Category Archives: Libby Prison

1861-63: Charles Henry Thayer to Caroline (Taft) Thayer

Capt. Charles H. Thayer later in the war.

These three letters were written by Charles Henry Thayer (1840-1903), the son of Nathanial Thayer (1795-1866) and Caroline Taft (1806-1885). Charles lived in Franklin, Massachusetts, until just before the war when he moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and enlisted in Col. Ambrose Burnside’s 1st Rhode Island Infantry (3 months), Co. D. He was sent along with the other soldiers in his regiment to fight at Bull Run—the first major battle of the Civil War.

Charles mustered out of the 1st Rhode Island in August 1861 and reenlisted in the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry. After changing regiments, he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and then placed in charge of the recruiting station in Cranston, Rhode Island. He was moved back into combat at the end of 1862 and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. He was transferred to the Army of the Potomac in 1863 and elevated to the rank of Captain in Co. C. His regiment fought in Kelly’s Ford where Charles was wounded and taken prisoner to Richmond. He was finally released from Libby Prison and exchanged in December of 1864. He was honorably discharged on 31 December 1864 after 3 ½ years of service.

Following the war, Charles became a doctor of dental surgery graduating in 1869 from the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. He came to Chicago, Illinois in 1870 and opened his office.

A photograph of eleven members of the First Rhode Island Infantry wearing their distinctive “Burnside blouses.” These boys fought at First Bull Run.

Letter 1

Greencastle, Pennsylvania
[Wednesday] June 12th 1861

Dear Mother,

We left Washington Monday morning [June 10th] at 5:30 o’clock on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad & arrived at Baltimore about 2 p.m., then took the Northern Central Railroad for the above place where we did not arrive till the next morning, being 1.5 days & one night on the way. The distance was over 200 miles. We passed by the Relay House on our way to Baltimore where General Butler is posted with a large body of men. It is situated on a very high hill & is very easy to defend. Before we arrived at Baltimore, we were told to load our piece & be in readiness of an attack. The people did not give us a very hearty reception. Some called us Northern Sons of Bitches & other names and sung out three cheers for Jeff Davis. We expected every moment they would attack us. We did not see only one Union flag in the whole city. It was suffocating hot. The march was 1.25 miles long. 14 of the men fainted in the ranks & 6 others when we got aboard the cars. We had our knapsacks, canteens, haversacks, cartridge boxes, and quite a number of other articles. The whole what we had to carry was 36 pounds.

All the bridges in this section of the country have been burnt. They have been rebuilt & have troops stationed every half mile to guard them. We passed through Little York, Mechanicsburg, Chambersburg, &c. where they all gave us a hearty reception & brought us out some good, cold water which was the best thing we had, having only salt junk & hard crackers for our food which we carried in our haversacks. As soon as we arrived here, our cooks prepared us some hot coffee. we then went to work cleaning up the grounds preparatory to pitching our tents. They did not get our tents unloaded so we slept on the ground. Had a very good night’s rest. I washed myself all over before going to bed & rubbed myself hard & dry so was nice & warm.

We have got our tents all up now. They are 6 feet square on the ground & slant up to the ridge pole which is 8 feet from the ground. They expect 6 of us to sleep in one of them but I do not see how we are to do it. I guess one of us will have to sleep out doors.

Our camp is situated on the edge of an oak forest in front of a large clover field. We are about a quarter mile from the road. A small stream of water flows to the rear of us which we have dammed up in a number of places to bathe. We are two miles from Greencastle & only one from Hagerstown, Maryland, where there is secession troops just across the river from them in Virginia. We are the advance guard of the whole army—the post of honor. Troops are concentrating here fast. 30,000 here already. We are to take Harpers ferry & shall probably march in a few days. General Patterson commands the division of the army—an able and gallant commander from what I have heard said.

When we were at the Patent Office 1, I wrote about our taking a spy who was concealed in the building. They let him go then with the warning never to be seen near our quarters again. Yesterday the U.S. Cavalry captured a spy with the plan of our camp & all the other camps around & the number of men in each. He was to be shot this forenoon in Greencastle. No one can enter this part of the country without first getting a pass from some officer in command.

Greencastle is in Franklin county in the Great Cumberland Valley—splendid country, rich land and rich farmers—a great country for horses and other kinds of cattle.

I commenced to write this with a pencil but one of the men was kind enough to lend me his pen and ink. There is so many people around me talking and working that it confuses me & I can not think or write half what I want to. I write this on a drum which the drummer was kind enough to loan me. If we attack Harpers Ferry, I hope to be one of the [soldiers] who live though it. I will do my duty & fight bravely till the last & be no coward. I hope God will protect me and bring me safe home again to my kind mother, father, sisters, & all.

From your affectionate son, — C. H. Thayer

1 Company D of the 1st Rhode Island Infantry was quartered in the Patent Office when they first went into Washington D. C. Col. Burnside ordered Capt. N. W. Brown and his company (D) to move his command and camp equipage from the Patent Office on 14 May 1861.

Letter 2

Libby Prison
Richmond, [Virginia]
April 2nd 1863

Dear Mother,

I arrived this 6 p.m. from Gordonsville, wounded through fleshy part of right thigh. Doing well. 10 privates of my regiment are with me. A flag of truce boat is here and will take them off tomorrow. No chance for officers to be paroled or exchanged. Two from my regiment are here before me. I can write only 6 lines. Write soon, all of you. Goodbye, love to all.

— Charles H. Thayer, Capt. 1st Rhode Island Cavalry

Letter 3

Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia
April 22nd 1863

My Dear Mother,

I am in good health. Wound doing well. Am happy as could be expected in place of this kind. 100 officers in one room including two generals. The 2nd Lieut. of my company is with me. Very few are sick. We are waiting very anxiously to hear news of an exchange. Hope something will be done soon. I have received no letters from you yet. Love to all. Very affectionately yours, — Charles H. Thayer, Capt. 1st Rhode Island Cavalry

Letter from the First Rhode Island Regiment, written by an officer in Co. D. Providence Evening Press, 22 June 1861