Category Archives: Castle Thunder Prison

1865: Wesley Blanchard to Eldora M. Webster

I could not find an image of Wesley but here is one of Charles Asbury Fitch who was the same age and also served in the 24th Massachusetts Infantry (Dave Morin Collection)

This letter was written by 21 year-old Wesley Blanchard (1844-1908) , a grocer from Lewiston, Maine, who enlisted in October 1861 to serve in Co. H, 24th Massachusetts Infantry. He reenlisted in January 1864 and did not muster out of the service until 20 January 1866 at Richmond, Virginia. His military records indicates that he was wounded sometime in 1864 but there are no specifics. The 1900 US Census gives Wesley’s birth date as May 1844 which means he would have only been 17 when he enlisted,

Wesley was the son of Joseph Knapp Blanchard (1820-1885) and Elizabeth Thayer (1824-1884) of Freeman, Franklin county, Maine. Hw wrote the letter to Eldora M. Webster (1846-1913) who became his wife on 5 August 1866. In 1870, the Wesley and Eldora lived in Lewiston where Wesley earned his living as a store clerk. By 1900 he had become an oil merchant.

After the fall of Richmond, the 24th Massachusetts was ordered to the city to preserve order. They set up camp on the corner of Franklin and Nineteenth Streets in Wright’s Tobacco Factory. They were placed as guards at Libby Prison and Castle Thunder where ex-rebels were detained.

A colored lithograph of Castle Thunder Prison on Cary Street in Richmond where Wesley penned his letter while on guard duty. (Virginia Historical Society)

To read other letters written by soldiers of the 24th Massachusetts that I have transcribed and published in Spared & Shared, see:

Unidentified Soldier, 24th Massachusetts (1 Letter)
Alexander M. Hayward, Co. C, 24th Massachusetts (1 Letter)
Josiah Alonzo Osgood, Co. C, 24th Massachusetts (20 Letters)
William Hunt Goff, Co. H, 24th Massachusetts (43 Letters)


Addressed to Miss E. M. Webster, Kingfield, Maine

Castle Thunder
[Richmond, Virginia]
December 6, 1865

My most true friend,

It is a very rainy night. I am lonely sitting here as all of the boys have gone away to spend the evening. As I was telling—thinking—my thoughts roam back to you and those happy hours we passed together one year ago. Little did we think then that the present time I should be so far away (while Thanksgiving was so nigh I had promised myself a pleasant time with you) but luck does not always favor our expectations. So it seems in the present case.

I have not received any letter from you for three weeks. Do you think that you are forgotten by me? It cannot be! for you have heard my true declaration of my trust. I cannot think so but the withdrawal of your letters show that there is a withdrawal or a misunderstanding. Can it be because of my own neglect in writing? If so, it is my own fault. The blame is on myself. For the future I will try and do better. You have heard in my last my prior reasons. It would not be worthwhile to repeat them, but you have no cause to harbor a single thought but that I am true to you and ever shall be till death.

We have not moved yet but shall soon take up our abode at Libby Prison as it is nearly complete for our admittance. We have at present 59 prisoners of all classes. We have had a slight fall of snow which soon left us. Otherwise we are enjoying an Indian summer.

“Military law yet rules in the city. Ben. Butler is expected here to take command of this department. There will be sport then. Many secesh will feel what it is to come down. They have not had a very strict man to control them.”

—Wesley Blanchard, 24th Massachusetts, 6 December 1865

Military law yet rules in the city. Ben. Butler is expected here to take command of this department. There will be sport then. Many secesh will feel what it is to come down. They have not had a very strict man to control them. There is robbing done here every night upon the streets. Nearly every day we see pass by our door men handcuffed and tied to the saddle of the Orderly men who have committed offenses and are committed to the State penitentiary for a number of years. Of all places, that is the worst. they receive hard bread and pork, coffee & sugar. That is all they are allowed. No soap to wash with. That is a hard life—one which I should pray to never to see.

Tomorrow is our day of thanks. All places of business is to be closed. I shall have a chicken pie for my dinner. That is a day which is not much regarded here. I am in good health at present. Please to write oftener for your letters are of great comfort to me—of you only and my thoughts of home/ Do please write. Give m respects to all.

Yours truly, — W. Blanchard