1862-4: George A. Sargent to Thomas Sargent

These letters were written by George A. Sargent (1843-1928), the son of Thomas Sargent (1809-18xx) and his wife Rebecca of South Boston. George initially attempted to enlist in a Massachusetts regiment but was rejected by a doctor who found the eighteen year-old too skinny. So George enlisted as a bugler in November 1861 with Co. H, 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, and transferred to Co. L, 1st New Hampshire Cavalry on 7 January 1864. He mustered out of the service on 15 July 1865 at Concord, New Hampshire. [George’s diary from the Civil War is published under the title, “For Our Beloved Country: The Diary of a Bugler.”]

George married Josephine Nichols in 1874 and resided in Reading, Massachusetts, where he worked as a shoe cutter. He died on 20 May 1928 in Reading.


Camp near Manassas, [Virginia]
July 6 [1862]

Dear Folks,

I received your box yesterday forenoon and am much obliged to you for its contents. I was in hopes it would reach me so I could enjoy the good things on the 4th [of July]. I think I can relish them after living on salt junk and hard crackers for three or four months. Tell me all the particulars of the celebration in Boston. It seemed more like Sunday here than the 4th of July. I will tell you how I spent the day. I got up at five o’clock as usual to blow reveille, then fed and cleaned my horse, eat breakfast consisting of salt junk, coffee, and salt bread (by the way, we have drawn soft bread ever since we have been here).

At nine o’clock, four of us saddled our horses and started for Bull Run battlefield. We arrived there after about an hour’s ride. The first place we went to see was the place where the Black Horse Cavalry made their celebrated charge [on the NY Fire Zouaves]. There are several carcasses of dead horses still lying on the field. From one of their jaws I got a tooth which I shall keep as a relic.

We next went to a stone house ¹ a short distance off occupied by an old man. In his yard there were fourteen of our men killed and buried in one grave. There are several holes in his house made by solid shot and in one instance, the ball going clear through. The graves are very thick and in some places the bones and remnants of clothing were sticking out and in some instances there were no grave at all, there being [only] a little dirt thrown over them as they laid on the field. We went into a piece of woods where the fight was the thickest and the concussion was so great that the trees were bent halfway over to the ground. In these woods were a number of graves. By looking at the trees you can see where the shots struck, taking off large limbs, and in some cases knocking whole trees down.

About this time (one o’clock) we feeling kind of hungry, we looked round to see if we could find any fruit. After looking a little while, we came to a tree filled with dead ripe, black heart cherries, sweet as honey. We filled our bread baskets and then went to a neighboring house and got a good drink of milk. It was an old man that occupied this house and he said he witnessed the whole battle. We stopped there about an hour talking, he telling us about the battle. We started for camp and arrived there about five o’clock.

When we got home we learnt that we had lost a good dinner, it consisting of sweet peas and lobster, but never mind, I have got something good in those cans. This fourth will always be remembered by me as the visit to the battlefield.


Col. Alfred Duffie, 1st Rhode Island Cavalry at camp near Bull Run in July 1862.

Last Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Sprague arrived at our camp. And Wednesday he reviewed us notwithstanding it rained hard, and after that he made a speech paying a high compliment to our battalion (N. H.). We were out about an hour and a half and when we got through, we were wet through to the skin. Cherries and especially blackberries are thick here, and apples are about large enough to make sauce of. I go in bathing most every day in the Bull Run stream. News came here yesterday that McClellan marched with his army into Richmond on the afternoon of the 4th.

Yours, — G. A. Sargent

P. S. As I do not receive more than two papers a week, I suppose I don’t get all you send.

Very hot weather indeed.


The Matthews’ Farm House on the Bull Run Battlefield

¹ This may have been the 1848 stone home of farmer Henry P. Matthew and his family that was near the Warrenton Turnpike and around which the battle swirled on 21 July 1861. It was one of the few stone houses in the vicinity and it was hit several times by solid shot during the battle.


Camp near Falmouth, Virginia
March 16th 1863

Dear Folks,

I received your letter of the 22nd February and yours of the 8th March last week, the former Thursday night and the other Friday night. I can’t see how it is that it takes one letter any longer to come than another. Sometimes the boys can get an answer to a letter eight days after they write it, and other times it will be over a month.

That scenery behind my picture is nothing but painted on a canvas and that what Martha thought was trimming was a brass chain. I have almost given up all idea of having a furlough but I am keeping my money to get home on if I should happen to get one. You ask me if I spend my time in reading. I do when I can get anything to read. I guess you have given up all idea of sending me any more papers for I [have] not received more than two for the last three months.

Give me some of the particulars in regard to the burning of Mr. Hunnewell’s for it is the first news I had of it. But I had rather you would send me a paper containing full particulars.


Lt. Fred E. Dolbeare, 1st Mass. Inf.

I went the other day and visited the 1st Massachusetts [Infantry]. I had a long talk with Lieut. Fred Dolbeare. ¹ He seemed quite sociable and wanted to know where Eben was now. He did not know that Martha was married.

We got our new instruments about a week ago and they are the handsomest ones that I ever saw. They are all German silver and shine like a new silver dollar. They cost $708.00.

Our brigade went on a raid about a week ago killing some and taking a number of prisoners. Out of our regiment we had about twelve men and a lieutenant. One of our lieutenants was taken prisoner twice and rescued both times by our own men. He was promoted captain on the field.

Our Colonel [Alfred N. Duffie] is acting Brig. Gen. and has in his brigade the 1st Rhode Island, 1st Massachusetts, 6th Ohio, [and] 4th New York. The colonel has not got his papers yet but when he does, we expect to be a brigade band as he says things will be alright by and bye. A week ago yesterday we had a brigade review and we acted as a brigade band.

Yesterday we were kept so busy that we did not have hardly time to eat our victuals. We commenced the day by playing at Guard Mounting (8 a. m.), Church services at eleven, Brigade Review at 2 p.m. and in the evening went horse-back and serenaded Gen. Averill. Got back about nine. I forgot to tell you that we had a new chaplain. His name is [Ethan R.] Clark[e].

This morning a whole division of cavalry started out on a raid. ² Our brigade went and while they were marching off, we played some lively pieces to cheer them up. Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain your affectionate son, — G. A. Sargent

Please send me papers and the money’s worth in stamps.

¹ Frederick E. Dolbeare (b. 1839) was promoted from 2d Lieutenant to 1st Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Infantry, Co. A,  on 1 June 1863. He mustered out on 25 May 1864.

² The regimental history states that, “The First Cavalry Brigade, commanded by Colonel Duffie, with the second, commanded by Colonel McIntosh, and four hundred of the First with four hundred of the Fifth Regulars, and one battery, moved off in fine style at eight o’clock A. M. [16 March 1863] with four days’ rations and one day’s forage.” [Page 208] They fought in the Battle of Kelly’s Ford the following day.

1864 Letter

1864 Letter

Addressed to Mr. Thomas Sargent, South Boston, Mass.
Dorchester opposite Third Street

Camp Stoneman
[Washington] D. C.
August 4th 1864

Dear Folks,

I received your note containing the photographs and money a few days ago and your letter last night. I suppose you will be surprised to see my letter dated from this place, but I will explain matters bye and bye.

I suppose you would like some of the particulars of our late raid so I will commence from the time we left camp which was on Tuesday [July] 26th. We left in the afternoon traveling all night, crossed the Appomattox about nine, and halted about 2 o’clock near the James. We did not unsaddle but layed down on the ground, tying our bridles to our legs and sleeping until daylight when we crossed the James on muffled pontoons. I saw those four 20 lb. Parrott guns that were captured by our infantry that morning. We kept advancing till we got within about three miles of Malvern Hill where we met the enemy and had quite a little skirmish. The two forces slept within pistol shot of each other that night.

Next morning when we went to water our horses, we went within 100 yards of the reb pickets. We could see them very plainly, being posted on the edge of a cornfield. That morning our cavalry had a sharp fight with Hill’s Corps, driving our boys back some little ways. Just as we were going to the rear, the rebs charged on one of our batteries but they were ready for them, giving them a double ration of grape and canister. They gave way, then our Brigade charged and captured a battle flag from a North Carolina regiment, and some prisoners. We then fell back about a mile, letting the 2nd Corps take care of the rebs. We went into camp and stayed until midnight when we stole across the river and slept till morning, when the Brigade had orders to be ready to fight on foot.

All the band was ordered to go with them but four to take care of the wounded. I was one of the four detailed to stay behind to look out for the horses and instruments. As the boys did not take any rations, two of us took them out some towards night. They had not had any fighting then and were not likely to. When I left, our forces were drawn up in line of battle and the Gen. with his staff and orderlies were riding up and down the line with the three battle flags captured the day before, trying to draw out the rebs but it was no go. They occupied the woods while our forces was out on the open plain (called Strawberry Plain) about a mile from the woods.

Our cavalry came back across the river that night, started off at two next morning [July 30, 1864], traveling the whole length of our lines in front of Petersburg. We went very close to the city — near [enough] to see the steeples. We arrived there about the time of that terrible but disastrous charge on the reb rifle pits [Battle of the Crater]. I saw great numbers of the wounded coming in, the biggest portion of them being negroes. It was the intention for the cavalry corps to make a dash on the south side of Petersburg, but the infantry failing to accomplish their work, we were not wanted.

We stopped that night near the left of the army, travelled all the next day, and brought up near City Point. We learnt here that our division — the 1st — was to embark for Maryland. Our brigade was the first to start commencing on the morning of 1st August. Our regiment did not all get aboard till midnight and started off down the James on the Thomas Powell about one. We passed between Fortress Monroe and the rip raps just noon next day. And at just noon next day we passed Mt. Vernon playing the dead march, phales hymn, and star spangled banner — the bell on the boat tolling in the meantime. We passed Alexandria and landed at Giesboro Point about three o’clock yesterday afternoon.

I have been somewhat in a hurry with this because we are liable to start off at any minute, some say to Tennallytown, some to Hagerstown. So goodbye till next [letter] which will probably be from Maryland or Pennsylvania.

Camp Stoneman near Giesman Point

Camp Stoneman near Giesboro Point



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