Category Archives: Suffolk, Virginia

1863: Richard S. Thomas to Hannah Jeffrey

An unidentified Union soldier, possibly from an Indiana Regiment, wearing a faux zouave jacket
(Will Griffing Collection)

The following letter was written by Richard S. Thomas (1839-1864) of Huntington, Indiana, who enlisted as a recruit in Co. F, 13th Indiana Infantry on 13 September 1862. He was killed on 10 May 1864 in the fierce hand-to-hand combat that ensued when the regiment was attacked unexpectedly by two Confederate brigades led by Major General Robert Ransom while on an expedition to cut the line of communication on the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad (see Battle of Chester Station).

Richard addressed the letter to his cousin, Hannah Jeffrey (1838-1886), the daughter of Willis Jeffrey (1807-1886) and Zilpha Achsah Thomas (1811-1865) of Mount Etna, Lancaster township, Huntington county, Indiana. She died unmarried at the age of 48.


Addressed to Hannah Jeffrey, Mount Etna, Huntington county, Indiana

Camp Suffolk, Virginia
April 30th 1863

Dear Cousin,

I have nothing of importance to write but I concluded I would write a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and well. I have no doubt but you have heard before this time that we had a few rebs in our immediate neighborhood and that we have been giving them a Lincoln pill occasionally and that they have been returning the compliment with Jeff Davis drugs.

On the 11th inst. there was one hundred men went out in front from the Old 13th to feel of their pulse but we had not advanced but a short distance outside of our pickets till we found our patients was prepared to give us a warm reception. We exchanged shots with them for about an hour but finding them too strong for our small force, we returned to camp with a loss of three men wounded. Barney [Bernard] Conron, our 2nd Lieutenant, was amongst the wounded and has since died. We sent his body to Huntington.

“Our regiment…made a charge into a piece of woods where the skirmishers said the rebs was drawn up in line of battle but they was either mistaken or else when we raised the hoosier yell and went in on double quick with bayonets fixed, they thought it was more than they could stand and skallyhooted out of that in a hurry for when we got there, there was not a greyback to be seen.”

Robert S. Thomas, Co. F, 13th Indiana Infantry, 30 April 1863

On the 24th we went out in force on another road and had a little fight. Our regiment was on the right and made a charge into a piece of woods where the skirmishers said the rebs was drawn up in line of battle but they was either mistaken or else when we raised the hoosier yell and went in on double quick with bayonets fixed, they thought it was more than they could stand and skallyhooted out of that in a hurry for when we got there, there was not a grey back to be seen. I shall not attempt to give any particulars as you will get it sooner and more correct in the paper than I could give if I should try.

Our company was out on a reconnoissance yesterday up the Jericho Canal, or rather the Dismal Swamp Ditch. We was about three miles above our outpost pickets and did not see anything nearer like a rebel than mud and water and canebrakes. we went till we had to wade mud and water knee deep and the further we went, the worse it got. We talk of going again tomorrow in skiffs and if we do, we will go through to Dremen [Drummond] Lake unless the rebs stop us before we get there.

There has not been any fighting for several days except by the sharpshooters. They are popping away every day but I don’t think they are accomplishing much. There is more or less artillery firing every day by our men. They are shelling the woods to keep the rebs from planting their batteries. The cannonading has ben pretty heavy for an hour or two over on the river. I think perhaps they are trying to blockade the river again.

A person that did not know anything about war and would see our fortifications and number of men and the amount of artillery we have here, they would think the whole Southern Confederacy could not whip us. I think myself it will take a good portion of them.

Well, I guess I have gassed more now than you will care about reading and I will quit for the present. Lesel [?] and Sam Williamson sends their best respects and Sam said he would like to hear from you.

Yours of the 28th of last month come to hand in due season and was read with pleasure. Give my compliments to all my friends if any there be and write soon. As ever, your cousin, — R. S. Thomas

[to] Hannah Jeffrey

1862-63: Charles Abial Wright to his Family

These letters were written by Charles A. Wright (1843-1899), a 19 year-old cooper from Townsend, Massachusetts, who enlisted on August 25, 1862 in Co. B of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry during their second term of service—a nine-month’s stretch when they were attached to the VII Corps and saw duty in and around Suffolk, Virginia. After he was discharged from the 6th Mass, he enlisted into Co. D, 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. He was discharged for disability at New Berne in July 1865.

Charles was the son of William Henry Wright (1804-1887) and Mary Baldwin (1807-1873) of Townsend, Middlesex county, Massachusetts.

Five soldiers, four unidentified, in Union uniforms of the 6th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia outfitted with Enfield muskets in front of encampment. Photo shows soldiers wearing frock coats and standing at ease with their Enfield Rifles. An encampment is visible in the background. Photo shows one identified soldier, Albert L. Burgess, on far right. Taken during their second term of service probably in Suffolk, Virginia. Published by North South Trader, May-June 1983, p. 23.

[Note: These letters are from the personal collection of Jim Doncaster and are published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Letter 1

Suffolk, VA
Sunday morning, October 5, 1862

I am pretty well today. We have had a fight it out here yesterday. We whipped them up pretty well. We killed about thirty of them.  We lost only four men in all. The Rebels had to skedaddle and burn the bridge so we could not get across.

I wish you would send Jennie out here in a letter. I would kiss her and send her back home safe. Henry, I suppose you feel pretty big of your horse. I hope you do. If I live to get home I shall buy me a wife and live happy. I tell you, I shall. I am a different man now to what I was at home.

I want you to tell Augusta to send her picture to me. I should like to have her send it as soon as she can. I did not think of it when I wrote to her. I want you [to] tell John Going to write to me, and I will write to him. I go to church every Sunday. I hope you all go to church every Sunday. You tell William to write to me….also Martha and do tell her to write to me and send Hattie out here in a letter and I will kiss her and send her back safe at home. I should like to see the little ones. I hope I shall live to see them once more and see you all. 

I hope you will write as often as you can. So goodbye. From your brother, — Charles A Wright

Letter 2

Suffolk, Virginia
December 19th [1862]

Dear Sister,

I received your letter this evening and I was very glad to hear that you was well and all the folks. I am well tonight. I wrote a letter today. I am growing fat as a pig. I got my box safe and them pies was good and the rest was good too. I hope mother will send my pants and hat for I should like them. We have not [moved] out of this place yet nor I don’t think we shall this winter. I hope not for we have a good time out here. But I can’t help but think about Little Edgar. 1 It is in my mind all the time. You can’t tell how [bad] I felt when I heard Little Edgar died. I felt just as I wanted to go with him. I did not want to live any longer for I felt so bad. We have lost about eight men out of our regiment.

This is all I can write this time. So goodbye. From your brother, — Charles A. Wright

1 Little Edgar was Charles’ nephew, Edgar Heselton (1859-1862). Edgar’s parents were Franklin Loring Heselton (1836-1917) and Mary Roanna Wright (1834-1864).

Letter 3

Suffolk, Virginia

Dear Mother,

I thought I would write a few lines to you as long as I had a chance to send it and I am a going to send my letter home by Fred Mansfield. He is going home. I want you to take my letters and lock them up where they won’t anyone get hold of them for there is some letters that I don’t want any[one] to see them for I think a great deal of them for they are private letters. I have had the blues about my money so I don’t know what to do with myself but I hope it will come round right when I get home. I think it will. Don’t you say anything to Father about it so he won’t know what I am a going to do. I will fix it some way. I don’t enjoy myself now to what I did before. He took my money and spent it. I am homesick now since you wrote to me about my money.

I guess I won’t write anymore tonight. This is from your son, — Charles A. Wright.

Give my love to all the girls, will you? I hope you will. So goodbye for this time. Goodnight, Mother.

Letter 4

Suffolk, Virginia
January 29, [1863]

Dear Mother,

I thought I would write you a few lines today to let you know how I was. I am well and fat. I got paid off last night but they did not pay us only for two months and so I can’t send any this time but I will next time we get off and that will not be only about three weeks from last night. The reason why I did not send some this time was because I want it to live on out here. I will send you all of the rest next time. I shall make this last me the rest of the time out.

Well, I am bound to live if I don’t lay up a cent. I don’t suppose you can blame me any for salt horse is hard stuff to eat. You ask Walter Wright what it is to live on salt horse. I guess he can tell you what it is.

We are on our last half and they don’t treat us so well as they did on the first half. You don’t catch me to enlist again, I tell you they don’t.

Well I can’t stop to write anymore. So goodbye. From your son, — Charles A. Wright

Letter 5

Suffolk, Virginia
April 21, [1863]

Dear Mother,

I thought I would take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well and that I had received your letter. I am glad that you are all well. I feel better when you are all well at home. I was sorry to hear that Frank was sick. 1 I shall go and see him when I get home. I hope he will get well. What does Frank say about the war? You must give my love to him. And Frank must write to them tomorrow if I can get a chance. I have not heard from them, only when you write. They have wrote to me once since I have been out here. And I wrote to them but didn’t know whether they ever got my letters. But I am a going to write and find out if they got my letters. I think Frank had better get his discharge and come home for I don’t think he will get well, do you? I wish I was in that regiment as a nurse and that I could take care of him when he is sick. I think if he don’t get his discharge before my time is out, I shall enlist in that regiment. I shall come home first and see you all and then I shall go out and see the boys and I shall stay with them. And then I shall feel better. I don’t feel right when they are sick. I keep thinking about them every day and night. I am a going to ask Doctor [Walter] Burnham to give me a certificate of my examination and papers to show what I have done for the sick soldiers here. I have done a great deal for the sick boys and they like me first rate.

Well, Mother, I think the climate suits me better out here than it does at home. I’ve never been so fat in my life as I am now. I don’t think you would know me now hardly if you should see me for I am so fat. I don’t suppose you would think that I could get so much fat onto my little frame but I have and I can hold up a great deal more if I had it on me. I weight one hundred and twenty-five pounds. That is pretty good for me, I think. Don’t you? I suppose Father will buy that horse for me. I hope he will for I want it when I get home. And if I go out to see the boys, he can sell it if he wants. I don’t find nothing else to write. The sick boys are getting along first rate now.

This is all I can write this time. Give my love to all the folks. From your son, — Charles A. Wright

1 I presume Charles is referring to his older brother Franklin S. Wright (1841-1863). Frank was serving in the 33rd Massachusetts Infantry. He was killed at the Battle of Brown’s Ferry Farm on 29 October 1863.