1863: John Henry Cate to Rachael Carpenter (Wood) Cate

How John might have looked

How John might have looked

These letters were written by John Henry Cate (1835-1879), the son of James S. Cate (1791-1854) and Rachael Carpenter Wood (1811-Aft1863) of Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts. When he was still in his teens, John worked as a shoemaker in Salem. Just before the Civil War, he was employed as a mariner.

When the war erupted in 1861, John enlisted in the US Navy in September. He served from 10-26 September aboard the USS Ohio (a receiving ship), from 26 September until 25 October 1862 aboard the Wm. G. Anderson patrolling the South Atlantic coast looking for blockade runners, and afterwards aboard the USS Princeton (a receiving ship) until 17 November 1862. Following that, he enlisted as a private in Co. H, 19th Massachusetts Infantry, in November 1862. He re-enlisted in the same company in December 1863, and then transferred to the US Navy on 20 April 1864. In his second tour of duty in the navy (12 May 1864 through 30 June 1865), John served on board the USS Bienville, the USS Oneida, and the USS Fearnot.

John makes reference to his younger brother Albert P. Cate in both of these letters. Albert served with the 27th Massachusetts Infantry.

The letters were written from Falmouth, Virginia, while the 19th Massachusetts wintered in a camp of logged up tents and split their duty between serving as provost guard in Falmouth and picket duty on the Rappahannock River.

John’s Navy Pension File reveals that he was institutionalized at the Worcester Insane Asylum from 1876 until his death in 1879. His widow received benefits after his death though there seems to have been an extended debate as to whether the head injury he sustained which “caused” his insanity was due to a fall from the rigging of the Bienville or the Oneida while in the service of his country, or from a kick to the head by a horse sustained after the war in 1867.


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE

Falmouth, Virginia
March 7th 1863

Dear Mother,

I received your letter yesterday and was very glad to hear from you. You spoke of our house.

It is very warm. I like [it] out here full as well as I expected. The talk now is that the army is a going to move but I don’t think we shall go because they have got to leave a force here to keep the Rebs from crossing and taking the place back again. I have not seen or heard from Charles Knox. ¹ William Stone ² looks as well as any of them. They would all be glad to get home.

We went out on a Thursday and was reviewed by Gen. Hooker. He is a fine-looking man but he is not the man for the soldiers. McClellan is the man they want.

I have not got that letter that you spoke about so I can’t tell who has got that money.

The Rebs send papers across the [Rappahannock] River to us and we sent papers across to them in return. Our cavalry had a little brush with the Rebs Thursday and killed a few of them and took a few prisoners.

It rains here about every other day and it makes it awful going. Our living is very good and we have soft bread all the time and vegetables and coffee all the time.

I want you to write what company and regiment that [my brother] Albert belongs to and where the regiment belongs so that I can write to him and I will send you an order to give to Mr. Carleton so that you can get that money and you can use what you want to of it and I think that you had better put the rest in the five cents savings bank. I think you had better see Mr. Carleton and see how soon you can get it and how much it will be and let me know. About the Beauregard money, I don’t know what to think. I don’t believe that Carleton can get it. You had better ask him and if he thinks that he can get it, I will write an order and send it in my next letter.

I am very glad that Albert is in such a good place and has such good times. You must give my love to him when you write.

Well, so Sophia is married. Hey, well I guess there is not much love lost. If you see her, you can tell her that it is no more than I expected for I knew a man that brought letters to her from Fort Warren. I don’t know though, mother, as I would say a word to her about it. It might make trouble. I shan’t write to her again. I don’t believe that she wrote one letter to me after I left Salem.

Sam Cottle ³ got a letter today but Ed Powers ♠ has not heard from home since we have been out here. He feels worried about his brother Charles. He is in the Keystone State. A gunboat which was run into there was a great many killed and wounded and I wish you would go down and see her and let me know if he is safe. And I should like to have you go down to James’ house so if he don’t get a letter I can let him know how his folks are.

You spoke about my months advance. We did not get it. About half of us would not get in the cars in Boston because they would not pay us and we liked to get in trouble so we had to go without it. They are a going to pay us this month. They keep two months pay back.

I am very sorry about James Sanborn. What will Uncle Sam and the children do? I should think that they would feel very bad about it. James Evans drives team for our brigade but I have not seen him since I have been out here.

I wish when you write to Albert again you would ask him to write to me for I should like to hear from him. Give my love to Hattie and Lizzie and ask them to write to me and give my best respects to Henry. Give my love to Josephine and Caddy and accept a share yourself. I can’t think of anything more to write at present. Write as soon as you get this and let me know what is a going on. Excuse this writing.

From your son, — John H. Cate


¹ Charles Knox was a 19 year-old clerk from Chelsea, Massachusetts when he enlisted in August 1861 in Co. H, 19th Massachusetts Infantry. He was transferred to Company I in December 1861 and was wounded on 30 June 1862 at Glendale, Virginia. He was discharged for disability at Alexandria on 28 February 1863.

² William A. Stone was a 22 year-old cabinet maker from Manchester, Massachusetts when he enlisted in Co. H, 19th Massachusetts Infantry in December 1861. He re-enlisted in December 1863 as a sergeant and he was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant of Co. C in May 1864.

³ Samuel Cottle was a 23 year-old sailor from Salem when he enlisted in Co. H, 19th Massachusetts Infantry in December 1862. He transferred with John Cate to the US Navy in April 1864.

♠ Edward E. Powers was a 25 year-old sailor when he enlisted in Co. H, 19th Massachusetts Infantry in December 1862. He re-enlisted in December 1863 as a corporal. Like Cate and Cottle, Powers transferred to the US Navy in May 1864.


TRANSCIPTION LETTER TWO

Falmouth, Va.
May 12, 1863

Dear Mother,

I received yours and Josie’s [Josephine’s] letter and was very glad to hear from you. Have you got that money yet? Mother, that that takes likeness[es] has gone. They say he is a coming back. He went the day we went over to Fredericksburg. I am very sorry, but as soon as he comes back, I shall have it taken.

We are in our old camp yet and everything is still here. I don’t know rather we are a going to have another battle or not. I have never heard anything about Charles Knox ¹ yet. I had a letter from [brother] Albert just before the battle [of Chancellorsville] and I forgot rather I told you about it or not. He wrote that he had the shakes once in a while but he did not say that he was any worse. I have wrote to him since.

You spoke about your likeness. I should like to have it. I expect Hattie and Lizzie will be disappointed because I have not sent mine, but we had as much as we could attend to before we went into battle. I got them papers and Sam got his. I did not know that Warren was a going home or I should got him to go and see you and let you know how things is out here.

I am glad you are a going to get that Beauregard money. I began to think that I should never get it. It is beautiful weather here now but it is very hot days and a very heavy dew nights. Well, Mother, I can’t think of anything more at present. Billy, Sam, and Ed send their best respects to you. You will get all the particulars of the Battle [of Chancellorsville] in the papers.

From your affectionate son, — John H. Cate

¹ Charles Knox was a 19 year-old clerk from Chelsea, Massachusetts when he enlisted in August 1861 in Co. H, 19th Massachusetts Infantry. He was transferred to Company I in December 1861 and was wounded on 30 June 1862 at Glendale, Virginia. He was discharged for disability at Alexandria on 28 February 1863.

Pages from John H. Cate’s Pension File

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