1864-65: Diary of Josiah Joshua Shuman


Josiah Joshua Shuman in civilian attire (probably post-war)

This daily diary was kept by Josiah Joshua Shuman (1837-1926) during his service in the Union army during the Civil War. Josiah was the son of Benjamin Shuman (1799-1870) and Mariah Wallace (1802-1885) of Mowersville, Pennsylvania. Josiah was a 25 year-old school teacher in Washington, Pennsylvania, when he registered for the draft in June 1863. He subsequently enlisted on 13 September 1864 in Co. I, 198th Pennsylvania Infantry as a private. National Park Service records indicate Josiah was wounded in fighting near the White Oak Swamp, Virginia, and “unaccounted for” on 31 March 1865. If true, his wounds were insufficient to preclude his remaining with the regiment as his own diary will attest.

After the war, Josiah returned to Pennsylvania where he resumed teaching school. In 1870, he was teaching in Lurgan, Franklin county, Pennsylvania. Three years later, Josiah married Annis Rebecca Uhler (1849-1926) of Chambersburg and together they had at least nine children.

Josiah’s younger brother, Simon Shuman (1842-1864), was not fortunate in his military service. Simon — a plasterer from Lurgan, Pennsylvania — was drafted in 1863 and mustered into Company D of the 148th Pennsylvania on 28 August. On-line family records indicate that Simon was captured and died at Andersonville Prison in 1864. See — 1863: Simon Shuman to George H. Mowery

[Editor’s Note: This diary transcription was submitted to me for publication by descendants of Josiah J. Shuman hoping that it may prove useful to historians and that it may lead them to the discovery of the original diary which was once held by a relative. See notes below the diary.]


August 1864
30 — Left home Aug 30th to enlist in army.


Col. Horatio G. Sickel

31 — Enlisted in the 198 Reg. under Col. [Horatio Gates] Sickel at Philadelphia. Entered Camp Cadualader.

September 1864
18 — Left the same.
19 — Left Baltimore. Arrived at Washington.
21 — Left Washington.
22 — Arrived at City Point.
23 — Left City Point. Arrived at Bermuda Hundred.
24 — Left Bermuda Hundred. Arrived at City Point. Left City point. Arrived at Weldon Rail Road.
25 — Encampt.
26 — Drill in camp.
27 — ” ” ”
28 — On picket for first time. First head louse caught and killed. A member of Co. H. shot himself through the foot.
29 — Still on picket. Weather fair. Picket drawn in at 3. o’clock. 198 Reg. expected to leave any hour, having everything in readiness.
30 — Moved in line of battle toward the Danville R. R. Took a line of breastworks & 3 forts.

October 1864
1 — Threw up and improved the works.
2 — Moved in line of battle again, but the day closed without being engaged. Threw up
entrenchments in evening.
3 — Lying behind the breastworks & improving them.
4 — Still in the works doing nothing, in the evening marched [?] of a mile to the rear &
5 — Improving tents & drilling.
6 — Drill in camp. The 21st Reg. left our corps to be mounted.
7 — Policed the streets of our camp.
8 — Rec’d orders to march, but in the evening they were countermanded.
9 — Preaching & dress parade.
10 — Drill in camp.
11 — Election held. 26 votes cast in Co. I, 23 of which were Republican & 3 Democratic.
12 — Drill 12th & 13th both.
14 — Drill & a deserter shot for deserting to Rebel ranks, captured by the same camp from which he deserted.
15 — General inspection.
16 — Visited Joseph Taylor & while being away, our Brig. moved the right in the rear of the
17 — Improving our streets & tents. Secretary of War expected but did not come.
18 — General Meade & Staff rode along the lines.
19 — Practiced skirmish drill for the first time.
20 — Skirmish drill.
21 — Drill.
22 — W[alker] R. Bittner sent to the Hospital.
23 — Inspection morning. Preaching at 2 o’clock & dress parade in the evening.
27 — Started on a march to the left of our line and returned on 28th. From Oct. 28 till Nov. 8. Nothing of importance done in camp, drill &c.

November 1864
8 — Election held, 47 votes cast in Co. I, 27 for Lincoln & 20 for Little Mac.
9 — Ordered to put up winter quarters.
10 — Ordered out on picket.
11 — Still on picket duty.
12 — ” ” ” ”
13 — Relieved.
14 — Putting up tents.
15 — General inspection
16 — Company drill.
17 — Policing streets & quarter inspection.
18 — Building 2nd Lieutenant’s tent, but did not complete it.
19 — Raining. Nothing done but regular camp duty.
20 — Raining.
21 — ”
22 — Morning sky clear and sun shining clear. Evening cloudy.
23 — Clear but cold. Captain’s tent began to be built but not finished. Orders read at head of companies concerning the one day’s ration system.
24 — Thanksgiving Day. President’s Proclamation read to Reg. on dress parade by the Chaplain.
25 — Camp drill &c.
26 — Drill & Captain’s tent nearly finished.
27 — Company inspection. Visit paid us by John Breckenridge & Wise.
28 — Detailed for picket.
29 — All quiet on the picket line. Division review.
30 — Still on picket. Weather fair.

December 1864
1 — Relieved of picket duty.
2 — Brigade drill.
3 — No drill, but dress parade.
4 — Company inspection. Brigade dress parade in the evening.
5 — Brigade drill. Preparations being made for a move.
6 — Moved from camp & marched some 3 or 4 miles & tented in the wilderness for the night.
7 — Marched at 6 o’clock & reached the Nottoway R. about 4 P. M. Took supper & slept till
about 2 A. M.
8 — We then crossed the river on the pontoons & marched till daybreak, when we stopped to make coffee, being detained one hour. Passed Sussex C. H. about 9 o’clock A.M. Dec. 8th, 1864, & marched till within one mile of the Weldon R. R. There we stopped and took
supper at 6 o’clock & supported the party which were tearing up the roads on the skirmish
line till 12 o’clock then retired.
9 — Started again & went towards Hicks Ford until about 2 o’clock P. M. where we stopped to tear up the R. R. Worked at that about 2 hours, and then went into the camp for the night.
10 — Packed up again at dawn of day and marched back by a different route till within 2 miles of Sussex C. H. & encamped again for the night.
11 — Started again at dawn and passed the C. H. and crossed the Nottoway R. & encamped again for the night.
12 — Started again at break of day and marched back to the place where we encamped on the night of the 6th. Reached the place about 2 o’clock. We then pitched tents & made ourselves as comfortable as possible.
13 — Having no orders to move, we lay in our camp & rested ourselves.
14 & 15th — doing nothing.
16 — Preparing for inspection.
17 — General inspection.
18 — Sunday―line struck for our camp.
19 — On picket.
20 — ” ”
21 — ” ”
22 — Relieved of picket duty. Returned to camp & commenced building the tents of our new camp.
23 — Building tents. Col. [Horatio G.] Sickel returned from his 20-day furlough.
24 — Building tents.
25 — Christmas. Some of the men worked till 3 o’clock when the axes were turned in. Preaching at 3 P. M.
26 — Building tents.
27 — Church commenced.
28 — Building tents.
29 —  ”  ”
30 — Doing nothing.
31 — Weather unfavorable for tent building. Raining & snowing all day, camp guard called out at night to stop the men from firing off their pieces.

January 1865
1 — Weather clear & cold with a little snow on the ground.
2 — Church building resumed & the Parsonage began.
3 — Building church & Chaplain tent. Shift of snow fell in the evening.
4 — Still at church & tent. Snow all melted away during the day, sun shining bright.
5 — Working at the church and chaplain’s tent. The body of the Rebel Captain removed from the middle of our lines to their own by orders of Gen. Grant.
6 — James B. Slaymaker left our shanty to drive an ambulance. Heavy rain in P. M.
7 — Weather clear. Great house roofed. Street policed. Chaplain’s tent roofed, floor put in.
8 — Company inspection. Preaching at 2 o’clock P. M. Dress parade at 4 P. M.
9 — Chaplain’s tent finished. Brig. dress parade.
10 — Nothing done in the way of working.
11 — Paving streets commenced. Building church.
12 — Working at church & Pavements.
13 — Putting seats in church.
14 — Church finished & boots received from V. Kriner, Waynesboro, Franklin Co., Penna.
15 — Church dedicated. Sermon preached from the 1st verse of the 122nd Psalm. Also preaching in the evening, sermon preached by Chaplain 189 P. V.
16 — general inspection of arms & quarters.
17 — Paving our streets.
18 — On guard duty.
19 — Washed shirt and drawers in the morning, and were stolen in the evening. Batallion Drill.
20 — Police duty in morning. Batallion Drill in evening.
21 — Did nothing in the way of camp duty. Rec’d a book from the library viz. Pioneer Boy
22 — Preaching in afternoon.
23 — Reported at Fort Stevenson and returned the book & rec’d another― Chambers Papers for the People vol. 3.
24 — Toothache all day & experienced an unsuccessful attempt to draw the tooth.
25 — Visit paid us by Cyrus Hazelet & Joseph Taylor. Batallion Drill in evening.
26 — On guard duty.
27 — The whole Reg. called out in afternoon to do police duty.
28 — On police duty. Batallion Drill in evening.
29 — Sunday. Company inspection in morn. Preaching in afternoon. Dress parade in eve. W[alker] R. Bittner returned to the Reg. from Hospital.
30 — Company drill in morn. Detailed to work at the Asst. Surgeon’s tent.
31 — Company drill in morn. Batallion Drill in evening.

February 1865
1 — [no entry]
2 — On guard duty.
3 — Washing & Batallion Drill.
4 — On Fatigue duty putting floor in guard house. Rec’d orders to march with 4 day’s rations.
5 — Started on our march at 6 o’clock & marched towards the South Side R. R. After marching some 12 or 15 miles, we encamped for the night.
6 — But as the Rebs seemed to threaten our flank we retraced our steps starting at 12 or 1
o’clock and marched back about 5 or 6 miles. Halting at day dawn on the morn of the 6th at
Hatcher’s Run where we remained until 4 o’clock when we were marched into a fight with
the rebs and drove them into their works. The engagement closing with our Brig. at
sundown, although the fight was kept up with them till after dark. Our Brig. remained in line of battle all that night and…
7 — on the morning of the 7th were again advanced to support the skirmishers line. The skirmishers firing ceasing in a short time we went back to the run again leaving the artillery & cavalry to take care of the rebs in our front.
8 — Still at the same place all being quiet along the lines.
9 — At the same place. Commenced to build a fort on the north side of the Hatcher’s run.
10 — Detailed on picket duty, the regiment remaining at the works.
11 — Picket line drawn in.
12 — Still on picket. One reb citizen brought in.
13 — Relieved of picket duty.
14 — Putting up shanty.
15 — On fatigue putting up abatises.
16 — Working at shanties.
17 — Inspection of arms.
18 — Finished out shanty.
19 — Sunday. Rested. Dress parade in evening. J[ohn] M. Shearer started home on furlough.
20 — On picket duty.
21 — ” ” ”
22 — Relieved of picket duty. Brig. review at 2 o’clock P. M. Visit paid us by Joseph Taylor.
23 — Wrote a letter to J. J. Miller & David Barnhart.
24 — Improving our tent. Dress parade.
25 — Wrote a letter to William Mowery.
26 — Sunday inspection. Dress parade in evening. Signed the payroll.
27 — Rec’d 4 month pay & first instalment of the Gov. Bounty.
28 — Mustered for two month more pay. C[harles] W. Taylor left for home on furlough.

March 1865
1 — On fatigue
2 — Did nothing.
3 — Got an Ambrotype taken
4 — Policed the Company streets.
5 — Company inspection.
6 — On picket. J[ohn] M. Shearer returned from home.
7 — On picket. 12 rebs came in on our line.
8 — Relieved of picket.
9 — Wrote 4 letters.
10 — Did nothing.
11 — Visited by C[yrus] Hazelet.
12 — Dress parade in evening.
13 — Policed the street and company drill in the forenoon & Brig. Drill in afternoon.
14 — Skirmish drill in forenoon & Corps review in afternoon. Rec’d orders to be ready to move. Sutler left late in evening.
15 — S[amuel] Sentman left camp for home on furlough. Sent our surplus baggage to City Point.
16 — Company drill in forenoon. Corps review in afternoon.
17 — C[hales] W. Taylor returned from home. Horse race in evening.
18 — Majority of company on fatigue duty. Dress parade in evening.
19 — Inspection in morning.
20 — On fatigue duty in morn. Division review in afternoon & dress parade in evening.
21 — Company drill in forenoon & afternoon.
22 — Company drill in forenoon & Batallion Drill in afternoon.
23 — General inspection.
24 — Company drill.
25 — Our lines attacked by the rebs. 1st Div. called out early in the morning & was on the reserve all day but not engaged [with] rebs. [Robert] Harvey [of] Co. I wounded. Came back to our quarters about nine o’clock at night. Fort Stedman.
26 — Rec’d orders to be ready to move at a moments notice. On picket. Relieved in the evening by the 2nd Corps.
27 — Still in camp ready to move. Batallion Drill in afternoon.
28 — Still in camp ready to move.
29 — Moved off in the direction of the South Side R. R. Met the enemy in the evening and had a fight with them. J[ohn] M. Shearer wounded.
30 — Lay [bivouacked] on the battle field all day.
31 — Moved in toward the front and were in line of battle all day. In the evening retook the
ground which the 3rd Div. lost in the morning. Lt. [A. A.] Pomeroy & N[oah] H. Shearer killed.

April 1865
1 — Started in the morning and moved to the left of the line and met Gen. Sheridan’s Cavalry about noon. In the evening marched to the front and aided in capturing a line of reb works and a lot of prisoners. Five Forks.
2 — Started about 11 o’clock marched to the South Side R. R. Finding no enemy we marched toward Petersburg & encamped for the night about 9 or 10 mi south of Petersburg.
3 — Marched all day toward the Danville R. R.
4 — Continued our march toward the Danville and reached it about dark & commenced
fortifying ourselves.
5 — Lay in the works all day.
6 — Started on our march toward the Appomattox C. H. Encamped for the night at 1/2 past 8 o’clock.
7 — Marched again at 6 o’clock and reached Prince Edward C. H. at 9 o’clock P. M. and
encamped for the night.
8 — Continued our march after the Rebs. Stopped at midnight nothing of interest having
transpired during the day.
9 — Marched at 4 o’clock & reached the Appomattox about 10 o’clock when and where the Rebs were entirely surrounded by the Union Troops & Gen Lee Surrendered his whole forces consisting of 35,000 troops.
10 — Encamped at Appomattox.
11 — Moved ½ mi to the east and encamped.
12 — Marched out to receive the rebs arms and then came back to camp.
13 — Laying in camp doing nothing.
14 — ” ” ” ” ”
15 — Moved at 1 o’clock toward Berksville. Encamped in the woods for the night.
16 — Easter Sunday. Started at 6 o’clock and marched to Farmersville. Distance 17 miles.
17 — Started at 8 o’clock from Farmersville & marched about 4 miles beyond Berksville &
encamped in the wilderness.
18 — Established a temporary camp.
19 — In Camp.
20 — Moved toward Berksville till 4 o’clock.
21 — Marched at 6 o’clock. Marched till about 3 o’clock.
22 — Started at 11 o’clock & marched 1 1/2 miles & encamped at White Oak Hospital.
23 — Laying in camp.
24 — Laying in camp. On guard duty at night.
25 — Order read to the Reg. relating to the badge to be worn for the death of Pres. Lincoln.
26 — Still in camp doing nothing.
27 — ” ” ” ” ”
28 — Gen. inspection of arms.
29 — S[amuel] H. Witter started home on furlough.
30 — Mustered in for two more months pay.

May 1865
1 — Marched at 6 o’clock & stopped for the night within 6 miles of Petersburg.
2 — Orders to move. Drew 3 days rations.
3 — Moved through Petersburg and encamped for the Manchester.
4 — Moved about 8 miles nearer Manchester & encamped.
5 — Packed at 9 o’clock but orders being countermanded, we pitched tents & remained in camp till 9 o’clock on the 6th.
6 — Marched in review through Richmond and reached Hanover C. H. about 8 o’clock P. M. having marched 18 miles in the afternoon.
7 — Started at 11 o’clock and marched across the Chickahominy R. Went into camp about
sundown. (Pamunkey)
8 — Moved off at 6 A. M. & marched across the Mattaponi R. about sundown & encamped for the night.
9 — Marched at 5½ o’clock. Passed through Bowling Green in morning & crossed the
Rappahannock at 4½ o’clock. P. M. Encamped 1½ miles N. of Ford’g.
10 — Started at about 7 o’clock and passed Stafford C. H. Crossed Aquia Creek. Camped about sundown.
11 — Moved at 6 A. M. Crossed Occoquan Rover on pontoons in evening. Went into camp about 9 o’clock.
12 — Marched at 6. Passed Fairfax C. H. about 7 A. M. Reached Arlington Heights about 4 P. M.
13 — Lay in camp.
14 — ” ” ”
15 — Changed the location of the camp.
16 — Laying in camp.
17 — In camp doing nothing.
18 — ” ” ” ”
19 — S[amuel] H. Witter returned from furlough.
20 — Turned in our ammunition & received our surplus baggage.
21 — Laying in camp doing nothing.
22 — General Presentation inspection.
23 — Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac.
24 — Gen. Sherman’s Army Review.
25 — Still in camp. General’s Illimination in evening.
26 — Rec’d our Muster Out Rolls.
27 — Doing nothing.
28 — Camping inspection. Dress parade in evening.
29 — Doing nothing.
30 — ”
31 — 185 Reg N. Y. V. left our Brig. for home.

June 1865
1 — Made out the muster out rolls.
2 — Doing nothing.
3 — Escorted Brig Gen. Pearson & the 155th Reg. P. V. to the Long Bridge. Mustered out of
service after which orders came to make out a new set of Muster Rolls for the transferred
men. Finished the 2nd of Rolls about midnight.
4 — Rolls finished & Transferred men. Mustered out.
5 — Broke camp at 5 o’clock and marched to Washington. Took transportation to Philadelphia and at 5 o’clock in evening and Baltimore 9 o’clock P. M.
6 — Arrived at Philadelphia. 9 o’clock A. M. June 6th. Eat breakfast at Cooper’s Institute.
7 — Nothing doing in camp.
8 — Turned in our Government Property.
9 — Doing nothing.
10 — Review in the city but Co. I did not go.
11 — Doing nothing.
12 — Discharged, paid off, & started for home.
13 — Arrived at home.

Message from Submitter of Diary:

My father, Frederick Gale Shuman (now  deceased),  was intensely interested in his family genealogy and before his death was able to amass a number of records and materials about Josiah and Simon Shuman — brothers — who fought for the Union during the Civil War. My sister and I have taken up our dad’s research to try to extend what he found. I am intensely interested and excited to have seen the Simon Shuman letter, as it is one that we had not known existed.

I have a transcript of a diary written by Josiah that he kept during his stint in the Union Army. The original resided with my father’s aunt, and I do not know its present whereabouts; but my father transcribed it back in the 1980s, and I copied and posted it recently on my Ancestry.com page. I would be VERY interested to share other letters and artifacts I have from the Shuman family and to communicate with anyone who can share similar information with me. If you are interested, please e-mail me — deb[dot]shuman@icloud.com — and thank you for helping to preserve the memories of our ancestors.

1862: Lester Bishop Filley to Hila (Corey) Filley


Capt. Frank M. Posey of Co. A, 61st Illinois Infantry

This letter was written by Lester Bishop Filley (1829-1887), the son of Lester Filley (1791-1859) and Corinthia Twinning (1793-1838) of Massachusetts. In the 1860 U.S. Census, Lester and his wife Hila A. Corey (1837-1911) are enumerated as residents of Macoupin County, Illinois. Lester and Hila were married on 26 March 1854 in Jerseyville, Illinois. Their children (in 1860) were Cora (b. 1855) and Dora (b. 1859). By June 1862, when this letter was written, another daughter — named Elizabeth (“Libbie”) — had been born.

At age 33, Lester enlisted in Co. D, 61st Illinois Infantry on 22 March 1863. At the time of his enlistment, he was described as standing 5’4″ tall, with dark hair, gray eyes, and a light complexion. His occupation was recorded as “merchant.” Lester served with the 61st Illinois from 5 February 1862 until he was discharged for disability on 22 March 1863 (another source says 2 May 1864).

To read Filley’s account of the Battle of Shiloh, see Lester B. Filley.


Bethel, Tennessee
June 13, 1862

My Dear Wife,

I am better now. I was sick, very sick, when I last wrote you. I was then on Owl Creek. Last Sunday I was brought here on a bed in an ambulance. I have gained slowly till yesterday I had a set back — puking & purging run – run me down. I was crazy for a few hours but Capt. [John Henry] Reddish — who has done for me all he could — put [a] mustard plaster on my bowels and brought  me out. I am better now but weak. Can not sit up long at a time or walk.

The regiment has just received orders to take 4 days rations in their haversacks and march tomorrow. we don’t know where. I shall go if they can take me in the ambulance. If not, shall remain here till they send for me. I will not go into a army hospital but will follow the regiment or they must send me home. It is supposed we are going to Jackson, Tennessee to summer. If so, I shall ask for a furlough as soon as I think I can get one.

I have not had a letter from you since the one about Wick Post. When shall I get another? Write often. Direct thus: L. B. Filley, 61st Ills. Vol, in the field, Tennesee. I will write as often as I can but as long as I am as weak as I have been for the last week, it will not be often.

We have very pleasant weather — very cold nights. I sleep under two blankets and have suffered some nights at that. The days are hot but I have seen no very hot days yet likeIllinois hot. If I was well and could get out & visit the Secesh friends here, get some milk, bread, & fish a little, I could enjoy myself. But I have to stay in quarters now for over two weeks.

How comes on the baby? Write all about her. Also Baby No. 2 — Dora. I suppose I must not call her baby now. What would I give to see her. Tell her Pa loves her down in Tennessee. And Cora, how much pleasure it will give me when I come home to have sit by my side and read to me. I hope she has got so she can read anything by this time. I know she goes to school every day. I hope she learns fast, minds her teacher, and is a good girl.

Now wife, how are you getting along? Hard enough, I suppose. Oh that we could once more be happy. Will that day ever come? I have the blues often even in this far off land.

Did you get the $60 I sent by Express to John T. Williams. I have not received the balance that is due me yet and no prospect of do so at present. I will send more as fast as I get it. Now write. Write often and long.

Kiss the girls for me. Accept a big one for yourself. I am too weak to write more. Goodbye, — Lester

1862: John Amsden to Friend


How John might have looked

This letter was written by 48 year-old John Amsden (1814-1875), the son of Ira Amsden (1783-1862) and Minerva Bond (1792-1872) of Conway, Franklin County, Massachusetts. John was married to Sarah Jane Wilder (1821-18xx) of Greenfield, Massachusetts, in October 1842 in Conway, Franklin County, Massachusetts. In the 1860 Census, just prior to the Civil War, John was enumerated in Hinsdale, Cheshire County, New Hampshire with his wife “Jane” and daughter Sarah (age 14). His occupation was recorded as “teamster.”

Military records indicate that John enlisted as a private in Co. A, 14th New Hampshire Infantry in August 1862 at the age 0f 44. His birthdate was in September 1814 so he was actually nearly 48 years old when he enlisted. John served with the regiment until 6 June 1864 when he was transferred to Co. G, Veteran Reserve Corps where he remained until his discharge at Washington D.C. in June 1865.

The circumstances surrounding the separation of John Amsden and his wife after the war are unknown. In the 1870 Census, John was enumerated in the household of Simeon Tyrell of Blandford, Hampden County, Massachusetts. His occupation was given as “lumber dealer.” Neither wife nor child are enumerated with him.  Five years later when he died in Ashfield, Massachusetts, he was buried next to his parents graves in Conway. Pension records indicate, however, that his widow filed for a pension based upon her husband’s service in June 1880.

This letter was written from the camp of the 14th New Hampshire on Adder Hill, atop a bluff overlooking Lock 21 on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal about 20 miles from Washington D. C. where they remained from October 25 until 13 November, 1862. Amsden datelines his letter “Mudy Crick” which was actually Muddy Branch, a tributary of the Potomac River.


Muddy Creek
November 9th 1862

Friend Aurora,

By permission, allow me to write you a few lines as a friend. My health is very good and has been since I left home and hope you are enjoying the same. I find this war life a complete slave’s life. When we left Concord, we moved direct to Washington. There we stopped three or four days [at a camp on East Capitol Hill] and then started for the place we now are at. This place is situated on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal about twenty miles from Washington on the Potomac River and we think we may take up our winter quarters here. There is plenty of rebels on the opposite side of the river. We see small squads of them almost every day.

There was a pretty smart fight yesterday and the day before in the vicinity of Harpers Ferry, we think, as we heard a continual roar of cannon and smaller arms and the rumor this morning is that the fight was between McClellan and Lee and McClellan drove Lee back four or miles miles. ¹ We have not got the facilities for getting the earliest war news that you have. I think you could post us upon the war matters better than we can you so I will stop.

I hope when you get this imperfect scribble you will sit down and write me a good long letter. There is nothing that does me so much good as to hear from my friends that I left behind. It seems almost like I was having an interview wit them as I used to at their pleasant homes. I received a letter from your dear sister Eulalia the other day and was very thankful that she took the trouble to write. Ask her if she will not write me again soon.

I am now sitting on a stump and writing in the top of my cap which I think an enviable position to what some of us have but we are determined to make the best of our lot. If I could just call in to your hospitable home and spend a few hours as happily as I have done, I would give almost anything. By the way, Eulalia writes you are making repairs. I wonder if there is going to be a wedding there soon. If so, I hope it will be for the good of all concerned. When you make your choice of a partner for life, use your very best judgement as you will find that to be the crowning act of your life. For fear that you may think I am writing advice, I will stop where I am.

Please give my love to your Father and Mother, Elulalia, and all enquiring friends. Tell your Father to write me. I should be very happy to have him do so and do not fail to write yourself and please write often. Do not wait for me to write as we have not the time nor conveniences for writing. If you should go over to Hinsdale, I hope you will call on my wife and Sarah. Give my love to Mr. Gold. Tell him to write me.

Eulalia writes that you had a Sabbath School celebration at Whiteheads Hall. Did you have a good time? I hope you did. I would liked to have been there but our celebrations are of a different stamp. I have not seen but one white woman since I came to this place but there is plenty of black ones here. They come around the camp as thick as bees with milk, pies, apples, &c. We have to pay 10 cts per quart for milk, 25 cts for pies that your hogs would turn their noses up at, apples 3 for 5 cts such as you would make into cider, and other things in proportion.

By the time you get here, you will be tired [reading] and [so] I will close. Excuse the numerous errors. Again, allow me to urge you to write often. So goodbye.

Yours in haste, — John Amsden

N. B. Please direct your letters to John Amsden, Washington, D. C.

14th NHVols. Co. A

¹ I believe Amsden is referring to the skirmish of 8 November 1862 between Gen. Alfred Pleasanton’s Cavalry Division (Army of the Potomac) and Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s Cavalry near Little Washington (south of Leesburg, Virginia). Newspaper accounts of the skirmish state that Pleasanton’s men captured three pieces of artillery, 2 offices and five privates.

1864: Henry Langdon Potter to Quartermaster

This letter was written by Henry Langdon Potter (1828-1907) who was commissioned as Lieutenant Colonel of the 71st New York Infantry on July 18, 1861, and rose to Colonel and commander of the regiment, being promoted on 1 May 1863. He was wounded three times during his service. In June 1862, at Burnt Chimneys, near Fair Oaks (VA) he was wounded in the left leg below the knee. He was wounded again at Bristoe Station (VA) in August 1862 when a musketball shattered the bones of his left wrist. And finally,  on 1 July 1863 while in command of his regiment on the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg, he was wounded a third time. In December 1863, he was dismissed for the service as being unfit for field duty due, presumably, to his injuries and chronic health issues.

In his book, Curmudgeons, Drunkards, and Out-right Fools: Courts Martial of Civil War Union Colonels, Thomas P. Lowry provides significant detail regarding the court martial of Potter in March 1862. In that trial, numerous charges were levied against Potter that suggested he had a serious drinking problem which led to irrational behavior. Due to extensive conflicting testimony presented at his trial, Potter was found guilty on only some of the charges and he was suspended from command for 15 days and docked his pay for thirty days.


345 East 49th Street
New York City
Jany. 26th [1864]

Dear Quarter Master,

Your letter of 23d came today. You do not write me if you got the letter I wrote to Major [Thomas] Rafferty or not — or anything about my horses — or about the Gen. Orders O. P. commencing with 105 and the index for 1863. I want them complete and nice clean ones to bind.

I did not hear from Aaron Brewer in Washington in reference to the War Department Orders yet. About the ordnance returns, I am sure that the vouchers &c. were all sent, and they must have been lost in the Depts. tho’ retained copies are in Washington so that I can not make up duplicates at present. Let the papers be carefully preserved until I give further directions. Say to the Adjutant that I have his two letters and will answer them soon when not so very busy.


Joseph Hopkins Twichell was the chaplain of the 71st New York

I have not seen the chaplain yet. That brazier ought not to be allowed to come inside the regiment again, and it is lucky for him that I am not there.

About the bitter feeling in the regiment and your remark that “some that should have worked for me &c. have taken advantage &c., to make it worse &c.” I care but little. I have no idea to whom you allude, except it be Rafferty and we all know his double facedness of old. As he is expecting some favor of me, I wish to know his record since I am absent. In fact, there are all of them more in want — or likely to be in want — of favors from me than I am from them, and I wish to know the exact record that I may settle all accounts. I have done too much for them and now will not do a thing more except to reward the faithful or in return for services of considerations.

As for leaving the regiment for the Invalid Corps — should I get the appointment in the Invalid Corps — which is very uncertain — should this regiment be filled up — I shall decline the Invalid Corps appointment and stick to the regiment. Should the regiment not be filled up, then I shall — if appointed in the Invalid Corps — get permission to see my regiment out of service next July before giving it up. So that any in the regiment who think I will not have an opportunity to settle with them in full for any of this bitter feelings or anything else, will find themselves much mistaken.

And about that sword, I shall look upon it to be a privilege or a favor to any of them to be allowed to make up this deficiency, and I wish every one to have the chance offered to them, and I wish to know who declines that I may know who is who — and get a list from the adjutant of those who subscribed before and the amounts. I hope you will soon have it attended to — as Mr. Wakeman spoke to me about it a few days since, he wants it off his hands.

I shall make up this money after the 1st myself anyhow, though am short as the devil.

I wish you to write me all about the officers — who is to be depended upon and who not. I have been without much information from them since I left — that is, that I could rely upon. How does [Thomas] Rafferty and [William H.] Elwood get on? It seems that it was Elwood (or Lt. Col. [William R.] Brewster) who wrote the letter that put a stop to Rafferty’s promotion. Have you seen [Thomas] Leigh yet? If not, I would do so for the sword’s sake of no other — also Mr. Blair. Write me all the news — send all the orders and tell the horse &c. &c. and have matters attended to as soon as possible.

Write me how the sutler makes it go and all about matters. I have no news to write. Am busy yet at the house.

Any letter not of value or not containing valuable papers — send to me here. 345 East 49th Street. Put it on plainly.

Any documents of value — box 2556 N. Y. P. O. as I am not down town every day. Give me all the news next time.

Yours sincerely, — H. L. Potter

Let me know what the officers have to complain of and what they are bitter about. Let my intentions in reference to leaving the regiment and about the Invalid Corps be known.

1862-64: George W. Peckham to Family


The 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery undergoing Inspection of Arms

These letters were written by George Washington Peckham, Jr. (1843-1878), the son of George Washington Peckham, Sr. (1800-1856) and Eliza Barker (1804-1870) of Middletown, Rhode Island.

George first enlisted on 5 October 1861 in Co. C, 3rd Rhode Island Artillery. This unit was organized in Providence in the fall of 1861 but was disbanded in December 1861 and its members were transferred into the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery. George was discharged at Hilton Head, South Carolina, on 19 January 1864.The following day he re-enlisted and was finally discharged as a corporal at Richmond, Virginia, on 9 June 1865.

See also — 1862: Edward Nelson Steere to James B. Coman  Edward Steere also served in the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery and also wrote several letters from Camp Stephen Olney on Hilton Head.


Camp Stephen Olney, Hilton Head, South Carolina
December 15, 1862

Dear Brother,

I am well at present and hope these few lines will find you and all in good health. I received your letter the 11th and am much obliged to you for your blowing up. The boys are all well except William Smith. He is in the hospital yet. I think he will get his discharge. Isaiah came out today. Edward Maguire has got his discharge and gone home. I had a letter from [brother] Leander the other day. He wrote that he was well.

We have taken our battery to pieces to paint. We are short of forage yet and go out to graze twice a day. We have different weather here from what you have there. Sometimes it is warm enough to be round with your jacket off; then it is cold enough to freeze. We have had ice here all day and that is more than we had last winter. The boys were round sewating with their jackets off today.

Lee wrote that he guesses he should send a box. Tell Mother if it is not too much trouble, I should like her to send me one. I don’t care if it’s being as large as the other one. I don’t want any clothing this time. I want some black pepper — that is most gone, some thick envelopes, one or two thick combs, and the rest eatables. Son’t send anything that will spoil. I will pay for the box and the freight of it. Don’t put anything in the box warm for it is apt to spoil. As I cannot think of more to write, I must close. Give my love to all enquiring friends.

From your brother, — George W. Peckham


Washington D. C.
April 12, 1864

Dear Sister,

I now sit down to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and where I am.

We left Providence last Thursday afternoon for New York, arriving in New York Friday morning. Stayed in New York until Saturday afternoon when we left for Baltimore. Arriving at Baltimore Sunday. Left Baltimore yesterday for Washington. Arrived here at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I went up to Uncle Gideon [Barker]’s while I was in Providence and took dinner. I gave Hatty one of my pictures. ¹ I suppose you have got them by this time. Tell Patience their apples are not all gone yet but are going fast. I eat the last cake in Baltimore. We are waiting here in the barracks for the regiment to come on. How long we will stay, I do not know. If I had stayed in New York Saturday night, I would have been in Rhody Island Sunday. Some of the boys went back as it was.

We had quite a pleasant time coming on having no guard on the boys all the way from Washington to Rhode Island. When we got here all they had to do, if they was left, was to show their furlough and get transportation on it. Did not cost them a cent.

The boys are all well and in good spirits. You must make this answer at present. Give my love to all enquiring friends.

From your brother, — George W. P.

¹ Harriet (“Hatty”) E. Barker, born 1848, was George’s cousin, the daughter of Gideon Barker (1819-1883) and Sarah Cornell (b. 1829) of Providence, Rhode Island.


In the Field before Petersburg, VA
September 14, 1864
Dear Sister,

I now sit down to answer your kind letter which I received on the 11th — also two papers — and was glad to hear from you. I am well at present and hope this will find you and all in good health. Our artillery in front of Petersburg fired a salute in honor of Atlanta being taken. They were not very particular about the kind of ammunition they used. About it being blank cartridges. But socked the shells right over to them. It made me think of the time I was on James Island when the Johnnies fired a salute in honor of Jeff Davis at the time he took his seat. The first thing we knew of it was Mister Shell coming over. Not only one shell but shells — the first thing in the morning at that.

Our artillery are playing on Petersburg today quite lively. We have got a mortar back here that does some tall climbing once in awhile. Not the mortar, but the shells. Petersburg is not much of a city but it takes a good many men to keep it from running away. Some on this side. What the Johnnies have got on their side, I don’t know.

Tell Leander to take one of those pictures when Joel gets them. You can have one for Cousin Julia but mind and not take all of them. I want two of them for my own use, as the Captain says in his orders on the quartermaster for rations.

Well, sis, I suppose you have read nonsense enough do I will close. There is not much news so goodbye. From your brother, — George W. P.

Write Soon.


Headquarters Battery C
Signal Hill, Va.
Sunday, November 20th 1864

Dear Sister,

I now sit down to answer your kind letter received yesterday morning and was glad to hear from you. I am well at present and hope this will find you and A.L.L. in good health. I have not enlisted yet but am thinking of that $1,400 bounty.

Yesterday was a rainy day in Old Virginia. Rained all night and bids fair to rain all day today. As we are in good quarters, we don’t mind it much. Our horses are out in it which makes it bad for us drivers. The Johnnies are trying our lines most every night now but have not made out much yet. The attack is mostly up by Dutch Gap.

Tell mother not to forget her promise now she has got her teeth. Tell her not to trouble herself about paying those notes. She is welcome to the use of the money as long as she wants it. Tell Joel not to forget to send me Brother John Bond than this year. Eliza you must excuse my letters if they are short. There is no news to write except war news and you get that in the papers. I suppose Joel will be a carpenter before a great while. He is getting the start of me.

I would like to be home with you this winter but I suppose I have got to soldier it awhile longer yet. I close with my love to all from your brother and well wisher, — G. W. P.

Write soon.




1863-64: Alphonso F. Smith to cousins


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.



Fort Stevens in Washington D.C.

Fort Stevens
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.


Fort Stevens, D. C.
October 23, 1863

Dear Couz,

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


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



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


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.


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.


1864: William J. Mitchell to Parents


How William might have looked

This letter was written by 29 year-old William J. Mitchell (1835-Aft1910), the son of John Mitchell (1807-1882) and Margaret Johnston (1799-1885) of Armstrong Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania.

William served as a musician in Co. I, 39th Pennsylvania Infantry from 1861 to 1864 and then reenlisted as a veteran and was transferred to Co. K, 191st Pennsylvania for the remainder of the war — also as a musician. In the letter, he mentions tenting with John H. Stutz and Cyrenus F. Rockwell who also served as musicians in the same regiments. Moses Mitchell — probably a cousin — also served in these regiments, though not as a musician. At the time his letter was written, just after these men returned from veterans furlough, they were still members of the 39th Pennsylvania. They were transferred to the 191st Pennsylvania on May 31, 1864.

William mentions two siblings in the letter — Samuel Mitchell (1828-1874) and Mary Mitchell (1840-After1880). Samuel married Eliza Shadle (1830-1928) in October 1851 and had at least four children by the time his letter was written.

It appears that William eventually became a minister; in 1910 he was enumerated in Lexington, Johnson County, Kansas.

[Note: The letter is signed “your affectionate son Will” without any other indication as to the author’s identity and there is no regimental affiliation mentioned or an accompanying envelope. I have determined the author’s identity from clues in the letter.]


1850 Census in Armstrong Township, Indiana Co., PA


Manassas Junction, Virginia
March 28th 1864

Dear Father and Mother,

Your kind letter of the 24th inst. came to hand today. I was glad to hear from you, and learn of your welfare, and also glad to hear that Samuel’s children were getting well.

Since I last wrote you, we left Harrisburg (15th inst.), came on to Washington the same day. I had a very pleasant time visiting schools that afternoon. The teachers and scholars were very glad to see me. In the evening I visited several families with whom I had become acquainted last Spring while we were in the city, and with the young folks (girls of course) attended a rehearsal of concert performances of one of the Female Grammar Schools of the city.  The performances of the evening were very good. They had many patriotic airs. There are four families (Methodists) in the city with whom I have become very well acquainted. They are very nice families. They requested me, whenever I come to the city, to make their houses, for the time being, my home. Don’t you think that they are kind?

Well, next morning we took boat for Alexandria. Here we had to lie over until the next day for transportation. I got a pass and went to see Joseph Fulton. He was very well and very glad to see me and hear from home. I had quite a pleasant visit with him.

Next morning we took the cars for Manassas Junction where we arrived in safety about noon of same day. We found everything as we had left them. The boys were well and glad to see us back again with them, and it seemed home-like to get back to the regiment. We were sent to Brigade Headquarters to do duty. We had to build “shanties” and were busy for several days, but we are in our new houses now & “we’re gay and happy still.”

Since our arrival, there was been some heavy cannonading towards the front, but all is quiet now. We were under arms for 36 hours expecting a Rebel raid, but they didn’t come. All is quiet now. A scouting party of 250 will start from here in about an hour (10 at night) to hunt up [John Singleton] Mosby. Many troops go to the front daily.

We had quite a snowstorm here about a week ago. It is very pleasant now, but there is the appearance of a storm abrewing.

What do you think of Father Abraham’s late call for 200,000 more troops?

Send me a pamphlet I had intended to bring along with me entitled, “Women of America” or some such name. What did you think of my pictures? What is Armstrong Township doing in regard to filling up their quota for the late call? Did you deliver those pictures and what did they think of them?

I heard of Gettie McCoy’s death a few days ago. I was sorry. Gettie was certainly a fine girl. I hope she is gone to a better world than this. I sincerely empathize with the family. I had forgotten, I believe I have written you since before this since our arrival here. However, it makes no particular difference. Telling some of the same things twice will do no harm. What Co. is Kesner Mitchell in? How is Nixon Coulter? ¹ I send in this some photographs. What do they think of my Album?

Write soon and give all the news. Give my regards to all. I have some more nice pictures which I will send home in a few weeks. Has that microscope come to hand yet? Nary one of our company got married whole at home. Moses is tenting with me, Stuntz, and Rockwell. ² He is well & he wrote Mr. McClelland in regard to his money, etc.

Write soon giving all the news. So now farewell for the present.

From your affectionate son, — Will

Mary, I have not room for anything for you this time. By-bye, — will.

Send me those photographs that I ordered at Indiana [Pennsylvania]

¹ James Nixon Coulter (1839-1865) was the 25 year-old son of Samuel and Sarah Coulter of Young Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Nixon served in Co. G, 63rd Pennsylvania Infantry. He died of disease on 9 April 1865.

² Cyrenus F. Rockwell (1840-1865) was taken prisoner at the Battle of Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862 and later paroled to rejoin the regiment. He died on 7 February 1865. His parents were Lyman K. Rockwell (1811-1891) and Miranda Willard (1808-1885).