1862-63: Jenny (Niles) Low & Nathaniel Low, Jr. Letters


Capt. Nathaniel Low, Jr. photographed at Norfolk, Va. (1865); CDV courtesy of Dave Morin, The Yankee Volunteer

Two of these letters were written by Jenny (Niles) Low (1842-1892) to her husband, Capt. Nathaniel (“Nat”) Low, Jr. (1838-1890) while he served in the 11th New Hampshire Regiment. Jenny (“Jen”) was the daughter of Daniel Niles (1799-1889)—an “Expressman” from Canada—and his wife Phebe Damon of Dover, Strafford county, New Hampshire.

The other five letters were written by Capt. Nathaniel Low, Jr. to his wife. He was born in Dover; received his education in the schools of that city, and in 1861 was appointed post-master there, which position he resigned to enter the service. Through his efforts largely, Company K was raised, of which he was commissioned captain September 4, 1862. He resigned his commission October 11, 1862, in just one month after the regiment left the state, and returned to Dover; but in a short time was re-commissioned as captain of Company K, and returned to the regiment. He participated in the Mississippi campaign, and during the winter of 1863-64 was on duty in Kentucky… While the regiment was at Annapolis, Captain Low was promoted to captain and Assistant Quartermaster, US Volunteers, and received his commission June 16, 1864. He was assigned to the Naval Brigade as chief quartermaster; then to Fortress Monroe in charge of water transportation; and, after Lee’s surrender, to Norfolk where he engaged in breaking up the depot of supplies and selling the government property. [Regimental History, p. 186-187]


Capt. Low & his wife Jen, courtesy of N. H. Historical Society

[Note: The two letters written by Jenny (Niles) Low are from the private collection of Matthew Wilmot. The letter dated 18 November 1862 by Capt. Low is from the private collection of Jim Doncaster. Both are published by express consent.]


Letter 1

This letter was written by Capt. Nathaniel Low, Jr. a month before the Battle of Fredericksburg. In it he complains about all the marching the his regiment has been doing.

8 Miles from Fredericksburg, [Virginia]
November 18th 1862
4 o’clock p. m.

My own dear wife,

I have been trying to send a letter for two days to you. Frank Vittum’s man has just come into camp & is going to return to Washington tomorrow so I must improve the chance and write to my little dear. It is a week today since I joined the regiment & I can truly say it has been the toughest week of my life. We have done nothing but march, march, march, eat nothing but hard tack and half of the time not enough of that. We have just pitched our tents now after a forced march of 12 miles and I am just about killed out. Lieut. [B. Frank] Rackley is disgusted & has just handed in his resignation which I hope will not be accepted as I can ill afford to have him go.

Four of the boys have deserted. It is bad enough to be a line officer & as for a private, I would rather see a friend of mine go into his grave than enlist for they are used shamefully.

I am afraid, Jennie, that you will think by the tone of my letters that i have got the blues. I have not but only the mads.

Please excuse my short letter for I am almost tired to death & my head aches as if it would crack. Jennie, I think of you always and long for the time to wag round for me to return to you—-never, no never, to leave you again. From your affectionate husband, — Nat Low, Jr.


Letter 2

This letter was written by Capt. Nathaniel Low, Jr. a week after the Battle of Fredericksburg. He tells his wife that the memory of her and of her inspiring words gave him courage to face the carnage on the slopes of Marye’s Heights.

Camp of Gen. Ferrero Brigade
Falmouth, Va.
December 20, 1862
Saturday, A. M. 10 o’clock

My Own Dear Wife,

Good morning. It is bitter cold. I have just finished my breakfast. You see by the time we eat at fashionable hours. I was out part of last night with my company playing possum on the rebel pickets. The pontoon bridge had been taken up & the planks were laying round on this side of the river so we were ordered to creep down silently, each man shoulder a plank & leave, which we done in good shape without any loss.

After our return last night, I built up a rousing fire in our fire place, heated some water, & fixed up a nice hot whiskey, took out the letter of Aunt Jane’s that I had received during the day, read it for the fourth time, sat & sat and thought of you dear, [and then] made up my mind fully that a married man has no business in the army. What do you think, Jen?

I see by the papers that there is good sleighing East, which seems curious as there is no snow here & some of the time the weather will be too warm to wear an overcoat. But the trouble is this morning to get overcoats enough on.


Capt. Amos B. Shattuck

It is a week ago that we had the big battle. God grant that I may never see another day like it. It will be a day never to be forgotten by those engaged. It is called the bloody fight of the war. I don’t think you were out of my mind for a whole hour during the day. I remember when we were making a charge in the face of the rebel cannons, their fire was deadly. It was mowing our ranks down. The chances looked black for our lives. The men began to falter. It was then I remembered what you wrote—“Nat, be brave.” I jumped forward, waved my sword, told the boys to follow or be branded as cowards & I believe if I say it myself, Company K got to the front first & stayed there. Anyway Major [Evarts Worchester] Farr says Co. K is the fighting company.

We hear that our lamented, brave Capt. [Amos Blanchard] Shattuck is to be buried tomorrow at Manchester with Masonic honors. Poor Shattuck. I can’t help thinking of him.

Jen, I long to see you but when I do go home, if we won’t enjoy ourselves & make Rome howl, then I lose my guess. My regards to Mr. & Mrs. Peirce. With much love. Your affectionate husband, — Nat Low, Jr.

Letter 3

This letter was written by Capt. Nathaniel Low, Jr. three days before the regiment moved from Falmouth to Newport News where they remained until late March. Nat tells his wife that his furlough has been postponed and he doesn’t know when he will see her again. 

Camp of Gen. Ferrero Brigade
Near Falmouth, Va.
February 7th 1863

My own dear wife,

The weather today is splendid & everything is helter skelter. I have just been out all alone thinking of you, Jennie, & many a stray tear has stole its way down (if they are no already doing so). I really believe this is the most bitter disappointment I ever had in my life. The 2nd Brigade will take the cars this afternoon for Acquia Creek. Then we take transports for God knows where. Some say North Carolina, some Texas, & some New Orleans. The fact is none of us know where we are going. Anyway, I hope we shall have a safe & speedy voyage. I never dreaded anything any more in my life.

Tonight you will expect to meet me & I know you also will be sadly disappointed. We that were to have furloughs are told that as soon as we arrive at our place of destination, we shall have them, but I now put no faith in what anyone tells me here. One thing is now certain, Jennie, I shall seize the first chance to be with you for good.

I wrote yesterday to you that I had handed in my resignation. In my more cool moments, I saw at once that a resignation tendered when we were on the eve of a march would be called cowardice so I withdrew it—not that I cared as far as I was privately concerned what they thought as long as I knew better. But Jen, I never want you to hear any such stuff (nor our grandchildren you know).

Jennie, you said in your last letter you was afraid I had not perfect confidence in you as I wrote to you to keep on your dig. Well now, Mrs. Muffy, let me tell you that I have. Do you believe, Jen, I could truly love you as I do? No sir, if I had not. Why I said that, Jen, is just this: you know how the gossiping people of Dover talk if they can only get the slightest chance. I did not & do not wish them even to talk about my Jennie—not that I think, Jen, you would ever give people a chance to talk if you knew it. But you can’t guess how much slander I hear about some of the soger’s wives at home. Enough of such stuff with you dear.

Well, my dear, I suppose it is no use for me to show myself a baby (I really believe I am though) but Jen, the fact is I love you dearly & the highest aim of my life will be to make you happy & comfortable. I don’t know how soon I will be able to write to you again. Maybe in a few days & again not for a month. And then again I am in hopes to be with you before that time. No matter how it is, dear, I shall always love you better than life itself.

Hoping I shall be with you soon, with lots of love, I am my dear your affectionate husband, — Nat Low, Jr.

P. S. Private business. There is a note in the Strafford Bank against me for $175.00 in favor of Jones & Chamberlain for a devlish house. You pay it, Jen, when it is due. Ask Mr. Tufts & say nary a word.

I have a very bad cold. Hope the sea breeze will cure it. I hate to say goodbye. — Nat


Letter 4

Encampment 9th Army Corps
Newport News, Va.
February 20th 1863

My own dear wife,

The rain has at last stopped & the sun is out warm so we can lay round on the ground and sun in fine style. I have been drawing new tents for my men this morning & now they are pitching them. They are in great glee to get out of their little dog tents & have new wedge tents. We shall have a gay looking camp. I wish you could see it.

I was in hopes to have heard by last night’s mail the amount stolen from the Dover P. O., but nary a letter did I get.

I had a call this A.M. from Parson [Edward M.] Gushee. ¹ He is going to Norfolk tomorrow on a spree I suppose. A number of our officers went today expecting to have an old style bust. I was urged very hard to go with them but told them having a wife, I reckoned I would save my greenbacks so as to be able to settle down on a small patch of ground after this rebellion was squelched.

I was surprised to hear how cold it was in Dover last Saturday. Here it was so warm that an overcoat was uncomfortable. I shall slip over this winter without knowing that it is winter without I go home. It looks to me like we might lay here a month or two but one can’t tell as no knowing but that also we might get orders to start tomorrow as I have often remarked. Jen, nothing is sartin in war.

Remember me to my relatives. Tell Mother the pride of her heart still lives. My regards also old lady if you please to your Aunt Mrs. Niles & with lots of love for you, my dear, I am your affectionate husband, — Nat

¹ Rev. Edward Manning Gushee (1836-1917) married Lydia Low (b. 1836), Nate’s older sister, on 8 June 1864 at Dover, New Hampshire. Edward was an Episcopalian chaplain in the 9th New Hampshire during the Civil War.


Letter 5

Addressed to Capt. Nathaniel Low, Jr., 2d Brigade, 2d Division, 9th Army Corps, Cincinnati, Ohio, or Elsewhere

Boston [Massachusetts]
May 1, 1863
Friday P.M. 4½ o’clock

My dear Husband,

I wonder if you remember one year ago this evening? Echo answers yes! Altho’ it was not my privilege then to address you by the above endearing, noble title. Yet it was my peculiar privilege to steal & take away captive (tho’ unintentional) that rebellious heart belonging to your dear self (another). At the time I could not account for the happiness I experienced that evening; but now I can very readily. It was because two congenial minds met & we now behold the result—friendship, kindly regard, in due time pure undying love. What a happy result, it is not?

I received your two last letters about noon. They of course went to Dover; Uncle brought them back.

My regards & thanks are due Lieut. [John Kelly] Cilley for his photograph which now adorns my picture gallery. He’s welcome to my own, tho’ I am not aware how he got it. I shall send you two or more when I return to Dover—that is, if you wish. Thanks for the last one you sent me of Dr. [john C. W.] Moore—very pretty man. Is he married? Nat, get all the military photographs you can [and] send to me, won’t you? ja! ha! ha!

Oh dear, well it is strange what a fascinating life a soldier’s is in spite of the hardships. Just what I expected. Want to defer your coming home until fall, don’t you? hi! ho! hum! “Sich is life.” Let’s see, guess I will travel this summer. Nat, you are very, very kind to say you will come “any time I say the word, even if it is next week.” However, you think I won’t say it, don’t you dear? Well I’m sure I don’t wish you were under arrest to be tried & perhaps dishonorably dismissed from the Army. No, I want my husband to come with honor written upon his manly brow—in such a manner that I & everybody else will look up to him with love & respect & I may say pride.

The report this evening is that Gen. Hooker has crossed the [Rappahannock] river, surprised & taken four hundred Rebs. I say hurrah for Hooker or “any other man” who will capture a Reb.

Won’t you, Lieut. Cilley, or Dr. [Jonathan Smith] Ross come in to tea? I have been trying my hand at making griddle cakes, floating islands, cold tongue &c. Mother’s girl is not the best of cooks & I thought I would see what I could do. Mrs. Tuttle thinks I will do to go to keeping house. At least I was successful for once in my life.

Dear Nat, I wish I could see you. Tonight, just one hour later, you & I started out to go from the chapel over to American Falls. If you remember, it rained a little so you went to the Post Office & procured an umbrella. Was it not gay? I little imagined in one year I should be a wife of eight months—anyway, not yours. What did you think about it? However, I am rejoiced that it is as it is. And I believe you, my darling, are satisfied.

We are having delightful weather—warm & pleasant.

Dear Nat, I often–very often—think of all those pleasant drives we used to take together. How very often we used to go. I used to feel rather condemned sometimes for going. I declare it will be too bad for you to stay away from me this summer now that we can go & have a perfect right to enjoy each other’s society, don’t you think so, darling?

Nat, my own darling husband, I shall leave it entirely to your own better judgement to decide whether you come home next June, July, or September. One thing, I shall feel sad enough when Alex, Sarah, & Mrs. Wm. Low come here & all are there but you. And do you think you can stand the warm weather?

If peace could only be declared in one year, I should be willing, I think—perhaps even wish you to see the affair settled. But do you really think it probable? Alas, for me, I do not—or rather I fear not. And then if you were to lose a leg or an arm as you say, who would thank you for it? Why no one. I should much rather have a whole “hus” but then I should love you as now, better than life.

Wouldn’t it be a glorious sight to see Co. K marching through the streets of Dover? I’m quite sure it would be a glad sight to all. I very well remember the day you took the company to Concord in the [ ] every movement of ours was watched. I suppose you remember of having a bouquet presented to you & then the lunch at F[rank] Vittum’s—also the leave-taking. Oh! dear it almost makes me boo! hoo! to think of it.

How I should admire to peep into your camp, see you, what you are  up to, &c. Some mischief doubtless. You always were a rogue, I know, but I hear it reported around in the “higher circles” that I have succeeded in taming you down to a steady old gent. ha! ha! Nat, there is one thing which is very certain—I love you, which is a brand new assertion for me to make to you & want to see you most wretchedly. I do now & no mistake.

How is our friend, Dr. Ross? I think you wrote me he was in ill health, did you not? I hope to hear from you tomorrow as it is always pleasant to get a kind word Saturday to feast on Sunday, isn’t it? I think it probable I may return to Dover the last of next week. Mother is much better & wishes to be remembered to you. Etta also sends love.  Hagen sends something more substantial which is a paper, now & then. I have nearly arrived at the terminus of my paper & will be under the painful necessity of closing tho’ I could write much longer.

Regards to all. A kiss & all the love of my big heart, I remain yours faithfully, — Jen N. Low


Letter 6

Boston [Massachusetts]
May 3, 1863

My dear Nat,

I suppose you have managed to face the day pleasantly yet I hope properly. I should think you would make it convenient to attend church one half of the day at least & I think it would set a better example than racing horses with the gay & getting lamed. It is very strange a person so strong—& a great horseman too—should be unable to manage a horse. I think you informed me you had been to the village & was on your way home.

Aha! Well I suppose you would like to stop out there until September but really, I don’t know about letting you. Southern gals are usually very attractive. I would give a good deal if you were only here tonight for I feel terribly blue & heartsick altho’ it has been a pleasant day without & within. I have been out to church this afternoon & evening.

The fact is it fairly makes me jealous to see others so happy while I know I might & ought to be the same & should if you were only with me. I wonder if the time ever will come when you will be home for good. But why do I wonder? Of course it will.

Mother is much better & I think I may go to Dover the last of this or the first of next week.

Monday evening. It looks very much like rain. I hope it won’t storm for I think it very gloomy here in the city during a storm.

Well, I should think you, Dr. Ross, & Dr. Moore together ought to be bright enough to get a furlough on account of your lamed leg. Why do you not go about limping & complaining? You could come home & walk about with a cane tho’ I suppose it wouldn’t do considering how you lamed it. I hope it is entirely well by this time.

I see by the papers that Hooker’s Army is doing great work. I only wish they could accomplish something that would settle this war.

When do you think you will be home? Hey! I must close now & write to your mother & Lydia. With love, I am your faithful little lone wife, — Jen Low

Excuse brevity &c. Remember, “with all thy faults, I love thee still.” — Jen


Letter 7

Huffman House
Lancaster, Kentucky
May 21, 1863, 2 o’clock P.M.

My Own Dear Wife,

Our court has finished its work for the day & I have just finished eating a pretty good dinner. The sun comes down very warm so I have retired to my room to write to the little gal that I love and live for. After writing this epistle & another one to Jerry Smith, I shall take a bath & then a quiet snooze until tea time.


Boston Advertisement, May 1863

I rode up to camp last night after the mail got in & was exceeding glad to receive your good letter written May 14th (No. 28). And so marm you have been out flirting & attending (seven mile mirrors ¹) with a widower, Pretty business for a married lady whose husband is in the Army. You soon expecting to be a widow, no doubt entered into all arrangements. Too bad of you Jen. You need make no bargains, my dear, for it will be a long time yet before you can get rid of your present husband.

My little dear, you say I can never know how much you love me. Why you little goose, I always thought you loved me too well & sometimes worry when I think how very unworthy I am of your good, pure love. But Jen, the idea of your worrying so much about me is too bad. I have told you a hundred times not to. It don’t do the least good & you will just worry your pretty little self into an old woman.

You ask if I will be home this summer. Yes! Yes! Yes sir! I see by the tone of your letters that you are getting the idea into that little thick head of yours that I am growing quite in love with the Army. Now the truth is sister Jane, that every day I dislike it more & more. Nothing but a strong sense of duty to my country makes me remain in the service an hour longer (perhaps I might add & a desire to get all out of debts & commence the world anew with a fair, open prospect ahead). If I should stay in the service until September, I could get all out of debt besides having enough clear capital to go into business with. And then there is another side to it which I have made my mind to quite fully—that being shot at & taking army hardships is a very foolish thing for money simply. But thank God my heart and soul is in the success of our arms & restoring the government by force of arms or anything else that will give the South a lesson that their children yet unborn will never forget. But I love you, my dear, better than everything else & I shall be with you (this is P. T. only between us, in two months—perhaps less time). Then, after being at home, if it looks as if every man should fight & every man should go, no one will pitch in sooner than myself.

I suppose you have got back to Dover now. When you write to your parents, my kind regards, if you please to them, to your brother Hazen, and sister Etta. With all my love for you, Jen, I am your affectionate husband, — Nat. Low, Jr.

P. S. The few lines in your letter marked (Private) telling me to mind my eye & walk the crack, I thank you for it & have thus far my dear, & shall still do so, Tell your old lady what I now make for a rule to do nothing that I would be ashamed to have my little wife know all about, — Nat

Excuse this paper. It is court martial paper & all I have here at hand. Parson [Edward M] Gushee ² called on me last night at my room. He seemed to be in a pleasant state of mind & health.

¹ The Seven Mile Mirror was a panorama of the border scenery between the United States and Canada from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence. It was executed by William Burr in 1850 and promoted by Josiah Perham. Tickets to the panorama were sold for $1 per person as a benefit for soldiers at the Melodian Theatre in Boston in May 1863. The Commercial Bulletin (Boston) announced on Saturday, May 23, 1863, that a fire at the Melodian had caused some slight damage to the panorama, however, which suspended the enterprise for a time.

² Rev. Edward Manning Gushee (1836-1917) married Lydia Low (b. 1836), Nate’s older sister, on 8 June 1864 at Dover, New Hampshire. Edward was an Episcopalian chaplain in the 9th New Hampshire during the Civil War.

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