This letter was written by 48 year-old John Amsden (1814-1875), the son of Ira Amsden (1783-1862) and Minerva Bond (1792-1872) of Conway, Franklin County, Massachusetts. John was married to Sarah Jane Wilder (1821-18xx) of Greenfield, Massachusetts, in October 1842 in Conway, Franklin County, Massachusetts. In the 1860 Census, just prior to the Civil War, John was enumerated in Hinsdale, Cheshire County, New Hampshire with his wife “Jane” and daughter Sarah (age 14). His occupation was recorded as “teamster.”
Military records indicate that John enlisted as a private in Co. A, 14th New Hampshire Infantry in August 1862 at the age 0f 44. His birthdate was in September 1814 so he was actually nearly 48 years old when he enlisted. John served with the regiment until 6 June 1864 when he was transferred to Co. G, Veteran Reserve Corps where he remained until his discharge at Washington D.C. in June 1865.
The circumstances surrounding the separation of John Amsden and his wife after the war are unknown. In the 1870 Census, John was enumerated in the household of Simeon Tyrell of Blandford, Hampden County, Massachusetts. His occupation was given as “lumber dealer.” Neither wife nor child are enumerated with him. Five years later when he died in Ashfield, Massachusetts, he was buried next to his parents graves in Conway. Pension records indicate, however, that his widow filed for a pension based upon her husband’s service in June 1880.
This letter was written from the camp of the 14th New Hampshire on Adder Hill, atop a bluff overlooking Lock 21 on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal about 20 miles from Washington D. C. where they remained from October 25 until 13 November, 1862. Amsden datelines his letter “Mudy Crick” which was actually Muddy Branch, a tributary of the Potomac River.
November 1st 1862
By permission, allow me to write you a few lines as a friend. My health is very good and has been since I left home and hope you are enjoying the same. I find this war life a complete slave’s life. When we left Concord, we moved direct to Washington. There we stopped three or four days [at a camp on East Capitol Hill] and then started for the place we now are at. This place is situated on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal about twenty miles from Washington on the Potomac River and we think we may take up our winter quarters here. There is plenty of rebels on the opposite side of the river. We see small squads of them almost every day.
There was a pretty smart fight yesterday and the day before in the vicinity of Harpers Ferry, we think, as we heard a continual roar of cannon and smaller arms and the rumor this morning is that the fight was between McClellan and Lee and McClellan drove Lee back four or miles miles. ¹ We have not got the facilities for getting the earliest war news that you have. I think you could post us upon the war matters better than we can you so I will stop.
I hope when you get this imperfect scribble you will sit down and write me a good long letter. There is nothing that does me so much good as to hear from my friends that I left behind. It seems almost like I was having an interview wit them as I used to at their pleasant homes. I received a letter from your dear sister Eulalia the other day and was very thankful that she took the trouble to write. Ask her if she will not write me again soon.
I am now sitting on a stump and writing in the top of my cap which I think an enviable position to what some of us have but we are determined to make the best of our lot. If I could just call in to your hospitable home and spend a few hours as happily as I have done, I would give almost anything. By the way, Eulalia writes you are making repairs. I wonder if there is going to be a wedding there soon. If so, I hope it will be for the good of all concerned. When you make your choice of a partner for life, use your very best judgement as you will find that to be the crowning act of your life. For fear that you may think I am writing advice, I will stop where I am.
Please give my love to your Father and Mother, Elulalia, and all enquiring friends. Tell your Father to write me. I should be very happy to have him do so and do not fail to write yourself and please write often. Do not wait for me to write as we have not the time nor conveniences for writing. If you should go over to Hinsdale, I hope you will call on my wife and Sarah. Give my love to Mr. Gold. Tell him to write me.
Eulalia writes that you had a Sabbath School celebration at Whiteheads Hall. Did you have a good time? I hope you did. I would liked to have been there but our celebrations are of a different stamp. I have not seen but one white woman since I came to this place but there is plenty of black ones here. They come around the camp as thick as bees with milk, pies, apples, &c. We have to pay 10 cts per quart for milk, 25 cts for pies that your hogs would turn their noses up at, apples 3 for 5 cts such as you would make into cider, and other things in proportion.
By the time you get here, you will be tired [reading] and [so] I will close. Excuse the numerous errors. Again, allow me to urge you to write often. So goodbye.
Yours in haste, — John Amsden
N. B. Please direct your letters to John Amsden, Washington, D. C.
14th NHVols. Co. A
¹ The cannonading John heard was from the vicinity of Philomont in Loudon county, Virginia—about 25 miles to the west. The guns were those of Confederate artillery officer John Pelham attached to Jeb Stuart’s Cavalry as they attempted to intercede in the march of McClellan’s army up the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. After considerable prodding by Lincoln, it was McClellan’s scheme to engage Lee’s army before they could return to the vicinity of Richmond from their Maryland Campaign but McClellan seemed to be in no hurry. As a consequence, Lee’s army returned safely to the south side of the Rappahannock river. McClellan was replaced as commander of the Army of the Potomac on 5 November 1862.