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1862-3: Garrett Vanderveer to Albert Vanderveer

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Capt. Garrett Vanderveer (Richard Ferry Collection)

These two letters were written by Capt. Garrett Vanderveer (1836-1864) of Co. A, 115th New York Infantry, to his brother, Albert Vanderveer (1841-1929), a physician serving as Surgeon in the 66th New York Regiment.

The first letter was written from Camp Tyler, in Chicago, Illinois, while the regiment was awaiting exchange after having been paroled when it was among the 12,000 men surrendered at Harpers Ferry, Va. on 15 September 1862. They remained there until 20 November 1862 (4 days after writing this letter), when they moved to Washington, D.C., and were exchanged at Annapolis, and then went to Hilton Head, South Carolina on 23 January 1863. The Regiment left for Florida on 5 February 1863 and occupied Jacksonville on February 7th. Part of Gen. Seymour’s ill-fated Florida expedition, they fought at the Battle of Olustee on 20 February 1864, where Capt. Vanderveer was mortally wounded while “gallantly cheering on his men.” He was shot in the thigh and through the right lung; he died of his wounds on 24 February 1864.

Garrett and Albert were the sons of Abram Harris Vanderveer (1804-1888) and Sarah Martin (1808-1864) Montgomery county, New York. Garrett was a coal merchant by occupation.


Camp in Horse Stables
November 16, 1862

My Brother,

Your neglected letter is about to be answered. I have got in the habit of neglecting answers to several who have addressed me within the last month, but hereafter, as the Washington dispatches say, a forward [movement] may confidently be expected; in plain English, I won’t do so any more. Ab (I will use that abbreviation in talking to you), I am well and tolerably well satisfied, have enough money to get home which I hope I shall be able to do about 4 weeks hence, enough to eat, a comfortable place to sleep, and my mind since the recovery of Maggie and the removal of McClellan is again becoming quiet, you may be one of Mac’s idolaters, but I am not. He has been tested by the only means which we have in this war, and that is results. They condemn, [and] so do I. It won’t make any difference; he may be called on again in less than a month to take his old position. I hope not, as I should then be discouraged. We have but few capable of taking the responsibilities connected with his recent position, and he certainly was not one. Good luck to Burnside and may the Press just leave him alone entirely until he has had a fair chance. I think J. C. Fremont will have more sympathy since the departure of McC., but enough of this.

How do you do? Have you plenty to eat, lots of money? Do they pay you regular and how much? We have not seen any paymaster yet, and none of the Line Officers have received their Commissions, so there is no chance for any monish of Uncle Samuel which is disagreeable. Money melts in camp here as if subjected to the flames of H–l, but we get along. I spend about as much as I earn and altogether there is not as wide a difference in the positions of Private & Capt. as I imagined.

I see by this morning’s paper that there has been an exchange of all prisoners except those taken at Harpers Ferry. What the Devil does it mean? If they mean to add still another insult by mustering us out, they will find recruiting uphill work in the 15th Senatorial District N.Y. Our prospect of going to New York for Winter Quarters was quite favorable at one time, but by some means has been squelched, and I think we shall be compelled to stay in Qrs. not fit for the slaves of our Southern Brethren, but we will obey. Our Governor and Thurlow Weed were to go to Washington this past week and make a last effort, which you will probably hear the result of before we do. I received a letter from Jane this week breathing love and solicitude for which I feel grateful. She has named her Boy after you which is right and proper as you will probably I trust and hope never do anything of which he need feel ashamed.

The sanitary condition of our men is not improving. We have not as many sick, but the Fevers assume a low malignant Typhoid type, which carries them off very fast, and what seems unaccountable to me, the strongest are the first to succumb. I never want to be sick in Hospital. Esther & some others sent us a box of clothing for the Hospital with which the Surgeon was very much pleased. 

Albert, answer this immediately if the Washington papers say Morgan’s mission is unsuccessful, and I will be pleased. 

Gar. Van Derveer


Beaufort, South Carolina
August 14th 1863

Dearly & Well Beloved,

I still live & am happy to inform you that your effusion of Aug. 1st has this moment been received & read with sincere feelings of pleasure, for several reasons, one that you are safe & sound in mind & limb, another that you have not forgotten the fact that you have a brother in South Carolina’s sultry clime. Only last night, I was complaining to the folks at home that Ab, Es, Pashe & Mart had entirely ignored me & I had come to the conclusion I had bored them a little too much in writing & asking them to do that same, but all that I said about you, my dear M. D., I solemnly renounce & hope that when this meets your eye & you have deciphered its meaning, you will figuratively—if not literally—lay down the scalpel & with pen, ink & a good stock of determination & paper, scribe for my benefit an account of your wanderings from Aug. 1st to date.

As for the One Hundred & Bully Fifteenth, it remains much the same as at last accounts, only a little more so. The Colonel is not discharged, nor will anything be done in the matter until Charleston’s doom is known, as all that can do anything in this Dept. are used in that place. The Board before which he was to have appeared, has been badly used; 2 of the number comprising a majority were wounded and have gone North, and General [Quincy Adams] Gillmore will probably not take much action with him until a more convenient season. Our Regt., on account of Commanding Officer, is stationed at this Post to do the necessary hospital work of the Army in the Field, & the Post Guard duty of the place. Not very honorary, but much safer than charging batteries on Morris Island. The Colonel Commanding has a great deal to answer for in regard to the status of this Regiment. I would say just what I think if I desired, but military law says I must not, & I will not even to you. Suffice between you & me that I have (in common with several others) no rights the Colonel considers himself bound to respect & as I am only a Captain, I am in a measure powerless, but thank God, if we both live, there will be a good time coming. I have given up all ideas of promotion while he is in command, but think I will not quit the service just yet, unless my health will not allow me so to do.

I have read with a great deal of pleasure (not wholly unmixed with regrets) of the doings of your gallant Army on the 1st days of July; all that this Rebellion required at that time was the annihilation of Lee’s Army & we should have seen the complete subjugation of the Confederate Government. Let us hope you may yet be able to accomplish, although I doubt if Meade ever gets the wary Lee in as tight a place as he had him at that time. You had very sharp work, I have no doubt, & were not as fresh as the Rebs, who had not travelled as fast or far.

I assure you, Albert, that Gillmore’s operations on Morris Island are not to be considered of slight moment, for he will, if my judgment does not woefully deceive, make the welkin ring ere long, louder than it did after either Gettysburg or Vicksburg. Strict orders are issued to permeate through all, officers, privates & civilians, not to write at present anything connected with the department—military, & of course we can hear but little, & that little under the order, we don’t feel as if we ought to say anything about, but this much I can say, that all are in the most hopeful mind of a successful termination of the expedition.

The Sanitary condition of the Regiment continues bad, & although we are not losing so many by death, we lose the services of a great many new ones all the time by fresh attacks & when a man gets down sick, he does not return to duty again; at least that is the experience of my Company. I have had, of a Co. of 76, 2 discharged, 4 sent North to be transferred—I suppose—if they are fit, to the Invalid Corps, 4 died of fever, 1 by accident, & at present date, 9 in General Hospital, not one of which will return, although some have been there over 2 months, & 9 marked Quarters by the Surgeon. There you have a fair example of our health. The most of the Co’s have lost more by death. A man that gets down very low here cannot possibly recover, & the Physicians, I am glad to learn, are shipping them North as fast as possible. I myself, although I am around and do duty every 2 or 3 days feeling very well most of the time, am confident I shall not attain health & strength until I am allowed to go home for a short time.

I don’t know whether this will go out in the Steamer or not, but whenever it does come, do me the favor to notice its arrival as soon as possible. Where was your Regt. raised, what is the material of Officers & men, & give me morning report of the condition &c. I had letters from loved ones 2 days ago with dates of 4th inst. All well & doing well. May they continue so to do likewise, the Doctor likewise.

— Gar [Garret]

1862: William Henry Shelton to Cousin Louise

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Sgt. William Henry Shelton (1840-1932), 1st New York Light Artillery

This letter was written by William Henry Shelton (1840-1932), the son of Joseph Carlos Shelton (1808-1878) and Mary Colt Taft (1811-1856). A biographical sketch for William reads, in part: “Born near Allen’s Hill in the town of West Bloomfield in Ontario County, New York, on September 4, 1840, William Henry Shelton had been raised on a farm. He received his early education in a one-room schoolhouse and had advanced to Canandaigua Academy with the intention of going on to college. However, with the outbreak of the Civil War and the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, he felt it was his patriotic duty to enlist and fight for the cause. He was mustered into service on November 5, 1861, as one of the original members of the 1st New York Light Artillery, Battery “L”—popularly known as Reynolds’ Battery (or the “Rochester Union Greys”).

“Many of the members of Reynolds’ Battery, including its commander, Captain John Alfred Reynolds, had previously belonged to the Rochester Union Grays, an artillery unit in the 54th Regiment of the state militia that had been around since 1850. One of ten young men from his town to serve in Reynolds’ Battery, Shelton entered as a private and was eventually promoted up the ranks to first sergeant. As a soldier in this unit, he experienced some of the hardest fighting of the war. His regiment was in action, or in reserve, at Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Mine Run.” [Finn & Pierce, Rochester History, Vol. 73, Fall 2011, No. 2]

At the end of William’s enlistment he returned to Rochester, New York, where he assisted as a recruiter. Not long after he re-enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant in Battery G of the 1st New York Light Artillery and entered the field just in time for the Battle of the Wilderness where he was wounded and taken prisoner. He spent the next nine months in Confederate prison camps before escaping back to Union lines. Nearly 25 years later, Shelton told the story of his capture, imprisonment and escape in an issue of the The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, complete with his own illustrations.

In this interesting letter, William informs his cousin, “Louise,” that he survived the Battle of Antietam but it was “by no means the warmest places we have been in.” He told her that for his Battery, the Thursday before the Saturday’s fight at Bull Run (at Brawner’s Farm), and the artillery duel along the Rappahannock (during the Battle of Fredericksburg), were more tedious than anything since.” He also refers to someone name George—possibly a friend or relative of Louise’s—whom I infer has been killed, but I have not yet been able to learn his identity. Neither have I been able to learn the identity of William’s cousin Louise whose initials were L. A. W.  William’s grandmother’s maiden name was Welton so that may provide a clue to her name.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]


Near Sharpsburg, Maryland
Sunday Eve, October 19th 1862

Cousin Louise,

You have an amazing odd way of writing your letters at easy stages. One would think that either you bought your note paper already dated and some more or that your confidential clerk indicted your epistles and you signed them with a sort of explanation by way of certificate. Really this is getting to be a serious affair, and I am not yet advised whether to be offended with the fickleness of your pen or ticked with two fold attention. I am sure that an earnest opinion in either extreme would be offensive to a young lady of good sense, so I will continue to halt at a respectful distance between the two. There, the writer has flattered us both—you in taste and me in discretion—and the flattery sits well upon you but I have belied all my discretion in commencing an essay when I meant only a letter.

So far I have approached is so distant a style that I am at a loss how to become immediately familiar. Now to obviate any necessity of drawing in skirts or edging off chairs (figuration), just imagine that your father has been saying a few words of soberness and is interrupted by John or Bill or Dick or some other light personage.

(Enter Bill Loqueter)—–I have lived so long—so much—so fast, since I wrote you that I am discouraged the moment I attempt to think or write of details. A minute account of anything is out of the question and to say anything about Antietam would be either to emulate the skill of the Tribune correspondent, or to attempt to magnify an affair, which I warrant is already of ten times greater magnitude to you than to me. You look on from a distance and old associates get no jar—I see the more paltry details and what I have been taught to look at as a wonderful thing—a great battle—seems after all a very tame thing and only great in the estimation of those, who, in person, know nothing about it.

Although, once, I would have looked upon a person coming through such a battle as the late fight here, as a rarity, I am certain that I did only the commonest things. I slept on the ground, the easiest thing in the world to do, and got up early in the morning and went to firing guns—no great feat—and because there were fifty thousand more doing the same thing, making a great clatter, people seem inclined to give each the credit for what only all accomplished—something wonderful. Battles like all other great things are only a great mass of simples.

Still I moralize—I can’t help it tonight. And in fact, my arguments branch off in so many different directions that I am in as deep despair as the mariner who failed to discover the source of the rivulet because he couldn’t sail up all its branches at the same voyage. Hadn’t I better let this lofty style of mine go to wreck now, while I am in the nautical line, and write something to you instead of so much to myself. Think I had!

I received your letter two days ago and don’t intend to apologize for delay in answering. I thought it was about time as I was a sorting the mail and lo! you’re scrip. I am not a General’s clerk as George used to be but only a Captain’s and that is how I came to be a sorting mail. Capt. [John A.] R[eynolds] is Chief of Artillery in General Doubleday’s Division and I have been with him for a couple weeks. Plenty of writing, but very quiet and withal a most agreeable change. We get orders every day or two to be ready to march at short notice—have had such orders today—with cooked rations—in the direction of Bakersville—but that is all it amounts to and we still linger from day to day at Sharpsburg. All the time under marching orders, all the time looking the enemy in the face—well, all the time lying still. All is strange.

The battle on the 17th was strange. Quiet on the 18th was odd and inactive ever since seems absolutely queer. ¹ We are done paying attention to marching orders. Still, I don’t anticipate wintering in Maryland. We are going to leave old Sharpsburg soon and this country disported of every green thing as by an army of locusts. I don’t care how soon—a soldier dislikes to stay long in a place.

I am glad to hear that George has left a diary. I hope to see it some day. I think his tent mate, the Post Master, has his belt. Sgt. [Charles] DeMott of our company says he has it, and that George left it with him with instructions to keep it until he called for it. If I come across him again, I will try and get it. I wish I had known it before, for I have been twice to Gen. [George Sears] Greene‘s Headquarters ² since we were here and he at Harper’s Ferry. That Post Master is the most loquaceous fellow you ever saw. You would be first disgusted with his use of large words and next amazed at his handling of them.

We have had no state fair nor equinochtial here.

I presume Sam saw Fred but if Fred saw Sam he would take no trouble to make himself known—that is his way. I didn’t know for certain that he had enlisted until I found him at Washington. I was a ragged uncombed object the morning after we had returned from our Shenandoah Campaign ’round by way of Rappahannnock & Bull Run, when I met him and you ought to have seen him stare. He acted sensibly however and gave me some good clothes. Nothing is hardship after it is past and the fact that we used to sleep on the ground in wet jackets, go all day with powder-begrimed hands & faces, and pick up bits of bacon in the grass & forthwith pay au devours to the same, is quite funny to remember but so fine to think of in the future.

Here and at Bull Run were by no means the warmest places we have been in. The Thursday [Battle of Brawner’s Farm, August 28th] before the Saturday’s fight at Bull Run, and the artillery duel along the Rappahannock, were more tedious than anything since. I had much rather be in a good battle than dodge the shells of an artillery duel by the hour where the whole responsibility rests on the battery and only two ways lead out of a bad job—to silence the opposing battery or to give up. I feel for the Generals in their weight of responsibility. The war looks bad, don’t it. I feel more certainly of serving the full term of my enlistment than I ever did before.

Ohh!! how our newspapers do lie. Bad as the rebel editors are, ours are not one whit better. They are [  ] obstinate—perverse—you can’t believe what your own eyes have seen.

Commend me to Sam and my other friends and give me another of your letters as soon as it seemest good so to do.

Also toss this letter into the flames or send it to the “Scientific American” for I think it would shine-blaze in either place.

That tie remains uncut. Very respectfully your cousin, — Wm. Henry Shelton

To Miss L. A. W.

¹ For a good description of Capt. John A.Reynolds and the role of his Battery at Antietam, see Reynolds and his battery at Antietam.

² Brigadier General George S. Green’s 2nd Division of Mansfield’s XII Corps had several three New York Infantry regiments (60th, 78th, and 102nd) and one artillery regiment (1st N. Y. Light, Battery M). The only unit recruiting from the vicinity of Rochester, New York was Battery M which is the unit I assume George served in. The Battery was known to be in the Harpers Valley vicinity immediately following the Battle of Antietam.

1864: George Wilson Huntington to John Arnold Rockwell

This letter was written by George Wilson Huntington (1839-1918), the son of Dan Huntington (1804-1879) and Emily Wilson (1817-1871) of Norwich, New London county, Connecticut. George was appointed Acting Assistant Paymaster on 30 October 1863 and served honorably in the US Navy until 22 November 1865. We learn from this letter that he was assigned to the crew of the USS Ottawa in 1863/64 as part of the South Atlantic Squadron.

George wrote the letter to his friend, John Arnold Rockwell, Jr. (1840-1924), the son of John Arnold Rockwell, Sr. (1803-1861) and Mary Watkinson Perkins (1804-1887) of Norwich, Connecticut. John’s brother, Capt. Alfred P. Rockwell (1834-1903)—in command of the 1st Connecticut Battery—is mentioned in the letter.

See also—1836: Mary Watkinson (Perkins) Rockwell to John Arnold Rockwell

USS Ottawa


U. S. S. Ottawa
Palatka, Florida
March 31st 1864

My dear friend, John A. Rockwell, [Norwich, CT]

I have often thought of you since leaving home and wished that I might know something of your whereabouts & doings. I was intending to see you at the steamer that your brother took for Port Royal but very unexpectedly my time was so limited that it was impossible for me to do so. I was very sorry not to have time enough for this and other leave takings, but commenced gaining in the matter of health so soon after I got to sea that it was perhaps best for me to hurry off as I did. Considered as a sanitary measure alone, I have been amply repaid for all the trouble (& that was not much) that it cost me to obtain the appointment and has in a good measure compensated me for being away from those I love most.

The past winter has to me been a very short and pleasant one. We sent the most of it in a very quiet way at the mouth of this river (the St. Johns). The only excitement we had being the monthly arrival of the supply steamer that brought & took our mail &c. It was rather a long time to be without letters from home, but we became accustomed to it after awhile and appreciated them all the more when they did come. Our bodily wants were well supplied. The ocean, the river, and the adjacent plantations furnished our table with everything we could wish, plenty of good books to read, opportunities for boating, walking on shore, attendant & with good company, time went by very rapidly. We were mostly dependent on the officers of our own & another naval vessel for company & managed to live quite agreeably.

Just as we began to think it was getting a little monotonous, we were surprised by the arrival of quite a formidable expedition under General Seymour which was designed to occupy and hold this part of Florida. In company with the expedition, we started up the river to Jacksonville 25 miles from its mouth. The place was occupied by our forces with but little attempt at opposition and made a base of operations for a movement inland.

The first advance of our forces into the interior was as you know disastrous [see Battle of Olustee], but our army is now reinforced in excellent condition & from their appearance you would never think they had met with a repulse. We were stationed off Jacksonville for three or four weeks enjoying the change from the quiet of a lonely blockade  to the center of active military operations. It was a luxury at first to get letters from home once a week that we appreciated I assure you, but I forgot that I am writing to you, who have been a much longer time without letters from home. I enclose you a letter I wrote while away a spare hour which will enable you to form an idea of what our life was at the mouth of the river. Our life now is nearly the other extreme—expeditions, skirmishes, reconnaissances up and down the river make our life sufficiently exciting to suit most anyone.

Where we are now is a good sized village 100 miles from the mouth of the river and 75 from Jacksonville. It was occupied by our forces to the number of about 4,000 three weeks since. We came here to support them, which we have done pretty effectually during two attacks made by the rebels on our forces here. After a half hour’s firing of our 200 pound shells, the “rebs” have each time had pressing business elsewhere and gave up the attack. General Gillmore was here yesterday looking after matters. The place is well fortified and we think we can hold the place against any force the “rebs” are likely to bring against us. Florida is the great cattle pen of the Confederacy, hence their efforts to prevent our getting possession & cutting off their supplies.

The weather here is still very pleasant—the grass and trees have on their newest, brightest green, and a walk on shore is a rich treat in almost any direction. Many fine old mansions are hid away among the orange groves. Flowers, parks, & gardens are abundant & beautiful. The plantations about here furnish us with fresh milk, eggs, chickens, &c. & we find some quite intelligent young ladies upon them. The greater part of the educated people that formerly resided here have moved away either into the interior or to the north. Most of those who remain are the so-called “poor white trash” and it is pleasant to meet as we do here some who though not quite up to our standard are never the less somewhat cultivated & lady like. They have evidently attended good common schools, are rather good looking, and will do something towards making our stay here agreeable. Like most of their class in Florida, they are of Spanish origin and speak our mother tongue with a peculiar brogue that I think quite agreeable to the ear. Being Catholics and inclined to be secesh in their sympathies, they do not attend our church services on the Sabbath where we have preaching by Army Chaplains.

We shall probably remain here for the present and if the weather don’t get too warm, we shall we think find it an agreeable station. Steamers come up from Jacksonville every day or two and we have our mails about as often as they do at Port Royal, with which place Jacksonville is in constant communication. Since the expedition came to Florida, I have been expecting to see your brother Alfred & his battery but he has not yet made his appearance. Almost all the other batteries in Gillmore’s department are here. We have no Connecticut troops here but the 7th, Colonel Hawley’s Regiment. But then some must remain about Port Royal & Charleston.

I was rather hoping though that Alfred might happen to be ordered down here, It would be so pleasant to see a home face occasionally. I have Amos Alker with me as my clerk. Like me, he has gained much in flesh, is good-spirited and makes a reliable assistant. We have a good hip that achieved a reputation for splendid firing off Charleston last summer. We think it likely if another attack is made there this summer that we shall be engaged in it. But I have written quite enough to weary you. I should be much pleased to hear where you are & what you are doing. If you have nothing better …say you entering the Navy. Your experience qualifies you for an Ensign appointment which I have no doubt you could get. I hope you can find time to write your old friend. He would be glad to hear from you. Direct to G. W. Huntington, Paymaster, USS Ottawa, South Atlantic Squadron

Very truly your friend, — G. W. H.

Via Norwich


1864-65: Union Artillerist to his family

These two unsigned letters were likely written by an artillerist serving in John W. Geary’s “White Star” (2nd) Division of Joe Hooker’s XX Corps. The first letter was written in mid-July 1864 after nearly two weeks of rest at the Chattahoochie river, only a few miles from Atlanta. The author describes a series of battles in which his battery was engaged during the latter half of June. Geary’s division only had two batteries attached to it at the time; these were the 13th New York Light Artillery (“Wheeler’s Battery”), and Independent Battery E, Pennsylvania Light Artillery (“Knap’s Battery” though Joseph M. Knap was no longer in command of it). Geary was quite close to the latter battery, having assisted in its formation, and having had a son who served as a lieutenant in it until he was killed earlier in the war.

A review of after actions reports suggests that the engagement described at some length in this letter was the Battle of Cheatham Hill that occurred on Monday, June 27, 1864 and that it involved Battery E, Pennsylvania Light Artillery. Based on this letter, my hunch is that the author was a driver in the Battery rather than a member of the gun crew.

The second letter was written from Goldsboro, North Carolina, in late March 1865. It contains an envelope but yields no help in narrowing down the author’s identity except to suggest that he might have been from Lowellville, Ohio—just a few miles from western Pennsylvania. I have conjectured that these two letters were written by the same author by comparative handwriting analysis and from circumstances suggesting they both served in Battery E.


Chattahoochie [River, Georgia]
July 15, 1864

Well, as I received a letter from home this morning and as I have a little time, I will write you a few lines and let you know I received the paper & stamps. I was glad to get them for I was clear out of both. We are now in camp at the Chattahoochie River 7 miles from Atlanta. We stopped here for the purpose of recruiting both troops & horses which were both wore out. We have been here near two weeks & both the men and horses look better than they did when we come here.

It is uncertain how long we will stay here as I see the pontoon train coming up. I do not know know whether the intention is to cross now or not but I do know there will be hard fighting before we cross the river. We can stand on the bank of the river and count 47 large forts on the other side of the river & a great many of them have large size siege guns in them & round about. Their breastworks there is the place to see infantry. The fields are fairly gray with them. ¹

Well since I wrote to you last, we were in two more battles—one was Pine Mountain and the other was Kennesaw Mountain. They were the two hottest places we have been in yet. General Geary told our captain that it was a miracle that the half of us ever got out alive. The Rebs lay quiet and the Chief of Artillery told us to limber up and go out of the breastworks. We did it & as soon as we got out, two regiments of sharpshooters and 3 batteries opened on us before we got back in positions and they did everlastingly send in the shot & shells. We had nearly all our horses killed and had one wheel shot off our gun. There was a 20-pound Parrott shell went through the lead team of our gun [that] killed both horses and went on through and killed 3 men in the regiment that supported our battery.

We had not one man killed but there was some narrow escapes. Some had holes of bullets in their caps and some had large pieces tore out of their pants and blouses with pieces of shell and then another time when the rebs charged our first division, we give them all the shell they cared about. We threw 11 hundred shell. And at Pine Mountain we threw some 15 hundred and sixty, and at Kennesaw we threw 18 hundred and 97, besides many rounds of grape and canister. Each one of these shots weighs 10 lbs. so you may know we are throwing a few pounds of metal.

I helped one day to bury 8 hundred of their dead, being principally all killed with shell—some of them so badly cut up we could hardly tell they were men.

[Rest of letter missing or simply unsigned]

¹ The extensive array of defensive fortifications are what historians have come to call “Johnston’s River Line,” or “The Chattahoochie River Line.” While no significant battles took place along the River Line, it remains one of the most impressive defensive fortifications ever constructed. Remain of this line are spread across a six to seven mile stretch along the northwest side of the Chattahoochee River from a point just north of where Nickajack Creek joins the Chattahoochee in Mableton to north of S. Atlanta Road in Smyrna/Vinings. Construction of the Chattahoochee River Line started on June 19 and took about two weeks requiring a labor force of both convalescing soldiers from nearby hospitals and over one thousand impressed slaves. While some trenches existed near the state railroad bridge that could be expanded and lengthened, most of the line would be built from scratch. Shoup’s design consisted of a series of arrowhead-shaped infantry forts—36 in total were built—spaced sixty to 175 yards apart and connected by trenches broken every thirty to 75 yards by artillery redans that would house two artillery pieces. Each fort consisted of an earthen foundation with log walls or parapets extending fourteen to twenty feet high depending on the terrain. Interior earthen walls would stop short of the log exterior walls forming a platform on which infantrymen could fire over top the fort. At the rear or base of the fort and behind the line would be an entrance or sally port. From above, the line would look like a saw blade with the trenches connecting the forts receding at a backward angle to each redan and then at a forward angle to the next fort creating what Shoup called a re-entrant. Along the front of the trenches would be walls or palisades made of stockades.


Addressed to H. Rickward, Esq., Lowellville, Mahoning county, Ohio

Goldsboro, North Carolina near the Neuse [River]
March 28th 1865

Dear ones at home,

After a long and active campaign we have once more come to a base of communication. The campaign just ended was one long to be remembered by the army under Sherman. Only those who have gone through it can form any idea of it. We were for two months without hearing a word from the North except now and then through the Rebel papers and during that length of time, we drew only six days of government rations—the rest of the time having to depend entirely upon the country, many parts of it being poor [and] not being even able to produce more than would feed the few scattered inhabitants, let alone the great army under Sherman. You can know that we were hard up at times—sometimes not even parched corn—and at the same time rains and mud up to our knees and still raining. You can form some idea of how we felt. And for miles along the road was stuck full of mules and wagons swamped. These kind of roads and times lasted for near two weeks after crossing the pontoon bridge at Sister’s Ferry into this Godforsaken region of South Carolina.

We then struck on better roads and in a better country. We at length come to Columbia, the capitol of the state which we entirely destroyed, and from that place on to where we are now, we have fine times and plenty to eat. We got plenty of flour and meal and we wasted more smoked ham that we eat. On the Savannah Campaign, we considered ourselves lucky to get plenty of fresh pork to kill but on this march we got plenty of it in the smoke houses all ready.

We had some sharp fighting in places on the march. We lost 13 men in our Battery in wounded and prisoners. Old Billy Sherman is in full command of both armies—that is, his own and Beauregard’s. He leads his own men and drives the other.

We are now in camp with the assurance of the Chief of Artillery that we will remain until the first of May and it will take at least that long to reorganize the army. I think our next campaign will end in Richmond—that is, if the Rebels do not evacuate it and if they do, it is hard to tell where we will go. For my part, I don’t care where we go, We can show Old Lee a trick or two he never knew. This is now an awful strong army. We have been reenforced by three Corps—the 23rd, 24th, and the 25th commanded by Terry and Scofield. The 76th Pennsylvania is here and I seen lots of New Castle [Pennsylvania] boys in it that I knew and I seen George Burris in the 177th Ohio in the 23rd Corps.

Well, as I received 8 letters last evening and have to answer, I will close. Direct the same as before and it will come.

1862: Samuel F. Kern to Friend

This letter, written to a “dear friend,” was signed by Samuel F. Kern but no envelope survives to assist us in further determining his identity. He has datelined the letter from  “Leavenworth” (but does not include the state) where he claims his business had “suffered greatly” during his absence. From the content of the letter, I’m inclined to believe the author was raised in Virginia but prior to the war had relocated to Ohio or Indiana. There is, indeed, a Leavenworth, Indiana, on the Ohio river not far from Louisville. There was a Samuel Kern (1775-1857) and his wife Susanna Crabill (1782-1856) who lived in Strasburg, Virginia; perhaps this couple were his kin. In any event, Kernstown, Virginia, was named after this family.

In his letter, Samuel describes a visit to his friend, Savage W. Ficklin of Charlottesville, Virginia. Savage and his brother, Benjamin F. Ficklin, were engaged in the stage business on the western plains and Benjamin with the Pony Express.

Despite a confirmation of the author’s identity, the letter provides a great summary of the status of affairs in Virginia one year into the Civil War, observed while the author was trapped behind enemy lines.


April 21, 1862

My dear friend,

I have delayed writing for a few days owing to some pressing engagements but I now resume to finish up my story.

While in Virginia, I spent the winter at Charlottesville with my friend, S[laughter] W. Ficklin, ¹ part in the Valley at Winchester & Woodstock; several weeks in Richmond, a visit to Norfolk & Yorktown, Manassas, & Fredericksburg. So you see I had full liberty to go where I pleased but always had a pass.

While in Richmond, I did not see or hear of James Pleasants. I thought of him but presuming he was in the army, I did not know where to find him. I did not meet with any of the Cochrans of Charlottesville nor do I recollect of hearing of them. But Mr. [John Brown] Baldwin of Staunton is a member of the Confederate Congress. All the Harmons are in the army as colonels or captains. The Massie’s of Nelson I did not see or hear from. Mr. Callaghan’s family a few weeks after I left them last July fell into the hands of the Federal army.

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Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of War for the Confederacy until March 1862; then Secretary of State.

The reason I stayed so long in Virginia was the fact that I could not get a pass and I was unwilling to attempt to run the blockade fearing I might be arrested or might possibly compromise some of my friends. I made every effort together with my friends to obtain a pass to leave the Confederacy but failed. The only reasons assigned were that their orders were to grant no papers to anyone. At length I went to Secretary [Judah P.] Benjamin. He refused except in an extraordinary case, and would not regard my case as such, I called upon Secretary Benjamin a few days after the capture of Roanoke Island but they had suspected the practice of sending by flag of truce some weeks before. About that time I met with several ladies from Baltimore who were refused by the Secretary permission to go by flag of truce. I wrote frequently to my family & sent via Norfolk & Fortress Monroe—always open and a Confederate & US stamp—but I presume the reason why they did not reach my family. I was not aware that the Government had repudiated their old stamps. I am confident they passed the Confederate lines, but not having the new stamp, they received no attention.

The Confederate soldiers are generally warm and comfortably clad. It is true that clothing of all kinds are high. I paid $30 for an over coat such as I could buy in Cincinnati for I presume $12. I paid $12 for a pair of Northern boots worth about $5. Hat $7½ worth $3, shirts $4 apiece. I saw them selling calico at 45 & 55 cents a yard worth 12 & 15. Flour 7½, corn 60 cents, coffee 1 to 1.25, tea $5 and 6.  After the Fall of [Fort] Donaldson, sugar & molasses $1.60, pepper 1.25, quinine & morphine $25 oz.

All northern or foreign goods [were] scarce & high. I heard of a gentleman selling his bacon at 27 cents. The article of salt when I was in Richmond was selling at $12 a bushel. I saw no specie—nothing but Confederate money & shin plasters. The Confederate money was current & taken for any & everything. Shin plasters taken in their special localities. In Richmond, northern & even Wheeling money would bring a premium of 10 percent. This was owing to the fact that some men were engaged smuggling goods from Baltimore & nothing but northern money would answer their purpose. Gold would bring 40 & 50 percent premium.

Arms were scarce but what I saw seemed to be good. Last summer I saw a good many flintlock muskets but after they got their armory at work in Richmond, they were changed into percussion locks. I never heard that their powder was inferior. I learned while in Richmond that a gentleman had run the blockade from Baltimore with 500 lbs. percussion powder for which he got $3 a lb., and a lot of gold lace making $3,000 on his cargo.

While at Norfolk, I saw the Merrimac but at that time it was said to be a failure, and I so thought, although a number of hands were at work, & concluded it would only be used in defense of Norfolk, not thinking for a moment such a monster could float.

The USS Merrimack being reconstructed as a casement ironclad at the Gosport Navy Yard (later named Norfolk Navy Yard). She was renamed the CSS Virginia but most people still referred to her as the “Merrimac.”

As to what our papers and letter writers say about the Union men in Virginia, I don’t believe a word of it, or at least I did not find many. I saw some who deprecated this war, and would have preferred peace, possibly a few unconditional Union men.

In Greenbrier county, there was rather an unwillingness to respond to the draft, and a great deal of complaint that their young men had been taken to other states and the army withdrawn from western Virginia, leaving them to the mercy of the enemy. No man would be tolerated who would be so rash as to denounce the rebellion, and many were arrested and sent to Richmond charged as being Union men, but as a general thing, were soon released. No doubt excesses have been committed by Federal & Confederate troops, but I am happy in the belief that it has not been done by the consent of officers, unless there may be a few exceptions. From Meadow Bluff, Greenbrier, to Gauley Bridge, but very few houses are standing and but little fencing. Both armies are charged with the destruction of the property.

When I left Virginia, I felt that the war would be longer than our Federal papers were disposed to think. The reverses of the Confederate army only seemed to me to have aroused the people of the South until the late reverses (I mean up to the fall of Donaldson), the people hardly realized the fact that they were in war. Always believing they would whip the Yankees whenever they could draw them into a fight.

I determined to live & die in Dixie unless I could leave honorably. My friend General [Henry] Heath & Colonel [William Wood] Finney ² were placed in command at Lewisburg so soon as I learned this fact, I returned to western Virginia and without any trouble was given a pass and escort through the Confederate lines. I did not call to see Mr. Canlanghan family but struck a bee line home. I was sick & felt threatened with pneumonia.

If I have failed to answer any question, please let me know. I will write sometime again. Write soon. Your friend, — Sam F. Kern

My business has suffered greatly in my absence. Many advantages were taken and by some was charged as being in the Rebel army as [  ]. Many are disappointed at my return & I expect to make some report.

Around Manassas for miles, nothing but fortification & entrenchments. Hardly a house standing. McClellan will have a hard time to rout the Confederates at Yorktown. They were well fortified.

Doct. [Robert F.] Baldwin of Winchester, ³ Uncle to Col. John B. Baldwin is, I presume, still a prisoner at Columbus, Ohio. He was taken at Romney, Va., by Gen. Sanders. I was told  had six miles square at Columbus on parole.

¹ Slaughter W. Ficklin (1816-1886) was the son of Benjamin Ficklin (1790-1864) and Eleanor Slaughter (1793-1857) of Albemarle county, Virginia. Slaughter bought the John Winn estate in Charlottesville at auction in 1847 where he imported and raised the first American Percheron horses. Slaughter was a partner with his younger brother, Benjamin (“Ben”) Franklin Ficklin (1827-1871) in Farish, Ficklin & Co., a stagecoach enterprise that also delivered the US mail. Ben is sometimes credited by some as the originator of the Pony Express concept. 

² Col. William Wood Finney (1829-1910) commanded an ad hoc regiment under Gen. Henry Heth at the Battle of Lewisburg where he was captured on 26 May 1862.

³ Dr. Robert F. Baldwin was a prominent physician in Winchester until 1861 when he became Colonel of the 31st Virginia Regiment attached to “Stonewall” Jackson’s brigade. He was captured at the Battle of Romney in 1862 and was confined as a prisoner of war at Camp Chase. After his exchange, he served as surgeon until the close of the war. 


1862: James B. Henderson to Sarah Louraney (Henderson) Anderson

This letter was written by James B. Henderson (1829-1898), the son of Mastin Lee Henderson (1802-1875) and Elizabeth Brock (1806-1842) of Laurens county, South Carolina. James enlisted in 1861 at the age of 32 in Co. D, 10th Alabama Infantry. He died in 1898 and is buried in Ragland, St. Clair county, Alabama.

James wrote the letter to his cousin, Sarah Louraney (Henderson) Anderson (1826-1890), the daughter of William F. Henderson (1794-1876) and Eleanor Boyd (1796-1878) of Laurens county, South Carolina.

Sarah was married on 15 October 1850 to John W. Anderson (1830-1862), the son of James Anderson (17xx-1856) and Frances (“Fannie”) Waits (1795-1865) of Laurens county, South Carolina. In 1860, John and Sarah (Henderson) Anderson were residing in Laurens county where John earned his living as a farmer. Although I cannot find his regiment, John Anderson must have enlisted in a South Carolina regiment—possibly the 14th Infantry.

We can conjecture from the letter that Sarah’s husband died near the end of January 1861 and that James Henderson, writing from Richmond, Virginia, had just made arrangements to have Sarah’s husband’s body disinterred and returned to her in Laurens county, South Carolina, by another cousin named Wade Hampton Pinson (1837-1917), also of Laurens county. Wade was the son of Gabriel Penson (1812-1890) and Lucinda Henderson (1812-1892). Wade enlisted as a sergeant but rose in rank to 2nd Lieutenant in Co. C, 14th South Carolina Infantry.

I find several references in family records to Sarah’s husband being a lieutenant but there is no indication of his regiment and there seems to be a great deal of discrepancy in the date of his death in 1862. I have searched extensively (on-line) for evidence of Lt. Anderson’s burial in Laurens county but have not found the grave site.


3rd Alabama Hospital
Richmond, [Virginia]
February 12th 1862

My Very Dear Cousin Sarah,

I received a few lines from you per William Anderson. Was glad to hear from you. My cousin, I have attended to your request & send by the special favor of Lieutenant W[ade] H. Pinson, our cousin—the remains of your deceased husband.

A metallic case would have cost 180 dollars, a zinc case $150, but I had his remains disinfected for $25, paid $10 for a new box, $5 for disinterring, $5 for hearse & $5 for other incidental expenses amounting in all to $50. I have done for you as I would have done for myself & hope you will be satisfied.

The check which you sent back to me by [your brother] Ludy ¹ I collected so you see that it will pay all actual expenses. I had his grave beautifully turfed over two weeks since not knowing that you would have him removed. I only paid $2 for it but that & all my trouble I cheerfully, willingly, and gladly give for the comfort of my dear, disconsolate cousin & would that I could do ten times as much.

I have not as yet been able to get his account or claim audited from the fact that I, notwithstanding all my efforts, have been unable to obtain any information in regard to John’s last payment, &c. &c. I will persevere until I have it all right.

I send John’s sword by Cousin Wade. There is no certainty of Andy’s getting a furlough. Hence, I have gotten Wade to bring John’s remains &c.  I will state & request you to inform your Pa & Ma that I have recently heard from [your brother] Austin. ² I last week saw a mutual friend of ours from California. He left San Francisco last November & arrived here last week. It was Dr. [William Randolph] Hill—a brother of General D[aniel H[arvey] Hill & a gentleman of intelligence & honor. He said that Austin was quite well & talked strongly of coming home with him but did not. I wish he had. The Dr. says that he tried hard to get Austin to come but Austin was fearful that he could not get through.

My love to Cousin Lou, to your Pa & Ma, & all the rest of my dear relations & kind friends. Tell them all to write & please do the same yourself. You must not think of such a thing as opening John’s coffin as it will not do.

Your cousin, — J. B. Henderson

¹ Ludy (or Leudy) M. Henderson was Sarah’s younger brother (1839-1906). 

² William “Austin” Henderson (1829-1908) was another of Sarah’s younger brothers.

³ Cousin “Lou” was Lucinda Henderson (b. 1833) and a younger sister of Sarah’s.

1840: David Beaver to Daniel Hunter Beaver

This stampless 1840 letter comes from the personal collection of Jean MacCallum who asked me to transcribe it and—if possible—to identify the author. The letter is complete but the signature of the author has been excised from the letter.

I believe the letter was written by David Bieber (Americanized to “Beaver”) who was born in 1817 in Chester county, Pennsylvania. He wrote the letter from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania where he had just returned from his summer vacation before entering his Senior year of college. Just before vacation, at the school’s Junior Exhibition, David had delivered a speech on 22 September 1840 entitled, A Reformation of Public Sentiment Requisite to Civil Liberty.”

David addressed the letter to his brother, Daniel Hunter Beaver (1819-1884), who resided in Paoli, Chester county, PA, where he eventually came to practice medicine. David also mentions a younger brother named Samuel Bieber (1833-1851). It is difficult to trace the family connections because of the surname spelling variations and the number of individuals of that name living in Chester and Berks counties at the time.

I was able to learn that David Beaver never completed his senior year of college, however. The school catalogue states that David “died at college just before graduation on June 9, 1841, aged 24.” Nothing further was stated though it is assumed he died of an illness. His death so moved the members of the Franklin Literary Society to which he belonged that they erected a monument to his memory at the First Presbyterian Church in Easton.

The content centers primarily on the naming of a child, possibly a daughter of Daniel’s.

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Addressed to Mr. Daniel H. Beaver, Paoli, Chester county, Pennsylvania

Lafayette College
November 4th 1840

Esteemed Brother,

At an early period, I take it upon me to redeem my promise of writing to you and let you know how I have journeyed thus far. At the stated time I left the city & after a pleasant ride, I safely arrived at the far-famed borough of Easton [Pennsylvania] and am now happy to inform you that I am comfortably situated and pursuing my studies. I found everything here in order & at present all are well & we have hopes of a pleasant winter—independent of who shall be President [of the United States], which at this moment thousands are anxious to know, for as the news of this state has arrived here both parties claim the majority—so highly are they excited. ¹ But as this is a digression, I will drop it.

Brother Samuel returned to the city the day before I left & among other things, told me that you and Mellon had made havoc among the rabbits, and since that I have ceased to boast of what I had done.

I write at this time perhaps a little sooner than I would ordinarily have done, & under circumstances which Hannah has placed me under of naming a young immortal & which I partly engaged to do. if such a name would be agreeable. And if the name or names I send you are not such as you like, I trust you will not consider yourselves bound to keep it.

The first I shall notice & one which to my ear seems to sound both new & pleasant. I found yesterday as I was reading Ossian’s Poems, & which with the addition of some other name may be made quite harmonious, it is Alona, which if it is preceded by Ann or Louisa, I think will be something new, as: Ann Alona, Louisa Alona, or any other name you chose to put to it (such as) Mary, Hannah, Jane, &c., I think will make a very handsome name!

The meaning of the word Alona take my eye. It is a lady’s name & means also, “exquisitely beautiful.” If this is not new to Hannah or if she does not approve of it, I will be perfectly satisfied if she take some other. I found it in a work which is not read by one in 10,000 & therefore think it is not common.

I will give you one or two more. Cecelia, Selina, Darthula, Frances, Aluine, &c. &c.

What name soever you give your daughter, when you write again, I wish you will state it, &c. &c.

I have little else to say except that the late rains raised the waters here and by means of the new dam which is building at the mouth of the Lehigh, the water was turned toward a large stone storehouse, which was undermined and entirely washed away & the water washed across the street about 20 or 30 feet deep so that those living in the houses there removed all their furniture expecting that the houses would go, but the waters have fallen & the houses still stand.

Excuse this hasty communication and write soon. Give my love to all. I am truly yours, &c.  [signature excised]

[to] Mr. D. H. Beaver

¹ As late as November 6, 1840, newspapers could not yet project a winner of the Presidential election. The Pennsylvanian published tentative results but warned its readers that the results were based on “letters from our friends in different counties…ad from other sources,” adding that “it is to be regretted that these returns have been in many cases proved inaccurate. They projected Van Buren but we know that William Henry Harrison was ultimately declared the winner.


1844: Benjamin Edward Messer to Augustus Fifield Holt

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Benjamin Edward Messer in later years, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

This letter from the personal collection of Jean MacCallum was written by 32 year-old Benjamin “Edward” Messer (1812-1895), a native of Hollis, New Hampshire, who was married in August 1840 to Mary Burt Holt (1822-1892)—the younger sister of Augustus (“Gus”) Fifield Holt (1816-1887) to whom the letter was addressed. The couple’s youngest child, Edward “Clarence” Messer is mentioned in this letter, recovering from whooping cough. Also mentioned is Elizabeth Holt (1825-1894) who was Gus and Mary’s sister, a teacher in Elmira, New York. Elizabeth married William Dean Babbitt (1824-1888) in 1849.

Edward Messer was a music teacher but his passion for music was apparently rivaled only by his Anti-slavery sentiments.

From Edward’s letter we learn that he was a recent arrival in Auburn, New York, where he announced in the Auburn Journal and Advertiser (October 1844) that he was prepared to “take charge of a few classes” in Vocal Music during the fall and winter. His advertisement informs us that he intended to use the “Pestalozzian System” of teaching which the dictionary tells us was “a whole-child approach that emphasized the development of all aspects of a person, including the head, heart, and hands.”  This method was taught by Professors Mason and Webb of the Boston Academy where Edward may have been a student.

Edward’s arrival in Auburn happened to coincide with the Presidential election of 1844 and a portion of his letter is devoted to a description of the campaigning by the Whigs and the Democrats which he found to be despicable and debased. Like others in his family, Edward was an unabashed abolitionist and strongly supported the Liberty Party candidate James Birney who was only able to garner 62,000 votes out of the 2.5 million votes cast—a small number but, sadly for Clay, probably enough to cause his defeat since he lost the election by only 38,000 votes. After 1844, those who supported the Liberty Party evolved into members of the Free-Soil Party and eventually the new Republican Party.

While he lived in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Edward worked in tandem with his brother-in-law Augustus Holt to advance the anti-slavery cause and to participate in the Underground Railroad.

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Advertisement placed by B. E. Messer in the Auburn Journal & Advertiser published on 30 October 1844

Addressed to Mr. A. F. Holt, Elmira, Chemung Co., New York

Auburn [New York]
October 12th 1844

Gus Holt,

Butter your boots. What is the reason I do not hear from you? Every day for a week past I have been to the [post] office expecting a letter from you. It does not come and my patience is quite exhausted. I do not know whether our goods are on the way here or whether you conclude not to send them or whether the Sheriff has got them or what not. Do for consciences sake, if you have any, write something [even] if it is nothing but Bah!

Mary’s homesick as you please. Can find no house to suit. If you have not started the goods, you may neglect to do so. But I wish you to write soon. Yes, in a twinkling, after you get this. Mary has one moment a mind to go to Maine, another to go to some town in the region where board is cheaper that in this place.

I have not yet received a line from Cazenovia [New York]. What does all this mean? Here we are in a most unpleasant suspense and you contributing to the fund. If I could get my black paw onto you once, I would give you a jog. I must acknowledge the receipt of a letter from Elizabeth for which we feel very grateful, but suppose we are indebted to mother for it after all for no sooner did she reach home than a letter was started.

In regard to the furniture, I have thought perhaps you did not like to spare it. If so, I thought you might propose some other way. It might be better for us to board say over something. There are many things in the way of keeping house. Mary can not stay alone. We can have a house out of the village cheap but I do not think it would be safe for her to stay alone even though she were willing. A word to Mother. I wish we could see you a moment to talk over affairs. Clarence is better. Very much enjoys himself tolerably well—better than we might suppose he would without his grandmother. Could we have you with us this winter, I should not hesitate what to do.

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Mary B. (Holt) Messer, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

Elizabeth, we thank you a thousand times for that kind letter. Notwithstanding it might have been written at the instigation of Mother. A thousand thanks for the kind feelings expressed backed up by the clearest proof of sincerity. I always knew you had a good heart although you sometimes snarl and round up into a hostile attitude. I have often heard it said that those dogs that bark are not apt to bite. Excuse me for this canine comparison. I presume Augustus will not take pains to show this letter all over town unless I write an Abolition speech, which for that reason I will not attempt this time. I have jut invited Mary to contribute her write to this epistle. She says I shan’t but tell Gus I think it is real mean that he has not written to let us know something what we shall do, I hope Augustus will take no exception at this remark from his sister as it is only the escape of steam from the safety valve to prevent the bursting of the boiler. She has made Clare a pretty coat out of his read cloak and is making a cap for the little Hero. He has so much pepper in his composition, one would almost conclude he had been nursed by a Thomsonian. ¹ His mother is not of that faith and order although his grandmother has had some practice in that system. Mary is provoked all the time to think that had a Baptist chum. I almost think sometimes that the whole family were too like Hanibal, when children, to the alter and made to swear eternal patron[age] to that denomination.

But hold on, let me give Augustus two or three little pages by way of bringing him into good humor. How do you prosper in the good cause? I have not seen a person I knew to be Abolitionist in Auburn. It is all Hurrah for Clay and hurrah for Polk. Daily and nightly do the shouts go up from either party. How foolish! Bets from $1.00 to 100.00 are made everyday so the great gambler, if he gets in at all, will be gambled in. The whole contest is a complete horse race or cock fight. The anxiety of each party is increased by the great amount of money at stake. And this leads each to take unfair means to endure the success of their candidate. Shame to our country! Where is the true patriotism which burned in the bosoms of our ancestors of whose zeal and candor this nation so loudly boasts? Thousands of our so-called statesmen would sacrifice the interests of our country for a station at the public crib. Well, the contest will soon be decided. Then it will be hurrah for the spoils—such scrambling like a dozen pigs for one potato.

The Liberty Party’s growth will be steady. Its growth after election will be as rapid as now. It is not planted in a hot bed. It is a hardy plant and has withstood the storms of hundreds of winters. Although tyranny has often attempted to uproot it, it still lives and will continue to flourish till all the nations of the earth shall sit in the shade of its branches, secure from the scorching rays of oppression. Mother, is this not rather sentimental? But I charge you not to let it be seen out of the house.

Remember me to Friend Fairman. I should like to hear you sing with him. The “Green Mountain Minstrel’s” sang last night in the house. ² I had a feast of [  ] things the other night. A concert given by the Kendalls’ [Quadrille Band] of Boston. I was as Charles Conant used to say on Earth. Mary says send a letter of advise as to what we had better do. At any rate, send a trunk full of such things as Mother thinks we shall need. We will leave it entirely to her to say what. One thing, I want my violin and all the music you can find that belongs to me and some besides. But who shall see that glorious day. To Grace we give our shining blades [  ]. I wish you to see Hopkins and tell him where I am. Write. Write. Write, and all will be right.

— B. E. Messer

Clara sends Grandma a kiss. Also one to cousin Fifield. Glad to hear he gets along as well with his whooping cough. Love to all.

¹ Samuel Thomson (1769-1843) was a self-taught herbalist and botanist who promoted an alternative system of medicine named after him.

² The Green Mountain Minstrels performed at the Whig Convention in Auburn on Tuesday night, 8 October 1844, where they delighted the listeners with “soul stirring music” according to the Auburn Journal and Advertiser.

1845: Augustus Fifield Holt to Friend

A scan of this unsigned, partial letter was sent to me by Jean MacCallum who has had it in her personal collection for several years. She wished me to transcribe it and give her my best guess as to who might have written it. The letter was probably a first draft or a copy of the letter actually sent, which was not uncommon in those days.

I am confident the letter was written by Augustus Fifield Holt (1816-1887), the 29 year-old son of Rev. Fifield Holt (1784-1830) and Gratia Burt (1786-1874) of New Sharon, Maine. Augustus was a teacher in Elmira, New York, in the early 1840’s, probably at the Elmira Academy which opened in 1839. His sister Elizabeth Hold (b. 1825), a graduate of Mount Holyoke, taught with her brother in Elmira for a time as well. Augustus was married in 1841 to Priscilla S. Howes and together they had at least six children born between 1842 and 1857.

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This piece was published in the Emancipator and Republican (Boston) on 5 March 1845, which convinced me that the author of the unsigned letter was Augustus F. Holt

The 1845 letter was penned at a critical time in U. S. History when protestant churches grappled with the issue of slavery and were fixated on the topic of whether slavery should be condemned or defended in the pulpit. The previous year, the Methodist Episcopal (M. E.) church experienced a major schism between these two extreme positions resulting in the establishment of the M. E. Church North and the M. E. Church South. So too were the Presbyterians affected by this national debate. In 1846, forty members of the Presbyterian Church in Elmira, who objected to pro-slavery preaching, broke away and formed the Park Church. Within a few years, they had recruited Rev. Thomas Beecher, the brother of novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852), to be its pastor. A review of that church’s records reveals that Augustus Holt was a charter member. Throughout the 1840’s, these church members were active and unabashed vocal supporters of abolition and the Underground Railroad. These churches hosted Antislavery lecturers, gave concerts to raise money for Anti-slavery publications and other activities, and otherwise use whatever influence they had to move public opinion on the topic.

However, with the passage in 1850 of the Fugitive Slave Act, much of this activity was forced to go underground as Federal law held it to be illegal to help any slave escape to the North. Those arrested and convicted of such assistance could be charged 1,000 dollars (nearly 30,000 in today’s dollars), or they could face jail time. Needless to say, after 1850, though many people still assisted runaway slaves, few would have been willing to incriminate themselves by writing such a letter as this.

Elmira was a major stop for the Underground Railroad. Most escaped slaves who passed through came via Harrisburg and Williamsport, continuing their route to Rochester or another “station.” Elmira’s participation in the Underground Railroad was significant due to its location between Philadelphia and St. Catharines, Ontario; the final destination for many runaway slaves. At one point in July 1845, 17 fugitive slaves were in the Elmira area, hiding on farms and at other places.

By 1850, Augustus Holt had returned to his native state of Maine where he became an agent for the sale of farm machinery but there is evidence that he remained active in politics. His name appears attached to articles wherein he describes himself, in 1854, as part of the “Free Democrats” who supported Maine’s Liquor Law banning the sell of liquor in the state, and a party that was pledged to the repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and the Fugitive Slave Act.

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Elmira, Chemung Co., New York
July 28, 1845

Worthy Friend,

I hasten to improve the present opportunity by writing a few lines just to let you know that you are not forgotten.

We are all in usual health & spirits. [Edward] Messer ¹ has recently made us a visit with 3 of his musical friends & gave us a grand concert. Among other things, he sung the “Car of Emancipation” from the Liberty Minstrel which went off grandly.

I am still the same determined Abolitionist that I used to be—only about 50 percent warmer. Last year in June I went to work getting subscriptions for The Emancipator ² & got in this town & county 228 for the campaign. And after that closed, I secured 30 regular subscribers for it in this village. Besides this, I used to go into the towns round about and talk abolition with all my strength.

Our vote in this county increased last year on the preceding [by] 65 percent and in this town 155 percent. They think me a fanatic, but that don’t trouble me. But best of all is the wholesale business we are doing on the Underground Rail Road. Our receipts at this station last year amounted in value to $40,000 calling on able bodied men worth $1,000. The business is very flourishing this season.

Eight from the land of the Patriarchs arrived here…³

¹ A letter written in 1876 or 1877 by Augustus F. Holt to his daughter Gratia Holt Stedman when he was in Coburg, Ontario, Canada, states:

It was on this spot in 1844 [3 years before John W. Jones arrived in Elmira] that Bro. Langdon, Ed. Messer and I sent a band of fugitives of 39 from Elmira, hotly pursued by slave hunters from the south.

It was a stirring scene as on that clear star-lit night at the quiet hour of 12 our two companies of fugitives; one led by Bro. Messer, the other by a colored preacher coming from different points, 9 miles distance, both met at the exact hour. Bro. Langdon and I came from Elmira, 9 miles in a carriage well filled with supplies for their journey. We rode to the appointed spot and gave the signal to which Messer from behind a fence responded in person and blowing a whistle, a like answer came from a swamp a mile away, bringing the other band.

We distributed among them a good supply of clothing and making up to each $5.00 and to each of the pilots $10.00, which I had begged from friends in Elmira.

Then a Virginia newspaper was produced containing an advertisement of the company giving a minute description of each individual and as it was read, each responded to his real name. Then all knelt down on the grassy carpet by the wayside and Bro. Langdon, in such a prayer as I hardly ever heard before or since, commended them to the care of the fugitive’s Friends. They started on their way in double file singing a plaintive Negro melody.

They traveled by night on the public roads, sheltered and cared for by day by some good friends who kept the UGRR station until they reached the neighborhood of Oswego, then full of slave catchers.

A small schooner was chartered which came around to the cove where they went on board and the free winds of Heaven wafted them to this part where under Victoria’s flag they found that protection which the Stars and Stripes could not then afford.”

² The Emancipator was an organ of the American Anti-Slavery Society until 1836. By 1840, Joshua Leavitt (1794-1873) had taken over its publication which became the voice of the Liberty Party that year. After 1842, it was published solely in Boston.

³ Though this sentence is cut short and the letter ended, I believe the author was beginning to tell the story of 8 fugitive slaves that passed through Elmira. The “Land of the Patriarchs” is a biblical reference wherein “The Lord commanded Abram to leave his father’s house in Haran (present day Turkey) and travel to another Land the Lord would show him.” 


1863-65: Alfred Perkins Rockwell Letters

Biographical Sketch

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Alfred Perkins Rockwell

Born into a prominent Connecticut family, the geologist, educator, and industrialist Alfred Perkins Rockwell (1834-1903) was at turns a war hero, a professor, and a corporate executive. The son of a two-term Whig congressman, Rockwell received his AB from Yale in 1855, and remained in New Haven for his MA and PhB (1858) at the Sheffield Scientific School. Looking to build a foundation for a career in geology, he furthered his education by taking the standard European tour, spending time at the Museum of Practical Geology in London and at the prestigious Bergakademie at Freiberg, Saxony, where he studied metallurgy and coal geology. During his European sojourn, Rockwell also visited a succession of collieries in Northern England and Germany, familiarizing himself with advanced mining technology and with the economics of the industry.

At the outset of the Civil War, Rockwell returned to the United States and accepted a commission as Captain of the 1st Connecticut Light Artillery. After extensive service in South Carolina, he was named Chief of Artillery on the staff of Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry. Finally, he was named as Colonel of the 6th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry during the Petersburg Campaign of 1864 and finally a brevet to Brigadier General on March 13, 1865 for “gallant and distinguished services in the field during the campaign of 1864.”

He married Katharine Virginia Foote (1839-1902) after mustering out of the service in June 1865. She was the daughter of Samuel E. (1787-1858) and Elizabeth (Elliott) Foote (1807-1878) of New Haven. He then served briefly on the Board of Visitors at the U.S. Military Academy before returning to his alma mater as professor of mining at the Sheffield School. Barely three years later, he moved to a similar position at MIT, however by 1873, he made the decision to leave academia for other opportunities. In the aftermath of the devastating fire of 1872 that consumed much of downtown Boston, Rockwell was appointed Chairman of the Board of the Fire Commissioners in Boston, after which he served president of the Eastern Railroad (1876-1879) and from 1879 until his retirement in 1886, as treasurer of the Great Falls (N.H.) Manufacturing Co., a textile firm. Rockwell also earned income from land and other investments, including stock in the Minas Nuevas Mining Company, a lead and silver mining company in Mexico.

Never a prolific scholar, Rockwell wrote two books, Great Fires and Fire Extinction (Boston: Little, Brown, 1878) and Roads and Pavements in France (NY: Wiley, 1896). He and his wife had four children, of whom only one survived to adulthood: Mary Foote (1868-1868), Frances Beatrice (1872-1886), Samuel Edmund Foote (1873-1884), and Diana Ward (b. 1873). Rockwell died at his home in New Haven on Dec. 24, 1903.

From the guide to the Alfred P. Rockwell Papers, 1846-1903, (American Philosophical Society)

Joseph Palmer Rockwell (1833-1911) was Alfred’s older brother. “Joe” was serving as a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. G, 18th Connecticut Infantry when he was taken prisoner during the Gettysburg Campaign and taken to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, where he was not paroled until March 1864. After his release, he was allowed to go go home for a time and then required to report to the Parole Camp near Annapolis. He eventually returned to his regiment, was made adjutant in June 1864, and promoted to Captain of Co. C in January 1865. The following lithograph of Joe appears in the regimental history of the 18th Connecticut. I believe the image in the locket is actually of Joe Rockwell although it was labeled as being that if Alfred Rockwell.

See Also: Rockwell Family Papers, 1812-1927 at the Connecticut Historical Society


November 23, 1863; (25) Steamer Arago at Sea
November 25, 1863; (24) Folly Island, SC
December 4, 1863; (23) Folly Island, SC
December 11, 1863; (26) Folly Island, SC
December 18, 1863; (29) Folly Island, SC
December 25, 1863; (30) Folly Island, SC
January 2, 1864; (31) Folly Island, SC
January 12, 1864; (32) Folly Island, SC
January 18, 1864; (35) Folly Island, SC
January 26, 1864; (37) Folly Island, SC
February 4, 1864; (39) Folly Island, SC
February 12, 1864; (40) Folly Island, SC
February 21, 1864; (43) Folly Island, SC
February 27, 1864; (42) Folly Island, SC
March 16, 1864; (41) Folly Island, SC [Not transcribed yet]
March 24, 1864; (44) Folly Island, SC [Not transcribed yet]
April 1, 1864; (22) Folly Island, SC
April 2, 1864; (21) Folly Island, SC
April 9, 1864; (20) Folly Island, SC
April 12, 1864; (19) Hilton Head, SC
April 16, 1864; (18) Folly Island, SC
April 21, 1864; (17) Steamer Ellie Knight at Sea
April 24, 1864; (16) Gloucester Point, VA
April 30, 1864; (15) Gloucester Point, VA
May 4, 1864; (14) Steam Transport Convoy
May 7, 1864; (13) In Camp near James River, VA
May 10, 1864; (12) In Camp, Bermuda Hundred, VA
May 14, 1864; (11) In field 10 miles from Richmond near James River, VA
May 15, 1864; (10) In the field 16 miles from Richmond, VA
May 18, 1864; (9) In camp, Bermuda Hundred, VA
May 24, 1864; (8) In camp, Bermuda Hundred, VA
May 26, 1864; (7) In Camp, Bermuda Hundred, VA
June 1, 1864; (6) In the field near Curtis, VA
June 5, 1864; (5) In the field near Curtis, VA
June 9, 1864; (4) In the field near Curtis, VA
June 11, 1864; (3) In the field near Bermuda Hundred, VA
June 13, 1864; (2) In the field, Curtis, VA
June 16, 1864; (1) In the field near Curtis, VA


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Col. Alfred P. Rockwell, 6th Connecticut

June 20, 1864; (46) Steamer John Warner, James River, VA
June 24, 1864; (48) In the field, near Curtis, VA
June 26, 1864; (47) In the field, Bermuda Hundred, VA
June 29, 1864; (47) In the field, near Curtis, VA
June 30, 1864; (51) In the field, near Curtis, VA
July 2, 1864; (49) Bermuda Hundred, VA
July 6, 1864; (54) Bermuda Hundred, VA
July 11, 1864; (53) Bermuda Hundred, VA
July 16, 1864; (52) Bermuda Hundred, VA
July 20, 1864; (56) Bermuda Hundred, VA
July 21, 1864; (55) Bermuda Hundred, VA
July 26, 1864; (59) Bermuda Hundred, VA
July 29, 1864; (58) Bermuda Hundred, VA
July 31, 1864; (57) Bermuda Hundred, VA
August 8, 1864; (62) Bermuda Hundred, VA
August 9, 1864; (60) Bermuda Hundred, VA
August 9, 1864; (61) Bermuda Hundred, VA
August 10, 1864; (65) Bermuda Hundred, VA
August 12, 1864; (64) Bermuda Hundred, VA
August 13, 1864; (63) Bermuda Hundred, VA
August 15, 1864; (68) In the field north of James River, VA
August 20, 1864; (67) In the field north of James River, VA
August 30, 1864; (66) Norwich, CT
September 3, 1864; (71) In camp before Petersburg, VA
September 7, 1864; (70) In the field before Petersburg, VA
September 11, 1864; (69) In the field before Petersburg, VA
September 17, 1864; (74) Before Petersburg, VA
September 19, 1864; (73) Before Petersburg, VA
September 22, 1864; (72) Before Petersburg, VA
September 25, 1864; (77) Before Petersburg, VA
September 26, 1864; (76) Before Petersburg, VA
September 30, 1864; (75) In the field north of James River, VA
October 2, 1864; (78) North of the James River, VA
October 4, 1864; (80) North of the James [River], VA
October 8, 1864; (79) North of the James River, VA
October 8, 1864; (82) North of James River, VA
October 10, 1864; (81) North of the James River, VA
October 19, 1864; (85) Before Richmond, VA
October 23, 1864; (84) Before Richmond, VA
October 26, 1864; (83) Before Richmond, VA
October 28, 1864; (88) Before Richmond, VA
October 30, 1864; (87) Before Richmond, VA
November 2, 1864; (86) Before Richmond, VA
November 3, 1864; (90) Before Richmond, VA
November 9, 1864; (89) Steamer John Romer, Pier Foot of 30th St., North River, NY
November 15, 1864; (93) Steamer Ashland, at Sea
November 21, 1864; (92) In the mud before Richmond, VA
November 27, 1864; (91) Before Richmond, VA
December 2, 1864; (96) Before Richmond, VA
December 4, 1864; (95) Before Richmond, VA
December 7, 1864; (94) Before Richmond, VA
December 11, 1864; (95) Before Richmond, VA
December 13, 1864; (98) Before Richmond, VA
December 19, 1864; (97) Before Richmond, VA
December 22, 1864; (98) Before Richmond, VA
December 24, 1864; (97) Before Richmond, VA
December 27, 1864; (96) Before Richmond, VA
December 30, 1864; (104) Before Richmond, VA
January 1, 1865; (102) Before Richmond, VA
January 4, 1865; (105) Bermuda Hundred Landing, VA
January 6, 1864 [1865]; (27) Fortress Monroe, VA
January 14, 1864 [1865]; (33) Before Fort Fisher, NC
January 17, 1864 [1865]; (34) Near Fort Fisher, NC
January 19, 1865; (36) Near Fort Fisher, NC
January 22, 1865; (107) Near Fort Fisher, NC
January 27, 1865; (38) Near Fort Fisher, NC
January 27, 1865; (106) Near Fort Fisher, NC
February 2, 1865; Near Fort Fisher, NC
February 3, 1865; (109) Near Fort Fisher, NC
February 6, 1865; (108) Near Fort Fisher, NC
February 7, 1865; (112) Near Fort Fisher, NC
February 16, 1865; (111) New York, NY



Saving History One Letter at a Time

Spared & Shared 21

Saving history one letter at a time.

Spared & Shared 20

Saving history one letter at a time

Notes on Western Scenery, Manners, &c.

by Washington Marlatt, 1848

Spared & Shared 19

Saving History One Letter at a Time

Recollections of Army Life

by Charles A. Frey

The Civil War Letters of William Kennedy

Co. B, 91st New York Infantry

The Glorious Dead

Letters from the 23rd Illinois Infantry, the 111th Pennsylvania Infantry, the 64th New York Infantry, and the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry

Cornelius Van Houten

1st New Jersey Light Artillery

Letters of Charley Howe

36th Massachusetts Volunteers

Sgt. Major Fayette Lacey

Co. B, 37th Illinois Volunteers

"These few lines"

the pocket memorandum of Alexander C. Taggart

The Civil War Letters of Will Dunn

Co. F, 62nd Pennsylvania Volunteers

Henry McGrath Cannon

Co. A, 124th New York Infantry & Co. B, 16th New York Cavalry

Civil War Letters of Frederick Warren Holmes

Co. H, 77th Illinois Volunteers

"Though distant lands between us be"

Civil War Letters of Monroe McCollister, Co. B, 6th OVC

"Tell her to keep good heart"

Civil War Letters of Nelson Statler, 211th PA

Building Bluemont

The Origin of Bluemont Central College

"May Heaven Protect You"

14th Connecticut drummer boy's war-time correspondence with his mother

Moreau Forrest

Lt. Commander in the US Navy during the Civil War

Diary of the 29th Massachusetts Infantry

Fighting with the Irish Brigade during the Peninsula Campaign

"Till this unholy rebellion is crushed"

Letters of Dory & Morty Longwood, 7th Indiana

"I Go With Good Courage"

The Civil War Letters of Henry Clay Long, 11th Maine Infantry

"This is a dreadful war"

The Civil War Letters of Jacob Bauer, 16th Connecticut, & his wife Emily

Spared & Shared 16

Saving History One Letter at a Time

Lloyd Willis Manning Letters

3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, Co. I

The Yankee Volunteer

A Virtual Archive of Civil War Likenesses collected by Dave Morin

William Henry Jordan

Co. K, 7th Rhode Island Infantry

No Cause to Blush

The Bancroft Collection of Civil War Letters

William A. Bartlett Civil War Letters

Company D, 37th Massachusetts Infantry

The John Hughes Collection

A Virtual Archive of his Letters, 1858-1869

The Civil War Letters of Rufus P. Staniels

Co. H, 13th New Hampshire Volunteers