These two letters were written by an unknown author who signed his name “Henry” and “H. C.” Unfortunately there are no envelopes to aid in the identification. From the letters we learn that he is serving under 46 year-old, former merchant, Capt. Alden Hathaway Comstock (1819-1891) — an Assistant Quarter Master in the Army of the James in 1865. Capt. Comstock was from Bedford, Cuyahoga County, Ohio and first served as the regimental quartermaster of the 45th Ohio Infantry.
In the 2nd letter, Henry writes with some familiarity of the Grumley family which I believe were Edward M. Grumley (1828-1911) and Chauncey Brainard Grumley (1834-1911), the sons of James Newell Grumley (1798-1832) and (Freelove Wilcox (1799-1865) of Saybrook, Connecticut. In the 1860 census, Edward and Chauncey are enumerated in Groton, Connecticut — Edward as a “mariner” and Chauncey as a “sea captain.” Chauncey had a couple of sons who died young.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 1
Jones Landing, Virginia
February 26th 1865
I will now give you an account of my journey to this uncivilized place. After I left New York, I went over to Jersey City and like a fool got into the 4 o’clock train which only goes as far as Philadelphia. I should have taken the 8 o’clock through Express for Washington. After waiting an hour and ¾ in Philadelphia, I started for Baltimore which place I reached just in time to see the Norfolk boat go out of the harbor. Oh, I forgot to say that I missed Case in New York and kept right on knowing that if I was in time at Baltimore, I should catch him at the boat. But you see providentially he went up street to do something and he got left by the boat. I as soon as I got out of the cars stood thinking which hotel I should stop at and finally concluded to go to the Maltby House on Pratt Street, got my supper, and set down and wrote him a letter stating how I missed the train and asking him what to do. After that I went to bed as I was very tired and in the morning came down and after breakfast stood by the window looking out on the street when on my turning around to get my coat to go up street, who should I meet but Case standing by the other window. Well you can imagine the meeting. We neither of us knew what to say for a moment but we finally recovered enough to both commence asking questions of each other. It appears he waited for me in Jersey City and thinking I would get left, he started back to New York to find me at the hotel. When he got back, he found that he was left and had to wait over one train so that I got to Baltimore at 6 o’clock and he got there at ½ past nine after I had gone to bed.
After that I had no farther trouble, got a pass from the Provost Marshall to Fort Monroe and got one there for Bermuda Hundred. I stayed there all night and came up here the next afternoon. This is about 10 miles by water from Richmond and six by land, so you see I am on the extreme front. Aikens Landing where we exchange prisoners is right across the river from here. We are on the southwest bank of the James [River] and 8 miles above City Point by land and 22 by water. We are expecting the Rebel Rams down every night but are not alarmed at all as to the consequences. We have got gunboats and monitors enough here to eat them up.
I have got a place here with Capt. A. H. Comstock and my address will be care Capt. A. H. Comstock, A. 2. __ C., Jones Landing, Va. I will now close with love to mother and all the folks. I remain your affectionate son, — Henry
P. S. Please send me some stamps in your letter for it is impossible to get any here. I hope Anna got home safely. My love to Mrs. Harris. Write soon. — H. C.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 2
Jones’ Landing, Virginia
March 12th 1865
My Dear Mother,
I received Father’s letter some days since but have been so busy that I could not answer it before. I have all that I can attend to and sometimes a little more than I wish I had although I get along nicely for a green hand. The business I am in is the issuing of hay and corn, oats and straw, for the whole Army of the James under General [Edward O. C.] Ord, who relieved General [Benjamin] Butler. The forage masters of the divisions, corps, brigades, and regiments all have to come to me to get their orders which I give them at the rate of 50 a day; each 50, four different orders — one for hay, one for oats, one for straw, and one for for corn, which I have to copy off into three different books.
Then I have to attend to the transportation book. Captains of all vessels arriving at this port have to report to me and I endorse their arrivals on the back of their sailing orders and when they are discharged, I have to make out a new set and clear them from the port. Tell Father the Mars is used as a transport between here and City Point. She leaves here every morning at 8 o’clock and then every afternoon at 4 o’clock making the trip in about 2 hours. Capt. Grumley [of the steamer Mars] did not lose his fingers but his hand is stiff. He has lost his little boy which he and Al will remember being on the boat with him and now Chauncey [Grumley] has gone home as he is not expected to live. Ed [Grumley] is the same old sixpence. They are all well and wish to be remembered to Father.
I had the honor of being called up out of bed night before last to take a dispatch to the flagship of the fleet of gunboats which lay under the Rebel guns. It was from General Grant to Commodore Radmore who commands the fleet. I then had to go to Aiken’s Landing and take a special mail from General [John] Gibbon to General Grant at his headquarters at City Point at which place I arrived at ½ past 4 o’clock in the morning and then got back here at ½ past 6 o’clock and no sleep for me yesterday.
General Grant and staff reviewed this army today which means fight. I had the pleasure of seeing the general and his wife — also several other ladies — the only ones of white color I have seen since I left Baltimore and you may bet I took a good long look.¹
We have had very unpleasant weather lately or you would have heard of something from this army before this. We are opposite Aiken’s Landing connected by a pontoon bridge and right under the fire of the Rebel guns if they choose to open on us but out gunboats and Forts Brady and Harrison look them in the face and say don’t you do it and they don’t, although when I first came here they used to scare me in the night considerably and I could not sleep. Still they are firing now at one another not 3 miles from where I now sit and I don’t mind them anymore than I do the niggers around here.
Well, I will close as it is 12 P.M. and I am tired. Give my love to all the boys and grandma, uncles George and Sam and aunt Mary, Mrs. Harris, Father, and Anna. Tell her to write me, also Al. If I do not answer them right away, they must remember that I am down here alone and no one here I know and when I get things systematized a little, I will do so. No more tonight from your ever loving son, — Henry
Direct to care of Capt. A. H. Comstock, Assistant Quarter Master
P. S. Please excuse this long letter but I had no note paper. — Henry
¹ New York Times reporter Henry H. Young submitted a report on Sunday, 12 March 1865, stating that “we are now receiving daily visits from ladies connected with families of leading gentlemen in Washington and officers of this army, these occasions are generally graced with the presence of some of the fair guests. Yesterday I noticed Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Gen. Grant, among the number of visitors.”