1862: William Litchfield to sister Maria


How William might have looked

These letters were written by 36 year-old William Litchfield (1826-1905), the son of Meshack [or Meshek] Litchfield (1778-1846) and Temperance Stoddard (1795-1846) of Scituate, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. William was married in December 1846 to Irene Martha Wheelwright (1829-1910).

William was a 35 year-old shoemaker and the father of at least four children when he enlisted in Co. F, 32nd Massachusetts Infantry in February 1862. The regiment was garrisoned at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor until late May 1862 when they were called in haste to Washington D. C.  From his letters we learn that William was hospitalized at the Fairfax Seminary Hospital in November 1862. There is another letter that appears to have been written in Rhode Island possibly in 1863 or 1864 as it mentions the draft. He appears to have been employed as a cook and still in the service. Military records indicate he served until 9 April 1865.


Camp Alexander, ¹ Washington [D. C.]
Thirty-second [Massachusetts], Company F
June 1st, [1862]

Mr. & Mrs. Bates,

I thought I [would] write you a few lines to let you know where I be. We left Fort Warren [Boston Harbor] in a hurry. The captain came in a hurry and said ___ was cut all up and we must get ready right off and ___ so we packed up and started last Monday. We left in the cars, went to Fall River, then went in a steamer. We arrived in New York [actually Jersey City] in the morning, then went to Philadelphia and had supper at [the] United States [Hotel] dining room. Then we marched through Philadelphia.

Then we loaded our rifles, then started for Baltimore. We expected to get stoned but we didn’t. The next morning we was in Baltimore and ate breakfast. Then we started for Washington and got there at night. The next morning, went in a camp one mile and a half from the Capitol [be]side the Potomac River. I went in swimming there today. It is well fortified here. Cross the river is Maryland. Next place is a fort is where the rebel be.

Tell mam I ain’t dead yet. Here would be a good place to carry on trade. Here would be a good place to sell milk ten cents a quart.

Georg__ Bates, if you can read this, you can do well. So goodbye. — William Litchfield

¹ Camp Alexander was near the Washington Navy Yard. The encampment of the 32nd Massachusetts was on a high bluff overlooking the eastern branch of the Potomac River. The regiment spent four weeks at this location before moving across the river to Alexandria, Virginia on 24 June 1862.


Cohassett [Massachusetts]
October 20 [1862]


I thought I would write a few lines to let you know that you have got a letter sent today with ten dollars so you can come home. You write soon as you get this and let me know how you are and if you get the money.

— Martha

I send all things for you to write quick.

[reverse side of letter]

Fairfax Seminary Hospital near Alexandria, Virginia
November 1, 1862

Dear Sister Maria,

I want you to send me one dollar to buy something to eat.

I also want you to go and see Irene and tell her to draw $5 out of the Bank and pay you the $1 and send me the rest. I do not understand the letter on the other side of this sheet. Was there any money sent to me or was there not? I did not get it if there was. The letter reads as though ten dollars was sent to me. Send me the money right off.

Direct your letter as the above is headed. — Wm. Litchfield


Fairfax Seminary Hospital near Alexandria, Va.

Fairfax Seminary Hospital near Alexandria, Virginia
November 4, 1862

Dear Sister Maria,

Since I wrote you to send me five dollars, I have received a letter from my wife saying that she had sent me by Express eight dollars, which I got yesterday at Alexandria. So I shall not want anymore money now. Tell my wife that I have received that $8.00 by Express. I went to Alexandria and back 2 miles each way a foot but was pretty tired.

We are having fine weather here but occasionally a little frost in the morning. I will now close for this time.

Your affectionate brother, — William Litchfield

by John G. Lamb ¹

¹ John G. Lamb also served in Co. F, 32nd Massachusetts Infantry. His penmanship was much better than William’s.


October the 25 [1863? 1864?]
Portsgrove, Rhode Island

Sister Maria,

I received your letter. I didn’t know but you was all dead, but you still live and boiling pumpkins for the hogs and I still stay here mixing dough for the soldiers. And there was three went a sail[ing] yesterday up to Bristol and they came back and tipped over the boat and two was drowned. They saved one.

Tis very cold today and chilly. There has been [a] good many visitors here this fall with their silks on. They get their dresses all over [the] floor.

You say you have made some cider and I shall stop in if I come home next month but I don’t know about coming through valley. Perhaps the thunder will break out just the time I get along. She may jump at me once and I escaped that time.

Why don’t Silas write and give me the news? I tore up the other letter. I had seven dollars stole from me. I left it under my bed in my trouser pocket whilst I gone to meeting when I go out. Now I carry it in my pocket all the time.

There ain’t but 8 hundred here now. They are going to draft again. I should think they had called enough. So I guess I shall venture to come through the valley if I get a pass. So try to keep up till half past seven.

— William Litchfield


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