This letter was written by former shoemaker Charles S. Smith (1839-1864) of Marlborough, Massachusetts who enlisted on 29 June 1861 as a private in Co. F, 13th Massachusetts Infantry. Charles was promoted to corporal sometime prior to his being taken a prisoner at Spotsylvania Court House on 15 May 1864. He died a prisoner of war at Salisbury, North Carolina, on 24 December 1864.
In the 1850 US Census, 11 year-old Charles was enumerated with his 10 year-old brother George in the residence of his parents, Loren and Betsy Smith of Rome, Kennebec county, Maine.
Slaughter Mountain, Virginia Camp of the 13th Massachusetts Vol. Militia January 26, 1864
This day has been a most lovely one. It seemed like a May day in New England and the last few nights have been like summer nights. There is no frost now in the ground and the mud is fast disappearing. Everything is still quiet so I have no news to write of any consequence. Reenlisting goes on bravely except in the thirteenth regiment. Only about thirty have reenlisted in this regiment yet, and none of them represents Company F.
There are Rebel camps in plain sight of ours just across the river (Rapidan) not more than five miles from here and so we sit, like two dogs watching each other. I heard just now that some dozen negroes have just made their escape from Rebeldom but were fired into by the Rebels when crossing the river and some of them wounded and drowned. They say that they had nothing to live on through the winter. Lee’s army, they say, are going north again in the spring to get supplies.
I got the Journal you sent me last week. The selectmen of Marlboro have made us a visit. What object they came out for, I don’t know. They stayed a few days and left for home. We have all the picket duty to do that we want. Today we have been under arms. This is to support the picket in case of an attack. Each regiment takes its turn at it for one day at a time. Tonight we have orders to keep our equipments on all night and to be ready to fall in at a moments notice. This is what we call a scare and have some fun about such orders but they may not have been issued without cause.
I am going to send Albion a dollar bill in this. It is on the gold pen bank. Tell him not to spend it. I suppose the boys are off skating now and then when there is ice. I have made up my mind that that picture is Milton’s that Emma sent me.
I expect there is a letter on the road for me from home by this time. Also one from Foxborough. We have just had two recruits for Company F. We now have thirty-four members in this company. It is the largest company in the regiment.
Wednesday morning January 27th. Another lovely day. The Smith’s have just got through with breakfast. We had beef stake fried. Soft bread steamed in a spider with coffee. Today must be washing day for George has gone to washing clothes.
We have not been paid for the months of November and December yet. I don’t think we will be paid until March. Then there will be four months due us.
The other night when I was on guard I saw a very large meteor in the East. It was one-fifth as large as the moon in appearance and it seemed to flicker like a blaze as it went through the air. It must be a sign of war, of course. If it had not been a moonlit night this meteor would made it light enough to read, I think. It was larger than that one we saw on the hill in Rome. Do you remember how that one lighted up the house?
I want the boys to write to me. It will do them good to practice writing. Yours, — Charles
This letter was written by John William Ford Hatton (1840-1911), the son of Peter Dent Hatton (1792-1849) and Elizabeth J. Lambert (1800-1889) of Accokeek, Prince George’s County, Maryland. In 1861, John and two of his brothers—Joseph C. Hatton (1830-1930) and Richard Hannibal Sanborn Hatton (1836-1862) all left their home in Maryland and went into exile in Virginia where they enlisted in Capt. Richard Snowden Andrew‘s Company of the 1st Maryland Flying Artillery. It was actually Richard, a physician before the war and referred to as “the Doctor” in this letter—that enlisted first, joining the company in June 1861. A couple of months later, John (the letter author) joined the company, and finally, in December, as a substitute, Joseph joined his brothers.
In his letter datelined 7 January 1863 from the battery’s encampment in Caroline county, Virginia, some three weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg, John wrote his widowed mother a letter conveying the news of the mortal wounding of his older brother Richard—“the Doctor“—while engaged in an artillery duel at the Battle of Cedar Run (a.k.a “Cedar Mountain” or “Slaughter’s Mountain”) on 9 August 1862. Notwithstanding the amputation of his arm, Richard died 9 days after he was wounded. It was in this same artillery duel that their captain—now a Major, Richard S. Andrews, was nearly disemboweled by a shell fragment. For hours, Major Andrews held his intestines until surgeons could sew him up though they gave him little chance to survive. He defied death that day and lived until 1903.
It’s evident that little or no opportunity had previously existed for John to mail his Mother a letter. Perhaps a flag-of-truce, or the exchange of prisoners created the opportunity for this letter to be passed or smuggled through enemy lines to his home in Maryland. “It is impossible to describe the feelings of a soldier, particularly when exiled from home and cut off from communication of those he loves as dearly as life,” he wrote his mother. “Many a time I have reflected upon the pleasure and comfort of a home. But instead of that home, I have choosed rather to be a wanderer, frequently sleeping in water, shaking with cold, burning with thirst, pinched with hunger, and overcome with fatigue. But the enjoyment of peace and freedom will amply pay for all.”
In his memoirs, now in the Library of Congress, John also remembered that Marylanders (surprisingly) were not always welcomed with open arms by their Virginia comrades. “It was a notable fact that many of the influential people about Richmond had a certain degree of contempt for the Marylander. It was hard to describe the origin of this feeling. It was explained that the Marylander fled from his state to avoid the Federal draft and sought shelter in Virginia and became a corrupt and troublesome element.” [A Maryland Refugee in Virginia, 1863, by Kevin Conley Ruffner, Maryland Historical Magazine, Winter 1994]
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Piney Camp January 7, 1863
I hope you do not think that because of my long muteness the last drop of love for those at home has fell from my heart—no, it never can be that I can cease to think of those I’ve left behind. The troubles, hardships, and torments of a soldier’s life, particularly when situated as exiled Marylanders, are enough to drive one mad and cause him to forget the he is in the “great work” of God’s creation. But I am grateful to be able to assert that through all the arduous duties imposed upon us by this national calamity, I have never as yet forgotten that there is a smiling Providence above all. When the mantle of night suffuses all, be assured that my tongue repeats the prayers you taught me, and begs protection for home—unless I am performing a march, or some duty, or perhaps, as is frequently the case, so wearing that sleep takes possession of me the moment I find a place to rest my head.
It is sad to review the past. Whatever is in the future, let it come. And whatever is past, so let it be. But there are some incidents that need be and must be noted—they are so nearly related to the heart, so deeply impressed upon the mind. There is an incident I must relate.
Dear Mother, refrain from tears; and I will endeavor to do the same. We were three; but now only two—it was God’s will. In order to give you a true conception of all, and also to mark the mysterious step of fate, allow me to commence at the Battle of Richmond. I was slightly wounded at Mechanicsville as you doubtless have heard. At the hospital in Richmond, by chance, I met Edgar who obtained for me a furlough. We visited the Valley of Virginia where we passed some time together. While here, I heard that Jackson intended to advance upon the enemy. Something—I know not what—urged me to join my company which was then at Gordonsville. Although the time granted me had not expired and my wound not perfectly well, I reported (I know not why I did) for duty.
Upon my return to the company, I found the Doctor in good spirits and health; but Joe, on account of bad health, had gone to a hospital in the country. We did not remain long idle after I joined. We advanced upon the enemy and followed them. The weather was warm and the march so speedy that several men dropped dead upon the roadside. We found and attacked the enemy at Cedar Run. The fight was carried on with great furry. The Yankees charged our battery more than once. Rifle and cannon balls and bursting shells fell like hail. To think of it, it seems wonderful that a single one of us could escape with life.
While the Doctor was in the act of carrying a shell to his gun, a fragment of Yankee shell struck him on the wrist, tearing the flesh considerably, and passed through the upper part of his arm, completely shattering the bone. He remained on the battlefield until the battle ceased, then was carried to the field hospital where I remained with him. Our forces fell back and the enemy advanced. We became prisoners. The Yankees moved us to Culpeper Court House where we met with a friend from Alexandria by the name of Mr. Brown. He took us from the hospital to his own house and treated us as kindly as a Father.
Up to this time the Doctor had borne his misfortune with great fortitude. Although his arm had been amputated at shoulder joint, he held hope of recovery. He read his fate. He resigned all Earthly hope and thanked his God for granting him time to prepare for the future. The Rev. Dr. Cole visited his death bed. Finally on the 18th of August, he called me his bedside and uttered his last words, “Give my love to all at home.” I could not realize the fact. It was all a dream—but a sad dream. I could tell you more if I could but see you.
I remained in Culpeper until my company returned from Maryland. I stayed at a Mrs. Fant’s house. She was very kind to me indeed and she promised me to write to you. 1 I returned to my company which was in the Valley and found [brother] Joe in good health and safe. While in the Valley, I received for the first and last time, a letter from you containing some words from Adolphus and also three bookmarks from Lizzie, all of which I value very dearly. Tell Lizzie I will bring her something from the battlefield if I ever live to return home.
After marching and countermarching up and down the Valley, we came over the mountains and faced the enemy on the banks of the Rappahannock river. We were at the Battle of Fredericksburg but being on the reserve, were not in an engagement, yet under the enemy’s fire and had some horses killed. After standing picket on the river for two or three weeks, we are quietly in winter quarters of our own construction in a piney thicket about two miles from Bowling Green—a small town of Caroline County.
It is impossible to describe the feelings of a soldier, particularly when exiled from home and cut off from communication of those he loves as dearly as life. Many a time I have reflected upon the pleasure and comfort of a home. But instead of that home, I have choosed rather to be a wanderer, frequently sleeping in water, shaking with cold, burning with thirst, pinched with hunger, and overcome with fatigue. But the enjoyment of peace and freedom will amply pay for all.
I can hear from home sometimes, but cannot place any confidence in what I hear. I saw Dick Magruder a week ago. I hope you all are well. It would give me much gratification if I could know that Austin will remain with you. It is impossible to say all I desire. I am even in doubt that this will reach you. Give my love to all—Lizzie, Caroline, Brother, Austin, Uncle Johnm Adolphus, Jannette, and all. My love to all. Write me if you can and give all the news. As ever your son, — J. W. F. H.
1 Probably Mrs. Lucinda Brown (Crigler) Fant (1818-1886), the widow of lawyer Joseph Nicholas Fant (1805-1849) who took his own life in 1849.