1864: Albert P. Cate to Rachael Carpenter (Wood) Cate

How Albert might have looked

How Albert might have looked

This letter was written by 22 year-old Albert P. Cate (1842-1869), the son of James S. Cate (1791-1854) and Rachael Carpenter Wood (1811-Aft1863) of Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts.

In 1860, Albert was enumerated in the household of William W. Smith, a farmer in Amherst, Hampshire County, Massachusetts, where he probably was employed as a hired hand. He was still in Amherst when the war erupted in 1861 and in September he joined other young men from that village in enlisted in Co. D, 27th Massachusetts Infantry. [Note: Albert’s surname appears in regimental records as “Cates.” and it appears from his signature that this is how he preferred his name.]

The regimental history states that Companies A, D and K were at Portsmouth until April 15 and that they participated in an expedition to Isle of Wight County from 13 to 15 April 1864. They then camp near Julian Creek until April 26. Albert wrote this letter following the expedition and tells his mother that he avoided 20 miles of matching because of picket duty.

Albert and the boys of the 27th Massachusetts were about to embark upon some pretty serious fighting with Grant’s Overland Campaign during the summer of 1864. The 27th was engaged heavily in the Battle of Cold Harbor and in the assault on the Petersburg lines of 18 June 1864. Albert was wounded while in the trenches in front of Petersburg during the summer of 1864.

A history of the Town of Amherst by Edward W. Carpenter states that Albert was in twelve battles besides skirmishes while serving with the 27th Massachusetts.


Julian Creek, Virginia
Camp near Portsmouth
April 15th, 1864

Dear Mother,

I received your letter and was very glad to hear from you. We have just got back from a march. We had a very good time but still it was a hard march. I had an easy time to what some of them had. I got rid of twenty miles marching by being on picket. We had nothing to eat and the Col. told us we need not go.

I had a letter from [brother] John the other day. He spoke about your house burning down. I am sorry for you. What will you do? It is a hard time to get burned out. I wish I was there so I could help you but the time is not far off when I can come home and stay with you.

I am not feeling very well. The march about used me up. I was not well when we started and not getting any sleep for it was so cold I could not sleep. I have been to bed all day and I feel much better. Do you get any money from Amherst now? Smith never speaks about it. Well mother, I must write a few lines to Carrie so I will close. Accept my love, from Albert.

Dear Sister,

I received your letter and was glad to hear from you. It is the first time you even wrote to me. When mother writes, I want you and Josey to write.

You ask me when I go on picket. I go on twice a week and stay forty-eight hours to a time. That is all that I have to do. I was on picket when we were on the march. I had a hard time of it. I had to stand from ten o’clock until four in the morning. There is six hours in the dead of the night. If I had wanted to sleep I could not for it was so cold. All we carried on the march was our overcoats. We did not carry a blanket for it made too much load for us.

You asked me if I was coming to Salem when my time was out. I think I shall if I could get work. I would rather live there than anywhere else.

Well Carrie, I have wrote all that I can think of so I must close. Give my love to Josey and accept this from your affectionate brother, —  Albert Cates


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