Allen Benson of Co C wearing the uniform of the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery
These letters were written by Alphonso F. Smith (1839-18xx), the son of Philetus Smith (1798-1879) and Susan ____ (1807-Aft1850) of Sudbury, Rutland County, Vermont. His siblings were Lodoiska Smith (1836), Charles E. Smith (1842), and Adaline E. Smith (1847).
Alphonso (or Alphonzo) Smith was mustered into the 11th Vermont Infantry but the name of the regiment was changed to heavy artillery on 10 December 1862 while on duty in Washington D. C. The regiment was assigned to garrison duty within the defences of Washington, occupying Forts Slocum, Totten, and Stevens. It remained at Washington until May 12, 1864, when it moved, 1,500 strong, to join the Army of the Potomac. Although nominally a heavy artillery regiment, it served as infantry, the only difference being in its larger organization; it had 12 companies of 150 men each, with a captain and four lieutenants for each company, forming three battalions with a major for each. The regiment arrived at the front on May 15th, when it was assigned to the Vermont Brigade, and two days later it went into action near Spotsylvania. On June 1st, Major Fleming’s Battalion was engaged in the storming of Cold Harbor, with a loss of 13 killed and 107 wounded. In the affair at the Weldon Railroad, June 23d, the regiment lost 9 killed, 36 wounded, and 257 captured or missing, the captured men belonging to Fleming’s Battalion. It was next engaged in Sheridan’s campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, where Lieutenant Colonel Chamberlin fell mortally wounded in the fight at Charlestown. At the Opequon, the regiment lost 8 killed, 85 wounded, and 6 missing; and at Cedar Creek, 13 killed, 74 wounded, and 20 missing. Returning to Petersburg, it was engaged in the final and victorious assault, with a loss of 5 killed and 45 wounded.
Alphonso enlisted in Co. C as a private in August 1862. He was promoted to corporal in August 1863, and to sergeant in January 1864. Unfortunately he did not live to return home to his beloved “grand state of Vermont.” He died of disease on 6 August 1864.
Two fellow members of Co. C, 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery are mentioned frequently in these letters. They are Melvin (“Melve”) D. Walker and Franklin (“Frank”) D. Smith of Benson, Vermont. Melvin was discharged for disability in April 1864, just before the regiment was pulled from the defenses of Washington D. C. to participate on the Overland Campaign of 1864.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Fort Stevens in Washington D.C.
July 5th, 1863
I received your very welcome letter in due time and was glad to hear from you that you & all the friends was well. I hd begun to think that you had forgotten [me] as you had such a cousin; please don’t be negligent about writing as a soldier likes to know he isn’t forgotten at home. Please don’t think I am finding fault as I am not in the least.
You speak of being at meeting the day you wrote me & wondered if I had. I will tell you how I passed the day. We had inspection of arms & accoutrements at 9 o’clock. About noon we got news that a Brigade of Rebel cavalry was within 6 miles of us which was a fact. They captured a train of 150 wagons & 900 mules that belonged to General Pleasanton’s Cavalry (federal). ¹ They passed along & encamped about 5 miles from us for the night. There isn’t but 4 companies here to garrison this fort. We slept on our arms that night in the fort & have most of the time since they left the next day across the Potomac. We have to work now fortifying & strengthening the forts so that is the way we passed the day on which you wrote to me.
This is Sabbath day on which people assemble to their respective places of worship but how different it is in the army; no meetings — at least not very often, and now today our company is out cropping & at work on the fort but we don’t work Sundays unless it is absolutely necessary. We have been expecting [an] attack here every night but I guess the rebs won’t bother us here as it is very strongly fortified here. I guess this will not interest you much so I will change the subject.
Oh, about our dancing, our partners are of the masculine gender instead of those women of color. No indeed, I would not condescend to speak to such. I received a letter from G. W. Hill a lost time since & he said that the friends was all well. I wrote to cousin Henry a few days ago. I was surprised to hear that Martha was married. There is a fellow in our company that knows her husband well. I pity you Anne if you are as lazy as you tell.
My head aches so I can’t write so I guess I will draw this dry mess to a close. Oh, about the 4th [of July], how and where did you spend the day? I stayed in camp all day. Give my love to Uncle Abner & Francis & Aunt & all the cousins. Share a part yourself.
This from your cousin, — Fon
(Write soon & all the news.)
¹ This is a reference to Jeb Stuart’s capture of Union supply wagons and mules “within sight of Washington” near the end of June 1863 while he was moving independently from Lee’s command prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. The exact number of wagons and mules captured isn’t known but these figures clearly originate with Meigs’ dispatch wherein he complained of the failure to properly protect the wagon train with armed escorts.
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Fort Stevens, D. C.
October 23, 1863
Having nothing in particular to do this evening, I thought I would improve the time by writing you and let you know that yours of October 5th came to hand in due time. I was glad to hear from you & should [have] answered it ere this but for the want to time. I am well and growing fleshy every day. I weigh 180 lbs. now.
About those fine looking ladies I spoke of in my last, I don’t think they are loyal and presume they are for the Union but have never asked them as to that. I don’t believe they would secede but don’t know as I never asked them nor wouldn’t dare to. You know Charles isn’t so bashful I hear, naughty boy. Now I shall have to dance in the pigs trough according to the old saying — I guess he has been very lonesome since I left home.
I received a letter from mother yesterday stating that I had a new sister. I wish them much joy certainly — all things are for the best. Jim has ceased calling on Addie a long time ago. It won’t do to believe all your news these stirring times, you know (anything but a Haven I say). I guess she heeded a brother’s advice. Jim will show himself a Haven yet. What a pity he is absent from home so much. His mother must feel very bad.
Please tell me what the news is that is stirring up in Vermont. I surely wrote you the ____ truth. It is true I have several correspondents but I write to one as often as another the same as I do to you. Don’t laugh for it is so. Ha. Ha. I expect the next I hear that you have changed your name to that of some nice fellow. But that is the way of all the world. I suppose you are enjoying life now as Sarah & Melvin are at home with you. I should like to call in some of these fine moonshiney nights. I think I should enjoy it much but that can’t be for the present.
Tell Sarah & Melvin to write to me. Where is Alvira. I haven’t heard a word about her since I left home. We haven’t got our new barracks done yet but nearly so — all but the windows & doors. Our company have been practicing on firing to today at target practice. I made 6 shots — 3 solid shots and 3 spherical base shells. I hit the target 3 times at the distance of 7/8ths of a mile — 24 lb. gun. I guess this won’t interest you much so will close.
Remember me to Alvira & all the friends. Should be pleased to receive a line from her. I will answer it. Please write soon & all the news. Give my regards to your people. Accept this with the regard of your couz, — Corpl. Alphonso
To Couz Mina
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Fort Stevens, D. C.
November 15th, 1863
Dear Cousin Elmina,
As it is a very rainy day and therefore prevents us from having inspection, it leaves me a little time which I ill improve by answering your welcome letter of November 8th which came to hand in due time. I was glad to hear you all was well. I am quite well nowadays. I too wish that I had no great sin than writing to a friend on the Sabbath day. I know that I do, couz, but how can I help myself is a greater question I often ask myself. Surrounded by nearly all sorts of company as a soldier is, I take care of myself the best I can & leave the rest to Him who judgeth all things well.
Well, couz, this is a long rainy day but is going to clear off I guess for it seems to be growing lighter than it was. Our regiment was paid off last week with those very acceptable greenbacks which never come amiss. Perhaps I shall enter a pleasant parlor when I get home, but you are fixing up yours so nice. Sets me to thinking that perhaps it means something. How is it couz? If Chas. has got the start of me, I am not in the least discouraged for there is time enough yet I reckon. Tell Elvira that I suppose it belongs to me to write first according to rules of etiquette. But being old friends so ought not be particular. If I can get time, I will write her soon. I have several correspondents and but little time to write.
Noe couz, don’t wait to see how I make out as you might possibly live an old maid. When? How I detest an old maid. Can get along with an old batchelor. I wasn’t made aware you was a very old girl. If that is so, what are all the rest? Can’t see it myself.
I received a letter from [sister] Lodoiska a few days ago. She wrote that Mossifs had bought them a farm. I am glad he has bought him a good home. It will be so much more pleasant to him alone. They have got a good place and L. thinks she shall take lots of comfort when they get moved though they don’t move until next spring.
Well Couz, it has stopped raining and the sun has come out bright as ever. Melvin is well as usual. Frank also. Frank got a letter from William the other day. He was well but is on guard tomorrow. Hope it will be a good day. I was on patrol last Thursday & night and we was in a piece of woods and we scared a possum up a tree. I took off my overcoat & climbed the tree and struck him on the head with a club & killed him. We had a fine time over it.
The bugle is blowing the supper call & I must close soon. Give my regards to all enquiring friends. Tell Uncle Artemus that we must soon have orders. Write soon, all of you. My love to all.
This from your couz, — Corporal Alphonso
To Elmina of Bangtown
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Fort Stevens, D. C.
April 9th 1864
My Cousin Mina,
I now take my pen in hand to address a few lines to you and let you know that I have got back to my company again safe and feeling first rate. I got here last Sunday afternoon. Found the boys all well as usual. Melve is better, I think, than when I left him to go home. Mr. [William T.] Walker is here and is waiting patiently for Melvin’s discharge to come around. It has been sent in & it’s time now for it to come back to Melvin but hadn’t last night. Mr. Walker is over to the hospital now but expect him over here tonight as he stays here with Frank nights.
Oh dear Mina, if I knew how to be lonesome I would get on a streak tonight. It commenced raining about ten o’clock this A.M. and it rains very hard now. It reminds me of the time we marched down to Kalorama Heights one year ago this present month. I haven’t done anything this afternoon on account of this rain and my thoughts have turned back to times now past and gone forever. I thought I should see you again before I left Vermont but it wasn’t possible for me as I had to start a day or two sooner than I had expected. I never shall be sorry that I got a furlough and went home. I had a very pleasant time — in fact, never enjoyed myself better. I don’t know what I shall do when Melve goes home as we have always been together through all sorts of weather. But I can’t wish him to stay here as he now is. Mr. Walker is getting homesick so quick though I don’t blame him, not being used to such a noise and no one at home to see to things as he would.
I guess that we will have to take the field now soon as we are wanted to go as a reserve artillery regiment to General Sedgwick’s Corps and I think that we will have to go. Our officers think so too. I rather hate to leave this place because I have got used to it. But I am ready to go when & wherever the company goes for all that. Well Couz, what are you busying yourself about this rainy, lonesome weather? Can’t step outdoors without loosing your shoes there on the clay. I meant to Mina of had a good long talk with you before I came back but will have to wait now until this cruel war is over as for anything I can see now.
Frank [Smith] is on picket tonight. What a terrible time to be out all night in this storm. It fairly makes me shudder to hear it beat against the window as I am writing this. It is roll call time so I shall have to close. Remember me to Uncles and all the cousins and all enquiring friends. Please write soon and all the news. Accept this with love from your Couz, — Sargt. A. F. Smith
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Camp in the Field, Va.
June 8th 1864
Kind, unforgotten Cousin Mina,
Cheerfully I improve this the first opportunity to answer your very kind letter of the 15th inst. which came to hand in due time & I should [have] answered ere this but for the want of time. I was very glad to hear that all the friends was well. I am tough as a whip as yet.
I tell you, Mina, we are soldiering now in reality. While we lat at the fort, we only played soldiering. Last night we slept all night which is the first night that we have slept within 12 days. We have had to dig rifle pits every night to protect us from the enemy during the day as we advanced our lines every night under cover of darkness. Ever since the last day of May, we have lain under fire of the Johnnies until yesterday morning when we were relieved from the front. We, I mean our battalion when I say we, Companies C, D, E, & F went to the rear about ¾ mile to draw rations & rest a little which all so much needed. I have had several very narrow calls for my head but my time had not come to be hit yet & I trust it won’t. But the Johnnies are very careless in shooting — would as soon hit a fellow as not. Loss in our company so far is one killed & seven wounded.
Charles B. Chase was killed by a piece of shell while we lay on the ground on our faces supporting a battery. He lay within six feet of me. The shell burst just in front of us & one piece struck him in the forehead & killed him instantly. He never made a struggle. ¹
Our captain is sick & has gone to Washington. I don’t believe he will stay in the company long but don’t know. Oh Mina, you can’t imagine what a spectacle the battlefield presents after a hard fought battle & I am glad you can’t. But it’s awful to witness. God knows that I never wish to see another such sight as I have seen. I pray to God that He will spare my life & return me to my native home in the grand state of Vermont. I often think of the pleasant hours passed in company of my friends & long to be with them again.
Gen. U.S. Grant — “a fine looking man — no mistake” (AFS)
I think Gen. Grant is bound & will wipe out this accursed rebellion this summer. The eyes of the whole world most are resting upon him at this time. I see him every day or two most. He is a fine looking man — no mistake. Our army & Lee’s are not over ½ mile apart looking each other in the face. Both armies strongly fortified. There is a movement on foot now which will shake their foundations some before many days. We have some men at work which certainly know their business. Yesterday I was sitting in my shelter tent & a fellow came up & called me by name & who it was I couldn’t tell for the life of me. Finally it crossed through my noodle who it was — G. W. Hill. ² We had a fine chat & he went back to his company who is stationed about one mile from where we are. He is well — looks much better than he used to. He wished to be remembered to all the friends.
I will have to close soon. Enclosed you will find my picture. It’s not a very good one but it’s the only one I now have. I shall expect yours [in return]. I don’t know when I can write any more as I haven’t only one envelope. Can’t get anymore here, stamps, nor nothing else. But I am in hopes to get out of the Wilderness before long. Give my respects to all the friends remembering me to Uncle & &C. &c. Accept this & excuse all mistakes for they are many.
From your cousin, — Alphonso
¹ Charles B. Chase was killed in action on 1 June 1864 which would have been at Cold Harbor, Virginia.
² Pvt. George W. Hill served in Company E, 3rd Battery, Vermont Light Artillery. He was killed in action near Petersburg on 22 June 1864 — just a couple of weeks after chatting with Alphonse.
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
Camp in the Field 4 miles south of Petersburg, Va.
June 26th 1864
Dear Couz. Mina,
I seat myself with pen in hand this pleasant Sabbath morning to answer your kind favor of the 19th inst. which came to hand this morning. I was glad to hear that all the friends was well. I am well as usual excepting a lame side caused by carrying our Lieut. [Merritt H.] Sherman off the skirmish line after he was shot. He was a large man — weighed most 200 pounds and I strained myself all over & I am quite sore ____.
Lt. Merritt H. Sherman, Co. C, 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery — His body was carried from the battlefield by Smith & two others
I will have to tell you about the awful time I had that day. It was the 23rd inst. Lt. Sherman & 40 men from our company were detailed for pickets. I was one of them. We advanced our line in the afternoon, net the Rebs skirmish line, drove them back three times. Finally they through negligence of somebody not giving us proper support, we was flanked on the right & left. We had to retire with the loss of 3 killed & seven wounded out of the 40 and 4 are missing — supposed taken prisoners. Myself & two others carried Lt. Sherman ¾ of a mile about. He was shot through the forehead which killed him almost instantly. His only last word were, “Carry me off.” I was but a few steps from him when he was shot. I don’t believe I should felt much worse if it had been my own brother. He was 22 years & 20 days old. I think his remains will be sent home to Clarendon, Vermont. ¹
I don’t see why I wasn’t shot a hundred times that afternoon. The bullets flew around me like hailstones. I do sincerely thank God [for] protecting me from harm. I lost my company that night & finally stayed with Nathaniel Bucklin of the 5th Vermont. I heard the next day that my company was all taken prisoners but in the afternoon they all came in from the front all right. I tell you Couz, I wouldn’t [have] been more pleased to see my own brothers than I was to see my old company coming in. They all supposed me dead until I came up where they were. Soon as they saw me, all the boys got hold of me to shuck me around as though I was an only brother & I was equally as glad to see them.
There was 321 in killed, wounded, & missing in our regiment that day. I don’t know what as this will interest you much but I haven’t anything else to write — only that I am well. So you must excuse a poor letter from me. Wish that I had better news o write. We have lost quite heavy. All the boys are well from that vicinity. It seems by your letter that you haven’t received an answer to your other two. Now I answered it the 8th of this month but our letters don’t go home in 3 or 4 days after they are mailed. Yours was mailed the 21st & I got it this morning. We haven’t done anything for 2 days now. I don’t see how we are allowed to [go] to that Haven of rest prepared for those ___ love & follow His commandments. May your & J’s all be prepared for that time which surely will come to all.
I am glad Melvin is getting along so well. I wish he would write to me. I suppose his Father is very busy building now. Melvin was lucky getting his discharge when he did. I haven’t heard from him in several days & I am anxious to hear. I don’t think of anything more this time. Please excuse this poorly written letter. I will try to do better next time. Remember me to all enquiring friends & write soon. Accept this love from your couz, — Alphonso
¹ In the morning of the 23d Capt. Walker sent out 140 men to the picket line, under command of First Lieutenant Henry Chase of company E, a good officer, with whom were Lieutenants Sherman of company C, Bedell of company D, and O. R. Lee of company M. In the afternoon this line was advanced half a mile, when it’s left was uncovered by the failure of the skirmishers on the left of it to advance and make connection. The line was attacked soon after. The men, having piled rails for their protection, repulsed two attacks, and held their ground till they were flanked and had to withdraw in haste. Lieutenant Merritt H. Sherman was killed. Lieutenant Sherman was a young officer of high patriotism and promise. He was a native of Danby, and was a member of the sophomore class in the Wesleyan University at Middletown, Conn., at the time of his enlistment. While at home in the summer of 1862, he enlisted as a private in the Eleventh, saying that he thought it “a shame for a strong young man to be poring over Latin and Greek when his country needed him.” His fine personal character, aptness and fidelity soon attracted attention, and he was promoted through the non-commissioned grades, to the second lieutenancy of his company. He was a thoroughly efficient officer, so careful that, as one of his comrades said, “nobody ever expected a mistake from Sherman,” yet cool and gallant in action. Barely of age when he sealed his service with his blood, he left behind him the example of a life of Christian principle and true manhood.
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