1864: Kidder Randolph Breese to Unknown

Kidder Randolph Breese in his midshipman’s uniform (1850s)

This letter was written by the commander of USS Black Hawk, Commander Kidder Randolph Breese (1831-1881). Breese began his naval career as a midshipman in 1846 aboard the US Sloop of War Saratoga during the War with Mexico. He participated in Admiral Perry’s expedition to Japan and then several trips to other foreign ports. When the Civil War began, he was serving aboard the San Jacinto, the ship that stopped the British steamship carrying Mason and Slidell (see Trent Affair). He then helped capture New Orleans and served with Rear Admiral David Porter on the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Coast.

Commander Breese wrote this letter from Alexandria, Louisiana, while on the Red River Expedition. That expedition was a failure as the annual rise in the Red River failed to materialize that year making it impossible for the Union’s heavy gunboats to pass over the rapids in the river. Breese’s letter refers to the battles of Sabine Crossroads and Pleasant Hill which were fought on 8 and 9 April 1864. The battles convinced Banks that his campaign against Shreveport should be abandoned. Though the battle of Pleasant Hill may have been a Northern victory, the retreat to Grand Ecore was a strategic defeat. In less than a week, the USS Black Hawk would be ordered to “Get out of the [Red] River whilst there is a chance.”


Mississippi Squadron
U. S. Ship Black Hawk
Alexandria, Louisiana
April 10, 1864

Dear Sir,

General [Carvier] Grover has received instructions tonight to take his whole force to Loggy Bayou leaving here only enough force for police but as he is to move by transports and they now are not to be had, I can’t tell when he will start. Phelps gave me the news of the defeat of the Army. General Stone’s two dispatches to General Grover say 1st, the enemy attacked us at Pleasant Hill and were signally repulsed with loss of many killed and prisoners. This is all he knows about it. 2nd. Bring up immediately all your force to Loggy Bayou. I told him all the rumors &c. and I judge he is about of the same opinion of General Banks as the rest of us.

Nothing new here. No signs of the [pump-boat] Champion yet. River falling slowly. The Mississippi has fallen eight feet but is now rising again which I hope will check the fall in this. I shall send up the Champion immediately on her arrival; if you do not want her, please inform me as Mr. Tennyson thinks there is no doubt but what she can raise the Woodford in a very short time. Shall I keep a barge of coal here all the time—that is, when the one here is gone? Shall I send the Price for another? I wrote to [ ] that he must hurry coal down here—that there were but six barges at the mouth and if the river should rise suddenly that won’t last long. I also told him that he wouldn’t see any of the town boats except the Ike Hammett & Wilson and that he might make his arrangements accordingly and also begged him not to send any more provisions down for at least a month.

Give my kindest regards to all with you and believe me respectfully yours, — K. R. Breese, In command.

1861-64: Orlando Jay Smith to J. O. Jones

How Orlando looked just before entering the 16th Indiana Infantry

These letters were written by Orlando Jay Smith (1842-1908), the son of Hiram Smith (1799-1866) and Sarah Jacobs (1804-1890) of Terre Haute, Vigo county, Indiana. Orlando first entered the service as a sergeant in Co. K, 16th Indiana Infantry on 23 April 1861. He mustered out of that regiment on 23 May 1862 at Washington D. C. He was commissioned a Lieutenant in Co. B, 71st Indiana Infantry in August 1862. The regiment was changed into a cavalry organization in February 1863 became Co. B, 6th Indiana Cavalry. He was discharged on 15 September 1865.

He was wounded and taken prisoner on 3 August 1864 at Athens, Georgia and confined at Macon, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina. He was promoted a Captain on 2 November 1862 and a Major on 16 October 1863.

After he was discharged from the service, Orlando returned to Asbury College (now De Pauw University) and completed his college course. He then entered journalism was was editor of the Terre Haute Mail, the Terre Haute Express, the Chicago Express and was the Founder of the American Press Association in 1882, whose General Office in 1910 was at 225, West 39th Street, New York. He lived at Bonneview, his estate in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

Among works by Smith were A Short View of Great Quests (1899), The Coming DemocracyBalance the Fundamental Variety (1904), The Agreement Between Science and Religion (1906) and Eternalism: A Theory Of Infinite Justice (1902).

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

Letter 1

Camp Wayne [near Richmond, Indiana]
June 27, 1861

My Dear Uncle,

I enclose to you a Watson bill which you will oblige me by changing into something more current in this portion of the state, if you can do so.

I am prospering as well as I could wish to. I like camp life, at least that portion which I have seen. Nothing would mar the content with which I have settled down to it but for the fact that we will never see service unless we go in for three years. I have made up my mind to go in for that term at the first favorable opportunity. I know the advice you gave me concerning enlisting for a longer period than one year was excellent, but I feel that I can never in the future feel satisfied with myself in looking back at this contest unless I was an active participant in it. I shall therefore got into it and shall make no calculation to leave the service until the battle cry of “The Union!” shall be heard upon Sumter’s torn battlements and be echoed by freemen’s voices along the Gulf to the mouth of the Rio Grande.

I may not be able to retain the position that I have obtained in my own company (2nd Sergeant) if I go into another one, or I may get some higher one. I don’t know how it will be. of course I would like to have some position but I shall go fully as cheerfully, if I do not. Please attend to changing the bill immediately. Give my love to Aunt and the little girls.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith

Letter 2

Camp near Seneca Mills
Upper Potomac
November 7, 1861

Dear Uncle,

I have neglected writing to you for a long time and I cannot improve a little leisure time in a better manner than by writing you a letter. When I wrote you last, I was sweltering under the heat of an August sun in the valley at the foot of the Blue Ridge near Harpers Ferry. Since that time we have done a considerable of marching around about in this region of the Upper Potomac though we haven’t been called on to do much fighting as yet. Gen. Banks has an army of fifty thousand scattered from Harpers Ferry to Chain Bridge. We have a number of splendid regiments in our division—such as the New York 9th, Minnesota 1st, Wisconsin 3rd, Geary’s Pennsylvania 28th, Massachusetts 2nd, 13th, and Webster’s 12th, and a host of others, but I have noticed that the General always keeps the 16th Indiana near himself and when he moves, it moves. His headquarters have been close to us in every camp yet, and when we went over into Virginia, he pitched his tent right in with us though we had the muddiest hole in the whole field. From all this and various complimentary things he has said of us, I judge he has confidence in our prowess should we be called on to exercise it.

I suppose you have heard that we were over in Virginia. At the time, we didn’t know that we were doing anything much but we learn since that the correspondent of the Associated Press reports our regiment as acting very gallantly, &c. &c. and only murmuring when the order was given to retreat instead of contesting our way inch by inch with our enemies. The Baltimore Clipper too says the advanced pickets of the 16th Indiana were rescued from the very jaws of destruction and death. So, I conclude as the papers say so, that we did gallant things over there. It is true that we marched twenty miles in six hours one very dark night to rescue the troops of the lamented Baker, that we crossed the river in the rain on Tuesday morning and took position on the bank where the mud was in no place less than half knee deep, that we participated in the skirmish in the afternoon in which Gen. [Frederick W.] Lander was wounded and in which we lost one man.

You should have seen our gallant old Colonel [Pleasant Adam Hackleman] during the time that we were expecting about ten thousand Secesh devils down upon us. He sat on his big black horse and as our batteries commenced throwing the shells thicj and fast, he lit a cigar cooly and remarked, “Well boys, this looks like business.” It rained all that day of Tuesday and all night. We had no tents and nothing to eat but sea biscuit but really we were tolerably comfortable by the fires.

Wednesday morning it still rained. At noon one half of our regiment was detailed on picket guard, our own company included. We went out on Goose Creek towards the enemy’s advance. It so happened that our company relieved the pickets which had occupied the very farthest outposts next to the rebel pickets. I had command of the relief from five o’clock till eleven. It was a bitter cold night and we dared not stir about for fear of the rebel pickets who were in the woods next to us. At 2 o’clock we commenced the retreat to the river, distant a mile and a half. we landed on the Maryland shore at daylight. I for one was not sorry to get back as I am now confident that the next day would have witnessed a repetition of the Ball’s Bluff horrors. I saw whole boatloads of wounded and dead from that action and I never want to see such a sight again unless I am confident that the enemy have suffered at least equally. It seems as though we have nothing but bad generalship here on the Potomac. A few more Bull Runs and Ball’s Bluffs and this Grand Army of the Potomac will be completely demoralized. Their influence is already too plainly felt in the general tone of discouragement with which the soldiers here talk of the result of the war. The rebels have gained such a reputation for pluck that our men have lost confidence in themselves as well as in their leaders.

It seems as though we have nothing but bad generalship here on the Potomac. A few more Bull Runs and Ball’s Bluffs and this Grand Army of the Potomac will be completely demoralized.

—Sgt. Orland Jay Smith, 16th Indiana Infantry, 7 November 1861

We are all awaiting with an anxiety too deep for utterance the result of the Great [Port Royal] Expedition. How much depends on it, no one perhaps can realize. I still have hopes that the war may be brought so near to a successful termination by the time my term of service is ended that there will be no necessity of enlisting again. I see that most everybody out in Indiana is Colonel of a regiment and I suppose only the most common people will accept captaincies and lieutenancy’s. I wish I could have the privilege of going in one of the latter positions as everyday the difference between going as officer and [enlisted] man is more plainly visible. I am now acting as Orderly Sergeant and I suppose I can retain the position if I choose but it is very hard work and poor pay. If it were not that I learn much more as Orderly, I would rather be 2nd Sergeant.

What sort of a regiment has Col. [George K.] Steel [of Rockville] got at Camp Vigo? I suppose he makes a fine officer. If I were only a Lieutenant or Adjutant in his regiment or any other regiment, I wouldn’t mind being in for three years or for ten as for that matter.

We have had extraordinary health in our regiment until of late but within the past week there has been four deaths. One of our company died yesterday in the hospital. A poor fellow was shot only an hour ago accidentally and died immediately. I am under many, many obligations to you for papers sent me. Give my love to Aunt and the little girls. I hope you will write to me soon.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith

Letter 3

Camp Dick Thompson [Terre Haute, Indiana]
December 11, 1862

My Dear Uncle,

I have read with emotions of the deepest interest your letter containing your opinions as regards my course of conduct upon the question of marriage. They most fully agree with my own. I have not engaged myself to anyone and shall not, at least until I have dissolved connection with the army and when I do, suitability of age shall be regarded.

My intimate association with a lady of Terre Haute has perhaps given rise to the fear in your mind, and in that of others of my family, that I would be rash enough to hasten myself into a matrimonial engagement in which the balance of years is decidedly on the side of the lady. Such is not the case, and she herself has been fully aware of it since the intimacy commenced.

Declaring most emphatically that I have entered into but one engagement and that is with my country, and hoping that she will never have cause to instigate a breach of promise suit, I am your nephew, — O. J. Smith

Letter 4

The following letter was written from Burnside Barracks near Indianapolis, Indiana where the paroled prisoners of the 71st Indiana Infantry were quartered and kept until they were exchanged in August 1863. The “misfortune” Smith speaks of is the being taken captive for a second time. 347 men in the 71st Indiana were taken prisoners in the Battle of Richmond, where its Lieut.-Col. Topping and Maj. Conkling were among the killed. Only 225 escaped capture. The captured were paroled, returned to Terre Haute, and were exchanged late in the fall. They returned to the field on Dec. 27, when 400 of the regiment were sent to Muldraugh’s hill to guard trestle work and the following day they were surrounded by 4,000 of Morgan’s cavalry and captured a second time.

Burnside Barracks 1
Indianapolis, Indiana
December 30, 1862

Dear Uncle,

Lt. (or Major) Orlando Jay Smith

Our regiment has met with another disaster as you probably will know. We are back safely here. It seems as though misfortune has marked the 71st out for its own. If anything tends to alleviate the intense mortification which I feel, it is the fact that my own company conducted themselves most gallantly and that there was no duty which they were not ready and eager to perform. In fact, I know that the officers commanding relied more fully upon my company than upon any other.

I was placed by Col. [Courtland C.] Matson on the morning of Sunday in command of three companies—B of our own regiment, and B & C of the 78th Illinois, and occupied heights on the right of our position, but had to move by order to within the breastworks after the action began. The fight was nothing much but a surrender though I have a shell with me that passed within a few inches of my head. John Cheek of my company was knocked down by a cannon ball and bruised a little was the only casualty among my own men.

Morgan took our side arms and the men’s blankets and overcoats which tends to keep up well his reputation as a horse thief. I sent my luggage to Louisville on Saturday so my loss is my sword.

My men brought away some twenty guns of various descriptions which we picked up as we passed by our position after being paroled and which we managed to smuggle through their lines. Morgan has ten thousand men all mounted—“Hoss infantry” they call themselves—and several pieces of artillery. I was without sleep almost entirely from Tuesday night before Christmas till Monday night in Louisville. We are at Indianapolis now but will probably move to Terre Haute.

The men are in good spirits notwithstanding the fact that we have been meanly, badly, shamefully, and outrageously treated. I am undecided what to do but presume the only line of conduct proper is to stick to the men though I feel mortified and almost entirely discouraged. I suppose my folks have not got back yet from St. Louis.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith

1 Camp Burnside was located on Tinker (now 16th) Street south of Camp Morton.

Letter 5

Burnside Barracks
[Indianapolis, Indiana]
January 15, 1863

Dear Uncle,

We are getting along tolerably smoothly now. Our are surely an extraordinary set of men, else they would be entirely demoralized. We will probably not be exchanged before the 1st of March as the last General Exchange does not include us.

Indianapolis is full of Butternuts and corruption. Terre Haute is well represented in the lobby. Claypool. Bailey, and Risley and their various compatriots are on hands and apparently feel jolly. So mote it be. Perhaps the Almighty will allow treason to triumph now to work out some great good, but the Right must conquer, though it be long after the grass has grown green over our graves.

Col. [James] Biddle is still idolized by his men. He has appointed a Board of Examination of which I am a contingent member to examine the officers of the regiment upon military qualifications on the 1st of next month and all who do not pass will be requested to resign. Privates and non-commissioned officers who aspire to positions go before the board. No one is to be promoted on account of rank, but merit.

Captains [John J.] Starnes [of Co. H] and [Andrew J.] Rockwell have resigned on account of health. Also Lt. [Thomas] Cullen of Co. D. Lt. E[lijah] W. Peck is promoted Captain of Co. H, vice Starnes. A good promotion. The Colonel says he thinks I have the best company now in the regiment and I think so too. Pay day comes soon and after that interesting ordeal has been passed through, I shall get a furlough to go home.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith

Letter 6

Burnside Barracks
[Indianapolis, Indiana]
March 27, 1863

Dear Uncle,

Your letter has come to hand and I hasten to reply. I have concluded not to borrow money to make advance to recruits on Bounty.

If you think it would be best, I am willing that you should circulate a recommendation for me for the Majorship in the new organization. Yesterday I would not have consented to make an application as I would have thought it better to wait for promotion in one of my years than to hurry it up, but I have good reason to believe that if I don’t get it, Adjutant [William A.] Brown and an outside will succeed, and I would consider it an infernal outrage for Brown to be appointed over men who rank higher than he does and who are better qualified.

I speak the entire truth when I say that I would prefer to remain in the company, now much the largest one in the regiment than to be Major if competent and efficient men would probably be appointed, but having shared the fortunes of the army of the Union as enlisted man and officer since the fall of Sumter, I would feel sore to have men appointed over me who were counter hoppers and 4th rate lawyers during the first thirteen months while I was trudging with my knapsack over the mountains and valleys of Virginia.

If you can get a strong recommendation from Hon. Jno. P[almer] Usher, it would have great weight with the Governor, also Gen. [Charles] Cruft. But you understand that better than I.

My company numbers now 97 men having recruited 22 since we commenced being nearly as many as all the rest of the companies have taken in.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith

Letter 7

Burnside Barracks
[Indianapolis, Indiana]
April 4, 1863

My Dear Uncle,

I have received your letter enclosing the recommendation. I am very thankful to you for the interest you have taken, not only in this case but ever heretofore in my welfare. I trust to be able some day to repay you if in no other way than in making of myself a useful man. I will show the recommendation to Col. Biddle and shall do nothing without his sanction. I shall not push matters too much as I hardly take the interest in the promotion which I should take. I feel so well satisfied as I am in command of a full company every man of whom it is, I hope no undue self praise to say are devoted to me. If Col. Biddle objects my application for the Majorship, it will be on account of my age and nothing else.

I would like to send down some men to vote Monday but cannot. I wish though that you would ascertain whether or not some arrangement cannot be made by which the fare of soldiers of our regiment cannot be reduced or paid if they attend the City election in May. I can send 25 legal voters from my company and Co. E probably as many more.

Gen. [Henry Beebee] Carrington has issued a Special Order stating the fact of our exchange and complimenting the 71st in the highest terms. we will be reviewed on Wednesday of next week. Couldn’t you spare time to come over and see us?

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith

Letter 8

Camp near Nicholasville, Kentucky
April 26, 1864

My Dear Uncle,

I often feel very much displeased with myself for not writing to you often since I have been away from home this time. I propose to make partial amends by writing you a short letter this evening.

The Battalion to which I was attached and to the command of which I succeeded when I got my commission as Major was ordered from Knoxville the last day of March to proceed to Paris, Kentucky, to join the balance of the regiment with the cavalry corps of the Army of the Ohio which was at the latter place re-equipping for the Spring Campaign. We came via Chattanooga and Nashville by rail and had a tedious trip of it. I felt much relieved when we joined the balance of the regiment under Col. Biddle and I changed my independent for a subordinate command. I brought the Battalion through in quicker time and better order than any of the other detachments which came through but I very much prefer for awhile at least to act in a subordinate position.

Gen. Stoneman commands us and has a very fine body of cavalry under him. Our Col. Biddle commands the 2nd Division, Matson commands the Regiment, and I the 3rd Battalion consisting of companies B, F, G. and L. I am happily situated in having officers under me who are my personal friends and who are efficient also.

We are getting ready as fast as possible to go to the front, at what point I know not. We have pack mule transportation entirely—not a wheeled vehicle will be taken with the command.

My health has not been very good since I have been in Kentucky. I feel pretty well this evening though and I think will be entirely well in a few days. I applied for ten day’s furlough some time since but have heard nothing from it. suppose I will not get to go.

We are in hopes that the Indiana regiments will be allowed to veteranize in October if the war continues so we can be on hand to vote. A movement is on foot by prominent men of Putnam, Clay, and Owen [counties] and some in other portions of the district to make Major W[illiam] W. Carter of our [6th Indiana Cavalry] regiment the candidate for Congress this fall against [Daniel Wolsey] Voorhees. I would be much pleased if you are not already pledged to any candidate if you would give him your support. He is a man all over and I think would be well able to cope with Voorhees on the stump. You recollect his conduct in enlisting our regiment as a private after having been offered positions. If you can carry Vigo wholly or partially for him, I think he will be nominated. He has strong friends in the district—Hanna and Williamson of Putnam for instance. I wish you would write to me and let me know what you can do. Also who will probably be candidates for nomination. I urge it as we are likely to leave soon.

We are having tolerably gay times here in the Bluegrass region, preparatory to rough times this spring and summer. Give my love to Aunt and the little girls. I expect they are nearly big girls now though.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith

1862: John McLaughlin to his Aunt

The only thing I know for certain is that this letter was written by John McLaughlin. There were numerous Union soldiers by that name and several alone from the state of Pennsylvania where I believe this soldier was from. Since the author wrote the letter to an aunt who seems to have been on the cusp of moving from “Old Mifflin” [Mifflin County, Pa.] to Indiana, I looked for McLaughlins in that county and found a McLaughlin family residing in McVeytown. This was the family of Daniel M. McLaughlin (died 22 April 1857) and his wife Mary Catherine (Hedler) McLaughlin (1802-1881). In the 1860 US Census. Catherine was enumerated as the head of household with two sons, John (b. 1838) and Daniel (b. 1841).

I was able to confirm that Daniel enlisted in Co. K, 49th Pennsylvania Infantry who became ill during the Peninsula Campaign in June 1862 and was in the hospital at Savage Station when he was taken a prisoner of war on 29 June. Before he could be returned to his regiment, he died at Richmond on 27 November 1862. It isn’t clear where Catherine’s other son, John, was at the time—whether he was serving in the army or not. In any event, I don’t believe he was the author of this letter. My hunch is that Catherine was the recipient of the letter. [David’s pension record informs us that his father and mother were married on 18 December 1823 in Waynesboro, Franklin county, Pennsylvania.]

At first I thought the author might be the John McLaughlin of Pottsville, Schuylkill county, Pennsylvania who enlisted on 23 September 1861 at the age of 20 in Co. G, 95th Pennsylvania Infantry (Gosline’s Zouaves) to serve three years. This soldier was a miner before the war. But in the third paragraph of the letter, he mentions receiving new uniforms that were not Zouave uniforms and though Gosline’s Zouaves replaced their baggy pants with trousers, they maintained their Zouave jackets throughout the war.

Though I cannot confirm it, I’m inclined to believe this letter was written by the John McLaughlin who served in Co. C, 53rd Pennsylvania. Following the Battle of Antietam, this regiment drew new shoes and clothing to replace the faded blouses, coats and trousers worn by most since the previous winter. While it may have been rumored they would be given Zouave uniforms, they were not. Unfortunately I cannot find any evidence that this regiment was encamped near Alexandria in early October 1862, however. The regimental history implies they were still in Maryland.

[Transcribed by Stacy Cookenour/edited and researched by Griff]


Camp near Alexandria, VA 
October 4, 1862

Dear Aunt, 

I now take the opportunity to pen you a few lines to let you [know] that I have not forgotten you yet. Well, Aunt, since I last saw you I have seen some ups and downs in this mundane sphere but then I’ll not complain. This folly talks of cloudless skies. I should feel thankful that I have got along as well as I have. I have. I have went through nine hard fought battles and never had blood drawn but once and that was by a shell hitting the ground in front of me and scattering the dust and pebbles among us, knocking a piece of skin off my thumb. I have had some bullets through my clothes. May they always take the clothes in preference to the flesh. Both Abraham and George McLaughlin 1 have fell victim in this war. I have heard nothing about them since I heard that they was dead. If you knew what regiment Uncle David’s Joseph is in, and what company, let me know. 

Aunt, I think you had better stay in Old Mifflin this winter where there is plenty of coal to keep you from freezing and not go to Illinois where they have to depend on corn cobs for fire till next spring when I may go along if this war is over, for you know I’ll be going out West to look at my 160 acres. But without joking, if I am spared through this war, I am going to take a trip through the West.

There is nothing of importance going on here. We have to go on picket every fifth day and on working duty the same and some camp duty to perform, such is about the routine of our life at the present time. We have got a new suit of clothes but not a Zouave one as stated, but we may have to take the Zouave dress yet. The brigade in general, I believe, do not want it. I was at Alexandria yesterday. Matters and things are very dull there but then tis Autumn—the season of rapid decay, which may account for it. People never seem to me to be so genial when old winter is coming on as in the month of May. Why it is, I know not. 

But I must close for the present. I want you to write and let me know all about Illinois—its soil, its stock, its birds and last though not least, its pretty girls.

Your nephew, — John McLaughlin

1 I believe that George and Abraham McLaughlin are the same two by that name who both served in Co. C, 105th Pennsylvania—a company that was recruited in Clearfield and Clarion Counties, Pennsylvania. George McLaughlin (1826-1862) died on 11 July 1862 of wounds he received at Fair Oaks, Virginia, on 31 May 1862. Abraham died at Philadelphia on 25 June 1862.

1863: Benjamin Franklin Shorey & John Shorey to Zebedee Rowell

Two unidentified brothers wearing the Federal uniform

This letter was written in two parts—one part by Benjamin Franklin (Frank) Shorey (1834-1864) and the other by his older brother, John Shorey (1830-1877). They were sons of Lot Shorey (1804-1882) and Eliza A. Ayer (1805-1868) of Somerset county, Maine. John’s mother Eliza was an older sister of Sarah Ayer (1812-1882) who was married to Zebedee Rowell (1808-1879)—the recipient of this letter and the boys’ Uncle.

The brothers were conscripted into Co. D, 3rd Maine Infantry in late July 1863 and were serving in this regiment when they wrote this letter together in November 1863, after the Bristoe Campaign and during the advance on the line of the Rappahannock, describing the fight at Kelley’s Ford on 7 November 1863.

They were both transferred to Co. F, 17th Maine Infantry on 28 June 1864, the same day that Frank died from a severe wound in the right leg that he received on 10 May 1864 while fighting at Spotsylvania Court House. He was buried in Arlington (Section 13, Site 6522). John survived the war, finishing his term of service in Co. F, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery to which he was transferred in December 1864.

To read other letters I’ve transcribed by members of the 3rd Maine Infantry and posted on Spared & Shared, see:
Rufus Crockett, Co. B, 3rd Maine (1 Letter)
Laforest H. Hinton, Co. B, 3rd Maine (1 Letter)
Hannibal A. Johnson, Co. B, 3rd Maine (19 Letters)
Bainbridge P. Brown, Co. D, 3rd Maine (4 Letters)
Stephen Adams Dodge, Co. D, 3rd Maine (2 Letters)
John R. Day, Co. H, 3rd Maine (1 Letter)

[This letter was transcribed by Alan Thompson/further edited & researched by Griff]


Addressed to Mr. Zebedee Rowell, South Solon, Maine

Camp near Germantown, Virginia
November 2, 1863

Dear Uncle and Aunt Rowell,

I take this opportunity to inform you of my health which is good and never better. I hope you will excuse all bad writing and spelling and dirty paper.

Last night I had a letter from home. They was all well the 27 of October. Well, I suppose you want to know how we like [the service]. We live better than we expected to. The last time I was weighed I had gained 4 pounds. Then for the last 10 days I have been to work on the railroad that the Johnnies tore up for us 40 miles. It is going down again fast. I have enough to say if I could write. I am going to fill this [sheet] before we send it. If you could see how I have to write, you won’t think it bad writing laying down on my knapsack.

I have seen something of the world since I left home. I am satisfied with my lot for I have got good officers. They are all from Bath and Augusta. Captain [Alfred S.] Merrill [is] from Bath. And as for living, I lived the poorest at Augusta that I have since I left home. I will tell you the prices of the sutlers: potatoes 10 cents a pound, cheese 60 cts, butter 60, raisons 50 cts, eggs 60 cts a doz[en]. But last night I had a letter from home. Lydid says Joel Huntress has sent a box to Henry [Huntress] and she has sent some butter in it for me. 

Henry tents with John [Shorey] & I and we have heard some fighting and have been in sight of some of it and expected to be into it, but did not get a chance for the Johnnies, as they are called, did [not] stand. They left. I saw them run. I was close enough to see it one night on picket. We was ordered to put out our fire from 9 o’clock till morning. We was ordered to hold the road at all hazard but they did not come then. We don’t pretend to know so much here as we would at home for all we know is what we see and hear, but we can’t tell anything about it till we are ordered to start. We don’t know where till we get there. Our captain says he don’t know any more about it than we do. 

The time goes very fast with us here. I can’t think of much to write now. Last month at Fairfax Station we saw a man shot for desertion from a Michigan regiment the second time. He was a large, stout fellow. 1 There has [been] a great many of the recruits that come out when I did has run away. Some of them has got caught. Some of them has got to be shot. One to be court martialed soon. One to be for stealing whisky and selling it when he was on guard over it. When we was on detail work on the road part of time we [got] it twice a day dealt out to us.

We find all kinds of people and colors and it [is] a hard-looking sight to see how things have gone to ruin. The 22nd of last month there was 4 of us stood guard to a house about a half mile from the detail. The men steal all they can get ahold of. At 12 o’clock in the night I was on post while my relief stood with me. The 4 men come to steal some pigs. There were 7 in the pen but they got halted and left and while the corporal stood his trick between 3 and 5 in the morning they come and got two—the best hogs he had—and got off with them. I think it was a contrived plan with the corporal and the thieves did not belong to my company. My captain gave me orders that if a man disobeyed my order and did not leave when I told him to take a[n] arm or a leg from him. I think if I had been on post at the time between 3 and 5, the pigs would not [have] went. They take anything they want if it [is] not guarded. Then they will get it if they can.

I can’t think of much to write now though. We shall have a soup for dinner today. We shall fill this up with something before we send it. I would like to have you to go over and see Lydia [Robbins] as often as you can and let Harlow [Kilgore Rowell] & Antoinette [A. Rowell] go over and make a visit and write to us as often as you can for we like to hear from you or any one that will write to us.

It is now about 4 o’clock. They has just come 240 to our regiment, twenty-two to our company. We are under marching orders with 8 days rations of hard bread and pork, coffee and sugar. They is some hard looking men and as green as the cook. The regiment will muster about 600 now. We are in a very good ground to drill on. It is a large field, smooth, no stone nor bushes, nothing but tents as far as I can see on all sides. I expect a move soon but don’t know where. I hear that the pontoon bridges have come to Warrenton Junction [Virginia]. It looks to me though they would [not] bring them if they did not think of using them this fall. We crossed the Rappahannock on the pontoons once this fall about 9 o’clock in the evening and took the bridge up along with us that afternoon. We was brought into line [of battle] three times before dark, then we marched till 3 o’clock in the morning before we stopped. It was Sunday. Monday we laid by. Tuesday morning at 12 o’clock we fell into line about a mile off and staid till light. Then we traveled. The night we crossed the river, the men set fire to two straw stacks. It made a large light. The General [John Henry Hobart] Ward had a order read to the men about setting fires for it exposed the army too much to the Rebs by the light. Ward led us all the time.

Nov. 4 – It is very pleasant this morning. Now there has got to be some drilling done now. Some is off washing their shirts and stockings. The water is very poor here and some ways off. There has [been] one or two gone to Washington [to]day.

Nov. the 8 – I take my pen in hand to let you know that we are well and hope the few lines will find you the same. The 6th day of this month we broke camp and advanced. About two o’clock we found them in rifle pits on the other side of the river. Shooting for about 3 hours, not but a few wounded. We took 200 out of the pits. They say that we have army enough to eat them. That night I was on picket where I could hear them talk and cough on their post. In the morning at 4 o’clock we separated about 3 rods apart and advanced to the woods about 150 yards and stopped till light. There was five Rebels come into our lines and gave themselves up. Yesterday we expected a battle but we got out of it. I hear that our people took 5 pieces of artillery & 1500 prisoners. I saw over 200 myself that we took. One said he had been 10 days from home. They seem to feel well about it. One says we are going to Washington where we can get something to eat. One says give my respects to General [Robert Edward] Lee when you see him. Some of them are ragged looking fellows and others look hard. [See Battle of Kelly’s Ford]

Yesterday morning before daylight I came across one dead, lay[ing] on the field covered up with his blanket. He was one of our regiment, got wounded in the shoulder. Some came close. One went into a knapsack in our regiment; one got his hair cut a bit. I think this [war] will be closed soon. Where I stood on picket I could hear them drive their teams very plain. In the morning we went thru the woods to where they left in the night. They had their winter camps all built in good shape. We are in the woods now. I am laying on the ground now writing. John will finish this so good day.

Germantown, Virginia
November 2, 1863

Dear Aunt & Uncle,

I thought as Frank was going to write I would put in a few lines to let you know that we had not forgotten you. We are well and hope that these few lines will find you the same. My health is better than when I was painting but my camp life is a lazy one I tell you. 

We had baked beans this morning. They was first rate. The poorest living we have had was at Augusta but since we got into army we have better living. I wish you could step in and see us eating our grub. We cook for ourselves when on the move as we have been since we came here, but we have a good cook now. He is from Bath. So is our captain. He is a good fellow. All of our regiment or the most of it from Maine. I like it much better than I expected to. I won’t find fault if they keep me as well all the time as they do now. 

I tell you this war makes desolation everywhere it goes. They use all they can get to use buildings and fences and wood lots. It makes it look deserted in all the places that I have been yet. We have marched about 150 miles in all and expect to march as much more, then go into winter quarters to den up till spring. 

We are under marching orders now. We don’t know when nor where we shall go. The captain don’t know any more than we do but the most of them think we shall cross the Rapidan and give the Johnny’s a brush if they will accept of it, then go into camp till spring. When it begins to rain they will have to for they can’t move in this mud anyway. It is a great thing to move all the army I tell you in the mud. 

November 5th – I will scribble some more to fill up. Frank is on guard today. [He] has just come to his dinner. I had it all ready for him. It is a pleasant day here and we enjoy ourselves well as we can for the times.

We expect to go somewhere but don’t know where but would like to go into winter quarters. We shall before long. All the folks think so anyway.

At 3 o’clock we have got to go on battalion drill. We don’t have to go a great way for it is close by. It will take 2 hours, then we don’t go on duty till tomorrow morning. 

I can’t think of much to write now. When we get in camp we will write again. We would like to hear from all of you.

Brandy Station [Virginia], November 9, 1863 – [I] will try to finish as we are not moving. Saturday we moved on to this place and our division had a brush with the Rebs. We took some 200 prisoners, and the bullets flew lively some time over our heads till dark, then they retreated. 

Sunday we put after them and had another brush with them. We took 5 pieces of artillery & 1500 prisoners. They look ragged and dirty, I tell you, and some was glad to get into our lines. Some said they had been 10 days from home. They left last night. What could they keep coming in today. Some of the prisoners say we have got army enough to eat them up. Frank has wrote all the news. It snows now but it is but a squall. It is cold now.

November 10 – You will think that it takes a great while to write a letter but we have to do it by piecemeal now till we get settled. 

Last night we moved about 2 ½ miles and camped. Today we moved about 50 rods and pitched tents. The Rebs have got some nice shanties built for winter but had to leave them. I am on guard today sitting under an oak tree. The wind blows hard so I can’t write much more. I will write to Chena a few words, and you may give my love to all that enquire after me and expect a large share to yourself. Write and tell Nett to write all the war news and all that is going on in Solon [Maine]. This is from your nephew – John Shorey

November 10 – Well, Chena, I will write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope that these few lines will find you the same. I have not been so well for 10 years as I am now. It agrees with me first rate to lug knapsack and lay in camp. I have gained in health and strength since I have been here. I have marched some 170 miles since I have been here. I think that I can lug as well as the most of them. We have to carry our bed and (bread or board) with us on a march. Sometimes I wish you was here to camp [us]. We would have a good time I tell you but when the bullets fly and whistle, it ain’t so pleasant. But we have not had much yet but don’t know how soon we may but I don’t think we will have much this fall. They don’t like to stand it much, I tell you.

Tell David R. that I would like to see him out here. We would kill a pig. We did this morning and had some liver and fresh pork for dinner. It was good as ever I eat. The grey squirrel have to take up. We killed a lot of them yesterday. We are in oak growth. The acorns are thick and hogs and squirrels get fat on them. I have not seen anyplace yet that suits me as well as Maine. Everything is destroyed where the army has been. It looks deserted. All the fences gone and all that makes a country look pleasant is gone, all but the yellow girls and black ones. Where we had a brush Saturday with the Rebs, there was 3 black ones. A cannon shot went through the chimney and roof of a brick house and through the adjoining house. It made quite a hole in it.

The Rebs put some shells in the fire place and chimney to blow up our folks if they built fire in it but there was one that burst but did not do any hurt so they found them. There is some fun as well as sorrow in the army. When in camp we enjoy ourselves well but if you are sick, it is a poor place for anyone. I can’t think of much to write now but I want you to write me all that you can think of and more to us when you can and when I see you, I will tell you more than I can write. My hands is cold. I am sitting on the ground under a tree. It is a cold day out of the woods I think for the wind blows hard. We had a snow squall yesterday and last night. When I went to bed I layed on the ground with 3 blankets over me. I layed warm. Tonight I will lay in tent when I lay at all for I am on guard. Frank and Huntress will be in tent all night, but I will be out 4 hours. Then I will go in. Now I must close by sending my love to all the girls in Solon that enquire after me. Write soon and tell all that is going on. This is from your friend — John Shorey

1 The soldier shot for desertion was Henry C. Beardsley of the 5th Michigan Infantry. He was executed by firing squad on 17 October 1863 at Fairfax Station, Virginia.

1863: Garrett F. Speer to Walter Speer

I could not find an image of Garrett but here’s one of John Citheart who served as a private in Co. I of the 4th New Jersey (Photo Sleuth)

This letter was written by Garrett F. Speer (1838-1894), the son of Garrett T. Speer (1794-1842) and Jane Sigler (1796-1860). He wrote the letter to his brother Walter Speer (1830-1887) who resided in Newark, New Jersey, with his wife, Sarah Ann (Cummings) Speer and their seven children. Walter was a carpenter/house builder by trade.

Garrett was a private in Co. F, 4th New Jersey Infantry. He later (January 1864) enlisted again in Co. K, 1st New Jersey Infantry Veterans and was wounded in May 1864 and taken to the Fairfax Seminary Hospital near Alexandria. He mustered out of the regiment on 29 June 1865.

In this letter, Garrett informs his brother that he has just returned to Alexandria after having spent the last three weeks in Pennsylvania. The 4th New Jersey did not take part in the Battle of Gettysburg. Rather, three of the companies were detached as Provost Guard and the remaining companies, including the one in which Garrett belonged, were detailed to guard the Reserve Artillery train. The majority of the letter is devoted to advising his brother to refrain from offering any support to the Copperhead Party.


Alexandria [Virginia]
July 18, 1863

Dear Brother,

I am once more at leisure and will improve my leisure moments by writing you a few lines. I have just returned from Chambersburg, Pa. Since the first of July I have been very busy night and day until I am nearly worn out with fatigue. I received your letter of the 11th this morning. Was very glad to hear from you but would be much gladder to hear from you since the great Copperhead riot in New York City. I hope that will convince you that that party really mean.

You may think that I am somewhat abolitionized. That is not the case. I am neither a Copperhead nor an Abolitionist. God forbid that I should be either.

—Garrett Speer, 4th New Jersey Infantry, 18 July 1863

Walter, let me implore of you to spurn them more than the vilest Rebel that pollutes the soil of America. Walter, as a brother, I want to give you a good advice. Don’t cast your destinies with a party so vile and corrupted that will place an eternal disgrace on you and your family that you can never wash out. You may think that I am somewhat abolitionized. That is not the case. I am neither a Copperhead nor an Abolitionist. God forbid that I should be either. The Rebel advance in Pennsylvania is enough to convince any good man the necessity of sustaining the government of the United States and the Administration until every Rebel North or South is subdued.

Walter, I consider a Copperhead of the Vallandigham stripe a worse enemy than the bold Rebel that comes right out and fights for the government that he wishes to sustain. Oh, I could mention so many instances of Copperhead imbecility in my travels in Pennsylvania that it has sickened me so much against that gang of traitors there. I have not language enough to express my disgust toward them. For God sakes, Walter, never allow yourself to be deceived by this hoard of traitors. They once partially deceived me until I saw for myself that they were the worst enemy the government had to contend against, and then I despised them as I would any traitor.

My motto is Stand by the Union until our glorious Old Flag waves in triumph over every street and every city in these once United States of America. And I know that there is loyal hearts enough yet left to accomplish that glorious end. Do not think that this is mere prejudice on my part as to the loyalty of this party that I am hostile to—not by any means. What I say to you about them is [true] and I know them to be what I represent them to be. And remember that the advice comes from a brother that would sooner have his right arm severed from his body than to allow the same to write you a bad advice. — G. F. Speer

Give my love to all of those friends that you speak of in your last letter. Tell them that I often think of them when I am in camp and think of the contrast between camp life and enjoying their agreeable company in a city like Newark. However, I expect to see them all again when this cruel war is over. When the Rebs are all disarmed of course, &c. &c. — G. F. Speer

1863: Calvin Bryant to Laura Susan Nichols

A frock coat worn by Edward F. Hamlin who served with Calvin in Co. I, 52nd Massachusetts Infantry. Edward wore this coat as a sergeant in the 52nd Mass. and then later removed the chevrons and added the shoulder straps of a lieutenant in 1867.

This letter was written by Calvin Bryant (1839-1914) who enlisted on 15 September 1862 at the age of 23 as a musician in Co. I, 52nd Massachusetts Infantry. Calvin mustered out of the regiment on 14 August 1863 after 9 months service. The regiment spent their time in the service in the Department of the Gulf under Major General Nathaniel P. Banks. The regiment participated in the Bayou Teche campaign in western Louisiana during April and May 1863 and then saw combat during the Siege of Port Hudson. The 52nd Massachusetts remained on picket duty in an advanced location under the fortifications within rifle shot range of the Confederates on the ramparts. They remained on this duty for roughly three weeks until the Confederate at Port Hudson surrendered on July 9. During their time in this dangerous position, the regiment suffered casualties of nine men killed, twelve wounded, and two captured.

Calvin was the son of Patrick Bryant (806-1884) and Bricea Dumbolton (1807-1867) of Chesterfield, Hampshire county, Massachusetts. He wrote this letter to Laura Susan Nichols (1840-1901) with whom he would later marry.

After he was discharged from the service, Calvin went into the business of manufacturing washing machines in Keene, New Hampshire.

[Transcribed by Ann Melichar/edited and researched by Griff.]


Addressed to Miss Laurie S. Nichols, Chesterfield, Hampshire County, Massachusetts

Headquarters 52nd Regiment
Donaldsonville, Louisiana
60 miles below Baton Rouge
March 28, 1863

My dear Friend, 

You see by this letter that we are again on the move and as a matter of course I have taken to penciling, it being the best our traveling facilities afford, yet I do not exactly like the style for I have not forgotten how some of our letters were soiled and the writing near effaced, but most of our letters have come all safe when written with pencil. Even letters directed with pencil come all safe. There is no danger unless some accident happens to the boat and as I have no facilities for writing with ink, pencil marks will be acceptable, will they not? 

We struck tents at Baton Rouge last night at sun down and after having a large bonfire of the old rubbish in camp, we took the boat for this place at about 10 o’clock. Arrived here some time before morning. Remained on the boat until morning when we came ashore and here we are in camp in a very pleasant place on the green grass. Probably shall stop here several days. Our camp ground is a very large level field close by the river and a large bayou runs past the camp back into the country so that large vessels run back several miles from the river. The water is now several feet higher than the camp ground [and] is kept in place by the levee which we used to read about in the old geography [class]. I used to think that was a curious arrangement and little did I think of ever seeing it under such circumstances. It is a very warm pleasant day and this is a very pleasant place but we can’t get any boards to make floors with but shall probably not stop long. Don’t know what the  next move will be. 

Billie Wilson’s famous New York 6th [Zouaves] are here under arrest. They left Baton Rouge the other day as they supposed for home thinking their time was out, but there was some misunderstanding about the matter and when they found they were to be landed here, they rebelled and raised mutiny, attempted to throw some of the officers overboard. They were immediately arrested and placed under guard without arms. What will be done with them I don’t know. Perhaps they will make a visit to Ship Island. They may not get home quite so soon as they expected. I tell you they are the roughest set of men I ever saw without exception.

Colonel Wilson and some of his 6th New York Zouaves

We received an old mail yesterday morning. I received two old letters but not one from thee. I don’t see what it means. I know they have been written and if they don’t come along why I shall make no fuss about it but would rather read them myself than to have the Rebels read them or have them sunk in the briney ocean, don’t you think so?

Evening. Well, Laurie, here we are in the old tent on the grass with all our blankets, cups, plates and all our furniture, drums, &c. in a promiscuous pile. Guess you would think it a small place to keep house. We are all piled up together. Have a crutch stuck in the ground with a bit of a candle on it which I brought from Baton Rouge. I am lounging on my knapsack and it is rather hard for some to write in such a position so I will close for the night and retire. Good night. Good night. Pleasant dreams.

Sunday sermon and a beautiful morn too. Would that I could know where you are and what doing just at this  moment. O, how I wish I could have it seem like Sunday. We have no Sunday in the army particularly when moving about as we are now. The days are  all the same. There are many in the army who would not know when it came only by special inquiry. I had a good sleep last night and am now feeling quite bright for me, just as though I would like to change my clothes, comb my whiskers, take the black pony and drive up to church and after that——-there comes the drummer’s call and I must go for guard-mounting.

Well, the ceremony of guard mounting is through with, Next, cap regimental inspection at 10, o’clock ….. which is the style nowadays but we are good for it yet and let it come. But judging from what I hear, it will be well for us to get accustomed to it before coming home. By the way, I am older than I was once and am not to be frightened by any of their color. As I have said, “if folks didn’t talk, they  wouldn’t say anything.” So let them go on. It rather affords me pleasure than pain to have them speculate and conjecture about our affairs, yet I don’t want so much fun at their expense and hate to have them spend their energies so foolishly. To sum up the whole matter, I have perfect confidence in our ability to manage our own affairs and I trust we shall do it. When we cannot, we will call for help. Is that not the true way? “Yes, yes, O, yes.” Don’t be afraid to tell me how our affairs move in the eyes of the public. The boys are seeing the mail has come and I must go and see whether it is one of our noted humbugs in camp or whether it is really a truth. It is “hurrah for the mail” all over camp. 

The rumor is that we are going to help Gen. Weitzel out of “a tight place.” He is said to be in a position where he cannot get away without help not many miles from this place. I don’t know how far…….field will come to by what we hear. Should judge that they are not in a way of immediate reform in morals. It seems as though they are bound to kick up some kind of a breeze in town to keep the standard of morals below an average temperature and one thing more, I think, they are doing about the same—or a little more—“minding other folks business to the neglect of their own” as usual. If I should believe all I hear I might think that our business will all be strictly attended to without any of our assistance. Don’t you think the people are very kind in offering so much assistance even when we could get along so well without it. I tell the boys when I get home I am going to take a wagon load of brimstone on fire and go through the town and see if it won’t clear up the scented atmosphere. We have some very impure air in camp.

Well, Laurie, I have just this bit of paper to cover with my nonsense and then I must stop. You know my pencil does not move so easily as it would if I had not been disappointed at sums just as though something is the matter —“that’s what’s the matter”. 

I have just taken my dinner coffee and hard tack but we had a good breakfast of potatoes and meat and grass. We shall not starve before supper. We know nothing where we shall take our supper. We expect every moment to hear the order “fall in” but we have become accustomed to it. We are always ready. I will try to get this into the box before we go.  Guess I will fill my haversack with ginger crackers and my canteen at the old well before I start. If I get round in season I will call tonight at 6. Does “the old lounge” stand there under the window waiting for us? But I had forgotten that you are not at the old homestead now. Strange. You must be there if I call tonight or I shouldn’t stay around. I hope somebody will change the front door before I get home. 

Hope you are enjoying your visit to Boston and [ ]. I hope I shall hear from you soon. Many kind wishes and all those sort of things.  From your sincere friend, — C. Bryant

“Soldier’s Tear”—a Poem by Thomas Haynes Bayly

This morning I saw a post on Yankee Rebel Antiques by my friend Ron Coddington, author and editor of Military Images Magazine, in which he referred to a poem entitled “Soldier’s Tear” that was published by James Gates of Cincinnati during the Civil War. He described the piece as having been folded, suggesting that someone had possibly carried it with them—perhaps a soldier given to him by a loved one.

As I read the poem it occurred to me that I had read at least a portion of it before but couldn’t remember where. Thinking was on an envelope, I searched Civil War envelopes and found one with the familiar words (though retitled “Soldier’s Farewell”) and an engraving of a soldier waving goodbye to his family. The poem and stationery was sold by James Gates, the proprietor of the Union Envelope Manufacturing company located at the southeast corner of 4th & Hammond Streets. While there were many manufacturers who produced stationery with patriotic scenes on them during the war, Gates took his marketing to a new level, even going so far as selling entire “kits” of not only paper and envelopes (a set of 12), but a pen, a pencil, and a “Union pin or other piece of jewelry” suitable for gifting to a loved one. Soldiers often purchased these kits as they passed through Cincinnati and early war letters are commonly found on his stationery. [See Union & Confederate Soldiers’ Stationery, Their Designs & Purposes, by Steven R. Boyd]

What I found to be most unusual about this piece, however, is that it was written not by an American, but by an Englishman named Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797-1839) whose songs and ballads, including this one, were published in Philadelphia under the title, “Songs and Ballads, Grave & Gay” in 1844. If you are observant, you will notice that he also died in 1839, more than twenty years before the Civil War. I don’t know for sure when Thomas wrote the piece “Soldier’s Tear,” but it was published in the New Yorker in June 1837 so it had to be prior to that. The preface to Songs & Ballads defines him as “unquestionably the most popular English song-writer of his age…unequalled as he is for graceful imagery and delicately turned expression…”

Thomas wrote the lyrics for a tune written by Alexander Lee which was also published in the New Yorker:

The Soldier’s Tear

Wanting to hear the tune played and sung, I found the following clip on YouTube:

1864: Alburtus H. Peckham to Asahel G. Eggleston

A post-war image of Alburtus H. Peckham

This letter was written by Alburtus H. Peckham (1841-1919), the son of William Robinson Peckham, Jr. (1816-1886) and Maria Schermerhorn Kettle (1819-1887) of Cortlandville, Cortland county, New York.

At the age of 23, Alburtus enlisted on 1 September 1864 as a private in Co. F, 185th New York Infantry—a one-year regiment. He was wounded (gun shot through left thigh) on 29 March 1865 in the fighting at Quaker Road (see Battle of Gravelly Run) and transported to the Lincoln Hospital in Washington D. C. where he was discharged on 8 June 1865.

After the war, Alburtus was a merchant in Virgil, New York. He married Lydia Ann Smith (1842-1903) in 1870 and moved to Michigan prior to 1900.

Alburtus wrote the letter to Asahel G. Eggleston (1813-1897) and his wife, Louisa Kenney (1818-1897) of Cortland, New York. Asahel was a farmer in Cortland county. Alburtus does not appear to have been a relation but perhaps he had been previously employed by Asahel as a farmhand.


Addressed to Mr. A. Eggleston, Cortlandville, Cortland county, New York

Camp on the front
October 15th 1864

Mr. and Mrs. Eggleston,

I have a little time this morning and I do not know that I can spend it more agreeable than to write a little. The Army of the Potomac is at present rather inactive—or at least it is not in fighting activity. But how long this quiet will last is something only the future can develop. Very soon indeed may the deathly missiles of war be put in motion and the rebellious soil of Virginia be saturated with the blood of our American people. We heard heavy firing all night and we understand this morning that it was gunboats down on the James River. We think there must be a move somewhere pretty soon.

We were the witnesses of rather a solemn affair yesterday. At about half past nine, a member of the 2nd Maryland was marched to the rear of our camp to be shot for desertion. 1 Four men carried his coffin and the 9th Brigade Band played the “Death March” as thousands moved to the place of death. Many hearts beat in sympathy for the poor victim but from the history of his military life all were assured that he ought to die. We have too many men of such character in our army and doubtless many patriotic hearts have bled in consequence of them.

Our camp at present is located on the farm of a rebel officer. It does not look much like farming here now. Not a building except the house nor a fence is to be seen. The ground was the past summer covered with tobacco and cotton. We find occasionally a cotton plant standing now. I have not seen a stone of any kind since I have been in Virginia. Some of the company have seen one or two. The principle timber here is pine and the boys use it too, just as if it was not worth anything.

October 18

I did not have time o finish and mail this letter last Saturday and today finds us in a different location. Sunday we were ordered to march so we took our house and furniture on our backs and started for some part, we knew not where, but we soon found out for we only moved about a mile farther toward the front.

We now again occupy the front line of breastworks, over which the Rebs take the privilege to boost a shell once in awhile. We have not been troubled any yet but the old troops that were here before us used to get “woke up” once in awhile. Along the front of our breastworks was once a large piece of woods but now they are all cut down and present a wasteful appearance as they are mostly large pines, and appear to be of much worth—at least to northern people.

The regiment went almost wholly for “Old Abe” as most sensible people do. There was some deserters came into our camp the other day from the Rebs and they said if Lincoln was elected, they would have but little hope and it would be a hard matter to get many of them to fight anymore.

—A. H. Peckham, 185th New York, 18 October 1864

Maj. Waters has been at our regiment and taken their votes. The regiment went almost wholly for “Old Abe” as most sensible people do. There was some deserters came into our camp the other day from the Rebs and they said if Lincoln was elected, they would have but little hope and it would be a hard matter to get many of them to fight anymore. The coming election is looked to with a hope of its having something of an influence for the better, and such we think will be the case, but of course we cannot tell. No more at present for I have no time to write.

Shall be glad to hear from you at anytime. My love to all. Yours in Dixie, — A. H. Peckham

1 The soldier from the 2nd Maryland who was shot for desertion on 14 October 1864 was Charles H. Merling.

1862-63: John Henry Wakefield to Hellen (Wakefield) Munyan

I could not find an image of John but here is a tintype of Benjamin Darby of Co. F, 41st Ohio Vol. Infantry (Matthew Fleming Collection)

These two letters were written by John Henry Wakefield (1839-1893), the son of John Wakefield (1802-1871) and Susan A. Wakefield (1813-1878) of Bedford, Cuyahoga county, Ohio. John wrote both letters to his older sister, Hellen (Wakefield) Munyan (1837-1903), the wife of Horace Franklin Munyan (1832-1922) of Bay City, Bay county, Michigan.

John enlisted on 27 September 1861 when he was 22 years old to serve three years in Co. D, 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI). He was appointed corporal on 24 November 1861, and made the 1st Sergeant of his company on 27 April 1863. He was wounded in the Battle of Chickamauga on 19 September 1863 and again on 27 May 1864 in the Battle of Picketts Mills, Georgia. His wound in the last named battle resulted in the amputation of his right arm and he was mustered out of the service on 4 November 1864.

The first letter was datelined from Glasgow, Kentucky, on the day before the Battle of Perryville in which the 41st OVI participated, though they saw only light skirmishing. After having helped to drive Bragg’s army out of Kentucky, the 41st returned to Nashville in late October 1862 and remained there until late December when the Army of the Ohio advanced against the Confederate army at Murfreesboro and participated in the Battle of Stones River. On the first day of that battle, the brigade in which the 41st fought stopped a Confederate assault after the Right Wing collapsed, saving the Union army from defeat. They repulsed another attack on the second day and silenced a Rebel battery on the third day. Following this three day battle, the 41st entered camp at Readyville, Tennessee, where the second letter was written.

Letter 1

Camp at Glasgow [Kentucky]
October 7, 1862

Dear Sister,

It has been a long time since I have written to you. I have not had any chance as we have been on the move for two months and I expect we shall tomorrow for Gallatin within fifteen miles of Nashville and sixty-five or seventy miles from here. The weather is quite cool and has been for some time. We had a snow about ten days ago. It fell three inches in depth and was very heavy and cold.

I have no news of interest to write—only we got four months pay yesterday. We have two [ ] yet. My health is very good and I hope these few lines will find you and Harold well. I wrote a letter home yesterday. The last letter I received from home was dated the sixth. It arrived in five days. Your letter of the 13th of August arrived some time after. I was very glad to hear that you were all well. I hope Horace has not enlisted yet. [Brother] Martin had not the last letter I got. They have not had their tents since we left Murfreesboro until a few days ago the Captain had one the Colonel gave him and I slept under it. I have not carried my blankets any on the march. We are still at our old business—Headquarters guard.

Our regiment had a skirmish with the enemy. There was no one hurt, one horse shot. There were heavy volleys of musketry and they opened on us with shell from artillery. Our men skirmished with them every day on our march from Louisville. If I were to give you a detailed [report], it would weary your patience so I will close sending my best respects to you and James. So goodbye, — J. H. Wakefield

J. H. Wakefield, Co. D, 41st Regt. OVI, 19th Brigade, 4th Division, Army of Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky, Care of Capt. [Harvey] Proctor

Letter 2

Camp at Readyville, Tennessee
February 16, 1863

Dear Sister and Husband,

I received your letter of January 6 and one from home some time ago. I received your letter of February 8th. This evening I was very glad to hear that you were all well but I was surprised to hear that you had not heard from me and that you were so much troubled about me. I wrote a letter to you a few days after the battle & wrote a long letter to Aunt Powers a short time since and requested her to send it to you. I am in good health and enjoying good spirits.

We are encamped at the foot of a hill on a fine slope of ground near a small river. The water is very good. The health of the soldiers is very good. We are in advance on this pike from Murfreesboro to Woodbury. It is ten miles to Murfreesboro and seven to Woodbury. The rebels are quite thick around here but we are getting used to them. We have had several skirmishes with them since we have been here. We went out to Woodbury and had quite a sharp skirmish with them. One man was wounded in our company in the leg quite severely.

The weather has been fine and warm for a week. It rained last night and has rained all day and rains hard tonight.

February 17th. It is not very pleasant today. It has rained nearly all day. We have been graveling our streets today and our walks to keep us out of the mud. It is quite warm.

There is no news of interest in camp today. I shall review the scenes of Murfreesboro Battle. I have written so many long letters about it that it would be a task to me. We were under a heavy fire of solid shot and shells and musket balls from daylight in the morning until darkness closed the same. It seemed as though the night would never come as hour after hour the shot and shell plowed our noble ranks all day. [But] we held our position. Darkness found us where we were in the morning. We were on the left of the army. Our Brigade was the only one that did not give way. Several times the balls came closer to me than I wished to have them. A musket ball hit my canteen and glanced off and a cannon ball took my cap off. 1

I received a letter from Harriet about ten days since. They were all well and enjoying themselves comfortably. I received a letter from Rufus and Aunt Powers. It was a very good, kind, and friendly letter and I answered it in the same style. I forgot to mention in the proper place that [Sergt.] Spencer Sawyer was slightly wounded. I have learned today for the first time his place of residence. He went to the rear to a hospital and was taken prisoner. He is doing well. He is in Maryland. Warren Scott was taken prisoner. He is not wounded. The opinion here is that he went and gave himself up. Joseph Hist was wounded in the wrist. I have heard today that he is dead. He had the consumption and I expect the effect of the wound caused his death. His father lives near Lockwood. I have received the intelligence that David Jones is dead. He belonged to our company. He had just returned home [to Bedford, Ohio] of a discharge furlough.

I received a letter from home this evening dated the eleventh. They are all well and enjoying themselves as far as I can learn. I wish when you write, you would send a postage stamp as they are very scarce and hard to obtain and I have to write a good many letters. I wrote home for some but thy do not send them. I most always have a plenty of paper and envelopes. We are nearly up with the times with news here. We saw Cleveland papers ninth and Louisville the sixteenth. I don’t know how it got here so quick. I would be very glad to spend a day with you but my business is such that I cannot leave at present. I am glad to hear that your little girl is a growing finely. I would be very glad to see her. I trust the time will come when the cloud will rise from the face of our country that now darkens it and we will meet again. I would be very glad to visit with you in your northern home.

The health of the regiment is very good. I have been acting Orderly Sergeant since we left Nashville. I must close fearing I will weary you with my long letters. If there is any mistakes, you must correct them as I have not time. We are having a very good time this winter. It is so warm.

Yours truly. I send my love to all. From your brother, — J. H. Wakefield

Address: Co. D. 41st Regt. OVI, 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, Army of the Cumberland. Left Wing Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Care of Capt. Proctor

1 For a great summary of the role played by the 41st OVI at the Battle of Stones River, see Summoning Hell’s Half Acre: The 41st Ohio in the Round Forest, published on 22 April 2020 in Dan Masters’ Civil War Chronicles.

1862: James W. Hughey to Levi S. Miller

I could not find an images of James but here’s one of Sylvanus B. Crane who served in the same company of the 13th US Regulars. (Photo Sleuth)

This letter was written by James W. Hughey (1830-1917) to his brother-in-law Levi S. Miller (1829-1917) and Sarah Jane (Hughey) Miller (1829-1917) on Vinton, Benton county, Iowa. James was the son of Thomas B. Hughey (1801-1885) and Elizabeth Jane Gordon (1804-1854) of Madison, Highland county, Ohio.

James was married to Mary Jane Trout (1833-1911) in November 1853 and had at least two children, Melissa (b. 1855) and George (b. 1856) by the time of his enlistment on 17 March 1862 as a private in Co. H, 1st Battalion, 13th US Infantry. At the time of his enlistment, James was described as 5’7″ tall, with blue eyes and brown hair. He was discharged from the service in March 1865 at Nashville, Tennessee.

At the time this letter was written in mid-May 1862, the battalion of regulars were still encamped at Camp Sherman near Alton, Illinois. Gen. Halleck used them to guard prisoners of war until September 1862 when they were finally set to Newport, Kentucky, for final organization and then sent to General Sherman’s army who was then at Memphis.

[This letter is from the personal collection of Greg Herr and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Camp Sherman [near Alton, Illinois]
May 13th 1862

Dear Brother and Sister,

I received yours of the 8th inst. which found me well and enjoying myself well for a boy that is as far from wife and children and relation and hear of few times from them as I do. This letter is the second that I have had—one from wife and one from you. I was glad to hear from Vinton and to hear from the boys that was in the Pittsburg [Landing] Battle as I have not heard the names of the wounded nor those that has been taken prisoners in any of those companies that I was acquainted with. There was one of those names that I was not acquainted with unless it was old man Loree but if it was, the first letter was wrong for it was a letter S instead of L. So write which it is.

This regiment was paid off last Saturday the 10th of May. I got for my dues up to May 1st. $29.73 which is most double what I expected to get. I did not see what was the cause of them paying me more than the rest. When I signed the pay roll I was hurried so that I did not get to look over all the charges but it comes in good play. I want to send Mary Jane $25 this time. I think I can get along till the first of July. Then we will be paid again.

I will have my likeness taken as soon as I can have it taken and send it to you. I went yesterday but I could not get it taken. There is two artists in this city and since the boys has got their pay, there is such a rush to have them taken that there is not any chance but I will try to send it in my next letter as I want to send one to Mary Jane as soon as I can get it taken.

So I want you to write oftener and none of your half sheets for you cannot buy a half sheet without buying the other two so write all the news and let me have something to read. We are still a gaining ground on southern soil and backing the Rebels down. We get word that there was a general engagement going on now. We got this news last night so God speed the times when rebellion will be subdued and our poor prisoners set free for if anyone would see how prisoners look where there is no more than 1,000, they would like to hear the sound of freedom where there is sentinels to guard them with loaded guns and bayonets to pierce a man through if they say a sassy word to him and see them sick and dying and no one to cheer for them.

I will have to close by requesting you to write often. So goodbye. J. W. Hughey

A word to Mr. and Mrs. [John] Felker. I am in Illinois now and am enjoying good health—I think better than I ever did at this season of the year, I was weighed yesterday with just my dress coat on and weighed 139 lb—a half pound more than when I left Vinton. Then I had some 12 or 15 lb. more clothing on than now. Write to me and let me hear how you and the boys get along.