1861: Robert Edwards to Friend

How Robert might have looked

How Robert might have looked

This letter was written by a cavalryman belonging to the Ira Harris Cavalry — designated as the Ira Harris Guard on October 16, 1861, and as the 5th New York Cavalry on November 14, 1861. He represents himself from Moriah, Essex County, New York but he does not sign his name with a recognizable signature. Rather, it appears to read, “Sarg.” Within the letter, he states that he gave up a sergeant’s rank to secure a bugler’s position in the regiment so I am inclined to believe the author was Robert Wellington Edwards (1837-1931), the youngest son of William H. and Martha (Binnings) Edwards of Lamoille County, Vermont, later of Moriah, New York. William Edwards was an English emigrant who practiced veterinary medicine. Before the Civil War, Robert Edwards worked as a carpenter and a joiner in Moriah.

Their is no accompanying envelope and nothing in the letter to suggest the identity of the recipient of this letter except that he was a school teacher in Moriah, New York.

The letter contains a description of Camp Scott on Staten Island which was described earlier in the New York Times [7 June 1861] as “being situated on a nearly level plateau in full view of the ocean, from which a delicious and bracing breeze constantly furnishes food for healthy lungs. The grounds occupy a space of 850 acres, calculated to accommodate the Brigade of 5,000 men when the men are forthcoming.”

Soldier in 53rd NY

Soldier in 53rd NY

The letter also describes an incident occurring on 2 November 1861 in which members of the 5th New York Cavalry tussled with the 53rd New York Infantry (known as the D’Epineuil Zouaves) in an attempt to recover two deserters who decided they would rather wear the colorful zouave uniform than serve in the cavalry. Incredibly, a cavalryman (un-named) had his head split open by a saber — a wound thought to be fatal. Life in D’Epineuil’s regiment wasn’t as glamorous as it appeared though. Colonel D’Epineuil insisted on strict discipline; officers and enlisted men were arrested for the slightest infractions. On 3 January 1862, the Regiment left by ship to North Carolina to assist in Burnsides expedition to take Roanoke Island. By the time they left Annapolis, however, there were 300 deserters. Morale on the voyage plummeted due to poor accommodations.


Camp Scott, Staten Island
November 3d 1861

Dear Sir,

You have no doubt arrived at the definite conclusion that my promises are like eggs (easily broken) but all things taken into consideration, you will pardon my negligence, I have no doubt. Such has been the hurry and excitement of the final descent from the citizen to the soldier that I have had little or no time for correspondence with the many kind friends I have left in good old Moriah.

We now regard ourselves as full grown soldiers, having been duly inspected — “sworn in” — “mustered in” — and all other ins and outs that  help make up the formula of initiating a soldier.

We have now been in camp about two weeks and are growing quite familiar with camp scenes and life under canvas.

We have an excellent set of officers and are highly favored by the Brigade as the “Pride of the Second Regiment.”

Our Orderly Sergeant is B. F. Page ¹ of Moriah, and we have also a Sergt. Howe, a Corporal Woodward, ² and a First Bugler Edwards ³ — all from Moriah. The latter office I gladly refused a sergeant’s post to secure.

We have but little excitement here at present, but a slight affair came off yesterday that served to shake off the usual stupor of the camp. Two men deserted from here and joined DeEppnewel [D’Epineuil] Zouaves encamped about ¾ of a mile from Camp Scott, from which men and an officer were sent to demand the deserters. Upon being closely pressed for their delivery, the Zouaves made a rush for our men and actually trod them under foot. A detachment from several companies were sent again and after being refused a second time, we made a charge on their lines armed with sabers and pistols, and after a short struggle, bore off the men in triumph. One of the men from the First Regiment had his head opened with a saber and it is believed to be a fatal wound.

I have gained several pounds since I left home, and though I get rather homesick now and then, I enjoy this kind of life highly.

The First Regiment has had their marching orders and will move directly. How soon we shall get ours remains to be seen.

Please write immediately so that I shall be sure to secure it. If you would like to know how our camp looks, I will give you you a hasty description of it and thus close.

On a plain situated at the top of a gently rising hill, a few minutes walk from the seashore, stands Camp Scott. 54 rows of white tents laid out in regular streets, swept as clean as your school room floor, contain the 3000 men composing the Harris Brigade. In the rear is another city composed of stables and then a lovely forest backed by some of the most beautiful scenery I ever saw. In one of the above-mentioned tents there stands a pail; over the pail a board; on the board a letter; and over the letter bends your humble friend, — Lary

Give my respect and best wishes to all at your school.

¹ B. F. Page —Age, 27 years. Enlisted, September 17, 1861, at Crown Point; mustered in as first sergeant, Co. H, October 22, 1861, to serve three years; captured, date and place not stated; discharged, January 12, 1863, at Parole Camp, Annapolis, Md.; borne also as Benj. F. Page.

² Philander Woodward—Age, 31 years. Enlisted, March 16, 1865, at Plattsburgh;mustered in as private, Co. I, March 16, 1865, to serve one year; mustered out with company, July 19, 1865, at Winchester, Va.

³ Robert W. Edwards — Age, 24 years. Enlisted, September 27, 1861, at Crown Point; mustered in as bugler, Co. H, October 18, 1861, to serve three years; discharged for disability, July 3, 1862; appears as Edwards, Robert.



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