These seven letters were written by 36 year-old Pvt. Merrill F. Bean of Company A, 16th Vermont Infantry — a nine months regiment. In late June, the 16th Vermont was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 1 Corps and ordered to form the rear guard of the Army of the Potomac as it marched north after Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. As the regiment drew near Gettysburg, the 12th and 15th Vermont regiments were detached to guard the corps trains. The remaining regiments, including the 16th Vermont, arrived at Gettysburg after dark on the first day of the battle and camped in a wheat field to the left of Cemetery Hill.
The 16th Vermont saw little action on the second day of the battle at Gettysburg but on the third day they played a pivotal role in turning back Pickett’s Charge. Those remaining in the regiment were mustered out of the service on 30 July 1863.
Merrill Bean was a farmer from Rochester, Windsor County, Vermont. He enlisted at the age of 35 on 26 August 1862.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Fairfax Court House
December 18th 1862
My Dear Wife,
It is with pleasure that I seat myself to write a few lines to you to let you know that I am not sick — only a bad cold. I received a letter last night from you and was glad to hear from you and was glad to hear that you was all well.
We left Camp Vermont Friday morning about 6 o’clock. We came to Fairfax Court House about 20 miles. It lamed me up pretty bad. I did not feel able to do picket duty. The 16th Regiment went on to Centerville also at 10 miles. I with a number of others stayed with the 15th. We expect the 16th Regiment will be in here Wednesday.
Noe Emily, I don’t want you to worry any more about me for I calculate to take care of myself as well as I can and not expose myself when I can avoid it. When I am really sick, you will probably know it so I don’t want you should worry anymore about me.
We have had a long spell of nice weather. This morning we had a hard shower. It has cleared off pleasant but the wind blows pretty hard.
Since last Friday morning there has passed this camp about 40 or 50 thousand troops bound for Fredericksburg from Harpers Ferry to reinforce Burnside. We have heard Fredericksburg was burnt. We don’t know how true it is. We hope it is so. We don’t know how long we shall stay in a place. I do not know but we shall be putting up our winter tents.
I went up to the Court House today. It is about a mile. It is some muddy but not so muddy as it is generally at this time of the year. I did think that I should have a box sent to me but I think I shall not have any sent. I think I shall write to the Selectmen of Rochester about it and guess it will come. We have not been paid off since we left Brattleboro. We expect to be paid off about the first of next month.
It is getting most time to go to bed so I must close. Tell the children they must be good children. Tell them that father will be at home in the spring to see them, Father sees them everyday — two or three times a day. Let Lucy Emma go to school if she can. I suppose it is not a great while before you will be sick. There is not a day but that I think of you but cheer up. Don’t lay it to heart but be as contented as you can. Give my love to Father and Mother and all friends that enquire. Direct your letters as you have. Yours truly, — M. F. Bean
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Camp near Union Mills, Virginia
April 3rd 1863
My Dear Wife,
It is with pleasure I take my pen in hand to write a few lines to you to let you know that I am well as common and hope these few lines will find you the same. I went on picket yesterday and came off today. Elisha and Mr. Sheldon came over to see me tonight. We looked round awhile and then I went home with them to serenade. Our drum corps and the brigade band and most all of our captains went to serenade Col. Proctor. He is our new commander. We had a good time.
April 4th about eleven o’clock — It is a pleasant day but rather cold and windy. We have had a battalion drill this forenoon. The colonel says we can have this afternoon to get ready for Sunday morning inspection unless we insist on having a drill. Of course we would not.
Emily, I received letters from you mailed the 25, 15, 21, and 6, but you must not think hard if I don’t have so much time to write as I did at the other camp. I don’t have but little time to write. Yes, I think you have done well but keep on. I will write as often as I can. I got the stamps. I have got stamps enough for the present.
Our company funds was distributed. Took it in stamps. We expect to be paid off before long. Emily, I would like to see you as much as you would like to see me and I guess I have thought of that morning we parted as often as you have. But the time is not far off when we shall see each other if we both live. I know that I am a good ways from home and I don’t mind the hardship as long as I can have my health. But Emily, I have the same feeling for my country that I did when I left home.
We do not have any meetings since we moved but I shall try to live as well as I can. You are not forgotten in my prayers. I sent a ring in a letter. Did you get it? I shall send another as soon as I can get it finished. One for Emma. We expect to be paid off before many days. Then I will get some photographs taken and send some to you if I can. Before I come home I will get you a locket.
You spoke about my answering your questions. I don’t know but I have. If there is any that I have not, tell me and I will answer them.
The 13th Regiment has moved back towards Mount Vernon and I think the next time we move we shall move towards Washington, but don’t know. But I must close so goodbye for this time.
— Merrill F. Bean
April 5 — good morning. Emily, how do you do? Well I hope. I am well. We are having a dreadful storm. It commenced storming last night about dark and the wind blew and the snow flew like a hurricane all night. The snow has fell about 6 inches. It has drifted all through our streets and round our tents. I pity the boys on picket. They have a hard time. I expect to go on picket tomorrow. I think it will be tough.
I thought that I answered all of your questions and as for your scolding, it won’t do me any hurt — we are so far apart. So if you think it best to scold, you can I guess. You had better wait until I get home before you whip me. Then I think you will be afraid for I am a soldier. They don’t fear anything. I don’t run so much as I did. I don’t scare easy. I CAN BE A GOOD BOY out here, as you say. I look at your one [picture] very often. It don’t seem as though I could stay so much longer without seeing you but it is only a short time before we shall see each other, if God permits us to love.
You think we had better trust in a higher than earth. I do not intend to from this very night for I went to meeting tonight on purpose to start in the good cause of religion and I hope and pray that I may stand fast in the cause. Emily, I want you should pray for me that my faith may hold out. Emily, the reason why I write with my pencil is because I can write better and faster and your eyesight. You must go to the village the first chance you have and get you a pair of glasses.
Yours truly — this from your affectionate husband — Merrill F. Bean
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Union Mills, Va.
April 9, 1863
My Dear Wife,
It being Fast Day, I thought I would spend a few leisure moments in writing to you to let you know that I am well as common and hope these few lines will find you enjoying the same blessing. Last Monday I went on picket. Come in Tuesday. We had a very good time. Wednesday we built a breastwork for the artillery to defend the ford across Bull Run and today we have had a hallowed day. We formed a square and our chaplain read the Savior’s Proclamation and delivered a speech attended with prayer and singing and then the benediction. We reduced square proceeded to our camp ground. The boys are playing la___s and ball and having a good time. It is a pleasant day but rather cool air.
I have not seen Elisha since I wrote you before. I received your letter last Tuesday dated March 29 and was glad to hear from you and was glad to hear that you and the children are well. But Emily, I thought of those cold winter nights you spoke of in your last letter. I have wished a great many times that I could sleep with you these cold winter nights but I could not. But if I had been there, I don’t think that I should froze up for I don’t know but I was warm-natured as ever. Perhaps you will think so when I get home for I think I should be hotter in the morning than I am at night. Well I could show you better than I can tell you if I was there. I think you will see when I get home. You thought you had better put up your pen. I guess you will think I had better put up mine.
There has been firing in the direction of Centreville. We think they are having a skirmish. It is about 5 miles from here. I have got to go on picket tomorrow. Ira is well as common. He sends his love to you. I forgot to tell you in my last letter that Ira’s youngest child was dead. It died about two weeks ago, He died the 25 of March.
I received a letter from you today. The first date was the first of April and mailed the 5th. I was glad to hear from you again and hope you will continue to write as often as you have and I will write as often as I can. You spoke about begging again. If I could [have] got them marked before, you would not had a chance to beg. I have got one for you, one for Emma. I shall send them as soon as I get them marked. You spoke about my _____. I told her you thought you got spared but she said she would risk it.
I have got to go on patrol guard tonight and I must close. Ira sends his love to you. Give my love to all that enquire. This from your affectionate husband.
— Merrill F. Bean
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Camp Near Union Mills, Va.
May 8th 1863
My Dear Wife,
I now take this opportunity to write a few lines to you to let you know that I am well and my time still going on.
There is a good deal of an excitement here about our time and how it will turn, I don’t know. But there is one thing, when we get home we shall be there.
I have been on picket two days this week. I went out Tuesday morning and come in Thursday morning. It rained most all the time. We had orders not to have any fires but we had a little between two big logs about two feet through. We rolled them about one foot apart, filled in middle with small stuff. It lasted all night. The rest of the story I will tell you when I get home. This was a cold stormy [day].
I received a letter from you yesterday (No. 4) and was glad to hear from you again and was glad to hear that you was well. You wrote you could get paper for 12 cts. a sheet. If you have got such paper as that, I should like one sheet. We can get paper here for one cent a sheet and envelopes for 15 cts. a bunch and not very good at that. You can send a sheet or two if you are mind to. I would like two or three envelopes — some thick ones so I can send money if I want to. I don’t think I shall send any one this time. You wrote that you wanted a new dress. You will have to get it yourself and if you have not got any money to get it with, I will send you some. I want you should get what you need.
The 15th have moved down to the Rappahannock. We expect to move soon. Hooker has had a great battle [at Chancellorsville]. Stoughton has been exchanged. He’s at Washington. Ira is well as common. He sends his love to you and Eliza.
But I must close by bidding you goodbye. From your affectionate husband, — M. F. Bean
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Letter No. 3rd
Camp near Union Mills, Va.
May 12th 1863
My Dear Wife,
I now seat myself to write a few lines to you to let you know that I am well as common and hope these few lines will find you enjoying the same blessing.
It is very warm here today. It is as warm as July. The peach trees are all out of the blossom. The apple trees are a going out of their blossom and the forest is putting forth its luxuriant leafs very green.
We had a short drill this forenoon. I received a letter from you Sunday night. It was so dark I could not read it until Monday morning. I was o picket. I went on Saturday morning and come off Monday morning. We had a good time. It was warm and pleasant.
I have not seen Elisha for over a week. The 15th [Vermont] Regiment has moved down to the Rappahannock [River]. I expect to go on picket again tomorrow. I expected to go and see Harrison before this time but they are not going to grant any more furloughs. We have so much to do, it takes every man that is able to do anything.
I expect to go on Battalion drill this afternoon. It is so hot, I sweat sitting in the shade like a man mowing but a few short weeks will bring me nearer to thee where we can dispense with writing. But don’t take any pride in what I say. Don’t look for me until I come. Then you won’t be disappointed.
I washed out my shirts this forenoon in cold water. I took them in the brook.
The rebels set two bridges on fire yesterday but our men saw it in season to put it out.
You needn’t buy any sheep until I get home. Buy as early as a pig as you can and if you don’t have milk enough for it, put in a little meal. Keep the cow well. Give her a little meal until she can get her living in the pasture and she will give more milk.
How does Father get along with his work. Is wages very high this spring?
It is most time to drill and I guess I won’t write anymore now. For dinner I had boiled potatoes and fried ham. For supper, fried beans and bread. So you see we have enough to eat.
We had a short drill this afternoon. It lasted about one hour. It was took warm to drill. It is reported that Richmond is taken but I can’t say as it is true. But it is getting rather dark to write. But I must close by wishing you health, happiness, and prosperity. This from M. F. Bean
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
Letter No. 11
Camp at Union Mills, Va.
June 18th 1863
My Dear Wife,
I now seat myself to answer your kind letter that I received today and was glad to hear that you was well. Your letter was not numbered. It was mailed the 13th of June. Your letter before this was No. 11.
We have not had any rain for over two months. Now it bids fair for a rain tonight. It is dreadful dusty. Hooker’s army — or small part of it — passed by here this week. It commenced coming Monday just a night and finished Wednesday afternoon. Mostly the baggage train Tuesday night. There was about four hundred teams staid here and two companies for guards besides some stragglers. There has been some skirmishing below Bealton Station. The most of the army has gone we think to Harper’s Ferry in the rear of Lee’s army. Lee is marching toward Maryland. They have called out one hundred thousand men out of about 5 states to defend Maryland [and] New Jersey. They think they will get Old Lee this time.
The 1st Brigade was at Fairfax Station last night and Samuel [B. Young] went to see William Young. He was well and tough as a knot. He staid there with William all night. They started this morning about 5 o’clock. They expected to go to Harper’s Ferry.
The 12th Regiment expects to start for home in one week from tomorrow and I think the brigade will all go as soon as they can get transportation. After that, it won’t exceed 4 weeks at the most. The 15th came in here yesterday. We expect the 13th in here this week.
You wrote you wished I was there the night you wrote your letter. You don’t wish so anymore than I do but the time is near at hand when I shall be at home to stay a little while if I live.
Lieut. [Daniel Moulton] Clough lost 61 dollars this morning. I think I shall not send home any more money in letters. I think I shall keep it by me until I come home. I guess you can get along 4 weeks if I don’t send anymore.
Ira is not very well now. He has been unwell a week or more. He is rather bilious but he will get smart again in a few days, I think. He send his love to you. His folks are well.
June 19th. It rained most all night. It is showery today. I have not much to write. I have sent two papers. Elisha [Boutwell] is at Fairfax Station. I have packed up two overcoats, one blanket, two shirts, and some little trinkets so we shan’t have so much to lug on a march. This letter will start today.
Give my love to all. This from your affectionate husband, — Merrill F. Bean
To my Old Hen. Yours truly. I guess I will send 10 dollars more the last this time.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN
Letter No. 12
Union Mills, [Va.]
June 21, 1863
My Dear Wife,
With pleasure I seat myself to answer your kind letter which I received today and was glad to hear from you again but was sorry you could not get that miniature taken. But never mind. Send it as soon as you can without putting yourself to too much trouble for we don’t expect to stay here not over 4 weeks longer. This letter I got was No. 13.
You wanted I should write how many was sick in our company. Henry [Harrison] Clough is sick, gone to hospital today — perhaps a little homesick. Mr. [Charles H.] Johnson, John Bean is getting better. There is two at Alexandria and one at Fairfax Seminary making 6 in all and we have lost 5 by death.
The Army of the Potomac has changed its position. We think there will be another Bull Run fight. There has been heavy cannonading all day in the direction of Hay Market or Snicker’s Gap near Warrington — about 10 or 12 miles from us. I don’t think we shall be in the fight. We still keep the picket line on Bull Run. The 12th’s time is out in about one week. The 13th’s time is out the 10th of July. But perhaps they will take us home as fast as they can get transportation after the 12th starts.
Emily, guess you had better not get your miniature taken unless you can get them taken within two weeks. You need’t worry any about me for I don’t think we shall be in any fight but if we are, I shall pity the Johnnies — that is the Rebels. We shan’t show them much mercy if we have another chance.
Now Emily, don’t worry about me for I don’t think they will put us into any fight [since] our time is so near out. But I don’t think of anything more to write of any importance so I will close by bidding you goodbye for this time. This from your affectionate husband, — M. F. Bean
Yours truly. To Emily P. Bean