Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 24, 1862:Isaiah N. Albertson's Letter to His Mother

On July 24, 1862, Corporal Isaiah Nelson Albertson, of Hope, was still in Camp Perrine, near Trenton, NJ, with his men of Company D, 11th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  On that day, he wrote a letter to his mother.

"Dear Mother: I thought I would write to you while I am writing as I have not forgotten you nor I never shall.  I hope you are well and don't have to work to harde [sic].  Do not be uneasy about me as I am doing well enough now, but I can't say for the future.  They are raising all the men that they can get and talk about drafting, but I think that is to make [us] hurry to volunteer.  Mother, when you write tell me about things at home if it is not anything very particular.  The man that was shot here is getting some better.  The ball was taken out, it was in his left shoulder.  I suppose you have plenty of young potatoes at home.  Well we have plenty of old ones here.  The cars and steam boats are running almost all of the time past here.  The other day there went an iron clad gunboat up here toward New York.  It had on board two brass cannon that we could see.

"We have had no preaching here since I came back but we can go to town.  We was down to the Baptist Church a week ago last Sunday and we heard a good Union sermon especially for the soldiers and last Sunday night we went to the Methodist Church, a very nice one two [sic].  I am getting tired of writing.  I guess I will stop.  Yours Affectionately, Nels."

Copyright 1999-2012: Jay C. Richards 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

July 1862: Lt. J.C. Wiggins at Malvern Hill, Virginia

The Army of the Potomac left Frazier's Farm, Virginia after the June 30th battle, but the Confederate troops attacked again on July 1, 1862 at Malvern Hill, Va.  Second Lieutenant John C. Wiggins, of Belvidere, was promoted to First Lieutenant of Company F, 3rd NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment on July 1 after the battle. 

Lt. Wiggins wrote, to The Belvidere Intelligencer, "On Tuesday, they attacked us again at Malvin's Hill [sic], which has been our last fight.  Here we had another terrible engagement.  We again held the field, and the rebels dared follow us no further; we had reached the banks of the James [River], our gunboats were there, and they dared not come within their dreaded range.  The Irish Brigade at Savage Station and Malvin's Hill again covered themselves with glory, charging the enemy with the bayonet and driving him back. 

"The last few days of service have been the most severe I ever experienced.  From Thursday noon 'till the next Wednesday night, I never touched a particle of food but a few dry biscuit - no coffee, no meat or anything else; nor in all that time did I have four hours sleep."

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards

Thursday, July 19, 2012

July 1862: Pvt. DeWitt Clinton Blair at Harper's Ferry

In April 1861, Belvidere attorney and banker DeWitt Clinton Blair, son of Belvidere Bank president and railroad owner John I. Blair, recruited a militia company shortly after the confederate troops fired artillery at Fort Sumter.  Blair paid for railroad transportation of his company from Belvidere to Trenton, and after learning that the four militia regiments had been filled, he paid to transport his recruits back to Belvidere.  Captain Blair returned to his law practice in Belvidere and New York City.

In June 1862, Blair enlisted for three months as a private in Company G of the 22nd New York National Guard Regiment, known as the "Union Grays" because of their gray militia uniforms.  The uniform consisted of a gray single-breasted frock coat cut in the French style, with red collar and cuffs, trimmed with white piping; gray trousers trimmed with a red stripe edged in white piping; a gray cap with a red band and top, edged with white piping; and yellow leather leggings.   The "Union Grays" were soon assigned to guarding the arsenal town of Harper's Ferry, Virginia.  Blair was assigned to a cannon crew, which was placed on a hill at Camp Aspinall.

On July 18, 1862,   Blair wrote to his friend Jehiel G. Shipman, a Belvidere attorney, "Mr. J.G. Shipman, My old friend, I feel under obligation to you for your kind letter of the 10th instant.  I have thought of Mrs. Shipman & yourself quite often since I left home.  I have resolved in several occasions to drop you a line, but the fact is I never have a moment which I can call my own.  The noise and confusion in Camp drives all my thoughts away.  When we left N. York, I supposed our destination was Washington, but the order was countermanded & we pitched our first camp in Baltimore.  We remained there but a short time.  The order came at midnight to arise from our slumber, take down Tents, sling knapsacks, shoulder arms, forward march.  At daylight next morning, we found ourselves in the sacred soil of Virginia.  We marched down the Shenandoah Valley until we reached Bolivar Heights, when we planted our Tent poles.  Our position never was very much opposed.  But we held the post of honor as we were the advance Guard in General [John E.] Wool's Department.

"We had very little rest here, as the long roll sounded almost every night & we had to spring to our arms at a moment's notice with the delightful expectation of meeting a body of Colonel Ashby's Cavalry, who infested this part of the Valley.  Again orders came from Wool for us to fall back near Harper's Ferry & commence throwing up earthworks.  We did not have all this work to do ourselves.  Four hundred contrabands [slaves] came in to play & we looked on for a time, which was a very satisfactory arrangement so long as it lasted.  The only trouble was they did not quite finish the job.  They are by nature just as lazy as white folks.  It was very amusing to see these fellows work.  One would take half a shovel of dirt & throw it up on the bank, then stand for some time to see it run down again.  One contraband swore he would do no more work.  The Officer gave him to understand that he would very soon remove all such foolish ideas from his head.  The Negro still refused to work.  The Officer then placed on his back four thick overcoats & a knapsack filled with brick & dirt & then made him march at a double quick for half an hour, at the end of that time, the contraband caved in, & concluded he could stand the pick & shovel better than this new mode of work.

"Our camp is on a side hill & was doing very well.  Last night, Company G, of which I am a member, received orders to strike our Tents & remove to the top of the hill & take charge of a Battery of 12 guns.  This is quite a compliment to us.  I have a 24 Pounder now upon which I hope to finish my letter.  Our Regiment has had hard work since it has been in service.  We made five new Camps in six weeks.  You have no idea what amount of labor it takes to arrange a Camp in a proper manner, the ditches that have to be dug, the police duty required day after day.  Our Battery commands all the surrounding hills for some 2-1/2 miles.  I can, with my 24 Pounder, shell out the Rebels at a still greater distance.  We commanded Bolivar Heights also.  It was here that Stonewall Jackson halted with his advance body of Cavalry some six weeks since.

"I have fallen off in flesh very much, but have gained in strength.  I am in good health & spirit & will do my duty should we be ordered into action.  This Rebellion can, must & shall be put down.  I have never yet been discouraged. We must expect to lose a few battles, but what of that?  We have won a dozen & can win a dozen more.  If necessary, we in the North ought to be able to force the Rebels into the Gulf of Mexico.  Tell your young men to lay aside their law Books & come & live on fat pork & hardbread.

"I have not the time to say to you in this letter one quarter of what I would like to say.  You must excuse haste & all mistakes.  Take the will for the deed.  If I mistake not at the signs of the times, you will hear of a battle in this Valley before long which will take you all by surprise.  If Troops are not sent to General Pope, he will be forced to fall back in this direction.  We may receive orders soon to move forward.   Everything looks like it just now.  I have had no opportunity to think of the business arrangement you have mentioned in your letter.  I will think of it.  At present, my thoughts are confined to the duties of a soldier.  Remember me to Mrs. Shipman & George.  I hope the little Daughter is well.  I received a Rail Road letter from Father a few days since, which I shall answer the first chance I get.  I must clean my 24 Pounder Gun first.  I would be pleased to hear from you at any time.  Direct all letters thus: D. C. Blair, Comp. G, 22 Regt. N.Y.N.G., Harper's Ferry, Va.  If we move on, all letters will be forwarded to the Regiment.  Yours, Blair."

Copyright 1999-2012: Jay C. Richards  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July 14, 1862: Isaiah Albertson's letter from 11th NJ Regiment

On June 19, 1862, 21-year old Isaiah Nelson Albertson, of Hope, enlisted in Colonel Robert McAllister's new 11th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Albertson was elected Corporal of Company D on the day of his enlistment.  On July 14, Albertson wrote from Camp Perrine, in Trenton, NJ, to his brother Edward H. Albertson, who later enlisted in Company H of the 31st NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment in September 1862. 

Albertson wrote, "Dear Brother: I thought I would write a few lines and let you know how I am coming along about this time.  Well, I am in the tent writing on a rudely constructed desk, and it is as hot as a bake oven in here, but at night it's quite pleasant, and cool in the morning.  I almost forgot to say that I am in good health in spite of sleeping on the ground as we have no straw in our tents now.  I suppose you are hard at work harvesting about now.  I hope you have plenty of help and I hope you are all well at home.  Tell Jay [brother Jay Albertson] not to work too hard harvesting and tell him to write and tell me how Turk is coming along, and how many turkeys you have now and how high the corn is and anything you wish to talk about. 

"I have just come in, had to go out to get our pay.  The paymaster came into camp today, and it is quite lively in camp this afternoon.  We only get $13 now.  That is the U.S. pay.  The state pay comes when discharged.  They say we get $25 when our Company is full - that is 25 of the bounty.  They send money home for the soldiers if they wish to have any part of it sent.  So Father may expect $13 about the time you get this letter.  All of them that are here get one month pay whether they have been here one month or a day. 

"Just one month yesterday since I enlisted.  I received my first letter from home Saturday night about nine o'clock.  I had just come off guard.  I read it in the guard house by candle light.  I was glad to have such a good letter from sister Ell [Ella Albertson].  I cannot tell how long we shall stay here, but, as we are digging a couple of wells, I should think we will stay here three or four weeks at least, maybe longer.  I almost forgot to say I got $5 in the letter, but I did not need it, but I thank them for it.  She wanted me to get a large photograph. Well, inside you will find a piece of sheet iron with a piece of my picture on it [a Daguerreotype or tintype photo].  I had it taken before I got the letter from Ell.  Probably, I will get my photograph yet.

"There is a lively time in camp now drinking root beer at the sutler's house, but they can't get outside of the guard as they have strengthened it with loaded rifles.  Ike Hendershot has gone home today.  I cannot think of all I might tell you so I must stop writing.  I would like to see you & Ell down here if you can get any time to come, but I will write and let you know in time before I leave.  George Smythe & folks sends their best respects to all of you. I remain as ever, your Brother of old, Nels."

Copyright 1999-2012: Jay C. Richards

Sunday, July 15, 2012

July 1862:Andrew Neal Letter - Death of Thomas Knox at Frazier's Farm

In July 1862, Corporal Andrew Neal, of Belvidere, serving in the 4th Pennsylvania Veteran Reserve Infantry Regiment, wrote to The Belvidere Intelligencer to report on the June 26 battles at Mechanicsville and Gaines' Heights,  Virginia and the death of his boyhood friend Thomas A. H. Knox, of Belvidere, at Frazier's Farm.

Neal wrote, "We remained at Oak Grove until the 18th [of June] when we marched for the Chickahominy and camped a short distance from New Bridge.  On our arrival, the rebels greeted us with a few shells.  Their pickets were on the opposite side of the river, their lines being about a half mile to the rear in a thick woods.  On Friday following, they shelled our camp pretty well from a long ranged gun they had mounted on an earthwork.  Our camps were moved a bit further to the rear, where we remained picketing every four days and forming a line of battle at or before daylight every morning and living under arms most of the time day and night, until the 26th, in the afternoon of which we struck tents and packed up everything and moved towards Mechanicsville, where the 1st and 3rd Brigades of our Division were engaged with the enemy.   Our knapsacks were piled up a short distance from the scene of action, and our Brigade, with the exception of our Regiment, immediately took part in the engagement; our Regiment being held in reserve during the balance of the engagement, which lasted until 10 o'clock in the evening, the enemy pouring shot and shell at us from their batteries like hail, but which we avoided by laying flat on the ground, their missiles passing harmlessly in our rear. 

"The enemy, about dusk, attempted to flank us on the right, but a few well directed charges of grape and canister from our batteries sent them off, and they did not attempt it a second time.  We lay in the same position until near daylight on Friday morning, when we were ordered to fall back; we then fell back to Gaines' Hill, where a hasty breakfast was eaten, after which a line of battle was formed - the other two Brigades of [Brigadier General George] McCall's Division and the balance of [Major General Fitz John] Porter's Army Corps, of which our Division is a part, fell back to the same line on the right.  Reinforcements arrived from across the Chickahominy, and the rebels came down with overwhelming numbers, and by noon the whole line was one continuous roar of musketry and roar of artillery, the rebels fighting under the cover of a thick woods; their batteries on the opposite side of the river also opened fire with shell on our lines.  The battle raged with increased fury, the rebels being strongly reinforced during the whole time until sundown. 

"Our Regiment was sent into the woods, under the heavy fire from the enemy, to try and dislodge them, the men reserving their fire until they could take deliberate aim at the enemy wherever he showed himself.  Two hours were spent in this way, the men being nearly drowned   with perspiration and covered with dirt, when they were relieved, but the enemy, having such overpowering numbers, threw them, about this time, on our whole line for the purpose of forcing us toward the Chickahominy, they succeeding in forcing our lines.  About this time, the Regiments on our right and left broke and left; our battery opened on the rebels with double charges of grape and canister, mowed them down like grass, but they were so superior in numbers, we were compelled to abandon one of our batteries and retreat; the cannoniers of the battery, before they left their guns, fired their ramrods at the enemy.

"After falling back 3/4 of a mile, the Irish Brigade came up and went at them beyond the woods, and held the ground until the Army fell back over the Chickahominy and blew up the bridges to prevent the advance of the rebels.  We lost in this retreat all our knapsacks and contents, small tents and everything but what we had on our backs.  Our company [Company F] lost in this battle four wounded and three missing.  We remained under arms all day Saturday, the 28th, and until near daylight on Sunday, the 29th, and then, with immense Army trains, fell back toward White Oak Swamp, crossing it about noon, and resting in a woods about a mile south of it.  During the afternoon, we again took up our line of march for Charles City Cross Roads, which we reached at 10 p.m., when the whole of our Division were thrown out as pickets.  A little after daylight on Monday, we fell back in an open field [Frazier's Farm] and breakfasted on what little we could raise, and we thought we were going to have a little rest, but soon we found ourselves mistaken, for the rebels were again at us, having driven in our pickets.  Hastily a line of battle was formed and soon the scenes of the previous Friday were re-enacted, the enemy pouring shot and shell at us, and their infantry keeping the air filled with leaden hail."

Neal sadly reported, "Our company lost 14 in killed, wounded and missing - among the number, Corporal [Thomas A. H.] Knox, who sent you a letter last fall, and who has relatives in Belvidere.  During this, as well as the previous battles, the officers and men, with few exceptions, behaved with great coolness and bravery."

During the battle at Gaines' Heights, Lieutenant Colonel Robert McAllister's 1st NJ Regiment suffered heavy losses.  Major David Hatfield was wounded early in the battle and later died of his wounds.  Warren County's Captain Ephraim G. Brewster, of Company C, was killed in action.  The 1st NJ Regiment's losses were 34 killed, 136 wounded, and 60 missing. 

Adjutant William Henry, Jr., of Oxford Furnace, wrote to the Belvidere Intelligencer, "You will confer a favor upon the friends of Capt. E. G. Brewster, of whom he had many at Oxford Furnace and in Belvidere and vicinity, by giving the enclosed an insertion in your valuable journal."  Enclosed with the letter was a resolution honoring Brewster, which was signed by McAllister, Henry, Capt. S. VanSickell of Company B, and 1st Lieutenant William Tantum of Company B.  Henry noted, "At present, all is quiet in the Army of the Potomac. We do not apprehend an attack from the enemy though he outnumbers us and his case is desperate; but we are ready for him, and will whip him if he comes."   

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards

Monday, July 9, 2012

July 5, 1862: Lt. J.C. Wiggins' letter on Mechanicsville

In June 1862, the men of the 3rd New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Regiment were fighting Confederate troops at Mechanicsville, Virginia along side other regiments of the 1st NJ Brigade.  Lieutenant J. C. Wiggins, of Belvidere, serving in Company C, wrote to his father on July 5 to tell him about Mechanicsville and the following battle at Gaines' Heights (also known as Gaines' Hill and Gaines' Farm), Virginia. 

Lt. Wiggins wrote, "When firing was heard at Mechanicsville, I was immediately hurried off to the scene of the fight.  The rebels had engaged the troops of General [George] McCall, and the fighting was very sharp indeed.  Our troops held their position though attacked by overwhelming numbers, and while our loss was nothing, comparatively speaking, about 18 killed, the rebels' loss was enormous. 

"Our artillery practice was magnificent (such firing was never heard before nor since) and mowed down whole platoons of the enemy.  The battle continued until after nightfall, and the flash of the cannon pouring forth a red stream of fire at each discharge, was the grandest and most terrible sight I ever witnessed: you could trace the course of the shells through the air, a long and fiery trail streaming from them. A person, until they have seen and participated in a fight, can never have any idea of the grandly terrific sight of a battle. Though in the thickest of the fight, I escaped unharmed; that same Providence, who has protected me so far, carried me safely through that and the dangers of the succeeding battles.

"A movement was in contemplation by [General George B.] McClellan, which was gradually going on unseen by us, but succeeding events hastened proceedings a little.  It was to swing to the right wing around to the James River, and make that a basis of operations, so that we could have the cooperation of the gunboats.  Our brave troops were swiftly and surely dwindling away from the effect of the poisonous miasma arising from the swamps of the Chickahominy.  It was a foe more to be dreaded than the bullets of the enemy, and it was considered necessary to make the movement.  Accordingly, the day after the fight at Mechanicsville, we fell back to Gaines' Heights and were there attacked by the enemy again, with a force of 80,000 men, as the Richmond papers claim, while we had only 28,000 to oppose them. 

"Oh! It was a desperate battle!  Never did brave men fight more bravely.  The rebels threw their masses against us, and we used them upon our bayonets, throwing them back as the surging wave recedes from the rock bound shore; again and again they charged us, and again and again we rolled them back until night drew on, and left us masters of the field.

"The NJ Brigade was almost decimated; the 4th Regiment is all gone, only two officers and about 50 men left in the regiment.  They were outflanked and taken prisoners.  My Colonel told me the 3rd lost about 200 men.  A few Regiments, to their everlasting shame, broke and left the field in confusion.  Lieutenant Camp, of the 4th Regiment, now in the Signal Corps, and the Aide-de-Camp of General McCall, and myself rallied a regiment and led them into the fight.  They would not go until we seized their colors and charged at their head.  Out of shame, they followed and did good service.  The rebels received us with a terrific volley; bullets flew around us like hail, and while the men fell on every side of us, we three escaped unharmed.  I had the side of my coat all torn off by a fragment of a shell, but received no harm.  I was mounted on a powerful grey horse and was a conspicuous mark but escaped all danger. 

"Things looked very dark indeed 'till Thomas Meagher led his brave Irishmen, who advanced on the run, and with their wild yell charged the enemy and drove them from the field.  That was a glorious sight!  I experienced feelings the such as I have never felt before.  I saw officers - Generals, Colonels &c., on whom rested the responsibility of the battle - burst into tears.  At the time, I was exposed to such imminent danger, I had no fear.  A feeling, such as I cannot describe, possessed me, and I could have charged alone on a legion.  That night, we withdrew across the Chickahominy."

Two of the men missing from the ranks of the 3rd NJ Regiment were Sgt. Henry D. Neimeyer and Sgt. Nehemiah Tunis, both of Company E and of Belvidere.  Word was sent back to Belvidere that Neimeyer had been killed in battle.  However, it was later learned that Sgt. Neimeyer had been taken prisoner and was transported to Richmond's Libby Prison. In late September 1862, Neimeyer was paroled from prison camp because of his wounds, and he returned to Belvidere on October 7 on furlough.   He was sent to Chestnut Hill US Army General Hospital in Philadelphia for treatment until he was discharged with disability on February 23, 1863.  Sgt. Tunis survived the battle but was separated from his company and had to fight with another unit.  He was later able to return to his unit.

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards