This letter was written by 19 year-old Joseph A. Alexander who enlisted at Lansingburg in August 1862 to serve as a private in Co. C, 125th New York Infantry. The 125th did not get off to a very auspicious start in the war. Rushed to Harper’s Ferry without much drill and preparation, they were among the 11,500 Federal troops surrendered to Stonewall Jackson in the Antietam Campaign. The men were then sent to Chicago under parole until they could be exchanged in November 1862 at which time they were sent to join the Washington D. C. Defenses and encamped near Centreville, which Joseph mentions in his letter.
During Lee’s second invasion of the North, the 125th New York had an opportunity to redeem itself in the Battle of Gettysburg where they lost 139 men killed and wounded, including their Col. George Willard. Mortally wounded in the fight was Co. C’s Orderly Sergeant, 28 year-old George S. Moss, who is also mentioned in this letter. Moss took a shell fragment in the groin, wounding his penis, scrotum and thigh. He wanted the fragment removed but according to nurse Cornelia Hancock, the delicate surgery was postponed until 8 August 1863 when the fragment was finally removed without much difficulty but the patient likely died from an overdose of chloroform. (see A Soldier’s Friend)
We learn from Joseph’s letter that he missed the Battle of Gettysburg due to an illness that resulted in his hospitalization but when they finally released him to the Convalescent Camp—where he had his money stolen out of his pocket while sleeping, he quickly decided he would rather return to his regiment than enter the Invalid Corps. Unfortunately for Joseph, he was captured again during the Mine Run Campaign in December 1863 and he died in Andersonville Prison on 27 June 1864.
Joseph wrote the letter to his father, William A. Alexander—a brush maker in Lansingburgh—and his wife Laura, both emigrants from Nova Scotia.
Camp 125th Regt. New York Vols. Near Warrenton Junction, Virginia August 16, 1863
Dear Father & Mother,
I take my pen in hand to write a few lines to you to let you know how and what I am doing. I have got quite smart and have returned to the regiment. I got to it last Monday all safe. I have done no duty yet. I got paid at the hospital all in money. I did not get any allotment.
I went from there to the Convalescent Camp. They put me in the Invalid Corps. I could not get a chance to send my money to you so one night I went to bed with my money all safe and the next morning I got up and felt in my pockets to see if it was all right but it was all gone. It had been taken out of my [pocket] by some their and I was very sorry so I concluded to go to the regiment. I only stayed there but three days when I started off. I did not want to belong to that Invalid Corps. I want to be with the boys so that when. Come home, I may come with some honor.
The boys was glad to see me and they said I was foolish for coming but I don’t think so. We have got marching orders to have three days rations in haversacks to be ready to march at any moment’s notice. I don’t know where we are going to. Some say we are going towards Washington but I don’t know how true it is. Some say we are going to Charleston. I hope it is true for I would like to witness the fall of that place.
The weather is very hot down here and must be the same up your way but for [my] part, it is more healthier here in the open fields where we can get the fresh air than being in the close cities. I think I can stand it to go with the regiment for they (the old troops) say that this campaign was the hardest they have went through. They are going to fill up [the regiment] with drafted men up to its full maximum number.
There is a great cry down South for peace and I think it is time for them to look and reflect of what they have brought upon themselves.
I want you to send me some money and postage stamps as quick as you get this for I want it. James is well and with the company. He sends his love to you. I sent a company record to you at Washington. When you write, let me know if you have got it.
I have been informed of the death of Orderly Sergeant George S. Moss. He died from the effects of his wound received at Gettysburg. If this be true, the company regrets the loss of him for he was the best sergeant we had in our company. While we was in Centreville, Col. [George] Willard thought a great deal of him, His wound was very bad. That’s what the boys told me when I got to the regiment.
I received a letter from you when I was in the hospital but I did not get time to answer it. I must conclude by sending my love to grandfather and mother, and brothers and sister, and all enquiring friends. So goodbye.
From your faithful son, — Joseph A. Alexander
Co. C., 125th Regt. N. Y. V. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 2nd Corps Washington D. C.
These letters were written by 19 year-old Pvt. William H. Van Iderstine (1844-1920) of Co. D, 13th New Jersey Infantry. William enlisted on 11 August 1862 and was with his regiment at Antietam five weeks later. He was wounded in the hand in action before Atlanta on 30 July 1864 and was sent to the XX Corps Hospital where his hand was amputated. He recovered at a hospital in Nashville, TN, and the Ward Hospital, Newark, NJ. He was discharged 30 January 1865.
William was the son of Jeremiah P. Van Iderstine (1822-1896) and Catherine K. Birdsall (1822-1855). After the war he married Hattie Bannister (1837-1918) and worked in South Orange, New Jersey, for the firm of T. Van Iderstine & Sons, boots and shoes.
William wrote the letters to his aunt, Phebe (Birdsall) Simon (1830-Aft1890), the wife of John K. Simon who served in the 5th New Jersey Infantry (Part of the Jersey Brigade). John enlisted on August 19, 1861, and mustered in as a sergeant in Co. D on August 22. He was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on May 26, 1862 and later promoted to 1st Lieutenant on May 19, 1863. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in May 1864. He mustered out of the service on September 7, 1864.
The firs three letters were all written in the days and weeks following the Battle of Gettysburg in which the 13th New Jersey played a relatively minor role, losing 1 killed and 20 wounded out of the 360 men brought to the field. The regiment reached this battlefield at 5 p.m. on 1 July 1863, and with the brigade went into position on the north side of Wolf Hill. During the night, they occupied a position in support of Battery M, First N.Y. Artillery. July 2, in the morning, they held a position near Culp’s Hill. In the afternoon, they marched to relief of the Third Corps near Round Top. At night they returned to right of the army. July 3, they occupied a position supporting the Second Massachusetts and Twenty-seventh Indiana in their charge on Confederate flank. In the evening, they moved to extreme right to support of Gregg’s Cavalry. In the weeks that followed, they pursued Lee’s army to Manassas Gap and on to Kelly’s Ford.
The fourth letter was written from Tennessee after the regiment was sent to the western theatre to join Sherman’s army for the Atlanta Campaign in 1864.
Camp of the 13th Regiment N. J. Vols. In Snicker’s Gap, Va. July 22, 1863
My Dear Aunt,
It is now some time since I have written to you but it is not because I have not thought of you but because my time has been very limited and the chances for writing letters very few.
Since we left the old camp at Stafford Court House, we have seen some pretty hard times. We have marched upwards of four hundred miles and been engaged in one of the largest battles of the war–viz: Gettysburg. I will not say much about it now as doubtless you have learned the full particulars from the daily papers. At one time on the march from Pennsylvania we made over 50 miles in two days.
I have not see Uncle John since I saw him at Littlestown, Pa. He came to see me when at or near Williamsport but I was on picket. I will tell you of the place where I was on picket at some future day. We have just received notice that a mail will leave and the Quartermaster is now gathering the letters so I must close for the present. I am now acting as company clerk. I am well. Please write.
Yours as ever, –Wm. H. Van Iderstine
The Quartermaster says there will be no mail today so I will write a few more lines.
We came here the night before yesterday and we may stay here today but I am not sure. All that I have now is what I have on, a piece of tent, rubber blanket, haversack, and canteen. I threw my knapsack away at, or rather before, the Battle of Gettysburg, although I did not have much in it. I saved my bible and needle-case which I carry in my haversack. I shall be glad when we get in camp again for I think we have done enough marching for the last two months for one campaign. But never-the-less, if it would end the war, I would be willing to march as much more. The sun is very hot out here now which makes the marching so much harder.
The New Jersey Brigade is somewhere ahead and I may get a chance to see Uncle John in a day or two, yet there is no certainty about it as one day we may be near each other and the next far away.
We are having some good news from Vicksburg, Morris Island, &c., and I hope before this letter reaches its destination the “Stars and Stripes” may wave over the walls of Fort Sumter and over the City of Charleston.
God grant that this cruel war may soon be ended and that sweet peace, happiness, and prosperity may again be spread throughout our land.
Remember me to all the folks and to Grandma. I write the letter out. Don’t know when I shall get a chance to mail it. Yours affectionately, Wm. H. Van Iderstine
Please don’t fail to write soon.
Camp of 13th N. J. Vols. Kelly’s Ford, Va. August 6th, 1863
My Dear Aunt,
Your kind and very welcome [letter] was received a short time ago. I was glad to hear from you and to learn that you were all well at home. At present I [am] well but am pretty well worn-out from the fatigue of the present campaign. We are now encamped at Kelly’s Ford—the place where we crossed the Rappahannock River last spring when we went to Chancellorsville. I hope we will stop here for week or two that we might get recruited up a little.
The weather is very hot out here now and has been for about a month past. I am now acting as company clerk which position I like very well and it gives me an opening for something better.
Our captain is acting Major and I suppose he will get it before long. Lieut. James L. Carman, a brother to the Colonel [Ezra A. Carman], is now acting as Captain. I was selected by the Adjutant when at Warrenton to serve as clerk of a Regimental Court Martial which kept me pretty busy for portions of two days.
I have no more to say at present except to be remembered to all the folks and friends and I remain your affectionate nephew, — Wm. H. Van Iderstine
Camp 13th N. J. Vols Kelly’s Ford, Va. August 23rd 1863
My Dear Aunt,
I take the pleasure again of writing you a few lines to inform you that I am well and hearty. I hope these few lines may find you all well at home. I was agreeably surprised to find, or rather learn, that Uncle John had the good fortune to get home on recruiting service.
You must excuse me for not writing more often since we have been in camp as I have been very busy in company the company books and making our reports, returns, rolls, &c. &c. The year is up the 20th of this month and the clothing accounts must be balanced which I am busy with now and as soon as I get through with that, pay rolls are to be made out so that I am kept busy. I don’t have to do any duty but attend dress parade & answer roll call if not engaged at that time.
Three regiments of our brigade left us a few days ago. The length of time that they are to be gone or their destination I cannot tell at present. Some think they are bound for New York City, others that they have gone on the transports to Yorktown on the Peninsula. On their leaving, Col. E. A. Carman took command of the remaining three regiments. If I had been half smart, I might have had the position as clerk, I think.
I think something of accepting a commission in a colored regiment. What think you? If Uncle John is there, just ask his opinion on the subject.
It is now Saturday night and tomorrow will be Sunday and we expect to have a sermon preached (for the first time I believe in about 6 months quite) by the chaplain of the 107th New York in our brigade. We have some very excellent prayer meetings here three or four times a week and our labors have not been in vain for some have come from darkness into light and others are serious and ask to be prayed for. For the last few days we have had a missionary from or belonging to the U. S. Christian Commission with us in our prayer meetings. Our meetings are attended by a large number—sometimes as high as 100 or more. The 107th New York, attached to our brigade, also have a goodly number of christians in it who take an active part. Sometimes we go to their meetings and at other times they come to ours. Though surrounded by vice and sin of all kinds, we have many precious seasons of praying and singing praises to God. I hope soon to hear the lips that now use profane language to be turned to sing the praise of God.
It is now after tattoo and I must close by asking you to remember me & our meetings in your prayer to our Heavenly Father,
If Uncle John is home, let him see this and when you write again, let him know where he is that I may meet him. Ask him to excuse me for not writing. Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain yours affectionately, — W. H. Van Iderstine
P. S. Please excuse the haste in which this letter was written and remember me to all the folks — W. H. V. I.
N. B. Aunt Phebe, won’t you please send by mail the soft felt hat I left home as soon as possible. It will cost but about 25 cents and it will be a great comfort out here in the hot sun. — W. H. V. I.
Camp 13th N. J. Vols. Duck River, Tennessee January 15, 1864
I thought tonight since I had nothing to do I would write you. It has ben some time since I have heard from you but I know that you would if you had the time.
We are still encamped at Duck RIver. Since I last wrote you, we have had some very cold weather down here and I doubt not you have in Jersey. The citizens say it is the coldest weather they have experienced in twenty-five years. It was so cold on New Years Day as to freeze the ink in my pen while I was making out a report for the Adjutant (f it had not been of importance, I would not have written). I was as near the fire as I could get without burning so you can imagine how cold it was.
A sad affair occurred near Tullahoma (a village about 9 miles south of this place and where we were encamped about two weeks before coming here). Four men and a Lieutenant were caught, their hands tied behind them, and deliberately shot—or rather 3 men shot. The officer ad one man escaped by jumping into the river and swimming across. They were shot at several times and the man wounded. The officer and one man belonged to the 27th Indiana (our Brigade). The War Department has issued an order taxing the citizens living within ten miles of the place to the amount of $10,000 dollars for the support of the families of the men who were shot. After the guerrillas shot them, they threw them in the river. What an act for civilized people. Can God prosper such a people? I should think not.
I have been writing for the Adjutant’s Office for nearly two weeks but it is only temporarily. I may be there only a day or two more or a week. I got to work at 9 a.m. and get through at 4.30 p.m. I have a good tent to be in and a warm fire to write by and everything “handy.”
I received a letter from Uncle John about a month ago and have written him twice since. I received a box from home and in it some cake, &c. from you. It was relished very much. I feel very grateful for them. Also a tipet [a hat] from Grandma for which I returned my thanks.
I understand that the Colonel has given permission for a house to be built for to hold prayer meetings and church in. We have not had any prayer meetings in a long time in consequence of the cold weather but if we get the house built, we will no doubt have meetings two or three times a week. Oh how I would like once more to attend the prayer meeting held at Halsey St. Church. I can now see better than ever how important are class and prayer meetings to a Christian.
I will close for the present and remain as ever yours affectionately, — Wm. H. Van Iderstine
These Civil War letters were written by Heyward Glover Emmell (1841-1917) who served in Co. K., 7th New Jersey Infantry. Heyward’s given name is spelled variously in military and civil records but I have used the name that appears on the family headstone in Morristown, New Jersey, and the way it is spelled in the 1909 Morristown City Directory where Heyward was enumerated among the city’s booksellers & stationers. Heyward was the son of Silas Brookfield Emmell (1800-1883)—a Morristown merchant—and Elmina Campbell (1808-1869).
In 2011, Jim Malcolm discovered Emmell’s Journal in the archives of the Madison (Morris County, New Jersey) Historical Society and published it under the title, “The Civil War Journal of Private Heyward Emmell, Ambulance & Infantry Corps, A Very Disagreeable War.” In the preface of the book, Malcolm remarks that the journal contained daily entries of surprisingly good penmanship with few words that were not readable. Not so with Heyward’s letters and as a consequence, though I have not personally examined the original journal, my hunch is that it was a post-war production written partially from memory and based principally on either letters sent home or pocket notes kept by Emmell in the field. I don’t say this to diminish the value of Malcolm’s book—only to reconcile the differences between the neatness of the journal and the sloppiness of Emmell’s handwritten and penciled letters. Besides, Emmell states in the letter sent home to his parents following the Battle of Williamsburg that he lost his knapsack containing everything he carried with him except for what was in his pockets. Surely if he had been keeping a journal from the date of his enlistment up to that point of time, he would have mentioned such a loss.
There are fifteen letters in this collection, most of them brief and what I would call, “Thank God I’m still alive!” letters that were written after each of the major engagements of the 7th New Jersey.
A book review published on-line by William R. Feeney makes the following observations about Emmell:
Emmell’s service is distinctive not only because he fought in almost every major battle of the war but also because of his transfer to the Union army’s Ambulance Corps in September 1863. Having served as a stretcher-bearer for fourteen months, Private Emmell provides historians with a unique view of the difficulties in dealing with wounded soldiers. The information in Emmell’s journal is most helpful to the academic when viewed in its entirety rather than in smaller segments. The pages are littered with interesting anecdotes that raise numerous questions from the reader but are rarely insightful in themselves. However, when these stories are woven together, they compose a rich tapestry of material for the historian to analyze. At first glance, for instance, Emmell’s writing appears to comment on race as if he were a third-party reporter. Interactions with “contraband” or “darkys” occur around him, but he never directly takes part. However, Emmell’s feelings on race are evident when snippets of information are strung together. His terse observations on the rebel “darky sharpshooter,” the use of a large black bear to “chase down and squeeze” contraband because the bear was “down on darkys,” and the nightly minstrel shows in camp reveal Emmell’s prevailing views of African Americans, despite his reticence in giving a personal opinion (19, 27, 106).
Emmell’s insight into camp life is equally rich when contextualized broadly. His remarks on arsenic cake, soldier suicide, wedding ceremonies, barrel punishments, burning “sculls” to brew coffee, masquerade balls where men dressed as women, and even one instance of two Union soldiers dressed as rebels who snuck into Petersburg during the siege to attend a dance tell us much about how soldiers coped with the stress and boredom of camp (3, 42, 55, 88, 109, 106, 119). When viewed as a whole, Emmell’s diary is useful for a wide range of Civil War topics, such as race, fraternization, camp life, battles, military organization, medical services, and injury.
The Civil War Journal of Private Heyward Emmell, Ambulance and Infantry Corps: A Very Disagreeable War. Ed. Jim Malcolm. Madison: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-61147-040-6, 150 pp., cloth, $75.00.
Camp near Williamsburg, Virginia Wednesday, May 7th 1862
My dear Mother,
I expect Mother has read in the Times by this time that the Jersey Brigade were badly cut up, as is the whole of Hooker’s Division. The Jersey Brigade was on the advance after a long march [when] near this place we found ourself near the enemy. We unslung knapsacks and went in action right away and fight five hours. We drove them back twice and then stood our ground when our ammunition give out & they came up and with the Stars & Stripes & said, “Don’t fire on your friends!” and at the same time asking what regiment we were. When told the 7th New Jersey, they said they were [a] Pennsylvania regiment & then fired volley after volley in our ranks so that we had to fall back.
Captain [James M.] Brown 1 & his company was the last to leave. I don’t believe the captain would [have] left until taken prisoner but got shot through the jaw and was carried a ways as we left. It seemed [as] if I was running through a shower of bullets but I was never touched by one. How thankful I do feel.
When we retreated, Sickles Brigade arrived and they and the New Hampshire & Massachusetts & the rest of our division fought until cut to pieces when just then arrived another division which fought & then arrived another division. At 7 o’clock it ceased.
The rebels left. Our troops went in pursuit of them. They were strongly fortified and they had the woods all fixed to suit so as to annoy us. Big trees laid crossways.
The Jersey Boys fought ten times their number after [a] long & tiresome march. The dead in our regiment is about 40, 100 wounded, and about that number missing. Our company [had] 8 or 9 wounded in the fighting & Joe Watkins 2 & Calvin Nix’s 3 [wounds] are the only dangerous ones. Our boys brought Joe off the field yesterday. The rebels took his revolver, watch, and money and called him a damn Yankee. Two other rebels came up to him and fixed a blanket under his head & gave him a drink. After that two others took hold of him & were carrying him across to their lines & were frightened & dropped him & run. None of our company were shot dead and these are the only dangerous ones. The rest are mostly flesh wounds. Three or 4 got balls through coats, hat or haversack without hurting them.
Lieut. Colonel [Ezra A. Carman] shot through the wrist, sword in hand. Major [Francis] Price is in command now. Most all the line officers wounded. Lieut. [Joseph H.] Johnson killed of Company H—he was pierced after dead. Lieut. [Thomas C.] Thompson of Co. A was taken prisoner. All of the division the same way.
I lost my knapsack of course. The rebels got them all & all my things but one handkerchief. Testament and my dear Mother’s picture & a comb & pocket knife. Merritt [Bruen], 4 I just telling that I was writing home, he is well. Of course he did not have to be in the battle. Bob Lambert is not hurt. I believe he was in it but not hurt. I have a blanket I picked up. I do not feel bad losing my knapsack but am thankful not my life. I am well [and] in good spirits. I have to write on anything I can get. I picked this paper dropped by some Con[federate] soldier likely.
I forgot to say that it rained all Monday while we were fighting & we laid flat and fired a good deal of the time. It is horrible to tell of the sights of things around here. 1,000 of dead bodies of ours and the enemy dead around. A good many have been buried. It was horrible to go past a surgeon’s place & see the piles of arms &c. and to see men with legs taken off by shells &c.
I must close. Love to all. Your affectionate son, — Heyward
1 Capt. James M. Brown survived and was later promoted to Major of the 15th New Jersey.
2 Corp. Joseph S. Watkins died at Chesapeake US Army General Hospital at Fortress Monroe, on 31 May 1862 of wounds received in the Battle of Williamsburg.
3 Calvin Nix survived his wounds and lived until 1928.
4 Sgt. Merritt Bruen later served as regimental quartermaster.
Near Williamsburg [Virginia] May 8, 1862
I wrote a few lines to Mother yesterday. I thought that as I could get chance to write a few lines today and make sure of one of them reaching Morristown. It was last Sunday morning that we were ordered to go & work in number 1 mortar battery but we had just got there & what was to be seen but the Stars & Stripes floating over Yorktown. The rebels had evacuated from out of their stronghold. If they had only stayed until 2 o’clock Monday morning, McClellan would have commenced the battle. Our course we got orders to go back to our camp but soon got orders to march towards Williamsburg. We marched through Yorktown but had to move very slow for they had torpedoes fixed all over the road with wires. When anyone would step on a wire, it would explode [and] kill everyone near it. As there had been 100 hundred killed by them before, our division was very careful not to step on them. I saw a number of them.
About dark we reached the halfway house & so tired & thirsty we could hardly move. We unslung knapsack, got our canteens filled & slung knapsacks and marched until 11 o’clock at night when we rested until daylight and woke up and found it raining very hard. We started again mud knee deep passing muskets, wagons, &c. left by the enemy. About 8 o’clock, we arrived to where our artillery and the 2nd N. H. & 1st Mass. were engaged. We unslung our knapsacks and marched in line of battle, throwing 4 companies out as skirmishers.
Pretty soon, bang, bang, went the rebel’s sharpshooter rifles when Lieut. Colonel [Ezra A.] Carman give the order to drop & lay down. Then was when I first begin to see the horrors of war. Down fell one after another of the skirmishers of Company A who were a few yards before us. It was too hot. Our skirmishers had to come in. The whole regiment laid flat, firing when they could see anything, but the enemy were all hid behind the brush. Pretty soon the firing became general—we driving them back twice.
Well, it went on so until near 1 o’clock when they came out in sight with Stars & Stripes & saying they were our boys. [But] when they got near us, fell on their knees & fired, cutting our brigade badly, when we were driven back. Capt. [James M.] Brown was the last to leave & I do not believe he would have left until taken prisoner if not had got shot through the jaw. Joe Watkins is pretty bad. [Calvin] Nix & [John] Slingerland is pretty bad. I hope all will get well. We had 7 or 8 wounded was all in our company. In the regiment about 30 killed, and 80 wounded. I do not know how many missing. There must be about 2,000 killed & wounded in the whole fight, I should think.
The boys go to see Joe [Watkins] often & say he is better. He is in a house near here. It was the awfullest sight could be thought of to see the dying and wounded. Some in their struggles had handfuls of dirt in their hands, some were found ramming the balls in their guns. I could get lots of things but I could not take care of them such as secesh rifles & canteens. Some of our boys got the rebels’ pocketbooks but I could not do that. It was bad enough for me to see the dead let alone take the things out of their pants. I see a lot of rebel postage stamps. They were just like ours except Jeff Davis’s picture instead of Washington’s. They were not like those I saw at home.
Fort Magruder is about 200 yards from me, It was a strong, fortified place here & so was Yorktown forts upon forts. Some of our boys have been up to Williamsburg. It is a town like Morristown. The boys have boughten [ ] & went in a eating house & got dinner. Williamsburg is a mile and a half from here. I wrote again this morning so as to make sure of getting one letter home & let the home folks all know that I was well. I lost my knapsack and all my things. My paper envelopes & everything. I found what I am now writing on. I had my letters, testament, Mother’s picture, my knife, pocket book, and in my pocket is all I have left.
Lieut. [Thomas C.] Thompson was left at Williamsburg by the rebels wounded. They could not carry him in their hurry. We are still encamped on the battlefield. I do not think we will be put in action right away for most all the officers are wounded in the division. Heaps of love to Mother, sister & heaps to Father. Your affectionate son, — Heyward
[Note: The writing on this letter is so faint that it is barely legible.]
Battlefield near Gettysburg, Penn. July 4th 1863
My Dear Father,
Having passed through another battle of which I have a great deal to be thankful I was not killed. The loss is awful in our [ ] company [ ] Capt. [William R.] Hillyer [ ] Lieut. John’s wounded but Lieut. Millen dangerous and of the boys killed and wounded I cannot say—only that we had about 16 in our company. Tom Campbell is at our Corps Hospital wounded. He sent for some of to come and see him. Merritt is going. I could not go or I would. Merritt had seen [ ] First Lieutenant of the Macon Co. & he says Blankie is out west—a signal officer—so Cl___ is not hurt….
Merritt will see Louis. Capt. Logan is killed. The rebels have fallen back a little. Gen. Meade is ….
I must close….I will write first opportunity again…I close, your affectionate son, — Heyward
On the Field May 7th 1864
I write you a few lines to let you all at home know that I have come out safe so far, hoping everything will turn up right. We have had hard fighting now for 3 days. No more boys injured in our company. I have been helping get off our wounded.
Please give bushels of love to Mother & Sisters & I close & remain your ever affectionate son, — Heyward
Merritt wishes to be remembered to all at home
In the field May 15th 1864
I have written once & Merritt [Bruen] wrote once for me to let all at home know that I am not hurt & well, but I do not know as they have reached home. Neither do I know that this will, but there are doctors going to Fredericksburg with wounded every few days and I shall try to send this by of them.
We have been fighting since May 5th. The loss of life has been dreadful. It is estimated killed & wounded at 50,000 in the Army of the Potomac. Our Corps (the 2nd) made a charge a few days ago [and] took 8,000 prisoners and a great many cannon. The battlefield where the charge was made is just heaped with the dead of both parties. The dead bodies are just riddled like a paper box with shots. We stretcher carriers are busy all the time & I cannot write as I would if I were in the regiment.
Yesterday where our Corps were was quite still and we had to get those wounded rebs out that there was some possibility of living. We put them under shelter from the heavy showers [that] have fallen every hour or two for the past 5 days. This morning we left them & changed our front. The rebs followed us up pretty sharp & for a little while we thought we would likely go to Richmond as the roads were blockaded but after a little we got the wagons a moving & am now safe again behind our troops.
I have never witnessed such a scene in my life as in this battle [see The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House]. Gen. Sedgwick, 6th Corps, was killed. 1 There are some killed in Co. K but none from Morristown. Tell Carrie the Major [Frederick Cooper] of the 7th got wounded in two places. I helped carry him off.
I must now close for we are going to leave. Another shower will get this wet. Please do not worry. I am not exposed—nothing to what I would be in the regiment. I feel thankful that I got out safe so far & hope for the best & send bushels of love to Mother, Father, and Sisters. I close & remain your ever affectionate son, — Heyward
I head this “in the field” for I know not nor can I find out any name for this place. We moved from the extreme right of our line last night where our division was forming a strong picket line, to here which is on our left—that is the Johnnie’s right. I see some of the boys writing home so I thought I would do so to let all at home know that I am well.
Everything is very quiet today along the line. Merritt is well. Em’s just returned from Fredericksburg where he took a train loaded with wounded.
This battle is being very skillfully carried on. Gen. Lee & Gen. Grant are just like two persons playing chess & are a good match for each other. I hope & think we will be victorious in the end. I hope Gen. Butler will be able to take Richmond while Grant holds all Lee’s forces here and fights him. I hope for the best & will [ ] to close this short letter hoping it will get home and also the two I sent before & also one Merritt sent. The last letter I had from home was dated the 3rd of May.
Please accept overflowing measure of love from Heyward and give the same to Father, Sister Kate, & Carrie, and I close & remain your ever affectionate son, — Heyward G. Emmell
Camp 5 miles South of Pamunky [River] May 29th 1864
It has been most two weeks since I have had a chance to write home & now I have not much prospects of this getting off as there is no communication. This will let Mother know I am well. Needn’t be worried if I do not write in some time for I hardly have time to eat & lose my sleep most every night.
I now close. Accept bushels of love from your ever affectionate son, Heyward, and give the same to Father, Kate & Carrie.
P. S. I have had the ginger some time which Dempsey brought. It is very nice. Merritt is well.
Cold Harbor June 2, 1864
I seat myself on my rubber blanket, my only protection from the storm cold, &c. as it is all I carry except my haversack of hardtack which is not always got rations in it, I am sorry to say.
We are now again on the Peninsula about 11 or 12 miles of the long-looked for Rebel capitol. Part of Gen. Butler’s force are here. As I write this, I can hear the skirmishing & cannonading which has not been still for a month nearly now. We have just been in 3 hours from a tiresome march of 14 or 15 [miles] from the extreme right to the very left. I have had my coffee and feel a little refreshed & as it was most two weeks until I wrote on the 29th & I am afraid that letter did not reach home, do Iborrowed paper and made up my mind to write again & send it by the next chance to let all at home know that I am well.
We stretcher carriers are to the front and my knapsack is with the wagon so I had to borrow paper of course. I have a quantity in the knapsack in the ambulance.
No Morristown boys in Co. K killed. In the 15th Regt., Sergeant Vanhouten was killed and in the 8th Regt. Sergeant Evans—a son of a man that used to plow Auntie’s garden when I was very small.
Gen. Grant works on Gen. McClellan’s plan—fortifies every inch as he takes it. The base of supplies I believe is now the White House [Landing]. I received a letter of May 20th. Please give our dear mother bushels of love from Heyward and give the same to Father and Carrie & accept the same for yourself. Please excuse my dirty paper. It dropped in the creek & my hands being dirty helped to soil it.
I now close and remain your affectionate brother, — Heyward G. Emmell
Near Cold Harbor, Virginia June 10th 1864
I have received a letter from home every few days & hope mine go too through. We lay where we did when I wrote on the 7th. Our brigade is just in front of a mill pond with a fine breastwork in front. The John[nie]s shell us a little every day but do not do much injury. Our pickets are out front. The breastworks a couple hundred yards & in front of them lay the South Carolina sharpshooters who go to the same stream for water to fill their canteens & talk together, trade, &c.
One of our boys in the brigade got a Richmond paper of the same day as it was printed. They do not fore a shot at each other in our front until one or the other side advances, but one didn’t keep his word and killed an orderly to the Colonel of the 11th [New] Jersey tonight.
They is talk of us changing base to the James River & that we will move tonight so if we do, I will not have chance to write in a week or more likely. I received a letter from Father tonight. I would have written Father this but I had bit one envelope with me that is on my person & that was directed to Mother. It is my turn to write Father but I thought it made no difference as long as I write where it was directed.
Please excuse all mistakes & heaps of love to all at home including a large share to my dear Mother & I close & remain your affectionate son, — Heyward
Near Petersburg, Virginia June 20th 1864
I will take a few moments to write Father and let all at home know that I am alive. It has been a very hot place since we come here across the James River. The men have been killed by hundreds. In our Co. K, there is 3 killed and about 10 wounded. [Jabez] Beers is killed. Allen [H.] Pierson mortally wounded. Capt. [Michael] Mullery [of Co. I] killed. [Francis E.] Kane is wounded, [Corp. Andrew C.] Halsey has his arm broke with a ball & will have to be amputated. I have no chance to hear about the boys after they go to the hospital so there is no use of wring me to find out for there is no time to do so now.
The first letter for Beers we received & he told me they thought him dead. The next one come I sent to Jim [ ] Beers being dead. I hear. I did not see him. There is no use in having letters directed in my care for they come no better.
[Hugh] Roden is well & says it is very queer that his Father gets no letter from him.
I must now close. Please give bushels of love to my dear Mother & Sisters. I fel very thankful that I have got through safely so far. Merritt is well. I must close & remain your affectionate son, — Heyward
Before Petersburg, Va. July 29, 1864
My Dear Mother,
I received sister Carrie’s letter of the 22nd a few days ago with much pleasure & was very glad to hear that all at home were well.
On the 26th, about 5 o’clock, our Corps started on a tramp, We marched all night and went over 20 miles. I was the nearest played out that I ever have been I think. The route we took was to Point of Rocks where we crossed the Appomattox and then after marching about ten miles further we reached the James River & crossed it the same way on pontoons. Here we found our monitors and gunboats and with the aid of them, we drove the John[nie]’s back who had been firing in transports that bring our provisions to us and captured 4 guns of them.
We crossed the James at Turkey Bend which is a few miles I believe from Malvern Hill. Last night after dark ew started for Petersburg & we are now [ ] along with the 18th Corps after a hard march all night.
I received the handkerchief the afternoon we left for the march & also the stamps, They must have been delayed somewhere.
Mother, I must now [ ] sleepy. Please excuse the shortness. I feel thankful that I have been preserved so far & hope for the best. Please give bushels of love to Father, Sisters Kate & Carrie, & accept overflowing [ ] for my dear Mother & I close & remain your affectionate son, — Heyward
Before Petersburg August 1st 1864
Your kind epistle arrived safely this morning & a package of papers. The letter was dated the 25th & I was very glad to hear that all at home were well. I saw Mr. Mills—the one we boys use to call Monkey Mills that use to be in Mr. Johnson’s store and was in our church choir. He is well. He wished to be remembered to Father…I received the handkerchiefs & stamps a few days ago.
About 5 p.m. July 26th we started on a march & marched to the Appomattox River and crossed it on pontoons at Point of Rocks & then marched to Turkey Bend—or some call it Deep Bottom—on the James River & crossed it also. Here we found the gunboats & all the monitors and a small force of the 19th Corps. on bank and it was now morning and we had marched about 22 miles, having marched all night long. Our force consisted of the 2nd Corps under Gen. Hancock and Sheridan’s Cavalry. Our line was formed & a charge was made into the Rebel works (he meantime our monitors hurled in shells from the river) and we captured four Parrott cannon. There was then a new line formed & there was nothing but sharpshooters firing. We lay all the next day also until night when we started back & marched until morning, reaching the right of Petersburg where our division halted until dark when it relieved the 18th Army Corps which were in rifle pits for 24 hours. It was a warm place. If you stuck your cap—whiz–whiz—would come over a ball at what they would think was your head.
The day we was there, all the batteries opened & it was a splendid sight to see from a good place and shells of ours explode in & around Petersburg. Most of our shells were thrown at Fort [ ]. A few struck in the city & it soon became full of smoke so that you could hardly see the spires of the churches. A few of the houses burnt up.
At the same time, in front of Burnside’s Corps, the niggers made a charge & were successful first but afterward were driven back & a great many of them were captured which the rebels are making build up the forts which we blew up or if they refuse, kill them. That is the report here. They use mortar for dropping shell in the trenches here now which are not very pleasant. They sound just like a locomotive coming & in the night you can see them come.
I wrote Mother on the 29th. Please give bushels of love to Mother & Father & Sisters Carrie & accept the same yourself from Heyward.
I must now go for my 4 months pay as the regiment is getting paid which I will enclose in this.
P. S. The chaplain has no checks but will have them in 3 days. I give him 50 dollars and will send the check next letter for 50. I received 58 today.
Near Deep Bottom on James August 17th 1864
My Dear Mother,
I will try and find a way to send this if possible. On the 12th we left Petersburg & marched to City Point & imboarded the sick of the 24th Corps. The troops marched there too but the ambulances went back after unloading to Point of Ricks & crossed the Appomattox River & parked 2 miles from here on the other side of the James. We stretcher carriers were ordered to leave the ambulances & go back to City Point which made it a tiresome march for us. We got on transports & sailed to Deep Bottom, just across the river from where we left the ambulance train.
There has been some hard fighting. Our regiment has not been engaged. I helped get some of the 8th New Jersey Volunteers out yesterday who were wounded. Gen. Birney with the 10th Corps & [ ] of our corps are on the [ ] & it is reported are near Malvern Hill. They brought a rebel General dead in yesterday. His name was Chamberlin [John Randolph Chambliss, Jr.], I believe, a cavalry general. 1
Our gunboats help very much where we are.
It has been some time since I have got a letter from home. The last was dated July 29th. I send bushels of love to Father & Sisters Kate & Carrie & overflowing measures to my dear Mother & hope for the best. And I will now close & remain your ever affectionate, — Heyward
P. S. I put in this one of my friend’s photographs for sister to keep for me. I sent a check on July [ ] for $50.
1 “Promoted to brigadier general, [John R.] Chambliss continued in command of the brigade, through the cavalry fighting from the Rapidan River to the James, gaining fresh laurels in the defeat of the Federals at Stony Creek. Finally, in a cavalry battle on the Charles City Road, on the north side of the James River, Chambliss was killed while leading his men. His body was buried with honor by the Federals, and soon afterward, On Wednesday the 17th of August 1864, a detachment of confederate soldiers came across the union lines under a flag of truce to retrieve Chambliss’s body. Thereafter, he was exhumed and delivered to his friends. It was buried in the family graveyard in Emporia, Virginia. Robert E. Lee wrote that “the loss sustained by the cavalry in the fall of General Chambliss will be felt throughout the army, in which, by his courage, energy and skill, he had won for himself an honorable name.” [Wikipedia]
In the entrenchments before Petersburg, Va. August 21, 1864
Sister Kate’s letter of August 15th arrived on the 18th & I was very glad to hear from home once more & that the directions was right, for I will now receive them regularly. We left Deep Bottom—that is, the 3rd Division—on the night of the 18th and marched all night through the rain and got to Petersburg by noon the next day where our division relieved a division of niggers belonging to the 9th Corps in the entrenchments. Every morning about 3 o’clock the rebel batteries opened on us and we lay low in deep holes which we dig with piles of large logs front of us to screen ourselves from the flying missiles. We will be relieved from this position tomorrow. It is very filthy here. The ground is all littered with old meat &c.
I wrote at Deep Bottom to Mother. We went in a flag-of-truce when we were there with the rebel general Chamberlin’s [Chambliss’s] body & at the same time some of the stretcher carriers went in between the lines after some of the 8th New Jersey dead. They were mortified & it was very disagreeable even to have them carried near you. It was very disagreeable on board the transports. We expected to go to Washington but I was glad to get off so soon for we had hardly room to stand.
At dusk the whole 2nd Corps moved down the James river, bands a playing, to White House Point & laid at anchor & at 10 o’clock a tug boat come up with orders for the fleet to move to Deep Bottom. The going on transports & going down the river was of course just a blind for we could have marched it in half of the time it took to embark. I will not undertake to tell what we accomplished while there for you can read it in the papers before this, & all that I know would just be what took place just around our brigade.
The 5th Corps took 1100 prisoners yesterday and a train belonging to the Johnnies. I can now hear very heavy fighting on the left of us. We have had rain every day for the past 5 or 6 days.
I must now close. Please give bushels of love to my dear Mother & Father, Sister Kate, & accept heaps for yourself & I close & remain your ever affectionate brother, — Heyward G. Emmell
Before Petersburg, Virginia September 11th 1864
I received sister Kate’s note of the 5th this morning with great pleasure but am sorry to hear that Carrie has so bad a cold. The 5th, 6th, and 8th Regiments have gone home. Next goes the 7th [New Jersey] who are to go between this and October 1st. The clerks are busy making out muster rolls.
We stretcher bearers have something to do again as we advanced a part of the line of pickets who were too close to our fort & it has occasioned picket firing again. Just think a few days ago their pickets & ours would play cards together & some of theirs & our officers were drinking & playing together & now shooting [at] each other—but so it is. We use to get Richmond papers every morning.
Stephen Bruen is now Quartermaster and Tim Burroughs is Quartermaster Sergeant. Merritt’s [Merritt Bruen] death was very sudden. He had a great many friends in the army.
I must now bringhis to a close but not before giving heaps of love to my dear Father, Mother, and Sisters & please remember me to the Aunties & I close & remain your ever affectionate son, — Heyward G. Emmell
The following photographs are in an album recently purchased by a friend of mine at the Gettysburg Show (June 2022). It is clear the album once belonged to Heyward G. Emmell.
This letter was written by Pvt. John M. Ford (1843-1908) of Co. E, 7th Massachusetts Infantry. John gave his residence as Marshfield and his occupation as farmer when he enlisted as a recruit on 11 February 1862. He was wounded on 3 May 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville but recovered and presumably was with his regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg which was fought just one month previous to this letter.
In June 1864, as the term of the initial enlistees of the 7th Massachusetts soldiers had expired, he was transferred to Co. A, 37th Massachusetts Infantry where he finished his term of service, mustering out in February 1865.
John was the son of William Ford (1799-1861) and Clarissa Packard (1813-1907) of Marshfield, Plymouth county, Massachusetts. John survived the war and married Sarah Dingley Sherman (b. 1844) in November 1869. He wrote the letter to his older brother, William Henry Ford (1841-1907) who gave his occupation as “Housewright” in the 1860 US Census. William was working at the time in Fairmount, Massachusetts.
I have not found the details of John’s death on 16 May 1908 but his death certificate suggests that he was accidentally killed near the Allston Station, B&A Railroad tracks. A physician recorded that he had a compound fracture of the skull and other injuries (no autopsy performed). The railroad was identified as a contributing cause. I suspect that he may have committed suicide as no report of accidental death appeared in the papers and in his hometown paper, his obituary simply reported his “sudden death.”
To read other letters by members of the 7th Massachusetts Infantry I’ve transcribed and posted on Spared & Shared, see: Thomas Denton Johns, F&S, 7th Massachusetts (1 Letter) Oziel Ames Ramsdell, Co. K, 7th Massachusetts (7 Letters) Rufus Robbins, Co. K, 7th Massachusetts (2 Letters)
[Transcribed by Jeannette Ann Vannan; edited & researched by Griff.]
Camp Warrenton August 3, 1863
Brother W. H.,
Taking it for granted that ‘ere this you have received the letters which I wrote you while laying on the banks of the Potomac, I will now proceed to answer your kind letter which was received in due season, giving me a list of the drafted in Marshfield. I had a day or two before seen a list of the drafted. It was taken from a paper and sent out in a letter.
I had no sooner finished that letter than we had orders to fall in. We did and marched along in rear of the teams. We marched about 9 hours and got into camp about 9 o’clock in the evening. We had some pretty tough marching in getting where we now lay. In two days we made 60 miles—pretty tall marching that. We have now been laying in this camp 8 days. The first four my time was wholly taken up in hunting sheep and hogs on the mountain.
The third day, myself with 4 others went out (with guns & ammunition) for a grand excursion. On reaching the mountain, we deployed out as skirmishers. On reaching the summit of the mountain, I emerged into a densely wooded part of the mountain [and] had not proceeded far before to my utter astonishment, what should greet my ear but the whickering of horses. As you may suppose I made immediate tracks for the horses. On arriving on the spot, I ascertained that there were 6 horses part with bridles and part with halters. I immediately commenced inspecting the animals and used the best of my judgement in picking out the best one. My choice was a beautiful iron-grey horse of certainly not more that five years of age. I led him from his concealment, and getting into the lane, I hopped upon his back and to my great surprise he struck off into a rapid pace. I soon found the others and we succeeded in securing 5 sheep. I informed the gang of the concealed horses, and we concluded to go back and select the best ones out and take them to camp. We took 3 more of them, slung our mutton to them and started for camp.
On passing a negro house we were saluted by a wench, “Where de get them horses? On de mountain?” We informed them that we did. “Them am secesh horses. There be gariless in de mountain.” I asked her if she ever saw the horses before. She informed me that she had. Well I guess she had the right of it, for we were about 5 miles out from camp and some of our fellows have been fired on out there. Capt. Young on Col. [Henry L.] Eustis’s staff (the colonel commanding our brigade), was fired on. He being a brave and desperate fellow (and as fine a little fellow as ever stood) came into camp, got a squad, and went out (armed squad) but no guerrillas were to be found.
Well on getting into camp I sold my horse (worth $150) for $3. This I did to prevent him from being taken away from me and then I should have derived no advantage from him. He was the prettiest riding horse I ever saw and a handsome one too. If I had him at home, I would have sold him for any price. I should have liked to come across Crossley with his spirited nag. I should not be much afraid of his getting the best of me. These posers will go terribly as Chas. Eustis would say.
Well, I suppose you will expect me to say something in regard to the war question and what I think of Meade’s late movements at the Battle of Gettysburg. Gen. Meade showed himself to be a competent general—qualified in every respect to command the Grand Army of the Potomac. And when the Rebs left on the night of the 4th of July, he immediately pursued them, thus showing further his good generalship. On coming up in front of Funkstown, we found that the Rebs had made a stand here. We were brought into line of battle but did not advance far—only driving in their advance guard. The Rebs were forced to make a stand here in order to save their artillery and trains. Every soldier and line office was willing and anxious to attack the Rebs. It might applicably been said of the Army of the Potomac that it was anxious for a fight but it could never have been said before and I think never again.
But Meade allowed them to run on unharmed to our great consternation. No, they did not want to smash up Old Lee’s army. The war would be settled too quick. These suckers have not made money enough yet. Before that I would given 12 ½ cents for Meade, but now I would not give half price.
I wrote an order this morning and got 4 lbs. sugar at the commissary. Yesterday we drew clothing. I drew a shirt and haversack. I also charged them on the books. There is many boys in our company who are well acquainted with the man you work for. The most of our company came from Dorchester. I tell you Henry, the heat is very intense out here now. On our late marches, a great many have fell down in the ranks sun struck. I had my nose burst out bleeding once or twice.
Rather a hard thing on the drafted fellows. Think the most of them will come? George B.—how will it be with him? Amos I guess will come. Rather tough on the boarders. Dorchester is rather a tough place if all reports are true. I received a letter from mother the other day. She is well. The prospects are favorable for the stopping here some time. I now close hoping I may hear from you soon. I am sir, your affectionate brother, — J. M. Ford
This letter was written by Garrett F. Speer (1838-1894), the son of Garrett T. Speer (1794-1842) and Jane Sigler (1796-1860). He wrote the letter to his brother Walter Speer (1830-1887) who resided in Newark, New Jersey, with his wife, Sarah Ann (Cummings) Speer and their seven children. Walter was a carpenter/house builder by trade.
Garrett was a private in Co. F, 4th New Jersey Infantry. He later (January 1864) enlisted again in Co. K, 1st New Jersey Infantry Veterans and was wounded in May 1864 and taken to the Fairfax Seminary Hospital near Alexandria. He mustered out of the regiment on 29 June 1865.
In this letter, Garrett informs his brother that he has just returned to Alexandria after having spent the last three weeks in Pennsylvania. The 4th New Jersey did not take part in the Battle of Gettysburg. Rather, three of the companies were detached as Provost Guard and the remaining companies, including the one in which Garrett belonged, were detailed to guard the Reserve Artillery train. The majority of the letter is devoted to advising his brother to refrain from offering any support to the Copperhead Party.
Alexandria [Virginia] July 18, 1863
I am once more at leisure and will improve my leisure moments by writing you a few lines. I have just returned from Chambersburg, Pa. Since the first of July I have been very busy night and day until I am nearly worn out with fatigue. I received your letter of the 11th this morning. Was very glad to hear from you but would be much gladder to hear from you since the great Copperhead riot in New York City. I hope that will convince you that that party really mean.
Walter, let me implore of you to spurn them more than the vilest Rebel that pollutes the soil of America. Walter, as a brother, I want to give you a good advice. Don’t cast your destinies with a party so vile and corrupted that will place an eternal disgrace on you and your family that you can never wash out. You may think that I am somewhat abolitionized. That is not the case. I am neither a Copperhead nor an Abolitionist. God forbid that I should be either. The Rebel advance in Pennsylvania is enough to convince any good man the necessity of sustaining the government of the United States and the Administration until every Rebel North or South is subdued.
Walter, I consider a Copperhead of the Vallandigham stripe a worse enemy than the bold Rebel that comes right out and fights for the government that he wishes to sustain. Oh, I could mention so many instances of Copperhead imbecility in my travels in Pennsylvania that it has sickened me so much against that gang of traitors there. I have not language enough to express my disgust toward them. For God sakes, Walter, never allow yourself to be deceived by this hoard of traitors. They once partially deceived me until I saw for myself that they were the worst enemy the government had to contend against, and then I despised them as I would any traitor.
My motto is Stand by the Union until our glorious Old Flag waves in triumph over every street and every city in these once United States of America. And I know that there is loyal hearts enough yet left to accomplish that glorious end. Do not think that this is mere prejudice on my part as to the loyalty of this party that I am hostile to—not by any means. What I say to you about them is [true] and I know them to be what I represent them to be. And remember that the advice comes from a brother that would sooner have his right arm severed from his body than to allow the same to write you a bad advice. — G. F. Speer
Give my love to all of those friends that you speak of in your last letter. Tell them that I often think of them when I am in camp and think of the contrast between camp life and enjoying their agreeable company in a city like Newark. However, I expect to see them all again when this cruel war is over. When the Rebs are all disarmed of course, &c. &c. — G. F. Speer