my informant. He wishes me to ask you to ask May is she remembers the oysters. Please do it. How is Annie McMillan? Give her my respects if you please.
I want you to call on the Lockhart’s and see if they are well. Ask Edna Carpenter if she ever received a letter from me since I’ve been in the army. Remember me to George Carpenter.
I heard George Vaughan was married to Bell Montgomery. Is this true? Please give me all the news afloat & write me a good long letter and send me William Menullery’s letter to you—the last one. I have never heard from him since I have been in the army, or at least since being in Virginia. Now I insist on this. You know I will say nothing to anyone of its content.
So goodbye for the present. Send me something by Scott if he returns. From your brother, — J. B. Edson
Manassas Junction Sunday, April 6th 1862
You no doubt will be surprised when you see this. We left Camp Franklin Thursday morning about 11 o’clock, marched to Alexandria & there took the cars for Manassas. Arrived all safe. As we came through the deserted camps of the Rebs, it was shameful to see the destruction of property. Locomotives & cars burnt right on the track.
Yesterday morning, Friday, I started for the old battle ground of the 21st of July last, arrived there about noon—it being about seven miles from where we are encamped. You cannot imagine my feelings when there & seeing the bones of our boys bleaching in the sun. It made my blood boil. There were a number of bones found of men belonging to our regiment which we buried over and there being a minister present, held a short service of the bones. His name was Parker. I went to the spot where Co. Ellsworth’s Fire Zouaves fought & there were the bones of nearly a dozen of them exposed to the gaze of the passers by. I helped cover them over again. I have now with [me] one of the ribs which was detached from the back bone & intend sending it home when convenient. I also have a piece of one of the Zouaves red shirts which I enclose in this and the girls can work it into a piece or needlework to keep in remembrance of those brave men.
I visited the old stone house where I carried John Clague. 1 It looked natural—only has been torn to pieces pretty well. It still bears the mark of the cannon shot.
This is a rough sketch of the stone house. It was a tough sight to see these bones of our comrades thus exposed.
I suppose by the time you get this you will have received letters I sent by David Scott with the draft in. We expect to go on tomorrow towards the Rappahannock. The whole of McDowell’s Corps are now coming on. I will write again soon but you must answer this as soon as you get it. Give me all the news. So goodbye for the present. Your affectionate son, — John B. Edson
1Bull Runnings, a website managed by my friend Harry Smeltzer, posted a letter in August 20201 that was written by Pvt. John B. Edson on the “Death of Pvt. John Clague.” The letter was apparently printed in the Rochester Evening Express on 26 July 1861 and read as follows:
Camp Anderson, Washington, July 23d.
Dear Sir: – You no doubt have heard of the great battle fought on Sunday last. Our regiment was brought in to the hottest of the affray. I have a painful duty to perform. It is with a trembling hand I inform you of the death of your son John. He fell by my side mortally wounded in the right shoulder. He lived about two hours and a half. Myself and two others carried him to a stone building nearby, used as a Hospital by our troops while in action. I made him as comfortable as possible. He seemed to take everything very easy and died nobly. Our troops had to retreat, and consequently could not bring him off the field. We’ll try however, and obtain it by a flag of truce if the rebels will respect it. John was thought a great deal of in camp. He was quiet and took everything very cool. I am in hopes of getting a furlough for a week or two, until our regiment is made up again, it having been terribly cut to pieces, and then will give you a full account of his death. — J. B. Edson
Camp at Ship Point On Cheeseman’s Creek, Va. April 30th 1862, Wednesday morning
I commence this letter this morning not intending to finish it at this time but add a little to it every day until after the Battle of Yorktown. The weather is now pleasant and the boys are enjoying the oysters and clams with which the creek abounds hugely. They are of a large kind & very fat. All we have to do is to wade out up to our knees & pick them out of the soft mud. The first time I went in after them I cut my feet badly. I have since learned a better way to get them.
Our camp is the best one we have had since we’ve been in Virginia, located in a beautiful pine grove. There is an old Rebel living just across the creek and who owns all the land around here—something like 200 acres. He told me the other day that he paid 25 cents per bushel for these oysters and had them brought from the James river and planted them on his plantation which is nearly surrounded by water & that he had 3,000 bushels before the Union soldiers came here & would not have 100 bushels left when they went away. Whenever he hears a tree fall, he sighs and says, “there goes $5.” Poor old fool. He has 3 sons in and one son-in-law in the rebel army. He says the Rebs used him far better than we do. We have no pity for the old fellow.
You may think it strange that McClellan does not make the attack. I hear he is growing very unpopular at the North. Perish the man who says ought of this man. The rebels are very strongly fortified clear across the peninsula. Two privates were taken prisoner the other day and brought to the prison boat. They say that Yorktown will be ours shortly. They do not believe that Fort Henry or Donelson is taken. They say it’s a lie and that they never can be taken. News came in camp to the capture of the Crescent City (New Orleans). I learn that Magruder has offered to surrender on conditions but it’s of no use, they have got to surrender unconditionally or fight. They are constantly firing to find out the position of our forces. These prisoners say they—the Rebs—are pretty troubled ot know how we are situated. There is no firing allowed on [ ] or loud talking or singing. All fires for cooking purposes have to be under ground.
We are still expecting to go on board at any moment. Some of the field officers were saying that our destination was Gloucester, just opposite Yorktown, and that we would have to land under cover of the gunboats. An order was read on dress parade last eve from General Slocum that when we disembarked, we would have to be upon [ ] before daylight with our accoutrements on & arms in hand & thus rest upon them until reveille. This is to be done every morning to guard against a surprise. We will be then in close proximity to the enemy.
Yorktown, May 5th 1862, 3:30 p.m. We have just weighed anchor having ben at anchor of this place ever since early this morning. Yesterday morning we were astonished with the news of the evacuation of Yorktown & its fortifications. Such fortifications we have never seen before as belonging to the rebs. They are immense. Officers & men wonder why they did not stand. They could have made a grand stand here but the fact of the matter is there is no stand in them. They are fallen back a few miles & have been followed by some 20,000 cavalry. We are now going up the river some 30 miles further & no doubt will see some warm work. A report has lately come in that they—the enemy—have wounded some 500 of our men. No telling how true this is.
I suppose there were great times in Rochester when the news came of the evacuation of Yorktown. You will receive more of the particulars of this affair than I can give you. Gen. Banks is reported as in the rear of them. They will be cut off sure. The rebellion is about a played out concern. You will soon no doubt hear the notes of peace played ringing through the vales of this glorious republic.
They have—the crew—let the anchor go again so we do not know when we will go on. I hope they will land us soon as our company is in the lower deck down to the water line & it is awful warm & no air, and we are packed in as close as the niggers in the hold of a slaver.
I received your letter with the gold seal in last evening & was glad to hear that you were all well. I’m sorry I cannot be home on the 20th. Should like it very much but it is otherwise ordered. I do not understand your saying Albert was at Winchester. How came he there? Has his regiment got their horses or not? Let me know in your next. Send me his last letter.
I shall not be able to send Emily a letter until we are again on terra firma. Is Salomi to be in Rochester the 20th? I must now close so goodbye for the present. Your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
Mechanicsville, Virginia In Camp 5 miles from Richmond May [21th] 1862, Wednesday afternoon
Your kind letter of the 16th inst. I received day before yesterday & have not until today found rally time to answer it. Since last writing you we have seen some pretty severe marching. We have driven the Rebels step by step until now, as a last resource, they have concluded to make a stand here or on the other side of the Chickahominy in the swamp. All we have to do to get a sight of them is to step just beyond the guard lines of our camp & we can see their pickets and their fires very plainly by night.
Last Monday night I was detailed along with some 150 others from the regiments comprising our brigades to build a pontoon bridge over the Chickahominy. 1 The pontoons were brought over by land. Well, it came on to rain just after we started & rained all night and we poor devils had to stand and take it. We did not lay the bridge as the teamsters were late in getting the boats at the proper place. This work had to be done in the dark and right under the nose of the enemy pickets. Daylight over taking us, we had to hide the boats until the next night. We then started back for camp which we reached at 4 o’clock & found the regiment had marching orders right away & it rained still as hard as it could pound. I was wet to the skin already. I threw myself down in my tent for a few minutes but was soon ordered along with the rest to pack up. With our wet tents strapped upon our knapsacks, we trudged along in mud and water over our shoe tops & in about an hour arrived at our present camp.
The house belonging & situated in the grove in which we are encamped was shelled last Saturday by our batteries, it having been the rendezvous of a number of Rebels. The house is riddled through & through with rifled shells. There are many beautiful plantations around here. The boys have been feasting on green peas & green gooseberries [ ] also sweet potatoes.
We hear Jeff Davis has said the streets of Richmond shall run red with blood before he will surrender Richmond. McClellan is getting some of those guns of Yorktown notoriety which will play mischief with them. Last week our regiment along with the 11th New York [Fire Zouaves] Regiment were out on a reconnoissance and drove the enemy over the Chickahominy & feel their strength on this side. We were accompanied by Capt. Arnold & his battery. We drove them over 3 miles—that is, their pickets, & a regiment of cavalry and a battery.
It is generally believed around here that they will make a desperate fight where they now are in order if possible to save Richmond. But it’s of no use. The [ ] and McClellan will compel them to surrender and that unconditionally. Please send me some papers. Closing, I remain as ever your son, — J. B. Edson
1 At the time of the Peninsular Campaign the area had been subjected to steady rains that turned the entire river valley into a huge swamp. On May 27th a pontoon bridge was thrown at New Bridge but was removed when advancing Confederate troops threatened the site. Another attempt to build the bridge on the night of the 31st also proved unsuccessful. The rising water and powerful currents created by the steady rains made the job impossible in the darkness.
[Mechanicsville, Virginia] Wednesday, May 28, 
I suppose you think you ought to have a few lines. Well so do I. How do you prosper? I suppose you have all you can do & have your time occupied in introducing your Canadian cousin Tom to your many acquaintances. I hope he will try and get a situation in Rochester & remain there until I return which I hope will be ere long.
You will perceive that I made rather an abrupt panic. I wrote this first part of this yesterday afternoon when an order came that the enemy was getting ready to attack us and I with all the others had to fall into line with rifles in hand, but it proved to be only a false alarm. Last eve we heard for the first time of Gen. Banks’ retreat back across the Potomac. It had a tendency to depress to some degree the minds of the boys but I have full confidence in the strong arm of the North. We have a very powerful army directly in front of us and we have to be on the watch constantly. We have to arise an hour before sunrise & remain under arms until daylight to prevent a surprise. This affair of Banks will no doubt prolong the war for a few weeks longer than it would have lasted had this misfortune not have happened. Some here think it a plan to draw [Stonewall] Jackson away from these parts & keep him from reinforcing the Rebels in our front. It will not be many days before we’ll be in Richmond, being only five miles from there. The steeples of the different churches can be seen by getting on a high piece of ground or on the top of a house.
Our regiment expects to go out on picket tonight where we will be within 60 rods of them. Our regiment is in the advance now. General Porter has turned the 13th Regiment of Rochester fame out of his division & says they can not be depended upon & have been detailed for extra duty in the rear of the army. This is a big thing for the pet regiment of Rochester, don’t you think so? There was an account of their running from the enemy at Yorktown. Have you heard of the 27th [New York] running yet? Hey? Well no more boasting. I want you to write me an answer to this & in which you must give me a precise account of the affair of the 20th in which you find such a conspicuous part. I hope you will delay in your matrimonial jump until your bro. Jack can be there to witness it. Have you seen Bell lately? If so, let me know.
Tell Father to send me Albert’s last letter to him to me when he answers this one. I suppose his regiment had to leave Winchester when the Rebels made their appearance & will now probably as a regiment be fully equipped. Let me know all particulars. I shall not probably write again until we are in Richmond. You will soon hear of a big battle near Richmond.
On picket before the Enemy Lines and 5 Miles from Richmond June 2nd , Monday afternoon
My dear Mother,
You must think this a rather queer place to answer your letter. Well, to tell you the truth, I’m somewhat in a writing humor. Your letter of the 25th inst. [ult.] has just been handed to me & I will try and answer it in my poor way. I wrote a long letter last week to Father, Miriam, & Em before I received the box with the cards which latter arrived all safe with the exception of a piece being torn out of the center of the envelopes leaving the letter partly exposed. The cards do very well but I like not the [illegible] the type was not the kind I should have chosen for such an occasion. The letter being [ ] large and not neatness enough about them. Some folks have queer tastes about them, however the present as far as it goes was “well enough” and reflects cordially upon the donor. There is one question I wish—you may laugh at my asking such a silly question—but I must do it. Did Father have the stirring ceremony of giving the bride away? and how was he dressed for the occasion? I’m very particular, you’ll say, no doubt. You were too much so in your letter of the 25th. I like to have the full particulars at all times.
This is the second time within a week that we’ve had to be on picket duty. The first time when we came on at 7 o’clock in the eve all right that night, well about 3 o’clock the next afternoon there came up the greatest thunderstorm I ever have witnessed—perfectly terrific. The rain came down in torrents & we stood & took it lasting until the relief pickets came along. We went back to camp, it being very dark, but the lightning playing fearfully the while, the rain commenced again & also the thunder. I cannot describe it. I could not do it justice but suffice it to say that I never in all my life heard nor saw anthing so grand.
You no doubt have heard of the Chickahominy Swamp in the papers. It is just in front of where I’m writing & the Rebs just on the other side. Our watching is mostly at night, we having to be careful then. How often when sitting or leaning against a tree with no other companion around me but the whippoorwill, the quail, & frogs in the distant swamp singing and grunting their songs, a person has only to be alone in the woods of an evening to realize the beauty of the same. I have read often of the woods being musical. I believe it now. As I said before, when thus on duty watching the enemy, my mind often wanders back to the fireside warm and comfortable, to the white table cloth, & the tea simmering on the stove. How often I’ve wished I could have dropped in upon that circle, if only for an hour. Then stern duty recalls me from my reverie. The busy workings of the enemy in the swamp beyond as they prepare works for a stout resistance to the vigorous efforts of our young Chieftain—the noble McClellan—bids me to be watchful.
Last Saturday the ball was opened on our left wing by General Keys or rather Casey but who had to fall back overcome by superior numbers. Soon General Kearny appeared upon the scene of conflict & turned the tide of battle. I cannot give a description as our Division was not engaged, it occupying the right of the army here, [and] our brigade occupying a bridge and holding it & keeping the enemy from turning our right flank. We have not heard the particulars further than that the victory is ours. You will hear it all before I do. We shall probably cross tomorrow & no doubt will have a pretty hard battle. The Rebs I learn this afternoon [shot] at Capt. Wanzer, missing him, the bullet burying itself in the ground beyond.
I suppose you have heard ere this of the retreat of Gen. Banks back to Harpers Ferry & Williamsport. No doubt Albert’s regiment has had to retreat also and they probably will be furnished with horses. I hope you will send me all of Albert’s letters hereafter as I take a great deal of interest in the perusal of his letters. I admire his spunk, &c. He knows not the severity of a hard and toilsome march. May he never experience what I have in this respect is my prayer.
Our troops are now very near Richmond. It may be before I get a chance to send this we will be in that city. We expect to get our pay now in two or three days, the paymaster being around the camp.
Please send me some post stamps in your next letter as I cannot get them around here. You did right in sending what you intend to Bill. L. although I cannot say that I have much of any interest in the matter. I must now close with love to all, with a large share for yourself. Remember me to all enquiring friends & I remain your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
In camp 7 miles from Richmond [Mid] June 1862
Your letter of June 1st along with Mother’s I received this morning when on guard. I was pleased to hear of Albert’s safety. He never knows something of what a retreat is and the disastrous consequence. There is one thing I wish to know & that is if they had carbines or the regular infantry rifles or muskets & if they also had their sabers.
We are now back in our old camp having been for 11 days on picket duty at Mechanicsville—a placeI mentioned in my previous letters. I wrote you in the 3rd of this month and send enclosed a draft for $16 with which you know what to do. Please send me Albert’s letter giving an account of the battle. Where does [ ] Clements work now?
Give me all the news you have or may hear & I ever remain your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
Camp Lincoln, Fair Oaks June 28, 1862
I will endeavor to write you a few lines. We have just had quite a [illegible], the air quality. The weather for the past 10 days has been very warm and uncomfortable. We are still encamped at or near the late battlefield. The division is engaged in building new roads for the movement of heavy siege guns. This is to be another regular investment & siege if the Rebels don’t interfere by bringing on a general engagement which, if they do, McClellan will push right through to Richmond at all hazards. His heavy siege guns have all arrived & are at the station. There is quite an eminence just by and the Rebel picket line which I understand McClellan intends to take possession of & on which he will plant his siege train & which will command the city of Richmond.
They—the Rebs—have tried several times to bring on an engagement. The night before last, or rather in the evening, they undertook a bold maneuver in attempting to get possession of a large quantity of commissary stores which they are in great need of. Our pickets fell back until our batteries could get a chance at them and which soon made sad havoc in their ranks, literally disemboweling a great many.
It is an opinion & sentiment of the North that McClellan intends to be in Richmond by the 4th of July. Allow me to say they know very little about it and it would be a great benefit to the cause of the Union if this set of demagogues would hold their prating. If it had not been for their ignorance with that of a few fanatics in the Cabinet of Congress, McClellan would have been in Richmond long ere this. I just wish I could have the healing of these men. I would give them a dose harder to take than Surgeon [Norman S.] Barnes (camphorated pills).
You do not tell me how you are getting along at Woodbury’s & what kind of work is M. Aylesworth doing at present. I wish you would sed me some papers at all events. Three a week would only be 3 cents, not much. My health is good. Send if you please Albert’s letters after you read them & I will send them back.
Remember me to all enquiring friends. And I ever remain your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
…steady front 4 ranks deep right up, up to the batteries, on, on, they come. But hard whang goes the grape and canister into them, mowing them down like grass. They reform and still they come only to be received in the same disastrous manner. No less than 4 times have they been known to thus form & press on and in some instances the infantry, who are supporting the batteries getting out of ammunition, have to fall back leaving the gunners to work their guns, there being no way to get the battery off—the horses having been shot down. Thus you have a very faint idea of part of a battlefield. It is beginning to grow dark and I must close. Ever remaining your affectionate son, — J. B. E.
In Camp on James [River] July 4th, 1862
Yours of the 29th I received today. I had begun to think you had forgotten me entirely. [illegible due to crease in paper] since informing you of my safety after the battle of the 27th of June. In it I gave you a faint description of the conflict. The eve I wrote that we expected to be attacked but we retreated from there that night for 5, yes 7 days & nights without rest. But it is alright now. McClellan, I believe, has them where he wants [them]. As our regiment was on its way to its present camp, wading in mud nearly knee deep, Gen. McClellan rode along & says, “Never mind, boys, you will soon be through it.”
We expect to have some rest now & recruit our strength. Thousands have fallen on our side during the past 10 days. I don’t suppose 40,000 would cover the list of the killed on our side. The enemy lost many more. The Rebels have been strongly reinforced lately. Thus their success lately, but now that reinforcements are arriving for us, it will put a different face on the matter.
Let me see, one year ago today I was in Rochester. Little did I then think that I should pass through such scenes as I have. Heaven has been propitious indeed with me—comrades falling around me and I spared. One or two holes through my clothes showing how very near I was being hit. The young man who tented with me all of last winter in Camp Franklin was shot through the heart almost at the first fire we received from the Rebels. They tried again their bullets on John Clague, wounding him in the back of the lower part of his head. It was done by a buckshot. It bled profusely at first. I tied my handkerchief wet in water around his head & he walked back to camp. It was a close call for him. He is now as we as ever.
I suppose you will [have] a good time today in Rochester. I suppose the “home guards” will make quite a sensation. I wonder how they would like to have a few 150 pound percussion shells burst and fall around them? Methinks their pantaloons would be wet. With what? you ask. Not where we did sweat. If they have any manhood about them, they will at once & without delay volunteer to take the places of those whose time of enlistment will be out in a few months.
I expected to see the whole of our brigade taken prisoners on Monday night, we being completely cut off. But by the skillful management of Gen. Slocum & Bartlett, we succeeded in stealing through in safety and by a certain spot where but 4 hours before the bullets that the enemy fired into General Kearny’s men flew through our ranks & the shell & solid shot over our heads. I don’t believe there was a man in the ranks certain that ew would get through in safety.
General McClellan reviewed his troops this afternoon. Sadly & decimated look the ranks to what they did one month ago. There is one thing I wish you to understand—the Rebels fight with undaunted courage. To give you an instance, just imagine an army of 4 divisions in all—something like 50,000 men—advancing & thus to sudden destruction. To be sure, they fought with a courage & bravery worthy of a better cause. They thought to drive us into the James [river] by an overwhelming force but as soon as our tired legions came in sight of this placid stream, “Boom!” “Boom,” came a sound which shook the very earth and great missiles went hissing through the air, then to burst causing panic & dismay in the Rebel ranks, hundreds falling to rise no more.
The little Yankee cheese box—the Monitor—rides just below the camp in the river in her majesty and bids defiance to all the world if necessary.
I received Emilie’s letter the other day & was sorry she was soon to return. If I live, I will endeavor to go over & see her & her folks. I suppose there was a big time in Rochester on the 4th. Let me know all about it. We spent it here amid the booming of heavy guns from the gunboats & light field pieces with the instrumental bands playing the national airs.
My health is still pretty good & feel in good spirits. Would feel much better of it were not so hot but must put up with it nevertheless. I f you wish to send anything to me, send someone over to Mrs. Rogers when you get the box [ ] and see when her brother Ed R. is going to return. He has been home on a sick furlough. I heard he was about returning. Do this if it will not put you to too much trouble. How is Miriam getting along? I think she might condescend to write a little more frequently.
Tell Hatt. to tell me how she & Em spent the 4th. Tell her I saw Tony Walk the other day. He is well & in good spirits. I must now close. I received the letter with the $5 in all safe. Let me have all the news you have. Send me the Express with all the letters from this company in. Do you know what [ ] Tim Edson is in at present. Also [ ] Aylesworth. Closing, I hope to hear from you soon. Your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
[Camp near Harrison’s Landing] Tuesday afternoon, August 5th 
I will again [write you] today not knowing what may transpire in a few hours to prevent my doing so.
There is a report in camp that General Pope has been driven back to Manassas. This is only a report; hope it may not prove true. If it is so, this army stands a pretty poor sight.
McClellan might have long ere this been in the Rebel Capitol if there had not been such [___]lling in Congress. I will say no more at present on that subject. Our regiment was paid or at least [our[ company this morning. I will give the draft to Capt. Wanzer & he will sent it along with others to his Father, Doct. Wanzer near the [ ] in Buffalo Street. I don’t know a safe way to send it there the old way. So all Father will have to do is to go to the Doctor’s office and get the draft.
Mother, will you purchase me some [baking] soda and do it [up ] in a kind of flat bundle & send it in a paper the same as you sent the Handy & Co,. There is no danger about sending things that way provided the postage is paid on the weight. Do this and oblige your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
Camp near Harrison’s Landing James River August 8th 1862 Friday morning
Your letter of the 3rd I received this morning and was glad to hear that all were well at home. The weather is very warm at present—Yea, awful hot! You don’t see no such weather north as this.
Our fortifications are about completed and strong ones they are. If the enemy should make up his mind to attack us, I’m inclined to think they would go back with a fl___ in their _____. Just imagine an army of something like 80,000 men entirely surrounded by earthworks & at a distance of about every 20 feet a piece of artillery planted. Just imagine the amount of fire that would belch forth on the approach of an enemy.
Yesterday or rather the day before two of the members of our company who were taken prisoners during the late retreat [returned]. They have fared pretty hard. The Rebs seem confident of whipping us but just hurry up those million men, get them to the field, & we’ll sweep rebellion into oblivion. These men say that the Rebels admit their cause is lost of Richmond falls.
Capt. [George G.] Wanzer goes home to recruit one regiment. When he returns you will have an opportunity to send anything you think would produce benefit to me. I wish I could be one that was to go with the captain but it is otherwise ordered.
I’m glad to hear you have steady work. Should think they would appreciate your services enough so as to remunerate you accordingly. I think if they have not done so, they are mean, unprincipled men.
The box has not come yet. I don’t much expect it now & it don’t much matter if does not. I must close now as I feel ill having been up all night on the [ ]. It is very unhealthy here. I don’t expect to be entirely well until cool weather sets in which is not far off. Closing, I remain your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
Fort Lyon Alexandria, Virginia August 29, 
My Dear Parents,
I received a letter from Mother dated the 24th. Was glad to hear from you as I always am. Once more in Alexandria, who would have thought it 4 months ago when we sailed down the Potomac for the Peninsula that we would so soon be in our old posts again. “Well, such is the fate of war.” We were told when we got into this camp that we were to stay here but we had but just got our tents pitched after experiencing a heavy rain storm which soon laid them level with the ground, then comes the ominous words, “Strike tents and prepare to march at a moment’s notice.” That order came last night and we are yet here, but as soon as our rations are cooked, we start for someplace—God only knows where.
You say you think I’m having hard times down here. You may well say that but it is no worse with me than with thousands of my brave comrades having made such hard and tiresome marches. We all thought htat we would have a chance to recuperate our failing strength. We have not seen our knapsacks for nearly two weeks and they contain our little all, causing us to wash our shirts & my other things. Well, all this is well enough.
You spoke of Brady proposing to you to send me an under shirt. It would be very acceptable. Only let it be a colored one. You will find some nicer ones of fine soft wool in most any of the stores over the river. Do not get anything that is harsh. You know how tender my skin is. I have never drew but one of those white shorts from the government & that one was the other…Government shirts are too harsh for me altogether. Well, do as you think best & I guess all will be well. This person you call Sergt. Brady is nothing more than a private [William H. Brady] in our company. He was not in any of the battles with his company but came in after they were over so you can judge how much the boys think of him. Our time is nearly out.
If I had more time, I would write more. Give my love to all enquiring friends & I ever remain your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
Camp Franklin, Va. [August 30, 1862]
Yours of the 23rd I received this forenoon & hasten to answer it.
I have some good news for you. The long wished for time has come. Yesterday afternoon about 4 o’clock the Colonel [Joseph J. Bartlett] gave orders to fall in to line without arms out on the parade ground. He them formed us into a square and read an order somewhat as follows. An order from the Headquarters of the Army for the men to stand in readiness to march at a moment’s notice with two days rations in our haversacks and our knapsacks to contain but one shirt besides the one we have on, it—the orders stating how heavily the teams are to be loaded.
We know not at what moment we will have to start. McClellan’s anaconda is about to make the final strike of the war. He will probably lead on with 250,000 men. General Banks has crossed the Upper Potomac and occupies the same position that General Patterson held when the Battle of Bull Run was fought. He will prove no such traitor as did Patterson and will come down on the Rebs at Manassas like a whirlwind.
Oh! it will be a glorious time when we plant the glorious emblem of our Nation high on the ramparts of Manassas. But I’m digressing. After Col. Bartlett had read this order, you ought to have heard the cheering. He then made us a speech in part of which he said that he was willing to share the fate of the rank and file. He said he knew the metal that the regiment was made up of. (Col. Bartlett will not ask him men to go where he dare not, but on the contrary will lead us into the very thickest of the fight himself fighting like a caged lion.) Just look at his eyes in his photograph and see if you can’t discern a spirit that says, “Never say die.” He is an awful man in battle. If you could have seen him at Bulls Run, just at this point, then at that, always where the worst danger was to be incurred.
When you get this letter, I shall be on the way to Manassas, but you must write all the same and direct to Washington as usual. It may be the last time that I shall have the pleasure of writing you again. No human being can tell. The God of battles only knows. I have longed for the hour to come when we could wipe out the Bull Run defeat.
You no doubt will look at all the news with a great deal of interest but always bear in mind that the 27th will always be in the front ranks of the many eager combatants. Remember too the 27th has the best names of any regiment that was in the field at Bull Run—no exceptions—even the boasted 69th and fire zouaves. I will tell you if I ever see you again.
So goodbye for the present, — J. B. Edson
Look out soon for great news in Eastern Virginia.
Camp near Alexandria, Va. September 5th 1862
I received two letters from home yesterday—one mailed on the 18th of August, the other on the 1st of this month. I was glad to hear of your all being well and am thankful that I still live. Since I last wrote you, we’ve been to Manassas or within a mile and a half of the battleground but not in time to take a part. If we could only have got there—that is, our Division & Corps—no doubt there would have been a different termination. I will tell you if I ever get home about the part our Division & Regiment took in that fight. I am sick of putting things on paper.
Well, I’ve just finished my dinner of pork and beans. I have not yet heard from the box. I think the man who said he would bring it to me ought to [have] made it good in some way or other.
I feel no interest in writing now days. I’m not disposed at all. The news of General McClellan having taken full command of the whole army fills me with delight. If they had not deprived him of his command before, he would have long ere this brought with the help of his brave legions this war to a successful close. “All honor to the Brave Gay Commander & woe be to the man that anyone of us hears abusing or disparaging him, our General.” I’ve been told by persons lately from the North that Gen. McClellan was very little thought of & in some places denounced as a traitor. If McClellan had been on the field last Saturday, things would have been different.
I suppose Capt. [George G.] Wanzer is on his way home by this time. I hear he has been called.
I will close hoping to hear from you often. As ever your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
Send me some postage stamps and Albert’s last letter.
Crampton’s Gap September 15, 1862
Your letter of the 8th I have just received & am glad that you are all well. Well, I have passed through another terrific battle with the enemy which we—that is, our Division—completely routed. The enemy were strongly posted in the above named gap. It was assigned to General Bartlett to open the engagement with his brigade which he did in gallant [style]. Our regiment was thrown forward as skirmishers to find the enemy and bring on the engagement. On we went right into the teeth of the rebel batteries. They opened on us with grape and canister & case shot but still on we went until the left of our regiment commenced firing. We fought them thus, picking off the rebel gunners and horses until the rest of our brigade came up to our relief which was just in time as our ammunition was just exhausted. Then General Bartlett ordered a general charge of the whole line. We carried everything before us, the rebs running like scattered sheep although having been just reinforced by Gen. [Howell] Cobb with his brigade. The dead and dying are laying all about.
It was a complete victory for us, Slocum having cut their line in two. It was a bold stroke but a successful one. I hear that yesterday they were repulsed everywhere. We are only about 5 or six miles from Harper’s Ferry near the town of Jefferson. You will see it on any of them maps that are in the New York Herald. Probably I shall see Albert in a few days if he is not shot or wounded. There has been heavy firing in that direction yesterday.
McClellan is in the field & I think all will yet be well. Our regiment does its duty everywhere. Remember. I expect we will move every moment.
Ever your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
On the Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland September 19, 1862
Having a few spare moments, I will use them in letting you know that I am yet in the land of the living. Our Corps arrived on the field just in time to take the front & relieve the men who had been engaged all day. Our Division were not engaged. We did nothing of the offensive yesterday. Last night the enemy moved off. This morning our light artillery went after them. I hear them now thundering in the enemy’s rear. I read in the Clipper an account of Albert’s regiment cutting their way out of Harper’s Ferry. It was a gallant deed. I know not how Albert is. I hear the regiment is about a mile and a quarter from here near Williamsport. I’m expecting to see him every day. I want to see him very much.
We have bivouacked on the battlefield for two nights. The stench is terrible. There was one spot near our company where a Mississippi & Georgia Regiment made a charge, but just as they were crossing the fence, a storm of bullets met them & some sixty were stretched dead upon the field in every for which death by the bullet can cause.
The Monroe County Regiment—108th—were in this battle & young Robert Holmes is reported to have been killed. He was leading on his company while on the charge when a ball went through his breast & he fell. The bullet spares none. Capt. [George G.] Wanzer has not returned yet.
When you write, let me know all the news. How is Miriam getting along? I hear nothing from her. I suppose she has no thought for her long absent brother having [ties?] of another nation to call her attention elsewhere.
There will probably be another great battle soon which will terminate the contest of this fall. I leave you to guess as to what you think will be the result of that contest.
All hail to our young commander, McClellan.
From your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
Saturday, September 20th—Before ending this, I can tell you that I’ve seen Albert. His regiment was on the move. I had to run from the rear of his regiment to the front in order to see him. He looked well. I’m expecting to see him now every moment having sent word to him to come & see me. Write soon & oblige your son, — J. B. Edson
P. S. Tell Hatt. to write me. Also cousin M. as I did not receive her letter she sent in the box. — J. B. E.
In Camp at White Plains, Virginia and 17 miles from the old battleground of Bull Run November 1861 [should be 1862]
Your kind letter of the 26th inst. [ult.] I received only a few days ago. I not being with the regiment, could not get it when it arrived. I am in good health, thank God. Old winter has set in—snow an inch deep on the ground.
Well, one more in Old Virginia and nearly upon the same ground we have been on before so many times. We have made some tall marching, just back from Harrison’s Landing to Newport News, from there we sailed to Alexandria, marched through there to Bull Run and back to Alexandria, from there to Washington, through Maryland to Williamsport, and then back to Berlin, just this side of Harper’s Ferry where we again crossed into Virginia and are now very near Manassas again. Strange movements.
No winter quarters for the army this winter but strong active war. It is as cold here today & as strong as I’ve seen it in the North in this month. So you can judge how warm & comfortable we soldiers are. I’m in hopes they—that is, our army—will end this affair this month.
You spoke of Albert’s regiment as being attached to our Corps. It is not so. I’ve not seen him since the time near Williamsport, Maryland. I’ve heard while on this march that the regiment is out in front and in the advance & they have lost some in skirmishing with the enemy but where they are, I do not know.
Those gloves you sent by Lieut. Leggett I’m afraid I shall never get. I need the gloves very much as I cannot get any around here. You could send me a pair by mail or you could tell Albert’s mail [ ]. Give him the directions the same as a letter. Hoping to hear from you soon, I close ever remaining your sincere & affectionate son, — John B. Edson
to Elijah Edson, Esq.
In Camp 11 miles from Fredericksburg Stafford Court House, Va. November 26, 1862
Hearing that Father was not in Rochester, I will write to you instead. It has been some time since I heard from home. You know not how I feel when some time elapses before I hear from home. The soldier prizes a letter from home far better than any favors that can be conferred upon him. He needs all the encouragement in the way of hearing from home is concerned that can possible be given to him.
I’m again with the regiment having been at the commissary for the month. It was much easier there than in the regiment for I had my knapsack carried in the wagons. They are the greatest curse that the soldier has.
I received a letter from Annie McMillan a day or two ago which & answered in which she mentions Father’s being in Baltimore. She did not mention what he was there for. I wish you would tell me all about it & if he gets any better wages than he did when he used to go out 2 yeas ago.
Saturday, 29th. I received a letter from Father last evening in answer to the one I wrote when at White Plains. About two weeks ago I heard that Albert was back at or near the junction with some sick horses and that the principal part of the regiment was in the advance along with the 8th Illinois Cavalry. I haven’t heard a word from him since.
I received a letter from Annie McMillan about a week ago. She said in that Father had gone to Baltimore. If he is there, it is but a short distance to where we now are. He could go from Baltimore to Washington, then take the boat from there to Aquia Creek & it is only 7 or 8 miles from there to Stafford Court House and by enquiring for General Brooks’ Division. He—Brooks—has command of our division & has ever since sometime before we left Maryland.
I don’t believe I will ever get the gloves you sent by Lieut. Leggett unless Albert sends them by mail. It would not be policy to send anything by express to anyplace. You could send me a pair of gloves by mail quite easily & not have it cost but very little. I should prefer the pure buckskin glove to any cheap affair for they would not be worth the cost of the mail. We do not expect to be paid now until after the first of January & I should like to have you send me 2 or 3 dollars in money if you can as I need it very much. Also please send me one coarse and one fine tooth comb. Send them in a paper by mail.
The government thinks we can carry on a winter campaign here successfully but we soldiers have our doubts about it. It took 16 hours to pull our rifled gun from the mud into which it had sunk the other day. If we—that is, the army—should go into winter quarters, there is a good reason to believe the two years men will be discharged. If so, Bully for us!
I must now close, remaining as ever your affectionate son, — J. B. E.
On the Battlefield of Fredericksburg December 13th 
This is the second night that we have bivouacked upon the battlefield. The enemy is in strong position before us. We crossed in force yesterday morning the night before after our forces had finished shelling the city. Our regiment was ordered over & deployed as skirmishers and scour the country a short distance in front after which we returned across the river. The next morning—yesterday I mean—the whole left Grand Division crossed. Our position is near the center. Our lines is about 10 miles long so you may judge of the quantity of ground we cover and have to fight over. Our brigade lay under the fire of the rebel batteries all day. Tomorrow we take the front as skirmishers. I may fall. It is a hard contested field. It is (nip & tuck) with both sides so far although I believe the advantage if any is with Stonewall Jackson. I hear [he] commands the rebels.
We attacked them on the left this forenoon with a view of flanking them bit did not make much headway. They have a very strong position. The troops have to spend the night in the open air & tonight are not allowed to unpack their knapsacks. This order is that we may be ready to support the skirmishers in case they are being driven in.
I have not seen [brother] Albert yet. I was near their camp at Bell Plain. I suppose they are doing picket duty still in our rear. If we should beat the rebs here, I think it would be a final one for them.
I will now close this as I write under some difficulties sitting upon my knapsack & it upon the ground. The Rebel campfires are only a little over half a mile distance.
So goodbye. If we meet no more here below, may we meet in a far better world where war & conflict is not thought of. May God defend the right is the sincere prayer of your son, — J. B. Edson
Still on the Battlefield [at Fredericksburg] Monday morning, December 15th 
I will send you a few more lines this morning. Yesterday all day we were on picket and had to lay under their fire all day. Whenever we would put up our heads, they would pop at us. The Rebs are very strongly fortified. It will be a great sacrifice of lives to take their position.
Yesterday being Sunday, they did not commence on either side. I received the letter with the dollar which you sent yesterday.
So goodbye for the present. Your son, — J. B. Edson
White Oak Church, Va. February 25, 1863
Having an opportunity to send a few lines by Chas. W., recon I will improve them. I received the papers sent by Lieut. Roach & was glad to get them…
Albert is no where near me now or was he when I got [ ] He [ ] 20 miles away at Aquia Creek where, consequently, cannot get to him. I heard they had orders to go to Newbern, North Carolina. I let him have my watch some two months since. He then told me I could have the one he sent him so I shall reclaim mine…[ink is too faded to read]
White Oak Church, Va.
[Ink is too faded to transcribe]
Near White Oak Church, Virginia
[Ink is too faded to transcribe]
27th Regt. N. Y. State Vols. Near White Oak Church, Va. April 10th 
Received your letter of the 29th some days ago and have now concluded to answer it. We have just had another muster which will probably be our last.
The President & wife reviewed the army the other day. I was not present on account of a lame ankle. A couple of our boys have just started for the 8th Cavalry. I sent word to Albert by one of them telling him if he wanted to see me again before I went home, this might be his only chance.
The weather for the past 3 days has been exceedingly beautiful….You did not tell me how UncleJohn & Henry are prospering & where they are working & who for.
Father, I wish you to take the money now in the bank in my name & get you a Sunday go to meeting suit of clothes. You can have it in welcome & I want to see them on you when I get home—that is, on the first Sunday afterwards. Noe bear this in mind. If there should be more than you can use, let Mother have the rest to get her a tip top dress—that is, if there is enough now you understand. I will see to Hatt. when I return.
I will now close hoping to soon see you in person. As ever, your affectionate son, — J. B. Edson
We have now (one of Joe Hooker’s days)—the stormy ones.
We expect to start for York State in about ten days. I understand the 13th have given up their arms. I think I saw Albert last. I advised him to get a furlough. I wish he would. I would like to see him in Rochester. You may well feel proud of him for he’s a brave soldier. No fear in his constitution. 27 days at the most have we got to serve but that is short. If I should get my discharge in Washington, I should not go to Rochester with the company and there are a great many others that would not. Our officers have proved themselves to be mere nothings. They have never stuck to their promises. I have an abject…
The government was some 4,000 men to go to California after mules. The men are to be equipped as cavalry, two revolvers, saber and carbine. To proceed to New York City, from thence by steamer to California, to come back the overland route, the regular mail route & bring those mules back with each of us riding one & lead two. Pay $45 per month. …starting first of June. This is what I’m thinking of. I have not yet made up my mind. I have a often wanted to see California. I think it would be a good chance.
I have been feeling somewhat unwell, having a heavy cough, but I guess it will soon pass away. Do you think work will be plenty this summer.
I do not know whether I shall go to work at my business or no. I shall not be in a condition to do any heavy work at the first.
If this envelope ever carried a letter in it, the letter is long gone but it may have been sent solely for the purpose of transmitting the two pages ripped from the gospel of St. Matthew in the New Testament which were “picked up at Manassas April 1, 1862”—perhaps as a relic of the Battle of Bull Run.
The envelop was addressed to “Mrs. George L. Schuyler of Dobb’s Ferry” on the eastern bank of the Hudson River in Westchester county, New York. The wife of George Lee Schuyler (1811-1890) was Eliza (Hamilton) Schuyler (1811-1863). The note on the envelope was followed with the initials “M. M. H.” which I have concluded belonged to Mary Morris Hamilton (1818-1877), a younger sister of Eliza Schuyler. The sisters were very close—so close in fact that after Eliza died in December 1863, Mary became the second wife of her brother-in-law, George. Mary was a granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton.
The note on the envelop implies to me that the relic was picked up on the battlefield on 1 April 1862 which would have been some 9 months after the battle of First Bull Run and some five months before the battle of Second Bull Run. During the April 1862 timeframe the battlefield would have been under Union occupation and available to sightseers and relic hunters from the North.
George and Eliza (Hamilton) Schuyler had at least three children, one of whom was Brevet Major Philip George Schuyler (1836-1906), another was Louisa Lee Schuyler (1837-1926) who was the corresponding secretary of the Women’s Central Association of Relief in New York City during the Civil War, and Georgiana Schuyler (841-1923) who also participated in the soldiers’ aid societies during the war—particularly the US Sanitary Commission.
This letter was written by 26 year-old Benjamin Joseph (“Ben Joe”) Pack (1835-1862) who enlisted as a private in Capt. Brown Manning’s Company (the “Manning Guards”) on 19 June 1861. He indicates on the envelope that his unit was Co. B, but Manning’s company was actually Co. C of Hampton’s Legion. When the Legion was organized in 1861, there were two companies of cavalry, one of artillery, and six of infantry. Most of the Legion participated in the Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) on 21 July 1861 but we learn from Ben Joe’s letter that he did not participate. Rather, he manned a battery posted on the Potomac that was placed to prevent Federal forces from landing troops and invading Virginia by that route, as well as to harass and potentially blockade river traffic going to and from the Capitol at Washington D. C. This battery set up two 8-pounder rifles at Freestone Point on the Potomac, Prince Williams county, Virginia, in late September 1861.
Save for a little illness, Ben Joe was with his company until the Battle of 2nd Manassas when he was wounded in the arm and died almost three weeks later on 18 September 1862.
When he died, Ben Joe left a wife, Salina Susan (Dorrity) Pack (1834-1877) and two children, Benjamin Joseph Pack (1855-1928) and Frances Elizabeth Pack (1857-1934). The family farm was in Packsville [now Paxville], Clarendon District, South Carolina.
Camp Conner, Va. October 3rd 1861
I have nothing worth communicating at this time but believing that the bare reception of a letter from me at any time affords you some satisfaction, I will write.
Your letter dated September 22nd came to hand a few days ago & gave me much pleasure as it informed me that you all were well & doing well. You wrote that you wished me to be caution how I wrote certain things to everybody as there was a variety of opinions existing in the neighborhood of home. Now I am not atall surprised to hear this for different persons very frequently have different opinion & inclinations & I have no doubt but very different tales have been told. I am truly thankful for your suggestion for I feel assured that you was actuated by that kind of love that never grows cold to give the advice. But my dear, have you not learned enough of me ere this to assure you that I always endeavor to give all men justice & that riches and royalty have but little to do in shaping my conclusions. No one has tried harder than I to do their whole duty & in all that I have written the plain, undisguised truth has been told & shall be maintained as long as life lasts.
I am well aware that some ridiculous tales have been told about the Manassas Battle. I was not there & consequently nothing in connection with it can be applied to me. Neither can I testify from personal knowledge to anything that transpired there, but I had friends there—& truth telling friends—and from all that I have heard I am satisfied that great injustice bas been done some men. They have this glorious consolation though. God is where he always was & the future proves all things. I shall comply with your request, not that I fear the consequences that might accrue from anything I have written, but simply because I wish to gratify you in such matters.
The Manning Guards are getting on extremely well at this time—I mean those that are well. Lieutenant Huggins is as kind as a brother to all of us & when we march towards the enemy, the idea of being lead on by a kind, christian patriot inspires us with a determination to fight as true soldiers in a just cause should.
The things you sent us arrived on Sunday evening last. We were all well pleased with our clothes and was delighted with the cake and other little eatables sent us. I never had drawers to please me better than the pair I am trying. My shirts are better than I thought you could get prepared, but the velvet is entirely out of place. I would have preferred having my wristbands and color of the same material of the short, but as it is an easy matter to take the velvet off of the wristbands, I can soon make them alright.
I am sorry to say that I have not learned yet where we will probably spend the winter. Beauregard has fallen back from near Alexandria to Fairfax. His object was to coax the Yankees out, but burnt children dreads fire. I hardly think there is much prospect for a fight up there. Everything remains the same down here as when I wrote last. We are here to keep the Yankees from invading Virginia & they to prevent us from crossing into Maryland so there is not much prospect for a fight down here except with artillery. The battery 3 miles below this at Dumfries has not opened fire yet. I can’t imagine what can be the cause unless they are waiting to get as many vessels cut off from the seacoast as they possibly can. We will be kept here until something is done by the battery.
Winter quarters is being spoken of pretty frequently as the weather is growing cool & a few weeks more will reveal to us the fact that we must either be barracked up in Virginia or return to good old South Carolina.
P.S. Dear sister, I didn’t think to say to Lizzie that I didn’t care for her to send me more than five dollars. I expect she can get that amount without changing the 20 dollar bill I sent her—though she can change it if she wishes. I would like to send a five dollar confederate bill for her to preserve as a keepsake. 20 dollars is too much for that. The Confederate money draws 8 percent interest. Kiss the children for me. I’ll write you a letter as I can. Give all my love. Your affectionate brother, — Andrew
These two letters were written by Thomas E. Morrow (b. 1835) of Co. G, 8th Louisiana Infantry. Thomas enlisted as a private on 23 June 1861 at Camp Moore, Louisiana for 12 months service. Muster records show he was with his regiment until mid November 1861 when he was detached to accompany Major Prados (perhaps to take his brother’s body home). He accepted a bounty and reenlisted in April 1862 and was with his regiment until 7 November 1863 when he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Rappahannock Bridge. He was in captivity at Point Lookout, Maryland, until 10 March 1864 when he returned to his regiment, only to be taken prisoner again on 19 October 1864 at the Battle of Belle Grove and returned to Point Lookout a second time. He was finally exchanged on 10 February 1865.
Thomas was the oldest son of James “Madison” Morrow (1811-1865) and Elizabeth B. Kinnon (b. 1816) of Walton county, Georgia. Thomas was born in Georgia in 1835 but came to Minden, Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, as a child when his father purchased several tracts in Township 19, Range 8 in 1839-40.
Enlisting with him in the same company were two brothers—20 year-old Edward G. Morrow (1841-1861) and 13 year-old William M. Morrow (1848-1936) whom I believe he referred to as “Bud.” Edward died of disease at Culpeper, Virginia, on 23 November 1861. William, like Thomas, survived the war though he was wounded twice—at Chancellorsville and again on the 2nd day at Gettysburg. William was taken prisoner on 7 November 1863 at Rappahannock Bridge with his brother but he may have deserted after he was exchanged in April 1864. William settled in Caddo, Louisiana.
The brothers were accompanied by one of the family slaves named Dolphus Morrow or “Dolph” for short. In the 1860 Slave Schedule, the Morrow family owned 56 slaves ranging in age from infant to age 58.
Camp Pickens Manassas Junction, Virginia July 9th 1861
You must excuse my writing as I am sitting on the ground and writing on my knapsack. Camp life goes hard with most of the boys as they never knew before what it was to cook and wash for themselves but me and Bud do very well as far as that is concerned for we make Dolphus do that. This place is about 27 miles from Washington City, 23 from Alexandria, 12 from Fairfax Court House. There is about six thousand troops at this camp. It is said that in ten days we can land one hundred and fifty thousand troops in Washington City.
We do not know at what hour we will be call[ed] on to fight and we will not know until we are ordered to march for a private knows but very little what is going on, but I am pretty certain that we will get into a fight before ten days.
This camp is General Beauregard’s headquarters. I have seen him several times. We drill five hours every day. We have one hundred & twelve privates in our company (Minden Blues). Four have been sent home on account of sickness before we got here. If any get sick now, they will not have the pleasure of going home but will have to go to the hospital. I feel as well as I ever did in my life. Bud is also in good health.
It has been four weeks last Saturday since we left home and have not received a letter but they did not know what point to direct their letters. If you haver received a letter from home lately, write me all the news. Perry [J.] Murrell got a letter from Minden. Mrs. Thompson & Rial Lancaster are married. John Lancaster joined our company at Camp Moore.
You must answer this as soon as you receive it. If you have nothing else to write, let me know whether you are well or not. I would like to know how you are getting on but should like to see you much better for it has been a long time since I have seen you. It seems as if I had been from home three years. Give my love to all of the pretty girls. Tell them I am not a marrying man just now but as soon as the war is over, I will be on hand.
Give my love to Truby C. and accept the love of your brother for yourself. Your affectionate brother, — T. E. Morrow
P. S. Direct your letter thus:
F. E. Morrow Manassas Junction, Virginia Care of Capt. J. L. Lewis, 8th Louisiana Regiment
Camp Carondelet, [@ 6 mile from Centreville,] Virginia January 23rd 1862
I got your letter that you wrote to me in Lieut. [Benjamin F.] Simms’s letter. I was glad to hear that you had recovered your health & was taking an interest in your studies & the examination. I would like to be there to see you & as a matter of course all the pretty girls. You seem to regret my not coming by to see you but you must recollect that my furlough was out on the 18th of December and I did not leave home until the 28th December & if I had have went by to see you, I would have lost five or six days & you know Military Laws has to be carried out to the letter so I had to hurry on to camps.
I found Mother very sick when I got home but she was a good deal better before I left. I found everything very dull in Minden & I could not enjoy myself there in the least. I was almost crazy to get back to the Army. You can’t imagine how dull & different everything is in Minden. There are but three young men in Minden—Han. McKinnie, Lynn Watkins, & Ben. Neal. They look like lost sheep. I would not be in their fix for a thousand dollars. I would not go home to stay unless the whole of our company were to go. Talk about staying at home now—it would be impossible for me to do it.
I saw but very few young ladies while at home. In fact, I did not go about but very little. I, sister, and Aunt Frances took dinner & an egg-nog out at Uncle Edwards’ on Christmas. Sister went home two or three days before I left. Jesse stayed but a short time after I got there. I think that sister & Jesse are both dissatisfied with the River.
Our time will be out just five months from today. Everyone is looking forward to a happy time when he gets back home but I don’t expect we will stay there but a short time after we get home. We don’t look for a fight here until spring. It is very cold but we are now in winter quarters—log cabins daubed with mud and dirt floors constitute our winter quarters which are very comfortable compared with our tents.
There was a man killed tonight by another who was drunk. He stabbed him three times. He only lived three minutes. While I was at home, there were two men shot for trying to release a prisoner & trying to kill the Officer of the Guard. 1
Capt. [John Langdon] Lewis resigned while I was at home & the boys elected J[ohn] H. Webb for captain. I should have voted for him if I had have been here. He got fifty-nine votes to Simms’s sixteen. [Benjamin F.] Simms & [William] Rockwell do not like it at all but nobody cares. I wish both of them would resign—Simms in particular. Webb is a good captain & a perfect gentleman. He was our orderly sergeant.
I have changed my mess. There are ten in the cabin I am in, viz: Nunn, L. Wren, W. Morrow, King, Jack Hamilton, Russell Montgomery, McCoy, John S. Williams, G. Collins, myself & Dolphus. We sleep in bunks one bed above the other like steamboat berths. We have a good deal of fun since we got into winter quarters. We have two god violins in the company & the boys have a dance almost every night.
I expect it would amuse you girls a good deal to see us going it on a reel or just to see how we manage everything in general. I am well at present but have been a little unwell since I returned. You must write often & I will try to be more punctual in writing. Since we got houses, it is a great deal more convenient to write. You must write oftener.
Your affectionate brother, — T. E. Morrow
1 The two Louisiana Tigers executed were Dennis Corcoran and Michael O’Brien. Lt. Kennon was the Officer of the Day. The circumstances surrounding the event are described in more detail under the heading, “Tiger execution,” found on the Louisiana Tigers web page.