These letters were written by Pvt. Leander Peckham (1827-1873), the son of George Washington Peckham (1800-1856) and Eliza Barker (1804-1870) of Middletown, Newport County, Rhode Island. Leander married Patience S. Gray (1839-1916), daughter of Amasa and Phebe (Irish) Gray in November 1858. He and his family were enumerated in Middleton before the war where Leander’s occupation was given as carpenter. He was 35 years old when he enlisted in Co. D, 12th Rhode Island Infantry in September 1862, listing Middletown, Newport County, Rhode Island, as his residence. Regimental records show him to have been hospitalized from December 1862 until 10 March 1863 when he was discharged for disability at Baltimore.
An article appearing in the Newport Mercury (Newport, R. I.) in January 1863 reported that Leander Peckham was hospitalized in Washington D. C. at the Trinity Church Hospital. The same paper reported in February 1863 that Leander was in Baltimore at “Stuart’s Hospital.”
In the first letter, 35 year-old Leander shares the details of an 85 mile march the regiment had just made from Washington D. C. down the eastern shore of Maryland to Liverpool Point where transports carried them across the Potomac and into “Old Virginia.” He tells her they are fourteen miles from Fredericksburg and that they expect to join Burnside’s army and have “a big fight” soon.
In the second letter, Leander tells his sister Eliza that he is “most used up” from exposure and hard marching. The 12th Rhode Island Infantry had not had any battlefield experience prior to the Battle of Fredericksburg fought on 13 December 1863 so it is safe to assume that the scenes described by Leander were from that battle. He may have also been on one of the burial details, under a flag of truce, that followed a couple of days afterward. In any event, we can safely assume that his constitution broke down shortly thereafter and he was transported with other sick and wounded back to Washington D. C.
In the third letter, written just prior to his medical discharge, Leander was still in a Baltimore hospital.
The Newport Mercury reported that Leander Peckham died in Middletown on 11 September 1873 at age 46.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Acquia Creek [Virginia]
December 1st 1862
(the letter was written the 7th; he dated it so as to give us a sketch of each days march)
My Dear Wife,
I will write a few lines. We had orders to pack up Monday for a start & to take two days rations. We left our tent & stove & our sack of straw. We had to carry our grub, water & our little tent to sleep in & clothes. We left about 16 of the boys in our company to go to the Fairfax Hospital. The Compton boys — all but the two Grays — were left back. H. Chase was one too. I had ought to have staid too but it was so sickly I would try to go with the boys.
We left Monday about 12 o’clock. About 5 thousand of us men made a start for Washington. We went over the long bridge through Washington over the Navy Yard into Maryland & encamped for the night on the ground like so many hogs. [We] like to have froze. I had the chills. We marched 10 miles today.
December 2nd. Got up this morning, eat some hard crackers and cold water. We are going to march 16 miles today — quite a hard day’s march. I had to get someone to carry my gun a part of the day. I was quite used up.
December 3rd. They put me with the wagon train today and I got my knapsack on board of the wagon. We are going 10 miles today. Myself & one of the Vermont boys went up to the Doctor’s house & he invited us in & gave us some apples to eat & some wine to drink. We fared quite well. We got up with the Regiment in the evening. They were in camp in the woods. The camp fires were lit up for a mile. It looked quite pretty. The soldiers went out & shot some pigs & poultry.
December 4th. We are going to Port Tobacco today. Went through several plantations — tobacco & corn are the crops. Port Tobacco is a county seat — about 100 inhabitants — plenty of niggers. The land is hilly & marshy. ‘Tis about all woods through Maryland — fine trees mostly.
December 5. Got up this morning — another long march & looks like rain. They say there is about 40 thousand men ahead of us & 5 thousand with us & 300 baggage wagons & several thousand behind us. The men do not have half enough to eat & they are shooting every live thing they can find. They say there are 60 thousand men on the move. We are going to help Burnside, they say. It begins to rain & we shall catch a wetting. It rained all the forenoon. It grows cold & begins to snow. The men & horses are quite dragged out with the long march. I am cold, wet, & hungry. A lot of us got into a meeting house and made a fire to dry our clothes. I have one hard cracker & cold water. Got warm some & made another start. The mud & splosh is over shoe deep. I am within two miles of the regiment. I am going no further tonight. Some of us went into an old blacksmith shop, got up a fire to warm us again. [We] calculated to stay all night but some of the boys said there was another meeting house so we went in it and found about 50 soldiers there. Staid all night. Slept not much.
Started the next morning to catch up with the regiment. It was mud & snow. I got my feet wet all through. Found the boys not much better off, I can tell you. They had to camp on the snow. We are all getting ready for another storm.
Saturday, December 6th. ‘Tis cold today. 4 crackers apiece and march six miles to Liverpool Point — almost the lower end of Maryland. Here we had to stand in the splosh about 4 hours, cold & hungry, waiting for the transport boat to carry us across the Potomac again into Old Virginia. We arrived at Acquia Creek at six o’clock. It is quite a place — boats of all descriptions, railroads to carry provisions to the army. They kept us standing about an hour in the cold — our feet almost froze — and hungry. Amasa went up to a box of crackers & stove one side in it, got some & gave me some. Fore we go on another tramp of about two miles & we camp on the snow again. Went to work to build a fire to get warm with. We sat & stood up half of the night to get our feet warm, burned our faces, smoked our eyes, & froze our backs, but made out to live through the night.
December 7th. Here we are cold & hungry. The sun begins to shine. Some of the boys have gone for something to eat. Here they come with some crackers, white beans, & pork. The prospect is that we shall get something to eat. Well we have got filled up once.
Some of the folks say there is about 150 thousand men here to go & help Burnside. Fredericksburg is 14 miles from here. They are getting ready for a big fight, they say. They say we are going in to help fight with Burnside. We are going from here tomorrow. The fight is to be 4 miles this side of Fredericksburg at Falmouth. They say that we are agoing to have the mail at 5 o’clock. I hope to get a letter but they say we cannot send any letters until after the battle. May the Lord take care of you if I never come back, but I hope I shall. Then I think I shall stay there — I have seen enough. We lost two or three men & some horses by this cruel march. I am quite smart for me.
We have got some pine boughs to fix up our bed tonight and got a good fire agoing. I guess we shall sleep warm tonight. Amasa & two more of us have put our tents together. It is cold today but I hope I shall not take cold.
December 8th. I am quite smart for me, considering the long march but they say that we marched 85 miles in all. I can’t tell why they marched us so far out of the way. We left where we were & went through Maryland across the Potomac into Old Virginia again. We are about 50 miles farther down the same side.
I do not know how long we shall stay here. I hope long enough to hear from you & to get that letter & the box if you have sent any to us. Amasa is frying pork & crackers for our dinner. We don’t get more than half enough to eat. I hope we shall have more before a great while. Amasa & myself went down to the creek and got 25 cts worth of cookies. They are building storehouses & fixing up the wharfs. There is about 100 steamboats & other crafts there. It is quite a place for government stores.
It is cold here. We are suffering with the weather along the river. It is froze hard enough for the boys to skate on. The water we get to use freezes in our canteens & camp kettles. The brook is froze hard enough to bear me. I believe it is colder out here than it is at home. We have to keep campfires burning all the time. I wish myself at home if they have this weather out here. The snow is on the ground & we have to scrape it away to lay down. There is 5 or 6 men sick/ ‘Tis a hard place to send them, I hear. I shall make out to stand this voyage. I had to get up this morning at 5 to warm my feet. I thought they would freeze before I got them warm. We have to cut down trees & pick up the brush out of the snow to keep the fire going to keep warm with. ‘Tis tuff.
The news is that we are going to have full rations. I hope so. The weather grows a little warmer. We are quite a cross set of men, I can tell you. They reckon when they enlist again, it will be when they are crazy. They will have to draft if they get any more men for the war if this is the way they are going to use them. We have had as tuff a march as has been since the war [began].
Albert has got a chance to drive a four horse team awhile. He got almost used up. He fell out the regiment once. Amasa & myself are the only two that is left of our crowd & 6 White. The land is hilly & covered with trees. We have orders to clean our guns & equipment for a dress parade. There is over 100 thousand soldiers around here. Expect to have to go down to help Burnside every day to help take Fredericksburg to make winter quarters for some of the regiments.
I shall write a little sketch of our march. It is not wrote very good. I have to write out in the cold but I guess you can read some of it & guess at the rest. If I ever get home again, I will tell you all about it. We lost some horses & two or three men. Well it was a tuff march for man & beast. The poor mules would cry & holler — poor things. They were half starved. A hard traveling up hill & down, half a mile quite steep. Had to chain the wheels to keep them from turning. I hope we shall not have another such march as this without they want to kill us all. Going up hill they had to double the team.
I want you to send this letter to sister Eliza after you have read it because they want to hear from me. I do not have much time to write. If I did, it is not very agreeable to write out in the cold with your hands almost froze at that. So this letter must answer for all hands and you must all write when you can & I will try to answer some of them. Give my love to all the folks & take care of yourself & tell the boys to stay at home & not to make a fool of themselves in the way I have.
The government may go to the devil for all of me if ever I get home again before I will enlist again for the war if this is the way we have got to be used — half fed & suffering with the cold. I wish the men that got up this trouble would have to fight it out with the South & take the damn niggers to pay for their trouble. I will fetch this letter to a close & bid you goodbye & hope I shall see you all again.
My love to all and I remain your, — Leander Peckham
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Ward 7, U. S. Army General Hospital
Stewart’s Mansion, Baltimore, Maryland
January 11, 1863
My dear sister,
I will write you a few lines. I am in Baltimore Hospital as you will see by this. We left Washington [D. C.] the 6th to make room for some more sick and wounded. We are on the outside of the city. There is about 1,000 sick or wounded here. I do not like [it] here. I hope they will send me back to my regiment or to Portsmouth Grove. I am about the same — almost used up. They march us so far and then into a battle. And sleeping on the cold ground — the rain and snow — with wet feet and half enough to eat — it was too much for me.
I have quite good care here but it will take some time for me to get [as] smart as when I left home. I wish I was at home where my Mother could take care of me but if I don’t get no better, they will have to discharge me from the hospital within about 6 months.
I received your kind letter the 24th of December. I have not heard from home since. I have wrote to Mother and Joe [but] no letter have I received from them so you must write me a letter and let me know how you are getting along. I shall want to hear all the news from home. How does the old horse get along? How are the boys and Mother? And how her honey and ____ hold out, and her stocks get along, and her corn and vinegar [?]. Tell her to look out in the hard times. I don’t calculate to sell my corn before next July.
It’s no good to send me anything for I should not get it here in the hospital. Well, if I ever get home again, I shall know how to prize it. I have seen enough to make my heart sick of war. I have seen men shot down on the battlefield and seen them carried to the hospital, have their legs and arms cut off and died like so many hogs and thought no more of. I have seen them thrown into a hole one on top the other and that is the last of the poor soldier — thought no more of [than] If they was so many cats.
Write soon. My love to all that enquire after me and take a [good] part to yourself. Tell the boys to be good to their kind mother and be contented to stay at home. I remain your brother, — Leander Peckham
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
[Probably Stewart’s Mansion Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland]
February 22nd, 1863
My dear sister Elisa and Mother and all hands,
I will commence another letter to you. It snow[ed] like great guns today. The snow is 3 or 4 inches thick and it keeps on snow[ing]. I am on the gaining had. If I stay here much longer, I shall be quite smart. I am in hopes I shall get my papers this week. I received Joel and Mother’s letter and was glad to hear from them but I am sorry that Mother takes so much trouble to try to get me at home for it won’t amount to nothing at all. The Governor Sprague and no one else could get me out of the army service. I have to remain the 9 months out or sooner discharge which I am in a fair way to be. I am afraid the folks at home [will] think I was not fit to go to the war — that I went to get the money — but I have been in one big battle [Fredericksburg] and like to [have] been killed but I come out alright. If they had not kept us laying in the mud and water so much, I should have been with the regiment now but I ain’t the only one that has been sick. There is about 300 sick ones [that have] left the regiment, including the killed and wounded.
I will send you a cach[et] of the hospital shanty and grounds where I am stopping for the present. You can see the city of Baltimore. This picture is a good representation. I heard they had the small pox in Newport and at the Grove too but I am glad you have got rid of it around your neighborhood.
I was down to see my friend Mr. [Frederick] Bannenberg yesterday. ¹ Had some string beans for dinner. They send their best respects to you. His wife [Annie] says she is coming to see us next summer if nothing happens to hinder her from coming. I told her I hoped she would.
Well, sister, I received your kind letter today and was glad to hear from you [and] that you were all well as usual. I have not been very smart two or three days back. I got a cold last Sunday but I am better today. I hope I shall get home before I have another fall back. They say I shall have my discharge paper so I can come home next week. Tell Mother not to worry about the pay they get to pay me or I won’t sign my name to the papers.
I will try to finish this letter so I can send it today. I am in bed. Had another sick spell but I am a little better today. The ladies and doctor are very kind to me. They fetch me anything I can eat. They had the doctor [sign my discharge papers] up to the first of this week [so] I shall be home next Saturday or Sunday if everything works right.
My love to all, your brother — L. Peckham
P. S. Tell mother not to worry about me. I shall be at home, I hope, next Sunday with her but I am sorry to come home sick. But I try not to put her at much trouble.
¹ Frederick Bannenburg (b. 1814 in Prussia) was a master shoemaker in Baltimore. His wife, Annie (or Hannah), was born in Massachusetts.