1862: Wallace to Asa Dennis Smith

I believe this letter was written by a member of the 22nd Massachusetts, Company A. There just don’t seem to be any other Massachusetts regiments whose history matches those events described by Wallace in his letter. The signature appears to read Wm Wallace to me, but there was no member of that company/regiment by that name. There was an Abraham Wallace but I can’t make out his signature to be his unless it is “Abe Wallace.”

In the letter, Wallace briefly chronicles the experience of his regiment in the Battle of Gaines Mill on 27 June 1862 in which they lost 71 killed, 86 wounded, and 177 captured.  He confirms the death of their colonel, Jesse Augustus Gove, and the capture and subsequent parole (22 July 1862) of their major, William S. Tilton. He also writes of the regiment’s action during the Battle of Malvern Hill where they were called upon to support the 5th United States Battery and lost nine killed and 41 wounded. In this latter engagement, the 22nd Regiment was commanded by Captain Walter S. Sampson of Company A.

Wallace wrote the letter to Asa Dennis Smith (1835-1911), the son of Ebenezer Smith (1798-1870) and Ann Bunce (1809-1893) of Needham (now Wellesley), Massachusetts. Ann Bunce’s parents were James Bunce of Hartford (CT) and Elizabeth Hagar of Weston (MA). Ebenezer’s parents were Jonathan Smith, Jr. and Abigail ____ of Needham. Asa’s parents were married in 1830. Asa had a younger sister named Mary K. Smith (1845-19xx) who married Henry Allen Wright (1844-Aft1889).

It appears that Asa was apprenticed at an early age as a shoemaker in Needham where he was enumerated in the Daniel Dedman household in 1850. When the Civil War erupted, Smith enlisted as a corporal in the 16th Massachusetts Infantry, Company K, on 7 May 1861. The 16th Massachusetts was with Hooker’s Division of the Army of the Potomac during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and Smith was severely injured at the Battle of Glendale on 30 June, receiving a gunshot wound to the face that tore his chin “to pieces,” as he remembered it. ¹ He was transported to the hospital at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, where he was treated and discharged for disability a month later.

Returning home, Asa joined the Natick fire department in 1863 and served as deputy state constable from 1865. He married Abbie Louisa Newhall, the daughter of Stephen H. Birette and Rebecca Collamore of Natick, in Medway, Massachusetts in June 1866. In 1877, he graduated from the Boston University School of Medicine and established a medical practice in South Boston.

Wallace refers to Smith as his “brother.” My assumption is that they were brother-in-laws but the extant genealogical record for the Smith family is incomplete, making it difficult to trace the identity of the letter’s author through those records.

See also: Pilgrimage to Gaines Mill by Patrick Browne.

1862 Letter

1862 Letter

Addressed to Mr. Asa D. Smith, 16th Regt. Mass. Vols., Co. K
United States General Hospital, Annapolis, Maryland

Harrison Landing [Virginia]
July 20th [or 23rd? 1862]

Dear Brother,

I was sorry to hear of your being wounded. The morning we arrived here, I went over to your regiment but I missed you and on enquiring I found out that you was badly hurt. But I wrote home that you was slightly wounded.

How are you getting along? What kind of care do you have and how long do you think it will be before you will get well? I have got out of it so far without a bruise but have been in some pretty tight places. At Gaines Mill when we retreated was the worst time I ever saw — men dropping on all sides of me. It was an awful sight. I suppose you knew that our Col. was killed that day. We lost more than half of our regiment that day though a great many have turned up at Richmond. Some came down from there yesterday badly wounded. Among the number was our Major and doctor who represent Richmond in an awful state — the whole city filled with dead and wounded. They say the stench is horrible from the hospitals and dead horses. They say there is great danger of an epidemic — that our men are treated to all kind of insults — dare not early who their heads to the windows for fear of being shot.

The next day after you was wounded, we were in it again. We done well. We stood our ground till we had used up all our ammunition. Our loss that day in killed and wounded was about 50 which leaves us a mighty small regiment. You better believe our Capt. had command of the regiment in the last fight and done well — better than expected.

Please write as soon as you are able and let me know how you are getting along.

From your brother, — Wm. [?] Wallace

¹ An account of the Seven Days’ Battles by Asa. D. Smith is included in Stephen W. Sears book, “The Civil War: The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It” published in 2012 )


One thought on “1862: Wallace to Asa Dennis Smith

  1. I am doing research on the Massachusetts State Police which was formed immediately after the Civil War in 1865. Corporal Asa D. Smith was appointed as a state police deputy constable on January 29, 1866 and it appears he only served for a short time before moving on to become a physician in Boston. I was wondering if you had a photo or any other information on Asa and his service with the state police.
    Ron Guilmette
    Massachusetts State Police Museum and Learning Center
    150th Anniversary 1865-2015
    We are on FB


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