Monthly Archives: September 2014

1865: Orville Reed Paige to Parents

How O Paige might have looked

How Orville Paige might have looked

This letter was written by thirty-five year-old Orville Reed Paige (1830-1912) to his parents Leonard L. Paige (1801-1881) and Rosella Reed (1811-1895) of Russia, Lorain County, Ohio. Orville was married to Sarah Doty (1837-1904) in Clayton County, Iowa in March 1857. Orville purchased his farm in Highland, Clayton County, Iowa for $800 in 1860 from William and Pamelia Reed.

Orville’s younger brother, Charles Henry Paige, came to Iowa with him and served with the 21st Iowa Infantry during the Civil War.

Orville attended Oberlin College in 1852-53. He served a couple of terms as Assessor in Highland County, Iowa in 1856 and 1858, and was the Town Clerk in 1858.

See also — 1830: Orville Reed to Rosella (Reed) Paige


Farmersburgh [Iowa]
April 11th 1865

Dear Father & Mother,

I take up the pen this evening to write you a few lines. You will see by this that I am not at home now. I started yesterday & went to McGregor to trade a little & got back as far as Un___. William & [I] got storm bound so I have put up for the night. Things are rather flat here just now. Wheat is 75 cts., oats 25 or 30 & corn ditto. Goods & other things are coming down.

We hear that Richmond is taken and Lee captured & things look as though the Rebellion was about wound up. Last night, McGregor made an illumination in honor of the event. I was here some 4 or 5 weeks ago & got the things that you sent me by Aunt & she tells me something about her visits to you & your habitation & she says you are quite anxious to see me & are wishing that I would come home. She has told you probably how I am situated here better than I can by letter. She tells me that you are somewhat embarrassed in your affairs now. I would just like to know how you are situated & if I can help you in relieving you of debt. But I would like to know how much you are owing and who to. Have you mortgaged it to anyone & for how much? And how do you calculate to pay it?

I have been able to pay off my indebtedness so far & now stand clear — or nearly so, I believe. I have considerable property that if times were as they were last year I could make quite a sum of money from it. I can spend it in improvements on my place if I should choose — if I get it this season — or I could deny myself as I have generally tried to do & maybe I could help you some. This is all guess work. I do not know as I shall or can sell my grain this season. I shall not if it continues as low as it is now. It all depends on these circumstances. But I would like you to just tell me how you are situated so I can form some plan for your relief. You are getting old now & I can not bear to think that in your old age you should be weighed down with care & debt & not take that satisfaction in life which it seems that you ought to.

We are all as well as usual, or was when I left home. I have just written to William. Charles went away from here last fall & I have lost track of him. If you know where he is, just mention it & I will write to him. Aunt says that she heard when she was there but has forgotten.

The winter was very open & a great deal of ice. The spring is cold, backward, & now commences to be wet. We have not sown any grain yet & we are afraid we will not for some time. I have just bought ½ a broad cast sowing machine to help along this spring, but I guess we shall not be able to get along through the mud with it tomorrow. Its cost is $80.00. I have about 400 bushels of wheat on hand & 300 of oats & some corn & we made about 600 lbs. of butter last summer & have over 300 on hand to sell but I cannot get but 15 cts now for it so I guess I will have to summer it again unless goods fall so much as to pay to exchange.

My sheet is nearly full & it is getting late so I must close this. The Post Office is so handy I thought I would improve the opportunity & I hope you will soon write.

Yours truly, — O. R. Paige

1864: Henry Timberlake Duncan, Jr. to Elizabeth Vertner (Brand) Duncan

How H. T. Duncan, Jr. might have looked

How H. T. Duncan, Jr. might have looked

This letter was written by 26 year-old Henry Timberlake Duncan, Jr. (1838-1912), the son of Henry T. Duncan, Sr. (1800-1880) and Eliza Dunster Pyke (1806-1889). H. T. Duncan, Sr. was a farmer and livestock breeder who owned two farms in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and maintained a family estate, Duncannon, outside Lexington. He also acted as president of the Clay Monument Association in the 1850s. His son, Henry Timberlake Duncan, Jr., attended Harvard and became a major in the United States Army, the founder of the Lexington Daily Press in 1870, and the mayor of Lexington twice. His sister, Mary Duncan, attended the Pittsfield Institute for Young Ladies.

H. T. Duncan, Jr. was married in December 1860 to Elizabeth Vertner Brand and by the time this letter was written in November 1864, the couple had three children: George Brand Duncan (1861-1950), Eliza Macalister Duncan (1862-18xx), and Edward Duncan (1864-1941).

The Duncan family letters housed at the University of Kentucky comprise correspondence to Henry Timberlake Duncan, Jr. from family and friends. The letters date from 1803-1863, with the bulk of the letters written during the 1850s while Henry Duncan, Jr. attended Harvard College. The majority of the letters were written by Duncan’s father, Henry J. Duncan, Sr.; his mother; his sister, Mary Duncan, while she was at the Pittsfield Institute for Young Ladies; and his cousin, H.D. Jenkins. Duncan’s school friends, such as C.W. Horne, J.H. Richardson, and Henry M. Bond, also wrote frequently. Subjects covered include the Civil War, slavery, railroads, lynching, fairs, politics, the depression of 1857, and an Asiatic cholera outbreak in 1832. Some letters written in the 1850s from Henry Duncan, Sr., mention the plans of the Clay Monument Association.

[Note: This letter was donated to the University of Kentucky by Carl Volz in October 2014.]

1864 Letter

1864 Letter

Addressed to Mrs. H. T. Duncan, Jr., Lexington, Kentucky

Indianapolis [Indiana]
November 23, 1864

Dearest Lib,

Burnet House in Cincinnati

Burnet House in Cincinnati

I reached Cincinnati last night & put up at the Burnet [House]. Did not find Mrs. Johns & Elisa there as I had expected. After supper took a look for them. Went first to the Spencer [House] & then to the Merchant’s Hotel where I found them. Elisa said she was very glad to see me as she was beginning to be a little homesick. I went to the Depit with them. They put off safe & had good berths on the sleeping car. Elisa was a good deal periled by the Depot. It was the first time that she had seen the cars under a roof. I presume she is taking the same trip that you did the first time you went East. She went to the Opera House on Monday night & was very much disgusted with the ballet dancers. She asked Mrs. Johns how she thought these women would look walking on the street in that dress.

Tell Aunt E. that I purchased one down quilt for her at Clark’s & ordered them to be sent by Express. Mr. ___ joined me at the Burnet [House] today and we are this far [Indianapolis] on our way. Will take the 10:30 train to Lafayette. I expect to reach Bement [Illinois] tomorrow at 4 o’clock P.M.

I wish you would say to Father that I forgot to tell him before starting that I have a note of $65.00 due at Mr. Will’s Bank on Tuesday next the 29th that I wish him to pay it for me if he has the money to spare & that I will refund on my return out of my cattle sale. Don’t forget to tell him about this business.

Give a great deal of love to all. Write to me at Cincinnati & let me know if Nannie stays with you while I am absent.

Kiss our little ones, — your ____

1862: Charles Durkee to Oscar Fingal Dana

Charles Durkee

Charles Durkee

This letter was written by Charles Durkee (1805-1870), a U.S. Representative and a Senator from Wisconsin; born in Royalton, Windsor County, Vt., December 10, 1805; attended the common schools and the Burlington (Vt.) Academy; engaged in mercantile pursuits; moved to Wisconsin in 1836 and was one of the founders of Southport, now Kenosha; engaged in agricultural pursuits and lumbering; member, Territorial legislature 1836-1838, 1847-1848; elected as a Free-Soiler to the Thirty-first and Thirty-second Congresses (March 4, 1849-March 3, 1853); delegate to the World’s Peace Convention in Paris; elected as a Republican to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1855, to March 3, 1861; Governor of Utah Territory from 1865 until failing health compelled him to resign; died in Omaha, Nebr., January 14, 1870; interment in Green Ridge Cemetery, Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Charles Durkee was married to Catherine Putnam Dana (1813-1838). He wrote this letter to his brother-in-law, Oscar Fingal Dana (1815-1899). Catherine and Oscar were the children of John Winchester Daba (1777-1850) and Susan Damon (1780-1872). Oscar was married to Susan N. McLean (1816-1905) in July 1839. The couple resided in Kenosha in 1850 but had relocated to Portland, Maine, by 1860. Oscar was a lawyer by profession.

1862 Letter

1862 Letter

Addressed to O. F. Dana, Esqr., Portland, Maine

Kenosha [Wisconsin]
February 23d 1862

Dear Oscar,

I am under great obligation for your very welcome letter of the 13th inst., apprising me of De Font’s effort to obtain new certificates for land entered in your name.

I am now foreclosing on the “Windsor farm” and the sale is to come off the 4th of next month. The assignment of new certificate, therefore, ought not to be made to him. True, he has some hopes of his friends assisting him, but I think it groundless. Very likely I may make some arrangement with him to carry on the farm another year, and with that view, it might be well for him not to know that we have corresponded in relation to this matter. You might if you think proper say to him that you have seen in print a notice of foreclosure and deem it imprudent for you to act in the premises at present.

Please accept my thanks for your very kind invitation to repeat my visit at Portland. It cherishes in my memory the fond recollections of the past and invigorates my desire to again mingle with you and your family in the beauties and grader of nature that so profusely surrounds you. That great breastwork of terra firm adorned with grottos & beautiful evergreens defying old ocean with all his battering rams, to say nothing of the sublime regions of Mount Washington, revealed to me on my return, made impressions on my mind that will be as lasting as those phenomena themselves. Yes, I must certainly try and visit you again next summer. In the meantime, will you not be here to make an trip to our county?

We are all well here except Mrs. Deming & your mother. Mrs. Deming has been quite ill from an attack of the pleurisy and debility — is now convalescent as you have doubtless been apprised, although very weak. Sits up a little. Your mother is about and getting better from a cold.

Since the great victories of Port Royal, Roanoke, Fort Henry and Fort Donalson, I think I hear you say that the stain of Bull Run is mashed out. The restoration of the Union is only a work of time. I pray that time may be just long enough and sufficiently severe to cure the disease.

Half a dozen of Kenosha boys including Charley Dana have shared largely in the laurels won at Fort Henry & Fort Donalson in “Taylor’s Battery” without ever receiving a wound.

A “heap” of love to yourself and family. — Charles Durkee

P. S. We have had a mild winter with the exception of a few days & plenty of sleighing which still remains. — C. D.

1863: Unknown 1st Rhode Island Cavalryman to J. L.

John Sheridan in the uniform of the First Rhode Island Cavalry

John Sheridan in the uniform of the First Rhode Island Cavalry

This letter was sent unsigned but from the contents we can conclude with certainty that it was written by a member of Company E, 1st Rhode Island Cavalry. There is no accompanying envelope to aid in the identification of the recipient of the letter either, who is addressed simply as “Friend J. L.” and he appears to have been residing in Mystic, Connecticut in the summer of 1863. It seems that J. L. and the author were from the same hometown but whether that was Mystic or not is unknown and unlikely.

Most of the First Rhode Island Cavalry’s service in 1862 was in northern Virginia, where it served as scouts to determine enemy movements, as well as foraging for supplies and screening infantry movements. The troopers saw action contesting Stonewall Jackson’s cavalry in the Valley Campaign. They fought in the Second Bull Run Campaign, as well as many other battles of note, including service in the cavalry actions surrounding the Battle of Fredericksburg.

In 1863, they participated in the Chancellorsville Campaign, and played an important role in the opening battle of the Gettysburg Campaign at Brandy Station. Shortly thereafter, isolated and alone deep in Confederate territory on a scouting mission, they lost nearly 240 of their 280 remaining men at the June 17 skirmish at Middleburg. The regiment was refitted with new recruits and performed scouting and outpost duty along the upper Potomac River until September, when they rejoined the Army of the Potomac, participating in the Bristoe Campaign and Mine Run Campaign.

Events described in the letter clearly indicate the author’s membership in the First Rhode Island Cavalry and place him with Capt. Allen Baker, Jr.’s troop camped near Centreville, Virginia, in August 1863 performing scout duty.


Camp Near Centreville, Virginia
August 1st 1863

Friend J. L.,

Col. A. N. Duffie

Col. A. N. Duffie

One year ago today I was about 4 miles from this place and packing up to start for the front ¹ and we took the advance of Gen. Pope’s army and in twenty-seven days we were drove chock into Washington. Since that time I have knocked around Va. and seen some hard fighting, done a great deal picket duty, and run a great many risks, but have come out right thus far while a great many have gone up. One year ago today this regiment numbered near eight hundred fighting men and since that time we have received four hundred recruits and today, where are they? First the Col. (Duffia) [Col. Alfred Nattie Duffie] is a General and is in Gen. Burnside’s Department [as] Chief of Cavalry. A great many have been discharged, some are sick in different hospitals, [a] number have been killed, and the remainder (about 400) it is hard to tell where they are. About 200 are at Richmond [as] prisoners of war, about one hundred are at the front with Lt. Col. [John L.] Thompson, about eighty are here [in Troop E] under Capt. [Allen] Baker, ² about twenty went by here this morning driving cattle, and we are scattered all over Va. The fine regiment we were once is no more and if something is not done to gather us together soon and recruit and reorganize us, we will be but poor help for Uncle Sam.

I expect that the conscripts will begin to flock in soon and then you may look out. It will be drill, drill from “early morn until dusk of day.” As it is now, we do not drill any. We have to scout and picket. I returned last night from a twenty-four hours ride. It is no funny thing to saddle up and start off and ride twenty-four hours without stopping to rest more than an hour. But we have it to do and pretty often too. This squad is in the defenses of Washington under Gen. [Samuel P.] Heintzelman and a good many think that it is an easy job but they are mistaken for they will keep a fellow busy, let him be where he may. It is hot enough here today to roast a fellow. I have nothing on but my pants & shirt and the sweat rolls right off as though I was out in the field mowing.

Just write as soon as you get this and let me know who of the drafted men around home are going to pay. It is about time to water horses so I’ll stop hoping soon to hear from you. So goodbye.

I have no stamps. I’ll have to get this letter stamped and you will have to pay before you you can get it. I am going to send this to Mystic. I don’t whether you are there or not.


¹ In Sabers and Spurs, the First Regiment Rhode Island Cavalry in the Civil War by Frederic Denison, it is recorded: “August 1st [1862]. At ten o’clock A.M. we received orders to march immediately to the ford of the Rappahannock, near the burned bridge of the Orange and Rappahannock Railroad. Up went our cheers, and down went our tents. Blankets and coats were rolled; cantles and pommels were freighted’ company and regimental wagons were loaded; haversacks were crowded with rations; our camp furniture and ever pet thing was cast aside. Resident and ‘contraband’ negroes stood ready to pick the camp carcass. By four o’clock P.M. we were in regimental column, with our train attached. Seds, arbors, and whatever might give aid or comfort to the enemy, were devoted to flames…Strange emotions came over us as we looked back upon the burning camp, full of so many memories, and then turned our faces toward the field of action that in vision lay before us, for we knew that we were marching to battle…[the Battle of Cedar Mountain, 8 August 1862].”

² In Sabers and Spurs, the First Regiment Rhode Island Cavalry in the Civil War by Frederic Denison, it is recorded: “July 16 [1863]. Captain Baker, with ninety men, was sent to keep clear the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, reporting to General Rufus King at Centreville. On the 20th, he moved to Union Mills to protect the bridge across Bull Run, near Manassas Junction, which was now the outpost station of the defenses of Wasington. On the 27th, he and his force were sent to Centreville, from which point they were engaged in scout duty, keeping a sharp lookout for the famous guerrilla band under Mosby. By the way, most of the scouting was done in the night…”

1862: Charles Henry Beedle to William E. Barton

Sgt. Henry G. Lillibridge of Co. H, 10th Rhode Island Infantry

Sgt. Henry G. Lillibridge of Co. H, 10th Rhode Island Infantry

This letter was written by 25 year-old Corporal Charles Henry Beedle (1837-1909) of Company H, 10th Rhode Island Infantry. The 10th Rhode Island Infantry was organized quickly as a 3-Month Regiment in the spring of 1862 when Lee’s army threatened Washington D. C. Family records state that Charles entered his name the same evening that Gov. Sprague pleaded for volunteers to organize at once. The unit served three months in the fortifications around Washington D. C. and then were mustered out.

Charles was the son of Daniel Coffin Beedle (1793-1873) and Elizabeth Thurber (1799-1854) of Providence, Rhode Island. On 25 May 1864, Charles married Nellie S. Fenner (1839-1867), the daughter of Nicholas A. Fenner of Providence. They had two sons, both of who, and the mother died within one year of each other [one named Louis Trafton Beedle died on 21 July 1866]. Left a 29 year-old widower, Charles went to Beaufort, South Carolina, and carried on a general merchandise business on the island of St. Helena. In 1872, he returned to Providence and married on 25 July 1872 to Hannah G. Battell and became the step-father of her two children. Hannah was the widow of J. H. Battell, a manufacturer of jewelry in Providence. In the 1880 Census, Charles mother-in-law, Hannah Andrews (1795-Aft1880) also resided in the same household at 109 Broadway Street. At that time, Charles worked as a “Granite Contractor” in Providence. By 1890, his occupation had changed to “commission merchant.” Charles’ pension record indicates that he died in 1909.

It is conjectured that Charles wrote the letter to William E. Barton of Providence who enlisted in October 1862 in Company D, 12th Rhode Island Infantry for 9-Month’s Service. William may have been the son of the Barton who received the following letter from Chaplain John Binney Gould, a former pastor of the Chestnut Street Church in Providence. See 1862: John Binney Gould to Barton.


Camp Frieze, Tennallytown
June 18, 1862

Friend William,

Being off duty today and having a good opportunity to write a few lines, I have stretched myself full length upon the ground — it being the most comfortable position I can assume for that purpose. I have been excused from duty for two days owing to what the doctor calls the neuralgia in my left hand. it was so lame yesterday afternoon and last night that I could not bend my fingers, but the doctor gave me something to bathe it in and it is a great deal better now, so I shall be able to drill tomorrow.

I am sorry to say [Sgt.] George Winchester is laid up and I am afraid he is going to be worse before he is better. He took a very bad cold and neglected to do anything for it thinking it would work off, but it has grown worse and today he has not been out of his tent.

fuyIt is rather a bald country here owing to the sudden changes. Part of the time it is hot enough to roast you and before night an overcoat feels comfortable. There are a good many boys suffering from colds and coughs, but not more I suppose than might be expected among so many men. As for myself, I am enjoying first rate health but I am almost afraid to own it for fear I may be taken sick.

I think this kind of a life agrees with debut I don’t think I should like it more than three months unless I had a commission. How long we shall stay here I am unable to say but it seems to me to be a foolish and useless waste of money sending us here. But then we may have a chance before we come home to try our patriotism and spunk. I don’t know but I think I had rather die on the battlefield than to die of disease in the camp.

We have got about settled now having been sworn in and our uniform given us and our bounty, and now we have begun our regular routine of soldier life. We are turned out at sunrise and have the roll called and our quarters cleaned. Then squad drills until breakfast at 6½, sick call at 7 o’clock when all that are unwell have to report at the hospital. At 9 o’clock guard mounting, from 10 till 11½ company drill, at 1 o’clock roast beef if there is any to be had. Our mail arrives about dinner time so that helps us digest it if we are so fortunate as to get a letter.

This noon I received a letter from my brother and one from Dexter and a press from you which digested my dinner quite thoroughly. Please accept my thanks for your kindness in remembering me.

At 3 o’clock we commence again and drill till 5, at 6 supper, at 7 services, at 9 taps and at 9½ the glim is closed and all noise ceases. I have been corporal of the guard once since we have been here and have no desire to be again. The guard go on at 9 o’clock in the morning and are stationed at equal distances apart all the way around the camp. They have instructions not to let anyone pass by without a written order. And if anyone attempts to go by or anything happens, they call out for the cop of the guard, post 20 or 30 wherever they may be, and then the cop has to run and if he can’t settle the matter he calls for the Sergeant of the Guard. The guard may be half a mile off from the guard house but no matter, the cop has to run, and perhaps before he gets back, the call may come from another in the opposite direction. It keeps the corporals running all the time. They are on 24 hours and are relieved every two hours. I tell you, William, it is pleasant on a dark, stormy night, and as we have no gas lights, it is no easy matter to find the way round. It is nothing, however, after one gets used to it.

William, how are you getting along at Old Chestnut Street? How are all the sisters? I am anxious to hear how sister Snow and Bro. Metcalf are. Give my regards to Bro. Gould and your wife and siders and all enquiring friends. Excuse the looks of this as I find the position I took is becoming rather uncomfortable. I have just seen George and he says he feels better and wishes to be remembered. Please write and give us all the news and oblige.

Yours &c. — Charles H. Beedle

1863: Col. William Hoffman to Maj. Gen. Ethan Allen Hitchcock

Col. William Hoffman

Col. William Hoffman

This letter was written by Col. William Hoffman (1807-1884), a West Point graduate (classmate of Robert E. Lee) and a career soldier. When the war broke out in 1861, Hoffman was in San Antonio, Texas, and was taken prisoner by the Confederates. After his exchange in August 1862, he was reassigned to Washington, D.C where he became Commissary-General of Prisoners. That office had been organized in October 1861 under the Quarter Master General’s Department. It was made directly responsible to the Secretary of War on June 17, 1862, so when Hoffman took the position, he had access to the top of the military and political structure.

On November 11, 1864 the office was divided into an Eastern and Western Branch. Hoffman, who had been in charge of the whole office up to that date, was placed in charge of the Eastern Branch. On February 1, 1865, it was restructured as a single unit, and Hoffman was placed in charge overall again. A prisoner exchange was conducted during 1862 and 1863 before it broke down for a variety of reasons. The Union was not prepared to handle the number of prisoners it took in and scrambled to set up facilities. On both sides, the prison camps were overcrowded, suffered food shortages and poor sanitation, and were plagued with infectious disease. In 1862 some of the Confederate POWs refused to be exchanged, saying they would not return to the South.

Hoffman, working with President Abraham Lincoln and War Secretary Edwin Stanton, developed a procedure whereby Confederate POWs and deserters could swear allegiance to the Union to gain their release. Release requests from Union officials, Confederate soldiers, and Southern family members came to Hoffman’s office for review and evaluation. Hoffman believed deserters, because they had already renounced their military obligation to the Confederacy, provided an opportunity to “reconstruct” the rebel soldiers and undermine the Confederate war effort. Military field commanders could administer the oath of allegiance to deserters if they could verify their stories and be assured they were not spies. He believed that POWs presented a problem, as they could return to their units or act as spies. They could only be released after Hoffman’s staff reviewed each case individually and the release was approved by Secretary of War Stanton.

To encourage desertion, the Union started to offer incentives to Confederate soldiers, such as transportation home. Hoffman narrowed the conditions for Confederates to take the oath of allegiance, and the number of prisoners released decreased dramatically. On October 7, 1864 Hoffman was brevetted to Brigadier General for faithful and meritorious services during the Rebellion, and then brevetted to Major General on March 13, 1865, for faithful, meritorious and distinguished services as Commissary-General of Prisoners during the Rebellion. He served in the post of Commissary-General until November 3, 1865.

Maj-Gen. Ethan Allen Hitchcock

Maj-Gen. Ethan Allen Hitchcock

Col. Hoffman addressed the letter to Major-General Ethan Allen Hitchcock (1798-1870), an 1818 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and a career soldier. In 1855, he resigned from the Army following a refusal by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to extend a four-month leave of absence that he had requested for reasons of health. He moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and began a presumed retirement, occupying himself with writing and studies of general literature and philosophy. When the Civil War broke out, Hitchcock applied for a commission, was initially rejected, but was later commissioned a major general and became an advisor to the Secretary of War.

From March 17 to July 23, 1862, he served as the chairman of the War Board, the organization that assisted President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in the management of the War Department and the command of the Union armies during the period in which there was no general-in-chief. (Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan had been relieved of his responsibilities as general-in-chief and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck had not yet replaced him.) Hitchcock sat on the court-martial of Maj. Gen. Fitz John Porter which convicted the general of disobedience and cowardice. From November 1862 through the end of the war, he served as Commissioner for Prisoner of War Exchange, and then Commissary-General of Prisoners.

The substance of Hoffman’s letter pertains to the issue of executing Rebel prisoners in retaliation to intelligence that Union prisoners are being executed by the Confederate Government. Reference is made to a Rebel spy named William B. Compton who was arrested in West Virginia and condemned to be hung at Fort McHenry in Baltimore on 29 May 1863. The Washington Evening Star of that date reported that the President had issued him a temporary reprieve.


Office of Commissary General of Prisoners
Washington D. C.
June 6th 1863

Dear General:

Your note of the 3rd was received only last evening and I hasten to reply.

We have exchanged in all 4054 officers and men and there are about 1,000 revel prisoners en route to City Point independent of Grant’s captures. They have delivered to us near 8000 prisoners. We have over 4000 at Camp Parole and Convalescent Camp on parole. All officers delivered at City Point have been exchanged and all not required at the parole camps have been ordered to their regiments — Lieut. Buford among them.

I have not seen the correspondence referred to but can infer its character.

I would regret very much if we have to resort executions to retaliate the barbarisms of the rebels, but if they carry out their threats, I fear there will be no help for it. It would be required of us in self defense and if we must hesitate about it, the rebels would attribute it to weakness on the part of the government. Whether it be right or wrong, our people will not be patient under the continual bullying of the rebels.

A young man named [William B.] Compton ¹ was to have been executed as a spy at Fort McHenry on the 29th ult., but Union people, and those who pretended to be so, in Georgetown made great efforts in his behalf and succeeded in obtaining a reprieve for 3 months. Instead of being grateful for this clemency, some of the secessionists openly attribute it to fear, and many who are too discrete to say so, doubtless think so.

The public opinion of the world will discriminate between the willing barbarity of the South, and our reluctant acts of self defense.

I have today some newspaper notice of the last declaration of exchanges as announced in orders by the rebel War Dept. One section releases all citizens who have been released to take the oath of allegiance, or on parole, and given bond, from all obligations to the U. S. Government. It is not possible that Col. Ludlow has consented to any such agreement. I have asked him to send me a copy of the declaration.

I am, general, very truly yours, — W. Hoffman (Colonel, USA)

to Maj. Gen’l E. H. [A.] Hitchcock, Annapolis

P.S. I am unable to say how many officers will be sent to Sandusky by Grant but I think about 200.

¹ An interesting article entitled, “Lincoln’s Mercy: A Confederate Spy and a Missouri Lawyer” appearing on the web written by James P. Muehlberger explores the circumstances surrounding William B. Compton’s arrest as a spy:

William B. (“Billy”) Compton was born on October 24, 1838 in Baltimore. His family then moved west to Fairmont, Virginia, a depot town on the Ohio & Baltimore Railroad in the northwest part of the state. He studied law and in 1859 he began his law practice. Two years later, shortly after Lincoln’s March 14, 1861, inauguration, the Virginia state convention in Richmond passed an order of secession from the Union. Delegates from that part of the state west of the Allegheny Mountains then passed a resolution in favor of the Union and elected Francis H. Pierpont as Governor of the Restored Government of Virginia – a Union government to oppose the Confederate one in Richmond.

After resigning his command in the U. S. Army, Maj. Gen. Robert E. Lee took command of Virginia’s military forces. Lee quickly focused significant attention on protecting the crucial Baltimore & Ohio Railroad that ran across northern Virginia from Harpers Ferry more than 200 miles west to Wheeling, located on the banks of the Ohio River. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was the lifeline upon which the federal government in Washington relied for troops, food and supplies. From the outset of the war, both the Union and Confederate governments strived to hold western Virginia for psychological, as well as strategic, reasons. For the Union, it represented a serious inroad into the most prestigious state of the Confederacy; for the Confederacy, its retention would demonstrate strength and help preserve the South’s morale.

General Lee ordered militia commanders to muster in volunteers to secure the railroad. In May 1861, 22-year-old Billy Compton and other enthusiastic secession boys responded to Lee’s request and enlisted in the Confederate army. At the time, Compton was deeply in love with, and engaged to be married to, Ms. Kate Kerr.

Two months later, in response to the alarming Union defeat at the first battle at Bull Run, Compton’s boyhood friend, 16-year-old Henry Clay McDougal, enlisted in the Union Army. McDougal’s company was ordered to guard a vital railroad bridge over the Monongahela River. In September 1861, it was reported to McDougal’s captain that rebel Compton was at Miss Kerr’s home, about one mile from the Union camp. McDougal was ordered to capture his friend. McDougal’s squad marched to the Kerr home, surrounded it and demanded Compton’s surrender. Miss Kerr and her mother insisted that Compton was not there, but gave McDougal and the soldiers permission to search the home. McDougal found his friend hiding in a large wardrobe, “pale as a ghost.”

McDougal and his company marched Compton back to camp as a prisoner of war. He was taken to a military prison, but he was eventually released and made his way back to the Confederate Army.

In the spring of 1862, Compton was captured a second time. McDougal’s commanding officer was traveling on a Baltimore & Ohio passenger train when he saw a lone man board the train. The stranger had his hat pulled down over his eyes and was dressed in civilian clothes. Nevertheless, the Union officer recognized Compton and placed him under arrest. Compton said he was on his way to revisit Miss Kerr. Upon Compton’s person, however, was found a commission from the Confederate Secretary of War authorizing him to recruit a battery of artillery within Union lines. The Union did not look favorably upon Confederate recruiting north of the Mason-Dixon line. General Burnside’s April 13, 1863 General Order No. 38 recommended death for Confederate recruiters found north of the lines.

Compton was held under guard as a spy. Henry McDougal saw and talked with him the following morning. Compton’s pale face and demeanor conveyed his fear that “his days were numbered … because of the military papers found on him.” He told McDougal “that nothing [but] executive clemency would save him.” Compton was confined in the dungeon-like military prison at Fort McHenry, located on a peninsula jutting into the opening of the Baltimore Harbor. He was “tried by court-martial as a spy, convicted, and sentenced to be [hung].” Compton told McDougal that he could see through the grates of his jail cell window the scaffold that was being erected for his execution and hear “every nail driven into it.”

A delegation of some of the most respected citizens of Baltimore asked if President Lincoln would receive them and hear their plea for Compton’s life. Baltimore, however, was a slave- holding city, whose social aristocracy hoped that in a Confederacy of the 12 slave states, Baltimore would hold the position that New York City enjoyed in the Union as the shipping, import, and commercial powerhouse. A Baltimore mob plotted and attacked Lincoln’s train in an attempt to murder him as he traveled through Baltimore to Washington on February 23, 1861 for his inauguration. Baltimore secessionists had also killed the first Union soldiers of the war on April 19, 1861, as Union troops had hurried through Baltimore to Washington to protect Lincoln after the fall of Fort Sumter. Lincoln vividly remembered the several anxious days and sleepless nights he endured as a result of the troops’ delay, fearing that the rebels camped in the woods across the Potomac River, whose campfires he could see at night, would attack the White House at any moment and fulfill their threats to capture and hang Lincoln and his family. Lincoln indignantly rejected the Baltimore delegation’s request to meet with him to plead for Compton’s life: “No, I will not receive a delegation from Baltimore for any purpose!”

Compton’s desperate father enlisted the help of McDougal’s father to contact Francis H. Pierpont, the governor of the about-to-be-formed new state of West Virginia. Pierpont and Compton’s father traveled to Washington to explain to President Lincoln that love, not treason, had caused Compton’s conduct. As a result of their visit, Lincoln wrote to Joseph Holt requesting the record of Compton’s trial.

Joseph Holt was the Army’s Judge Advocate General. Although a Democrat, he became convinced of the evil of secession and served Abraham Lincoln in dealing with the courts and Congress regarding Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus. “[T]he principal duties of the … Judge Advocate General” were to analyze court-martials and write “an opinion and suggested course of action, which was then passed on to the President.”

Lincoln typically reviewed court- martials in the morning in his second- floor offices in the eastern end of the White House, within sight of the unfinished dome of the Capitol building and the square stub of granite that would become the Washington Monument. He was typically plainly clad in an ill-fitting dark suit. As he sat in a large armchair at a table completely covered with papers and parchment, he heard the jangle of cavalry on the rutted roads outside the open windows, the shouts of soldiers, and the stomping and snorting of horses. A tall desk, with pigeonholes for papers, stood against the wall. The crushing paperwork of nearly 500 telegraphs, letters, and military dispatches that burdened Lincoln each day brought a constant flow of news, alarms and concerns. Amidst the chaos of what he called “this great trouble,” Lincoln approached his task of reviewing the cases with a kind of weary joy, as the welcome scent of honeysuckle drifted through the window.

As Lincoln’s deep-set, dark gray, kindly eyes, looking out from under bushy eyebrows, studied Compton’s file, he was able to confirm what Pierpont had told him. He decided to spare the young man’s life. On May 28, 1863, Lincoln wrote to Maj. Gen. Robert C. Schneck: “Let the execution of William B. Compton be respited or suspended till further order from me, holding him in safe custody meanwhile. On receiving this, notify me. A. Lincoln.” Lincoln’s hurried scrawl suggests a man with a desk deep in papers, but one stroke of Lincoln’s pen saved Billy Compton’s life. Lincoln chose to pardon a son of Baltimore, even though its citizens had tried to murder Lincoln just 24 months earlier.

Compton was greatly relieved at his pardon, but prison life was not easy. He was jailed in Fort McHenry for 14 months, eight months of which he spent in solitary confinement with iron shackles on his wrists and ankles. He finally escaped from prison using a razor to dig his way through the 65-year-old mortar between the bricks of his cell wall. He swam more than a mile from the fort across the Patapsco River to Baltimore, where his friends welcomed him as if he were raised from the dead. They gave him clothes and money and helped him return to the Confederate Army. Compton was severely wounded in battle and surrendered in April 1865 with Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House.

Shortly after the war, Compton married the girl for whom he had twice risked his life – Kate Kerr. The couple moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where they raised five children and Compton became a distinguished and respected member of the Virginia bar. He and McDougal remained close friends throughout their lives. He died at Rawley Springs, Virginia, on July 24, 1898, having been a faithful and productive citizen, father and husband for 33 years.”

1863: William McCord to Thomas Jefferson McCord, Jr.

How William McCord might have looked

How William McCord might have looked

This letter was written by 21 year-old William McCord (1842-18xx) of Company I, 8th Missouri Infantry. He was the son of Thomas Jefferson McCord (1810-1853) and Mary Ann Layton (1813-1889) of Knox County, Illinois. William wrote the letter to his brother, Thomas Jefferson McCord, Jr. (1840-18xx) of Canton, Fulton County, Illinois. He mentions his sister, Annie Rebecca McCord (1843-1935) in the letter as well. Annie married Samuel C. Varner in September 1863 in Farmington, Illinois.

The 8th Missouri Infantry was organized in the late summer of 1861 and was composed of men recruited from both sides of the Missouri Rover. This was because Illinois easily met their quotas for volunteers but pro-Southern Missouri’s split loyalties caused them to come up short in supplying soldiers for the Union army. They wore the Zouave uniform and served with distinction during the Civil War, fighting decisive battles under Generals Grant and Sherman.

1863 Envelope

1864 Envelope (does not go with letter)


Memphis, Tennessee
November 3, 1863

Dear Brother,

I seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am in a little better health than when I last wrote to you.

I received your letter and money and was glad to receive it. It will help me along till I get my money.

We was mustered the 31st November for pay and I think that we will get it before long. I have now ten months pay a coming to me — $130 dollars — which I will send you about $100 of it and you can do what you want to with it. I will send it by Express and will send you a letter at the same time so that you will know that I have sent it. If I have money enough to keep me in tobacco and other little things, that is all that I care about.

The weather is getting cool. We have had several frosts and one little snow which I never expected to see in Tennessee. We are fixed for cold weather. We have got a young city out in East Memphis. You would laugh to see the brick and log houses that 8th Missouri has built to winter in. We have big fire places in our houses and we are living at home now but I can’t tell how long we will stay here. We may stay all winter and we may not stay two weeks. It is hard for a soldier to tell one day where he will be the next.

I haven’t heard from [sister] Ann for some time — only what others has wrote. I heard about you being up to Yates City [Illinois] but I shan’t tell you who told me. I should like to be there for awhile myself but I don’t [see] any chance till this war is settled and that may not be till my time is out and I know that they can’t keep me any longer. If they leave us stay here at this post till the war is over, I will be satisfied.

I would like to have you to come down and see me but it costs too much money. It would cost you 40 dollars to come down here and go back.

The boys are all fixing to go to a funeral — one of our regiment got killed. I don’t know yet whether I will go or not. The health of the troops here is good.

I guess that I have told you about all the news — only William Van Pelt ¹ is about dead with the clap. Keep this to yourself.

So I will close by asking you to write soon and oblige your brother, — William McCord

¹ Pvt. William M. Van Pelt was absent sick in October and November 1863. He died 26 November 1863 in the General Hospital at Memphis, Tennessee. He is buried in Section H, Grave No 4322 in Memphis National Cemetery.


1862-63: Edwin Perry to brother

How Edwin might have looked

How Edwin might have looked

These letters were written by 18 year-old Edwin Perry (1844-Aft1880), the son of Daniel Bliss Perry (1802-1879) and Lydia Ann Carpenter (1805-1883) of Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts. Edwin learned the trade of manufacturing bobbins (occupation called “turner”) for cotton factories from his father.

For some reason, Edwin did not join the other boys from Rehoboth in Company H of the 40th Massachusetts. Rather, he enlisted in Company C, 11th Rhode Island Infantry. He mustered out of the service on 13 July 1863. He was married to Ella J. Perry (1851-19xx) sometime after the war and continued to reside and carry on the family business in the vicinity of Rehoboth, Massachusetts.


In Camp near Miner’s Hill, Virginia
October 21, 1862

Dear Brother,

Your favors of the 10th and 17th instant I received last evening and I acknowledge the receipt of ten dollars — many thanks for it.

Last night we received marching orders and early this morning after partaking  of an early breakfast, this regiment together with the 133rd New York and 22nd Connecticut Regiments took up our line of march for this place. The weather was quite cool so that we were greatly favored in carrying our load which consisted of a well-stuffed knapsack, haversack, canteen, musket, and equipments with forty rounds of cartridges.

We reached this ground about ten o’clock this morning and after marching and countermarching for another hour at last halted on a turnip field and a orchard. By two o’clock we had our tent put up and now four o’clock all the boys excepting [Pvt. Orin F.] Munroe are asleep. He is writing like me.

We received orders not to be too particular about putting up tents as we were to march again tomorrow — some say further to the right — others toward Harpers Ferry — and others to our old camping ground and from thence to Washington and then to Port Royal. The latter seems to have the best foundation as two companies which were to go on picket duty after receiving their rations, packing their clothes, marching some distance were ordered back, and if we were going but a few miles in any direction, they would not [have] been recalled.

In reply to your questions I would state that we’re last I knew or heard (the orders are read at dress parade) in Gen. [Heber] Cowden’s Brigade, Gen. Abercrombie’s Division, and Gen. Heintzleman’s Army Corps of the defense of Washington. I think the captain is improving in his way of discipline.

We are now about eight miles from Washington. My health is and has been as good as I could ask for. As far as sleeping on the ground is concerned, I do not dislike it in warm weather but when it is cold, I’d rather sleep in a tent.

I am sorry that Father’s health is so poor but he must not worry himself on my account as I am enjoying myself “tip top.”

About obtaining Government small currency I would state that it is about the only kind of change in circulation here but then I think it would be very difficult to obtain any amount. But if I can do so, I will send it on to you.

Send my love to all the folks. Tell Ida I send her a kiss. We move so often that do do not have chance to think about any person as anything. The 40th Massachusetts containing the Attleboro & Rehoboth Companies of three year’s men is in our brigade and is encamped near us.

No more at present. Yours in haste.

— Edwin Perry, Co. C, 11th Regiment R.I.V., Washington D. C.

Hospital [Regiment encamped at Miner’s Hill, Va.]
January 8, 1863

Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 3rd instant has been received together with a letter from father which I received last night. I continue to gain strength with every effort. I have walked up to camp and back again every day for a week — some days twice as far.

The box you sent is a rich treat, I tell you. I am living high and sleeping in the hospital. Yesterday the Doctor gave me my discharge from this institution and told me to report at camp but the head nurse has took the responsibility of keeping me here a while longer. He thought I was not strong enough to endure camp life. I’d rather stay here a week longer than to go to camp [just] now. There has been another sudden change in the weather from warm to cold accompanied by high winds which are very uncomfortable on these high hills where the division is encamped.

Yesterday they brought a man here who has had the fever and ague together with convulsions. During these times, it takes four men to hold him. This forenoon he has had one chill and four convulsions. He can not stand them a great while longer and live. When he is reasonable, he cries considerable and says he never shall get home. This a solemn sight but this is one of the fortunes of war. But a person gets used of these things seeing it continually before him. I saw a case of sympathetic mania today in the case of one of the patients. Soon after the man had passed through the convulsions, I spoke of this patient (who has the pleura pneumonia) was taken in the same way as other although not quite as hard. As I now write, one of these men is on the way to the General Hospital at Washington; the other will probably go tomorrow. They can’t go too soon for me.

The regiment has again resumed its wonted routine of duty — the great scare of [Jeb] Stuart’s Cavalry being over. ¹ One day this week, one of the 16th Virginia soldiers undertook to run the picket near Falls Church, but his running was short for the shure sped bullet finished his existence. The picket [who shot him] was taken to the General who told him that he had done perfectly right and to do the same in a similar case. General Abercrombie, commander of the division, told the men in a speech that they got to do picket and guard duty until they went home if it killed every man in the division.

Robert Cowdin commanded a Brigade in Gen. Abercrombie's Division (1863)

Robert Cowdin commanded a Brigade in Gen. Abercrombie’s Division (1863)

Gen. [Robert] Cowdin, our Brigadier, is all fight — always. When carrying on a social conversation, he has to tell of the THIRTEEN BATTLES and SIX SKIRMISHES in which he has been actor. He told the boys the other night he hoped everyone would get hit. He said that he had been hit six times. ²

Mr. Munroe’s son continues to be off duty. The climate does not agree with him.

The regiment does very little but guard and picket duty. ³ Five companies do the picket duty for one month, going out every four days. The other three regiments composing the brigade taking their turn. Four companies do the guard duty at camp. One company on detached service, guarding the 1st Maryland Cavalry from skedaddling. The 16th Virginia is very much like them. The general does not trust them on any kind of duty outside the picket line. If they went on picket, they would all run away.

I said in my last letter that I would write you something about the rations of camp and out on the march. Our rations at this distance from Washington are very near as follows — of soft bread in one week we receive or at least are allowed five days rations. each days rations consisting of one loaf of bakers bread the six of our six cent loafs, and two days rations of hard crackers. Of meat we are allowed fat pork fried nearly every morning, boiled ___ two days in a week. Beef steak once. Beef soup. twice, beans twice. Rice three times a week, cooked for supper together with coffee or tea twice a day.

One the march as far as I have had any experience and from what I can learn from others, they do not get much more than hard tack & salt horse.

Write often and oblige your affectionate brother, — Edwin Perry

P. S. Tell Father I received the two dollars sent in his last letter. — E. P.

¹ After Christmas, 1862, “Lee ordered Stuart to conduct a raid north of the Rappahannock River to “penetrate the enemy’s rear, ascertain if possible his position & movements, & inflict upon him such damage as circumstances will permit.” Assigning 1,800 troopers and a horse artillery battery to the operation, Stuart’s raid reached as far north as 4 miles south of Fairfax Court House, seizing 250 prisoners, horses, mules, and supplies.” [Source: Wikipedia]

² From Perry’s account, we can surmise that Brig, Gen. Robert Cowdin (1805-1874) was a blowhard. In the battle at Blackburn’s Ford in which he served as Colonel of the First Massachusetts Infantry, he is quoted as saying, “The bullet is not cast that will kill me today.” On-line biographies of Cowdin’s service make no mention of his ever having been wounded in battle during the Civil War. However, the Boston Traveler reported that Cowdin was “slightly wounded” at Second Bull Run. When he failed to gain a promotion in 1863, Cowdin published (in 1864) a brief pamphlet suggesting that he had been forced out of the service by Massachusetts politicians because he did not share the same abolitionist views.

³ A regimental history of the 11th Rhode Island states that “for nearly three months the [regiment] did constant picket duty on the front which lay between Lewinsburg and Falls Church.” [History of the Eleventh Rhode Island, page 51]

Hospital near Camp Metcalf
February 6, 1863

Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 31st inst. is received — also two papers of a later date for you receive my thanks. The last few days have been the most winterish of the whole season — some very cold weather accompanied with snow and rain. This afternoon it cleared off with a prospect of good weather tomorrow.


Col. Horatio Rogers, Jr.

By news received from Co’s C and K today. I learn that they are not doing duty yet but are taking things easy in Alexandria. Some say they are to garrison Fort Ellsworth near there. ¹ Colonel Horatio Rogers leaves here the first of next week to take command of the Second Rhode Island Regiment near Falmouth. The new band of this regiment commenced to practice yesterday. The boys subscribed eight hundred dollars for the instruments.

We have now nothing but iron bedsteads and cotton mattresses to sleep on. These bedsteads are made something like folding ladders as they can be shut up in a very short time so as to occupy but a little space.

There was a considerable of a fire last night at Fort Scott [near Arlington] burning down a negro’s shanty with its contents.

I am getting tired of doing nothing. Here I sit day after day in a room about the size of mine at home where only seven of us  sleep, eat, and stay.

Evening. 7 o’clock. Your favor of the 2nd ultimo arrived this evening as also a letter from father of a later date. You say that I have not written about my health for some time. I don’t perceive much change for the last two or three weeks. I can’t gain much strength as long as this weather and mud continues as there is no chance to exercise. There is something inside not quite right yet but I am in hopes it will wear off in time. The doctor pays no attention to it so I suppose it is all right.

I received the five dollar bill for which receive my thanks but as I have been unexpectedly paid off and have already fifteen dollars of that left, I think best to return it as I shall not need it for a long time — and another thing, where a person has such associates as I am obliged to have, money is not very safe. Since I have been in the in the hospital, I have lost two knives worth $1.50, my gold pen, tin cup, tin pan. These must have been stole as I could not have lost them at the time. You must not take offense at the return of the money as I should have accepted it under other circumstances.

The picture I will send you as soon as [I] can get where they take them. Please write me if you would like a full length portrait with my equipment on and without any whiskers. It is getting late so I must stop.

From your affectionate brother, — Edwin

¹ Companies C & K did not garrison Fort Ellsworth as rumored. Rather they were ordered to the Camp of Distribution on the 3rd of February. This camp, located about two miles from Alexandria, was utilized for the distribution of the men discharged from hospitals, and the numerous stragglers gathered from all parts of the country. Companies C & K returned from detailed duty on 18 March 1863.

[Camp of Distribution near Alexandria, Va.]
Encampment of Guards
February 8, 1863

My Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 26th and 28th is received — also a letter from father of the 27th ultimo. All three arrived the same evening. I am ailing somewhat today so that the doctor excused me from duty today. Night before last I did not get any sleep and was out four hours in a snow storm. I suppose I overdone but as shall not be on duty until Friday again, I shall try to be all right then.

The weather here for the last few days has neither been one thing or another. It rains, snows, hails, and fair weather — all in five minutes. Day before yesterday there was a fair sized battle fought in the vicinity of Clouds Mills about three miles from here. Some of the New York regiments which were situated on Upton’s Hill when father was here had an inkling in the matter.

You wished to know if my hair continues to fall off. It does! I expect it will all come off.

Co. K is a city company — the Second Christian Association. I like this detached service better than being with my regiment because here there are no dress parades, no knapsack inspections, and no guard around the camp to keep us in, besides numerous little things which we are not obliged to do here.

Since the regiment was paid off in February, the restrictions on the camp have been [made] rigid. No one can pass off or on without a pass. Bayonets will not stop the men as they would in Dexter training grounds but bullets will.

Inclosed I send you the soldier’s prayer. I don’t mean the one he says when he has to turn out in the middle of a stormy night to do four hours guard duty, but the one that is used on common occasions.

How does the new conscriptions law go down with the Northern inhabitants? Have you seen this conundrum? “Why is the government currency like the ancient Israelites?” —  “Because they are the issue of Abraham’s and know not their redeemer.”

I should have sent you my picture some time ago if it had not been for some humor sores on my face. As soon as they get well, I will get one taken.

Thirty more skedadles [in this case, Union deserters] arrived yesterday from Fort McHenry, Baltimore. Some had no change of clothing or blankets and but two had overcoats. Some were dressed in citizen’s clothing.

Your affectionate brother, — Edwin Perry

Camp of Guards at Camp Distribution
February 10, 1863

My Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 5th and 7th ultimo is received. Also two papers and a novelette.

I have again tried the vicissitudes of camp life and I hope that I shall have no ill health for it is no fun to be sick out here.

The new camping ground is situated in a much pretty location than ever before, being located on a high table land overlooking the Potomac. Camp Distribution is situated on the north side of the road leading from Alexandria to Camp Convalescent. In a former letter, I wrote you that men sent to Camp Convalescent who are able to [perform] duty are sent from there to their regiments. This is not so, for they are first sent here and then under guard outside of the picket line to their regiments at the front. This camp we are now engaged in guarding — it is rather hard looking. It consists of common A tents, pitched on the ground with nothing but Virginia mud for the men to sleep on.


“Some of them are sitting around the fire shivering with their blankets on.” — Edwin Perry

The remaining brigades of General McCall’s division arrived here yesterday morning but have not yet formed an encampment as they expect to move further. These men look rather the worse for wear. Some of them are sitting around the fire shivering with their blankets on. This morning the second and third relief were sent to take down some tents of long standing supposed to be unoccupied but inside they found a human being — if I may so call him — who was perfectly alive with many strangers. ¹ His feet were frozen and when found, he could not stand alone. I presume he had looked for a place to sleep and had crawled in here where he was attacked by these strangers who perfectly unmanned him.

It appears by your letter of the 5th that your patriotism has not declined in least. Before — and more since — I received that letter, I have been looking after the patriotic testimony of the volunteer soldiery, but best I can find is the common expression that, “they would see the government in hell before they would come again.” Of if they would print Green Backs until our time is out, they even would not hire them to stay longer.

You wished me to give you a history of a day in the hospital. This I can do in a few words. It is simply eat, drink, sleep & stay.

Tomorrow I expect to go to Alexandria if the weather is suitable and I can get a pass. Then I can write something new. I drawed some new clothing today — pants, shoes, and one shirt.

Today we received a very large mail, some of the letters being delayed two weeks. The weather is warm and pleasant and is fast drying up the mud, but I suppose the next thing will be rain. I received a letter from Hebronville today. I bought twenty pounds of hay yesterday and sewing two shelter tents together for a bed sack, I made a very comfortable bed to lay down in.

More soon. From your affectionate brother, — Edwin Perry

¹ Though I have not seen it used before in this context, I believe “strangers” must be a slang term for “lice.” 

Camp of Guards at Camp Distribution [near Alexandria, Va.]
February 15, 1863

My Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 9th ultimo is received. Glad to hear from you often.

Last night the second lieutenant who has command now, put me on guard between the hours of one and five for a difference in opinion which we had for a few days. I stood it very well although it deprived me of sleep nearly all the night. I did not receive the order until nine o’clock and I did not get to sleep until nearly eleven. I shall get an excuse from the doctor today and then he can go his length. It commenced to rain last night about dark continuing until now. I understood that a new colonel is soon to take command of the regiment. Hope he may stay longer than the other.

There are many rumors afloat concerning our joining the southern expedition but I place but little reliance on them. We are now going down the hill of our time and them men are beginning to count the days when they reach home. They have all seen the elephant, the romance of war, and are now ready to go home. The sick call has been numerous this week — a great many being sick with a cold.

Our quarters are now in the best of condition — all the condemned tents being substituted for new ones. All those in the distribution camp have to sleep on the ground. This causes a great amount of sickness. The doctor who has charge of the camp does things up in a hurry. For instance, a morning at sick call perhaps a hundred men are drawn up in line waiting their turn. The guard lets in the first man.

Dr: What the matter with you?

Soldier: I have a severe pain in my side, Sir.

Dr: Give him some liniment. Next.

Dr: What’s the matter with you?

Soldier: I have rupture, Sir.

Dr: Who told you you had a rupture. There is nothing the matter with you. Like to go to the convalescent camp again suppose! Clear out! Don’t you let me catch you here again. If I do I will put you in the guard house.

This is the way he examines perhaps sixty men in an hour. In fact, he has now more mercy for a man than I would have for a beast.

My hair is fast falling off my head. Would you have it cut off and run the risk of catching cold or let it remain?

I see you have sent me a box of rations. I suppose it will reach me tomorrow. Such things are always acceptable.

Day after tomorrow we shall have one hours and a half drill every other day. This is rushing things some if not more. I don’t know but he will try to make me drill but I think I shall go to the guard house first. The participants in the fight of which I wrote recently have been sent to the slave pens in Alexandria for the rest of their time. These two companies have nothing but soft bread draw that which is baked every day. Fresh beef three times per week.

No more this time. From your affectionate brother, — Edwin Perry

Camp of Guards at Camp of Distribution [near Alexandria, Va.]
February 18, 1863

My Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 14th ultimo is received — also a box from you, for which receive my thanks.

I think everything arrived safe although the box was broke open on the way and nothing remained of the address except Co. C, 11th Regiment. My name was found on something inside. I received a piece of cheese, a pail of butter, a nice cake, five pies, a lot of apples, a jug of vinegar, a box of mustard, a paper of pepper, a bar of soap, some pins, thread and yarn, a lot of wine crackers, and a chicken. I think this is all. This is a very serviceable box — butter, cheese, and spices are the things. Today there has two more boxes arrived in the mess and we are having a merry time of it.

My strength is gaining everyday so that I am now on duty. Day before yesterday I was on the third relief guarding prisoners. Today I am on the same relief a guard at headquarters. All I have to do is to stand at the door and stop men without shoulder straps from going inside.

Yesterday it snowed all day and today the rain is carrying it off. I stood four hours yesterday in a snowstorm. And now let me say a word in regard to the three reliefs. The first and second go on at nine in the morning and stay until five at night at which time the third relief go on and stay until nine o’clock and are not again called out until five o’clock this morning. This gives us the whole night to sleep.

We have an odd way of keeping prisoners here. ¹ Two posts are placed firmly  in the ground to which a rope is stretched across. To this the men are handcuffed. This gives them the liberty of walking back and forth perhaps ten feet.

We cannot get passes to go to Alexandria now except on business. My nerves are getting stronger so that I can look and see teeth pulled and dug out without my heart’s jumping. Dr. [Moses S.] Eldredge of our mess is doing considerable business. Yesterday he dug out a tooth while the person was under the influence of ether.

I have not received a letter from home for two weeks. I am afraid the letters have been miscarried or delayed in some way. Rumors of the regiment’s moving continue but no one seems to know. If we move again, I shall throw away everything but my blanket and perhaps a spare shirt. Carrying a knapsack causes the heart disease which prevails to such an extent in the army.

I want you to send me two or three pens of Potter & Hammonds, or some fine quills; those that father sent are too coarse to write with.

The manufacture of bone rings occupies the time of the men a great deal. While writing, there are four of the boys in the tent so engaged.

There is but little news in our little camp and as [I] write often, you must not expect long letters. It’s going [to] be one of the nights for guard — plenty of rain and slosh. Write often to your affectionate brother, — Edwin

P. S. I forgot to name the paper and envelopes father and mother sent. — E.P.

¹ The prisoners Perry refers to detained at Camp Distribution were military prisoners who had committed various crimes from desertion and murder to sleeping on duty or drunk and disorderly. In other words, they were Union soldiers, not Confederate prisoners of war. While confined here, many of these men were put to work on the fortifications around Washington D.C. though they were generally not good laborers.

Camp of Guards at Camp of Distribution [near Alexandria, Va.]
Feb 26, 1863.

Dear brother,

….I think you would like to know our little family. I propose to give a little history or rather biographies ofthe several individuals. In the first bunk we come to Corporal Eldridge, a dentist by trade and a man of considerable importance — at least so he thinks. He has a chair with a back in which after eating his meals he luxuriates in a cigar and the New York Herald. With him sleeps a man by the name of [Daniel C.] Snow — a jeweler by trade and I think once a professional gambler. He is always sick but never can get excused by the doctor. In the lower bunk Roger [L.] Lincoln and a man by the name of [Alanson] Alexander. The last named is a young man (and here let me say that there is but two in the mess over twenty three) and a butcher in the city of Providence — a first rate fellow and full of wit. In the upper bunk of the next tier is Orin [F.] Munroe and Edwin Perry. These characters I suppose you know. In the lower bunk sleeps two by names of James Buchanan and Charles [W.] Brown. The former is a jeweler and a good singer and withal a good mess mate. The latter is a gentleman by occupation, of much talent and a good education. Joseph [W.] Guild and a German by the name of [William] Thiel occupy the top bunk of the next tier. The first you know and the latter is by trade a tailor. He has served twelve years in the German service as a soldier. I like him much as a man. He has but little to say. The lower bunk is occupied by Corporal [Frank B.] Mott and his brother [Eugene]. These complete the seventh mess in Company C….

your affectionate brother, Edwin (Perry).

Camp of Guards [at Camp Distribution near Alexandria, Va.]
Sunday, March 8th 1863

Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 2nd and 4th instant is received. [I am] always glad to hear from you often. We have not had any good weather here for a long time. It rains, snows alternately making a sea of mud to tread through.

The Camp of Distribution is moving today. The First and Third Army Corps go today — that is, those armies who are absent from their respective regiments. A detachment of Co. H, First Rhode Island Artillery was here today looking after deserters. This is the artillery which were encamped a short distance from Dexter’s Training Ground at the time the 12th [Rhode Island] Regiment had their trouble. This squad said that all of half of their company had skedaddled to quarters unknown. So much for the patriotic volunteers of Rhode Island.

One of our prisoners took french leave of absence while Co. K was guarding them last night. A member of this company has been tried by court martial and sentenced to two years hard labor on the Rip Raps without pay. I believe the charge was striking a superior officer.

I expect to draw some more clothing in a few days — say three pair socks, one pair of drawers and one pair of shoes. Our Second Lieutenant [Seth W. Cowing] left us today. He takes a position in the Navy. He could not go too soon so my best wishes are for his poor success. Lieut. [William A.] James has command here now.

You inquire about Wilbur Slocum. I have not seen him for some time. Since I saw him, he has been reduced to the ranks — what we call broke off his sergeant’s warrant. I am very sorry for him for he has done me many favors.

We are all eagerly looking forward to the time that the draft will be put into execution. Perhaps they will draft me if I ever land in Little Rhode. And then again perhaps they won’t. I will give two cents a head for all nine-months men they draft in government shinplasters.

New has “played out.” There is nothing new about this guard duty. It is the same thing over everyday. Write as often as usual to your affectionate brother, — Edwin Perry

Camp of Guards [at Camp Distribution near Alexandria, Va.]
March 11, 1863

Dear brother,

Your favor of the 7th instant I received last night and now hasten to reply. For the last two days I have not found time to write a letter on account of want of time. I was sorry to hear of your ill health. Have you ever tried a medicine for your wakefulness of which you speak? A whiskey punch or Dover’s Powder I should think might be good.

Yesterday I paid a visit to Fort Worth ¹ beyond Fairfax Seminary. It is situated on the brow of a high hill overlooking a large valley. The fort mounts about thirty guns of which the largest throws a one hundred pound shot. The bed and carriage is constructed of solid iron. There are a number of large Parrott guns of beautiful workmanship. Besides these and some common sixty-fours, there are some eight mortars placed on massive beds of iron. There are also two pieces of light artillery bearing the inscription “Whitworth Guns Presented by the Loyal Americans in Europe to the Government of the U.S.” You will remember of reading about this about a year ago. These are made of steel and are bronzed like a musket about ten feet in length and breech loading.

I also paid a visit to the grounds of Fairfax Seminary, This place I suppose father can describe as well as I.


Fairfax Seminary

We — that is the mess — have formed a debating club to discuss the political questions of the day. This together with cards and checkers we make out to pass away our evenings when not on duty pleasantly. This evening we discuss the question, “Resolved. That the press is more powerful in influencing the minds of men than the tongue.” I will give you an account of the debate in the next.

Tomorrow I shall send a record of this company to you and also one to father, not that I feel particularly proud of having my name placed on this record of the 11th Regiment but because I thought I would make you a small present and this might be acceptable. Be careful in opening it. Tell father to enclose me a dollar in my next letter as my funds have all been used with the exception of two dollars which I have lent in the mess. I cannot get it until we are paid off.

No more this time. I will try to write more in my next.

From your affectionate brother, — Edwin Perry

¹ Fort Worth was located on Seminary Heights about one and one-half miles west of Fort Ellsworth, and one and one-half miles south of Fort Reynolds.

Camp Metcalf, Virginia
March 20, 1863

Dear brother,

….The mud is so deep here that it is difficult to tell whether you are traveling by land or water. In some places the mud is a foot deep. I received the two dollars from you for which receive my thanks.


First page of Letter

I saw Wilbur Slocum yesterday. He told me about his misfortune and asked me to write to you the particulars. On Miner’s Hill he was sergeant of the guard one day. His relief came off at twelve o’clock at night and was to turn out at two ready to go on again at four. He asked the sergeant of the second relief to wake him up before two o’clock. Ten minutes before two, he waked up and hurried to wake up his men. While doing this he received a message from the officer of the guard that if he was not on the ground in three minutes, he would report him to the Col. He made out to get his men there a minute or two after time. Then they had to stand hours understand before they went on guard. This is the reason why he was reduced and this is the red tape of the matter. Since then Gov. Sprague offered him a commission in the 12th Regiment. But his folks would not permit him to take that chance. He expects to have his old position as soon as our new Col. arrives. Please keep this a secret.

Yours in haste, Edwin



1864: Joseph Z. Culver to Henry Atwood Breed

How 2Lt Joe Culver might have looked

How 2Lt Joe Culver might have looked

This letter was written by 2Lt. Joseph (“Joe”) Z. Culver (1841-Aft1904) of the 39th U. S. C. T. (Colored Troops). Joe was 21 years old when he mustered into federal service at Pittsburgh, Pa., for three years as a private in Company D, 10th Pennsylvania Reserves, on Sept. 11, 1862. He was honorably discharged on Feb. 28, 1864, to accept a commission as 2d lieutenant in the 39th U.S. Colored Troops. Culver was mustered in as 2d lieutenant. Company C, 39th U.S.C.T., at Baltimore on Feb. 29, 1864. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant on Sept. 13, 1864, and transferred to Company K.

The 39th USCT organized at Baltimore on March 22-31, 1864 and was soon posted to the area of Manassas Junction. The photograph above may have been taken on the afternoon of May 5, 1864, when the 39th and the rest of the Fourth Division joined what became known as the Overland Campaign by crossing the Rappahannock River and passing through the Brandy Station area towards a bivouac point on or near Mountain Run not far from Culpeper. The regiment’s first tactical deployments, on the flanks and in the rear of the Ninth Corps and the Army of the Potomac, came after it crossed the Rapidan at Germanna Ford early on May 6.

The 39th U. S. C. T. was one of the colored regiments under the command of Gen. Edward Ferrero in the fatal assault on the Confederate works before Petersburg in what has become called the Battle of the Crater on 30 July 1864. In that assault alone, the 39th U. S. C. T. sustained at least 154 casualties.

Joseph’s service as a white officer of colored troops was apparently frowned upon by many of his relatives, one of who wrote:  “I recd. a letter from Joe Z. Culver, formerly of the 10th Penna. Vols., and now a 2nd Lieut. of the 39th U. S. Cold. Troops. He says the folks at home are rather opposed to his position; if they are of the same persuasion as Sister Beccie [Pague], I have no doubt they are.” [Source: Joseph F. Culver Civil War Letters, 27 March 1864]

See Publication: Letters from Officers of the 39th U. S. C. T. by Joseph Z. Culver (1889)

Joseph wrote the letter to his friend, Henry Atwood Breed (1842-1914) of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was the son of George Breed (1799-1863) and Rhoda Ogden Edwards (1805-1867). He married Cornelia Bidwell (probably the “Miss C. B.” mentioned in this letter) in October 1868. Henry served as a 2LT of Company F, 155th Pennsylvania Infantry from August 1862 until October 1863. In the 1870’s, Henry worked for the Culmer Spring Company in Allegheny — a manufacturer of spiral springs (for railway use).

1864 Letter

1864 Letter

Addressed to Mr. Henry A. Breed, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Camp Birney
April 10th 1864

Mr. Henry A. Breed
Dear Sir,

You are my most desirable correspondent of Oakland, perhaps from the fact that no one else has so much that is interesting to write, perhaps from other causes, and I am conscious that I owe you special attention.

Gen. Silas Casey

Gen. Silas Casey

Our regiment is now about full and a majority of the officers have reported. With very few exceptions the latter are all from the army. They are practical soldiers and that means jolly good-hearted fellows, besides being men of tolerable education, for I can assure you that very few pass that august board of Gen. [Silas] Casey’s without some qualifications. ¹ I have had command of a company of eighty men during the last two weeks and from raw recruits who did not know right from left face, I think I have now a company which you would be pleased to command for an hour or two merely to see execute some nice movements, They learn to march with a readiness which would do honor to men of much superior education. They imitate everything which they see done and my judgement and every other faculty I will regard as useless if these men fail to make the very best of soldiers. ²

Recruiting is going on very rapidly throughout this state among the colored population at present. Maryland may fill her quota from her blacks. We had a splendid dress parade this evening. It being Sunday, a great crowd from Baltimore of all colors and both sexes was in attendance. We had a line of over nine hundred men — almost equal to a brigade in the army — and made what I thought a rather grand appearance.

Baltimore is avery fine city to live in and quite as agreeable to form acquaintances in. I have been here more than a month and I have come to the conclusion that living in camp in the army is one thing and residing here quite another. I am sorry, however, that you could not give me notice when Miss C. B. would pass or repass here on her visit to Washington. I would pass by all my acquaintances here for a view of one of Oakland’s daughters. You should have been a little more considerate, my dear sir, and not reported a fact about which so much information would most assuredly be desired.

Enclosed you will find my photograph which bears testimony (prima facia) from the color that I must be among black troops and you must be careful to impress this fact upon the minds of any who may look and smile upon the picture. Assure them that white officers of colored troops will most certainly become colored officers of white troops if they permit their immaculate reputations and characters to become tarnished. Such is the transition, my friend.

Send me some pictures of your lady friends if you have any. I always cast a wistful glance towards a Pennsylvania face. Remember my request and I will remain, sir, yours most truly, — Jos. Z. Culver, 2nd Lt., 39th U.S.C.T., Baltimore, Md.

Officers on the 39th U.S.C.T. near Brandy Station, Va 1864; Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Officers on the 39th U.S.C.T. near Brandy Station, Va 1864; Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

¹ Joseph is referring to the rigorous examinations officer candidates were subjected to in order to prepare them for command, thus ensuring that their knowledge of drill, tactics, and military administration was comprehensive. Few candidates applying for commissions as officers of colored troops had actually been officers prior to joining their black regiments. Prior to receiving his commission, Joseph attended Philadelphia’s Free Military School which produced 484 officers who served with the U.S. C. T.  Records indicate that 47% of the applicants failed in their attempts at this school to receive a commission. The commander of the Washington examination board was General Silas Casey. [Source: Paul D. Renard, The Selection & Preparation of White Officers for the Command of Black Troops in the American Civil War… (page 17)]

² Joseph expresses an opinion of black soldiers that was typical. Historian Paul D. Renard explains: “Some officers called on racist stereotypes to explain their troops’ excellence in drill, speculating that is was connected to the former slaves’ love of music or their natural status as order-takers. Letters from black soldiers and the opinions of less prejudiced officers indicate that they were successful because they paid more attention, took more pride in their drill, and understood the importance of their learning better than did white soldiers. Higginson simply commented that his soldiers were good students who “learn less laboriously than whites that ‘double, double, toil and trouble,’ which is the elementary vexation of the drill-master, – that they more rarely mistake their left for their right, – and are more grave and sedate while under instruction.”

1864: Judson L. Rawson to friend Ebenezer

How Judson might have looked

How Judson might have looked

This letter was written by 29 year-old Judson L. Rawson of Winhall (1835-1916), Bennington County, Vermont who enlisted in Company H, 9th Vermont Infantry — sometimes called the Green Mountain Boys — in September 1864. He received a bounty payment of $100 for his enlistment. Enlistment papers indicate that Judson was a gunsmith at the time he enlisted and that he stood 5′ 6 ” and had black hair and blue eyes.

Judson was the son of Lyman Rawson (1806-18xx) and Charlotte Sabin (1811-18xx) of Jamaica, Windham County, Vermont.

Pvt. Rawson wrote the letter from Chaffin’s Farm, Virginia, while the 9th Vermont awaited with other regiments for the attack on Fort Harrison which would occur on 29 September. They would also carry Battery Morris immediately afterwards. On Oct. 27, the 9th Vermont participated in the conflict at Fair Oaks, after which it was ordered to New York to guard against possible rioting during the presidential election. Rawson may not have gone to New York City with his regiment however. Company records indicate that he was admitted to a hospital in Virginia on 20 October and was sick most of November & December 1864. With the 3d division, 24th corps, it was again stationed before Petersburg and took part in the final assault on the city April 2, 1865. Pvt. Rawson mustered out of the service with his company in June 1865.


Chapin’s Farm, Virginia
September 12th 1864

Dear friend Ebenezer,

Gladly I seat myself in my rifle pit this morning to let you know that we are all well. Tis a beautiful morning as the sun is just rising in splendor over the whole earth but what strikes dread to one’s heart is to see in all directions thousands of human beings armed and in fighting order knowing that some of them must sleep beneath the sod in a few days. But we have all got to run the risk of our own heads. I have seen a great many poor boys carried off of the field dead and wounded — some killed by shells and some by minnie balls rain with their heads shot off and some with legs. This rather a careless play. They don’t stand about shooting right at a fellow  — rather careless sort of folks — but we will have them by the nuts soon.

Now Eb, I want you to write me and have all the folks let me know all the news. Write about everything of any importance — who is dead, who is sick, who is mad, who is pleased, who is distressed, and who is cussed, and so on.

We are expecting a hell of a fight here today but the rebs had not better get in range of my old musket cause it may go off accidentally and might hurt somebody.

Tell folks to keep cool and let the hen hatch and all will be right. I must close. Write soon as you get this and direct to J. L. Rawson, Co. H, 9th Vermont Volunteers, 18th Army Corps, Washington D. C.

Yours truly, — J. L. Rawson

Spared & Shared 21

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