1863: Jenny (Niles) Low to Nathaniel Low, Jr.


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

These two 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.

Capt. Nathaniel Low, Jr. 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]

[Note: These letters are from the private collection of Matthew Wilmot and are published by express consent.]


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



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



1864: Jesse S. Taylor to John C. Breckinridge

This unusual letter was written by Jesse S. Taylor (1820-1888), a lawyer from Brandenburg, Meade county, Kentucky. Jesse was the oldest son of John Hayden Taylor (1798-1846) and Hannah Shacklett of Meade county, Kentucky. He was married to Sophia Harlan (b. 1831) and had four young daughters at the time the Civil War erupted in 1861. By 1880, Taylor was living in Morganfield, Union county, Kentucky, where he died in 1888.

Other Taylor siblings included Jacob Taylor (b. 1825) who served as a surgeon for the Confederacy; Ben Taylor (b. 1829)—a private in Co. F, 1st KY Cav.; Daniel B. Taylor (b. 1839)—Capt. of Co. F, 1st KY Cav.; and Mahlon Taylor (b. 1842)—a sergeant in Co. F, 1st KY Cav.

Taylor wrote the letter to Major Gen. John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky seeking “some little appointment” in the CSA government as a reward for his steadfast support to the Confederate cause that had resulted in the sacrifice of his home, business and family.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]


Fairburn, Campbell county, Georgia
June 30, 1864

General Breckinridge
Dear Sir,

I hope the circumstances under which I write will be sufficient apology for my troubling you at this particular time. I only regret that I had not made a similar application two years ago to the one I will make in this. But relying on my own efforts, I thought I would be able to raise men sufficient to have enabled me to have acquired some little in the field, but was disappointed in this from the fact that the section of of Kentucky that I lived in (I lived in Meade county) was from the first under Yankee rule. Notwithstanding, I have made several efforts to effect my purpose. I aided in the summer of 1862 in raising a good company [Co. F] of men which one of my brothers [Capt. Daniel B. Taylor] has command of and which has been ever since doing good service in the 1st Kentucky Cavalry. I then procured authority to raise a regiment of cavalry [and] would have succeeded could General Bragg have remained in the state some little longer. While there my section of the state was entirely cut off from the army. His presence in the state relieved no portion of southwestern Kentucky. I came out with our army but hearing of the Union Home Guards firing on my wife and children and driving them from their home, I returned into southern Kentucky in the winter of 1862-3 so soon as spring opened went again into my section of the state to again try to organize men, but by this time there was such a reign of terror I saw no chance to effect my object.


Gen. Jeremiah Tilford Boyle

Their Home Guard, headed by Judge Stuart, hearing of my return sent immediately to Louisville, got themselves reinforced, and gave me many chances to show my generalship. They drove the woods, searched houses &c. for weeks. I lay in the woods some four months, not eating or sleeping in a house, succeeding one dozen times [avoiding capture]. At one time they surrounded me [and] fired on me, but I charged the weakest point in their line and made my escape. General [Jeremiah Tilford] Boyle had given it out in speeches that he regarded me the most dangerous man left in the state and he had ordered me shot on sight. I thought I would take advantage of his alarm and prepare a treaty so I wrote to him if he would, under his own hand, write me that he would give me a pass through his lines, I would report to him. He immediately complied with my request. I went to Louisville, got my papers, and left for the South in the 1st day of August last.

The truth is I have been doing all in my power from the beginning for our cause. I have sacrificed a good comfortable home and business and I might say my family—one that I love as much as ever man loved a wife and children. In all, I have aided in sending out three companies but at different times. I have four brothers in the service. Myself and family have all served the cause as best we could without regard to interest and now would it be too much for me to ask the favor of you to aid me in procuring some little appointment which I leave for you to select. You might procure me an appointment in the subsistence department under the late act. My health has not been good for twelve months but can do anything within my qualifications that I can have some little control of my location.

I do not know that you have much knowledge of me. I do not think it amiss for me to state that I am the only man in my county that ever made a speech for the South. Indeed, I might say I had the battle to fight in 1856 for several counties around me when many that are good and prominent southern men at this time were against us and we made about as heavy gains in my section as in any portion of Kentucky. I—believing the crisis was near at hand—done all in my power since 1856 to build up and sustain southern sentiment. I now wish my friends to place me in some position so that if fortune should enable us again to enter Kentucky, that I may still be able to have and use some influence there.

For reference, I will refer you to General [Joseph Horace] Lewis, Col. [Martin Hardin] Cofer, Major [Richard] Hawes, Honorable George W. Triplett. I will state that Boyle proposed in his letter to me to take my family and go to any state I might select but that I should not remain in Kentucky. He treated me very kindly. I hold his letter at this time. Counting those who have fallen in battle, I have some forty or fifty blood relations in the Army of the South. The mails are so irregular, I hardly know where to request you to direct your reply to this. I will say, however, direct to me care of Captain Daniel B. Taylor’s Company F, 1st Kentucky Cavalry, Wheeler’s Corps.

Hoping to hear from you as soon as convenient, I am—General—with regard, your friend—Jesse S. Taylor



1861: Erastus Fuller to George Stanwood Fuller, Jr.

This letter was written by 31 year-old Erastus Fuller (1830-1915), the son of David Fuller (1795-1871) and Mary Esther Drue (1798-1877) of Gardiner, Kennebec county, Maine. In 1861, less than a month after the firing on Fort Sumter, Erastus was working as a carpenter in Oquawka, Illinois. He was married to his first wife, Elizabeth Merry (1831-1867), and we learn from the letter that they had an infant son—possibly still unnamed, though we know from burial records it was named Elmer Erastus Fuller (1861-1862).

Erastus wrote the letter to his 1st cousin, George Stanwood Fuller, Jr. (1835-1913) of Hallowell, Kennebec county, Maine. George was the son of George S. Fuller (1807-1878) and Hannah Stanwood Lord (1809-1901).


Oquawka, Illinios
April 28, 1861

Cousin George,

I received yours of 21st yesterday. Was right glad to hear from you once more. If you had not written, I should have sent you a blank to fill for me. I find that [   ] folks to write. I went one to my folks and then in two weeks after I received a letter from them. I forgive you for your negligence but mind next time.

We are all well. Lizzie has gone out to one of the neighbors to make a short call for the first time since the young son come. She is right smart (if you please). The boy is a fine fellow. I can tell he looks a good deal like Lizzie Flora but has dark blue eyes & light hair. All of our cousins are well.

J[ohn] M. Fuller’s son William [Henry Harrison Fuller] ¹ has gone to help defend his country. He is about as smart a cousin as we have. There was 40 of our brave boys started for Cairo last Tuesday. Times are getting warm here. Everyone is for the Union. If anyone is for the South, they have to look out for their neck. There was a man in town a week ago thought it was the Democrats & Republicans that was fighting. He being a Democrat thought he had some friends here so he just went in on his muscle and soon had to leave or fare worse. If he had not gone, he would probably [have] got a small bone that runs up his back broken.

We have 4 companies formed of 60 men each drilling 3 times a week. Your humble servant is 2nd Lieut. in one company and will probably be promoted. If there is a call for more troops, we shall go with 150 men and if we have to shoot, we shoot to kill.

There may be excitement there in Hallowell [but] you are not so near the field of action as we are here. There is any quantity of provision in this state. If it was not for the war, it] would go to feed the South. But as it is, Illinois will keep it for her own use or for the U. S. and it is reported the South intends taking some of it. It will be a sorry job for them. If it was not for my business, I would just be off in short order. Business looked quite favorable this spring [but] just as soon as Sumter was taken, it struck like a heavy frost in a thrifty garden. Nothing of any importance [is] going on—only war.

Elisha is in Young America 14 miles from here. Len is farming. He is in good spirits.

Tell Frank I will send the jacket as soon as possible. I suppose that is what he wants it for the jacket.

If Gordines has the coop, I hope he never will trouble me but I expect he will if I should be lucky to get anything together. There is not much hopes of it now. Excuse this poor writing. I don’t feel much like writing. I feel more like hauling on a rope to string up a few of those traitors. Let us have a government if we have to fight as our grandfathers did, what would the old veterans say if they could come back (Liberty or Death).

From Erast

Let us hear from you afore soon.

¹ William Henry Harrison Fuller served briefly in a 3 months organization early in the war and then returned to Oquawka to help organize Co. G of the 84th Illinois Infantry in which he served as 1st Lieutenant from September 1862 to May 1864.


1862: George M. Gibbs to Mary (Andres) Troy

This letter was written by Rev. George M. Gibbs (1814-1885), an Old School Presbyterian minister residing near Clinton, North Carolina. He wrote the letter to his friend Mrs. Mary (Andres) Troy (1824-Af1880), the wife of teacher, Robert Edward Troy (1816-1862), whom we learn from the letter was in very poor health (he died the following month). In 1860, the Troys were enumerated in Lumberton, Robeson county, North Carolina. At that time they only had one son residing in the household—Alexander Troy, age 14.

The letter reveals a desire on the part of Mrs. Troy to board her son with Rev. Gibbs in Clinton while he attends the Clinton Academy in the fall of 1862. In response, Gibbs tells her that due to her past kindnesses to him, he cannot refuse to board her son but that the fee will need to be at least $15 per month due primarily to the food shortages brought on by the Civil War. A history of the Clinton Academy states that it was established in 1826 but that it had changed its name to the Clinton Female Institute in 1858. There is no mention of it taking males again though they may have made an exception during the Civil War when schools struggled to keep their doors open. I assume that the son Mrs. Troy hoped to send to the academy was her son Alexander though, now 16, was almost old enough to join the Confederate army. If he did attend the academy, it must have only been for one year because in March 1864, Alexander enlisted as a private in Co. C, NC Heavy Artillery, and then transferred to Co. E., 8th North Carolina Infantry as their 1st Sergeant.


Addressed to Mrs Mary Troy, Westbrooks P. O., Bladen county, North Carolina

Clinton [North Carolina]
September 3, 1862

Dear Friend,

Your favor of 25 ulto. came to hand a day or two ago and not forgetting your kindness & hospitality (while living in Lumberton) to a Missionary, I was truly glad to hear from you. But indeed very sorry to learn of the feeble health of my good brother Troy. My prayer is that He who doth all things well will in His mercy, spare his life & raise him up again for further usefulness in His service and for the comfort of his dear family. I should have answered your letter sooner but as our school has just commenced, it required a little time to ascertain the price of board &c. These dreadful war times it is a difficult matter to get along. And provisions of every kind are so high that almost every one is afraid to take in boarders.

The price of board has necessarily gone up so high that it will very materially injure our school. Last session we could get board at $10 per month. This [year] it is from 15 to $20 and but few persons willing to risk it at that for fear they may not be able to get what is necessary even at the now high prices. For example, flour is now $22 per barrel, corn $1 to 1¼ per bushel, bacon 35 to 40 cents & scarce at that, beef 14 to 15 cents per lb. & other things in the same proportion except sugar & coffee which are out of the question, as they are not to be had. We shall be obliged to use rye for coffee & honey for sugar.

These things we can’t help & we all know that while a family has from necessity to put up with these things, persons who board out & pay high prices too expect something better which at these times cannot be had. These things cause even those who are disposed to take boarders to hesitate, knowing that they cannot accommodate as they wish to do.

We had not determined to take boarders although we have had some applications, but I do not feel as if under the circumstances I can refuse your son provided he will be willing to put up with our very plain fare. We live just one mile from the village & 1½ from the academy. I find it necessary for both the moral & intellectual training of boys to have tolerably stringent rules—especially for those who board with me. Not permitting them to run about the village, especially after night. My own sons being bound by the same rule, of course. We cannot board for less than $15 per month. It can be had for the same in the village. We are not sure that we will be safe even at that price. I know those who have to pay it will think it very high & it will deter many but it is the best under the circumstances that we can do. Should you think proper to send your son, I will do the best I can for him in every respect.

Please present my kindest regards to your afflicted husband. I wish it was in my power to visit him in his affliction. May the Lord in mercy sanctify it to him and enable him by grace to bear his affliction with Christian submission, and prepare him & his dear family also for whatever he may have in store for them. These afflictions arise not from the dust, and if as the apostle says, they are evidences of a Father’s love, let us not repine at them, but in the exercise of faith, look to Him for sustaining grace, for His promise to His children is, “As thy day is, so shall my strength be unto thee.” That the Lord who has seen fit to afflict, ,ay sustain & comfort you all is the prayer of your friend & brother in Christ, — G. M. Gibbs

P. S. I had forgotten to state that if called home in consequence of sickness, a reduction will be made for the time lost.

1862: David J. Orne to Family

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.


Charles Waud’s landscape of Charlestown, [West] Virginia in March 1862 showing the camp of the 2nd Massachusetts at far left.


2d Regiment Massachusetts Vols.
Gen. Banks’ Division
Charlestown, Virginia
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.


From 3 March 1862 Boston Herald

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.”


1863: George A. Phillips to Henry Simmons

This letter was written by George A. Phillips (1840-1864) of the 85th New York Infantry. George enlisted as a musician on 26 September 1861 at Bristol, to serve three years in Co. B. He was sent to ranks as a private at some point, however. His military record indicates he was captured in action with many others of his regiment on 20 April 1864 at Plymouth, NC, and that he died of chronic diarrhea on July 1864, while a prisoner at Andersonville, GA.


George’s Birdseye view of Fort Anderson on the Neuse River near Newbern, NC

George’s letter describes the bombardment of Fort Anderson (“a.k.a. “Deep Gully”)—a Union constructed earthwork on the north bank of the Neuse river opposite New Bern. On the afternoon of 13 March 1863, Maj. General D. H. Hill’s men overran a Union outpost at Deep Gully, eight miles southwest of New Bern. The next morning, Brig. Gen. James J. Pettigrew’s cannons opened fire on both Fort Anderson and Union gunboats in the river. But the Confederates could neither significantly damage the fort nor drive off the gunboats, which bombarded them from far out on the river. Accordingly, Pettigrew abandoned the attempt and retired along the same route on which he had advanced. Because Pettigrew’s success was essential to the operation, Hill had no choice but to withdraw.

George wrote the letter to his friend, Henry Pettis Simmons, Jr. (1848-1935), the son of Henry P. Simmons, Sr. (1818-1883) and Julia A. Drake (1818-1906) of Bristol, Ontario county, New York.


Newbern [North Carolina]
March 15, 1863

Friend Simmons!

I received yours of the 18th of last yesterday over in the camp of the 92 New York. We went over there in the A.M. to support them. They were attacked at daylight yesterday morning with 16 or 18 pieces of artillery supported by a brigade of infantry & two squadrons of cavalry. Nothing but the artillery engaged them, however. The 92nd are on the other side of the Neuce [river]. They went over there some 5 or 6 weeks ago & have been building a fort [Fort Anderson] or rather a sort of redoubt of about this form [sketch] enclosing perhaps two or more acres. Their camp is inside. They have about finished it but had no guns mounted. The “rebs” shelled them about 3 or 4 hours, summoning them under a flag of truce to surrender four different times & were politely refused each time by the Colonel commanding. The men sheltered themselves behind their works & let the “rebs” “pelt away” & “pelt away” they did, completely riddling their camp but hurting nobody except two slightly wounded. We are nearly opposite their camp & a few of the “rebs” shot reached us. We could see the river in the rear of their camp in a complete foam from the shower of iron hail poured into it from the rebs batteries.

About the time we started to reinforce the 92nd, the gunboats—three or four of them—had got good range on them & were piling the “dutch ovens” in them so fast that they “dug out” with their usual haste. We went across in two old scows propelled by poles & expected a warm time in landing but were very agreeably disappointed, there being no rebs in sight then except a few scattering ones around a house just in the rear of where the rebs’ lines were. They left one piece of their artillery on the field—or rather the wreck of it—it having burnt & blowed all to pieces.

From a prisoner who gave himself up we learned that our shell from one of our gunboats killed two of them & wounded 16 others. The 92nd didn’t fire a shot—the rebs being just out of range. Gen. ]John G.] Foster came over in the P.M. & had a boat howitzer landed & mounted & in the evening sent over a field howitzer. We stayed overnight expecting another attack but were again disappointed; & this morning went out scouting 3 or 4 miles but saw nothing but one man whom we brought back with us. We came back this afternoon.

There is quite a force on this side of the river & skirmishing has been going on since Friday afternoon but no regular engagement has taken place yet. We have been trying to draw them down within reach of our line of works but as yet they have been to short for that. Various wild rumors are floating through the place to which you know tis not safe to rely on so I shall not give you any of them. And besides, you will get a full account of all our doings as soon & perhaps sooner from the papers than from me—and more correct than I can give them to you. I have no other news to tell you that I think of now. Till yesterday everything has been as dull as could be in the way of outside excitements, but as a Company we have enjoyed ourselves pretty well since we moved into these barracks.

We were paid off the day before we moved here & about the first thing the boys did was to “throw in” & buy a pair of boxing gloves & a fiddle for me to play on. There has not been one half dozen evenings except Mondays but what the boys have had me playing for them to dance.

Yes, I have a little news to tell you. The Capt. [William W. Clark] arrived here last Friday morning & Col. [Jonathan] Belknap the fore part of last week. He is in command of our brigade now as Gen. Hunt has gone north. I tell you, it “sets him up awful.” The Captain’s health is not very good & he was quite sick yesterday but feels a good deal better today. He says Lieut. [Spencer] Martin started for Moshuyton some 10 or 12 days ago to see something about his furlough business which if it was not attended would dismiss him from the service. I did not understand how the matter was so will not undertake to tell you. We feared at first that we were going to lose him. But the officers say he will be reinstated & will come back “all right.”

I am glad you are enjoying yourself so well & I think we are enjoying ourselves nearly as well—all but the females to dance with. Some of Co. F’s boys tried & succeeded very well to obviate that drawback to our enjoyment by dressing in some dresses got from the wenches. The first I saw of them I thought for quite a little while that they were the regimental washerwomen. But on closer inspection, I saw one of them was Frank Wilcox, another Harvey McIntire, & the other two I don’t remember what their names are. I’ll bet t’would have made you laugh as heartily as it did me to see them put on all the airs of ladies & were as virtuous as the most virtuous maidens in the country & would not let their partners put their hands near their bosoms.

Will this answer as a letter, Hank? I guess you will have to call it one or else do without one till I write again. I’m too damn sleepy to feel much like writing but take this opportunity for fear I will not have better before the mail leaves for the month. I expect every moment the order will come to be ready to march at a moment’s notice, but am in hope not till we have had a night’s rest.

Give my love to all who inquire & tell Adelia that tis two months since I heard from her or her folks & that I shall write again soon even if I did write the last letter. The company is unusually healthy. Parm Lewis ¹ is the only one that reports [sick] now I believe. Write as soon as convenient, Henry, & remember me ever as your friend, — George A. P.

Zeph[aniah W. Gooding] ² says tell Henry he will write in a few days. He got one from you with the same mail mine came.

¹ Parmer W. Lewis—Age, 21 years. Enlisted, August 21, 1861, at Canadice, to serve three years; mustered in as private, Co. B, August 30, 1861; re-enlisted as a veteran, January 1, 1864; captured in action, April 20, 1864, at Plymouth, NC; died of disease, August 9, 1864, while prisoner of war at Andersonville, GA.

² Zephaniah W. Gooding —Age, 21 years. Enlisted, October 8, 1861, at Bristol, to serve three years; mustered in as corporal, Co. B, October 16, 1861; promoted sergeant, Sep- tember 1, 1862; returned to ranks, no date; re-enlisted as a veteran, January 1, 1864; captured in action, April 20, 1864, at Pymouth, NC; paroled, March 3, 1865, at Wilmington, NC; mustered out, August 18, 1865, at Rochester, NY.

1862: Oliver Waldo West to Sarah Stilson

Though unsigned and probably missing a page, I believe this letter to have been written by Lt. Oliver Waldo West (1842-1889) of Co. K, 130th New York Infantry. This regiment was converted to cavalry in August 1863 and called the 19th New York Cavalry. Later it was renamed the 1st New York Volunteer Dragoons. At the time this letter was written, the 130th New York Infantry was attached to Spinola’s Brigade at Suffolk, Virginia, engaged largely in building up the defenses of that village.


Envelope from 1862-3

Oliver was the son of Perry West (1816-1908) and Melissa Carpenter (1812-1885) of North Dansville, Livingston county, New York. He was the Editor of the Livingston Democrat newspaper when he enlisted as a private in Co. K on 31 July 1862. He was quickly promoted to First Sergeant on 3 September 1862 and five weeks later, promoted to 2d Lieutenant. Fortuitously, when the 1st Lieutenant of Co. K resigned on 24 November 1862, Oliver was promoted once again to take his place. Oliver was captured on 7 May 1864 at Todd’s Tavern, Virginia, and exchanged in late April 1865 at Wilmington, N. C., mustering out of the service not long afterward.

Why do I believe this letter was penned by Lt. Oliver West? There are several letters under the title “Sarah Stilson Correspondence” housed at the Hesburg Libraries, Rare Books & Special Collections, University of Notre Dame, many of them written by Lt. West to Sarah Stilson before and during the Civil War. Digital images of Lt. West’s letters are available on line and not only do they look to be in the same hand, they contain many of the same expressions and characteristics. The content is consistent as well, including the defense of Dr. Kneeland, the regimental surgeon [see West’s letter of 31 December 1862].

According to the Hesburg Libraries’ Website, “Oliver Waldo West (b. 1842), a young newspaper editor (and future lawyer) from North Dansville, Livingston County, whom Stilson had met at a teachers’ institute in 1860…The letters exchanged by West and Stilson (16 written by West, 11 by Stilson) are long, lively, and opinionated—often, it would seem, provocatively so. While much of the content is personal news, recounted at length, with frequent touches of humor, the letters are also very much a dialogue, an exchange of ideas and feelings about both contemporary affairs and the broader life of the mind. There is a good deal of commentary on literature; both West and Stilson had a weakness for verse. There is also a good deal of verbal sparring, not least about gender relations.”


[Camp near Suffolk, Va.] ¹
[5 November 1862]

….and it was a good thing on the whole as I know in my own case. Although I was oh so tired, weary, footsore, and stiff legged, yet, if we rested 5 or ten minutes and I reclined against the fence or lay right down on the ground (as ¾ of them did, with my rolled blanket for temporary pillow), when the brigade was ordered again, “Forward March” I would be so stiff that I could scarcely move my legs till I got warmed up a little so it was better to toil on, move out and almost ready to drop down with fatigue as one was than to stop often, get chilled through, and stiffened up.

When we arrived within a mile or two of our camp, a little after midnight Friday night, I do declare that if we had been ordered to about face and march back, I don’t believe, hardly, I could have gone over 40 rods without falling out by the wayside as many a tired and sleepy soldier did as it was. But the hope of soon getting home (i.e. into camp quarters) kept us up and we dragged ourselves along into our camp here, staggered into our tents, and dropped down on our beds and rested. Oh! how good it was [ ]! The bed you lay yourself for nightly though never so [   ] and civilized in structure and style, is not so welcome and sweet to you as when our rude camp [  ] to us in the sun all hours of last Saturday morning. For a day or two after we returned, one could tell a “Blackwater Man” almost as as far as he could see him by his halting, limping gait. Coming back, I wore my rubber overcoat and carried strung over my shoulder with the ends tied, my blanket rolled up, besides my loaded haversack and canteen, and my sword belted around my waist and my revolver on the belt. Oh rheumatics—how my shoulders did ache some of the times. It seemed as though I should sink under them. But I kept up. And my case, you must remember, was not exceptional. Hundreds felt as I did. What made it worse for me * was that that was the first “duty” I had done since my sick spell that I referred to in my last. I had been lying still for a couple of weeks and then starting right off on a forced march of 46 or 50 miles naturally used me rather roughly. But I wasn’t going to stay behind in camp on the plea of sickness as long as I could start with my regiment.

It is late. Goodnight.

Thursday morning [November 6, 1862]. I have to take charge of party of fatigue men—choppers—down to Fort Halleck today, and so I cannot finish this now. I will try and get it into the mail tomorrow. It is raining, windy, and nasty today generally. I presume it is cold and snowing up North. But I will put on my rubber overcoat, buckle on my sword, and “trade in.”

Bon jour, mon amie

Thursday night, Nov. 6 [1862]

Well I have returned from my fatigue expedition safe. I had charge of all the men detailed from our regiment and should have also commanded those from the 132nd New York if they had been sent on to my left. Lt. Mc Ardle, Chief Engineer of this Division, sent now over to me soon after & arrived on my ground, in reference to the direction he wanted us to chop and that if the rest were sent over there, I should set them at work, so and so. But the 132nd are a set of unruly devils and got on the ground an hour after we did and quit an hour earlier so they only went into the outer edge next to the railroad track and I farther into the swamp only attended to my own men. Fort Halleck is erected on the left or northern side of the railroad track as you face towards Norfolk and we entered the forest on the south side, after passing the fort 70 or 100 rods. There, extending in nearly a semi-circle south of the fort, lie over 500 acres of forest which are to be chopped and left lying in all ways as obstructions to an enemy and they when so cut will be worth over 100,000 men for any army of the enemy approaching us from the south , southwest, or southeast would require legions of sappers and miners to clear a way through such formidable and impenetrable abatis. A considerable space has already been leveled and standing on a tall stump or fallen trunk there was a pleasant sort of strange excitement in seeing—surrounded as I was with the wilderness—tall, large trees fall crashing away the branches of their fellows and reach the earth with a thundering reverberation, shaking the foundation beneath us.

Where my men were chopping today, it was swampy ground and the further one penetrates into this thick, [   ], low forest, the damper and more swampy and marshy the ground becomes till by and by the very depths of the Dismal Swamp surround you in all its gloomy perfections, the outskirts of it where we were all sufficiently suggestive.

Today is the first time I have ever been out on fatigue since I entered the army and therefore I was entitled to my side of whiskey, Do you want to know whether I took it or not? Find the counterpart to this * star. You will find the answer.

I guess I must, as soon as I can, devote one letter (to you of course and) to a notice for your edification of the forts they are building around Suffolk. Maj. Gen. [John James] Peck certainly seems to intend rendering this place impregnable. And if digging and chopping can make a place impregnable, this should be so [   ] degrees.


Benjamin T. Kneeland, Surgeon of 130th NY Inf.

I remember you spoke of the heartlessness of Dr. [Benjamin T.] Kneeland and in my epistolary fragment I said a little in reply. Although he has a very rough and rude manner and expression, yet I can hardly think him as devoid of heart as you represent for on both our marches ² towards the Blackwater, he often dismounted to let tired or sick men ride, or relieved a weary soldier by taking his gun or overcoat and blanket, or all together. When we halted in the field Friday noon, he was one of the last to come in, on foot, gun on shoulder, having let some soldier ride his horse. Then his untiring efforts to get a decent and comfortable building for hospital purposes do not show want of heart. Only 7 have yet died out of our regiment—one today from Co. I [named William J. Wright], 2 [from] Co. A, [and] 4 [from] Co. E. ³

There are several regiments encamped over across the road from us. Lately they have had funerals and buried their comrades about five rods from the road. As we pass up to the city, we can see them, one after the other perpendicular to the road and parallel. Some with rude head boards, some not. Oh, it looked sad. A military funeral at home for one who died far away in the service is imposing and effective—especially in the city. But when one dies in camp and his comrades go through with the simple but suggestive burial ceremonies—marching…

¹ The camp of the 130th New York Regiment was located on the Edenton road east of Suffolk near the Great Dismal Swamp. This camp proved to be too unhealthy and early in December 1862 the camp was relocated to 1 mile west of Suffolk near the South Quay Bridge over the Nansemond river.

² The first march toward the Blackwater occurred on 3 October 1862. It was a hurried march of about 50 miles with no losses by the 130th New York. The second march was begun on 30 October and ended on 1 November 1862. The second march is the one described in this letter.

³ The seven members of the 130th New York Infantry that had died on or before 6 November 1862 when this letter was written included: Orson Kenyon of Co. E (18 Sep ’62), Stephen Clark of Co. E (26 Sep ’62), Phineas Simmons of Co. A (24 Oct ’62), Orville Hinman of Co. A (26 Oct ’62), Edwin Slocum of Co. A (29 Oct ’62), Addison Caldwell of Co. F (4 Nov ’62), and William Wright of Co. I (5 Nov ’62). And eighth member died before day’s end on 6 November 1862—Albion Bentley of Co. D (6 Nov ’62).