Category Archives: General Meade

1861-63: James Cornell Biddle to Gertrude (Meredith) Biddle

Colonel James C. Biddle

These letters were written by James Cornell Biddle (1835-1898), the son of James Cornell Biddle (1795-1838) and Sarah Caldwell Keppele (1798-1877). Biddle wrote the letters to his cousin—and fiancee, then wife, Gertrude Gouverneur Meredith (1839-1905), the daughter of William Morris Meredith (1799-1873) and Catherine Keppele (1801-1853). William M. Meredith was a distinguished leader of the bar in Philadelphia and served as the Secretary of Treasury (1849-50) during the Zachary Taylor administration.

James began his military service as a private in Co. A, 17th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He enlisted on 25 April 1861 and mustered out after three months on 2 August 1861. It was while serving in the 17th Pennsylvania that he wrote the following letter.

On November 1, 1861 he was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in Co. C, 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Promoted to Captain and commander of Co. H on November 1, 1862. He was soon tabbed to served on the staff of Major General George Gordon Meade, performing that duty from May 1863 through the July 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, and through the end of the war. On November 5, 1863 he was discharged from the 27th Pennsylvania, and was promoted to Major and Aide-De-Camp, US Volunteers. He was brevetted Lieutenant Colonel, US Volunteers on August 1, 1864, for “faithful and meritorious services in the field” and Colonel, US Volunteers on April 9, 1865 for “gallant and meritorious services during the recent operations resulting the fall of Richmond and the surrender of the insurgent army under General R.E. Lee”. 

See also—1862: James Cornell Biddle to Gertrude Gouverneur Meredith transcribed & published on Spared & Shared 3 in August 2013.

Letter 1

Addressed to Miss Gertrude G. Meredith, Hon. W. M. Meredith, Philadelphia

Poolesville [Maryland]
June 19th 1861

My Dearest Gertrude,

I have just received yours & Colby’s letters of the 14th inst. I was very anxious to hear from you as I had not heard anything since the 13th and felt quite relieved at the contents, hearing that you were so well. I think Colby’s idea with regard to our movements may be correct as we have fixed our tents & have everything arranged as if it was a permanent thing, but as I have told you, there is no telling from one minute to another where we may be.

Three of our companies have gone to the Potomac as a guard to two pieces of artillery & I should like very much to go myself. This is a horrid place for an encampment. We have but one tree on our ground & an army of pigs must have been here before us as the ground is all rooted up. If it should rain, it will be a regular mud puddle. A detachment of three [men] from each company have been detailed to pick off the secessionists from the other side of the river. I was told this morning they had driven a party away from a cannon & prevented them from taking it away.

I was again on guard last night at a spring preventing any person [from] poisoning it. It has generally been the rule that after being on guard all night, we had the privilege of going where we pleased, but this morning the Colonel had us all drawn up & told us we were the guard of the camp and none of us would be allowed to leave our muskets so that we are now all huddled round this one tree.

We received the Baltimore Sun of Monday which mentions the evacuation of Harper’s Ferry. They say a good many of them have gone to Edwards Ferry 5 miles from here and that now they have a force there of some 7 or 8,000, but it is not likely they will attempt to cross the river. Neither will we do so if such is the case. This is a horribly dull place & the sooner we get out of it, the better I shall like it.

I was very sorry to hear Cassie is still so miserable. I think a little change of air will be of service to her. My darling Diddy, this is the 19th & it is less than one month till my time is up. I shall be too much rejoiced for anything to be with you once more. I think this war is not going to last a very great while as I do not see how the secessionists can hold out against such odds.

Tell Colby [that] Col. [C. P.] Stone is in command of this division. 1 He is quite a young man—not over 35. General Scott thinks a great deal of him and I like him so far as I have seen him. Colby mentions he is going to see our Flags. I wish we had them with us. Col. Patterson told me he would just as soon not receive them till our return as they would get soiled but if we are to gain any honor, I would rather have it under the new colors. The band have been playing almost all the morning. It is a great addition to our camp.

I intend taking a nap, dear Gertrude, as soon as I finish these few lines to you. You know I always was a sleepy head and last night I only had three hours sleep. What would you think of my taking one of Aunt Latimer’s blankets and sleeping all night in the lawn in front of the house, wrapped up in it? I can assure you, that would be a luxury in comparison with this as there the grass is nice & soft, and here is is full of holes and very little grass. I can imagine Aunt Latimer’s consternation at such a thing & yet I was never better in my life.

I am sorry to hear Miss Margaret Price is a secessionist. I think Baltimore is as bad if not worse than any city in the Union They all profess to be Unionists here, but I think it is principally owing to our presence. They say all kinds & sorts of stories were originated with regard to us before our arrival, but they have found out they were all untrue since we have been here.

I should like very much to meet Tom’s and your Uncle Sullie’s regiments. I was in hopes of seeing them but now I do not know how it will be. I hear the President is going to recommend the calling out of 500,000 troops in addition to those already enlisted.

I have just taken a peep at your photographs. I can read your feelings exactly. I know, dear Gertrude, you are very much attached to me and likewise that I am to you & I am sure we will lead a happy life together. I have always had the feeling we were fated for each other. The day of my return will be the happiest day of my life. I often think I have so much more to look forward to on my return than most of those who are away. There were a very few letters in the mail this morning & I have had dear knows how many inquiries as to how my letters were directed. I believe there is another mail expected into camp this afternoon. Do you know my own dear Gertrude, there has not been a mail that has yet arrived without bringing me a letter from the one I care most for, of all & everything in this world.

I have been afraid they would put in the papers all kinds and sorts of rumors with regard to our movements as I do not believe they know anything more of us than we know of what is taking place in the world. It is a joke of Abbie Bache’s the advertisements we have seen in the papers for recruits. “Able bodied, unmarried men wanted for the Army, fine chance for study, &c.” John Hewson & all are well. Osy [Oswald] Jackson inquired after you all & particularly Cassie. He requested me to send his regards to you all & referred to the pleasant breakfasts he had had with the gals previous to our departure.

The New Hampshire men have gone to the Potomac & report shooting some 5 or 6 secessionists on the other side of the river. I could see them quite plainly the day I was there. It is said there is a large force of Federal troops within one hour’s distance from here, but where they are I do not know. The New York 9th & the Washington Volunteers are three-quarter of a mile below us.

I heard some rumor of George Cadwalader’s 2 being suspended on account of some negligence, but I do not credit it. You see so many false reports in the papers at such times as these.

It is now only 10 o’clock and the day seems very long. We now get up between 3 and 4 and someone remarked in Philadelphia he could not sleep in the afternoon but here he could sleep all the time. It makes a great difference being in the open air all the time.

This last week has flown by very fast to me as we have had considerable to keep up the excitement. I now have finished all I have to say. Tell Ma she must not expect me to write as your letters will answer. I always let you know all the news. Give her my love as well as Katy, Grandma, your father, Cassie, Effie, and all with a great deal of love to yourself.

I am yours devotedly, forever, — J. C. B.

1 The 17th Pennsylvania Infantry was ordered to Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland, on 10 June, 1861, and was assigned to the Seventh Brigade, Third Division, Army of Pennsylvania, under the command of Colonel Charles Pomeroy Stone, 14th United States Infantry, by Special Orders No.96, Paragraph I, Headquarters, Department of Pennsylvania, Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia, on 10 July, 1861. Col. Stone was reportedly the first volunteer to enter the Union Army, and during the war he served as a general officer, noted for his involvement at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in October 1861. Held responsible for the Union defeat, Stone was arrested and imprisoned for almost six months, mostly for political reasons. He never received a trial, and after his release he would not hold a significant command during the war again.

2 Gen. George Cadwalader was in command of Fort McHenry. See Lincoln and Taney’s great writ showdown.

Letter 2

Knoxville [Maryland]
July 5th 1861

My Dearest Gertrude,

John Williams and myself walked to this place a few minutes ago for the purpose of mailing the letters & in hopes of being able to telegraph but find there is no telegraph office nearer than the Point of Rocks. I have written a dispatch & given it to the postmaster to give to the conductor to leave us off at that place.

Everything is quiet here—not a shot was fired last night. The people in this neighborhood are all strong Union. They are delighted at seeing us here and say we are the very men they want.

I sent you a sample of the money they are circulating in Virginia. They have it as low as 10 cents but I was not able to get one for you. I saw one that one of our men had.

This is going to be a very warm day & I should like to remain where I am for the rest of the day but our movements are so uncertain we may go at any moment & after writing his, I must hurry back to camp. I do not know how many regiments are here. I was awake a little while last night. It was but a short time I can assure you as I was very tired & heard the tramp of wagons & was told this morning they were arriving all through the night.

I do not think the fight—if any—will last long as we will be too many for them. There are 2 Mississippi Regiments in Harpers Ferry. I was very sorry indeed to hear of the loss of the New York 9th & feel it worse as it was caused by the drunken folly of one of Co. D of our regiment. They are all Irish. We have some very low characters in our regiment.

Dearest Gertrude, you must keep up your spirits. I do not think our regiment will advance much beyond Harpers Ferry in two weeks. I expect to be on board a train from this place bound to Philadelphia. How happy I shall be to be with you again. The men who live here are telling the condition of things here. They say they are ruined. All their factories are stopped & they think will never come up again. We see the effects of secession wherever we go. They have been doing, it seems to me, all the damage possible, destroying bridges, grain and everything without any reason.

Oswald Jackson has just passed on Hewson’s horse. John says his [Oswald’s] aunt lives a short distance from here. I suppose he is going to pay her a visit. I am very glad to hear Cassie is improving. I hope the change of air will be of service to her. One man says the secessionists have been blowing [bragging] that one of their men was equal to 5 Northern men, but they think it will take 4 men of our regiment to catch them & 1 to shoot them, yhey will run away so fast.

There is a mail here daily. You will receive this tomorrow. Yesterday was a glorious day to us. The people all were rejoiced to see us & I saw what would convince me if anything would of the gloriousness of our cause.

With all the love I have, I am your own devoted Jim for ever.

Give my love to Ma, Katy, your Father, Grandma and all.

Letter 3

Headquarters 5th Corps
April 4th 1863

My own darling Gertrude,

The candles are flickering so with the wind it is almost impossible to write, but I intend making out as well as I can as I would not for anything miss sending you a daily letter. I have been resting myself all day.

There was to have been a review of all the cavalry but it was postponed till tomorrow on account of the President who I hear is coming down tonight to spend Sunday. I do not think it is right to have anything of the kind on Sunday and I feel very sorry to hear it is to take place. I think nothing should be done in that day that can be avoided. I do not think we can be truly successful unless we place our trust in God as a nation, and I feel that any disregard of that day has a very bad effect on the army. I am sure the life is demoralizing enough and everything should be done to counteract the bad effects. I like to remain quiet and feel it is Sunday. It always to me is the pleasantest day of the whole week. I think it is terrible to see how little regard is paid to religion. I am sorry that I am not myself better. I know how far I am from being what I should be, & I wish I was a great deal better. I know what true happiness religion brings with it and it seems to me so strange it should be so generally disregarded. Things pertaining to this world seem to be the uppermost thoughts of mankind, ambitious to occupy a high place here on earth with no regard to the future. Why do not the same feelings operate to make humanity better?

I received your nice letter this afternoon. They come now regularly to me every day and I can assure you I look forward to their arrival with a great deal of pleasure.

I am very sorry to hear gold has gone up again. I do not think we can expect much now from either Grant or Banks in the quarter in which they are operating. I wish they would send the whole force into Tennessee and North Carolina. It seems to me we can accomplish more in that way than any other. I do not like dividing our forces so much. We must trust for the best and we cannot expect to have anything as we should like. We have a tremendous rebellion to contend against. We have to fight them now in their strong positions and it must take time to produce any telling results.

Everyone now is looking to this army. I presume before long its movements will be made known. The roads are now in a passable condition & before many weeks I presume it will be on the move.

I have not as yet read McClellan’s report. Gen. [Andrew A.] Humphreys does not like his throwing the blame upon him, or rather attributing his failure to advance to Humphreys division not being on the ground till late the day after. He says he arrived early in the morning and was in position in the rear of Porter by 8 o’clock a.m. the day after the battle with 6,000 men.

I am very well, my own darling wife. Take good care of yourself for my sake. You are ever present in my mind and I know there is a happy future in store for us. Capt, Mason has just come in my tent to tell me my map and all the books r. Garland sent me have ben burnt up. They accidentally caught fire when no one was present. Thank Mr. G for me for sending. Give my love to all & with heaps to you. Believe me forever your devoted husband.

Letter 4

Headquarters, 5th Corps
April 5th 1863

My own darling wife,

The roads had just become passable and yesterday John was remarking he did not see why the army did not move. But today the ground is covered with snow. It will take at least a week before they are in as good condition again. I am of the opinion we will not do anything till after the middle of the month. The move, when it is made is to be a rapid one and would be entirely frustrated if we should encounter such a storm as this. I think we shall go down the [Rappahannock] river, make a rapid march, and try and get to Richmond in advance of the army of Lee. I hope this time we shall be successful. By the middle of May, this army will be diminished considerably by the expiration of the enlistment of the two years men, also the nine months conscripts. Whatever is to be done must take place before that time. Our Corps will lose just one half of its number.

Today is Sunday. I have been reading my prayer book and amusing myself talking to different members of the staff. They are mostly McClellanites and in consequence I never mention his name. It is not worth while getting into disputes.

The President passed by this morning on a special train. He has gone to Gen. Hooker’s Headquarters. The review will not come off and I am very glad of it as I must confess I did not approve of it.

I am writing on my bed with your desk on my lap. I have no rest for my arm and consequently it is not possible for me to write nicely.

I am expecting a letter shortly from you. The 1 o’clock train left before the arrival of the boat. It is now just 4 o’clock—the time the train is due. We dine at 5 o’clock. I generally take a lunch at about 12. I hear the whistle of the engine now. I wonder if any of my letters were on the train that broke down between Washington & Philadelphia the other day. I hope is any should have been they were not destroyed.

John is very well and seems in much better spirits although I think he still would like very much to resign. I must confess I would like very much myself to be quietly living in the peaceful paths of life, but as this is impossible, I make myself contented.

[Our new Corps commander,] Gen. Meade I think a very good officer. Everyone speaks highly of him and he certainly is a gentleman which I am sorry to say a great many of our officers are not. A portion of Gen. Hooker’s staff were here last evening and it almost made me sick. They were half tight and a more rowdy looking set I never met. “Birds of a feather flock together.” I will not say more.

Let me know my own dear little wife all about yourself. I wish you were more regular. I think it is so important for one’s health. When you write, tell me all about yourself & I want you to be as bright as possible. When do you intend to get your spring clothes? I have one month’s pay now due me and by the end of this month hope to be able to send some more money to you. My expenses will not be at all heavy and I can save at least one half. I do not want you. to economize but get whatever you may want.

There is no news. I am very well & you need not be at all uneasy about me. Give my love to all, and with a heart overflowing with love for yourself, I am forever your devoted husband.

Letter 5

Headquarters 5th Corps
April 12th 1863

My own dear little wife,

I received your letter of the 9th yesterday. I am very glad to hear such good accounts of all at home. It is a great consolation when one is away as I am to have no cause of anxiety. I am perfectly contented and never in my life felt better in every respect. I would like very much to get a peep at you in your spring things but I hardly expect to be so fortunate. I want you to get whatever you may want. I have $80 in my purse and Capt. Mason will bring me down $160 more, leaving me a sufficient sum after paying for my horse. If I find one, I conclude to buy. It is very strange if you want to buy a horse, it is a difficult thing to get one you like, and if you want to sell, you find the same difficulty in finding anyone who wants to buy. I always calculate upon leaving one half in every horse I purchase and why I should be so unfortunate, I cannot tell. I am certain my black horse will never bring $200, the price I paid for him. Some horse jockey could buy him for about $100 & then sell him for the price I gave. I require a strong, sound horse, and as yet I have not seen any that I at all like.

There is a Swiss General visiting our army and he is coming here at 12 o’clock to ride through the camps to take a look at things in general. I am sorry for it. I am so heartily sick of anything like reviews. Of course the General [Meade] will ride with him.

It is going to be a very warm day, It is now in my tent quite close. I feel very anxious to hear of the result from Charleston. The rebels have been quite jubilant, cheering most vociferously. They called across the river to our pickets that they hoped we were satisfied with the whipping we got at Charleston. I still hope for the best. I know it is a tremendous undertaking but then we have made vast preparations and I trust they may prove successful. It will be a heavy blow morally to the rebels, and I do not believe there is anything that can damage them as much, It will tell with such effect all through the South. They hate Charleston almost as much as we do, and a great many of them would like to see it leveled to the ground.

Nothing is said as yet about moving. I do not understand the cause of the delay. It certainly is very strange, There are various surmises made as to where we will go when we leave here. The rebels are in strong force and position directly opposite to us.

John is well and seems contented in his present position. The only thing he is afraid of is being ordered to some strange general but I do not think they will do so. He has not had a great deal to do and is acting more in the capacity of Aide.

I hear nothing of the sword presentation to General Meade. Ma wrote to me it was to take place at the camp of the reserves near Alexandria. Gen. Meade himself knows nothing definite. I believe none of the new Major Generals have been allowed the Aides given them by law. Gen. Meade spoke to the President about it when he was down here. The President was very noncommittal. He said if the law gave them to them, he thought they should have them and promised to see about it on his return to Washington. I have no news, my dear little wife, only I know how much I love you and that I am always looking forward to my return to a long & endless life of happiness with as much certainty as anyone may possess. I am sure of our love for each other and I know I care for nothing without you. I must close this. Give my love to all & with a great deal to yourself.

I am forever your own devoted husband.

Letter 6

Headquarters 5th Corps
April 16th 1863

My own dear little wife,

James Cornell Biddle

We had a very heavy rain last night which will put us back a day or so in the contemplated movement, I am very glad we did not have the storm after we had taken down our tents. It is now about the change of the moon, and I am in strong hopes this has been the clear up rain for in all conscience, we have certainly had enough to last for some time.

I hear some 20,000 men left Washington the night before last to reinforce Gen. Peck [at Suffolk]. They say the rebels are concentrating troops in that direction to strike against him. I do not understand their movements but would not be at all surprised if they intend to fall back upon Richmond. From here, it certainly looks so, when we hear of such large forces on the other side of that place. We have not heard anything from our cavalry. We have to await the arrival of the Chronicle to know of anything even in our own army. We have heard distant firing but do not know what was the cause of it. There is a report that they have captured a Battery. I am in great expectations the rebel cavalry force has been very much diminished in consequence of the inability of their getting forage. It now numbers, so report goes, only 4,000 men. We sent out from here 12,000 & I presume General Stahl has left Washington with 4,000 more. They certainly ought to accomplish something. Infantry cannot follow them and they ought to have everything their own way.

The news from Charleston is not encouraging but it is as much as I expected. I had not much hope of the iron clads being able to accomplish anything against strongly casemates land batteries.

Gen. Meade said this morning he knew nothing of the intended movements. We are all wondering what the eight days supplies are for. I do not think we can carry that much. The men are very improvident and I know from experience it is difficult to get them to carry 3 days rations.

I received your letter yesterday of the 13th. They come regularly to me every day and I look forward to them arrival with a great deal of pleasure.

With regard to my views, they all know I am not an admirer of McClellan and there is very little ever said of him. I do not think it worth while to stir up controversies with those who have been associated with him. Webb was on his staff. I believe he has a good opinion of him but I have heard him say but little. Locke has been very civil to me. I recollect hearing something of the testimony he gave on the Porter & McDowell court martials but I never read them myself.

I am very well, my dear wife. I never felt better in my life. The sedentary life on the board was not compatible with my disposition. I never could stand sitting over a table all day writing and consequently gave me those unpleasant feelings after my meals. But since I have been here, I have not been troubled with them. I wonder when the board or the present officers will be relieved. I should think they must be getting tired of it.

I must now draw this to a close, my dear little wife, or else I will be too late for the mail. I feel like you, I never like to stop my letters but wish I only could write a great deal more and make them more interesting. Give my love to all & with a great deal to yourself, believe me for ever your devoted husband.

Letter 7

Headquarters 5th Corps
April 17, 1863

My own dear little wife,

We are still uncertain of our movements. The rain has disturbed all the plans for the present. It is still threatening and before a great while, I think it is going to pour. I am very sorry for it as I am afraid the tail of our cavalry may be impeded in consequence. I have not the least idea where the cavalry have gone to but the Rappahannock has risen by the recent rains and it may have prevented their crossing, as I presume they intended to do at some point. I heard of them at Rappahannock Station. There is a very good ford there but I have not heard of their crossing. It is the largest force of cavalry we have ever had together and they ought to accomplish what they design to do.

General Peck is threatened at Suffolk. I hope with the force we sent from Washington we may have good news from him.

I received yesterday the pamphlets sent to me by Mr. Garland. Thank him and tell him I have already distributed a number. I do not think the first were intentionally burnt as the fire was in John Mason’s tent and no one would have done anything of the kind intentionally. It came very near burning up the tent and the wonder was it did not do it. The legs of the table were burnt ad everything that was on it, books, gloves, &c.

I was over at Gen. Hooker’s Headquarters yesterday. Charley Cadwalader was in Washington. Jim Starr told me he was going on his Uncle George’s staff as Major. If so, George must be going to have a Corps, and if so, where is the vacancy? Starr was very anxious to get a staff appointment. He would not though do so unless he could get another commission as he did not think it right for so many officers to be taken away from Rush. Starr spoke very well of Rush although he does not fancy him, yet he says Rush has acted in everything as he thought best for the good of his regiment. He said John was too hasty in resigning insinuating that he was disgusted without any reason and as we know John has been out of sorts in every position he has occupied, he was disgusted with the law also. This is entirely for yourself and I now am sorry I have written it. I do hate to say abusive things of persons. It is a very bad habit to get into but I only mean by the above remarks to say John’s disposition is a hard one to please. We know very well the moody ways he sometimes would get into. He sees though better satisfied now for he has made up his mind it will not do for him to resign, but I think he will do so after the next fight.

The Chronicle arrives everyday by one o’clock. There has been no news for a long time and I now think we must wait till after this army gets in motion & then I think there will be startling doings. There is only one thing I regret, the time of so many men is so near expiring. I am afraid they will not fight so well as they otherwise might. I wish the draft would get in operation. We need more men. The rebels have an equal number & occupy their chosen positions, which are now strongly fortified. We ought to make up for these disadvantages by numbers.

I am in hopes Foster will get out of his scrape [in North Carolina]. I am inclined to think he is all right as the rebels have not said anything. The pickets notwithstanding talking across the river is prohibited, always taunt each other when there is any news good to either side. I hear the rebel pickets called over to ours, “So you’re trying a raid, are you?” They know everything we do. They are much better informed of what is going on than we are.

I received your letter yesterday of the 14th. It is so comforting to get such cheerful letters. I am very well and manage to pass my time very pleasantly. I have you constantly on my mind & would give a good deal to see you if for only a short time. I often think of how happy I was in Washington. I always looked forward with so much pleasure when my duties were over to my return to my darling little wife. But for the present, we must make up our minds to be separated and trust in God for the future. Have you heard or seen anything of Markoe Bache? I expect he is visiting on my head his failure to get his appointment. I see Hewson every now and then. He is looking very well and seems to like the life as much as one can be supposed to. He always seems cheerful and contented. I must now say goodbye. I like to write you nice long letters, my dear life wife, and I feel I cannot put half I want to express on paper. You know how much I love you & I can tell you my affection will never grow less. Give my love to all & with a great deal to yourself.

I am forever your devoted husband.

Gen. Meade was told by Gen. Hooker he could not let him leave the army now to go to to the sword presentation.

Letter 8

Headquarters 5th Corps
April 18th 1863

My own dear little wife,

The mail arrived yesterday but brought no letter for me. After dinner I received the second one you wrote to me on the 30th of March. I had gone over to Gen. Hooker’s Headquarters & they kept it there all this time. It partly made up for my disappointment at not hearing in the morning. My own dear little wife, I know it was not your fault but entirely owing to the mail. I will. today receive two in compensation.

I write to Gen. Ricketts yesterday. I wonder when the present Board will be dissolved and what command your Uncle Sully will have. I see every now and then new lists published in the Chronicle but they are gradually getting smaller, This is a lovely spring day and I am in hopes it may last for some time. I heard yesterday Gen. Stoneman had sent word back he was stopped owing to the impossibility of getting his artillery forward. I do trust they may accomplish some good, but what they are after I have no idea of. I hope they may destroy some of the bridges between here and Richmond. They have been delayed so much I am afraid the rebels are cognizant of their plans.

I presume now in a day or so we shall be off. I can see nothing to delay us any longer. The sooner we go, the better as the time of enlistment of some of the troops is nearly up. I have great faith in this army and if we are successful, it will pretty nigh break down the Confederacy. I read Davis’s address to his soldiers. There is no doubt they are badly off for supplies & another year—if the war lasts so long—must starve them into obedience. But I hope the triumph of our armies will sooner bring them to their senses.

There is no news of any kind. I presume we shall hear something from Suffolk or Williamsburg. Foster, I think, is safe. If they had him in a box we would have heard of it through rebel sources. I am glad Grantees troops are moving up the Mississippi. I do not believe in attempting Vicksburg again. The best thing to do is to send two or three son clads to blockade the river and take away the land force & send them into Tennessee.

How is your father? I hope he is frisking up. Also that Cassie has gotten over her indisposition—the two invalids.

Take good care of yourself, my own dear little wife. You are my every thought. I want you to get whatever you want. I now have nearly two months pay due me & $80 in my pocket so you see I am flush.

Frank Wistar was here the day before yesterday. I think Gen. Meade has applied for him as commissary of musters. We all get along together on the staff very nicely. It is a great thing to be associated with gentlemen. I am very well contented with my position. Gen. Meade has just told Gen. Griffin he intended reviewing Syke’s Division at 2 o’clock today. Alas for reviews. I though they were over. It seems to me everyone is review mad. I am sick of them having had so much of them since I’ve been here.

I must say goodbye my dear wife. Know how much I love you, my dear girl. You are my all and I look forward to a happy future. Give my love to all & with a great deal to yourself I am forever your devoted husband.

Letter 9

Headquarters 5th Corps
Stoneman’s Station, Virginia
May 22, 1863

My own dear little wife,

I received your letter of the 19th yesterday. I am very much afraid I have created expectations in your mind which I did not intend to give. I have no idea of being able to leave here now. General Meade will only give leaves of absence upon urgent grounds and then only for five days. I have the satisfaction though of knowing if there is any reason for my leaving, I can get off without any difficulty. There is no telling what may happen. Gen. Meade may be ordered to pay the President a visit & if he takes me with him, I will telegraph for you. I would give anything to be with you, my own darling little wife, and I have been thinking and envying John ever since he took his departure. I do not believe there is anyone in the army who has more reason to wish for home than myself and I trust this war may soon be ended but as long as it lasts, I feel it a duty to bear a part of the hardships, and when it is over, I will be as happy as the day is long with my own sweet Gertrude.

Jay, Mason & Dr. Russell are in my tent. They wonder how I am able to write so much. They say I must write the same letter every day. Well, my dear Gertrude, in that they are pretty nigh correct, but I know what a pleasure my letters are to you and that no apologies are necessary.

Yesterday morning I took a swim in Potomac Creek and in the afternoon went to the presentation of a horse, saddle & bridle, spurs, gloves, sword and overcoat too Gen. Barnes. I met there some 5 or 6 members of the Washington Grays who now are with the Corn Exchange Regiment. Gen. Meade has one of his nephews staying here—Mr. Meade of the Navy. He leaves this morning. He had a very narrow escape yesterday, He got one of Gen. Meade’s horses and sailor-like, depended upon the reins instead of upon his legs to hold himself in the saddle, the consequence of which was the horse reared and fell over backwards upon him. I was a good deal startled and felt afraid he was severely hurt, but he fortunately got off with only a few bruises.

I am going over to see George Ingham sometime today. Gen. Sykes has been quite sick and I believe has applied for a leave of absence in which case I presume George will get off too. Both our Division Commanders are sick. Griffin is in Washington and has just had his sick leave extended fifteen days.

Of course you have seen John and have received from him a full account of me as to how well I am. I make up my mind to be satisfied although I do miss you dreadfully. The rebels seem to be getting very tired of the war. They told our officers left at Chancellorsville they wished they could see an honorable way out of it for them and they would be satisfied.

There is no news of any kind and no sign of a move. It is impossible for us to do anything here till we are reinforced. I am in hopes though that this base will be abandoned. I see by Southern papers we are fortifying West Point [Va.]. What can be the meaning of this? I do think it a great mistake the way we are scattering our forces and have never as yet been able to have a combined movement. I believe though with all the blunders that have been committed, we are gaining every day and the rebellion is sinking. There is no doubt of the end. It has gone so far there can be no compromise and we must conquer them or they us. And of the result, I have no doubt whatever.

I we have Vicksburg, we hold the Mississippi and you recollect John Cadwalader predicted that this would be the work of ten years. It is hard for us to brook reverses. But in the end, all will be right and I trust we may be a purer, better people that ever before.

My darling Liddy, I must now close this in time fr the mail. Your letter arrive regularly every day about 1 o’clock and I am always wishing for that hour to het my letter. Give my love to a, Kate, Elizabeth, your father and all & wish a great deal of love to yourself.

I am ever your devoted husband.

Col. [Charles Mallet] Prevost of the 118th said to me he had heard of me through Philadelphia. His wife wrote to him Major Biddle had expressed some opinion with regard to Hooker. He said it was nothing bad but he could not recollect what it was. How could she have heard this? Dear Gertrude, do not think I think for a moment you would say anything to anyone. I would mind for I do not. I only not knowing her wondered how she had heard it.

1863: John M. Ford to William Henry Ford

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.

I could not find an image of John, but here is one of James Lycett of the 7th Massachusetts Infantry. James was wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg (Al Niemiec Collection)

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.]


Addressed to Mr. William H. Ford, Fairmount, Massachusetts

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

1863: Walter Lackey to Thomas Walter

I could not find an image of Walter but here is a 6th Plate Ambrotype of Thomas W. Ward of Co. D, 95th Pennsylvania, or “Gosline’s Zouaves” (David Basco Collection)

This letter was written by Walter Lackey (1841-1898) of Philadelphia, who enlisted as a private in Co. K, 95th Pennsylvania Infantry (“Gosline’s Zouaves”) in October 1861. At the time of his enlistment he was described as a 20 year-old, 5’9″ tall, blue-eyed, light-haired printer. He was discharged with disability in June 1864.

The men of the 95th Pennsylvania had a long and glorious record of achievement on the battlefield. They wore an “Americanized” zouave uniform. Later in the war, they turned in their scarlet pants, scarlet trimed kepis, and tan gaiters, but the jacket, and vest still remained, and they wore the zouave jacket, and vest up until their regiment was mustered out at the end of the war. The regiment lost six field officers during the war: two colonels, two lieutenant-colonels, a major and an adjutant; this is the second highest total of officer casualties for any Union regiment during the war.

According to a notice posted in the Bridgeton Pioneer (New Jersey) on 21 April 1898, Walter “dropped dead at his home” in Philadelphia. He was only 55.

Other letters and diaries by members of the 95th Pennsylvania transcribed & published on Spared & Shared include:
Joshua Thompson, Co. A/H, 95th Pennsylvania (Union/1 Letter)
Samuel Clayton, Co. D, 95th Pennsylvania (2 Diaries)
Edward Riggs, Co. K, 95th Pennsylvania (Union/1 Letter)


Camp of the 95th Regt. Penn. Vols.
Near Warrenton, Va.
October 24, 1863

Cousin Tom,

I received your letter and owe thee an apology for not writing to thee before. But the truth is, I have not written to anyone but the folks at home. It is not necessary to tell thee all about our summer campaign to prove that it has been a severe one.

“It is rumored that Gen. Meade is about to be superseded by Gen. Dan Sickles. I have surmised for some time that such would be the case. The fact is, Gen. Meade is getting much too popular for that consummate villain H. W. Halleck.”

—Walter Lackey, Co. K, 95th Pennsylvania, 24 October 1863

The last ten days has also been an eventful period to our army and may be the cause of a change in command of this army. It is rumored that Gen. Meade is about to be superseded by Gen. Dan Sickles. I have surmised for some time that such would be the case. The fact is, Gen. Meade is getting much too popular for that consummate villain H. W. Halleck. I can’t see what the President means by the course he is pursuing in regard to the army. My eyes have been opened lately by many facts in regards to officers which I had been led to believe were “loyal to the core,” but who are sympathizers with the rebels. It is a sad reality that our lives are at the mercy of such men. They are fully competent to command and as brave as the bravest, but their hearts are not in the cause.

I believe Gen. Meade to be brave and patriotic, and that our Corps General Sedgwick is also loyal, but there are division and brigade generals in our Corps who are wanting in patriotic motives. Our regiment is in the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 6th Corps, commanded respectively by Generals Bartlett, Wright, and Sedgwick.

Last week we evacuated the line of the Rapidan and fell back to Centreville without any loss to our Corps. On Monday we again moved forward and are now lying at Warrenton—a very pretty little place, but shows signs of decay which are the fruits of the rebellion. The inhabitants are of course “Secesh” in feeling, but they have a great liking for Uncle Sam’s “greenbacks.” They sell very high. For instance, yesterday I wished to buy a few cakes (having got tired of hard tack) and I went into town and bought a dozen for 50 cents. The cakes were about two inches in diameter. Cabbage sells for 30 cents a head, butter $1.25 cents a pound and everything else in proportion.

The rebels in falling back from Manassas destroyed all the small culverts and tore up the track of the railroad. Consequently our supplies have to be brought in wagons from Gainesville.

Tracks of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad torn up by the retreating Confederates in the fall of 1863.

I feel very well satisfied with the result of the election in Ohio and Pennsylvania and hope that New York will not go astray.

There is no signs of the army going into winter quarters although there is some talk of it. We are today having a heavy storm and I suppose cold weather will follow. Give my regards to thy father, mother, and the rest of the family. I should be pleased to hear from thee at thy earliest convenience.

Truly as ever, — Walter Lackey

Co. K, 95th Reg. P. V., 2nd Brig, 1st Div., 6th Corps, Washington, DC.