1865: Austin Doras Fenn to Relatives


Austin D. Fenn in 1880s

This letter was written by Corporal Austin Doras Fenn (1837-1897) of Co. H, 10th Vermont Infantry.

In the 1850 Census, Austin was enumerated in Arcadia, Wayne County, New York, in the household of 30 year-old Anna M. Fenn, presumably his mother. A younger brother named Joseph H. Fenn is also enumerated. In 1860, Austin’s younger brother Joseph is enumerated in the household of Ezekiel Peck (b. 1802) of Richmond, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, who must have been a relative.

In July 1860, Austin married Julia Elizabeth Woodcock in Weston, Vermont. After mustering out of 10th VT regiment in late June 1865, he went back to Vermont and later homesteaded in Kansas where he die of a stroke in 1897.


Camp at Bailey’s Cross Roads near Washington
June 3rd 1865
Co. H, 10th Vt. Regt.

Dear old women,

I will now try and write a few lines to you to let you know how I am getting along and where I am. We are now close to Washington — within 3½ miles. we got here yesterday. The weather has been very hot the past three days. We had a hard march of it from Richmond on account of the rain. We waded through mud and water to our knees 10 miles one day, and two days we didn’t move at all. Our trains were stuck in the mud and a great many mules broke down. The day we got in made 10 days we were on the road instead of eight and there is times when we could have marched it easier in six. ¹

We are a little expecting a Review in Washington before we are mustered out. We was reviewed as we passed through Richmond by General Halleck. I don’t think we shall stay here but a little while — perhaps 10 days. We will be mustered out here, and paid and discharged in the State.

The President has ordered that the soldiers mustered out shall have their guns to carry home. I am very much pleased about that for I think a great deal of the old firelock I carry now. It carries right to the spot and many a good shot I have had with it. It was new when I took it. It has a bullet mark on it and some other marks since I took it. All those that have longer than up to the 1st of October to serve are not going to be discharged now. Freeman Hale and Rufus Kirk will have to stay. Free[man] makes a baby of himself because he can’t go with the regiment. He goes with his head down and his face is as long as your arm. Kirk is much worried about it because he can’t go. Asked me if I didn’t think they would let his boy take his place when his time was out. I asked him what did he enlist for if he couldn’t stay his time in times of peace. I guess he will find it will take some figuring to get his boy in his place. Besides, I don’t believe the officers will bother with it.

I strained a cord in my leg below the knee jumping ditches the day we marched in the rain and it was very lame and is swelled some now but is getting better. My health is good but I am thin as a hatchet as are the rest of this Corps. The end 8th and 9th and 24th Corps are fat enough; we have marched over 425 miles this spring.

I received your letter mailed May 2nd the night before we got in — the only mail we got on the march. Glad to hear you was well and that the colt was turned out and everything doing so well generally. Try and get along a little while longer and I guess I will get around. Be careful about saying anything that might make any trouble with Foster Peck’s folks for it Etta likes [it] there, it would be very disagreeable to her to have slang going back and too by her ears. After all, I don’t like the way they spoke (that is) if she went up there she could have a home with them no longer. But perhaps for Henrietta’s interest, it would be better to let it go all still.

I am glad to hear Melvin goes to school. I hope he will like [it] and learn well. I am in hopes to get a letter from you tonight and would love to see the money sent for it. I will wait for the mail before I finish.

I didn’t send this letter last night because I didn’t get the one I was expecting from you. I hope to get one from you tonight. It is very hot here today and we are short of rations which makes it a little unpleasant just now. There is good chances to buy cakes, pies or bread but it is so very long since we have been paid that none have money except a few lucky ones that have money that came from home. We shall draw soft bread no doubt today. I hate to go hungry after a hard time as we have had. I have hard tack enough for today but many have none and hard bread will not satisfy hunger like soft bread. No doubt you have sent me that two dollars before this and I shall look for it tonight when the mail comes. We will not be paid until we are discharged so I have made up my mind to have three dollars more sent as we may get in places on the route home that I shall need it. If you have not got it, borrow it and I will pay it soon as I get home. I will send this soon as the mail comes. Answer this soon as possible. It won’t be lost if we should be on the road home. It will follow the regiment. The mail has come but no letter tonight.

We have drawed a lot of rations and are all right. I think this regiment may get mustered out the last of this week. We shall have to stop at some place in Vermont to get our pay and discharge papers. If we have to stop longer than two or three days, I shall come home on a pass and not wait. You need not send me the 3 dollars if you have the two I sent for. My health is good and I hope I shall be there to do my own haying. I don’t expect I could do very great days work to start with. Soldiering don’t strengthen a man’s arms but it does his legs.

Bye Bye for this time. — Austin Fenn
Co. H, 10th Vt. Regt.

¹ Edwin C. Hall of Co. G, 10th Vermont described the same review in Richmond and march to Washington D. C. in his memoirs:

Those not able to march had been provided with a shorter route by steamer, and some who were not really able, chose the foot route from choice. Early on the morning of May 24th, the 6th Corps formed line of march on Main St. in the city of Richmond and waited the bugle sound to march. During the hours of waiting, however, the boys gave an exemplification of “how to forge on an enemy” and many were the barrels of beer rolled out into the streets and boxes of cigars passed around before we started and when at length the bugle did sound and the head of the column started and the veterans marched down the street and up past the state house to the inspiring music of the Union –none but the most bitter rebel could find fault with the hilariousness which seemed to reign supreme.

12 miles was our record the first day out of Richmond and we camped near Hanover Court House. That night it rained and so continued the following day, so that by the time we had reached Polecat River its waters were so high that we had to remain on the southern bank one day before we could get across. From there we made slow progress to Fredericksburg, and by the time we arrived there our “eight days rations” with which we had started from Richmond were “sadly demoralized” to say the least — and no enemy to draw from — not even a stray “razorback.” I have often heard it remarked that there was more ‘red tape’ on that march from Richmond to Washington, after the war was over, than any other time during the whole war — but I don’t believe it. I think it arose from just one order that was issued the morning that we were to march through Fredericksburg viz: “No hats to be worn through the streets of Fredericksburg.” It so happened that after reaching Danville and finding that the war was really over, the ‘file’ and some of the ‘rank’ of the Army had become possessed of straw hats, wool hats, and other hats calculated to keep the hot southern sun from tanning their fair complexions and until now, they had worn them without molestation. But now, the edict had come and to enforce it, a guard had been placed at the crossing of a stonewall in the suburbs of the city. Some heard the edict of the guards and donned their regulation caps. Others heard it and doffed their hats and passed on bare headed for the very good reason that they had left their regulation caps behind, thinking they would have no more use for them. Gaily they all paraded through the streets of Fredericksburg. Joyfully they passed beyond — over the pontoons and toiled up the steeps of the heights beyond — their faces sheltered from the scorching sun by their favorite hat. But the sunset gained and a halt made — then joy transformed into sorrow. Our adjutant came down the lines and stopped at each head of Company, gave orders “Every man who has a hat report at the head of the column immediately.” I don’t recollect how many hats were cast at the feet of Col. Darion but one wide-brimmed soft hat that came from Vermont only a few weeks before was reluctantly left among the number and the owner thereafter was forced to march bare headed in the scorching sun until Major [J. A.] Salisbury took pity on the unfortunate and bought him one — not half as good. Major Salisbury was the hero that hot day for he saved many a victim of that ‘red tape’ order from being sunstruck by furnishing them with some kind of head covering — by the way — I should like to know what became of all those hats.

The next day was the hardest day’s march of all. We were passing through that part of the country where nature had failed to embellish it with variegated foliage becoming to the season, save an endless show of laurel and sage brush, and where architecture could not be found.

We made 30 miles that day — most of our 8 days rations had disappeared and it was a hungry crowd that crossed Wolf Run Creek and on through for miles of dense forest to Fairfax Station where we expected a fresh supply of hard tack and salt pork, but as none had arrived we pressed on and went into camp for the night at Fairfax Court House. Too tired for looking after any rations, we dropped on the ground and slept.

About midnight, we were aroused by the announcement that there was fresh beef to be issued and to turn out and help get it to camp, which was done and much of it eaten raw because we were too tired to cook it.

The next day we started at sun up on the final march in the field. We had been 10 days from Richmond with 8 days rations of hard tack, salt pork, and coffee on which to subsist. We were far from disheartened but rather weak in the knees — and who would not be? — the stoutest, ablest men that exist could hardly do more and little wonder that with the few day’s rest we got at our Camp at Hall’s Hill, Va. that so many as did endured the tramp of the Grand Review at Washington when we had been on the march almost continually for 24 hours.

All things considered, our marches after the surrender were as great a test of the physical endurance of men as any which preceded it.


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