1863: Gustavus B. Williams to Bernette (Hill) Williams

Gustavus B. Williams

Gustavus B. Williams

These letters were written by Sgt. Gustavus B. Williams of Co. K, 51st Massachusetts Infantry — a 9 months organization.  Born in Uxbridge, Mass. on 28 October 1834, Gustavus was originally employed as a teacher. He married Bernette Hill in 1859. Enlisting in 1862, he went with the 51st Mass to New Bern, North Carolina. In July 1863 the Regiment went to Baltimore, MD to search houses for concealed arms and to Guard Gettysburg prisoners. On July 12 the Regiment went to Funkstown, MD in front of the Confederate position at Williamsport. After his discharge from the Union Army in 1863 he continued teaching and also studied law at his father-in-law’s office. He was admitted into the Mass. bar in 1875. His wife passed away in 1880 after 21 years of marriage and eight children. Williams died on 3 September 1910.

Recently several items belonging to Gustavus B. Williams were sold at auction. They included his 1862 Bible signed G.B. Williams Com. K, 51 Regiment. A 1/6 plate Ambrotype of Williams, and his coat & cuff Federal eagle buttons with note that dates 1898 from Williams stating they were from his uniform worn in the service 1862-1863. Also includes a 1862 receipt for subscription to “Liberator,” a periodical dedicated to the abolitionist movement. Bible shows wear from carrying in the field. This lot represents the first of over a dozen of the personal effects and family momentos of Gustavus B. Williams that have remained in the family until now.


Camp Foster, Newbern, North Carolina
Wednesday, February 28, [1863], Eight in evening

My Dearest Wife,

We were not allowed to remain at Mitchell’s place longer than the time mentioned in the original order, viz: five days. The Capt. tried to get a chance to remain longer but Col. Sprague is now with the major part of the regiment 8 miles out of the city and whether we shall go to him, remain here, or return to the place we have just left is uncertain.

The barracks are to be repaired — better ventilated, white-washed, and the bunks placed in the centre with passages and a dining table along the outside. That is the plan so Capt. K. says.

There is some talk of the 51st being sent to Morehead City to do guard duty there and in Beaufort. The position is very desirable and will be secured if we have it on account of the great amount of sickness we have had. Beaufort is called very healthy, os or was a kind of watering place for the wealthy. Our company were much pleased with our last position and very reluctantly left — especially as there seemed no likelihood of attack which Honvile, the Capt. of contrabands, feared. I distrusted him very much. A traitor to the South, he is liable to be one to us. He is shrewd and has seen a great deal of rough life I think from his own account. But the meaning of the word “Ought” is evidently unknown to him and I think the Government would do well not to trust him. All our men — I was surprised today to learn — appeared to judge as I do. But we enjoyed the free life, pure air and water there greatly, besides no duty except guard was done and I was well rested.

Our knapsacks wer brought back by the teams so the eight mile march was, in the fine weather of today, only a pleasure. I saw several daisies along the road and a number of star flowers.

The long breastworks in charging over which Lieut. Pierce lost his life awakened most melancholy feelings as we passed them and I reflected that along our road came Burnside’s men to a deadly fray, while we — cheerful, singing, careless, without danger — saw another phase of the soldier’s life. We may any day change positions however and fight and die as they did.

Letters and papers up to the 20th instant awaited us here and repaid our boys in part for exchanging the barracks for the river, the forest, the fish and game, the house, and all of which we had begun to “get the hang.”

The war news is well summed up in Edward’s letter of the 19th instant — devoted heads. But the tone of your letter leads me to hope the worst is over and that both father and mother are to be well once more.

It is a great favor that you have been able to bear up as well through all. I really begin to fear my return will be for one reason at least not to be desired. Possibly, however, your little illnesses are not written and not being there to see, I think you in better health than you really have. I hope not and I know you mean to write me all even the worst.

But my darling, could I see you even for one hour that we might try the language of words, kisses, looks, and pressure of the hand, communicate as in other days our love, which has been so long tried and never found wanting. Four months more at most we hope will bring us together again. Like your father, I believe I shall “go home when my time is out” but I think Capt. K is willing to get me off if it can be done. He has now no interest worth mentioning in retaining me here and he, a captain, can do what one in my position cannot do. I might try ever so hard and without his aid all would be worse than useless and doubtless seriously injure me. I’ve nothing to found a claim on, either for a furlough or a discharge. Nine months men have never had any furloughs, I believe, and the Dr. is reluctant to send off an able-bodied man for a defect of which officers make no serious complain. While my friend’s condition or my home business — as I am not an officer — could not be considered a moment by a military man, but my love, if I could see you all at home once more, could feel that I was helping you there. I want to feel I am needed. Then I can stay contented, And now I know you do want me and I cannot be with you. It’s trying but I trust all will come [out] right and love and happiness yet be ours. Good night to you all M___ Hill and Bernette from “father” ___ Gustavus.

It is Thursday evening after nine. I am on guard commanding nine men who watch the barracks that there may be no thieving done by outsiders. I stay in my quarters but must be up so as to relieve guard every two hours. There seems now to be a definite dispersal of the regiment made in order to check discord. Our company is to take a picket station some six or eight miles east on the right hand side of the railroad as we go east. The 43rd [Massachusetts] have a company there [already]. It is called Evans’ Mills and seems very promising as a station for some weeks or months it may be.

The three companies now on picket near the city — viz: E, H, & G will remain where they are. The other six will some of them guard the railroad near Morehead City. Some guard that place and some be stationed in Beaufort. My address is to be the same till you hear further. If anything new occurs, I will write it and mail this tomorrow. It is raining and we shall go when it is again pleasant. The captain has kindly offered me a chance to pack what I choose in my big box which will go as his so I shan’t be likely to carry a great load nor leave much property here. Of course, provision for mails and express matter will soon be made after our arrival.

Friday A.M. It is pleasant today but we do not leave for Evans’ Mills till tomorrow when, if pleasant, we shall start. (The Captain will pass my big box along as his so I shan’t be likely to carry a great load myself.) The mail closes here this P.M. and I will send this to the letter box immediately. Last night I did not sleep at all till 5 A.M. — the only night since my enlistment that I have been awake all night. I slept three or more hours this morning.

As ever your devoted, — Gustavus

P. S. Enclose a sheet of paper whenever there’s room. I have received several so but my stock is running low.


Evans Mills, North Carolina
March 5, 1863

My Dear Wife,


Capt. George O. Tyler

We started as I wrote we expected Thursday at ten A.M., arriving without incident about 6 P.M. Co. I, Capt. [George O.] Tyler of the 43rd, was here and marched off his company very soon after our arrival. They had been here some seven or eight weeks and liked the situation much. It is indeed a position far superior to anything I ever expected to have while a soldier. The officers occupy a good house — one of the best plantation houses I have seen.

The sergeants and privates have quarters in board huts accommodating from two to a dozen or more each, and the block house — a strong log building of two stories with port holes for cannon and perforations for musketry. There are ten or eleven cavalrymen stationed here as this is an important outpost towards Pollocksville from which an attack — if one were made — might come. The cavalry scour the country around and our pickets comfortably stationed in huts along the road a mile from our company quarters, which are just back of the blockhouse, guard the only approach. The sergeants with corporals remain.

My chums occupy a very comfortable cabin with two tables, three bunks, one chair, two cupboards, and a good fireplace. All the huts have either stoves or fireplaces but ours is the best building and seems quite civilized. When on guard, I stay here, occasionally visiting the pickets, but with not much duty, but having a good deal of responsibility as I command the guard acting Lieutenant.

Our mail will be promptly brought us. We have a mule and cart and the Captain has a horse, one of which will go almost daily to the city about eight miles distant. This was an immense plantation with two hundred (I judge) negroes upon it. A creek flowing near us carries a sawmill and a grist mill. A plantation sergeant has charge of the whole and last year raised considerable produce. The mills are kept running now and the Government have agents manufacturing tar a mile below here. Tar is worth at the North, I have heard, about $40 per barrel. A great many contrabands — I don’t know how many — are employed here so you see we have in our care much that is valuable.

Game and fish abound. Eggs at 25 cts a dozen can be bought and milk at 10 cts so we need not starve. I had milk in my tea last night — a great treat, and if my box with butter and cheese comes as I expect by next steamer, I shall live well.

The ground is elevated and the place must be healthy at least till hot weather comes. The spring comes on very slowly though oats are up already looking quite good. There was a hard frost last night and winter clothing is very comfortable yet.

I think the comforts of warmth, good eating, and much lighter duty than common will, while I am better satisfied of course, tend to remind me more of home from their greater similarly to what I enjoyed there. This certain, I think and dream of you here much as in the comparatively cold and cheerless barracks. Well, the winter has gone and with the passage of the present season, my term of service will nearly, if not quite expire. There is much dispute as to when we are to return. It is best to fix the time at July 1st — the latest date which we appoint for our return home. But some say a month or six weeks before. We shall be in Mars. Our company is still well as common. No new cases of sickness reported but I am surprised to find how many have suffered from a weakness and pain in the region of the kidneys. I believe half the regiment have it, more or less. I do [and] so does Coleman, H. Minot, Payson, [&] Staples, though we are very well in general. Something in our quarters has poisoned us but now I trust we shall recover entirely.

It is now after ten P. M. I have just been to visit the outpost guarded by a corporal and 3 privates. Of course I had other posts to pass on the way. All was very bright moonlight, very quiet, but the guard are most watchful. In the creek and swamps we are told are [Water] Moccasins, Copperheads, Rattlesnakes, alligators, wood ticks, and what besides of danger, we don’t know nor wish to know. Our huts have an abundance of rats. We do know but we can guard against them — only keep the Rebs away. An expedition of two or more brigades start somewhere, we hear, in a day or two, and the mail North goes tomorrow.

My darling wife, may God bless and keep you for me. If love were any protection, we should both have a shield of armor. Remember me to all at home and kiss the wee ones for father. — Gustavus


Evan’s Mills, North Carolina
Thursday Eve., March 19, 1863

My dearly loved wife,

With scarcely any material for a letter, I attempt a few words sure that the mere knowledge that i am yet alive and well will be readable to you, if this does not read “like a story.” The date tells all. At this post we have had no attack and no alarm for which we are very thankful.

Monday I went to Newbern in the little mule cart and drew rations for the company for fourteen days (I did not draw them home).

The spring advances much more slowly than at the North but flowers are quite plenty along the road and in the yards of the city houses where dandy officers — many of them with wives and families — live luxuriantly. After a hard task running for orders on this and that official — for [red] tape is the rule everywhere — I got my work done and in my little wretched springless cart drawn by the smallest and most unhappy of mules, through mud holes, through woods, and difficulties of various descriptions, my companion, Corporal Heath, and I plodded home tired and dirty.

The Captain the same day, on a fine horse, well dressed, gaily rode to town full of business, credit or money, and a good time, good company, a good ride home, a good supper &c. awaited him. No wonder he expects to enter the army again — if spared to return. Could I believe it right to live thus on a country in struggles for life, and had I wife and [   ] to stay with at home, I might try for a commission myself. The ifs are large enough to prevent that, however, and I can’t say I’m sorry I had no commission and i certainly have no complaint to make of either of our officers treatment of me.

The Rebs after reconnoitering our position and trying to capture some prisoners without success — indeed, I heard they lost over fifty cavalry with horses and equipments, prisoners — left [here] going down the Neuse [River] and firing on some passing boats once or twice. For some days, nothing has been seen or heard of them by us, and I think they only designed a raid which the strength of our force prevented from being successful. It ought to be a happy day for the U.S. when they make a real attack on Newbern which is fortified at all points. Our post is a very strong position and we do not now anticipate an attack on the place.

Of course I’ve enjoyed the contents of my box very much. The apples are nearly gone. Some ginger cakes remain. The dried apple and sugar have furnished a good meal of apple sauce.

Freeman has been quite sick with a cold — almost a fever — but is better. For a day or two the weather has been cold and I was the other day and today, in fact, quite rheumatic for an hour — quite bowed down and walking like an old man. I did not feel the pain in my kidneys but higher in my back and sides. One foot is lame some but with all, I am not very bad off. Go round very well and eat well.

Am on guard today — a dull, misty cold northeaster — but I don’t go out much. Thank heaven time flies fast. The months will glide away and the bright summer will, I trust, bring us together at home. Plenty of papers have reached me.

I agree with your father on the negro affair in South Carolina. It was wicked and disobedient conduct and a military blunder. The stripes are received and just as I wanted. Thanks, therefore, to you and your father. The rest of this letter should be if I could make it all love for my darling wife, from Augustus.

I fear you will think me more crippled than I am. I am not much lame except in the morning.Shall be alright doubtless in a few days. — G


Camp Harkness, Evans Mills [North Carolina]
Friday Eve, March 20 [1863]

My darling wife,

Your letter of the 11th inst. came this P.M. and though by the same mail as the one I sent you this morning, I will start this for you will be glad to know of the receipt of your communication. You speak of the article “Woman” in the Atlantic [Magazine]. It moved me as it did you. We are so situated now as to grow sentimental over many things we should not have thought of much a year ago. You have doubtless received the Atlantic I sent back. I have already acknowledged the tripes in the other letter.

You speak of a furlough as possible. I think the nine-months men will not get any; their time is too nearly expired and the claims of the three years men ought surely to be considered before ours. Still it is so hard to have a  son at home whose face I have scarcely seen and a daughter I had learned to live with, a wife — the light of my life, and I so far away in a kind of slavery. I am glad my boy is to resemble me so much. At the worst, you can never forget the father while the son resembles him.

I congratulate your mother on her returning health. Sleighing seems to us here a strange thing having had but one sight of snow this winter and that for only a day. I too wish women would respect their sex enough to frown on men whose characters if borne by the other sex would be shunned and scorned everywhere. It is one of the “rights” and if they saw Cook play his true character, how could they receive in social equality.

I laugh at Lieut. Howe’s daughter but its pardonable childish vanity. Well, if her parents do not share it. Altogether your news sheet is very interesting. I understand just how things go on though I may not be with you. Thank heaven our lives and health and our friends are yet spared to us all and let us keep our faith that they will be continued till we meet again.

Today has been very rainy and cold. I have kept warm for we have had good fires. I do but little except guard duty as we have not drilled but strengthened the fortifications this week. A lazy miserable life we lead. Happy day which sees its close and the home life — the life of love recommence. It is too dark to write more so good night and overflowing love from your husband.

[Added letter]

Evans’ Mills
Evening, March 20, 1863

Dear sister,

But a day or two ago I sent Aunt H. a letter. Still I improve the chance to let you know I am still well save a little lameness rheumatic, I suppose.

We hear nothing of the rebels and hope to remain unmolested.

Today has been very rainy but we keep warm and dry in our little hut. I was on guard last night in the rain but as usual was not in the rain very much. Say by my fire, wrote to Bernette, from whom a letter came this P.M.  Read the papers and slept in my chair some. All is quiet — no change — no news and I need not write more than an occurrence of continued affection for all, as ever, from — Gustavus

P. S. The money came safely. My apple pie and cakes are gone. Butter, cheese, dried apples & sugar remain and tonight I’ve had some nice [apple] sauce. — Gus

(transcribed by someone else)

Evan’s Mills, N. C.
April 9, 1863

“…our last [?] at Evans Mills is a photograph of the company paraded before the officers house. An artist from Newbern came here and took the pictures. There are three views. One showing the company at “parade rest” [with] officers and sergeants in front, drakes, Dr. Eames, Capt. Kimball, Artillery Sergeant Atkins and gate sentinel Doggett in background. Another showing the same persons and building from another point and farther from the spectator…the third showing the road from officer’s quarters to ours. The stockade, cannon and our squad of gunners; the two Kimballs near the cook-house and in the road the company and cavalry squad dismounted…behind is the Block-house and the canvass covered roof of our, the sergeants, quarters which is the first of a row of huts hidden by trees and the block-house. At the left of the company…is the framework of what is to be a hospital…behind that are the huts of the cavalry and their horse shed. The river flows…parallel with the course of the road from the spectator towards the mill on the left…

Lieut. Coleman was at Newbern when the pictures were taken. I shall buy the two described…the photographs were taken March 28. I shall…send them when they are finished. The samples are now before me hence I describe them so that you will know what they mean if you get them. The ground slopes abruptly from the block-house towards the angle of the river which is bridged. The bridge is commanded by the six pounder cannon. The stream…in front of the spectator flows through swamps apparently impassable. The enemy must approach by the road…they would stop on the distant plains and shell us out rather than attack with cavalry or infantry by the flank being up on two bridges, one already mentioned the other just beyond across the mill trench…both under our guns…

Gen. Foster and his two regiments at Little Washington, besieged for a week, are in a hot place. Most of the troops have gone from Newbern to help him. The rebs have a battery commanding the ship channel below the town preventing reinforcements from approaching by water and our gunboats cant disturb them so all parties are waiting…the Rebels dread the loss of Vicksburg and Texan supplies and hope to drive us from the rich country of north North Carolina…give us Charleston or Vicksburg or a victory by the glorious Potomac army, faithful to death over and over again through untold suffering, treachery, imbecility and defeat after defeat! Give that grand army one victory and the Rebellion could never stand…a victory and good leader and it would go from the James river to the Gulf in a month…”



Evans Mills [North Carolina]
April 15, 1863

My own darling wife,

A dark dull rainy day is this, following as rainy a night. The rain which comes in violent showers with occasional lightning and thunder, patters dismally on the roof and finds its way within through many a crevice. My bunk, however, is dry so I do not mind the dampness of other places which a good fire speedily dries away.

Uniform buttons of Sgt. Williams

Uniform buttons of Sgt. Williams

I am now more of a cripple than when I wrote last. My rheumatism is little better, if indeed it is improved at all. The doctor urged me to bathe with iodine and I reluctantly did so a very few times. The result was an eruption on the side and bottom of my foot which appeared and felt like ivy poison. Presently blisters appeared — itching and burning. The doctor said pinch them. I told him I feared erysipelas. He didn’t so I opened one or two of them. They grew worse and my foot began to swell generally so I dismissed the idea of following the doctor’s orders believing as I do now that erysipelas was there surely and must be fought. My good angel — my wife — had sent just the material for bandages long before and F. Washburn was the one to put them on. After carefully applying these just as your mother did to my sore arm and hand for a day or more, the selling and much of the inflammation abated. Now, some three days later, my foot is quite comfortable though still red and inflamed — comparatively less — and requiring great care.

Washburn has left the hospital at Newport Barracks, or rather, that has left him being merged in that at Beaufort so he is with us now. He is very skillful in applying bandages and the doctor has sense enough to give me my own way so I expect to be well very soon of this sore, though the lameness is more unpromising. If our quarters were changed, I should go to the hospital and may [yet] as it is no better or if any new symptoms appears.

My general health is yet good and with a wet foot, I sit very comfortably or lie as I do in my bunk a good deal. Scott’s “Rules of my Landlord“, the “Black Dwarf“, and “Old Mortality” — I’ve read these with great interest. The captain has the April Atlantic [Monthly]. I’ve read several articles therein. Among them, “A Spasm of Sense” — a sensible article — and also worthy of praise. I notice, “No Defeat for the North.” From the first I felt that to me thus far, the authors of the “Spasm” had spoken my own sentiments — in general at least.

I certainly as yet think more highly of the mother of my children than of the dear ones themselves. If my Myrtie grows up, there may be a change. We shall see. It will not come though, as I believe before my boy steals the first place in his mother’s heart away from me, and that time is yet far away in the future. Your last dear letter was dated April 1. I am daily hoping for another.

Spring is upon you now and according to the calendar half gone. I fully expect D. V. to be with you in a little more than two months though there are provoking rumors that we are to be kept till August. I don’t believe them yet, however. Still if the powers that be say we must stay, cruel, deceptive, or tyrannical though we may think it. I’ve written to the Patriot alluding to this subject. No official order has yet reached us and we hope to be discharged as early as the latter part of June. For one, it would be better for all parties if I were at home. I’ve done no duty except going on guard a few times since March 20 and there’s no reason to expect me more able-bodied for some time to come. I ought to be discharged and save expense to government and discomfort to myself and possibly a permanent lameness though that is a very remote possibility.

Our dinner threatens us — potatoes, “salt horse”, “hardtack.” ___ “cat to dullness.” Dinner in camp is a duty — painful but soon performed. A box is a brief blessing. Presently a matter of recollection keeps me alive. Hastens the slow dragging days between this and home. Speed the days when home, peace, and love, shall take the place of this existence.

Gen. John G. Foster

Gen. John G. Foster

Our troops went out towards Little Washington but soon returned — the men disgusted that they were not suffered after their hard march to fight — the officers declaring the enemy present with twice our numbers. Another expedition has started. Little Washington still holds out. A steamer is said to have run the blockade with provisions for [Gen’l.] Foster. Night before last, firing was heard over towards the Neuce [River]. The captain said yesterday the Rebs had planted a battery below New Bern on the Neuce and were firing on passing vessels. They’ve tried the dodge before without success.

We hear frequently assurances that we are to be paid “next week” but now pay no attention to them. Care little for pay now before we go home if we can have it then.

Imagine how much I think of you my precious wife while nearly house-bound. Your image day and night is before me and I wonder I am not more home-sick.

Mayer is lame as I. He has sores on his feet and ankles different from mine but nearly or quite as troublesome. He has no rheumatism. [John W.] Hallowell and [Timothy N.] Ide have to be on guard every other day. I’m sorry but have tried to do my part too much and can’t now. Most of the company are well. G Caren [?] is better.

When your letter comes, I will write again. Till then, think of me as always thinking of you. My wife, my children. So long separated from me. I cannot express my love for you. It is equal to yours for me and I will, like you, trust ‘ere long to be with you.

Your husband


Evans Mills, North Carolina
April 19, 1863

Dear [sister] Emily,

A letter from Jacob reached me today enclosing one from you.

Jacob’s letter will be answered presently but I must keep you informed of my welfare though I have little to write. I believe I wrote before of a humor which had appeared on my right foot. It is now on both and nearly prevents my walking — especially as I was lame before. This humor appears just outside of the places of my feet which were lame. It is like poison [ivy] on the foot first attacked. It is deep and has been severe but is, I trust, better, and I hope also when well the lameness will also be gone. Otherwise I am well and comfortable.

G. B. William's Bible

G. B. William’s Bible

Gen. Foster who was “shut up” at Little Washington has been reinforced and since returned to New Bern. He is now off with a large force after the Rebels who are reported to have abandoned the siege of Washington and “skedaddled.” We have never been disturbed here. Have been here since March 2.

I have done very little since March 20 — about a month. But I trust to recover very soon.

The weather is like August — intensely hot. Trees are nearly leafed out. Flowers, apple tree blossoms, blackberry blossoms, ______ -pinks and many strange flowers are in profusion now. It is the “Sunny South.” Since being house-bound, I’ve read Edward’s novel and like it much. I’ve also read Scott’s Black Dwarf and Old Mortality. Also Dumas is a change but powerful writer. His plot is magnificent though fanciful.His style fascinating though full of details which nearly all, however, seem to bear on the plot. His ideas or right are obscured and his religion is French. There were three books in the house when we came, perhaps left by the owners, perhaps belonging to some regimental library. I was fortunate to get any reading.

To tell the truth, I dread to write a letter to that Jacob. I don’t know much of him and less to his advantage and I hate to write hypocritically or offend by seeming indifferent. Perhaps I had better keep silent. I may not on reflection answer him. I will think again of it.

Tell Mother to feel no concern for me. I am well except &c. Two months and in spite of newspapers, I expect to be at home if alive. Be sure to count the days.

quoteBernette has given up her visit to you till my return. The Patriot is here dated April 10. Remember today is the anniversary of the Baltimore Massacre and of the Battle of Lexington. Soldiers should be patriotic today, but the quarrels of generals such as it is now said, have prevented the capture of Charleston, discourage and outrage us. We know not whom to trust, fearing to be sacrificed for the sake of promoting some Hunter or degrading some Burnside. This war is but a melancholy history of fruitless labor on the part of men in the ranks and wicked strife and jealousy on the part of officers. Of course there are exceptions.

But I’ve written a long letter to Bernette and grow tired. I close with love to Mother who must write at least a little (if she only begins, I’m sure of a long letter which will do us both good so I say urge her to write a little). Remember me to Father for whom I may work in hay time again, but guess not,

Your brother, — Gustavus

It is Monday morning. My feet are better. Will, I trust, soon be well and I & the boys say”polly-wogging” round again. — Gustavus


Evans Mills [North Carolina]
Tuesday P. M., May 5, 1863

My Dearest,

Although I wrote to you but two or three days ago, your letter of the 26th just received surprises me so much that I hasten at one to write.

It comes to me like a blow to be compelled to believe I am never again to meet you at that place which has been to me far the pleasantest home I ever had. You know I never liked Canada and nowhere else have I lived save in Waterford with my family, hence the pleasantest associations of my life cluster around that place in itself to me beautiful. I still hope your father will arrange matters so as to stay till I get home when I may be allowed to assist him in moving.

It now seems certain that we shall be at home by the first of July unless some unforeseen event transpires. Do not think, however, that it will rest very heavy on my mind if I can once get home with my friends. As to your going to fathers, it pleases me much though it will give you and mother both much to do — more than you ought to perhaps — especially as the care of the children must be a continual wear. The hot weather too is always bad for you but I can’t plan for you so far away. But you can imagine my anxiety that all may be well.

Though this sudden change in our affairs is likely to alter our prospects much if I can only meet it is all united and comfortable once more, it is all I ask. Your father is very thoughtful at least in deciding to wait for my return before a settlement. At present it is my purpose to pursue the study of the law if it is by any means possible, even though by teaching next fall and winter I interfere with rapid progress. But that must be left till another time with so vast a distance, so many contingencies, and six or seven weeks at least between us. It seems impossible for me to decide definitely on a course but you have here the outline of my purposes which, though liable to modification, I am willing to have you communicate to your father. I cannot help wishing — almost urging — that you may remain if you have not gone already in Blacksteve [?] till my return.

The box probably came on the same steamer with this letter from you. I shall expect to get it in a day or two.

The Capt. brought the mail this P.M. He went to Col. [Thomas Jonathan Coffin] Amory, commander of this brigade, and learned that it was likely we might remain since the Capt. wished to stay and probably made a good case. He, Capt. [Daniel W.] K[imball], is surely — as the men say — a “Cheeky fellow”and in many respects he will secure any favors for his men as few captains could. On the whole, my opinion is that our company is very well officered — not by this giving any opinion as to anybody’s personal character. That is reserved.

My health is good now that the weather is really hot. My feet are better — especially towards night when I get thoroughly warned. I will enclose a rose and a kind of briar leaf in this which of course you will preserve. Edward wrote me on the 23rd ult. from Washington. Emily was to go to her school this week.

I grow more eager to see you as the time slowly wears away and it is a matter on which I bestow much care and conjecture whether my Myrtie will know me. If we stay as we shall for awhile, undoubtedly our security from battle is much more likely. There is indeed little prospect of a march or a fight for the company and less for me.

If at home, I could do all ordinary business nearly as well as ever if I could ride, and I hope to grow better now. I am certainly no worse. Dr. [George Jewett — our very popular head surgeon — is coming to see us in a few days and I shall have his opinion on my feet but I am convinced in it rheumatism.

Now my ever dear, most precious wife, may Heaven bless and keep you safe and our little ones too and write us all again. Your devoted Gustavus.

[P.S.] I have received a Standard nearly every week and always among my most valued papers though often late. I’be been for flowers and brought in a little wild rose, a bell-shaped Callies Slipper, they call it here, whose peculiar leaves I enclose. They are pear-shaped. There is also a leaf of a tree resembling the tall ones before Mr. Bates’s house. The violet came safe.

It is Wednesday morning. I should say that I consider the sale of the place a great bargain by no means to be lost. Last night I had a long sweet dream of home. I was however put away to sleep with guests. In my bed was Gus Comstock and another man. I was surprised but everything else seemed natural and pleasant. I go on guard today and hope my feet are really better.

Col. [Augustus Brown Reed] Sprague and three companies of the 51st are now in Foster Barracks. The rest will be in some except ours as we hoped.


Evans Mills  [NorthCarolina]
Evening, May 23, 1863

My Love:

Last night I rode to Foster Barracks to see Dr. [George] Jewett who sent an order for me to go to the camp and as I feared, to the hospital to be drugged under his eye. I dressed in my best and used my best arguments to show that I should be best here. He said that as the regiment was to go home in a very few weeks, he disliked to send me home in my present condition. Indeed, it seems unlikely that Coleman will get his papers signed by the General as his time is so near out. Dr. Jewett was unwell and very affable and courteous, said I might take some medicine he would send me with directions. The medicine had come but no directions. Hence, I wait for further orders. At the Quartermasters was my half barrel — arrived a day or two before. Lery drive me over in the mule cart. So we waded it in and came back, rejoicing in my escape and in my barrel.

The 51st [Massachusetts] have now left Foster Barracks, moved yesterday and today have to guard a station on the railroad. Croatan, I believe, is the name. One company, I hear, has gone to Fort Totten [west of Newbern] and the rest are stationed between their former camp and Newbern. The barracks were found to interfere with the range of the guns on Fort Gaston, ¹ hence down they must come and be removed and put up elsewhere. The soldiers do most of the work.

We learn that the 54th [Massachusetts] Regiment, colored, is to come here and the 44th [Massachusetts] Regiment will return on the transport which brings them, The 54th is now on the way, we hear. I think we shall be sent home and disbanded by July 1st but not perhaps mustered out or paid before the 14th.

On my way to our camp last night, I passed the tents of the 43rd Massachusetts. They said they expected to return at or about the date of the expiration of their time determined by averaging the times of the mustering of the several companies which date would be about the 16th of June while the reports would keep them till July 20th. Time will tell whether we are right in our opinions. We easily believe what we wish to believe.

On our way home I stopped and Lery got some ripe mulberries from a large tree near the path.

Strawberries and milk have been quite abundant. I have had several full meals of them. Blackberries are beginning to ripen and will soon be very plenty. The large scale of the corn and cotton fields is worthy of note. There is one by the side of our path to Newbern at least a mile long and wide enough to contain the plantation, Sergeant says, 500 acres. Perhaps a hundred acres of this is thickly sprinkled with strawberry beds for the uniformity of soil of course shows uniformity of productions on large areas. Then two or three hundred acres of blackberry vines in no large story. I think there must be as many near Foster Barracks on Bryant’s [Bryan’s] Plantation. ² A company or regiment can hardly diminish there in the season of fruit. Evans had immense young apple and peach orchards — the latter are now loaded with half grown fruit. Two company’s here last year could hardly seem to diminish the peaches while ripe.

So the flowers are abundant and very widely extended. Think of miles of creek overhung with similar moss bearded trees now beautifully festooned with red honeysuckle and wisteria blossoms. Such is the present appearance of Brice’s Creek. But this sameness is tiresome awfully so on the march and even on a ride to Newbern it seems hard to work ones adverse. In spite of the sameness, however, Ned and I got back last night safe though a bolt came out, dropping one of our shafts when we were a couple of miles from here. Fortunately one of our cavalrymen happened to overtake us then and there and by using a pair of saddle straps, we managed to fasten it so I and the barrel rode while Lery led the mule. We arrived about eight P.M. I found the men apparently much pleased at my return. They thought I was sure to be kept in the hospital.

The barrel was of course not in the best shape, though the clothing, dried apples, sugar, the doughnuts, cheese, some crackers, the vegetables, the horseradish & stationery were in good order — most of them perfect. The meat of course and all in immediate contact such as cookies and cake were spoiled, yet by good luck some of your cake was saved enough to assure me that your cookery was a success. Several of the apples to my surprise were good, but Penniman ought to remit the Express — in part at least — for we lost enough in value to cover it, I should think.

I was lame worse than usual for some days past for the weather has been cool, but today I have been very busy. First I went to the Negro quarters for milk next to get breakfast, then to the river to wash my towels, handkerchief, and dishes. Then I had to polish and clean my gun, to fill my bed with fresh straw just bought off a negro, hung out blankets, air new clothes, and lastly pack up in a small soap box which the orderly gave me some of the things I am going to send you next week directed to Whitinsville if I do not get instructions to the contrary. I was busy all day and walking about a great deal, but its not and I am rather better though I have had a hard day. Freeman ³ would have helped some, but he was on guard. I am tired tonight and have aching feet, as I expected. Every step hurts, often severely, but I can’t give up motion.

The mail came this P.M. with your letter of the 15th inst., one from Emily same date, and one from Ella Aldrick. The Patriot with my letter just as I wrote it is here and Elliott has for the last three weeks sent me the Independent. Two of the same are needless. Hence, send no more from home till Elliott stops sending as his come earlier.

I sent your father a letter on the 12th and your mother one of the 19th inst. She had sent the Standard. I shall send home my old drawers and shirts, one pair of army socks drawn when I got short but “scratchy” and uncomfortable. Father, or somebody who wear two pairs might use them in the winter.

I have packed in my shawl and some shells with the new drawers you sent — also the pieces of pants. I found pieces of cast off pants which washed did very well for patches. You will find my photograph, also the sealing bottle, and possibly other things. I did not suppose you had sent both pairs of army drawers in the first box or I should not have asked for more. I do not need more and return those you sent. The cotton here are very welcome. The dried apple charming, and I had a meal of cracker and milk today. Few crackers were saved, however. The big turnip is to be cooked in a day or two. All were well packed or the ruin would have been complete. The barrel started on 24 April, I see.

What you write on the Woman’s Rights Question is just and I think Mrs. Euge has given a better account of Sojourner [Truth] than Mrs. S. I see no reason for objecting to your plans for educating our children. If women don’t have their rights, they are certainly to blame themselves in no small measure. Men must love them and will please them than to meeting every demand persistently and consistently made. There has been progress. Let us rejoice at this and hope for more.

Sergeant Moore, Chas. Moore, high school teacher in E. Douglas, recently promoted to Orderly [Sergeant] of Co. I, 51st [Massachusetts], of which Lucius Thayer is now Captain, is alive and very well. Lieut. [J. H.] Howe spoke to him this A.M. at the quarters of this company. What sergeant is dead, I can’t imagine. There were one or two others of the name in the company, I think, but privates. Another mail is expected immediately. I may put in some flowers tomorrow but I’m tired and close.

¹ Fort Gaston was one of a series of Federal forts built in 1862-63 to enable Union forces to hold Newbern. Located on the south bank of the Trent River 2 miles south of Newbern, the fort mounted seven 32-pounder cannons and guarded the point at which the main county road to Beaufort crossed the Trent River at Clermont Bridge to enter Newbern. Foster Barracks were just north of the fort.

² Henry R. Bryan purchased the “Clermont Plantation” in 1860. At that time it contained 1800 acres and its northern boundary was the “Old Beaufort Road.” At about the same time, James A. Bryan purchased the land north of the Old Beaufort Road, including the area that would eventually be James City — a community of freed slaves (“contrabands”) who flocked to Newbern for protection after the Union army occupied the area. The fields of Clermont (Bryan’s) Plantation south of Beaufort Road became a vast parade ground for the Federal troops and was the location of the Grand Review honoring General Burnside on 20 June 1862 in which 8,000 soldiers participated.

³ Corp. Franklin Freeman drowned in Brice’s Creek near Newbern, N. C. on 15 June 1863. 


Army Map showing Union Defenses near New Berne in 1864. Note Clermont Plantation south of New Bern near Fort Gaston and Foster Barracks.


One thought on “1863: Gustavus B. Williams to Bernette (Hill) Williams

  1. Posting this enquiry by Steve Dembickie hoping someone might be able to answer his questions. Please reply here if you can. — Griff

    Griff, I recently found your website while searching for Union troops garrisoned in and around New Bern, N.C. during the Civil War. I primarily am researching the Evans Mill Blockhouse that once stood next to where I presently live. The blockhouse was built in late 1862 as defensive position for Union occupied New Bern. Long story short, I was pleased to come upon your transcribed letters from Gustavus B. Williams of Co. K, 51st Mass.. In his letters writing back home to family he describes the Evans Plantation house and blockhouse beautifully. I have only lived in New Bern for about five years and not much is known about the Evans Mill area. So first, thank you for sharing these letters. I really do appreciate it and this is going to really help me in further research. Secondly, in Gustavus’ fifth letter he mentions of an artist from New Bern came to their camp and took three pictures of the Evans house area and it also sounds like he took pictures of the blockhouse and barracks surroundings. He also describes a Lieutenant Coleman being in New Bern when the pictures were taken on March 28th. Are you aware of these pictures or if they even exist? Would be very grateful if you can direct me to the source of these photos or about the auction that sold his belongings. Can’t believe there could possibly be pictures of Evans Mill area and blockhouse out there!!!! This would be fantastic to see.
    Thank You, Steven Dembickie


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