This letter was written by 2d Lt. Lewis Craig Spencer of the 3rd New Jersey Infantry from aboard the side-wheel steamer C. Vanderbilt — a former transatlantic passenger and mail steamer that was given to the the US Navy in March 1862 and used to transport troops until it was retrofitted with heavy guns during the summer of 1862. Afterwards it was used in the blockading squadron.
Though he does not mention it to his wife, Spencer may have noticed that the steamship he had boarded had been outfitted with a battering ram should it be necessary to defend itself in delivering troops to the James River where the dreaded Confederate Merrimack was known to be lurking.
Lewis Craig Spencer (1835-1896) was the son of James Lyman Spencer (1804-1882) and Caroline B. Wilcox (1808-1875) of Warren, Somerset, New Jersey. Lewis was married about 1855 to Cornelia Ann Smith (1835-1871), and had a 5 year-old daughter named Caroline (“Carrie”) when the war began in 1861.
From this letter we learn that 2d Lt. Spencer is attempting to catch up with his regiment which embarked for the Peninsula of Virginia on 17 April 1862. The reason for Spencer’s delay is not given.
Addressed to Mrs. L. C. Spencer, Plainfield, Union County, New Jersey
On Board the C. Vanderbilt at Washington D.C.
May 1st 1862
I arrived at Washington yesterday morning at 10 o’clock all safe. I first inquired for transportation to Fortress Monroe but got no satisfaction as to when I could go. I then went to Alexandria, then to our old camp, but did not succeed in finding our baggage. I presume it went with the regiment as they took everything else. This morning I came to Washington expecting to have to go to Baltimore to obtain transportation but I fortunately came across a Lieut. with whom I was acquainted that was going to Yorktown. He informed me there was a transport going down today which we are now on board of and nearly ready to start — name of boat C. Vanderbilt.
As soon as I arrive at my destination, I will write you. So goodbye.
From your affectionate husband, — Lieut. L. C. Spencer
There is a Zouave Regiment on board [and] also two lieutenants that I am acquainted with.