1863: Benjamin Austin Merrill to David Norris Bridges

Benjamin A. Merrill (ca 1864). Photo courtesy of John Cummings.

Benjamin A. Merrill (ca 1864). Photo courtesy of John Cummings [Private Collection]

These letters were written by Pvt. Benjamin Austin Merrill (1843-1864) of Co. K, 50th Massachusetts. Benjamin was the son of Lewis A. Merrill (1816-18xx) and Aphia A. Perley (1819-18xx) of Georgetown, Essex County, Massachusetts. Benjamin’s father was a jeweler and Benjamin worked as a shoemaker prior to both of them enlisting in the 50th Massachusetts.

While serving as a corporal in the 59th Massachusetts Infantry later in the war, Benjamin was killed at the Battle of Spotslvania Court House on 12 May 1864. (see: One Out of Thirty Thousand)  Tragically, Benjamin’s father also died during the war. He succumbed to disease contracted while in Louisiana and died at his home in Georgetown on 7 September 1863.

Pvt. Merrill wrote the letters to his friend, David Norris Bridges (1836-1899) — also a shoemaker from Georgetown, Massachusetts. David enlisted in November 1864 in the 17th Massachusetts and was mustered out in June 1865. David was married to Mary F. Winter in August 1855 at Georgetown.

According to the Company Muster-in and Descriptive Roll, we learn that Benjamin Merrill stood five feet, eleven inches tall, had black eyes, dark hair and was of dark complexion. The picture bears his signature in period ink on the reverse. Annotated in pencil beneath the signature is the note, “Killed on battle field in Civil War.”


Addressed to Mr. David N. Bridges, Georgetown, Massachusetts

Baton Rouge, Louisiana
February 16th 1863

Friend Dave,

I received your letter of the 14th of December last Saturday and was glad to hear that you were all well. The first thing I want to tell you is that you write and when you get it ready, you sent it. Don’t wait.

State Penitentiary at Baton Rouge

State Penitentiary at Baton Rouge

I am pretty slim at present time. The climate is not suited to us and by the time we get [ac]climated we shall have to go home. We are of no account down here. We are sick most of the time. One day last week, out of 350 men, all we could get out for brigade drill was 60 men. So you may judge whether they are sick or not. The bowel complaint is the trouble and many of the men look like ghosts. We are situated in a splendid place right in front of the State Prison and it is larger than the Massachusetts [prison]. We are about ¾ of a mile from the river. We are right in the heart of Rebellion and right in warm weather. It is 90º some of the time. You haven’t had such weather where you are.

In regard to them nuts, I thank you for serving them and with the blessing of God, I hope to help you eat them some night next June with Dave, May and Susie. I have looked back on the many evenings that I have enjoyed at your house with good deal of pleasure — this one especially. You give my love to May and Susie and tell them I would write if I had a chance but I have no time. Tell them I will answer all letters that I have. Tell Dave to give my love to Edwin and tell him to hurry up and drop down here some night to dress parade. Tell him to look out and not get cheated [?] in a hailstorm. Do you have any spelling schools now? What are you a doing now? Making boots for G. J.? What is Father J. doing (laughter and loud applause in the gallery)? Ha Ha. Is that Davis?

The weather and climate will kill you in a little time. You are so fat. I think you could stand another [?] battle but I don’t know. It would be rather tough.

How is business in Georgetown? How does your clock go now? How is Libby? Has she got over the Whooping Cough? I hope so. I should like to see her now. I have almost froze some nights since I left sleeping on the ground.

The Ironclad Essex at Baton Rouge (1862)

The Ironclad Essex at Baton Rouge (1862)

Dave, you ought to see the ironclad (Ram) Essex which is lying out front of the city. Perhaps you would like to know what I think of this rebellion? I answer it is about played out in my opinion. They are poorly clad and not much to eat if you can tell anything by the looks of them for every prisoner that I have seen looks as though he has seen hard service. Our cavalry went out with a flag of truce the other day and the pickets were dressed in citizen’s dress. There are a plenty of Rebels here in the city but they don’t say much. Some of them have husbands and friends in the Rebel army. They don’t say much for there are too many soldiers here.

There are some of the prettiest girls here that you ever see but they don’t come up to the Georgetown girls. I cannot think of anything more to write now but I will write more some time. Write often and long letters. Tell us all the news. Give my love to the folks and to Susan and Sarah, Lizzie, Mary, Susan K, and all there is left of a great heap take to yourself wife Libby. She wants, well I don’t know. Give her ¾ of what there is left and I shall remain the true friend of Mr. & Mrs. Bridges and child Libby.

— B. A. Merrill


Baton Rouge [Louisiana]
April 1st 1863

Friend Dave,

As I am on guard today and have but little to do, I will try and pen a few broken lines to you. I am in good health and spirits as usual. Since writing to you last, I have been 15 miles further up the river. I have been up so near to Port Hudson that I could hear their drums beat and should have gone further up had they not destroyed the levee and flooded the country around. We captured lots of Negroes and many thousand dollars worth of property and have got back safe. We have been through everything but a battle from the manual of arms to the long roll, and many times the boys — some of them I should have said — have shook in their boots for fear. I think our chances are 10 to 1 in getting home next month to come as General Banks’ body guard. He wants the band and as our regiment is going home about the time, he thinks this is the way. The 6th of May is the time he starts.

The weather is fine and pleasant all the time almost.

April 2nd

Lt. Col. [John W.] Locke with 3 companies has just come. The regiment went with band to escort them up here. Glad to [see] him and the men, I can tell you. We expect a mail from home and I expect a letter from you and the rest of the folks.

Give me the niggers for the soldiers now.

How are you now? — making money hand over fist? They can’t draft you, can they? Ain’t you glad? This will make Ed and a few others get married, won’t it? such as R. Coker, J. Levering, and the Pike. I had a letter from Mr. Jewett the other day. Uncle Ben’s old shop is deserted once more. What does John Morse think of the draft? He won’t run, will he? I hope not. I hope he will get drafted if any have to go, don’t you?

The boys are looking forward to the time when we shall go home with great pleasure. There will be great times in Georgetown when we come home, won’t there be. Rose to me that she, Susan, and your wife had a good time one day reading letters. Glad of it.

A man [Henry B. Wellman] from Co. E died last night out of the hospital very sudden. He laid down on the floor as common and went to sleep — as hey supposed — and when they went to him with his supper, he was dead. He will be buried this afternoon. Thomas [O.] Blackburn has been buried 4 days so Colman [Merrill] tells me. He has been up to the General Hospital and that accounts for our not hearing of it before. We have just heard of it very sudden. This is the 2nd one out of our company since leaving home.

I am sitting in the back of our tent in the shade writing. I am well and in good spirits. Father [Lewis Merrill] is well and in good spirits. Just remember me and Father to the folks. Give my love to your wife and Libby and tell your wife to remember me to Susie K. I shall soon be at home, I think, with the blessing of Providence. Then I will tell you what I think of slavery. It is just what I thought it was. I think more of him [the Negro] than ever I did before. Tell them that ask you how I like it and what I think of slavery.

Where is John Edmonds now? If you have a chance, I wish you would send down to Capt. Barnes’ and get that checker board and get it painted as I intended and I will pay you. Remember the ship board.

In much love, I remain your friend, — B. A. Merrill


Addressed to Mr. David N. Bridges, Georgetown, Massachusetts

Baton Rouge [Louisiana]
April 5th 1863

Friend Dave,

How does the world use you now? I have not heard from for some time. I suppose you have written but I have not received them yet. It is a fine day and we have just got through our usual Sunday inspection. The weather is getting warm here now. I am well and hope this will find you the same.

April 6th. Another of our men has died — William O. Sides ¹ of Greenland. He died yesterday at the General Hospital and was buried and we have just heard of it, Strange how things work here with the soldiers, ain’t it? Thank God I haven’t been sick ]enough] to go to the hospital and hope I shan’t. Dr. Cog [Surgeon William Cogswell] is the cause of it — all between you and I — and you will hear more when I get home, if I live.

April 11th. I am well and in good spirits. The sky looks like rain. Mit Jewett ² is dead. He died night before last and was buried last night. Mr. Spalding attended the funeral of the 58th Massachusetts Regiment. Mit was taken sick up the river and came down with Bryon [Merrill]. He had the typhoid fever and then his head and face shelled. He had a sore break in his right ear the morning before he died. Father told me the day before he died he thought that he was knocked up but that he would get over it. This is the 4th one that has died out of our company and the 3rd since the first of April.

We went out the other morning 5 miles and destroyed a bridge and returned without the shedding of blood on our side.

April 13th. I have just come off from picket and Byron & Rich [Byron J. Merrill & Richmond D. Merrill] have gone out today. Suppose they will be in before night sick as usual. When on guard — between you and I and the rest here — they don’t amount to a nuisance to the government. They can eat, drink, and lay round, but when it comes to duty, “I am sick.” Let this go no further. than you. When I get home, Providence permitting, I will tell you more.

It is a warm day with a cool south wind. I am well and hope to be but shall be sick if there are many like the above mentioned persons in the company to do duty for. I like them as men. I was on picket in a graveyard last night. The mosquitoes like to have carried me off. I haven’t heard from you for some time. Where are you?

Lt. [John P.] Bradstreet is sick and has been since we got here. Bully for Sol. Nelson. ³ He is the man. There is not a man in the company but what likes him. He is in command of Company K and hope he will be forever till we get home.

Give my love to the folks and to Mary K, Susie K., and all asking friends. Give my love to your wife and to Libby, sure. I am coming home soon. Don’t write after you get this but wait till I get home and we will have one grand set to. Tell Mary to keep a lot of them ointments and something to eat and I will give her a call one of these days, the Lord permitting.

Give my love to cousin Susan Perley when you see her. I should like to send her a bouquet that I gave father this morning. Suppose flowers are not in bloom in Georgetown yet. I can’t think of anymore now. I have been 8 days writing this but will close with much love to you all from your friend, — Benjamin A. Merrill

Give my love to E & William to N. B. Father Jewett

N. B. To the man that went to Dresperate in the morning in a horse & wagon.

¹ William O. Sides (1817-1863) of Groveland enlisted at age 45. He was married in 1832 and had more than a dozen children by the time he enlisted. He died 7 April 1863 at Baton Rouge.

² Milton F. Jewett (1841-1863) — a bootmaker of Georgetown — enlisted at age 21. He died at Baton Rouge on 9 April 1863.

³ Solomon Nelson (1827-1882) — enlisted at age 35 as a First Sergeant.


Addressed to Mr. David N. Bridges, Georgetown, Massachusetts

Baton Rouge [Louisiana]
April 26, [1863]

Friend Dave,

I have just returned from regimental inspection of arms and equipment. I expect to be on guard today but home not for I do not like to be on guard on the Sabbath. I am well and enjoy the blessings of health and good spirits. We have some of the hot weather that you don’t read about in the papers. [Colonel] Dudley is sick and we do not drill now it is so hot.

Well, how are you, you small man Dave? Is there any thing [?] you can get that board down to Barnes’? If there is, I should like to have you get it and get Bagley to paint it the same as he was a going to. Where is John Edmonds now? Up to Haverhill? Do you ever see him? Give him my love.

The band is coming in. Oh! can’t they play? They can’t be beat in the army. C[handler L.] Parker can just hear them out in the bugle.

We are coming home next month some time. Won’t we have a good time, I tell you. I had a letter from Mary K. day before yesterday and sent her one yesterday. We have 40 stories a day about going home and some worry almost to death for fear that we shan’t get home. I am going on guard now.

Capt. John G. Barnes, Co. K, 50th Mass.

Capt. John G. Barnes, Co. K, 50th Mass. Infantry

I am writing on my coat under a fence in a graveyard on picket guard. It is about ¾ of a mile from camp. The sky is cloudy today and so the sun does not shine so hot. This old brick that I am writing on is a poor thing. I could get you one of the finest bayonets that you ever saw in this yard. I am on 3 nights in a week on guard now. Rather tough but a great many are sick in the company. Almost every officer is sick now — thus Lt. [John H.] Bradstreet, Capt. [John G.] Barnes, Sergt. [Solomon] Nelson ¹ , Sergt. [Edward P.] Wilder, Sergt. [John A.] Bacon, Corp. [Bartholomew] Haley, Corp. [Chancy O.] Noyes, Corp. [George] Lucy. Thus you see that Company K is small in size.

I have just witnessed one of the loveliest scenes of my life, thus. The funeral of a Negro Soldier and heard the prayer of a Negro for the first time. ² And in all the prayers, I never heard a better prayer in my life. He went through all classes, color, and the President Lincoln, his officers, and army. Never shall I forget this Sabbath eve — the Negro on his knees pleading for his wife in bondage. I will tell you more about it some time next June with the blessing of a kind Providence.

Yours, — B. A. Merrill

¹ Sgt. Nelson kept a diary which was used extensively in writing the history of the 50th Massachusetts Regiment, published in 1907.

² The black soldier was most likely a member of the Third Louisiana Native Guards — an first all-black regiment mustered into the Federal service. According to the book, “A Buff Looks at the American Civil War…” by Shon Powers, the Third Louisiana Native Guards were used in operations around Baton Rouge between February and May 1863. The Third Louisiana Native Guards were mustered into the service in November 1862 but the Black officers were forced to resign in February 1863 by Gen’l Banks who had them replaced by white officers.

1863 Letter

1863 Letter

Addressed to Mr. David N. Bridges, Georgetown, Massachusetts

Baton Rouge [Louisiana]
May 17, 1863

I received your letter of March 22nd yesterday with great pleasure although an old one. I hope you will not get drafted. I wrote you a letter 3 weeks ago tonight on picket. You have received it, I suppose, ‘ere this. I have not been on duty since I wrote that letter. I have had the climatical fever. I have been in the hospital 1 week. I am getting along nicely now and with the blessing of a kind Providence, I hope to go back to camp soon.

Mississippi waterfront at Baton Rouge

Mississippi waterfront at Baton Rouge

The regiment are guarding a bridge 9 miles from here on the Clinton Road. There were a great lot that pretended they were not able to go with the regiment and so they remained in camp. Among those will be found Byron Richmond and Coleman Merrill. Last night they were ordered to General Auger’s Headquarters to be examined to see if they were fit to go upriver. They were sent this morn. Camp is pretty much cleared of convalescent persons. Dave, between you & I, them Merrill boys have not earned their salt since they left Camp Stanton, Beaufort. They want to get home. Byron wants to see [his wife] Jane and [son] Willie. ¹

It is a splendid day. A fine cool breeze is blowing from the south.

You wanted me to speak Darkey. I will wait till I get home before I say much about them. I will say this much, that I think more of them than I ever did before. We have 3 nigger regiments here and they can’t be beat by any 3 white regiments in the field — this I know. I can see their camp from where I am now sitting.

Since I have been in the army, I have prayed every day that I might have strength to set a good example for if a good example is needed anywhere, it is in the army for all of the habits you can think of you will find them in camp. Richmond has not gone out with the rest this morning. He just went out of here.

Quinine is the great medicine out here. The weather is so warm that they don’t allow us to go out much. Dave, I have got so I can drink quinine & whiskey first rate. When I came here, I was so weak that I could hardly get round but I am getting stronger now.

Give my love to Mary & Susan K. Also to all other asking friends. C. Byrum did not go this morning with the rest. I hope I shall get home before you get this. Ask Mary if she has got some of those oil nuts left. WE shall be at home sometime before the 19th of June. I will bet you this is a very unhealthy place at this season of the year. With much love, your friend, — B. A. Merrill

Remember me to the folks.

¹ Byron Merrill [or Merrell] (b. 1830) also served in the 50th Massachusetts. He was a shoemaker in Georgetown, Massachusetts and his wife Jane F. Merrill (b. 1833) was a “Shoe Bonder.” They had three children: William W. Merrill (b. 1854), Hiram E. Merrill (b. 1856), and Hattie (b. 1859).


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