This letter was written by Cornelius Cunningham (1837-1862), the son of Horace Cunningham (1781-1882) and Caroline Elizabeth Tree (1810-1880) of Porter county, Indiana. Cornelius died of disease on 25 August 1862 at Helena, Arkansas, while serving in Co. G, 9th Illinois Cavalry.
Even though the letter is only partial and is missing the critical opening page with the date and location of the writing of the letter, readers will find that the events described in this letter coincide with those summarized on the website published by the Encyclopedia of Arkansas under the title, “Skirmish at Cache River Bridge.”
Cornelius may have written this letter to his sister, Mary Cunningham, since it came from the same collection of letters as the one I transcribed and published in February 2020 on Spared & Shared 21—See 1862: Cornelius Cunningham to Mary Cunningham
To read other letters by members of the 9th Illinois Cavalry I have transcribed and published on Spared & Shared, see: David Luddington, Troop G, 9th Illinois Cavalry (Union/1 Letter) Jacob Everett Brown, Troop M, 9th Illinois Cavalry (Union/3 Letters)
[Camp Tucker, at the junction of White and Black Rivers in Arkansas] [June 1862]
…into an ambush I was about middle way of our company when we started and at the last end of the race there was 4 men and the captain ahead of me. I carried my carbine in my right hand and held my horse with the left—or tried to, They turned around once and thought they would fire but I guess they thought their chance would be slim if they stopped very long, but they all made their escape. About the same time the other companies was running too on to the other road. The road split and came together again about four miles from the fork. The first companies went one road and we went the other, We came out ahead or rather went back about a mile on the other road where they had camped. We catched one man and got two horses. We rested in peace that night. The next morning we went on together to Augusta [Arkansas].
The object of the scout was to see how many rebels there was down in that vicinity and catch a company that is known as Hooker’s Company. 1 We got into Augusta about noon but found no secesh. Hooker’s Company was there the day before and came up the way we went down and probably in the swamp except them that we chased. We camped in a nice little grove in Augusta that afternoon and night and all was quiet until about midnight when our picket fired two shots which caused us to be called up in line of battle on foot until we found but what the alarm was. The picket saw a man on horseback cross the road a few yards ahead of him. He halted him but he did not stop so he fired on him which caused him to leave in double quick so we laid down with our arms on and slept till morning. Then we started and came back to camp.
There is some pretty country down there. Wheat is ripe to cut. They have lots of Niggers. The wenches plow corn and cotton here and do all kinds of work. I seen a lot one place girdling trees. They have from 50 to a hundred on a farm.
Col. [Hiram F.] Sickles and the other companies come in contact with some secesh on Cache River. They had tore up the bridge and when our [ ] got onto it, they fired into them from the other side wounding a couple. Our boys returned the fire but to what effect they did not know. We all got back to camp about the same time and the news in camp quite exciting. The Col. got a dispatch that the rebels are coming up the river with a gunboat to shell us out. There is no troops here but our regiment and two six-lb. guns. There was a dispatch came in last night that the secesh was crossing above us—some 3,000. They sent Lieut. [John E.] Warner and ten men up the river to reconnoiter. They came back and reported no enemy there as they could hear of.
We had everything ready to march provided we are not attacked yet. There’s 5 or 6 regiments 15 miles from here of our men. Gen. Curtis is making his way to Little Rock. We probably will leave in a day or two or get reinforcements.
The weather is pretty warm. Haven’t seen any flour for six weeks, hard living. Dave is not very hearty. Zal is around again but can’t ride a horse yet. Several of the boys sick. One boy got drownded this morning and four mules while crossing the ferry. Dave gone out in the country with the boys after corn. No more pay yet.
I received two papers—one with paper and envelopes but no stamps. I have a five dollar bill but can’t get no change. The mail is a good while getting here from the [Pilot] Knob. Write often and all you can think of.
Dinner is ready.
1 “Hooker’s Company” was the company organized by Captain Richard Hooker in Jacksonport late in 1861. The men were armed with shotguns and borrowed sabers. The company was known as Captain Hooker’s Company, Arkansas 30-Day 1861 Mounted Volunteers. The company re-organized on February 26, 1862 at Jacksonport and more men mustered into it. Before becoming part of the 32nd Infantry Regiment it figured prominently in the action around Jackson County in the spring and summer of 1862. The March 31, 1862 morning report gave Hooker’s Company’s strength at 130 officers and men.
These rare and detailed letters were written by 46 year-old Thurlow Joseph Wright (1817-1877) who was commissioned surgeon—with the rank of Major—of the 7th Louisiana Infantry (African Descent), or the 64th USCT, on 26 November 1863. The 16 letters begin in September 1863 and end in December 1864. They add significantly to the body of knowledge pertaining to the superintendence of contrabands in the Lower Mississippi River between Natchez and Memphis, particularly with respect to their medical care. In addition, there are first-hand observations of Memphis, Vicksburg, and Little Rock; notices of guerrilla warfare up and down the river—including Quantrill and his band; a tour of the home Grant occupied during the siege of Vicksburg; a 4th of July celebration at Jeff Davis’s plantation in Mississippi; the mention of the Sultana when she was just another steamboat on the Mississippi; and much more.
Though I could not find a biographical sketch of Dr. Wright, I discovered that he obtained his medical degree from the Eclectic Medical Institute in Cincinnati under the tutelage of Prof. Wooster Beach (Clinical Medicine & Surgery) in 1849; the catalogue for that year indicated he was from Iowa. In the 1850 and 1860 US Census records, Dr. Wright was enumerated in Cincinnati laboring as a physician. In the early 1850s, he accepted an offer to become dean of a rival medical school in Cincinnati named the America Medical College of Ohio, but this school soon folded for lack of a sufficient number of students.
The only obituary I could find for Dr. Wright appeared in the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune on 1 July 1877 which read:
“Dr. T. J. Wright, who died yesterday from injuries sustained a few days ago from the trampling of his horse, was an old and esteemed physician. He was born in Derbyshire England and came to this country while a lad. He was one of the early graduate of the Eclectic Medical Institute, and always adhered to that branch of the medical profession. He was never married but lived with his sisters on George Street until the Shillito purchase necessitated a change of residence to [114th W.] Seventh Street near Race, where he died. Dr. Wright was hospital surgeon several years during the war, and located at Vicksburg much of the time. He was sixty-five years old.” [Another source says 60].
Prior to volunteering his services as a surgeon, we learn from local papers that Dr. Wright was a 1st Lieutenant in the 14th Ward Home Guard in Cincinnati.
All 16 of these letters were addressed to “My dear sisters” who were Caroline S. Wright (1822-1901) and Felicitous (or Philicitous) Wright (1824-1887) both also born in England. They shared a residence with Thurlow in Cincinnati, running a boarding house in later years.
A report submitted by Dr. T. J. Wright describing the various contraband camps within the limits of his jurisdiction may be found on-line. The report was submitted to Surgeon D. O. McCord after his tour in February 1864.
Contraband Camp Memphis, Tennessee September 7, 1863
My dear sisters,
This day week, if my memory serves me right, I last wrote you in a very hurried manner, upon a topic or two uppermost in my mind at the time. And upon that of my pay I am no nearer now than then, of receiving it soon. I have a plan, however, in contemplation, which if adopted will bring the long controversy to a close. It is to make a truthful statement of the facts in the case and furnish the Department a second time with certified copies that I was on duty in hospital at La Grange from the 19th of January last till the 8th of February, inclusive. From the beginning to the end of that period, they (the clerks) inform me that they have no evidence in the office that I was on duty during that period.
The Medical Director is of the opinion that they have no right to question his statement as to its truthfulness. Hence, he has been and is now opposed to furnishing the Department a second time with the facts contained in my first account. It is equivalent to saying to him that we do not believe what you say. On this point he is sensitive and does not like the course the Department is pursuing, in consequence, to obtain the necessary information. Had I been let alone in the matter I should have taken the shortest road to obtain the information and then have forwarded it to Washington as requested. I have already written to Surgeon Crawford, now at Milliken’s Bend, La., formerly surgeon and Chief of Hospitals at La Grange when I was there to furnish me with a certified duplicate copy that I was on duty as stated above during the eight days commencing with the 1st of February. Then I shall call upon Surgeon Strode who is now in the city and in charge of the Webster Hospital who had charge of the hospitals at La Grange when I was ordered to report to him on the 19th of January last.
Having furnished the needful information, I am inclined to believe that my pay will be forthcoming which period cannot be more than two weeks from today, should I receive—as I expect to do—the certificates from surgeon Crawford in a day or two, when I shall have seven months pay due me at $100 and 83/100 per month.
The weather is quite warm again after a few days of very cold weather for this part of the country. About the same time, the newspapers inform us that it was correspondingly cold in the North so that it would appear that the weather here is influenced to a greater or lesser extent by the weather in the North. It is also reported that it was found in Illinois and other northwestern states damaging very materially the standing crops. The weather is now both dry and hot; very much as the weather was last fall when I made my appearance among the soldier patriots of the southwest.
One day about a week ago I spent part of the afternoon in the schoolhouse among the children, young men and women, and men and women of middle age. From conversations repeatedly had with Mr. [Abijah] Conner 1 from Wheeling, Va., who has been officiating as resident chaplain and Superintendent of the school, I had formed a more favorable opinion than my visit would warrant as to the facility with which the colored children receive information. There are but few among them who can read and the most of them do not know the alphabet, though they are spelling and trying to read in books which would imply that they were somewhat advanced in the rudiments of the English language.
In conversations had from time to time, Mr. Conner gave us to understand that the children received instructions as readily as white children do in other parts of the country. There are a few facts to be taken in consideration in making up the estimate of their ability to acquire information. In the first place, they are not encouraged by their parents to prosecute their studies as white children in Cincinnati are; hence, as soon as learning to read becomes irksome—as it does to may—every device imaginable is resorted to to evade going to school. Then again the number of scholars are too numerous for the teachers employed. Only two young women are now in the field laboring for the common good of the scholars and they have been sick for several weeks during the summer. The scholars under them are between two and three hundred. You may readily infer that but little time can be devoted to each class out of so many by two delicate females assisted occasionally by a married woman—the wife of a soldier attached to our camp. But a few minutes can be devoted to each class during the forenoon or afternoon of each day in place of an hour or two in the public schools of Ohio.
On the Island 2 the school has been suspended for some time in consequence of sickness; and the female school teachers are now in hospital—or one of them, at least—and the other is with her as a companion during her sickness. I am not certain that there is teaching of any kind going on on the island. Yet about two weeks since it was reported that one or more of the detailed white soldiers were to be ordered to open the school and “teach the young ideas how to shoot.” I have not heard of it being opened, however. In my opinion there is not a minute to lose providing we study the best interests of the people.
Yours, — T. J. Wright
1 The Superintendent of the contraband school was Rev. Abijah Conner (1830-1870)and his wife who were assisted by Miss Mary B. Johnson, Miss Fannie Kiddoo, and Miss Agnes Henry. [Source: Historical Sketch of the Freedman’s Missions of the United Presbyterian Church, 1862-1904 by Margaret Lorimer McClenahan.]
The first free colored school taught in Memphis was opened in the early part of 1863, in a barrack building in South Memphis, by Miss Fannie Kiddoo [Kidder], a Lady of culture and high Christian character, from Illinois, sent here by the United Presbyterian Freedman’s Aid Society. She continued to teach under different benevolent societies for four years, during which time she was nobly assisted by many brave and noble ladies, among whom should be mentioned Misses Mary Johnson, Mary Tyler, Eliza Mitchell, Rose Kinney, Nellie V. Kimbal and Belle Rose. These pioneers labored on amidst many privations, sacrifices and hardships, beside the insults, slanders and abuse, not only of the low and vulgar enemies of the colored people, but also of the press of the city. They deserve honorable mention for the great good done to the colored people, not merely by the instruction given, but by the influence exerted to remove the prejudice against and opposition to their education.” [Source]
2 Camp Dixie was a contraband camp built on President’s Island west of Fort Pickering in 1863. It held over 2,000 fugitive slaves. The contrabands in Camp Dixie cultivated 300 acres of cotton, and built a sawmill and school in 1863.
An article appearing in the Boston Recorder on April 9, 1863, described the situation in Memphis in March 1863:
“…The increase of colored people in and about two has been immense—probably about four thousand. Coming from all the various conditions of slavery, they constitute a most interesting class, however contemplated. Until of late, their place of habitation, labor, all were entirely voluntary. Of the able-bodied men, about four hundred have on an average worked on the defenses here—a great military work—and saved our soldiers many a hard day’s digging with spade and pick. These men worked voluntarily and were paid and fed only the days they labored. Their families have lived as they could in houses vacated about town, or gathered in a village of their own building, below the fort. Many have driven drays or worked in steamboats, or sawed wood, or done service for families. No control was assumed until the present plan of supervision was adopted. At first the new arrivals were all the Superintendent could shelter and manage. Among those living about at their own option, it was found vice and crime had singular sway. They become the dupes alike of those who would hire them to steal horses, mules, &c., from citizens, and of those who would carry on unlawful trade with the enemy. The Superintendent, Rev. Mr. Fiske, was ordered to assume control of their voluntary village. They had a guard of their own,–colored—but he soon had occasion to investigate the cases of stealing cattle, and found guard, and preachers also, implicated. Those over who he exercised his kindly authority have never been known connected with any violation of law. The old prejudices remain here. A man who has started a colored school among blacks in town able to pay tuition, has been mobbed. He is expected to continue. We shall see. He has one hundred and sixty scholars. If our soldiers all knew how to treat a colored fellow as a human being, the citizens would learn faster. It is a singular fact that those superintending this work have to carry on a double warfare—against rebel residents and loyal soldiers—a war within a war…”
Holly Springs Contraband Camp Memphis, Tennessee December 9th 1863
My dear sisters,
I have to inform you that I have received a commission from the President of the United States to serve as surgeon of the 7th Louisiana Volunteers of African Descent, which will place e a little higher in office than I have been heretofore, and an additional sum to my pay per month, all of which will be as gratifying to you as it is to me.
Though I have indirectly alluded to the contemplated change in several of my letters, I thought it better not to inform you of my object till I had something reliable in my possession. About two months since I made known to the Medical Director of the 16th Army Corps that I should like a commission in a regiment. He immediately invited me to call on the Medical Examining Board which met at his Headquarters and submit myself to an examination, which I did, and of course I must have passed or I should not now be favored with a commission.
In consequence of this gratifying change in office, I shall in all probability be ordered to report for duty to one of the Contraband Camps below Memphis—perhaps Vicksburg. I shall know tomorrow.
Had I known this two months ago, I could have had my trunk sent down to me and such other articles of wearing apparel as I am in need of. As it is, I must wait till I am located before I can order you to send my trunk and a few white shirts and perhaps a dress coat and overcoat, unless I conclude to buy one here.
Yesterday a fire broke out in the small pox hospital connected with our department which reduced the building to ashes. Though full of patients at the time, not one of whom was injured by the fire. It is rather remarkable that fires do not more frequently occur than they do for they (the colored people) are the most careless creatures I ever saw.
Last night was one of the stormy ones of the season. It blew and rained as if to tear to pieces the tents and submerge the campground in water. Many tents were blown down, leaving the people without any shelter during the storm and their goods exposed to the pelting rain and fierce wind that shook everything that was not as fixed as the rock of ages.
Today I was in the quarters up to the ankles in mud and mire. What with the storm and the smoke of the fires, the poor people were objects of charity. I cannot see how they endure he smoke for I cannot stand it for two minutes—much less all the time.
I will close this note when I know where I shall be in my new office.
I have been at headquarters to receive orders but am to remain here for a time—perhaps a week, perhaps for months. I cannot say how long or how short.
Mr. Olive leaves for Cincinnati today and will call on you as soon as he can after arriving. If you can make it convenient, you may order me a dress coat and purchase me a short or two (colored) and a few white ones, and such odds and ends as you may think of. Direct it to the care of J. N. Alonis [?] & Co. Mr. Alonis will take charge of it.
I met Mr. Eugene T____ in the street today. He has been in the city all the time.
Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surg. South La. Vol. Inf. A. D.
Contraband Camp Memphis, Tennessee December 15, 1863
My dear sisters,
I have to inform you that I am under orders to report to Col. Thomas at Vicksburg, Mississippi. I expect to leave the coming week. My labors in that field will differ somewhat from those I have been rendering here. The Department of Tennessee including Arkansas is to be be, or rather is, by an order of S[amuel]. Thomas, Adjutant General USA, separated from the Military and Medical Authorities, so fas as the appointing power is concerned. General Thomas has appointed Col. [John] Eaton Superintendent with power to appoint such persons as he may deem proper. He has appointed Surgeon McCord Medical Director for the Medical Department. I am next in rank (Major) in consequence of which my office will be more of a business than medical in character. I am in other words the Senior Surgeon and no one can outrank me but Surgeon McCord who fills an office intimately related to mine.
The hospital building in which I expect a room and an office is situated in the center of Vicksburg and in all probability I shall have more comfortable quarters there than here. I shall be from necessity in the very midst of the gay and fashionable men of the army. In consequence of which I shall have to mingle more than I have heretofore done with the outside world; and must as a matter of necessity spend more money in dress than I have lately done, as well as money in the form of pocket change. My business will compel me to keep a horse which I have not always done. I am also entitled to feed for three horses according to regulations.
When I reach Vicksburg, I shall also be better supplied with servants than heretofore. In consequence of which I expect to meet with some one who can wash white shirts better than it has been my good fortune to meet with thus far. Please send me about half a dozen shirts and a few more neck ties such as I wore in Cincinnati. In addition to my dress coat, which I have ordered you to get made for me, will perhaps be all that my immediate wants demand. Should you procure for me a pair of shoulder straps (which I leave to you entirely so that they may be put on by the tailor) please purchase none but plain Major’s straps unless the letters M. S. are worked in silver as the wreath is in gold. The letters you send me I have not wore. I can either wear straps with the letters referred to , or without, at pleasure. By far the greater number of Majors in the Medicial Department wear their straps without the letters.
In consequence of the order which I have received to report to Col. [Samuel] Thomas at Vicksburg, I think it would be your best plan to send my trunk by Express to Vicksburg direct. Otherwise I fear it will be double trouble to ship it at Cincinnati to the care of Mr. Oliver and company and some delay in consequence. You can consult Mr. Oliver upon the subject. Direct it to T. J. Wright, Surgeon, 7th Regt. Louisiana Vol. of A. D. [African Descent], Vicksburg, Mississippi. You will also from this time direct all letters and papers as above till ordered otherwise.
As soon after my arrival as possible, I shall write you and let you know how I like my new location. I shall not leave for several days and may, before I take my departure, write you another letter.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant, — T. J. Wright
7th Regt. La. Vol. A. D.
Vicksburg, Mississippi January 4th 1864
My dear sisters,
Soon after my arrival here and before I entered upon the duties of my profession, I wrote you a few lines to let you know that I had arrived safely and in good health. I have now to inform you that I have just returned from a tour of inspection of the caps in my district which extends from Vicksburg to Goodrich’s Landing in Louisiana. The country over which I rode is one continuous grave yard. All along the levee and by-the-by, the country is covered all along and for hundreds of miles both above and below [with] the graves of the thousands who died from exposure before and after the surrender of Vicksburg [which] meets the eye from morning til night.
At the first camp I visited, which is about two miles below Vicksburg by land, the Superintendent informed me that the soldiers from the Eastern states were camped but a short distance from where we were then standing which is studded with small pieces of boards and containing the name and regiment of the soldiers’ remains deposited there.
Till recently, I never saw a cotton farm on a large scale. I can now, however, say that I have seen them in both good and bad condition. Each of the plantations contain hundreds of acres of as fine alluvial land as the sun ever shone upon. In many respects, it resembles the rich bottom lands of the Ohio and other rivers in the West. In another particular, It may be compared to the prairies found in Illinois for there are but few plantations that contain any trees or stumps. They are generally clean, smooth lands freed from all kinds of shrubs and trees.
The quarters, as the buildings are called, are in general very comfortable cabins of moderate size. They are built in rows as we build houses in cities and a space intervening between about as wide as some of our widest streets. The plantations that I have visited contained three rows of these cabins each and containing from ten to twelve and all white-washed with the out buildings such as barns, stables for the mules, corn cribs, gin house, and a fine building or two for the overseer which give the quarters the appearance at a distance of a village or small town. In descending the river from Memphis to Vicksburg, I took the plantation quarters for so many villages.
All along the roads over which I rode and as far as the eye could reach, the remains of plantations could be seen as monuments of the once greatness of the Sunny South. The chimneys of nearly all the gin houses and many of the quarters still stand to note the spot where they once stood. Not a fence or the signs of a fence did I see till I approached within a short distance of the headquarters of Gen. Grant, McPherson, and others who it appears reserved a small portion of the wood work around each mansion more for their own accommodation than the good of the owners, I should judge.
The house occupied by Gen. Grant during the siege of Vicksburg I have had the pleasure seeing it both inside and out. It is a frame building of moderate size with a very wide hall and lofty ceiling. In one of the parlors a mirror still remains as it was before the General occupied the building. It is not less than eight feet long with a very heavy gilt moulding or frame which cost in Paris four hundred and fifty dollars before the war. The furniture has been removed or disposed of in some way with a few exceptions. From the size and value of the mirror you may form a good idea of the quality and value of the furniture for I have no doubt but it corresponded with the mirror—at least I can say that which I did see did.
I am sorry to say that the contrabands are in daily fear of the guerrillas who occasionally make raids upon them and rob them of everything worth removing and in some cases even destroy the contrabands who may chance to be in their way. A raid of this kind was made on a plantation about two miles above Milliken’s Bend but a few days before I had to cross it to reach Goodrich’s Landing. The raiders killed five contrabands who were living there and would no doubt have taken the life of the only white man in the place had he not made his escape on a fast horse just in season to save his life.
At Van Buren, another contraband plantation a few miles below Milliken’s Bend, when I rode up there was a company of colored troops being drawn up in a line of battle to defend themselves against a guerrilla party who was reported advancing but a short distance off.
Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surg, 7th La. Vol. Infantry A. D.
Vicksburg, Mississippi January 11th 1863 [should be 1864]
My dear sisters,
Thus far I have to inform you that I have received one newspaper and a letter from Henry W. Rittenhouse, Medical Storekeeper M. S. A., Acting Medical Purveyer “from Cincinnati.” The letter of Mr. Rittenhouse is one of enquiry by whose authority the money was paid. The Warrant No. 9075, the first warrant on which I was paid, by my order to you. O presume it is right. It is my impression that you wrote to me informing me that the second payment is the one that you were so long in obtaining. Should there be an error on this subject, you can easily correct it. If you received your money, the first payment, it is all right, from him, as I presume you did.
Since I last wrote you we have had strange weather for the Sunny South. It has been so cold that I [have] not been able to do anything of a business character. Wood and coal are both very scarce—much more so I suppose than in Cincinnati. The price I will not mention for the reason that I do not know what it is but you may rest assured that it is high enough. As we do not pay for fuel, it makes but little difference in pecuniary sense.
In my last I did not inform you of the sights I saw on my way to Goodrich’s Landing. But I did inform you of the sights I saw during the first two days.
From Young’s Point to Van Buren are some of the finest plantations for the cultivation of cotton it has been my good fortune to look upon. Hundreds and thousands of acres of nearly lean land extends as far as the eye can reach. Not a rail either is to be seen along the extent of territory. Now and then a brick chimney peers above like lone trees on the western prairies to inform the passerby that here stood a cotton gin or there a saw mill and beyond it in the distance once stood the palace in which lived the overseer and perhaps the driver of the numerous slaves who once clustered around the negro quarters at night but now as still as if the habitations had never been the abode of living human beings.
A short distance above Milliken’s Bend there is a plantation called Omega containing about 200 negroes and a few whites and where a raid was made a few days before I passed the point by a band of guerrillas, in consequence of which the people nearly all left and have not returned so I am informed to assume their former avocations. These raids are by far too numerous for the common good of the people or the safety of travelers.
After riding for nearly six hours I reached the landing and remained all night with H. H. Littlefield, Act. Assistant Surgeon, USA, who is in charge of the contrabands at the landing. The day following I rode round to the plantations on which I found the negroes as wild as deer. Though I was dressed in uniform, they ran like deer to the woods and canebrakes where they remain in the night and return to their cabins in the day. It may seem strange to you that negroes run at the sight of a U. S. officer. It is not strange, however, when we take into consideration that guerrillas frequently appear in the uniform of our soldiers and officers to deceive the negroes and others with whom they may come in contact. I could not have realized the excitement common to this people had I not seen them myself and witnessed the action of them at the sight of a white man. A few days before I reached the landing a party of colored men and their whites with ten trains, eight six-mule teams, and two four all of whom were gobbled up—that is, the teams and men were seized and appropriated. The negroes were sent to Texas and the white men were put to death.
On my return to Vicksburg, I soon started out to visit the [Benson Heighe] Blake Plantation about ten miles from Vicksburg on the Valley Road. The husband of Mrs. Blake is a colonel in the rebel army. She is living on the plantation and depends upon the government for rations. 1 The Blake’s Plantation are three in number which contain many thousands of acres of as fine land as the sun ever shone upon. She is, I am informed, strong in the faith still. Yet a visible improvement has taken place in her made from the remark, I am told she has frequently made—that is, that she does not care which government is successful, ours or the Southern Confederacy so that the property she and her husband once owned could be placed in her possession as it once was. She is after the dollars and the negroes could she hold them.
News reached me on Saturday that the guerrillas with soldiers in the Confederate service held both sides of the river at or near Greensville near Napoleon in Arkansas. Batteries and regiment were forwarded from here yesterday.
Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon, 7th La. Vol. of A. D.
1 “Benson Heighe Blake moved to Mississippi in 1834 according to information on his application for a pardon after the Civil War. He married Caroline Downs Ferguson widow of Thomas Ferguson and owner of the property that became Blakeley Plantation. Blake inherited the property from Caroline after her death in 1849. Blake married Mary Savage Conner daughter of Henry LeGrand Conner and Susan Evelina Baker in 1852 at Berkeley Plantation in Adams County, Mississippi. In 1862, Blake took the majority of his slaves, stores, and silver when the Union Army approached Vicksburg. He went to Demopolis, Alabama where he stayed until moving to a place sixteen miles south of Albany, Georgia. Most of the slaves returned to Blakeley Plantation with Blake after the Civil War.“
“[The Yankee] army was followed by hundreds of negroes and they formed these contrabands as they were called into camps or corrals. One of these corrals was on each of Mr. Blake’s plantations, the one at Blakely being probably the largest as the accommodations were greater. There were seventeen hundred in this corral stored away in the quarters, in tents and in the gin to which they built two stories…. Very soon Yankee school teachers or ‘Marms’ as they were called arrived and took up their quarters in the corral to teach the negroes. The whole field presented a singular appearance dotted with camps, etc. and standing out in the sun and rain were carriages of various kinds which were brought there by the Yankees or negroes.” [Source]
Steamer W. L. Ewing Mississippi River January 27th 1864
My dear sisters,
In my last I informed you that I should like to see you down here on my return from Arkansas. I regret to inform you now that it would not be safe to do so. Orders have been issued to Divisions to make ready for a move at a moment’s warning. This morning we passed eleven steamboats loaded with soldiers and stores bound for Vicksburg. In addition to this, the troops stationed on the river at and near Goodrich’s Landing have received marching orders and the contrabands are being taken away as fast as the boats can carry them. When our boat arrived at the landing, we found it black over with contrabands and their goods, all ready to leave as fast as the boats could take them away. Such a sight I never saw before and the reality of which I hope I shall not be compelled soon to witness again. It is one of the most heart-rending scenes I ever saw or expect to see. Only picture to yourself a band of guerrillas within a few miles of the people and the people’s protection—our troops—ordered away immediately and thousands of people still here and cannot get away in consequence of the limited number of boats to carry them away, and you may form a faint idea of the condition of the poor contrabands whose lives in the hands of the guerrillas are as uncertain as the wind.
We took on board of the Ewing about three hundred ([inserted] I should have said six hundred) contrabands who had been employed to work the plantations the coming season at and near the landing but who had been compelled to leave with all their agricultural implements and stock after the boat had been loaded as the captain thought to express. The boat is now discharging her living freight and the implements of industry as well as livestock and provisions at a point called after you, Caroline, in the State of Mississippi 100 miles above Vicksburg.
I was informed by Col. E. W. Chamberlain, one of the planters at Goodrich’s Landing that Quantrill’s guerrillas were within two miles of the landing at sundown last night. Several persons are now on board who fled to save their lives. Were it not for the colored troops under the command of [Brig.] Gen. [John Parker] Hawkins—a portion of whom have been detained, the colored people and the whites would be murdered indiscriminately by Quantrill’s band of murderers.
We have on board of our boat about 100 rebel prisoners who could, had they the slightest chance, make an effort to escape. Besides this, the whites on board, pretended Union men, are not reliable in case of an attempt on the part of the rebels to escape. The officers on board are watchful and the men under them are reliable as steel so that we feel comparatively speaking safe. It is that safety which cold steel only can command.
To see the people and goods on shore was a sight to be sure. Horses, cattle, mules, and contrabands in one conglomerated mass. The pigs and goats contributing their noises share to render the sight one of the most ridiculous and laughable I ever saw. Though they have removed from Goodrich’s Landing, it is a question with me whether they have not run away from one trouble to meet at some future period a still more serious one.
This life of the poor contraband is one of trouble which is likely to accumulate till the war is closed and their right to freedom is no longer a question of doubt.
Should I be detained at the mouth of White river, I will write you a few lines and will try to let you know where I am as often as possible.
Very respectfully, your brother, — T. J. Wright, Surg., 7th La. Vol. of A. D.
Vicksburg, Mississippi March 7th 1864
My dear sisters,
Allow me to inform you that I expressed, by Adams Express, the sum of $300 on Saturday last. I received the sum of five hundred of the paymaster, and for fear of an accident, I dispatched it in post immediately.
I am now under order for Davis’s Bend but shall be in town in the course of a week or two.
I am sorry to inform that my trunk has not been heard from. What is the matter that you don’t let me know whether you have forwarded it or not?
Tell Phelicitous I should like to hear from her once in awhile. Please let her do a little of the writing.
I wrote a letter to Mr. John Halstead some time since but I had to direct it from memory in consequence of which I may have made a mistake. If you have the number of the street, be kind enough to let me know. I received a letter from Mr. Daniel’s brother dated December last in which I am informed that he (Hiram Daniel) was then sick and desired to see me. I have written to his brother to let him know where I can be found.
If you have a desire to visit the South, you can do so. They are now charging large sums of money on the steamboats coming here and returning from Vicksburg. The trip to Vicksburg and return will cost you a hundred dollars each, I have no doubt. Yet, if your desire is strong enough to run the risk of coming down here and returning, I shall do all in my power to make your visit agreeable. I can do a good deal for you in this particular which will be as freely bestowed upon you as it will be acceptable on your part. I have thought that it will be paying a good deal for a little. In a military and historical sense, the trip would be interesting. Yet all can be seen after the war is over better than now and under more favorable circumstances. Should you come, I should like to go with you to New Orleans but I am not certain that a pass could be procured. Besides, I might not be able to procure a leave of absence for so long a time.
If you should conclude to come, you must prepare yourselves with dresses of the latest fashion so that you will be able to appear as well as the best of the ladies here, if not better. The people live fast in the army and judge a person by the quality of his coat, or the style in which it is cut.
I am an old bachelor, so regarded by the military, so that it makes but little difference how I appear. But when my sisters visit me, I expect to let the military know that they are some. You must be prepared for horseback riding. We have as much riding here as in Cincinnati if not more.
I must have another pair of pants and a vest. The pants with gold cord, like my first ones, on the seams. The vest of light cloth for the warm season, not yellow.
I shall be able to send you some more money soon. I have an order for $160 more; will have to go to Memphis for it in all probability.
Yours, — T. J. Wright, 7th La. Vol. of A. D.
Vicksburg, Mississippi March 23rd 1864
My dear sisters,
I am afraid you will think I’m writing oftener than necessary. You will excuse me, however, for this when I inform you that I am under orders to leave for a point some seventy miles south of this with several companies of the regiment to which I am attached as surgeon. The guerrillas are numerous enough to require attention. The name of the place is Waterproof [Louisiana]. 1
I am in most excellent health and in as fine sprits as I have been in since I entered the service of our common country. Should anything transpire worthy of a note, I shall try to let you know should I have time as I hope I shall.
The steamer on board of which our troops are is the packet Adj. Gen. Thomas’s boat which is now coaling on the other side of the river. It will be here in the course of an hour or two when I shall go onboard to be ready to leave with it this afternoon or evening. Most of the men are from the camp at Memphis, nearly all of whom are my old and personal friends. As soon as they saw me this forenoon on my way to the boat, they cried out, “Here comes our old doctor!” and as soon as I touched the boat they came by tens and twenties to shake hands with me. When they were recruited, I promised to see them all righted and they feel now that I am the man to comply with my promise. I feel gratified to be in active service with the men who feel so well pleased to have me with them. Indeed, I could not get my will to say no to such a noble set of fellows.
I am not to remain permanently with them in the field. I only go for a time or till an assistant surgeon—a man of the right kind—can be obtained to fill the position with me in the regiment.
The weather is fine today and the storm and rain which annoyed us so much a day or two ago has passed over and the dirt in the streets is becoming quite dry.
I hope you have received the money I forwarded to you. One package of three hundred dollars and one of one hundred and fifty; four hundred and fifty in all.
Very respectfully, your obedient brother, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon
64th US Infantry, colored Acting Medical Inspector
1 A garrison of 300 African-American Union troops based in Waterproof was attacked on February 13, 1864, by 800 Confederates under Captain Eli Bowman. The Federal gunboat Forest Rose opened fire from the Mississippi River and drove back Bowman’s men. The next day Bowman resumed the attack, but the Forest Rose again shelled the Confederates, who again fell back in confusion. Joining Bowman was the cavalry commanded by Isaac F. Harrison. On February 15, Harrison, in command, tried to storm Waterproof but was again checked by the Forest Rose. Harrison was compelled to call off the attack and retreated westward toward Harrisonburg, the seat of Catahoula Parish. “The Confederates’ unreasonable fear of gunboats had been insurmountable, and Waterproof remained in Federal hands,” explained historian John D. Winters in his The Civil War in Louisiana (1963). [Wikipedia]
Vicksburg, Mississippi April 26th 1864
Caroline S. Wright,
Allow me to introduce to you Surgeon D. O. McCord, Medical Director of Freemen, who will visit Cincinnati on business.
Respectfully yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon, 64th US Infantry (Col)
Vicksburg, Mississippi May 1st 1864
My dear sisters,
Since I wrote you, several changes of importance have been made. Day before yesterday I learnt with sorrow and regret that a portion of the forces (the cavalry especially) had been ordered away from Vicksburg and sent north, perhaps to Memphis, in consequence of which Blake’s Plantation—situated about eight miles from town—has been broken up and the colored people ordered here. Surgeon Parks in charge and his hospital steward have been compelled to leave with their medical stores and hospital furniture and are now with us waiting orders. The sick have been brought here and are now inmates of the Prentiss Hospital while a portion of the people have been sent to Davis’s Bend; say about one hundred and fifty in number. The rest of the people are in camp in the bottom outside the picket line. Yesterday Col. Eaton informed me that the people will be ordered to Davis’s Bend immediately.
The steamboat Grey Eagle brought us the news on Friday last that the camp at Waterproof [Louisiana] had been attacked by a force not known how strong consisting of cavalry and one field piece. The garrison suffered no loss so I am informed. Lieut. Fogg was there and returned yesterday, who has furnished us with additional information. He had command of Capt. Elliot’s company, the captain being otherwise engaged. The attack was made by the plank road. No one injured so far as I can learn. Surgeon Hemming writes me that they had quite a lively time of it and a good deal of shooting but to no effect. More powder and shot wasted, I apprehend, than a little, The pickets commenced firing and retreating as they fired all in good order.
I am informed that there is now a gunboat stationed there with two tiers of guns so that should another attack be made on the garrison while the gunboat remains there, the attacking party may look out for a warm reception. The garrison is to be furnished with a battery of field pieces of not less than four, perhaps six guns. They will in all probability leave port tomorrow so that in the course of a few days, the strength of the garrison will be much better than it is now.
Within a few days Point Pleasant in the state of Louisiana near Davis’s Bend has been raided, and a number of our pickets have been taken by the guerrilla band making the attack and put to death no doubt in the most brutal manner, as that mode of daring business appears to be the order of the day with them. In consequence of the raid, the planters have left their plantations and the laborers have been sent to the Mississippi side where they will remain for a time in all probability. When Surgeon McCord left Vicksburg, Point Pleasant was in great need of a surgeon and I was ordered to supply the place just as soon as one reported for duty. No one has as yet reported except Surgeon Parks who would have been ordered there but for the unfortunate raid made on the Point and the place vacated, rendering a surgeon almost unnecessary.
The Plantation System 1 adopted by the Treasury Department is becoming daily more and more a matter of regret by those who, to make fortunes, entered the field almost blindfolded for if they had used a little common sense in the case, they would certainly have arrived at the same conclusion that I arrived at months ago. The source of trouble is m_____y by the two parties interested, each one of whom saw money in the enterprise—one to supply the Treasury with the means to carry on the war [and] the other to make fortunes for themselves out of the misfortunes of others. The laudability of the former is apparent; not so with the latter.
Exposed as the territory is which is sought to be cultivated by the leases under the Treasury Department, should have been a sufficient reason for the planters to have paused before risking thousands upon thousands of dollars in the wild scheme soon to be exploded with the loss of many valuable lives. The Government has not the men to spare to guard the plantations were it so disposed. Besides, a vigorous prosecution of the war is of far more importance to the Nation than the cultivation of a few plantations out of which the government would not receive money enough—or not much more than enough—to pay the expenses of agents to attend to the business department, leave out of question the incidental expenses of sustaining a small force not one hundredth part large enough to protect the plantations and the people.
In consequence of this foolish project being insisted on, the property and lives of not a few are sure to atone for the folly and indiscretion of those who should have known better. This season I am sure will demonstrate to the understanding of all the impracticality of raising cotton in states infested by guerrilla bands without the protection of an army almost as large as General Grant is soon to lead to battle and to victory, I hope.
Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon, 64th U. S. Infantry (Col.)
1 In March 1863, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton sent Adj. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas to the Mississippi Valley to develop a program that would enable freedmen to become self sufficient and provide “useful service” as laborers and soldiers. Gen. Thomas instituted a plan that called for the leasing of abandoned and confiscated plantations to private individuals who would agree to hire freedmen. Three commissioners were appointed to supervise the leasing, and wit the help of assistant provost marshals, they settled disputes that arose between freedmen and lessees (planters). Contraband camps were to be continued but only as a place for the unemployed and a source for acquiring able-bodied laborers to work in plantations. Planters were responsible for providing food, clothing, and monthly wages for the persons they employed. Male hands were paid $7 per month, women $5, and children between the ages of 12 and 15 received half wages. Instead of paying ordinary rent, planters were required to pay the Federal Government a produce tax that amounted to “two dollars for each 400 pounds of cotton produced and five cents for ever bushel of corn or potatoes.” To protect the freedmen and planters from the attacks of “guerrillas,” Gen. Thomas established a “Colored invalid corps” comprised of black men unsuited for field service but capable of other military duties. Some of these guards were drawn from the 7th Louisiana (64th USCT). By the end of 1863, responsibility for managing this program was transferred to the Treasury Department. As Dr. Wright’s letter attests, the plan was Plantation System was a failure primarily because there was inadequate security provided to protect the crops and the laborers from guerrillas that prevailed in the Mississippi River valley.
Vicksburg, Mississippi May 8th 1864
My dear sisters,
I have been busily engaged nearly all week in attending to the sick from Blake’s Plantation. In consequence of the evacuation of that place and the hurried manner in which the people left it, some lost their clothing [and] others who were improving in their health have brought about relapses. Taking into consideration their exposed condition, is it any wonder that we have an increased sick list on the one hand and an increased mortality on the other? Houseless and homeless as these poor creatures are in many instances, it is no wonder that their numbers decreased rapidly as they do. After attending in person to all the sick from the plantations referred to who are just outside the lines, I received verbal information from Col. Eaton, Superintendent of Freedmen, late on Friday afternoon, that there was a number of sick on one of Blake’s Plantations on the Yazoo river who required attention and he requested my attention to the subject. This place is some twelve miles from Vicksburg and nearly as many miles outside our lines. I might have sent out a hospital steward or a surgeon, but I am not certain that either one would have been induced to discharge their duties in the case. What was I to do? Leave the poor creatures to the mercy f persons of their own color as they had been for over a week? No! I resolved to attend to the matter myself, without an ambulance, wagon, or any kind of a carriage in which to put the sick when found.
About nine o’clock I left Vicksburg on y little pony and rode for hours over one of the dustiest roads I ever passed over till I reached Blake’s Plantation on which I found a few colored families in the quarters who had returned after the excitement was over and one white man, one of the employees of Mr. Smith who informed me that nothing could induce him to remain there any longer than it required to get a settlement with Mr. Smith for past services. This gentleman accompanied me after dinner to the plantations on the Yazoo river. On our way there, the hospital steward formerly of Blake’s Plantation camp accompanied us who rode up to a temporary building on the hillside which is used and occupied as a small pox hospital in which were found three persons in the advanced stage of that loathsome malady, attended by a negro woman. It was not known that any persons were there till our investigations discovered the group.
We continued our ride up the road and through the camps where our soldiers but little over a week before were encamped and saw the remnants of camp equipage strewn about in profusion. About a mile beyond we reached the bank of the Yazoo river and the spot on which but a short time since one man perished on a telegraphic pole to compensate in part for the numerous outrages committed on our people by the rebels but a short time before. Having reached the river we had about a mile further to go to reach the lower plantation on which the sick were reported to be. On our arrival there I entered the building in which were the day before one if not two of the sick. To my great surprise I could not discover a being, living or dead. In a corn crib to the right on the bank of the river, I heard a man crying loudly who noise attracted my attention to his location. In one of the log cabins in the quarters a woman and girl were found, the former in a helpless condition and literally lying in her own filth and rolling about from side to side like a hog wallowing in the mire. This woman was reported as being put on the wagon at Blake’s Plantation, who was on the sick list there, to be put on board of the steamer sent up the Yazoo river to take the people away when the order was issued to withdraw the protection which our troops had extended to them.
These unfortunate people had been in this helpless condition and in the quarters alone for one week. I am informed that teams had been there every day for three days for corn, yet not one of the drivers had humanity enough to bring them away to a place where they could be cared for. These drivers by-the-by are of their own color, which goes to show how far one cares for another when in distress.
We found near the quarters two negroes with a yoke of cattle and an old dilapidated wagon in search of lumber to take to the new camp on the river. Having no means of taking the sick away at my command, I pressed into service the cattle of these colored brethren, put the sick on board, and ordered the driver to take them to camp. I have learnt this morning hat they arrived at camp last night and are to be brought to this hospital today.
On our way home I saw several large alligators in the Chickasaw Bayou lot less than eight feet long.
Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon
64th U. S. Infantry (Col.)
Vicksburg, Mississippi May 21st 1864
My dear sisters,
I am fearful you will feel uneasy about me in consequence of not writing as often as usual. About the time I forwarded to you two hundred and fifty dollars, about a week ago, I received an order to go below and attend to a little business connected with our Department which deprived me of the opportunity of writing as I have been accustomed to once a week.
On my way down the river I had business at Davis’s Bend where I remained two days, after which I went as far as Waterproof, Louisiana, and just arrived there in season to be present at the evacuation of that recently occupied post. The orders were to leave the place immediately and occupy posts nearer Natchez to protect a few plantations near there from guerrilla raids.
As I had not time to discharge the business devolving upon me at Waterproof before the troops left, I had no alternative left me but to go with them either by water or land and the former route I made choice of in preference. No soon had our troops got ready to depart than the guerrillas were seen moving around in the woods on the outskirts of town. In a thicket of woods a little north of the town, quite a number of them were secreted, which induced our boys to fire into the thicket, soon after which the guerrilla scoundrels were seen running in every direction to escape the effects of the shot. Seeing the good effect that one shot had, our boys were anxious to try another or two which gave rise to a response from the guerrillas so that our boys struck up a breeze which continued for some time, injuring no one on our side. Before the boys left, they set on fire several buildings—the hospital building included.
On our way down by land we could see the smoke ascending in vast clouds indicative of the magnitude of the fires. On my return, the other night, from Natchez, the moon shone bright which enabled me to see the ruins of the conflagration of a few days before. I recognized two camp fires in the town which I took to be the fires of the guerrillas who now occupy the town. It was an interesting sight to see the colored people pack up their traps and follow us just as soon as they could after the fact was made known to them that our forces were leaving. Even the plantation negroes for miles came after our troops by land traveling all night with their goods either on their heads or on their backs.
On the second day I overtook several women with pails on their heads with all their goods and eatables in them. On enquiring I found they were from Waterproof, many of whom were not able to leave with us but who left soon after and took the roads as if returning to their former masters who live about eight miles back in the country. No sooner out of the reach of the guerrillas than they changed their course and followed us and when I saw them, they were on their way to Vidalia [Louisiana], a small town opposite Natchez.
The country between Waterproof ad Natchez is studded with the largest kind of plantations, varying from six hundred acres each to several thousands, with quarters correspondingly commodious.
The town of Natchez is divided into two portions—Natchez under the hill, and Natchez on the hill. The town on the hill is much better built that Vicksburg and is nearer a level than the latter.
Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon
64th U. S. Infantry (Col.)
Office Freedmen’s General Hospital Vicksburg, Mississippi July 3rd 1864
My dear sisters,
I have to inform you that I am once more in the enjoyment of good health—a blessing I have learned to appreciate.
In my last I think I informed you that I am retained in charge of the Freemen’s General Hospital situated near the river [at the corner of Crawford and Levee Streets] in the City of Vicksburg. It was formerly the Prentiss House or public hotel. It is the largest building in the town that now remains standing. When it came into our hands it was in a ver bad condition. The shells and missiles which were thrown from our boats during the siege came very near demolishing the building. With the exception of the walls, but little remained to tell the sad tale. Judging from the size of the building and the numerous rooms, it must have been the fashionable place of resort for the traveling public and the planters in particular. It is a brick edifice, four stories high on the side fronting the river; while it is but three on the opposite side which is the main entrance to the building. In the centre of which, on the second floor, there is a recess extending over one third of the front, and about half the depth of the building, two stories high, supported by circular massive pillars which commence on the second story and extend to the roof. I should judge that it was used as a promenade for the visitors during their sojourn in place of the side walks which are not very good here.
The building proper occupied about half a square while the yard and a few out buildings occupy the other half.
I can give you but an imperfect idea of the size and form of the rooms when the building was occupied as an hotel for the reason that they have been very much altered in repairing the building and fitting it for the purpose for which it is now used. The dining room—which was a large one—is now much larger, two or three other rooms being knocked into one. These rooms and the former dining room now constitute the largest ward in the building, occupying the river front on the second floor and extending the whole length of the hospital proper. It is filled now with male patients and had in it when I came here seventy-five cots. I consequence of the warm weather, I have thought proper to reduce the number of cots so that they are not so crowded now as they were about a week ago. Besides that, the air is in a much better condition than it was before the change was made. To render the ward still freer from impurities, I have removed the patients with sires of various kinds to a building in the opposite end of the lot which I take charge of myself and attend in person to the dressing of their ulcers and wounds of various kinds. Morning and evening there I am found busily devoting my time and attention to the treatment of what may be termed a specialty.
The reason why I have adopted this plan of operating is simply this. The attendants, white and black, do not like to labor in this field for the reason that it is offensive and exceedingly unpleasant, in consequence of which the sores were but seldom thoroughly cleansed; the bandages but imperfectly applied. The result, as you may easily imagine, was exceedingly unfavorable. Besides that, I am setting them all an example which I hope they will all profit by sooner or later.
I am under no obligation to enter the practical field of the profession, but have chosen to labor among the most objectionable class of patients in the institution rather than see them neglected.
In general the Surgeon-in-Chief of a hospital does not enter the practical department of his profession for the reason that he has business enough (or at least it is supposed so) to attend to in procuring supplies, making out reports, pay rolls, and so forth, to occupy as much of the time as he should do for his own good.
Though a great deal of work has been done to put the building in repair, there is still more which should be done to make the building what it should be. Several rooms require plastering or patching here and there, and white washing to make them as comfortable as they should be for the reception of the sick. I made out an order some time since for the plastering which was approved by the Quartermaster but the mechanics have not as yet made their appearance, nor do I know when they will. The mechanics for the government care but little about the work so that the time passes along for which they are paid. Indeed, all persons emplyed at public hands, or detailed men, do the smallest amount of work in a given time I ever saw in my life. The order of the day is to do as little as possible and full well do they perform their part.
I shall have to let the Prentiss House pass for the present to inform you that tomorrow—the Fourth of July—is to be celebrated by the friends of Freedom at Davis’s Bend. I am invited to be there. I should much rather remain at my post here than spend the day in going to and returning from the scene of the festivities. The weather is very hot and exceedingly unpleasant to persons when compelled to be in the sun as we shall be more or less on our way there and in returning. I have no doubt but we shall be made as comfortable as possible on our arrival there. Mrs. [Frances Dana Barker] Gage, formerly of St. Louis, is invited and will be there to respond to a toast. Mrs. [Cordelia A. Perrine] Harvey of Wisconsin is also invited who will be present as well as numerous others of the strong minded so called, because thy think they have rights in common with others which are worth talking about.
Now my dear sisters, there is nothing that would please me more than to have you, Mr. Halstead, and Miss Sibree with me to partake of the hospitality of the people of Davis’s Bend on that ever to be revered day—the Fourth of July.
— T. J. Wright, Surgeon-in-Charge of Freedman’s General Hospital, Vicksburg, Mississippi
Office Freedmen’s General Hospital Vicksburg, Mississippi July 7th 1864
My dear sisters,
I have to inform you that I have just received information that I am soon to be ordered into Arkansas to organize the Medical Department of the Freedmen in that state. Col. Eaton has just returned from a trip of exploration in that distant field of his charge and finds I suppose that the Medical Department is in great need of a system by which the machinery of the department can be out in better running order than heretofore. Another member of the profession was designed for that field but from some cause knot known to me he is not to be placed in the position that he has been looking for so hopefully for more than a month. Honestly I am inclined to think it’s the best policy for anyone in or out of the Freedmen’s Department. On this principle I have acted during my labors with the soldiers and the Freedmen so that today I can look back upon my past labors and conduct approvingly. I wish I could say as much of others who have been associated with me in the various capacities of surgeons, stewards, nurses, and so forth.
Though I never intrude myself upon anyone or push myself forward so that I ay become noticed and known. My habits as you know full well are not of a showy character. Yet with all my diffidence and stillness, I am called for here and there up the river and down the river to take charge of htis camp or that hospital or detachment of soldiers as the case may be. Why is it that I am in such demand? The reason is plain. Wherever I have been, the duty I owe to my country and to the soldiers fighting her battles as well as to the Freedmen has occupied my time and attention in place of bestowing them on others not entitled to the,. It is simply then in doing my duty to the best of my ability wherever I have been and recognizing those who were sick and placed under my charge as objects of sympathy and medical attention, black as well as white, that has done its work for me.
With regard to personal comforts and conveniences, I do not expect to be placed in as favorable a position as the one I now occupy. It is true I have assumed no small amount of responsibility in taking charge of the Prentiss House hospital medicines, furniture and supplies and [ ] the property of the government for all of which I am held responsible. Should a single article be lost that I could not account for, the value of it would be deducted from my pay. In any part of Arkansas, living is very high and the accommodations correspondingly poor. Yet as I wrote to you in the month of February last, the town of Little Rock where I expect to have my office is one of the most desirable towns to live in in the southwest.
I gave you then a general description of the town and of the objects in and about it which impressed me favorably and unfavorably as the case might be. I shall continue that description and include objects of interest that I have not mentioned before.
I am not certain that I shall be ordered there but think it quite probable that I shall. I am never certain till the order is issued that shall be required to go there or elsewhere. Yet it is quite probable that I shall be ordered to Arkansas unless my presence should be required near Natchez where Surgeon McCord is going in a day or two. On his return, I shall know for he will then have been at all the points on the river from Cairo to Natchez within the last month. Just as soon as I have positive information as to the place where I shall be ordered, I will inform you by letter.
On the Fourth of July the day was celebrated by the friends of Freedmen on Jeff Davis’s plantation on Davis’s Bend, he proceedings of which you will find in the Vicksburg Herald of the 6th, four copies of which is enclosed in a wrapper to be used as you may think proper. Mrs. [Frances Dana Barker] Gage spoke with as much fire and good sense as she did in Smith and Nixon’s Hall in Cincinnati some eight years ago. She is looking much older now than she did then. In conversation with her a few days before the Fourth while on a visit to the Freedmen’s General Hospital, she informed me that she lived in Columbus, Ohio, now. In other words she makes that place her home. Having lost her husband, she has returned to Ohio because perhaps her children live there. In her speech, I understood her to say that she has two sons in the army, one daughter and herself laboring in the field for the common good of the soldiers. Towards the close of her speech she read an original poem written for the occasion which does not appear in print but will do, no doubt.
The tone and tenor of the speeches were of the true radical kind but seldom if ever heard on that plantation while Jeff occupied it I am inclined to think. The strong minded women were there in large numbers. The school teachers and missionaries in general are not spoiled with beauty though most of hem have a very good opinion of themselves. While there are some who are modest and lady-like in their manners, a very large proportion deviate very much from a line of conduct becoming persons filling important and responsible positions in our Department as they do. Many of them come down here to market because they could find none in the North to suit them. The reason is I suppose that they are not spoiled with beauty. I shall be very much mistaken should they be more successful here than in the States they left behind.
Te weather remains quite warm and oppressive. The Fourth was very pleasant with the exception of a shower of rain that commenced about 12 o’clock M. and continued till past five when we had to have to be on board the boat in season.
Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon-in-Charge
64th Regt., U. S. Inf. (Col)
Office Freedmen’s General Hospital Vicksburg, Mississippi July 10th 1864
My dear sisters,
I have to inform you that I have just received your letter of July 4th in which you inform me that Mr. Halstead and Miss Sibree had not then arrived but were expected in a day or two. I regret exceedingly that he did not come sooner so that he might have extended his trip to Vicksburg and spent a few days in looking at the city and its surroundings before I leave for Little Rock, Arkansas.
Surgeon McCord is now at Natchez attending to the business of the Department there and near there which will detain him several days. On his return orders will be issued to me requiring my presence at Little Rock. The purport of the business devolving upon me I am not informed but suppose it will e to organize the Medical Department in the State of Arkansas. Little Rock being the capitol, it will be the most suitable place for my headquarters, though Pine Bluff—a town smaller in size and near forty miles below—had when I was there in February last more Freedmen depending on the government for protection than had Little Rock. Yet the nearer I can get to the General in command, the less labor it will be for me to make the necessary changes in the Freedmen’s Department contemplated in my orders.
Surgeon McCord will not return for several days so that should he issue orders on his return, I cannot leave in less than a week. I am at present better prepared to entertain a friend than I have been or shall be for some time to come. I occupy two rooms in one of which I have a furnished cot for the accommodation of anyone who may think proper to give me a call and the table with one exception is the best I have dined at since I left Memphis.
You will be kind enough to inform Mrs. Haven that I shall be pleased to do all I can for her in the way of obtaining information of her relations supposed to be in Jackson, Mississippi. I informed you some time since that I had forwarded by a person going to Jackson a letter directed to the Doctor in which I requested him to furnish me with the desired information. Thus far I have received no reply.
At present I presume the opportunities to transmit letters to and from Jackson are few and far between in consequence of the troops which are now in the vicinity of Jackson and as report has it, fighting has been going n for several days between the forces sent from Vicksburg and commanded by General Dennis and a large force of Confederates under the command of Wirt Adams. An expedition, if it has not already started, is being fitted out here to be in charge of General Slocum who has command of Vicksburg and destined for Jackson to assist our force already there.
During the early part of last week, the Marine Brigade consisting of five large transports with horses and soldiers accompanied by gunboats landed at Rodney, Mississippi—a town between Vicksburg and Natchez—where the soldiers disembarked and soon found the enemy in force with whom they fought several battles and took a number of prisoners, both black and white. The Brigade returned and reached the landing a little before sundown last night with their prisoners on board. Military matters are just now very active here. Nearly every boat that arrives is pressed into government service for some purpose connected with the movements now apparent to every observing eye. The steamer Sultana left the landing about 9 o’clock a.m. with steam up and running at full speed when she had reached the upper part of the landing, a tug put out to intercept her which it did in a few minutes and ordered her into government service.
In one of the papers ent you, you will notice the death of Capt. Rogers who had command of a company of men in the regiment to which I am attached. I am sorry to inform you that his death was brought about by fear. He was stationed at a place called Ashland on the Louisiana side of the river opposite Davis’s Bend to protect the plantations and all the men he had to protect them with was two companies of colored troops who at best could not muster much over one hundred men fit for duty. Reports say the guerrillas who infest that part of the state number several hundred. It is now nearly three weeks, maybe more, since the force under Captain Rogers was attacked by a superior force. The captain’s force inside a stockade of a triangular form, one one side of which was the river. The space was sufficiently large to hold his men and cabins in which they lived. They were attacked there by a superior number and fought the enemy for an hour or more when the enemy demanded an unconditional surrender or they—the guerrillas—would return in an hour or two with additional numbers and put all to death. The captain refused to surrender as was demanded of him. In consequence of having no means of escape but by water and the only boat connected with the command had been taken away from its moorings a few days before by two men deserters who made their escape in it acted upon the mind of the captain with so much force as to bring on a nervous fever which terminated his existence. Another fact which contributed somewhat to bring about this unfortunate result I may as well relate here.
A few weeks before the last fight, the plantations nearby were raided and the stock such as mules, horses, and cows were driven off and quite a number of our men lost their lives in consequence of which the planters felt aggrieved and charged the captain with cowardice in letters by them to the Superintendent of Freedmen/ I saw him in camp a short time after the charges had been made and had a conversation with him upon the subject. He felt the charge keenly I know from the remarks made in my presence.
Very respectfully your obedient servant, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon-in-Charge, 64th Regt. U. S. Col. Infantry
Freedman’s General Hospital Vicksburg, Mississippi December 14th 1864
My dear sisters,
I have to inform you that I received the socks you sent me and I believe have received an dam receiving all the newspapers you have sent me as well as the public documents. You also inform me that the bonds and money reached you in safety.
Please inform Dr. Carter that I will comply with his request as soon as I have spare time and feel well enough to give him a few items of interest from the Department.
I do not feel much like writing but felt it to be my duty to give you the reason why. On last Saturday I was riding out on my horse which is very wild in consequence of being young, well fed, and but seldom used. When passing the corner of the hospital building in capering about he slipped and fell on his right side with my right foot under his right shoulder which sprained my ankle and rendered the limb unfit for use since and is likely to be for some time to come. I feel thankful that no bones were broken. It is very much swollen—so much so that I cannot get anything on my foot but my sock. It is not quite so sore today as it was yesterday though the swelling is extending up the leg. I think in about a week I shall be able to use it a little at least. I am now attending to my business though I have to go on crutches for the first time in my life.
The weather is quite cold. We have one of the cold snaps for which this country is distinguished. In a day or two it will be as warm as spring again.
Since I have been in the public I have not been sick much so that I have no particular reason to complain for an accident like this to trouble me for a week or two. I don’t want you to feel uneasy about me. Spend all your sympathy on Felicitous for I feel that I can take care of myself.
Very Respectfully your obedient servant, — T. J. Wright
This letter was written by Peleg Edwin Peckham (1835-1865), the son of Rowland and Mary Johnson Peckham of Charlestown, Rhode Island. He married at New York City, Martha Emily Ennis (1834-1892) in May 1860. Aug. 1, 1862, Mr. Peckham enlisted as a private in Company A, but was mustered as fourth sergeant September 4th, commissioned second lieutenant Company E, Jan. 7, 1863; first lieutenant of same March 1st; captain Company B, July 25, 1864, and brevet major of volunteers July 30th. From January, 1865, he served as acting assistant adjutant-general on the staff of his brigade commander, Gen. John I. Curtin, until he was mortally wounded early in the day, April 2d. The brigade staff were lying in the rebel trench in front of Fort Hell waiting for something to eat. There was continuous firing, but a somewhat heavier momentary fusillade caused them to rise, when a bullet struck him over the right ear coming out at the eye. He was taken to the Cheever house which General Curtin had occupied as headquarters, though most of the staff, including Major Peckham, had tented in the yard. He received the unremitting attention of Dr. W. R. D. Blackwood, of the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania, the brigade surgeon, but with little avail. He did recover sufficiently to say to the doctor, ‘Write to my wife and tell her.’ Later he was sent in an ambulance to the City Point Hospital, where he died next day, April 3d.
Peckham wrote the letter to David R. Kenyon (1833-1897) who formerly served as captain of Co. A, 7th Rhode Island Infantry. Kenyon was wounded in the leg at Fredericksburg and resigned in March 1863. Shortly after this, he was commissioned a colonel in the 8th Rhode Island Militia. Peckham also mentions having written to “Alf.” This may have been Alfred Matthews Channell (1829-1884) who served as Captain of Co. D, 7th Rhode Island Infantry.
Peckham’s letter speaks to the malcontent of the officers remaining in the regiment as petty jealousies ripped asunder the esprit de corps of the once proud fighting unit. In this respect, the regiment was hardly alone. By this stage of the war, most foot soldiers shared the following general sentiment (paraphrased), “We volunteered to fight for the Stars & Stripes, the officers for the Stars & Eagles.”
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Rob Grandchamp and was transcribed and published by express consent on Spared & Shared.]
Camp 7th Regiment Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry Burnside Point, Kentucky February 6th 1864
I have been for two or three weeks looking for a letter from you, but despairing of receiving one, I thought I would write again not knowing but the three I have written to you and as many to Alf had been miscarried, for I cannot believe that you have forgotten your old friend of 1862 & 3 so I attribute this long delay to the mails and not to negligence on your part.
Colonel, the Old 7th is still in existence yet—I am sorry to say sadly demoralized—and I think I am not far from the truth when I say the officers more than the men. But this confidentially of course for I would not say ought of the 7th to injure her well earned credit at home. But so well and harmoniously as the officers and men of the 7th used to pull together for the distinction and renown which has been acquired to us, jealousies and hard feelings now arise and sadly wiped out the quietude and pleasures of the little band. “H_____” that now compose our thinned and decimated ranks ranks.
We are now stationed as a Post Guard at Burnside Point 1 which is fast acquiring and destined to be a large and extensive place of supplies. We have a steam sawmill in full operation which turns off one thousand feet of lumber per our. Three hundred carpenters have been at work for six weeks building warehouses, commissary buildings, offices, and shops & stables, &c., and we already boast of a town. Our duties are rather severe and laborious too, yet we are satisfied to do it rather than go farther toward Knoxville. Burnside Point is situated on and between the North & South Fork of the Cumberland River 75 miles south of Nicholasville, Kentucky, and 110 miles north of Knoxville. The country around us is sparsely settled and but little cleared land—almost an unbroken forest of very large and beautiful timber. It is also hilly and mountainous and the clay soil at this season of the year is very pliable. In fact, worse than Virginia.
The boys of Co. A are all in fair health and those that have been affected with the chills are fast getting better. We have good water and plenty to eat and now & then a ration of whiskey which seems to animate and strengthen us all. And in fact, if that union and harmony that used to characterize the 7th existed today, I would be as contented now as ever.
But to the matter of my former letters, I wrote you in them & I have also written to Alf that I would, if possible, get a commission as captain in the 3rd Rhode Island Cavalry. I stated in one of those letters that I would give him $50 to obtain it for me. Now Colonel, is there any chance? Please see him (Alf) and ascertain and write me for if there is none, I wish to try to get in the 14th (N-i-g-g-e-r). That I can do here at Cincinnati—that is, if I can pass an examination before Old Gen. [Silas] Casey. It is rumored that our regiment will soon come East again in order to accompany General Burnside on an expedition to some point to us yet unknown for we never get a newspaper here. I have not seen one in three weeks so you see I am three weeks behind time in new.
But I must close. Please write me on receipt of this and oblige.
Yours truly, — Peleg E. Parkham, Lt. commanding Co. B, 7th R. I. V.
Via Cincinnati. Burnside’s Point
1 First named Point Isabel, Burnside was settled in around 1800 by pioneers from the Carolinas and Virginia. During the Civil War in 1863, the Union Army set up a troop rendezvous and supply base here as a prelude to the East Tennessee campaign of General Ambrose E. Burnside. The area then became known as Camp Burnside. Years later, that land is now under water.
This letter was written by James Chesman (“Chester”) Littlefield (1845-1926), the son of Samuel Littlefield (1817-1901) and Louisa Watson (1806-1856) of Cambridge, Somerset county, Maine.
Chester enlisted at the age of 18 as a private in December 1861 in the 3rd Maine Light Artillery. On March 1863 he was transferred into Co. M, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery where he was serving at the time of his reenlistment as a veteran in January 1864. In February 1864 he was transferred back to the 3rd Maine Light Artillery where he served until his discharge on 1 September 1865.
We learn from Chester’s letter that he was assigned the duty of being one of four mule drivers in his battery. Typically each battery had 4 guns, each pulled by six horses or mules harnessed in tandem, the driver riding one of the mules nearest the limber and steering the animals with reigns and a whip. Horses, being less skittish and more manageable, were strongly preferred over mules but by this point in the war were more difficult to come by.
When the 3rd Maine Light Artillery was reorganized and sent to the field in the spring of 1864, they were attached to the 9th Army Corps and placed in line on the Petersburg battle front. They were one of the batteries heavily engaged in the Battle of the Crater in July. They were relocated to the defenses at City Point, Virginia, in late October and remained there until early May 1865 when they relocated to Washington D. C.
Chester wrote this letter to his cousin, Jennie S. Russell. He did not marry her after the war but possibly married another maternal cousin named Ada L. Watson (1855-1880) in August 1870.
Camp 3rd Maine Battery In the Defenses of City Point, [Virginia] February 28, 1865
My dear cousin,
I am glad to have the opportunity of writing to you in answer to your kind letter of the 19th. I was glad to hear that you was well when it left you as it found me. The weather is fine here now. It begins to look like spring here now. The birds begin to sing and the sun gets nearer to us so we feel it more sensibly. I wish you might run over here and see me one of these fine days. It would be such a treat for you to be rid of the snow and to think of seeing the birds hopping about in the branches in February. Wouldn’t it be a treat for you, Jeannie? and what a treat for me to have you by my side once in awhile when the weather is fine.
Oh Jennie, how anxiously I am looking forward to the time when I shall meet you again. My darling little cousin, how glad I was to get your letter. Your pigs made a safe trip. It is a great satisfaction to find that they have no disposition to squeal. You did not seem to know much about your neighbors. Well, the best way some times [is] to know as little as possible at times. I guess you are more generous in your comment on your friend Miss Mower that you are on the Merchant. I only guess at this.
The war news are first rate. Things look as though we might come home next winter. I hope it will not be more than a year at the most before the Johnnies will cry enough. This is what we are waiting for now. The sooner it comes, the better it will suit the most of us.
I must look at your letter now and see if you asked me any questions. Sad indeed is it to hear that Mrs. Morse is taken from those she loved and by whom she was loved but we’ll bless the glorious giver who doeth all things well. We must all go down into the valley and shadow of death.
We are engaged the most of the time in getting wood and hauling forage for the Battery—we mule drives, I mean. There is four of us each driving six mules. This would be fun for you to see me driving six mules with one rein but it is quite easy when one gets used to it.
I have been thinking about getting a furlough home but I am not decided what I had better do, I want you to excuse this short letter. I have hard work to get my thoughts upon paper but I would talk you most to death if I was with you. I have not heard from Miss M. Lolly.
With much love and good wishes, I remain your true and loving cousin, — Chesman
Shortness of time
How swiftly times passes away. It seems but a day since it was winter. But spring and summer will have passed. Then comes winter again with its drifting snows covering the fields and trees with its white robes. Then another year will have rolled away. When I think of this, I ask myself the question, have I improved well my time for the last year? Have I tried to gain any good….[self introspective musings in pencil for a half page]
This letter was written by John Thomas Hathaway (1834-1923) of Co. F, 20th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was the son of Eleazer and Sarah Hathaway of Perry Township, Shelby county, Ohio. He mentions a younger brother, David H. Hathaway (1845-1912), recently discharged from Co. H, 134th OVI.
John enlisted as a private and was still a private in January 1864 when he reenlisted as a veteran. He was made a corporal just prior to mustering out of the regiment on 15 July 1865.
When he returned from the war, John married Harriet E. Blake (1836-1875) and resumed his farming vocation. After her death in 1875, he married Margaret Ellen Wilson (1843-1921). I have not attempted to learn the identify of his friend, “Mrs. E. R. Andrews” to whom the letter was addressed.
I received your very welcome letter in due time but could not answer immediately. The last raid was one month & one day of almost continual labor. We started out from Atlanta, Georgia, traveled 20 miles the first day & did not fool about it at all until the Johnnies left the railroad. Then we turned back through the country traveling slowly from 7 to 10 miles per day foraging our living off the country. Found plenty to subsist on. It abounds with sweet potatoes, corn, and fresh meat & Uncle Sam’s boys know how to help themselves.
Many of the boys have gone home—the non-vets mustered out, the sick and wounded on furlough, J. T. Neal among the number. You will see him if you go to D. D. Neal’s for there is where he stays.
Today we got the long looked for greenbacks. I will be able to send a couple of hundred home. We drew eight months pay & some bounty. I don’t expect we will lay still very long for there are arrangements being made for another raid. I guess it will be south to Mobile or Savannah, S. C. It is not likely there will be any communications with us and civilization until we reach our destinations but our mail will be there waiting us.
I have not had any letter directly from home for two months but got one from Orin dated the 18th ult. stating they were all well & of course they think I am. Since Dave got home, they forget there is one more boy in Dixie or else the Johnnies have captured the letters on the road.
Most of the territory passed over by us in Georgia has been rough with many nice small valleys & beautiful water. I never saw the boys in better health or spirits than on the last raid. [They] was always ready to march when the bugle sounded fall in & I never heard so little complaint on a march in any life. Their faith is strong in the downfall of the rebellion.
I am not in a writing mood this afternoon. Excuse bad writing as this is a miserable pen. Give my best respects to all the friends at home & abroad. Write soon. Direct to Atlanta, George.
Co. F, 20th O. V. V. I., 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 17th Army Corps.
This letter was written by Capt. Horatio Nelson Hunt (1826-1896) of Leon, Cattaraugus county. Horatio enlisted on 15 September 1861 and was commissioned 1st Lieutenant of Co. K, 64th New York Infantry. He was promoted to Captain of his company on 24 May 1862, just one week before he was wounded in the fighting at Fair Oaks, Virginia. Less than three weeks later he sat down to write his wife, Jane (Murdock) Hunt (1826-1899) and his seven children the following letter.
His parents were Sherebial Hunt (1801-1889) and Anna Reed (1799-1846) of Bristol county, Massachusetts. Horatio was a cooper by trade.
For the 64th New York Infantry, Fair Oaks (or Seven Pines) was their first real emersion in combat. They performed remarkable well—“with great steadiness under a fire which killed or wounded 173 of its members.” Among those wounded in action from Co. K at Fair Oaks, besides Capt. Hunt, were Conrad Auchmire, Wayne V. Bloodgood, Joseph Bower, Nathaniel T. Cooper, Albert W. Dye, George Francis, Joseph Furnace, Galette Gilbert, Joseph Gooden, Gustavus Grover, Charles M. Ingraham, Patrick Maign, William Marsh, Fergus Merriman, Thomas P. W. Palmer, Delos E. Pember, Samuel Penner, and George W. Wellman.
Fair Oaks, Virginia June 19th 1862
Dear Wife and children,
I improve the present opportunity in writing to you to let you know that I am well. I received a letter from you some 3 days ago. Was glad to hear that you was all well. I received a letter from Card. He said you were all well.
You will see by the heading of this that we are at the same place that we have been for about 3 weeks. When we will make our advance is more than I can tell. Our army are very busy throwing up entrenchments, planting [illegible]. Yesterday our regiment was to work on breastworks. We have got some splendid works here. There is no news of importance. I am making out Descriptive lists for those that were wounded as fast as they apply for them. Some are at Philadelphia 1 & some at Portsmouth, some one place & some in another. All have left here. Some are expected back soon & some not at all. Our boys are all well as usual. Harvey is some lame today. His leg troubles him once in awhile. N___ is well and fat. The boys all dram whiskey twice a day and gill a day. They are not allowed to sell or transfer it. Anyone that not present at roll call loses his whiskey ration. Most of them all are on hand every time. It was recommended by the surgeon of the army today.
We draw potatoes the first time for 3 or 4 months, dried apples for the first time since in the army. We have to have onions soon they say. Our boys went in on taters today. When they were still out you could see about a dozen heads hanging over the kettle to time. Poor fellows. How I did pity them. But most of the folks say they are nothing but soldiers. Anything is good enough for them. Nothing but the [illegible]. Oh how I wish they could see what I have seen just once. Once would be enough. Men—yes, young men—the pride of our country, standing face to face with the enemy & face to face with death, dropping and falling on both sides and pleading for help all for their rights and liberties and blessings of those to enjoy who are at home sleeping on their downy pillows of ease, while the soldier walks his lonely beat at the dead of night. Shame on such patriotism. Shame on such talk. They ought to hide their faces from the sight of human beings. We forgive them.
Jane, I have just been to the office (a cloth tent) to get our mail. I found yours of the 13th inst. to me. Was very glad that you were as well as usual. Frant must not come come too often. I calculated to write to her often. She can get it without come home more than once a week. I wrote her a long letter but a short time since. Mr. Franklin’s folks wanted to know where William was. I have not found out yet. As soon as I do, I will inform them. I will answer all enquiries anyone wishes that is in my power to answer.
I have had letters from Fry & George [Wellman] and many other boys that was wounded. All are doing well as can be expected. I sed them their Descriptive lists and account of pay and clothing so that they can get their pay and discharge if they are considered unfit for duty.
I am very busy making our pay rolls. It is a long job, We have to make four just alike. We will get pay again soon probably. How much money have you now and how much shall I send you next time. Write soon and tell me what you ned, what you want, and all about matters. I send in this a gold pen and silver case and pencil to Frant. She must be careful of it and not lose it for it is a good one.
I want you to get someone to look at the wing part of the house and see what is the least they will underpin it for with lime and mortar in a good workmanlike manner. Ledge stone wall to commence ten inches below the top of the ground in a ditch filled with small stone. All for cash when done and accepted. Perhaps Corydon will see to it for you. When it is done, the southeast corner or the whole [ ] must be leveled up for it has sagged some.
I send my love to you and the children. Goodbye for this time. Write soon all news. Yours truly, — H. N. Hunt
1 One of the members of the 64th NYSV sent to Philadelphia for the treatment of wounds received at Fair Oaks was Daniel Wiley Lafferty of Co. A. His wound resulted in the loss of the 3rd finger on his left hand. See his letter of 25 June 1862.
[Note: The following letter is from the private collection of Greg Herr and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Camp of the 64th New York Vols. Near Morrisville, Virginia August 9th 1863
Dear Wife and children,
Again I seat myself within my tented home to pen a few lines in answer to your kind letter of August 4th which was dul received today.
Today is Sabbath and the warmest day I think we have had this summer. We have just finished Sunday morning inspection and I have returned to my quarters and commenced a few words conversation with you. I wonder how you all do today. It may be you have all left the old homestead and gone to church. Or perhaps you are all seated around the family board partaking of those large potatoes of which you speak in your letter. I had some this morning—the first that I have had since about the time we left Falmouth. I guess I must tell you where and how I got them for fear you will will have some bad feelings or you’ll be sending some in your letters to me. Still, if you want sympathy about it, I will tell you. Well, you see our Chaplain got a few potatoes somewhere and he boiled them for himself and had 4 left not one bit larger than walnuts. He was going to throw them away. My 1st Lieutenant saw him and said he would take them so we had them for breakfast this morning. I had two and Lieutenant two. So you see we’ve had new potatoes.
You speak of its being warm weather up there. That’s no name for it down here.
I see you talk of going a journey to Elmira and think it will be good for your health. Now if it would do you a little good to go to Elmira, would it not do you a great deal of good to come down and make me a visit? I think you had better go if you can gain anything by it; you can do as you think best about going. I should be glad to have you go.
I suppose it can safely be said that we have gone into camp. How long we will remain, I can’t say. It is said we are to remain here until the drafted men are in to fill up the regiments. There is now only about one company of men in our regiment. I think it is less than 100 men for duty. I have 3 men, 1 corporal, 1 musician, and 1 pioneer in my company making 6 in all. Big thing, ain’t it? I am a member of a general court martial in session everyday at Gen. Coldwell’s Headquarters. The court are trying commissioned officers for different offenses. We have to sit from 3 to 6 hours each day. The excuses me from all other duty.
We are getting very good food again. Soft bread, ham, &c, but no vegetables yet.
John Mosher came from Washington yesterday with a load of sutler’s goods. He sold out in one day and has gone to Washington today for more goods.
We were paid again last week. I received $253.65. I had put up in a package $225.00. Shall send it to Cord soon as our Chaplain gets his pass to take the money of our regiment to Washington to express. I sent a letter to Cord telling him about it 3 or 4 days ago. The money isn’t sent yet but I expect to be able to send it soon. When you get money of Caryolon, you must give him a receipt and take one yourself and keep them and these receipts will show the amounts you have had. There is most 2 months pay due me now. we expect to be paid again before we leave here though we can’t tell. I am anxious to lay upon as much as I can while I have an opportunity. I shall not answer Frank’s letter upon this sheet as I have not room. I received Frank’s letter written at Clinton I think July 3rd. Will answer that and her last soon.
I am well as usual, take good care of yourself and all. I send love to you and the children and bid you goodbye again. Very truly yours husband, — Capt. Hunt
These letters were written by Dexter E. Buell (1842-1923), the youngest son of Samuel Buell (1782-1850) and Polly Dunham (1787-1872) of Lyons, Wayne county, New York. Eighteen year-old Dexter enlisted as a private on 5 July 1861 to serve two years in Co. B, 27th New York Infantry. He survived the war and mustered out with his company at Elmira on 31 May 1863. His service record indicates he participated in the battles of 1st Bull Run, West Point, Seven Days before Richmond, Crampton’s Gap, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.
Three months after he was discharged from the 27th New York Infantry, Dexter enlisted a second time. This time he enlisted in Co. C, 14th New York Heavy Artillery for a term of three years. He was prematurely discharged from that regiment in June 1864 by order of the War Department on account of a disability. He was released from the Philadelphia South Street Hospital.
Dexter married Laura Ann Hitchcock (1846-1900) in July 1865 and earned his living as a house painter in Lyons, New York, after the war. [Dexter’s son Edward’s biographical sketch claims his father “was a grainer in wood by occupation” and that he “served valiantly with the 27th Regiment” and “on his second enlistment with the 109th Heavy Artillery” taking part in “27 engagements and received wounds in battle.”]
In 1874, Dexter captured his memories of his service by publishing a book entitled, “A brief history of Company B, 27th regiment N.Y. volunteers, its organization and the part it took in the war.” It was printed at the Office of the Republican in Lyons and consisted on only 22 pages (sadly, no pictures). I will supplement any gaps in the records or footnote details from this book to aid the reader in gaining a more comprehensive understanding. The first excerpt I will transcribe comes from his description of the Battle of Bull Run since no letter exists connected with it.
Some of these letters are addressed to the “the folks” at home and some are addressed to his friend Robert Pollock Allee whose younger brother Edward served in the same company with Dexter until he was mortally wounded in the fighting at Gaines’ Mills. Robert’s younger brother Andrew Allee (1844-1895) later served with Dexter in the 14th New York Heavy Artillery. Yet another brother, George Allee, served in Co. C, 160th New York Infantry.
Extracts from Dexter’s book:
“The regiment was supplied with arms, &c. and left the State on the 10th of July, 1861, for Washington, via Harrisburgh and Baltimore. On its arrival in Washington the regiment was quartered in barracks on Franklin Square, where the boys remained for a few days only. A movement against the enemy was then under discussion, and the officers sought an interview with the War Department, with a view to having the regiment assigned to the field. This request was granted, and on the 17th day of July it took up its line of march from Washington, as part of the First Brigade (Col. Porter) and Second Division (Gen. Hunter). It reached Anandale on the evening of the 17th, and Fairfax Court House on the 18th, where a line of battle was formed, and the Rebs, driven from their rifle pits. On the 27th it reached the town, and pulled down an old Secesh flag that was floating on one of the rifle pits. The regiment bivouacked here for the night, the men, being hungry and tired after the day’s march, took their muskets and went out after some fresh meat. Some of the boys succeeded in bring in a fine steer, and some came in with turkeys, some with chickens, some with honey, has, sugar, &c. A large fore was kindled, and the boys resolved they would have a ‘square meal’—and so they did, that night.
At an early hour next morning the regiment was on the move. It reached Centreville in due time; after leaving which place it reached the Nine Mile Woods, where Company B was ordered out to deploy as skirmishers—and they did well, being their first trial. For nine miles the company scoured the woods. Every few minutes the bugle would sound to rally. The day was one of the hottest I ever remember. When the sun sank out of sight, and the whippowill commenced his evening song, the regiment halted for the night; and so ends the day.
On Sunday morning, July 21st, 1861, the booming of cannon was heard in the distance. As our brave boys marched along through field and woods o that memorable Bull run day, the water in their canteens gave out before reaching the field of action. Espying two porkers in a puddle of water near the roadside, they were summarily driven out; and the boys commenced to drink hastily of the vile fluid to quench their thirst. The water was stagnant, and made the boys vomit almost immediately. Some of them went here and there, with canteens to be filled.
As the 27th was going into action, the opposing force attempted to deceive it by displaying the Old Flag. Col. Slocum was distrustful, and directed Adjutant [John P.] Jenkins to ascertain whether they were friends or enemies. With a havelock on the point of his sword as a flag of truce, the Adjutant rode toward the commanding officer to make the necessary inquiry; but before he reached him, the Stars and Stripes were displaced by the South Carolina banner. The line of battle was formed and a fire opened on the 27th, which was promptly and vigorously returned. The Adjutant, thus unexpectedly placed between two fires, had a miraculous escape. The attempted deception so exasperated the regiment that the men fought like heroes and utterly routed their tricky foes.
Our next encounter was with the 27th Virginia, which fell back in confusion. We then met the 8th Georgia, which fell back until reinforced, when the regiment was in turn repulsed and took refuge under a hill. It was soon after ordered to charge a battery stationed on a knoll, and the oys moved to the work under a heavy fire, which soon told with fearful effect upon the ranks of the regiment. Col. Slocum was wounded; the color-guard was reduced from nine to two; and the movement was abandoned. Company B was then ordered to charge upon an old log house which stood near by, containing a number of the enemy’s sharp-shooters. Before reaching the house the Rebs was seen getting to the rear as fast as they could, but the boys sent a volley of balls after them and made them ‘climb’ still faster. Reaching the house, the door was instantly burst in, and before us stood one of the largest bloodhounds I ever saw—with bloodshot eyes and hungry jaws. He turned to attack his Yankee foes. One of the boys gave him a bayonet thrust. He leaped forward and broke the chain that held him, and away he went toward the enemy—between two fires. Whether the dog ever reached his master, no one knows.
The regiment fell back and joined the regiment; and Col. Slocum being wounded, Major Bartlett succeeded to the command. Major B. kept the regiment well in hand; and as it formed in line of battle for the last time, I think it was joined by the 14th (Brooklyn) commanded by Col. Wood. Other regiments joined on, but the Rebel forces coming upon and overwhelming us, our forces fell back to the rear where the confusion attending the retreat broke it up, as was the case with other regiments actively engaged in the battle. Portions of the regiment reached Fort Corcoran about nine o’clock on the 22nd, and at noon, was partially reorganized and marched to Camp Anderson, Franklin’s Square.
The regiment remained in Washington until sometime in September when it was assigned to Gen. Slocum’s Brigade with the 16th N. Y. of Gen. Franklin’s Division, moved to the site of Fort Lyon, where it went into camp and was engaged in the construction of this fort during the fall of 1861…”
The following summary comes from the website FirstBullRun.Co.UK:
FIRST BATTLE OF BULL RUN, 21 JULY, 1861
The 27th New York Infantry was stationed at B D Utterback’s/ Willow Spring farm, two miles east of Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia, in the morning on 21 July, 1861.
Advance to Sudley Ford, on the Bull Run River, 21 July, 1861: The 27th New York Infantry was ordered to Sudley Ford, on the Bull Run River, at 2 AM on 21 July, 1861.
Advance to J Dogan’s or Rosefield, on Dogan’s Ridge, half a mile northeast of Groveton, Prince Willaim County, Virginia, 21 July, 1861: The 27th New York Infantry was ordered across Sudley Spring’s Ford, on Catharpin Run, to northeast of J Dogan’s or Rosefield, on Dogan’s Ridge, half a mile northeast of Groveton, Prince Willaim County, Virginia, in the morning on 21 July, 1861.
Advance to Buck Hill, north of Young’s Branch, one mile west of the Stone Bridge, on the Bull Run River, 21 July, 1861: The 27th New York Infantry was ordered to Buck Hill, north of Young’s Branch, one mile west of the Stone Bridge, on the Bull Run River, in the afternoon on 21 July, 1861.
Note: Colonel H W Slocum, 27th New York Infantry, was wounded on Buck Hill, north of Young’s Branch, one mile west of the Stone Bridge, on the Bull Run River, in the afternoon on 21 July, 1861.
Withdrawal to Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia, 21 July, 1861: The 27th New York Infantry was ordered to B D Utterback’s/ Willow Spring farm, two miles east of Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia, at 4 PM on 21 July, 1861.
Camp Vernon Alexandria, [Virginia] September 7, 1861
I now take my pen to write you a few lines. I received your letter and was glad to hear from you and to hear that you are all well. I just come in from guard. The Boys started this morning for Munson’s Hill a little ways from here to build a fort. We are now in Gen. Slocum’s Brigade. You need not to be scared for Washington will never be taken. There are forts every little ways around here. This fort we are building is on top of a high hill so you can see all around for some miles. But one thing, we can see the enemy from there. They are throwing up breastworks close to Bailey’s Cross Roads. They say they are so near us they will have to come on or retreat back out of the state for they have not got provisions enough to keep them. An attack is daily expected.
One of our company went out and fetched in 4 negroes prisoners and 3 horses. They were either spies or scouts but we got them now tight as a brick. we will keep them awhile, I guess. Our pickets has been in sight of their camp. They are coming on closer all the time but they must not get in range of the rifle cannon on Fort Ellsworth. I have worked in the fort for give days now. Six goes at a time. They are detailed to work so long. It is a strong fort.
Well, [Melvin W.] Goodrich 1 is here and the Capt. all safe and sound. I wish you can send me some new postage stamps. We get our pay next week. We get about 22 dollars. I will send it home or get a draft and send. Send a few new stamps if you can and I will get some when we get our pay. We may probably see a battle in less than two days. They will put us in ahead of all the regiments because we know something about it.
Write as soon as you get this. No more for the present.
Ed, please give this to my folks. — D. Buell
1 Melvin W. Goodrich, 27 years old, was also from Lyons, New York. He enlisted on 2 May 1861 and was made 1st Sergeant of Co. B. He later received a commission as 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant.
“The regiment spent the winter in Camp Franklin. Fort Lyons was built by Slocum’s Brigade in the fall of 1861; ad later in that fall the regiment moved its camp to a site near Fairfax Seminary, toward the southeast—its former quarters near Hunting Creek having proved unhealthy—the new location was named Camp Franklin. here the regiment spent the winter of 1861-62, during which time the boys were occupied in building Fort Lyon, doing picket duty, and chopping wood from the Heights where now stands the fort. The regiment was very comfortably situated in winter quarters here. It was during this time that the 27th was assigned to the Second Brigade (Slocum’s) of General Franklin’s Division. This brigade was composed of the 27th and 16th New York, the 5th Maine, and the 96th Pennsylvania.”
Camp Franklin November 30th 1861
I received your letter this morning and was glad to hear from you and hope to say you are well. It snowed a very little here yesterday but it melted as fast as it struck the ground. I would like to be home to go a skating with the boys this winter but I can’t as I see so there is no use of talking. I don’t care much anyway. The boys have first rate times here. We like it good. We may all of us be home in a little while. We have not had any cold weather much—about 6 or 7 frosts and that hain’t nothing to what it is up there you know.
Bob, I will send my money to you next time we get pay and let you keep it until I come home. Bob, you must excuse this writing and all mistakes because I write this before we go on dress parade. I suppose you know that we have dress parade in the morning instead of night. They have changed the times.
Our camp [is] situated near the woods so the boys don’t have far to go after their wood nights and mornings. We are about two miles from Alexandria—just a good walk. The boys all take their turns in going down to the city. Alexandria is quite a large place—about 14 thousand people there before the war broke out. Now they are about 9 thousand. I have been all over the city a dozen times if not more. Scott’s Band are improving on playing every day. Bob, I wish you would let me know who them new recruits are that is coming.
After Dress Parade. Now Bob, I will take my time in writing. The boys are all well. I suppose you know Bill Swelling. He is coming home.
Well. Bob, I am getting tired of writing but I will finish this now [that] I commenced it. Left Hold Hank to keep up a good cheer. I will see you all in a little while. Bob, I wish you could take a trip down this way just to see the country and the soldiers. You would think that we could eat up the whole South—men, womem and all. I would like to have you see us when we go out on knapsack drill—especially when we are on double quick. Some of the boys fall down in the shit and over fences and stone piles and brush heaps. That is so we can get used to a march I suppose.
Bob, I must close and go on drill with knapsacks packed as usual.
After drill. We come in at eleven o’clock. We did not have it very hard today because it was so warm and it cold nights and warm days. The boys are all making such a noise, I can’t write, so I will close till after dinner. Goodbye.
After dinner. Bob, you ought to be here to see the boys eat their dinner—hominy and molasses, and two potatoes apiece, and a small piece of pork. We are getting used to it just the same as though we was to home. I don’t think of home—only when I write to some of the boys. Begin to like it first rate down here. There is only three of us in our tent now. Frank Hickox went into the next tent with Rod Dunnell and Raine Lawrence. I will get some of them new recruits in after they come.
But I must close. Give my best respects to Hank and Bill Pagett and Bill Bailey. Tell them to write once an awhile if they can. I must close so no more at present and I still remain your friend.
From D. Buell Write often.
Camp Franklin Sunday, December 29, 1861
I now take the pleasure of writing you a few lines. Your letter came and I was glad to hear from you. I have been sick for about a week so that I could do nothing. This is the first letter I have wrote since I have got around. All of the boys have gone down to a funeral with Company G. One of their number is dead and our boys went down with them. Tell Henry Alford that I will answer his long letter just as soon as I can. We can’t get any postage stamps down in this region to send letters by. You must excuse me for not writing before for I could not sit up long enough to write to you. Tell Hank that Theodore Klumpp has got up here from the hospital. He has had a tough time of it I guess by what he said. He looks very pale yet. The doctor was going to take me to the hospital. I told him I guess I could stand it and so I did. You must excuse this writing for I don’t feel much like writing yet.
You can’t get nothing fit for a dog to eat down here unless you buy it yourself and a fellow must have something. Bob, I will tell you what we had for Christmas. We had some old boiled beans and some rotten pork as the boys call it, and coffee and some bread. That was Christmas. And for New Years I guess the same—maybe not so good. Bob, I could go out in the woods and live on rots and wild meat. I don’t think it would trouble me the least bit, There is lots of rabbits down here but they won’t let us go hunting.
We hain’t had any snow here yet. As soon as there comes some, you will see this chick shoulder his rifle and make for the wood. You will scare two or three out of the brush pile at a time. We have got a good hound dog here. Some of the boys stole [him] when we was out on picket guard. He is a good dog, I guess. He follows me to the woods most every night. But as soon as there comes 2 inches of snow so he can track them, I will have some fun. I am going to get a rabbit for New Years if I can and am well enough to get around. I will make a good dinner out of one if I catch him.
The boys have just returned from Alexandria from the funeral. I do not know what his name was. Bob, I am getting most tired of writing and not knowing what to write. If you will send me two or three postage stamps, I will pay you for them. I hain’t any stamp to send this by and so I will have to borrow one somewhere. Stamps are a scarce article down here in these parts. Tell Hank I will send him a government overcoat home in a little while. United States coat—they are a nice warm coat, I will send it in about a month. Me and Jones has got 4 coats—one for Jack Cosart. Tell Hank to sell one for Jack when we go west. Jones wants to come everyday. Bob, I must close. So goodbye and I still remain your sincere friend, — Dexter Buell
Write soon. Goodbye.
Camp Franklin February 8th 1862
I thought I would write you a few lines letting you know how I am getting along. I suppose you have received my likeness by this time. Write and let me know.
The weather down here is very curious. The mud keeps just so deep all the while—that is, about five inches deep all the while. We don’t know when we will have another battle but I hope we will have one soon and end the matter at once. Virginia ia a very unhealthy place. The water we drink down here makes all of the boys have the dysentery very bad. The water we drink is about like the canal water up there, That is the honest truth. I have not seen any good water in Virginia since I have been here. There is no wells down around here as I have seen in all the drilling we do.
We go out a target shooting. The boys are all getting to be good marksmen. We shoot the distance of 300 yards. The mark is about the size of a small cup. The target had 29 balls put through it but none hit the mark. Lieut. [William H.] Swan said he would make the first man a present that hit the small piece of leather in the center of the target. I told him that I could hit it [and] I would bet on it, and so I loaded up my rifle and pulled up the 300 yard sight and got down on one knee and rested and took good sight and shot. All of the boys said they seen the target wiggle. One of them went and looked. He said the ball went in the center of the leather and the boys begun [to] look at me [as if] they did not know what to make of it. But they all give up that they could not hit [the target]. I have not got the present yet. I don’t know what it is. It was all in practice that I hit the mark. The boys are learning the bayonet exercise to protect cavalry from coming up too near you. Take two men that understands it, they can whip six cavalrymen.
I must begin to close. So no more at present. From—Dexter Buell
Camp Franklin Sunday, February 10, 1862
I received your letter yesterday and I thought I would answer it today being I just came off from guard and nothing else to do. You say there is good sleighing up there. Well the mud down here is about five to six inches deep, That is the kind of sleighing down here. The going is awful bad, The wagons get stuck in the mud up to the hubs. Every little ways you can see a wagon stuck fast. I will tell you how it is down here. If you stand too long in one place, when you start to go, you will find yourself fast in the mud. I have had my boots pulled off more than once in this mud. The soil is all clay down here.
Bob, soldiering is about played out most. Bob, about the money, I think some of coming home but I don’t know certain yet. The water we drink down here is just about like the canal water up there. That is so—no joking. If I don’t come home next month, I will send you as nigh $26. I will try and get them in Treasury notes if you think that will be the best, If not, I will try and get the gold. I would like to have been at home this winter to have enjoyed the sport of skating and hunting with Hank and the rest of the boys. How does Hank get along? Tell him to write. How does Jack Cosart get along? Tell him to write once in awhile.
I suppose you have heard before this time that Fort Henry was taken and Lloyd Tilghman and staff and sixty others taken prisoners. Our army is slow but sure every time.
Ask Hank how many minks he caught this winter. Ask him if he wants to chop wood for Ira Mirrick again. Tell him, me and Frank Hicox has a laugh over that every little while. Bib, I must close so goodbye for this time and I remain your friend, — Dexter Buell
N. B. Tell Hank to write. Yours, — D. B.
Camp Clara Friday, February 28, 1862
I now take the pleasure to write you a few lines hope to say your are well. If I should tell you the news we have had, what would you think? Well I will. So here goes.
We are to march for Bulls Run. The whole Army of the Potomac—300,000 men—for a bloody fight. We start next week Tuesday about the time you get this letter. You must not answer this until I write again and I hope I will if I am not shot.
The railroad is stopped from carrying army news until after this fight. Probably this is my last letter. I am on guard today over to headquarters. The boys have got their knapsacks already packed, ready at a moment’s warning. If you write, I will get no answer until after the battle.
I must close by saying goodbye to you all and everyone. Give my best to them all when you write. So goodbye. From — Dexter Buell
Fairfax Court House March 12, 1862
I now take the pleasure of writing a few lines while I have got time. There is over 80,000 troops here. Centreville is evacuated and so is Manassas. Our troops occupy the old battleground where we was before. We are going to chase them as far as they can go. There is a large body of cavalry and infantry after the flying Rebels. They have blown up their powder magazines and their entrenchments and burnt all the bridges. We will have Richmond is less than a week.
Gen. McClellan has been to Manassas and gone back to Washington. We talk of going back to camp and take the boat and go down the river to help Gen. Burnside. He has got Norfolk. There is 300,000 men on the march after the Rebels. They fled from their strongholds and have destroyed everything. We took a few prisoners here yesterday.
You must not write until I tell you because I won’t get the letter. We don’t expect to be here only today. I will write in a few days. This is the largest army ever had been known, so they say. Melvin Goodrich sends his best respects.
Just as I am writing, there starts three regiments of cavalry on to Richmond and a large body of infantry and artillery. I must close. Yours in haste. From, — Dexter Buell
Fairfax Court House
Camp Clara Friday, March 21, 1863
I sit down once more to write you before going down the Potomac. Our Division expects to go Tuesday next week. I wrote to Eliza and told her to write to you about my going down the river. I though I would write before going. I could not begin to tell you the march we had for the past few days. We went to Fairfax Court House 16 miles. We started to go to Manassas but the Rebels, they all run.
There is five divisions going down the river. That is about 70,000 soldiers. We are going to make an attack on Richmond. Our regiment went up to the Seminary to serenade Major Gen. McClellan. He did not make any speech because he was thrown from his horse the other day. Yesterday we hd a Grand Review. Gen. McClellan reviewed us.
We don’t get no pay until the first of May. They are paying off the Western troops so we have got to wait. Mell [Melvin] Goodrich wants to know what the reason is you don’t write to him. When you write, direct to Adjutant, 27th Regt.
We live on hard crackers now instead of bread. You have to stomp them with the heal of your shoe about two hours before you can break it. Then pick them up and eat them. We are going to send some home to build side walks with. They will make a good store walk.
I have not had any letter from you in a month. Why don’t you write oftener?
To close with, I will tell you that I shook hands with Gen. McClellan and the other boys did [too] the night we serenaded him. His headquarters is in our Division. I must close so goodbye. Write soon as you get this, before we go.
— Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th Regt.
Camp Five Miles from Richmond May 15th 1862
I received your letter yesterday and was glad to get it. Have you received the $10 I sent? Next time you write, let me know.
We just came off from picket today. The Rebels are a fighting amongst themselves. We brought in two prisoners tonight. They state they are a fighting amongst themselves every day. You must excuse this writing and all of the mistakes. I write this on the top of my hat so you can judge my writing desk. There is nothing new much. Richmond is going to be taken by siege. All of the foreign generals say his plan can’t fail.
Mell [Melvin] Goodrich is well and playing with the boys as much as ever. We are drilling the bayonet exercise twice a day. We have got to drill until it is perfect—a very nice drill it is—so we can just show the whole of them how to drill with the bayonet. I have been studying on it all last winter. I know the [drill] perfect myself. I have to drill the company and the ret look on. The boys all learn very fast. If we live to come home, we will show you the nicest drill you ever saw or anyone else. Our company has only drilled a few times. We can beat any of hem now. There can’t no cavalry ever do nothing with us. We can whip all the cavalry in the South. One man well drilled can whip three cavalry—that’s so.
They say you are going to have lots of peaches this year. The trees down here are loaded with them.
George B. McClellan says he ain’t going to be in any hurry about the fight. The Rebs were on one side of he Chickahominy Creek and we on the other. They are out of reach of our rifles here but not of our 100 pounder siege guns which throw their load over there in the size of a wash tub which makes them scratch dirt pretty fast.
I must close so goodbye. Write soon. — Dexter Buell
The following letter describes the fight at Gaines Mills which took place on 27 June 1862. It then describes the next several days until the regiment arrived at Harrison’s Landing on the James River.In his book, Dexter describes the Battle of Gaines Mills as follows:
“The regiment crossed the Chickahominy about the 26th of June, at about 3 p.m., went into action about 5 p.m. on the extreme right of Porter’s Corps, drove the enemy from his position by a bayonet charge, and captured a large number of prisoners. It held its position until dark, when, after after expending all its ammunition, it was ordered to retire. It was here, in the battle of Gaines’ Mills, that Company B lost heavily, losing some of its best members—21 in all, killed, wounded and missing. Poor Bill McElwain, Edward Allee, Joseph Seavey—as long as there is a history, so long will their names be remembered at home by their loved ones. The battle being fought, our forces retired from the field, Captain White badly wounded. The regiment recrossed the river ad went into camp. All that night and until next morning the wounded kept coming in….Early the next morning the bridge over the river was blown up; then commenced the retreat of the Army of the Potomac.”
Camp on the James River near City Point 30 miles from Richmond July 6, 1862
I now take the pleasure of writing you a few lines in a hurry. I suppose you have heard of our fight with the Rebels. In our company there was one killed and 21 wounded. The captain is wounded. Billy McElwain badly wounded in the leg—the leg is broken, and Ed Allee in the leg, not broken. I can’t begin to tell you how many more. Half of them taken prisoners. The name of the one that was killed is Joseph Seavey. We all miss him very much. There was a shell came so close to Melvin Goodrich’s head that set him crazy. He is on the way home. Our Major is the same way. 1 All we got left is our Colonel. I suppose you will get the news before this reaches you.
I got a piece of a shell hit me in the leg but I don’t call that anything. Our regiment made a good charge on the rebels and drove them. I will write you more about the fight some other time. We are to work on a fort near the river. It is going to be a large fort. The[re are] gunboats here in the river—the Monitor and two or three others. We have had quite a time retreating back to the river. Our division was the rear guard of the whole army. We had to fight daytimes and march in the night. We had a tough time of it, I tell you. I must close for this time. I will write more next time. So goodbye.
From Dexter Buell. Co. B, 27th Regt., Franklin’s Division
I see Gen. McClellan most every day. Write soon. I got them postage stamps all right. Send more if you can.
Camp on the James River near (one mile from) Harrison’s Landing July 16th 1862
I now sit down to write a few lines. I expect you have received my letter before this time. I received your letter dated the 9th while I was on picket yesterday. I suppose you have learned the name of the wounded boys in our company by this time. There was 23 in all—one killed on the field. Captain [Henry R.] White was wounded but not dangerously. Billy McElwain 1 and Edward Allee 2 stood side by side in the front rank. The ball passed through Billy’s leg and hit Ed Allee’s leg. Ed’s leg is not broken, so they say. Our regiment made a charge on the enemy and drove them some distance, but finding the enemy too strong for us, we had to fall back. They outnumbered us three to one. What chance did we have? But we fought like tigers while we did fight. The only wound I got was in my leg by a little piece of a shell. It did not hurt me any. I do not call that anything. I took my knife and cut it out so you see I am alright. I’m just as sound as a brick. I did not tell anyone of it or else my name would be among the wounded. I knowed it would make you worry about me so I did not let anyone know it.
When we were going into the battle field—just this side of it—I stooped and got a drink of water and got some in my canteen. I started after the regiment and they was gone out of my sight. It was an awful warm day. I could not find them. I came across Lafe Sherman 3, one of our boys, so we went together. There is so many different regiments, they did not anyone know about our regiment so on we went. We come to the Duryée’s Zouaves and the enemy was close by. We laid on our bellies and fired some ten rounds of cartridges and the enemy came out and put a Black flag in front of the Zouaves—that is the sign they show no mercy—so the Zouaves made a charge on them and took the flag away from them.
There was a battle of artillery just ahead pouring in grape and canister into the enemy. Out come a whole brigade of Rebs charging towards this battery close to where I laid. [Then] up jumped a whole brigade of the Vermont Boys and into them. We sent them back quicker than they came. Oh! it was dreadful to hear the dying groan and the roar of the cannon and a continual roar of musketry all the whole time. I can’t begin to tell you all about it.
After I had been in awhile, I did not care for anything. The enemy commenced to flank us so we had to fall back. When we got off the field, we met the Irish Brigade coming in on double quick, hollering just as loud as they could holler. After that night we had to fight day times and march nights for nearly seven days. I went and so did the rest, without any meat to eat for five days I ate one or two hard crackers at a time and drink a little water so you can judge for yourself how we felt. One night [at Charles City Cross Roads] the Rebels had our division surrounded. We were the rear guard. They had us in just about the shape of a horse shoe so when they fired at us, they would kill their own men. If it had not been for General Kearny, we would all have been taken prisoners. He cut the center of them and made them fall back. Our division kept up a continual roar of cannon. We had eighteen pieces with us. We drove them away from their guns as they could not fire a shot and at dark we got out safe. So you see just how nigh we came from the Rebs that night.
1 William (“Billy”) McElwain died of his wounds on 2 July 1862.
2 Edward Allee died of his wounds on 29 July 1862.
3 Lafayette (“Lafe”) Sherman was later captured in the Battle of Fredericksburg but was paroled and survived the war.
Camp on the James River near Harrison’s Landing August 5th 1862
The news just reached us that your brother Ed [Allee] died at the hospital in Baltimore. We can’t hardly believe it but Lieut. Swan got a letter from a surgeon there in that city.
Bob, is it true? The boys don’t know what to make of it. If it is so, it is enough to make us crazy. I ca’t write you—can’t express my feelings, if so.
We are expected to have a battle in less than 24 hours. We can’t tell who will fall next. There has been awful heavy cannonading this morning. It has just stopped. No more this time.
Friend Bob, please write soon. I remain your friend, — Dexter Buell
Camp two miles from Alexandria near old Camp Clara September 4, 1862
We have just come to our old campground & received your letter and the postage stamps. I was glad to get them, you may believe.
We have had a very tough time of it for the past three months. We have just come from Centreville. We did not get there soon enough to have a hand in the fight but I will tell you what we did. We saved Gen. Pope’s Army from being cut [up] and captured—everyone of them. Just our division did it. I will tell you how we done it. Your regiment was on the right of the Brigade and our Brigade on the right of the Division. When we came within two miles of the battlefield, there was a panic got among the wounded and that scared all of the rest and the retreat became general—every man for himself. It certainly would have been another Bull Run. The battle was fought on the same ground
When the Rebel cavalry made a charge, we was there just in time. Our regiment tried to stop the stragglers who was running for their lives but we could not—there was such a panic. Our artillery came up just in time. When the Rebs came charging down the road, went sent the grape and canister into them so thick and fast, what was left of them turned and run like deers and our Division covered the retreat of Pope’s Army and we fell back to Centreville. While we laid there, the Rebs got in the rear of us. [But] Gen. Kearny’s Division whipped them and drove them a mile and a half and the same night each man in our regiment took sixty rounds of cartridges expecting to have them to make a dash on us but they did not.
The army wagons laid in the ditches turned bottom side up, all broke to pieces and the dead horses laid all in the roads. Everything was destroyed. I would fill five sheets of paper to tell you all.
We don’t know how long we are going to stay here. We expect to get our pay soon. I must close for this time. I will write you more next time. Don’t forget to answer. Goodbye. Send some more stamps and I will send the money.
— Dexter Buell, Co. B 27th Regt. N. Y. S. Vol. P. S. Direct as usual. If you want to find out any more, you might as k Hattie.
Headquarters 27th Regiment N. Y. S. Vols Camp near Harper’s Ferry September 19, 1862
I now hasten to write you a few lines. Perhaps you have received the letter I wrote the other day on Sunday last, the 14th of September. We were engaged in a battle at Stranton’s Gap [Cranston’s Gap]. Our regiment deployed as skirmishers and went within 500 yards of the enemy’s cannons and all the while the enemy kept firing shell and canister at us and on we went and we halted in the center of a large field and the word came “Foreward!” On we went. On came the enemy shells close to our heads. We came so close to the Rebel battery we silenced it with our rifles. We whipped them nicely and took about 2,000 prisoners. They were all Georgians. They belonged to Cobb’s forces where we whipped them.
The next day we took up our march for another battle. When we got there, we found out that Gen. Burnside’s Corps was engaged with the enemy and just as we came near the field, Gen. Sumner’s Corps went in and Gen. Franklin’s Corps was a reserve. We did not have to go in the battle. We went in a cornfield and halted. That cornfield was charged over five different times—the Rebs two and our forces three times. We drove from the field when they commenced to run. Our artillery poured the grape and canister into them and piled them in heaps. I counted 64 in a space not over three rods [including] one Colonel and one Major. That was the awfullest looking sight I ever saw. It was the largest battle I think that has been fought. The Rebs lost easy three to one in that cornfield.
We slept all night among the dead. You could hear them groan—the dying—all night long. It was an awful sight, I tell you. 1
We have now driven the enemy out of Maryland across the river into Virginia and expect we have got to take another trip towards Richmond. I lost all of my postage stamps in the battle on Sunday. We hain’t been paid yet. Please send one next time when you write and write soon. So goodbye.
Truly yours, — Dexter Buell, Company B, 27th Regiment Y. Y. Vol
1 46 year-old George A. Cook, a musician in Co. G, 27th New York Infantry, recorded in his diary that the regiment slept on the battlefield and worked all night “carrying off wounded—our men and Rebbels. Expect to fight again today [18th]. 10 o’clock a.m. Both parties burying their dead.”George was mustered out of the regiment on 18 October 1862.
The next three letters were written from the encampment of the 27th New York nearBakersville, Maryland—“an historic rural crossroads community located where one of the earliest east–west roads through western Maryland crossed the main north–south road from the Sharpsburg area. The region known as Carey’s Crossroads for a then prominent landowner George Carey, had become central to the mostly German settlement taking place in southeast Washington County during the mid to late 18th century…Bakersville was once home to a store, post office, doctor’s office and grist mill. 19th century census records list many C&O Canal workers and boatmen in the village and surrounding area.” [Wikipedia]
Camp near Bakersville, Maryland October 13th 1862
I received your letter while I was on picket guard so I could not answer it until we came in. I was glad to hear you were well. We have not been paid off yet and they hain’t any signs of it. We was so close to the Rebels while on picket, we would talk with each other—they on one side of the river and we on the other. They would come half way cross and one of our boys go half way and meet on a little island in the middle of the river and talk and exchange tobacco and knives and other articles. They think they are a going to whip us. One of our boys told them we would them or die a trying—everyone of us.
They say we hain’t going into winter quarters this season. The boys will freeze to death in their little tents without any blankets to cover them. I have not had a shirt on my back in over a month. The weather is growing cold down here. We are the raggedest set of boys you ever see. Most of the boys hain’t got no shoes but we are a going to draw some in a few days. We are worse off than the Rebs are, I think.
Colonel Adams is elected as colonel of the regiment. Bartlett is general. When you write, send me a postage stamp. I must close for this time so goodbye.
— Dexter Buell, Comp. B, 27th N. Y. S. Vol.
Write soon and don’t forget.
P. S. I received a letter from Eliza today.
Camp near Bakersville, Maryland October 18th 1862
Friend Robert [Allee],
As I have nothing to do for a few minutes, I thought I would write you a few lines to let you know how we are getting along. We just came off from picket guard day before yesterday. Bob, I will tell you just how close the Rebel pickets were to us. We were stationed almost within a stone throw of each other. We were on one side of the river and the enemy on the other—the river being about as large as the Clyde river at Lyons, and there was a canal close to the river called the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. We was stationed of a high bluff about three hundred feel above the river. We could look down and see every move the Rebels made. We would holler at each other and exchange all sorts of notes. They would come half way across and one of our boys would go half way and meet on a little island i the middle and talk and exchange tobacco with each other. We gave apples and [they] gave us whiskey.
We had a good time with the Johnny Rebs out on picket. We was near an old farmer’s house. He was an old Reb himself. He accused our company of stealing nine of his hogs and of milking his cows. He came to the camp and told Gen. Slocum. The general sent him to Col. Adams and every boy in our company swore against him and Col. Adams is going to put him through for it. Bob, I must begin to close my scribbling and write you some of my poetry about your brother Edward and Bill McElwain.
Poetry to R. P. Allee from Dexter Buell
The Brave volunteers who quickly rose to stand By the Union against its foes should ever have the estimation and greatful thanks to all the nation.
But some there was [two] who should ever be Held in remembrance by our whole country. Twas in battle the daring braves who now sleeps in a soldier’s grave.
Of the number who lingered in pain Was our brave comrade William McElwain And another brave Edward Allee, friends in life and in eternity and woe, they have passed from the land of pain.
They will fight no more battles here below But the twenty-seventh cannot spare many such brave spirits So free from fear But mothers and sisters weep no more for we trust they have gone to a happy shore. Where wars and sorrows never will come And you may meet them in that bright home.
Composed by Beverly Copes, 1 [Co. D] 95th Regiment Penn. Zouaves. A friend of mine. He is from Philadelphia City. Belongs to Gen. Slocum’s Division. Written by Dexter Buell, Company B, 27th Regiment, N. Y. S. V.
P. S. Bob, you can have the poetry wrote up good and keep it. You can give Mrs. McElwain one after you write it off. From your friend, — Dexter Buell
by by. P. S. Friend Bob, if you see our folks, tell them I received the box they set me when we were at Harrison’s Landing.
P. S. George [H.] Walrath sends his best respects and wants you to write.
[in a different hand, in pencil]
Dexter is writing so I think I will put a few lines in to you. How does No. 1 Hose & No. 3 stand it now? I heard they done well at the last fire. We boys that belongs to the Hose will be back with you next spring…We have lost one member—that is poor Ed. We mourn his loss very much. Julie B. feels very bad about Ed. Every letter I get from her she mentions his name. Give my respects to William Pugett & when you write give my respects to George Allen & tell him to write to a fellow. What company is he in? And respects to your mother and father. Tell them I am well and hope I will see them well when I come back to Old Lyons. Excuse writing. Write soon. In haste. Your friend, — Geo. W. Williams 2
1 Pvt. Beverly Copes of Philadelphia served in Co. D, 95th Pennsylvania Gosline’s Zouaves.He served from 17 September 1861 to 2 November 1864.
2 George W. Williams enlisted at Lyons with Dexter in May 1861 and mustered out with the company in May 1863. He subsequently served in Co. H, 22nd New York Cavalry.
Camp near Bakersville, Maryland October 29th 1862
I received your letter of the 22nd a was rather glad to hear from you. I have been looking for a letter from you for a long time and just received it. We have just come off from picket guard. We were on [the] post close to Dam No. 4—the Johnny Rebs just across the river in plain sight. We could see their reserve and their whole force. I went across the river in a boat and had a talk with them and came back.
I received he box you sent and I was glad to get it for that shirt just came in handy, it being the first one I have had on in over a month. The medicine you sent—there was three bottles of it broke. The glass in the likeness was broke. Also the medicine run all over the tobacco and handkerchief but it was good tobacco.
You spoke about how we sleep. We have one blanket over [us] as that is all. We have little tents we sleep under only they leak when it rains [s] you might as well be out doors as in. I will tell you what we live on mostly is hard tacks as the oys call them and coffee, and when we can we get tickets of the sutler. Then we can buy a few soft ones once in awhile. The boys have just drawed new pants. They have not had any in so long they don’t know how to feel—they are all pitting on airs.
I have got an old pair of shoes on with the bottoms all out and a new pair of pants. I am going to buy me a good pair of boots when we get paid off. We expect to get pay the 15th of next month. As I said, we expect to get 4 months pay $52. But out of that we have got to pay for all the clothing we lost on the Peninsula. I don’t know how much that will be. I will try and send home all I can when we get it.
I was glad you sent me them postage stamps for I have been wanting some a long [time]. They are worth about 25 cents apiece down here. If I had some, I would have written long before. I don’t hardly know what to write about. There is no news much. I suppose you know that General Slocum has left us and taken command of General Banks’ Corps. Brig. General Brooks has got command of this division. Some say we are going to Centerville, Va. to stay this winter but I don’t believe it. We don’t know what we are going to do one day from another so you are better posted than we are. We don’t see any papers—only what the Lyons boys get from home. We don’t know half as much as you do about the war only we see enough of it all the time.
I must close I guess for this time. I wrote this in a hurry so it could go out in the morning mail. I will close, so goodbye for this time. Don’t forget to write soon. From — Dexter Buell
Company B, 27th Regiment N. Y. S. Vols.
When you write again, send me some stamps and I will send the soap next time.
Camp near Warrington [Warrenton] Station in the woods November 10, 1862
I now sit down to write you a few lines to let you know about where we are and what we are a doing. We are resting here in the woods. There is very heavy cannonading about 8 miles ahead of us. They say the rebels are in sigh. We can’t tell how soon we will be engaged.
The boys are all cheering General McClellan. He and General Burnside just rode past the camp. They look first rate but one thing the boys don’t seem to like—they say that Gen. Burnside has superseded Gen. McClellan. The boys don’t seem to like it. How true it is, we can’t tell. You will probably know before we do. We cannot get any papers of no kind down here in this part of he country.
The whole country all around seems to be stripped of everything. You can’t hardly find rails enough to build a fire with. There is no eatables of any kind down here. The Rebel army being here and then our army, I tell you they make a clean sweep of everything as they go. The government or someone else don’t seem to use us right. The boys—half of them—go almost barefoot. The other day we had some snow for the first time about two inches deep. It came pretty tough on the boys to sleep in these little cloth tents. But I can stand just as much as any of the rest can. We don’t know whether we will go into winter quarters or not. The whole army seems to be moving. We don’t know where we will bring up nor don’t care. They only got six months more to drag us around. I must close my scribbling for this time.
I will let you know next time where we are going to stop or what we are going to do. When you write next time, send me a pair of gloves and I will pay for them double. It is too cold for my sore hand. You can send by mail I guess is the best way. So goodbye for this time. Written in haste.
— Dexter Buell, Comp. B, 27th N. Y. S. Vol.
Camp in the Woods 5 miles from Warrenton Village November 15th 1862
I now haste to write you a few lines. I wrote a letter the other day but could not send it because I had no stamp. There is very heavy cannonading going on this morning on the outpost. They keep up a continual roar all the while. We have new regulations in our regiment. We have three roll calls every day and if you’re absent, we have to give a good account or else get tied to a tree. Pretty tough but can’t help it. We expect to be brought in an engagement every moment. We can’t tell when.
When you write, sed some stamps. We expect the paymaster here this week to pay us off. I will send home all I can. I want to get a pair of gloves. It is getting too cold. You can send them by mail. It won’t cost much.
I must close writing because we expect to be called in line every minute. So goodbye. In haste.
— Dexter Buell, Comp. B, 27th N. Y. Vol. Write soon.
Camp in the Woods 5 miles from Aquia Creek Landing November 19th 1862
I now hasten to write you a few lines to let you know where we are and what we are a doing. We have been on the march for five days through the wilderness. Some days we would not see more than two houses. Then there was no one lived in them.
General Franklin’s Corps holds the extreme left of the army and General Hooker the center, and Heitzelman the right and Sigel is the reserve. We are laying still for a few days because the roads are too muddy to travel. I think we will see worse roads than we see now before the winter is over with. They all seem to think they are going to carry on a winter campaign. If they do, they will have to make a new call for troops in the spring, I tell you. We never can stand it and it will take many a poor soldier to his grave.
Them damn abolitionists are a blowing their horn, “Why don’t the army move? Why don’t they move?” I would like to have some of them down here with a knapsack on [that] weighs about 200 lbs. I would run them on a double quick all day long and if they did not go, I would run a bayonet through them. I will tell you one thing. There is no other general in the world that will do as well as General McClellan. The whole army will soon be fighting amongst themselves. There are officers resigning every day just because Gen. McClellan was turned out of his position and I don’t blame them for doing it. I must close for there is no use of talking—only 6 months longer.
Get a newspaper and pit some chewing tobacco in it and send it. It won’t cost any more. I have not had a chew in a week. We cannot get it down here. Don’t forget it. I have got a cotton bloom to send to you. I can’t send it without a paper. So goodbye.
— Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th N. Y. Vol.
Hurrah for [Gov.] Seymour!
Camp near Stafford Court House 5 Miles from Aquia Creek Landing December 3rd, 1862
I received your letter last night and was glad to hear from you. I received the gloves you sent me all right. I think a great deal of them but I would like a little tobacco the best. I will tell you I never see the boys suffer so much for tobacco before. They smoke coffee for tobacco. We can’t buy anything down here. We are here in camp. Some say we are going into winter quarters and some say we are not. Most all the boys in the regiment have got log houses put up. I am to work putting up mine. When you write, do the tobacco up and send it the same way you sent the gloves. I will get it. I have got a ball of cotton to send to you when you send me a paper.
What did you have for Thanksgiving dinner? I will tell you what I had. Our regiment was on picket guard. I had for dinner one hard cracker and a little piece of raw pork. Pretty good for a “snoger.” Sometimes we can’t get as much as that. Yesterday our regiment went to build corduroy roads so they would not get stuck in the mud.
They say apples and potatoes are cheap up North. We can’t buy apples here for ten cents apiece down here. I would like to be home one night with you to eat about two pan fulls. Never mind. A better day is coming. We have it pretty tough but we have got use to it. Don’t forget the tobacco next time.
I close my scribbling. I got a letter from Jerome Gates. He is home. They are all well. So goodbye. From, — Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th Regt. N. Y. Vol.
Three cheers for New York Volunteers. Write soon. 27th Against the World!
[Sadly there are no letters to describe the fight at Fredericksburg in mid-December 1862 and, surprisingly, Dexter does not devote a single paragraph to the battle in his book. A notice in a local paper reported at the time: “Co. B., in the Late Battle. The 27th Regiment was engaged in the recent battle of Fredericksburg. We have no particulars except that the men behaved bravely, and that Sergeant John C. Hooper, of Huron was wounded, and that Henry W. Brown of Lyons had his hip fractured.” Another newspaper notice stated: “Our former correspondents in the Twenty-Seventh Regiment are chary of their favors. Not one of them has written us concerning the part the Regiment took in the recent battle. We learn, however, from other sources, that the Twenty-Seventh was not found lacking in courage or determination; that it was in the thickest of the fight (under Sedgwick;) and that although it received no special mention at the hands of the puffers for the New York papers, no Regiment can show a cleaner record than the Twenty-Seventh. The casualties in this Regiment were comparatively few. In Company B, there were four men wounded: Sergeant John C. Hooper, (slight,) Henry W. Brown, B. Disbrow, (slight,) and G. Walrath, (slight.) Brown’s injuries are said by a correspondent of the Rochester Union to be slight; but other reports say that his injury is a fracture of the hip, caused by a musket-ball, and that his leg has been amputated. One or two others are reported missing, but as they may yet be heard from we refrain from giving their names at present.”]
Camp near Fredericksburg, Va. January 17, 1863
I received your letter last night and right glad to hear that you were all well. We just came in from picket yesterday. We are under marching orders. We expect to go across the river and try them once more but there is hundreds that will never cross the river. I have heard more that one half of the boys in our company [say] that they would never go in another battle. They say it is too bad to go through what we have and then slink out but they say they will do it.
This fighting for Niggers is played out. Some of them Black Abolitionists out to be made to fight their share of the battles.
We expect to be on the move before long. Can’t tell how soon. We have warm days and cold nights. We don’t expect to have much snow down here. Our men are working daily building corduroy roads for the Johnny boys same as they did on the Peninsula. All of the boys are getting sick of this thing. They begin to count the days thinking how near our time is out. I wish it was out tomorrow, if not sooner.
I have not received them things you spoke of yet but I guess I will before long. I must come to a halt for this time. Write as soon as you get this.
— Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th N. Y. S. V.
Answer soon. Don’t wait so long.
Camp near Fredericksburg, Va. January 27th 1863
To the Editor of the [Wayne] Democratic Press
As I have a few leisure moments, I thought I would write and let you know what is going on in camp. Our regiment has just returned from a great expedition. We marched ten miles from camp and got stuck in the mud and then we turned around and played mule and helped to get the pontoon train back to the rear, the mud being 1—2—3 feet deep. We returned to camp on Sunday and when we got there, General Bartlett gave the regiment their rum. We all got to feeling first rate when General Swan made his appearance and then there was quite a disturbance and then Col. Adams, just for spite, put the whole of Company B on guard 48 hours to take revenge. And at the same time, most of the officers was so drunk that they did not know how to enjoy themselves and as poor privates had to suffer the consequences.
The rest of the company [regiment] was drunk also but all was laid to Company B. But never mind. Our time is nearly expired and then we will let the people in Lyons know what is what. If we ever enlist again, we will have a captain from some other town but our own. We came out to fight for the Stars & Stripes but the officers came out to fight for the Eagle and Star.
I will close for this time and let you know more about the matter in my next. Yours respectfully, Comp. B
From the 27th Regt. N. Y. S. V. Signed “Old sport and hard luck”
P. S. Please put this in without fail and oblige — A good soldier.
[Camp near Fredericksburg, Va.] February 3rd 1863
As Tom Hilliard is going home, I though I would drop you a line. If you will go to the drug store and buy a bottle or box of hair dye to color whiskers with and send by Tom when he comes back, I will send you the pay for it just as soon as we get our pay which we expect to get this week and oblige.
We are just getting ready to go on picket guard.
— Dexter Buell, Company B, 27th N.Y.S.V.
Write soon. Only three months, Bob. How is No. 3 [Fire] Hose? All right? Write soon. Your friend, — D. Buell
Camp near Fredericksburg, Virginia February 14th 1863
I received your letter and was glad to hear from you. I suppose Tom Hilliard has reached Lyons before this time. I sent a letter by him to you. I suppose you have received it before now. I wanted you to get a box of hair dye to color whiskers with and send by Tom and just as soon as we get paid off, I will send you the money back. It will cost $1 and I am going to color up the boys whiskers for them. I keep a barber shop now-a-days. I shave most all of the boys on our company.
Bob, today is Valentine’s Day. I wish I had one to send to you. Bob, the boys are all busy making finger rings and pipes,&c. to fetch home with them. We make them out of laurel roots. I am making a pipe and ring for you out of laurel root. Bob, I guess you had a pretty nice time with the girls. I have not seen a girl in so long I forgot how they look. If we see a man with a citizen suit of clothes on, he looks like a Reb to us. Everything will seem strange to us boys when we get home.
Never mind about the letter I sent to be printed. I only wanted to let the people know something about it. But I guess Tim Hilliard can tell you [that] Adams & Swam are the biggest drunkards you ever see. Robbers—thieves—they would steal our ration of hard tack if they could make anything by it. All the boys swear revenge on Adams when we get out of Uncle Sam’s reach.
Bob, I want you to kiss a pretty girl for me, will you? Hw is Old No. 3 [Hose]? All right, I suppose.
I must begin to close my scribbling for this time as boys don’t have much to do now days. Time is passing swiftly by.
I wish I could send your pipe by mail but I am afraid you would not get it. I will fetch you something to remember Old Virginia. I must close for this time so goodbye. From your old friend, — Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th Regt. New York State Vol.
Please write soon.
Camp near White Oak Church, Va. March 21, 1863
I received your letter while we was on picket guard and was very glad to hear from you and to hear you was all well. We have been on picket duty for the past two days near the river. We can look down from the hill we are stationed on and see every move the Rebels make. We can see them out drilling and see their cars when they come in loaded with freight from Richmond.
I will tell you just what kind of houses we have to live in while on picket. They are made out of pine boughs put up on poles and when it rains or snows, then it comes pretty tough on the soger boy. We are here in camp now. The boys in the company are all well.
Old Joe Hooker is getting ready to make a move. The boys all wished that it would snow three deep so the Army could not move until the first day of May. They boys all say they have seen fighting enough to last them while they stay in the service. I think they have myself. This morning it snows quite hard and the snow is about two inches deep and it still snows.
We have not received any pay yet but I rather think we will in less than three months. The government is going to discharge the best troops in the field when they discharge us and they say so themselves. If they had discharged us two months ago they probably would have got the largest part of us back in the service but as it is, they won’t get a single man I don’t believe.
The boys have been making pipe and finger rings out of laurel roots to pass away the time.
I would like to send you my photograph if I could but there is no place to get it taken down in this miserable country. I wish you could look down and see the country. Just see how you like it. The wood is mostly all pine timber. The ground would not raise white beans. The soil is mostly all clay and when it rains, it makes very bad walking or riding. You can see thousands of acres down here with little trees and berry bushes of all kinds growing up on their farms. The look so they had not been plowed up in a dozen years or more. All they live on mostly is corn. They make what they call a hoe cake out of a little meal and water.
I guess I had better come to a close for I have a little dinner to eat. I would like to have one good meal of victuals. I suppose there is lots of oysters up North. I would like to be there a little while to eat about a dozen kegs or so.
Well goodbye for this time. You must write oftener for I don’t get a letter from you often enough. You must write all the news. Is the little black cat alive yet? Let me know. Truly yours, — Dexter Buell
Company B, 27th Regt. N. Y. Volunteers. Write often. — Dexter Buell
Camp near White Oak Church, Virginia April 13th 1863
I received your letter last night and glad to hear from you. Since my last we were reviewed by the President—old Abraham Lincoln. This morning the cavalry and artillery are all moving towards the river and we expect a fight before night but can’t tell. There are all sorts of rumors about the two years troops. Some say we will be in Elmira before this month is out. Yesterday we were on inspection and Col. Adams read an order that he received from the War Department that all two-years troops that will enlist after their time is out for one year will receive $50 bounty—one half to be paid down and the rest after the expiration of their term of enlistment. I rather guess they won’t get over 2,000 out of our regiment. The government paid 250 dollars for a lot of green men and now they offer us after we have been in the service two years 50 dollars to enlist? Can’t see the point, as our boys say.
We expect to be in New York State in less than two weeks. Bully for that.
I got a letter from Eliza the other day. They are all well. They want me to send them my photograph. We are hard up for tobacco down here but we can get along a little while longer. I don’t know of any more news to write. I can’t think of now. We are having nice weather here. The peach trees are budding out and will soon be in blossom. I will close for this time so goodbye. Excuse haste. Truly yours, — Dexter Buell
Co. B, 27th Regt. N.Y. S.V.
P. S. all are well as usual.
Elmira [New York] May 31st 1863
As I have a few leisure moments I thought I would drop you a few lines to let you know that we are all sound. We arrived at Elmira about eleven o’clock the same night we went across the Lake on the steamer P. H. Field. We had a good time. The boys are all well and anxious to get back to their old homes instead of laying around this miserable place. Robert, you may think this is rather queer writing paper but as it is raining, I thought I would not go down to the village.
Dick Putney is all well and sends his best respects to you and all. We expect to be mustered out of the service tomorrow and will probably be home this week. All are well. Give my best respects to all of the boys and the girls too.
From your friend, — Dexter Buell, Co. B, 27th N. Y. Vol.
My best respects to your cousin, Miss Berry
Composed by Comrade Dexter E. Buell, Lyons, N. Y. Co. B, 27th Regiment N. Y. Volunteers [handwriting appears to be post war]
During the Civil War, soldiers sometimes placed advertisements in news papers seeking “pen pals” or urged a comrade’s relatives to strike up a correspondence with them. Some, perhaps, hoped the correspondence might actually lead to a relationship; others simply found it as a convenient way to fill the otherwise dull hours of camp life. Female correspondents often took on the task as a patriotic duty—as a means of encouraging the soldiers who were willing to “sacrifice home and pleasure” to put down the rebellion.
In this charming letter, Julia A. Donaldson of Lafayette, Indiana, wrote to a soldier identified only as “Mr. May” who may have been local boy or not. I have not been able to find Julia in census or directory records but she may have only living in Lafayette temporarily—perhaps as a housemaid or staying with a relative. It seems clear she and Mr. May did not know each other. She states she has a brother in the Union Army. The only Donaldson I can find in military records connected with Lafayette, Indiana is a Madison Donaldson of the 20th Indiana Infantry, which was formed in Lafayette but he does not appear in the census records there. As for Mr. May, there were four different soldiers with the surname May in the 20th Indiana Infantry. Perhaps he was one of these soldiers.
I have transcribed Julia’s letter as she wrote it so you can see that her formal schooling—if she had any at all—was severely limited.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Lafayette, April 18, 1862
as i have hurd a friend if yourn spoke of you, i thot that i would writ to you. i hope that you will pardin me for the privlig that i have takin as this is Leep year and all foks is free in war times, i thot it would bee nise to have a unoin corasponent. i hope that that you will pardin me for making such a bold atenit as to write to you. i would not atemp to writ to eney won except won that had gon to help to put down this wiked war. i alway feel free to write or talk to eney won that is wiling to help put down this weked war. i think that eney won that is wiling to sacrifise home and plasur to help to restor aruend cuntry is the salt of our repulicen goverment.
when i pic up a paper and see that you ned help, i feel like picking up a gun and go to war mi self. But i cant. all i can do is to tri and write and pra for those Brave Boys that is wiling to tri and restor our republici goverment. i have won Brother in the army and a grat meny of mi friends ar in the army. a grat eny has gon to war. But tims ar quit flurshing in the norh yet and i hop it will always Bee so, By the help of god and our Brave Boys.
Well i supose that you would like to know what fur looking girl you corspondent is. Well i wil tell you. I am tall and slender, dark complected, dar hear and dark eyes and full of fun 21 years old. i enjoy mi self vary much ended But still i often think of a nother world apart Cold hener wher there is no mor war or parting of friends. We all hop haf to part with our friends ito am among strangers.
Will i gess that i will close this leter for i supose that i have writin mo than will enter rest you, i will close hoping that you will pardin me for the privilige that i have takin and if you think this leter worth ancering, I will Bee plsed to her from you.
From you well wisher, — Miss Julia A. Donaldson, Lafayette, Indiana
This letter was written by Lt. Nathaniel G. Wilkinson, who served in the War of 1812 with 2nd Battalion, 6th U. S. Artillery. After the war he was posted at Norfolk, then at Fort Johnston (N. Carolina), and later in the 1820s as Captain and commander of Cantonment Jessup in Louisiana.
Nathaniel wrote the letter from Fort Johnston which was originally a British fort located on the west bank of the Cape Fear River, four miles above its mouth. Following the American Revolutionary War, peace prevailed, and Fort Johnston underwent a period of physical decay. The community of Smithville (renamed Southport) gradually developed around the fort. In March 1794 with war raging in Europe, the Congress appropriated funds for the first system of seacoast defense in the United States to fortify sixteen critical ports on the seaboard, provided that states provide the land. North Carolina quickly ceded the land to the federal government. Although reconstruction began in July 1794, work on Fort Johnston progressed slowly over decades. Politician Benjamin Smith ultimately agreed to sponsor the reconstruction of the fort. Major Joseph Gardner Swift characterized Fort Johnston as “dilapidated” upon inspecting the post in January 1810.
In spring 1812, the Army formed a new unit, the “Sea Fencibles,” composed of river pilots who resolved to serve on land and sea. Governor William Hawkins assigned four militia companies from coastal southern North Carolina to Fort Johnston to strengthen the defenses of Cape Fear during the War of 1812. Many locals feared that Fort Johnston provided inadequate defense for the region. The British, however, did not attack the region during the war.
After the War of 1812, an individual sergeant sometimes commanded Fort Johnston, and the Army abandoned it altogether at least once while engaging its troops elsewhere. Nevertheless, the surgeon began to record meteorological observations from the early 1820s. Its garrison departed to fight in Second Seminole War in 1836. The Army completed Fort Caswell two miles away in 1838, reducing the importance of Fort Johnston. The Fort Johnston garrison again departed to fight in Mexican–American War in 1846. The fort was seized by Confederates during the Civil War and was used as a training center and storage center. [Wikipedia]
The letter suggests that the US Government soon intended to build a fortification on Battery and Oak Islands. The construction of Fort Caswell on Oak Island, however, was not begun until 1825 and it took 11 years to complete it.
Nathaniel wrote the letter to Dr. Levi Sawyer (1785-1844) of Bolton, Worcester county, Massachusetts.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Fort Johnston, N. C. 30th July 1819
With pleasure I sit down to address you a few lines and have to inform you that Capt. [William] Wilson 1 and his company have returned to this place. The company will be stationed here, I think, for many years as it is though that a fortification will be erected on Battery and Oak Islands.
Mr. Potter wishes to sell his dwelling and storehouses; you could, I think, get them upon very good terms. He wishes to move to Louisiana. He has lately returned from there. 2
Russell has not paid me as yet and I have to request you will let me know what will be done in that case; I am afraid he does not wish to pay me.
Please to write me as early as possible on the occasion, You could, I am certain, get the sutting [sutlary] were you at this place, and if you wish it. I will speak to the Capt. for it, for you, before you come.
Times are hard in your part of the country and if you are not in pretty good business, I would advise you, if you could get the sutting [sutlary] to this company, to come to Smithville again. Be certain to write me as early as possible and I will let you hear from me again.
Should the forts be built on these islands I have mentioned and men stationed therein, you could soon make something very handsome.
Respectfully, I am your friend, — N. G. Wilkinson
[to] Dr. L. Sawyer, Bolton, Mass.
1 Capt. William Wilson was stationed at Fort Johnston. He commanded the 6th Military District.
2 In August 1818 the store of Robert Potter and a Mr. Gause at Smithville advertised the receipt of a variety of dry goods aboard the sloop “Fame”. They offered a variety of cordials,preserves, perfumes, hardware, candy, crockery, cutlery, etc. “All offered cheap!”
This letter was written by Homer Shunk Thompson (1842-1909) who enlisted as a private on 2 September 1861 in Co. E, 45th Pennsylvania Infantry and rose in rank to Sergeant Major in the regiment before he was mustered out of the service on 17 July 1865 as a veteran.
Homer was the son of sheriff John Thompson (1798-1876) and Lydia Blake (1799-1871) of Centre county, Pennsylvania. After the war, Homer entered the mercantile business at Stormstown. He married Francina Walton (1845-1901) and later a woman named Harriet. He relocated to Kansas a few years to try farming but returned to Pennsylvania and resumed the mercantile business at Reed’s Gap, then Shade Valley, and finally Pine Grove Mills. He eventually returned to Stormstown.
Homer’s letter contains an incredible account of the Battle of the Crater fought on July 30, 1864. In his letter, Homer informs his sister of his injuries, his treatment, and recalls some of the details of the fighting that he witnessed before being taken from the field with a head wound. See also: “Refusing Capture: Capt. Theodore Gregg, Co. F, 45th Pennsylvania” by Tim Talbott.
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
2nd Division, 9th Army Corps Hospital City Point, Virginia August 4th 1864
I am feeling in pretty good order today and so I will write to you. My head is pretty sore and troubles me a good deal. Was it any other place, I would not mind it but the head is rather a tender place and does not take much to put it out of trim. My shoulder is doing very well and in a few days will be all right again. It was nothing more than a bad [ ] and they soon get well. I came here on the 2nd from the field hospital. I am getting along finely. Could not be doing better. We have god tents and good comfortable beds to sleep. Everything is kept clean and in the best of order. I had no idea that the hospital of this place was kept in as good order as it is. The only thing that can be complained of is they do not feed us any better than they might do. In fact, not as well as I would like to be fed. They seem to think that a man with a sore head ought not to eat anything and I think just the opposite. It seems to me that I can eat as much and as strong diet as ever I could.
This is a general hospital for the entire army and from here some are shipped north and others are kept here and returned to their regiments when fit for duty. They took off a boat load yesterday evening and among others were 4 of the 45th. Among them was John Holahan—“(My John).” He was wounded just below the left thigh with a piece of shell. A pretty sore wound but not a dangerous one by any means. He had only 20 days to serve when he was wounded. I would not care if I could count my time as easily as he can. There are some four of the regiment in the same tent that I am in but they are persons that you do not know. I wish I had been among the number that left here yesterday. I would have thought there might have been a chance to get to Pennsylvania a while. I may possibly get off in the next boat but it is not very likely for they mostly send the worst ones away. It is not very likely that I will be sent away from here at all—till I am sent to the regiment.
The fight on Saturday proved to be a grand failure—nothing short of a perfect butchery. T’was not much better than Fort Pillow. My opinion is that Gen. Grant is to be blamed entirely for the failure, and had he done his part, the city would have been ours. As it is now, we mourn the loss of about 4,000 men and nothing gained by it.
There was a strong rebel fort in front of Burnsides lines and he had been engaged for some time in digging a mine to blow it up. On the night of the 29th he had finished it and everything was ready for the match which was applied the morning of the 30th and at daylight the fort was blown up. The Old 9th charged across the intervening space and succeeded in capturing the fort and one line beyond before the Rebels recovered from their surprise. By this time they commenced to pour a deadly fire into us on both flanks as well as in our front. We looked in vain for Butler on our right or Meade on our left to advance and cover our flanks but we looked in vain. Not a man moved and we were left to suffer alone.
The Rebels—finding that we were not going to advance any other part of the line—massed almost their entire force on us and advanced to drive us back. The outer line was held as long as it was possible to hold it and then fell back to the second line. There the fighting went on hand-to-hand. After our men were driven from the front line, I was wounded and so I did not see any more of the fight. The fort was still held by our men till sometime in the afternoon when Gen. Bartlett hoisted the flag and surrendered himself and what few men were with him.
I never saw such fighting in my life as there was done that forenoon. It was the first time that I ever saw bayonets used, but there both parties used them. Bayonets, guns, swords, pistols, and everything could be thought of was used. Prisoners were taken and retaken by both parties without ever getting out of the same breastworks. Some of our prisoners were shot down on the spot after they had surrendered. Surely the 9th Corps can hereafter take for their battle cry, “Remember Petersburg!”
Our darkey troops were engaged for the first time and fought well—full as well as the whites did. They lost very heavily as the Rebs did not have much mercy on them. There was only a portion of our regiment in the fight. Almost one half the men were on picket at the time and so escaped. We went into action with 90 men and out of that number, 68 were killed, wounded, or taken prisoners—by far the heaviest loss according to the number of men that we ever had. Our company only lost 4—one killed, one wounded, and two missing. We were more fortunate this time than usual. We had several officers taken prisoner who I fear will meet with hard usage. Among them was Lt. Van Valin of Unionville or vicinity. He was a very fine man and one of my particular friends. I would give anything to know how he is at the present time—whether living or not. I should not wonder if they killed the officers taken there. They are devils enough to do such things. 1
Some 5 days ago I received a letter from you but do not know the date on it. Sam Brook(?) was sent to Philadelphia sick, so that it was our Sam that you saw in the papers. As for hair I cannot send you any because I have none to send. When I was wounded, they cut my hair off so that it would not be in the way of hunting the ball. You may direct your letters to the regiment and if I stay here they can be sent down and if not they can be forwarded from there just as well.
My compliments to all the friends. Good Bye. Your brother, – Homer S. Thompson
1 Lt. Waldo Carrollon Van Valin (1840-1907) of Unionville served in Co. A, 45th Pennsylvania Infantry. He was taken prisoner in the Battle of the Crater on 30 July 1864 and was confined at Macon, Georgia, until he was paroled.