This letter was written by David J. Orne (1838-1915), the son of James Orne (1807-1890) and Thirza Ann Bean (1812-1858). At the time of the 1860 US Census, David was employed as a hired hand on the farm of Alonzo Howland in Clinton, Worcester county, Massachusetts. In May 1861 when he enlisted in the service of his country, he was working as a machinist in Sutton, Vermont.
David enlisted as a private in Co. D, 2nd Massachusetts Infantry (May 1861). He was taken prisoner on 25 May 1862 at Winchester and returned to duty 6 months later. His health declined later in the war and he was absent from the regiment in a hospital when mustered out in late May 1864 after three years’ service.
2d Regiment Massachusetts Vols.
Gen. Banks’ Division
March 2, 1862
Dear Brother and Sister,
As you probably know before this that we have moved, I thought you would like to know where we are. Well, I will tell you where I am. I now am in the office of the Independence Democrat writing to you in sight of where Old John Brown was hung. My health is good. We left Frederick and came to Harpers Ferry in the cars. They have built a flat [pontoon] bridge across the Potomac so we marched across it. They put it across in 8 hours so they can drive 8-horse teams across it. That is building bridges in a hurry. It is 400 yards across the river.
We stayed in Harpers Ferry over night, then our regiment was sent to take this place. Two companies of Michigan horsemen came in front, my company next, then the rest of the regiment in the rear, then Capt. Tomes and his battery next, then the 3rd regiment of Wisconsin volunteers, and then Captain Best and his battery brought up the rear. Col. Gordon was in command. We moved very careful till we got within sight of Charlestown. Then we rushed upon the town. The rebel cavalry that was there fled with all their might and got away with only the loss of two men & two horses. Our loss was nothing. We also caught two teams loaded with flour—30 barrels—and 12 horses. We stood guard all night. ¹
Gen. McClellan and Gen. Banks came up the Sunday afternoon we got there. Gen. McClellan saluted us and looked round and went back and sent reinforcements to us so our force is about 20,000 now. There is not a grown man, woman, or child in Charlestown, Va.
This paper that I am writing on I took from a [ ] rebel book that we found. We are beginning to have fun now. This kind of life I begin to like. We are having some excitement now that is worth having. The first night we stayed here we laid on our arms all night so when the rebels drove in our pickets we would rush out and be ready to pepper them. But they did not come so you see we are not going to [fight here] as I wrote to you awhile ago and I am glad of it. I understand that we are going to move still further into the enemy’s country soon and we are going in front again and I hope it is so for then we shall have another good time. Don’t you wish you was here too? If you was, you would have all the fun you wanted mixed with danger and excitement—that’s what suits me.
I have been to meeting today in the courthouse where John Brown was tried and I should like to have Old [Gov. Henry A.] Wise re-try him. I think as he would not like. I think it would be good enough for him to hang him up without judge or jury.
I have just been down to the door to stand guard and the slaves have come in from the country and the guard will let them in but will not let them out and they are tickled almost to death about it. They say old master will not lick them no more and I for one hope so for their sake. The prison that Old John Brown was in—we have taken it for to keep these same ones that stood guard over him are under guard in the same place that he was and under the same charge that he was under and that is all they made by it.
We took the [newspaper] type that we found in our quarters and threw it outdoors and told everyone that went by to take it home and set it and we would print it for them but we worked the press so hard that we tore it all to pieces so I guess we shall not finish the job. The officers laughed when they saw it done. In the top of the building there was a theatre and we took the scenery to carpet our floor with and they make a pretty carpet. They are landscape paintings—or most of them are.
Our cavalry have come in and they have taken two prisoners—one private and one officer (a captain). That is the way we are doing it up now. There, I guess this will do for this time. W. Hide is well. If you get tired before you can read this, just rest awhile and then finish it. Now write soon as you get this. Write all the news for I do not get any Massachusetts papers so I don’t get any Massachusetts news. Cynthia says she would like to come down to Massachusetts to live. If you want her to come, I will send the money to her to come with in May. I want to finish up things in Vermont first if I am alive. I think I shall be home within 6 months for secession is about played out, I think.
Goodbye for this time. — D. J. Orne
¹ The regimental history (page 67) describes this “reconnoissance” towards Charlestown as follows: “The Second [Mass.], the 3rd Wisconsin, five squadrons of Michigan cavalry, and two sections of artillery, were put on the road under command of Colonel Gordon. The cavalry, with Colonel Gordon at the head, drove in the rebel videttes, and dashed into Charlestown at full speed. The regiment entered to the music of ‘John Brown’s body’….Suddenly General McClellan appeared and turned the reconnoissance into an occupation. It was the first sight of that general; and, as his glance took in the line drawn up to receive him, he won their hearts.”