Their extermination will be the only alternative.

[Ed. Note — This letter was published in the Pittsfield Sun on 29 October 1863.  The author, Omar Hassan Case, was born in Pittsfield on 10 April 1842.  By 24 September 1862, Case had enlisted at Fort Snelling, MN in the 7th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry and saw three years of service on the frontier as well as in the South.  He rose from private to 2nd Lieutenant by the time the regiment was disbanded 16 August 1865.

At the time he writes this letter, the regiment was preparing winter quarters at Schofield Barracks after having served almost two years fighting Native Americans from the frontier territory of Minnesota.

It must have been stunning for the residents of Pittsfield to read a letter from one of their own who was in the army but NOT (at least yet) fighting the Confederacy.  The 7th Minn. did eventually go south and participated in several battles, particularly Tupelo, MS against Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command and in General Canby’s campaign against Spanish Fort, near Mobile, AL.]


Barracks Schofield, St. Louis, Mo.,
October 14th, 1863

Dear Editor — Since I wrote you last, at Madelia, I have seen something of a soldier’s life.  My intention was to have given you a correct account of all our doings while in the Indian country, but duty and business prevented.  Our company remained at Madelia during the winter and spring.  Part of the company was detached for frontier guards in March and sent on the south branch of the Watouwan River.  They commenced building a stockade, which was nearly finished about the 16th of April, when the Indians attacked the inhabitants, killing 5 persons and wounding several.  The night preceding the massacre a woman came to the stockade desiring one of the soldiers to go home with her and stay all night, as her husband had gone to Mankato on business.  Instead of one soldier two were sent.  Toward morning the Indians came to this house, pushed open the door and shot one soldier dead in bed, and wounded the other in the left breast near the heart and in the left leg, with arrows.  The woman was lying on the floor, having given up her bed to the soldiers.  She was wounded in the right groin however.  The soldier who was wounded sprang from the bed, grappled with the Indians, and succeeded in driving them from the house.  He then went to the bed and found his comrade dead.  The wounded woman he took in his arms and carried nearly to the camp, a distance of two miles.  The Indians meantime had got nearly opposite the stockade but on the other side of the river.  They commenced firing on the boys but were soon driven from their position.  By this time all the families had collected in the stockade, save one, which live about tow miles further up.  Two boys volunteered to go and tell them of their danger.  They went, the Indians watching them all the while.  After arriving at the house the inhabitants had time enough to secure their safety if they had gone immediately, but the husband, with that grasping disposition peculiar to the people of Norway, must turn his cattle out before he started, thus delaying them at least half an hour.  After everything was arranged they commenced their flight.  The Indians lay in ambush, and as they passed a ravine rushed upon them.  The husband run as fast as he could, also one soldier; the other soldier fought them until overpowered by numbers, and at the entreaty of the woman left. —

The Indians came up, beater her on the head until they thought she was dead, telling her she might “go home now.”  One boy they killed about ten years old, and another three or four they knocked down once; he jumped up and run along; again they hit him, again he fell and this time laid still.  After they had gone the soldiers went for the bodies, and strange to say the woman and the boy were sill alive, and are now well.  The woman that was wounding in the groin is also well.  We went out on the prairie and found three bodies of men, their heads severed from their bodies and carried about half a mile, where it appeared that a war-dance had been held.  Little did I think, when I used to attend High School at Pittsfield, that I should see such sights as these, which are only an item of the murderous doings in the northern part of our State.  I was one of the expedition under Gen. Sibley during last summer and had three engagements with the Indians, in which they were driven from the field and at last across the Missouri, but not having a sufficient number of horsemen our triumphs could hardly be called victories.  Suffice it to say, they received such a lesson that I hope they will remain forever on the barren plains of Dacotah.  But I am afraid more outrages will be committed by them, and their extermination will be the only alternative.

I am sir, your obedient servant,

Omar A. Case,
Co. E, 7th Minn. Vols.


Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the vales in Vallambrosa.

[Ed. Note – In honor of the birthday of General “I can’t see the Confederates from where I am” Sickles (October 19, 1819), this post is from one of the Massachusetts boys who joined, with his company, the Excelsior Brigade.  Sickles was a well known Democratic congressman who was also the first defendant to successfully use “temporary insanity” as a defense for murder.  Sickles murdered his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key, in the streets of Washington, DC.  He was exonerated by reason of temporary insanity.  His salient movement at Gettysburg suggests that his insanity might not have been temporary…it was at least episodic.

Daniel Edgar Sickles (1819 – 1916)

The Excelsior Brigade was raised mostly in New York by Gen. Daniel E. Sickle and consisted of the 70th, 71st, 72nd, 73rd, and 74th New York.  Co. D of the 74th were boys from Cambridgeport,  MA.  Cambridgeport is generally described as the area north of MIT, near Kendall Square.

The author of the letter, Harlan Page Goddard was 20 years old when he enlisted in May of 1861.  He enlisted in a company of soldiers being raised by Captain John T. Burgess.  Goddard was a graduate of the Pierce Academy in Middleboro, Massachusetts and he was working as a printer when the war broke out.  Captain Burgess kept his company together from about the middle of May onward, despite any show of support from the Massachusetts government.  After the 1st of June, the Cambridge City Council despaired of their being called to active service and refused to support the company longer.  However, patriotic citizens rallied and posted the troops to a hotel near Fresh Pond in Cambridge until arrangements were made for the company to join the Excelsior Brigade at Camp Scott on Long Island.

The regiment saw a great deal of service beginning with the Battle of Williamsburg where they had 143 casualties, 41 killed outright.  They would lose another 20 here at Fair Oaks, including Goddard who was wounded here and eventually sent to a Hospital in New York where he joined the Veteran’s Reserve Corps.]

Co. D, 5th Regt., Excelsior Brigade
Fair Oaks, Va., June 13, 1862

Mr. Editor – Our division and brigade were in the action of June 1st, and have been pretty actively employed since that time, being in the advance on the Williamsburg road to Richmond, skirmishing, doing picket duty, and supporting the batteries in front of our position.

On the afternoon of Saturday, May 31st, toward sunset, we were ordered to fall in, with haversacks and canteens, leaving our knapsacks in charge of the quartermaster’s department.  Heavy firing had been heard during the afternoon, and it was rumored that the enemy had gained some advantage over the Union troops, but farther than that we were in ignorance.

Sneden, Robert Knox.  The battle of Fair Oaks, Va., 2nd Day’s battle, Sunday June 1st, 1862. [to 1865, 1862] Map.  Retrieved from the Library of Congress, October 21, 2016).

We set out at about dusk, and, marching with all possible haste, arrived at near nine o’clock, at the rifle pits and second line of fortifications, to which the rebels had driven back our advance divisions.  On our left were the divisions of Casey and Couch, and on our right the Irish “Brigade” and Sumner’s division, which had succeeded in crossing the Chickahominy river, came up during the evening, and occupied a position just upon the other side of the railroad.  Here we remained during the night.  In the morning the enemy, mistaking our force, and ignorant of the reinforcements that had arrived during the night, renewed the engagement, and advancing without caution, were soon exposed to a heavy cross-fire, which decimated their ranks terribly, but, nothing daunted, they still poured in an ineffectual fire, till at length, by a series of flank movements and repeated and successful bayonet charges, they were forced back – back over the bodies, of their own dead – back, through the swamps and woods, beyond the original position held by our troops on Saturday, and, if fresh troops could have crossed the river, such was their terror and consternation, that there is little doubt the whole rebel army would have been captured or dispersed, and Richmond have been taken ere the rebel troops could be brought to a stand.  It is said that during the early part of the fight, two of their divisions were brought forward as reinforcements, but on coming in sight of the piles of rebel slain, they became panic-stricken, refused to go forward, and turning, fled incontinently, despite the utmost efforts of their officers to rally them.

The loss of our brigade was inconsiderable, and, with the exception of one or two accidents, our regiment met with no casualties whatever.  The second regiment of the brigade was not in the battle of Williamsburg, being left at Yorktown to guard the stores, and in the battle of Sunday they evinced the discipline of veterans, together with an impetuousity that could not be withstood.  Their charges are made a subject of mention in McClellan’s dispatch.

The swamp through which we drove the enemy was miry and deep, and the rains of Friday and Saturday night had put the roads in a condition scarcely to be surpassed in point of depth both of water and mud.   The people of Maryland call it “dust.”  Whether they do so ironically, or whether they make no distinction between dirt, wet or dry, I know not; but to my mind the word mud is far too insignificant, and the term “slush,” used by the soldiers, though less elegant perhaps, is much more expressive.

74th New York drilling at Camp Scott.  From the Metropolitan Museum Collections.

Monday morning our brigade was sent forward to act as skirmishers and ascertain the position of the enemy.  Tuesday, we acted as advance picket, during the hot sun of that day and the storm of rain that arose in the evening, but were relieved at about eleven o’clock in the evening by the third (New Jersey) brigade, and were taken in to the rear of the batteries, where, without tents or knapsacks, we lay down on the muddy ground and sheltered ourselves as best we could from the rain and water.  Gen. Sickles was with us, sharing our hardships and fatigues, and his presence, sympathy, coolness, and self-possession, did much to revive the spirits of those under his command.

Tuesday afternoon, a reconnoitering party of about twenty or thirty men from our regiment, were fired  at from an ambuscade, and several wounded – one from Co. G severely.

Since then we have alternated with the first and third brigades in performing the duties advance picket, and in supporting the line of works in front of what was formerly Casey’s position.  The point has been strengthened by the advance of troops on the right and Kearney’s division on the left.  The place is termed “Fair Oaks,” owing, I suppose, to a cluster of oak trees, of dark green foliage, in front of two buildings now used as hospitals, and which are said to have been visited by Jeff. Davis on the first day of the fight.

When on picket we go in “light marching order,” leaving our knapsacks in our tents, which are pitched in the woods on the left of the road, and about half a mile back from the rifle pits.  We intend to hold the position at all hazards, and the enemy will hardly have the temerity to make another attack after the immense loss which they suffered in the late engagement.  Out artillery did fearful execution among their ranks, and their dead were left scattered through the woods and swamp,

“Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the vales in Vallambrosa.”

The day following the battle, I discovered some beautiful red roses in the yard of a house filled with the rebel dead and wounded.  Their color was that of blood, but their beauty and fragrance had little consonance with the carnage and strife of a battle field.

The weather has been quite warm, although we have had abundance of rain, and the stench arising from some portions of the battle field, where so many horses were slain and imperfectly buried, is intolerable.

The health of the soldiers, so far as I have had opportunity to learn, has been excellent.  There are no serious cases of sickness in our regiment, and it would appear that by the endurance of the hardships and fatigues of today we become better prepared for those of to-morrow.

Most of us are looking forward, with earnest longing, for that time when, the supremacy of the government restored and maintained, our country will no longer need our services on the tented field, but, the rebellion ended, and the traitors who inaugurated it having received their deserts, we shall be permitted to return to our friends and homes, and rejoice once more in the blessings of peace, prosperity, and happiness.  That such, ere long, may be the result of our labors, is the fervent wish of

Very truly yours,

H. P. G.

I am Neither a Penman or a Politician

[Ed. While most of the letters found in Massachusetts newspapers are from Massachusetts regiments, some are from out-of-state regiments in which sons of the Old Bay State are serving.  The Massachusetts-born soldier is serving in the 2nd New Hampshire Infantry.  Aside from Regimental news, this author delivers a good description of troops heading into winter camp and the sheer volume of wood it took to keep the troops warm.  It is no wonder that Southern fences and outbuildings suffered so during the war.  The author also introduces us into the art of relic collection, which was a tremendous pastime for soldiers in the field – a tradition that continues until this day.  One wonders how they got it all home.  During the 1863 New England Sanitary Fair in Boston there was an entire army tent set up in what is now the Orpheum Theater filled with relics from the Battle of Gettysburg.  Of course, I am reminded of the episodes from M*A*S*H where Cpl. Walter “Radar” O’Reilly took apart a jeep and mailed it home piece by piece, so really, what are a few un-exploded pieces of ordnance?  I was also amused to see that the price of the shells ran as high as $10.  In 1863 the Ames Mfg. Co. of Massachusetts was selling 12-pounder shells to the US Government for about $3 per shell.]

Second Reg. N. H .Vols, Camp Beaufort,
Lower Potomac, Jan. 19, ‘62

Mr. Editor, — I am neither a penman or a politician, as you will plainly perceived when you read the few lines I write.  I belong to the N. H. Second Regiment, and am a member of Co. A., Captain Barker.  I am a “low private,” and, as the boys say, in the rear rank.  We have a good Captain.  Capt. Barker is loved by the regiment, and by all who know him.  He is a father to his company.  What is not good enough for him, he says, is not good enough for his men.  He has had a chance by promotion, to be raised to a higher rank, but he did not hesitate to refuse the offer.  Why?  Because, when he enlisted his men at Keene, N. H., he told them he would be their Captain as long as the war lasted, and return with them to New Hampshire, if God spared him and their lives, and nobly has he kept his word thus far, and he is worthy of all the praise that is bestowed upon him.

Capt. Tileston A. Barker

I will not forget to mention the Lieutenants, Titus and Cobb.  They are both kind, generous and brave, and we have no cause to regret the day they took their position at the head of the company, to lead us on to glory and fame.

I will now speak of the several camps on the Potomac.  There are the Massachusetts First and Eleventh, the Pennsylvania, Twenty-Sixth, then the Jersey regiments, Sickles Brigade, and any amount of cavalry and batteries, among others, Doubleday’s from N. Y; I don’t recollect the names of the others.  These are stationed near Rum Point and Budd’s Ferry, but a force is scattered along the Potomac to the lower flotilla, near Port Tobacco.  The regiments here have first-rate winter quarters; some have built log houses, plastering up the cracks with clay and straw; others have built a foundation five logs high, and set their tents upon them, building chimneys on the front side, about eight feet high, — a barrel with both ends taken out placed on the top of each.  A large fireplace is constructed, about four feet wide, in the real old Vermont style.  It takes a pretty good pile of wood to last a regiment a month, but that does not trouble the privates much, except when they are detailed to cut it, and men are detailed every day from each company with teams for hauling it.  Each company, on an average, burns about four cords per day, making forty cords; but the wood is plenty and not far from camp, and one team draws from four to eight cords a day.

An example of winter camping in the Union Army.

On the Virginia shore, opposite to our camps, the rebels have build a number of batteries, and they are continually firing at our battery, and the Massachusetts camps, but no serious damage has been done on either side.  Our guns are only eight-pound rifle guns, but with these the boys give the rebels some excellent shots, throwing, now and then, a shot plump into the enemy’s batteries. – Schooners occasionally pass up and down the river laden with hay and grain.  These the rebels open fire upon from their batteries sometimes throwing as many as twenty or thirty rounds of shell and solid shot at a schooner, without doing the least damage.  I watched them one day when they were firing, and I think they must have very poor gunners for they made bad shots.  Some of their shots struck about midway across the river, while others burst two hundred feet in the air above the schooner they were firing at.  Others came screaming through the air and dropped into the Massachusetts camp, over half a mile from the mark.  These things are of every day occurrences.  Last Saturday night, between eleven and twelve o’clock, the Pensacola, a war steamer of forty-four guns, ran by the batteries.  The rebel lines opened fire upon her, firing twenty-four rounds of shell and solid shot, but not a single one hit the steamer, which did not return the fire.

But there is one saucy little battery, which the rebels have lately built on a high bluff near Rum Point, and in range of the Jersey camp, which is close by the river, and in plain sight of the rebels who can see every move the Jersey boys make, in or about camp; and for three weeks past the rebels have amused themselves by throwing shell into the camp – this suits the Massachusetts and New Hampshire boys.  They stand on the bank and watch the shots, and when one of them falls in or near the camp, they make a grand rush for the spot, spade in hand, and dig it out if it does not happen to burst.  Some have already been sold for ten dollars each.  The officers send them home to fill the showcases in their stores or shops.  Some of the shells from this battery weigh sixty-four pounds each. – They explode by percussion, the cap being the picked end.  They have been known to go three miles.  Sometimes a shell buries itself eleven feet under ground.  One was lately found by some of the boys at a distance of four miles from the rebel batteries, nine feet under the ground.  It was fired from a sixty-four pound rifle gun.  Not many of these shells burst, the ground being too soft to explode them when they strike, or else some cunning Yankee among the rebels is playing a game upon them.  Be it so or not, it remains to be told by somebody that knows; but one thing is sure, that when opened some have been found filled with white sand.

The Jersey boys camped on the river bank have not been in the field long, and are rather green, and are a little fearful of gunpowder, especially the officers.  Sometimes the powder comes in the shape of a rebel shell, and for this reason the officers do not like to have the boys stand on the bank, for fear they will cause the rebels to fire upon them; but not withstanding this, the boys always make a rush for the bank at the sound of the first gun.  A few days ago the rebels commenced firing at a schooner which was passing up the river.  The sound of the first gun was the signal for the boys to made a rush for the river, each one trying to outrun the other, but no sooner had they reached the bank of the river than they heard the drums beat, and out rushed the officers of the day, sword in hand, followed by a whole body of Jerseys armed to the teeth, determined to disperse the crowd or take them prisoners.  The order was given for the crowd to disperse to their camp, but the order was greeted with – you had better look out for that flag, or the rebels will fire at it; and why don’t you take out the whole regiment to drive us to our camp?  The officer was about to give the order for his men to make a dash at us, when, fortunately for us, at this moment, a shell fired by the rebels – a sixty-four pounder – came screaming over our heads and landed a few yards distant near the flag-staff, causing the officer and his crew to halt and stare at each other in astonishment.  Three more shots came in rapid succession, — this time a little nearer than the first one; but this was enough for the officer, and most of his men started for their quarters at double quick, never once looking round, but all intent on getting out of reach of the screaming shells, — the boys screeching and yelling at the top of their voices, who, being satisfied with the fun they had had soon returned to their camp, but determined on having more fun the first opportunity.

On the same day, as myself and three of my comrades were cutting and loading wood, a short distance from camp, a shell passed directly over our heads and fell near the cavalry camp, half a mile beyond.  Soon we heard another whistling through the air; it fell within seven rods of where I and my friend were standing, each of us thinking the shell was intended for himself.  We soon found the spot, and two of the boys commenced digging it out, and after three hours hard labor their spades struck the rebel, who had hid himself nine feet in the ground.  It weighed sixty-four pounds.  It has been sent by Captain B. to a friend of his in Keene, N. H.

The weather is very bad here now; it has rained most of the time for six days, and rains hard this afternoon.  Some of the boys have dug cellars to their tents.  The water runs in, completely soaking them out.  The boys are bailing out the water with kettles and pails, to prevent the fires being put out.  The mud is so deep that we had no dress parade for a week.

The Second New Hampshire regiment is well officered, and every officer knows his duty and tries to do it as well as he is able.

Center H. Lawrence, who formerly lived in Cambridgeport, Mass., and who so bravely carried the stars and stripes safely through the battle of Bull Run, is now Adjutant to the regiment.

W. A. H.

Honor awaits the brave everywhere…

[Ed. Note – The exploits of the U.S. Navy during the American Civil War have long been overshadowed by the skirmishes and battles on land.  Blockade duty may well have been less glamorous than the land campaigns, but it was just as, if not more, crucial to the success of General Scott’s overall plan to interdict supplies flowing to the Confederacy. 

The USS Wissahickon was a 691-ton Unadilla class screw steam gunboat built at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She initially served in the Gulf of Mexico and on the Mississippi River where she was instrumental in the capture of New Orleans.  She made two runs past the Confederate fortifications at Vicksburg and engaged in a battle with the ironclad CSS Arkansas.  After repairs at Philadelphia late in 1862, Wissahickon joined the blockade of the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and eastern Florida.  In addition to her actions surrounding Fort McAllister and the burning of the CSS Nashville (formerly the privateer Rattlesnake) during the summer of 1863 she bombarded Forts Wagner and Sumter, off Charleston, South Carolina.  Alfred Thayer Mahan, one of the greatest naval strategist and historians was her commander for a brief period in 1864.

Fort McAllister was an earthwork fort built on the McAllister plantation southeast of Savannah and protected the approaches to the city up the Ogeechee river.  Despite the quick reduction of the masonry-built Fort Pulaski further down the river, Fort McAllister resisted seven different attempts by the Union fleet to reduce the earthen bastions.  McAllister stood until taken from the rear by General Sherman’s army in 1864.]

Boston Post & Statesman

P.2; c. 5

Letter from Georgia.

Correspondence of the Boston Post.

U.S. Steam Gun-Boat “Wissahickon”

Off Ossabaw Sound, Georgia,

Wednesday, 4th of March, 1863

CSS Nashville, later the Privateer Rattlesnake.

Fort McAlister would seem to be destined to as prominent a position in the present rebellion as was Fort Moultrie in the old revolutionary time.  One cannot but express admiration at the plucky and gallant defense which its garrison has made in several recent attacks.  So far they have successfully resisted all our attempts to silence and take possession of the fort, and the question has been asked, how much probability is there of the forthcoming attack upon Charleston being successful, if one little sand-battery can withstand the efforts of our iron-clads?  That McAlister will be taken I do not doubt, for it has become a point of honor to take it, and take it we must and shall.  Last Saturday I sent you a brief and hurried account of the destruction of the “Nashville.”  I have since learned her destination was Nassau.  The following extract from a letter I have seen will explain what was the intended nature of her cruise: — “the Nashville’ was expected every hour at Nassau, it being rumored that she had discharged her cotton and was fully iron-clad, ready to run the blockade.”  Supplies, recruits and the remainder of her armament awaited her ether, and had she succeeded in escaping she would have proved no less formidable upon the seas than the “Alabama,” for her speed is well known – indeed she had the reputation of being the fastest steamer sailing out of the United States.  When the very great difficulty of keeping one of these fast steamers in is taken into consideration, as proved in the cases of the “Sumpter,” “Alabama” and “Florida,” I think considerable credit attaches to the three or four vessels whose untiring vigilance along prevented the escape of this much to be dreaded privateer.  The “Wisahickon” was sent down to the Ossabaw station in October of last year, where she has since remained, with the exception of a single fortnight spent in refitting and repairing at Port Royal, and during which fortnight the only evasion of the blockade which has occurred since we were appointed to the station took place – a small schooner, taking advantage of the increased chances of escape afforded by our absence, getting out by the north passage.  During the greater part of this time our commanding officer, Lieut. Commander John L. Davis, has been the senior officer on the station, and it is in no small degree owing to his energetic efforts, and the assistance of his executive officer, Lieut. Silas Casey, that we are able to present so fair a record.  The “Wissahickon” has taken part in four attacks upon Fort McAlister, besides having been under the fire of the fort in two other instances, one of them being the occasion in which the “Nashville” was destroyed, that vessel laying under the guns of the fort, obliging us to go within range of the guns of the fort to get at her.  We were once nearly sunk by a plunging shot from their largest gun, which hit us five feet below the water line, obliging us to beach the vessel for repairs.  On this occasion the “Wissahickon” was acting as flag-ship in an attack upon the fort.  We have also, assisted by the “Dawn,” obliged the Confederates to burn a schooner to prevent her falling into our hands, we having attacked her as she lay at anchor under the guns of their battery on Coffee Bluff, loaded with cotton and turpentine, waiting an opportunity to sail in hourly anticipation of an attack upon us by the iron-clad “ram.”  Atlanta, formerly the “Fingal.”  In the last attack, upon Fort McAlister we acted as signal-ship for the iron-clads, being the farthest up of any of the wooden vessels towards the fort, coming next to the iron-clads, and were the only wooden ship under fire, with the exception of the mortar schooners.

We are now on our way to Port Royal to take in provisions and coal, preparatory to joining the fleet off Charleston.  We should have preferred to have remained at Ossabaw until the stars and bars on Fort McAlister had been lowered to make way for the old flag, and we regret that we are not to be permitted to be in at the death.  But honor awaits the brave everywhere, and we hope to be permitted to make our mark at Charleston.

Sneden, Robert Knox.  2nd attack on Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River, Georgia., [to 1865, 1863] Map.  Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed October 17, 2016.)
            My letter would hardly be complete without some description, of our last attack upon McAlister.  To us was permitted the honor of carrying the good news of the destruction of the “Nashville” to the Admiral at Port Royal.  We entered Port Royal at 8 o’clock Sunday morning last, having passed, on our way up, the iron-clads “Patapsco” and “Nahant,” under convoy of the steamers “Sebago” and “Flambeau.”  At 11 o’clock we were again under way on our return trip, having delivered our despatches, and received orders to return to Ossabaw.  As we passed Warsaw, we perceived the “Passaic” coming out conveyed by the “Locust Point,” and understood that the destination of the iron-clads was Fort McAlister.  The expedition had been gotten up previous to the reception of the news of the Nashville’s having been destroyed; and having been started, it was thought best to allow the iron-clads which had never yet been under fire an opportunity to test their guns and get into working order – and they had it.  By the morning of Tuesday (yesterday) the preparations had all been elaborated, the vessels had all been assigned their stations and duties, and precisely at 8 in the morn they iron-clads got under way and ascended the river; the “Passaic” taking the lead as flag-ship, followed by the “Patapsco” and “Nahant.”  The “Montauk” having received her “baptism of fire” – she bears some sixty or seventy honorable scars received at the hands, or more properly, from the guns of Fort McAlister – did not participate in the attack.  Mortar schooners No’s. One, four and five had previously been towed up to their positions.  The “Montauk” steamed up within range so as to have a good view of the affair, the “Wissahickon” took up her position in advance of the mortar schooners, and immediately astern of the “Montauk,” in order to watch the effect of the shots from the iron-clads and signal to them to elevate or depress as should be necessary, and at 15 minutes to 9 the ball opened by the Fort, always ready, and which by the way, seemed to have wonderfully increased in size in the two days intervening between the last and present attack, opening fire on the “Passaic,” who did not return the fire for fully ten minutes, at the expiration of which interval she returned the fire with great good will and equally good effect.  By 9 the mortar schooners were at work, and the action general.  For eight hours the iron-clads poured in a steady and very effective fire, their range having been quickly obtained, and their shots well placed, and for eight hours did the Fort respond with a vigor certainly worthy of a better cause, and which as I before stated, excited the well deserved admiration of all the spectators to the contest.  It really appeared to be the old story of an irresistible force coming in contact with an immovable body.  We must have inflicted great damage upon them, how much of course we cannot say with any certainty.  But, although it is as nearly sure as possible that we dismounted or disabled a large number of their guns; still, at the end of the fight, or between 4 and 5 in the afternoon, the Fort still replied with their heaviest and most dangerous gun.  At about one o’clock, they threw a few shell and rifled projectiles towards us, none of which did any damage, with this exception, they concentrated their attention and efforts upon the “Passaic,” the other two iron-clads being hardly noticed.  The lack of ammunition caused our vessels to draw off; the “Daffodil” was immediately sent to Port Royal for a supply, and I presume the attack will be resumed tomorrow morning at the latest.  Our mortar schooners kept to work all night, in order to give the enemy no opportunity to repair damages.  The Fort can hardly, I think, hold out through such another attack, and you may even hear of its reduction before the receipt of this, by way of the Southern journals.

I am, very respectfully, &c., yours,


We consider them as we would the Rattlesnake.

[Ed. Note.  The Cambridge Chronicle, in which this letter appeared 3 May 1862, was the first of the newspapers that I mined for soldier’s letters.  There were so many letters in this newspaper, primarily because two of its employees enlisted in the 22nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and the 1st Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry, that it made me consider how many other letters might be found in all of the Massachusetts newspapers.  The author, John Thomas Wilson, was a 21-year old clerk at his enlistment in 1861.  He rose from a private in Co. E to become 1st Lt. of Co. I when he was wounded in the battle of Deep Bottom, Virginia, 14 August 1864.  He was brevetted Captain at the end of the war and he returned to East Cambridge where he gained entrance to Harvard Law School in August of 1866, joining the Massachusetts Bar in 1868.  The discussions of the North Carolinians vs. the Virginians is interesting, as is his description of Burnside’s Expedition.]

24th Reg. Mass. Vols., Camp Foster
Roanoke Island, N.C.

Mr. Editor, — Earnestly believing that the nation needed every person that could shoulder a gun to enlist and endeavor to sustain the Constitution and the laws, I have entered the service of my country, and shall try, to the best of my ability to sustain the honor and integrity of our government and the fame of the old Bay State.

Since I have been a soldier, I have enjoyed myself very much.  I have no reason as yet to regret my enlistment.  I have seen just enough of war to know that it is no boy’s play.  Yet I am willing to undergo a great deal of privation for the cause in which we are engaged.


I will now endeavor to give you a brief synopsis of the work of Gen. Burnside’s expedition since leaving Annapolis.  You have, no doubt had a full account of the embarkation at Annapolis.  Therefore I will pass it.  In relation to what was done with our own regiment, the Twenty-fourth, six companies were placed upon the Steamer Admiral (now named the Guide), three companies on board the gun-boat Vidette, and one company on board the schooner Skirmisher.  Our boys embarked in the best of spirits, thinking they were going to do their country a great deal of service in less than a week from the time we left Annapolis.  But the sequel has shown that they knew nothing of what they had to experience.  Our voyage to Cape Hatteras, whither it proved that we were bound, was void of incident, and our life on shipboard was none of the pleasantest, where six hundred men were crowded upon a steamer where there was just about room enough for a man to turn round once, and then be in danger of striking his friend upon the head or some other portion of his body.  You have long since heard of the capture of this place.  The engagement was begun by our gun-boats, on the morning of the 7th inst.  Their fire was returned quite spiritedly until late in the afternoon; then the rebel fire began to slacken, and Gen. Burnside gave orders to land the troops.  Our regiment was to be one of those to land first, but owing to some mistake on the part of our pilot, our steamer got aground and was the last steamer up to the landing place.  Our regiment did not land until the morning of the 8th, and after the hardest part of the battle was over.  The hardest fight occurred at a mud battery, about four miles from where we landed.  The rebels made their only stand at this place, and a very poor stand it was too.  Their battery was placed across a road which ran directly through a large swamp, and it could not have been taken by a direct assault without great loss of life, but being outflanked, and vigorously assaulted in front, they were obliged to retreat. – The number of prisoners captured was 3,500, with three forts, one of which was mounted with twelve guns, two of them were Parrott guns of the best pattern.  The battery was found to contain three very good mounted brass guns and one howitzer.  The rebel plan of fighting is mean enough; they are very brave when behind shelter, but when it comes to a charge they will scatter like sheep.  The rebels have since told me, that they cannot see how our troops got around that battery.  They thought it was sheltered by an impassable swamp, but they were outdone by Yankee perseverance.  Our regiment won part of the glory, although it was not in the fight.  As soon as it was landed, it was ordered forward, double quick, in pursuit of the rebels, which movement the regiment performed nobly.  We followed so closely as to capture a camp of the rebels, which contained 2,500 men.  The camp was situated upon the opposite end of the Island to that on which our troops landed.  The rebels say that if we had not followed them so closely, they would have re-formed and given us more trouble.

“C. Sketch showing the route to Newbern, pursued by the Burnside Expedition, March 13 & 14, 1862.” [found in] Report of Maj. Gen. J. G. Foster to the Committee on the Conduct of the War.  Supplemental Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, in Two Volumes.  Washington: Government Printing Office, 1866; C.970.73 U58c1 from the North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The rebels remind me of the figures that you may have seen on the 4th of July, when the Antiques and Horribles turn out for their annual parade, armed with all kinds of guns.  The loss on our side was fifty killed and two hundred wounded.  The rebel loss has not been ascertained, but it is less than ours, as far as it can be learned.

A great many of the rebels here say that we have been misrepresented to them.  They had the impression that we were nothing but savages, and have been led to believe that we were going to desolate their homes and destroy their property; and therefore they enlisted to protect their families and their firesides.  But since we have been here, and have assured them that we came to uphold, the honor of our noble government, and not to desolate their homes, they declare if they were our of it, they would not again enter the rebel army.

There are a few Virginians who will hold out to the last; they declare their hatred in no very soft terms.  We do not mid them much, as we consider them as we would the rattlesnake after his poisonous fangs are extracted.  I have talked with a few of the rebel officers, who seem to be very well informed in regard to the commencement of the war.  Not one of them, however, can give any adequate reason for it, except that they supposed President Lincoln would trample on their rights.



A Grand Lesson of Self-Sacrifice

[Ed. – While not strictly speaking a “soldier’s letter,” this correspondent was one of the most faithful writers to the The Congregationalist, a religious periodical published in Boston by Galen James & Co.  Deacon James was deacon of the 2nd Trinitarian Church in Medford and had bought an interest in the publication that would become The Congregationalist in 1849.  Deacon James was a strong temperance and anti-slavery supporter.  His son, Horace, was also a frequent correspondent of the newspaper while serving as Chaplain of the 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and, later, the head of a Freedmen’s Bureau in North Carolina.  “Spectator” was known to be a minister in one of the Washington Churches, but which one remains a mystery still.  He was a very faithful correspondent, writing a weekly letter from the heart of the Union war effort, Washington, D.C.  Militarily, this letter only relates to Meade’s withdrawal to the north side of the Rappahannock.  This action took place on the cusp of General Grant assuming command of the armies of the Union.  Two pieces of interesting information come from this letter; One is the discussion on the rising tide of philanthropy among the people of the North.  The other was the plan, as understood by the correspondent, to enlist slaves in the border states by compensating the owners and then freeing the former slaves when they joined the army.  While compensated emancipation has long been discussed by civil war scholars, I have never heard it framed in quite this fashion.]

Correspondence of the Congregationalist.

Notes from the Capital.

Washington, D.C., Oct. 19, 1863

The retreat of the army of the Potomac that I hinted at in a postscript to my last letter, is a long retreat indeed, sixty miles or more, and now the army is once more where the people of Washington can go out for a short drive to see it, as has been the case so much of the time for the last two years.  Gen. Meade is not longer required to travel by rail ninety miles to attend a cabinet consultation, or to make a flying visit to the War Department.  His army is now near its base of supplies, and it can attack the enemy without crossing two rivers.  His position, therefore, is greatly improved, and it by no means follows as a consequence of his retreat that he has abandoned all idea of offensive operations this fall.  The weather is now favorable for “strategic operations.”  The army can march, for the roads are good, and we may expect fair weather for some weeks yet.  The public seem to interpret the retrograde movement favorably, as officials here do.  They do not regard it as a symptom of weakness, exactly, nor do they believe that Gen. Meade retreated because he was afraid to meet Lee in battle.  As for the disloyal, and those who secretly sympathize with the rebellion, they are so stunned with the election results in Ohio and Pennsylvania, that they can extract very little comfort from the retreat of Meade’s army.

There may be no more serious fighting either here or in the West this fall, but this is not the expectation at the present time.  If there should be none, then the winter will be improved by both sides in increasing and disciplining their armies.  The rebels, it is believed, cannot raise one hundred thousand more men for their armies – the President seems determined that we shall raise three hundred thousand.  If this can be done I do not see how it is possible for the rebellion to hold out another year, and if we had three generals as enterprising as Grant the spring campaign would drive them from every rebel state.

Several hundred wounded soldiers have arrived here within a few days, and our hospitals begin to fill up.  Thanks to state agencies, and the ever watchful Sanitary Commission, they are well cared for.  This war is not teaching men simply how to fight – it is teaching men and women how to be generous and humane.  The benevolence of the people towards the soldiers, in all parts of the country is great, and it is one of the most hopeful signs of the time.  War in itself is always cruel and demoralizing.  But it is educating the people of the free states to a nobility of feeling they lacked before it broke out.  Trade and a business intercourse with slavery had well nigh destroyed the American people.  The war teaches a grand lesson of self-sacrifice.


The best act of Mr. Stanton’s life is his order permitting slaves to enlist in all the border states.  Loyal masters are to receive $300. for each slave who shall enlist, and the slave himself receives his freedom.  Disloyal masters will receive no pecuniary compensation.  This is a terrible blow at slavery.  It will destroy the entire system, root and branch, in Maryland, within a year.  The war itself renders slave-property (I use the language of slave territory – we call it property, because slaveholders assume it to be such,) the war renders slave property valueless, or nearly so, and even secession owners are ready to come forward and claim the compensation to be awarded by the War Department, pretending themselves to be loyal.  Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri will feel this blow speedily, or rather the institution of slavery in those states will feel it.

Cover image from Harper’s Weekly, March 14, 1863

We shall soon have a large negro army – certainly not less than fifty thousand by the first of April – enough, I trust, to preserve order in the rebel states after we shall have beaten the rebel armies.  What a spectacle will be afforded to the world if we should be successful in overcoming the armies of the South?  The negro-troops would unquestionably be employed as a military police all through the South, to preserve order among their old masters!  Such will be the fate of the proud, arrogant, murderous race of slave-masters in the South unless they avert it by accepting the pardon which the President will unquestionably offer them like sensible men, abandoning their rebellious notions and slavery, and joining heartily the loyal people of the North in making a great and free republic.


Camp Benton, Poolesville, MD

[Ed. – This letter appeared in the Newburyport Herald on October 15, 1861.  Less than a week later, the Battle of Ball’s Bluff would occur sending many Massachusetts boys to their death.  The 19th Massachusetts was largely an Essex county regiment, commanded by Col. Edward Hinks, a former Know-Nothing newspaper editor from Maine.  The author of this letter is Ogden Hoffman Smith, a shoemaker from Lynn.  His is an interesting story.  He enlisted in Co. A of the 19th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry on 28 June 1861.  He deserted the regiment on 19 September 1862.  A month later he enlisted in the Navy, serving onboard the USS Colorado and the USS Ohio until honorably discharged 10 February 1864.  On 19 September 1864, using the alias Frank Devereaux he enlisted as a private in Co. G, 29th Maine Volunteer Infantry.  Smith was honorably discharged from the 29th Maine on 31 May 1865.  On 28 February 1865 he received from the hands of President Lincoln a pardon for any desertion in prior service on condition that the was honorably discharged from the 29th Maine.  However, in 1906, when he applied for a pension, Smith was denied on condition that he did not receive an honorable discharge from all of his service regiments (namely the 19th Massachusetts).  The court held that while he could not be punished for his desertion by virtue of the Presidential pardon, the pardon cannot and does not act as an honorable discharge.  However, under legislation passed in 1906 by joint resolution from Congress to correct veteran’s incomplete records, his case was re-adjudicated and a pension was given based upon his last two enlistments.]

Camp Benton, Pooleville, Md., Oct. 7, 1861

The past week has been one of excitement in this camp, caused by an anticipated attack from the rebel forces under Gen. Johnston.  Several companies of the 19th Regiment have been on guard on the banks of the river since last Thursday night, sleeping upon loaded arms, and ready at any moment to give the alarm which would bring twenty thousand soldiers to their aid.  Friday at sunrise the rebels commenced during across the river, but they did no harm.  This invitation to commence hostilities was answered by the Rhode Island battery, which caused their pickets to retreat.  Fighting on the upper Potomac may be expected at any moment.  From present appearances I am inclined to think there will soon be a blow struck, an advance movement and a glorious victory; but it will be a costly job to cross the river.

At the point in the river where Company A is stationed there is a large island of about 300 acres.  Two hundred troops were put upon that island the other night, and at once commenced entrenchments, working noiselessly by night, and “Lying low” by day.  When the work is completed it will be one step in advance and good batteries can protect a large force in crossing the river.

Plan of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff by Robert Knox Sneden.  The position of the 19th Mass. is clearly marked on Harrison’s Island.  Camp Benton is just off the right margin of the map.

A man belonging to Company G died a day or two since, and was buried with military honors at Pooleville yesterday.  His name was Phelps, a native of Sutton, N.H.  The whole company, with the band, attended his funeral, and if we remain here long enough, a member of Company A will carve a stone with appropriate devices, and erect it over the grave of the soldier and patriot.  He had no friends here except those formed by his connection with the company.  Deaths are rare, much more so than we could expect.  I think if the names of 800 men at home were taken, two month’s time would not pass away without carrying with it more than have died in this regiment.

It is surprising how fast the “grand army” is increasing in numbers; yet it should swell up much faster than it does.  When I remember the vast multitude of young men who are to-day hanging around the streets of the cities and villages of Massachusetts, who are anxious to perform a soldier’s duty, and who have said so much about the North being backward in its movements, I cannot refrain from asking why they do not shoulder the rifle and march to the field, ready to fight for those principles they call so dear, and about which they talk so earnestly:

        “Give us action; — speech no longer
        Cheereth fellows to the prey;
        Words are well, but dees are stronger –
        Out yourselves and lead the way.

        Have you wives? – do soft eyes, pleading,
        Hold you with their gentle spell?
        Other hearts are torn and bleeding –
        Other men have homes as well.”

A view of Harrison’s Island from the Virginia shore.Photo taken by the author, October, 2011.

Not being able to join in my company in their expedition to the river, I have to rely upon others for an account of the trip.  Capt. Stanwood returned to camp to-day, and tells me that the enemy have retreated from the position they held when the company went there.  He saw two regiments with wagons and camp equipage moving southward yesterday, and a man who lives upon a high hill near by and has a fine view of the other side, says they were moving during the whole day.  Perhaps they are going to Harper’s Ferry, with the intention of crossing: if they do, the “bobbin boy” will give them a warm reception.
I must close.  I hope my next will be dated from Virginia’s “sacred soil.”

Yours, &c.                    O