1861: Amos P. Burnham to Sister

How Amos might have looked

How Amos might have looked

This letter was written by 19 year-old Amos P. Burnham (1842-1906), the son of Amos Burnham (1816-1905) and Sophia Woodbury Poland (1820-1901) of Beverly, Essex County, Massachusetts. Amos wrote the letter to his sister. Other relatives — perhaps cousins — mentioned include Calvin Foster Burnham (b. 1844), Otis Burnham (b. 1846), and Frank Burnham (b. 1847).

Just prior to the Civil War, Amos was residing in the household of shoemaker Nathan Patch in Beverly, Essex County, Massachusetts. In May 1861, Amos enlisted in Company C, 2nd Massachusetts Infantry as a private. He was later promoted to a corporal and he remained with his regiment until they were mustered out of the service in July 1865.

Leaving Massachusetts on 8 July 1861, the regiment joined the force of Gen. Patterson at Martinsburg, Virginia, on the 12th. The summer and fall were spent largely in picketing the line of the upper Potomac. In the late fall, the 2nd Massachusetts was in camp at Seneca Creek near Darnestown, Maryland and though Amos datelined this letter “Muddy branch near the Potomac,” I feel confident the muddy branch was Seneca Creek which meanders through Montgomery County, Maryland roughly 16 miles northwest of Washington D.C. and flows under the Seneca Aqueduct of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal before it flows into the Potomac River.


November 12th [1861]
Muddy Branch near the Potomac

Dear Sister,

As you have wrote to me, I will sit down this afternoon and pen you a few lines. I have not received your letter yet but it may be up to headquarters for our Captain says that there is a good many back letters for our regiment up there and yours may be there too.

We changed our encampment yesterday and we are now encamped on good grass ground. It is about a half a mile from our old camp ground. It is just as much for us to move one mile as it is for to go twenty miles. We did not get through until night and then we were as tired as we should have been if we had marched twenty miles. I like our encampment much better than our old one for we shall not have to work as hard to keep it clean and we have a fine view of the river and Virginia shore for a number of miles but no rebels make their appearance at this point.

I went down to the river this forenoon and I should like to have you seen the pickets on the towpath of the canal. They reach from Harper’s Ferry to Washington — distance 70 miles — and it is the longest picket guard ever was known in the world. The word “all  is well” has to be passed along from one sentry to another until it reaches Washington so it is impossible for the enemy on the other side to make any movements without us knowing it.

Our cooks have just received orders to cook up three days rations so we expect to be on the move soon although we may not leave until we go into winter quarters. I must close now for our company has to go on picket.

The mail has just arrived and brought me five letters — one from Calvin, Otis, and Frank and two from Mounserat. Tell the boys I will answer them [as soon] as possible. I write all the spare time I can get. I wrote to mother the 11th.

I have wrote these few lines in a hurry so you must excuse poor writing. If mother sends me a box, have it marked plain. Yours in haste, — Amos P. Burnham

I expect to hear from you soon. Give my love to all and tell Bill I should like to hear from him. You must enclose lots of letters in the box if mother sends it.


One thought on “1861: Amos P. Burnham to Sister

  1. I bought an old Victorian house in Beverly a few years ago (built around 1897). I went to the historic society and found out that it was built in by Amos P Burnham, Civil War veteran and shoe maker, who prior to building the house lived a street over. He had 6 children with his wife Ada. Ada lived in the house until 1933 and died at the age of 92 in 1941 living a few houses down with her daughter and her husband. I was amazed to find this letter from Amos on your site. Very interesting to see. Thank you for posting.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s