This letter was written by Lt. Albert Nathaniel Husted (1833-1912), the son of Nathaniel Husted (1798-1878) and Elmira Burhans (1810-1890) of Washington, Dutchess County, New York.
Albert was a professor of mathematics at the Normal School in Albany, New York, but resigned his position “in order to assist in forming a company of volunteer infantry. The company he helped muster would be known as the ‘new’ Company E, of the 44th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The original Company E had been decimated in the fighting at Antietam, with survivors being transferred to shore up the ranks of other companies in the regiment. The 44th New York was a proud unit, also known as ‘Ellsworth’s Avengers’ after Colonel E. Elmer Ellsworth who had been killed in Alexandria, Virginia. The ‘new’ Company E would consist primarily of graduates and students of the Normal School. Recruited in or near Albany, in the late summer of 1862, Company E joined the 44th New York as it guarded the Potomac on the 23rd of October, 1862… Husted participated in all battles with the Army of the Potomac between October 1862 and October 1864. Wounded at Chancellorsville in May of 1863, but not hospitalized, he credited the testament and diary carried in his side pocket with saving his life.” [Entering the Wilderness Campaign as the Captain of Co. I,] “Husted again escaped death (a bullet pierced his hat and another his bootleg) and narrowly avoided capture. He was mustered out of service with an honorable discharge on October 14, 1864.” [Source: Cory E. McClain]
Cpt. Husted returned from the war to marry Jane Eliza Ingersoll (in 1867) and to resume his employment as a professor in the Normal School at Albany.
In this fascinating letter, Husted yells his mother about Burnside’s aborted attempt to cross the Rappahannock and attack the Confederates wintering around Fredericksburg. Subsequently labeled “Burnside’s Mud March,” the failure, added to his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, sealed Burnside’s fate as the commander of the Army of the Potomac and he would soon be replaced by Joseph Hooker.
Camp in the Woods, Va.
January 23, 1863
You have probably heard before this time that the Army of the Potomac is advancing. Perhaps you are again anxious lest a stray rebel bullet shall do me harm. The army did attempt an advance but on Tuesday night a two days rain set in, took the frost all out of the ground, and made it utterly impossible for the artillery and baggage to get along. The difficulties appeared so great that the undertaking has been abandoned and the troops are now moving back to their old camps.
We had been under marching orders for several days. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon about 4 o’clock, we started. The roads were then very good — the ground having been frozen for several days. After marching but two miles, we encamped in the woods. Soon after we got our tent pitched and our coffee made, it began to rain and continued all night. So far as I have seen, there is but very little gravelly or stony land in this state, so the roads cut up quite easily when wet. As a consequence, on Wednesday morning, the mud was getting bad. The artillery horses having stood out in the rain without any protection were pretty well chilled. This together with the heavy roads made it very difficult getting the trains in motion.
We breakfasted at daylight, packed up our things — wet tents and all — and “fell in.” It was ten o’clock before we got off and then our course was very slow. At one p.m., having marched about 4 miles, we turned off into a fine oak wood and were ordered to bivouac. Soon our tents were up and our fires burning. The drizzling rain still continued, but being favorably situated, we got things in comfortable shape for the night.
Yesterday we remained quiet and made ourselves as contented as possible. Today we have been out building corduroy roads through the mud holes in order that the artillery and wagons may get back to their camps. This afternoon the sun is shining and the heat is such as to make it quite safe to write in my blouse sitting in the door of my tent.
We expect to return to our old quarters where we have enjoyed ourselves so well tomorrow or the next day. We lived high for several days before leaving camp and made a large opening in that box. The remainder I boxed up and put in baggage waggon. I shall find it all right. A piece of the bread — now three weeks old — is in my haversack, and still fresh and sweet. The last cruller was eaten last night. The dried fruit is very nice.
I do not much like the idea of giving up as Burnside now seems compelled to, but perhaps it is better than pursuing a hopeless case. I believe the men could stand it and could get along, but it is impossible for the wagons. I am well and hearty as usual. This trip — like most others — seems to be doing me good. We have had no mail for two or three days but I think this will go out tonight.
Love to all. Affectionately your son, — Albert
To Mrs. N. Husted