This letter was written by a rather illiterate — perhaps German-born — soldier encamped at Newport News, Virginia, in January 1864. His signature appears to be “A. Cain” though a second name is written on the back leaf of the letter which reads, “Mister Charles Henry Littlefield.” The letter is addressed to the soldier’s wife and it may be that the letter was being sent to the care of Littlefield, perhaps a relative of his wife’s?
The letter describes an expedition that was commanded by Brig. Gen. Charles Kinnaird Graham, who took three armed transports and a “competent force” of troops up the James river to a point seven miles below Fort Powhatan known as Brandon Farms where they captured “twenty-two of the enemy – seven of the signal corps – and brought away ninety-nine negroes. They also destroyed twenty-four thousands pounds of pork and large quantities of oats and corn, and captured a sloop and schooner and two hundred and forty boxes of tobacco, and five Jews, preparing to run the blockade, and returned without the loss of a man.” [Source: The World (New York) 28 January 1864].
Graham’s report to Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler who then commanded the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, claimed that instead of 99 negroes, the list of men, women, and children amounted to 137 contraband. He also acknowledged that some of the troops became intoxicated and reported that, upon return to Newport News, 1 of the privates in the 13th New York Artillery was discovered to be missing — “no doubt caused by his being intoxicated.”
A careful reading of Cain’s letter suggest that he did not participate in the expedition but was encamped at Newport News when they returned. The only regiment I could find encamped there at the time that did not participate was the 9th New Jersey — a regiment with many German emigrants — but I could not find his name on the roster.
Newport News, Virginia
Tuesday, January 27, 1864
I take the pleasure in writing a few lines to you and to inform you that I am well and hope that these few lines may find you all the same and all the rest of the boys in good health.
Last night all night they brought back quite a loot of turkeys, and chickens too, and some of them good other things too. [ ] 8 spoons silver and some good [ ] and money too and [ ]. What else they destroy — three thousand bushels of corn and plenty of pork and bacon and hay — and burnt some, cattle and horses, and they found quite a loot of liquor and some of the boys got tight and fought. They took 7 rebels and took one signal station and two sloops that was after the stuff that they burnt up and some of the boys found a letter that came from southerner and they wrote that [ ] was two dollars a pound and [ ] 5 dollars a pound. They got any quantity of niggers. Talbot has one of them to work for him.
I can’t think of much news to write at present. Here is a piece of silver that they got and I have got another piece too in a long and [ ] wide it came off.
— A. Cain
Mister Charles Henry Littlefield
All right and the goose [ ]