1838: Benjamin Ellis to Gibbs & Jenney


Headstone of Capt. Ellis

This letter was written by Capt. Benjamin Ellis (1799-1878) to his ship owners and investors, Gibbs & Jenney, of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Benjamin was the son of Ebenezer Ellis (1762-1845) and Priscilla White (1770-1840). He was married to Louisa Damon (1806-1866) and had at least four sons.

Ellis wrote the letter from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand in the midst of a voyage to collect whale oil. The voyage spanned the period from 30 July 1837 to 21 February 1839. [See Log Book of the voyage at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.]

William Le Baron Gibbs was the senior member of the merchant firm of Gibbs & Jenney, originally of New York City, N.Y., and later active at Fairhaven, Mass. His sister, Eliza, married Gibbs’ partner, William Proctor Jenney (1802-1881), in 1827.  Gibbs and Jenny were the owners of another ship named Sharon which was captained by Valentine Pease. It was supposed that Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, based his mentally unstable character “Captain Ahab” on Captain Pease. As an interesting aside, it should be noted that Herman Melville had a cousin named Thomas Wilson Melville who sailed on three successive whaling voyages — the first of which was with Captain Benjamin Ellis onboard the ship Columbus from Fairhaven to New Zealand and return (June 1835 to February 1837).


Whaling Ships at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand

Addressed to Messrs. Gibbs & Jenney, Fairhaven, Massachusetts

Ship Columbus
Bay of Islands, New Zealand
February 15th 1838

Dear Sirs,

The Columbus arrived at this place the [paper torn] with the crew in good health except the steward who has since deserted. On the 4th we had a very heavy gale of wind which caused the loss of 2 new boats. We have on board about 900 lbs. oil — 50 of it sperm. The ship has a bad leak about the stern in rough weather. We have searched but cannot find it. The ship will need caulking soon. Have done part of it and shall do the remaining part when we get in the bay.

The ship did very well in the bays the last season. I am expecting to get a cargo of oil in the bays and the next offshore season. I have a good crew. Our new headers ¹ are not as good as the last voyage. We have sunk 7 whales and cut in 17. ²

Refreshments are very high. Potatoes $25 a ton. We have had very bad weather on the coast and since we have been in here. We are now ready for sea. Shall sail the first favorable opportunity. There has been no late news from any of your ships. I shall cruise for sperm whales a month or two and then go to the bays.

Wishing you health and prosperity.

I remain your most obedient servant, — Benjamin Ellis

¹ “Headers” is the term given the whalers who steer the small boats when closing in on a whale and afterwards killing it.

² To “cut in” means to cut the whale’s flesh into smaller pieces so that it may be brought on board and rendered into oil. When the captain wrote that they had “sunk 7 whales,” he meant that they had harpooned 7 whales but were unable to retrieve them and they sunk to the bottom of the ocean.



1864: Gilbert A. Talmadge to Caroline Wheeler


How Gilbert might have looked

This letter was written by Gilbert A. Talmadge (1842-1919) while serving in Co. C, 7th Connecticut Infantry. Gilbert enlisted on 6 September 1861 and mustered out on 12 September 1864 after three years service. He had previously served for three months in Co. K, 3rd Connecticut Infantry.

The 7th Conn. Vols. spent its entire enlistment prior to the Battle of Olustee (20 February 1864) in the Department of the South. Among other actions, it fought in the siege of Fort Pulaski, and the battles of Secessionville and Battery Wagner. During 1863, the regiment formed part of the garrison of St. Augustine and Fernandina, Florida. Because it was in the same brigade as the 7th New Hampshire, both regiments were often jointly called the “77th New England.” In January 1864, when this letter was written, the 7th Conn. Vols. was further weakened by the furloughing of over three hundred enlisted veterans. The regiment was left “quite forlorn with its depleted ranks” — many of them newly arrived substitutes who turned out to be bounty jumpers. They entered the Florida campaign with barely three hundred men. By that time, however, they were equipped with new Spencer carbines that bolstered their fighting strength.

This letter was written just one month before the Battle of Olustee in which the 7th Conn. Vols. entered the fighting with 250 men on duty and lost 80 killed, wounded or missing.

Gilbert was the son of Alson L. Talmadge (1810-1864) and Lucy Phelps (1814-18xx) of Meriden, New Haven county, Connecticut. Gilbert mentions two of his younger sisters in this letter; Carrie and Ellen.

Addressed to Mrs. Caroline Wheeler, West Meriden, Connecticut

St. Helena Island
January 19th, 1864

Dear Aunt,

I received your kind letter and picture. I was glad to hear from you and Uncle Edwin and to hear that you was well and was happy to get your picture and I wish that I had Uncles too and I would give anything if I could get Mother’s but I don’t suppose that I could persuade her [to] get hers taken anyway. And when I get where I can get one taken, I will have one taken and send to you. I can’t see as you have changed any since I left home. [Sister] Carrie — she thinks that I have not changed any since I left home. I may not [have changed] in looks but she will think that I have in action when I get home, I bet.

But [she will have to] wait 8 months longer and then I will come home and see the folks and I think that I shall stay there for awhile. I won’t say as I did when I was in the 3 month campaign for I see that men change their mind sometimes — at least I have — and I see that some has here. They have been out over 2 years now and they are going to try it for 3 years longer for the sake of coming home for 30 days and 475 dollars. But they can’t get this child till he has been free and I think that it will be hard to get me then. ¹

[When I was in] the three months [campaign], we did not know what war was. And now they that has been in the 7th Conn. Vols. in this department know what it is to be a moving around by this time. And they that are a going for 3 years longer are fools — [that’s what] I call them — but they call me a fool for not going, but I can’t see it. Everyone to their notion, I say. I won’t write anymore about [re-]enlisting.

You tell Mother that she does not think of me anymore than I think of her and no often[er] either. Oh! I wish that I was where she is tonight and give my love to her. And tell [my little sister] Ellen that she owes me a letter yet. And give my love to Uncle. I wish that I was where I could see you and him.

There is not much war news here to write here. Ed, he said that he was a going to write to you so that I won’t write much about him — only he is as tough as a buck. Write as soon as you get this. You can see that I have [     ] the when drying the ink. Accept these few lines from — Gilbert Talmadge

Direct the same as before.

¹ Re-enlistments commenced in December 1863. There were 333 re-enlistments — three-fourths of the original members of the 7th Conn. Vols. who remained on the regimental rolls. This letter was written just four days after the re-enlisted veterans sailed for home on a 30-day furlough.


Headstone of Gilbert Talmadge, Co. C, 7th Conn. Vols.

1855: John Langdon Sibley to Amanda Bartlett Harris


John Langdon Sibley in 1856

This very interesting letter was written in 1855 by John Langdon Sibley (1804-1885) of Cambridge, Massachusetts to children’s author, Amanda Bartlett Harris (1824-1917) who resided in Warner, New Hampshire. Sibley received his undergraduate education at Harvard University and later worked as Librarian at Harvard. He was born in Union, Knox county, Maine — the son of Jonathan Sibley (1773-1874) and Persis Morse (1772-1847).

The letter describes Sibley’s time spent perusing old newspapers of the New York Historical Society Library collecting biographical material and obituary notices for the graduates of Harvard University which would later be used in his publication of the Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University. Sibley tells Harris of a chance encounter with author “Minnie Myrtle” (Nancy Cummings Johnson) at the library and shares the substance of his conversation with her — particularly her first volume of Indian history entitled, The Iroquois, Or the Bright Side of Indian Character (1855) in which she wrote in her introduction that it was her objective to dispel the “ignorance and prejudice” associated with Indians. Further in the letter Sibley talks about his writing style and mentions two of his works: History of the Town of Union (1851) and Father Abbey’s Will. The letter is very well written and filled with much literary content. It is signed at the end by Sibley using his initials.

Addressed to Miss Amanda B. Harris, Warner, New Hampshire

Cambridge [Massachusetts]
28 February 1855 ¹

Miss A. B. Harris,

I spent about four weeks in New York City & when I returned on the last Friday in February, I found an accumulation of letters, among which was one from you requiring attention. I am dispatching replies so as to be as nearly ready as I can be for the pressures of business at the beginning of the term.

You have probably seen so many New Yorkers who have described the wonders there in detail that I can give but little that will be novel or interesting. I spent most of my time in the library of the New York Historical Society exploring old newspapers & volumes for notices & obituaries of graduates of Harvard College. There I found the first 209 Nos. (5 only wanting) of The Boston Newsletter — a little weekly paper, the first ever published in America [1704], of which probably but few copies were printed. Of course it covered a period of about four years. I examined a great number of volumes of newspapers during the last century of which there is a remarkably good collection. Their character differs much from the modern. The sheets are small, much of them occupied with political movements in Great Britain & other countries, & it is particularly noticeable that all abound with details of crimes, trials, executions, gratifying to a morbid curiosity. The cruelties of tortures within a century past, the convictions on testimony which, I was often convinced, would now lead a jury to acquittals without even leaving their seats, & the protestations of innocence when brought to the horrible punishment for treason, frequently aroused my feelings of compassion for the victims & my gratitude at the better administration of law & charity at the present day.

As I followed along the volumes chronologically, the gradual improvement became apparent considerably so before the revolution & then the papers — both Whig & Tory — are filled with contemporary events affecting the welfare of America & England. I experienced indescribable sensations in reading through the Seven Years War & subsequently the Revolutionary, the flying rumors which preceded events, then the additional information from new express riders, the the confirmation of what was true & the rejection of the exaggerations which always accompany early rumors. Then came conjectures as to movements & plans of enemies, expectations as to continuance of the war or as to peace — all making a glorious uncertainty & keeping everybody on the qui vive at the time — all passed by & now become a matter of sober history.

The librarian of the Society is George H[enry] Moore, born at Concord [New Hampshire], an enthusiast in antiquarianism & American history & consequently exactly the man for the place. The library contains Gen. Gates’s U.S. papers, the best portrait of Alexander Hamilton, a variety of pictures & curiosities, & perhaps 15,000 or 20,000 of books on America. A new building is about to be erected.²

Here, without any introduction, I accidentally became acquainted with Minnie Myrtle who write for the Home Journal, New York Times, National Era, &c. & who lately, at the urgency of Baker & Scribner, publishers, has collected her fragments & made an unpretending little book with the title, Myrtle Wreath. Some persons think she follows in the wake of Fanny Fern but though reminding one of her, she is very different. Her pieces are very short, all facts prettily put together, still not perfect or assuming to be wise or performed narratives. They are interesting though simple, & appear designed throughout to be useful. In conversing with her, I thought she appeared to abound in good old-fashioned common sense. She is so deaf that it was necessary to raise my voice & speak very distinctly. She is a native of Vermont, spent two years in a missionary family among the Six Nations, became greatly interested in the Indian character, had for her chamber mate a little Indian girl, says the Indians are capable of cultivation, that they have always been misjudged, that they ought not to be compared with civilized & christianized nations, but with heathen nations, & from this standpoint she has prepared a little book on their inner life, avoiding their wars &c., & it will be printed probably sometime in the year. I found she was well “posted up” on the books pertaining to Indians. [Henry Rowe] Schoolcraft‘s huge volumes, now in process of publication, she says are undigested, not methodical, abound in repetitions, & have no index. If this book succeeds, she intends to pursue her investigations in regard to the other tribes. She is unmarried. Her name is N. C. Johnson, & she supports herself without difficulty with her pen. In one or two of her pieces in newspapers, I noticed that she advocated the doctrine that every woman should support herself — a doctrine not very common in cities. Thus I have filled up my letter without meaning to say one word about old newspapers when I began & not more than three lines about Minnie Myrtle. However, I will keep on.

If you always write as well as in your last, when two children are continually asking questions, it will not impair your style to have them always at hand. The list of books you send is prodigious. If all the domestic matters are thoroughly attended to, the greater the marvel that you have done so much. It is something which I do not comprehend. Wither there must be some deficiency somewhere, or the case is the most remarkable I have ever known. Still I know nothing about it & have no right to judge but from your letters & printed tales. How thoroughly or how superficially or how rapidly you read, I can only guess except what you say. My article to which you allude is indicative of the manner in which I generally prepare my papers for printing. The article was reprinted in the Brunswick newspaper. The Duyckincks of New York are writing (& the new work is now in print) an Encyclopedia of American Literature in two large 800 vols. They reprint the poetry from the newspaper & take very freely from a part of the notes. I find they allude in one of their paragraphs very handsomely to my History of Union, a work which cost me all the time I could spare in five years, every part of which I rewrote & some parts of it were rewritten six or seven times, after all which the style is very stiff & ungraceful. I always interline & erase & generally rewrite whatever I print even in newspapers. I find it requires time to classify & arrange materials & that half & more than half the effect depends upon a clear method of arrangement. I had quite a puzzle to arrange & methodize the scattered items in Father Abby’s Will but a vastly greater one with the bulky collection of fragmentary papers about the history.

My aunts, Mrs. [Nancy (Sibley)] Bean [1791-1870] & Mrs. [Polly (Sibley)] Eastman [b. 1794], particularly the former, have expressed a desire when I have occasionally been at Warner, to hear from me. I am not aware that either of my letters has ever contained a word that I have any objection to let them see, & it is not probable they ever will. Still I leave it to you to read them or not to [read] them occasionally, as you see fit. The topics being literary, they may or may not take interest in them. There is nothing private so far as I am concerned which you may not let them see, even to the taking home of the letters if they care enough about them to borrow them. There is considerable pen among the Sibleys & Aunt Bean has a good share of it intermingled with her good sense. I think she might be pleased with reading Father Abby if she were informed what a conglomeration of stuff is to be disposed of by the time one is finishing his college course. Still, take your own course about it.

The Cantabs ³ say they have had “dreadful cold weather” while I have been away, but I was in such warm dwellings in New York that I was unconscious of the cold without. How dreadfully the Mink Hills must look in such cold weather. Can Nova Zembla or Spitzbergen work more drearily in winter? The reflection from their icy summits is enough to put out one’s eyes almost. And yet how many, many a happy hour have I enjoyed at the foot, both in summer & winter, in days lang syne, some thirty-five years ago when Waterton was peopled with young persons then of my age & my uncle had a large family of pleasant playmates! Now how different! It will not be often that I shall see the spot again. Age & disruption by death of old associates & associations, & new associations & situations & employments, & a _____ disinclination to leave the rooms where we feel most at home check the roaming propensity as we grow old — particularly when movements are attended with in convenience. At fifty, a man begins to feel that he is running down hill so fast that he must soon be brought to its foot. Nature is beginning to send the earthly robe which clothes the spirit & bid him be ready to go away. My paper is filled — I hardly know with what. So goodbye. — J. L. S.

¹ John Langdon Sibley kept a diary a great portion of his life and they are housed at Harvard University. If we look at February 1855, we find the following entries describing his trip to New York City and return to Cambridge:

January 30, 1855

             Tuesday. At the N.Y. Historical Society Library, began the examination of the Boston Newsletter, of which the first 209 Nos are complete, wanting only Nos 27, 138, 139, 140, 141, for the purpose of making extracts respecting graduates of Harvard University.

 February 2, 1855

             Began the examination of a volume of the News-Letter Nos 1397-1509 from Nov 5, 1730 to Dec 28, 1732 complete, bound with the New England Journal Nos. 198 to 301 wanting No 206, with which is bound No 572 of the Boston Gazette for Nov 30, 1730. The vol is owned by Mr. [George H.] Moore the librarian, who says he gave fifty dollars for it.

 February 3, 1855

             Saturday. Began on American Weekly Mercury published by Bradford at Philadelphia a file not quite perfect from Jan 4, 1732-3 to April 8, 1736. Subsequently examined the New York Mercury from June 4, 1753 to Dec 25, 1769 wanting No 386 Jan 7, 1760, 421, Sept 8, & 435, Dec. 15, 1760, 501, 512, 513, 535, March 8, May 24, 31, Nov 1 & 22, 1762, 667, 681, 684, etc. Also an imperfect file (quite without names of deaths) of the N.Y. Gazette from May 11, 1730 to May 26, 1740. The N.Y. Post Boy of which I began examination at No 30 July 25, 1743, an imperfect file, is of no special value for my purpose, neither is the Flying Post, an English newspaper published about 1696.

February 6, 1855

            Tuesday. This evening attended the monthly meeting of the N.Y. H. Society & heard a paper by Lieut. Gov. Lawrence which he is to publish as a Memoir prefixed to the writings of Henry Wheaton, LL.D. After the exercises there were over the members of the Society repaired to the library where were refreshments.

February 22, 1855

            Thursday. Great celebration of Washington’s birthday. Most of my time here has been diligently employed in examining newspapers for information & obituaries of graduates of Harvard University. The volumes which I have examined I have checked with a pencil under the No. of the paper at the beginning of them. On the 15th, with Col. Thos. F. DeVoe, attended an opera for the first time. Miss Pyne was the principal character in the performance, which was of Cinderella. Generally the performance was unobjectionable & well sustained; but some of the fairy dancers did not exhibit much modesty. On the 20th attended the performances by Christy’s minstrels. The performers are whites, crocked for the occasion, who imitate blacks in their musical exercises & language & acting. The house was crowded & I am told it is always crowded. Ten or twelve years ago the father of the present Christy began this kind of entertainment. He had made his fortune & retired & the young man is now making his.

            On the afternoon of Washington‘s birthday, accompanied by Prof. Martyn Paine, M.D., in a hack went to Pier, No. 3, on North River, & at 4 o’clock left in a steamboat for Boston via Fall River.

February 23, 1855

            Arrived in Boston about daylight, leaving several volumes which I have procured for the Library, to be sent by & by, by Dr. Paine.

February 26, 1855

            Monday. In the college library.

February 27, 1855

            Tuesday. Went to Salem. Dr. Henry Wheatland as active as ever in the Essex Institute & in the cause of education. Called on old friends, the Andrews, Gavett, etc. & spent the night with George D. Phippen, as usual, after taking dinner with the Andrews & tea with Judge Waters. (H.U. 1816).

February 28, 1855

            Wednesday. Find in the library of the Essex Institute valuable collections of newspapers, spend a considerable portion of the forenoon in copying obituaries & notices of graduates, from the earliest volume of the Essex Gazette published in 1768 & 1769. –Dined at my classmate Treadwell’s. Spent an hour with classmate Cole. At the library saw Read, a Quaker who graduated at Harvard in 1831? but who from scruples declined taking a degree, consequently his name is not with his classmates in the Triennial Catalogue. Returned to Cambridge.

² The first permanent home of the New York Historical Society stood on the southeast corner of Second Avenue and East 11 Street. Described as an “Italian-Roman-Doric style of building,” it was two stories high and built of sandstone. The building was erected in 1855-57 and served as the Society’s home until 1908.

³ “Contab” is short for Cantabrigian, a member of the University of Cambridge or a resident of Cambridge.



1854: Charles Mitchell Crawford to Hiram Cass


How Charles might have looked with his “sky blue trousers, dark blue coat with bright buttons,” and his shako hat with pompom, and with red piping on the pants, coat, and hat.

This remarkable letter was written by Corp. Charles Mitchell Crawford (1832-1856) of Plymouth, New Hampshire, who enlisted at the age of 22 on 4 January 1854 in Battery L, 1st Artillery. His enlistment record indicates that he was a carpenter prior to joining the service and that he stood 5′ 11″ and that he had brown hair and hazel eyes. Charles died on 30 April 1856 at Fort Meyers, Florida, after rising to the rank of sergeant.

Charles was the son of William Crawford (1794-1837) and Lydia Johnston Mitchell (1798-1860) of Bridgewater, Grafton county, New Hampshire.

He wrote the letter to Hiram Cass (1825-1905) of Plymouth, New Hampshire. Hiram was the son of Enoch Cass (1794-1862) and Dolly Page (1799-1852). Enoch lived in Holderness, Grafton county, N. H. from 1849-1854 when he returned to Plymouth. Mentioned in the letter is Hiram’s younger brother, Luther Cass (1827-1862) who served in the 6th New Hampshire Infantry during the Civil War but drowned on 13 August 1862 when the steamers West Point and George Peabody collided in the Potomac River.

Hiram operated a private school in Plymouth and became a life-long school teacher.


Addressed to Mr. Hiram Cass, Plymouth, New Hampshire, Postmarked Old Point Comfort, VA.


Fort Monroe
Old Point Comfort, Va.
July 9th 1854

Ever remembered and respected friend,

You will please excuse me for not answering your most welcome letter which I received in due time and you may think ought to have [been] answered before this time. But to excuse myself, President [Franklin] Pierce was expected to visit Old Point ¹ — also several other distinguished men among whom was the Secretary of War [Jefferson Davis], General [Lewis] Cass, & Commodore [John T.] Newton. I was anxious to report all the proceedings to my old friend and waited till they cleared the Old Fortress Monroe of Chief Rulers, Chief Justices — one of which was here, Statesmen & Generals. Of course we gave them the national salute, paraded [and] passed in review, and sweat bountifully. We had a display of fire works that was beautiful. The burning letters reminded us of the gallant deeds of our brave forefathers. Then came the ever to be remembered 4th of July and of course we had to celebrate in a soldier-like manner. 10,000 persons were present to witness our performances. It was a hot day and all the poor soldiers had enough to eat for once. I think Uncle Sam had better put the army on a better footing but it seems that a little more food would suit the men that serve their country as well as an increase of pay.

You wished me to write about my pleasures and duties. Well, to commence with, dress parade is dispensed with — also battalion drill — on account of the hot weather. We have battery drill and target shooting from 6 to 7 in the morning, guard mount at ½ past 8. I get 3 and sometimes 4 nights in bed. 1 Officer and 4 non-commissioned mount guard at a time, relieve sentries every 2 hours, take charge of prisoners, visit all boats that come in, pass in those that are allowed to pass into the fort, and keep in all not allowed to go out, cause the calls to be beat at the proper hour, patrol the fort and the little village adjoining, raise the colors [and] pull them down, and etc. This duty falls to the lot of the Corporals — they do it by turns. And as I am of that rank, I have my share with the rest.

In the company, I have to act as sergeant. [I] have charge of 1 room with one half the company in it and I am responsible for the good order and military discipline of the room. I am very well contented with my lot but I am not allowed to report to citizens as to the condition of the army or its strength. But if I was a civilian, I should say if Uncle Sam does not furnish more wholesome provisions, the standing army would be dangerous enemies in time of war to even their native country. It is not now as in the times of the war of the revolution [when] the army had to suffer because their country was not able to supply their wants. Now you know it is able at least to give their garrison police for soldiers of Uncle Sam have to guard the public property and keep everything in order which gives constant employ a great portion of the time. Every time I come off guard I go on general police after 24 hour pass. I have no labor to do myself but have to take charge of a squad and see that they so the work properly. My course with the men us mild but firm and exact. I make it a rule never to ask a man to do anything wrong and if they refuse to obey my orders, I make no words with them but send them to the guard house to await a court martial. I have but little trouble in every sense of the word.

I would like to see all old friends of the state that is the brightest star on our national colors. I would give 6 months pay and allowances to spend a few weeks at the home of my childhood. But as I cannot at present, give my love to all my old friends that you may meet. Tell [your brother] Luther that I think of him often and would like to see him. About the most agreeable 6 months of my life was passed under your father’s roof and in his fields. Tell Luther to write me and write how he enjoys himself and all the news.

I received a paper from Mother a day or two ago. I shall write her the last of the week. I shall be paid tomorrow or next day. I have to dress in the neatest manner — sky blue pants, neatly blacked shoes, dark blue coat with bright buttons, Poland hat with pompom. Pants, coat, and hat [are] neatly trimmed with red cord. We have a tailor to alter our clothing to fit. The hat is shaped like this [sketch]. We wear white gloves and the most look better than they feel. I am well enough off in my present situation and there is every prospect of its being better.

When i first came, I worked on extra duty. I soon declined this duty and returned to the company before being promoted. I was cook of Co. L. I have studied the arts of war and tried to learn all I could. Have succeeded very well and mean to learn by experience and practice what others learn from the writings of practical men.

There is a hotel ² on the Point which is the resort of thousands in search of pleasure and plunder. Our valiant Captain lost his wife on the beach last night. He mustered his company and patrolled the beach and swamps to our dissatisfaction. It appears she got mad about something and hid herself. She was found venting her spite to the harmless summer breeze. The path of love is not always smooth.

It is getting dark and I must soon bid you a reluctant farewell for the present. My pen is terrible. It scratches and plots in a ridiculous manner. If you see Mother, please tell her I am well and in the same condition and spirits that I was when I last wrote. She can expect a letter soon from me. And now, my dear friend, please give my love and best respects to all inquiring friends and relatives. write soon and accept my best wishes for your welfare.

It is the hour of retreat. Respected friend, farewell for the present. From your friend, — Charles M. Crawford

[to] Mr. Hiram Cass

¹ Finding nothing in the period newspapers to indicate that President Pierce had visited Fortress Monroe on 4 July 1854, I looked further and discovered that he had not visited Old Point Comfort. Instead, on 4 July 1854 he remained in Washington at the Executive Mansion, receiving guests, and watching “the fireworks on Monument Square.” This probably explains the lack of detail offered by Crawford on the party of dignitaries.

² This was probably the Hygeia Hotel which was mentioned in military correspondence in January 1854. It was built in 1822 just outside of the fort and was leveled during the Civil War.

1863: Isaac Ackerman Hopper to Aunt


This letter was written by Isaac Ackerman Hopper (1843-1927), the son of Henry Andriese Hopper (1819-1912) and Helen Ackerman (1823-1851).  Isaac enlisted as a private in Co. E, 22nd New Jersey Infantry in September 1862. He mustered out with the company on 25 June 1863 after nine-month’s service at Trenton, New Jersey.

Isaac wrote the letter to his aunt, most likely Elisabeth Hopper (1801-1878), the wife of Cornelius Abraham Hopper (1797-1880) of Bergen county, New Jersey.

On 25 Nov 1868, Isaac A. Hopper, 26, of Small Lots married his third cousin, Mary Hopper, 26 of Paramus, daughter of Garret S. and Sophia.

The 22nd Infantry was organized at Camp Delaware in Trenton, New Jersey, and mustered in September 22, 1862. On September 29, they left state for Washington, D.C., where they were attached to Abercrombie’s Provisional Brigade, Casey’s Division, Defenses of Washington, to December, 1862. Patrick’s Command, Provost Guard, Army of the Potomac, to January, 1863. 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, to June, 1863.

Duty in the Defenses of Washington until November, 1862. Moved to Aquia Creek, Va., and duty there guarding railroad until January, 1863. Moved to Belle Plains and Joined Army of the Potomac January 10, 1863. “Mud March” January 20-24. Duty at Belle Plains until April 27. Chancellorsville Campaign April 27-May 6. Operations at Pollock’s Mill Creek April 29-May 2. Battle of Chancellorsville May 2-5. Ordered home for muster out June, reaching Trenton June 22, Mustered out June 22, 1863.

Abraham Garrison Demarest was commissioned as Major of the 22nd New Jersey Volunteer Infantry on September 9, 1862, he served as second in command of the unit through the December 1862 Fredericksburg Campaign, due to the fact that the unit’s originally appointed Colonel, Cornelius Fornet, was objected to by the men and citizens of Bergen County that Fornet decided to ignore the appointment, and did not serve. Internal regimental factional strife, and faction conflict from the regiment’s home area induced Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Douglas, in command since September 1862, to resign in disgust. Major Demarest was promoted to Colonel of the unit, which he led in the May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville, and through to their muster out of service on June 25, 1863.

See also — 1862: Garret C. Hopper to Hester Ann (Hopper) Van Riper


Camp in a Cornfield
Via near Belle Plains Landing

Dear Aunt,

I received yours of the 28th a few days after date and I was very glad to hear that you were all well and enjoying good health. I feel very thankful to say that my health has thus far been spared. I never felt better in my life.

Garry is well again. He came in off picket yesterday (Thursday). When you go on picket, you have to take 2 or 3 days rations in your haversacks. One days rations is 10 crackers, a small piece of pork, and 2 spoon full of coffee and one of sugar. They stay out for 2 days and 2 nights. The first day and night, half of the men go on their posts while the other half lays about 5 hundred yards to the rear — these are called reserves. And the next morning, the first half falls back and those that are on the reserve take their place so that each has his turn.

Our pickets generally go out 4 or 5 miles. We don’t have to climb many fences here in Virginia, but the hills — Oh dear! They beat the duce.

There has been considerable promotions and resignations in our regiment since we arrived in Virginia. Our Lieut. Col. [Alexander] Douglass has resigned in which the whole regiment rejoiced for he was a regular shyster and Lieut. [George] Kingsland [Jr. of Co. H] — he is a coward. He has resigned and is gone home. When we was in Camp Fornett, he was so tired there. He wanted to fight so bad. And when we came where there was some chance for it, he got sick and the first thing I knew, Kingsland had sent in his resignation which was granted him and he left for home. Thus for an answer, we have coward and a damn big blower for Kingsland. You can find out what a man is when he comes to Old Virginia. That’s whats the matter.

Now I will try and tell Cornely [Cornelius?] how we wash our clothes. I sometimes tie mine fast to an old canal boat and let them drag through the water a mile or two and then we hang them in the top of a tree to dry. We are about 3 hundred yards from the river. Our camp is quite a high hill and we have a splendid view of the river.

There went a raid out from our side this week. I have not heard from them since. The Colonel of the 31st is with them.

There has died two out of our company [Co. E] this week. They are both from Lodi [Bergen county, New Jersey]. They are Sergeant [Adrian] Hughs and Private [William] Henry Dykeman. Hughs died in Washington ¹; Dykeman [on 22 March] in [the] Camp Hospital. We sent him yesterday morning.

No more at present but remain yours the same as ever, — I. A. Hopper, Esq.

¹ Sgt. Adrian Hughes died of typhoid fever at Judiciary Square, U. S. Army General Hospital in Washington D. C. on 27 February 1863.

There were two photographs included with this letter and the one linked in the background material:

The tintype is unidentified. The CDV has the name Ira C. Smalley written under the image. The only IRA Smalley I can find in this time period was Ira Smalley (1839-1885) of Co. C, 49th Ohio Infantry. If this is the same Ira Smalley, I don’t know why he would be with this collection or why he would have had a photograph taken in New Jersey.

1862: Garret C. Hopper to Hester Ann (Hopper) Van Riper


This letter was written by Pvt. Garret Cornelius Hopper (1833-1863), the son of Cornelius Abraham Hopper (1797-18xx) and his third wife, Elizabeth Hopper (1801-1878) of Bergen county, New Jersey. Garrett’s siblings included: Hester Ann (Hopper) Van Riper, b. 1825; Elizabeth Jemima (Hopper) Ackerman, b. 1826); and Albert Hopper, b. 1830. Garret was born on 20 September 1833 and died on 2 December 1863.

Garret enlisted on 1 September 1862 as a private in Co. B, 22nd New Jersey Infantry. He was promoted to corporal on 1 November 1862 and he mustered out with his company of nine-month’s men on 25 June 1863 at Trenton, New Jersey — seeing only limited action at the Battle of Chancellorsville the previous month. He was enumerated in Union Township, Bergen county, New Jersey in the summer of 1863 when he registered for the draft — the record indicating his prior service of 9 months with the 22nd New Jersey.

Family notes suggest that Garret died while in the service but he was mustered out in the summer of 1863 and I can find no other record of a re-enlistment. In fact, a pension paid to his father for Garret’s military service only sources the 22nd New Jersey.

Garret wrote the letter to his sister, Hester Ann (Hopper) Van Riper (1825-18xx), the wife of Henry Van Riper (1825-Bef1860), who resided at 46 North Main Street in Paterson, New Jersey at the time. They were married in December 1842.

Also mentioned in Garret’s cousin, Albert G. Hopper (b. 1833) of New Barbadoes, Bergen county, New Jersey, who served as a corporal with him in the 22nd New Jersey Infantry. The letter contains a good description and location of Camp Perrine in Trenton, New Jersey.



Camp Perrine
Trenton, New Jersey
Monday, September 15th 1862

Dear Sister,

Amid the many changes of life — though they may seem dark and uncertain — how many causes we have still to feel thankful and I can this morning feel particularly so for the many blessings I am still permitted to enjoy, the first of which I consider to be life & health, and next the privilege we have of communing with our friends though they be far away.

Dear sister and friends (for I write this for all whom it may concern), I have been blessed with remarkable good health since I left home and have been very comfortable in every respect. We are getting plenty to eat of fresh beef, good fat ham pork, potatoes, bread, rice & good coffee, and all the pie, cake & fruit we can desire can be brought in and around the camp so that all my temporal wants are well supplied. I have not for one moment felt sorry that I have left my comfortable home with all its advantages and privileges for this apparently slavish and risky life, for I have and ever hope to have full confidence in that Almighty Power which is able to protect us in whatever position He may be pleased to place us.

I feel perfectly satisfied with our officers & men with the one exception of the idleness and profanity of some of our men but I have great comfort in being able to turn my back on them all and say in my heart, get thou behind me Satan, for I have no pleasure in any of thy ways. But I have another source of comfort which I hope may ever be continued to us all to keep us in the path of duty — it is the prayer meeting which we have established in our barracks and are being carried on every evening with great warmth and spirit though it is conducted by but few. I also had the privilege of attending divine service in the Camp Ground yesterday, both morning and evening. The morning text was taken from Mark, 16th Chapter 16th Verse (not very good). The afternoon from Exodus, 14th Chapter & 15th Verse (very interesting). So you can see I am not so badly off after all.

None of the men have their uniforms yet nor do we know when we shall get them. There is two regiments formed in this camp — the 21st [New Jersey] composed of the Hudson & Passaic county men, and the 22nd [New Jersey] of Bergen county and I believe part of Passaic. Capt. [Robert W.] Berry’s company of Hackensack is letter A — the first, and our company, [led by] Capt. [Abram] Van Emburgh [is] letter B — the second post of honor in the 22nd Regiment.

Our camp is pleasantly situated in a nice lot in the rear of the arsenal with the canal & railroad on the west with plenty water, very good & handy. The camp is composed of 24 barracks with 48 double berths in each which are roomy and quite comfortable. Each man has a straw bed and his blanket with which he can make himself very comfortable. My bed-fellow & I make up our bed every morning and evening and keep it clean and comfortable.

Our company has four cooks taken our of our ranks who attend to all cooking and preparing our meals. One of them is our cousin Albert G. Hopper. He has taken it to be free of drilling and of being on night duty. It is all well that ends well but I doubt if he will be satisfied even with his own choice. I am perfectly satisfied that he or anyone else shall have it as far as I am concerned for I have not come here to learn to be cook but a soldier and if I am spared to return after 9 months, I think I shall be able to show you that I have not tried in vain.

And now dear friends, I must close for I am getting tired of writing in my present position lying in my bunk. Hoping these few lines may find you all enjoying good heath and the many comforts of life, and my kind regards for you all, I would remain most sincerely your affectionate —

Soldier brother, Garret C. Hopper

Tell all my friends to write but to be patient for an answer. Address:

Garret C. Hopper
Co. B, 22nd Reg. N. J. V.
Camp Perrine
Trenton, New Jersey

1864: John Leavitt to Eunice (Shaw) Leavitt

This letter was written by John Leavitt (1798-1871) to his wife, Eunice (Shaw) Leavitt (1801-1884) of Portland, Maine. Their 19 year-old son son, Joseph Leavitt enlisted on 23 June 1861 as a private in Co. G, 5th Maine Infantry. He re-enlisted on 28 December 1863 as a veteran and was with his regiment at the Battle of Spotsylvania where he received a mortal gunshot wound on 18 May 1864. He died on 15 July 1864 in the First Division General Hospital at Alexandria, Virginia. [See Table 5 in Civil War Washington] This letter was written from the hospital in Alexandria where Joseph was being treated for his wound.

Joseph’s older brother, George Washington Leavitt (1835-1862), served in Co. F, 5th New York Infantry and also died during the civil war.  He was killed on 30 August 1862 in the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Note: The Special Collections at the University of Virginia Library has a ledger which contains transcriptions of all of Joseph and George Leavitt’s Civil War letters entered by their father, John Leavitt, in October 1865 “because they are of value to me and I was fearful that they might get mislaid.”

See also — 1861: Joseph Leavitt to Sarah Leavitt and Joseph Leavitt, Co. G, 5th Maine, On the Battle [of Bull Run]


Alexandria [Virginia]
June 11th 1864

Dear Wife,

In company with Daniel W. Shaw went to Joseph’s cot. Daniel — when we came out — said he looked better. Staid but a few minutes. Went & took a long walk with Daniel. Then left him & returned to Joseph. The nurse was then washing his leg. He called me to his side & I thought I would take a fair look. The nurse then told me how much the swelling had gone down. The place where the ball went in was discharging. Sometimes they press it some to force out the matter. This discharging rather frightened me when they first told me that it was discharging. But they told me that was all right as the discharge showed that the leg was healing. Since I have been told that, I hear that word with pleasure. He then said to me that the doctor told him that if he kept still, he would get him up in fourteen days. Hope we will. If he does, it will be wonderful but I have no reason to doubt the doctor as he appears so much better & all the nurses pronounce favorably. But such a terrible would makes me still a little fearful. I don’t want to be too confident. Yet, as I have written you the past week or more, every symptom is favorable & so I say to you again, enjoy yourself the best you can, knowing as you do that he has the best of care taken of him.

Eight o’clock went down & he was asleep. Read my paper about ½ hour. Still asleep. The nurse said he did not sleep much the first part of the night. Nine [o’clock], still asleep. Went up to the Post Office [and found] one letter for Joseph from Edwin M. Safford & he says direct your letter to me in this way: Edwin M. Safford, ¹ Care Moses Movill, 204 Four Street. A good letter — very good — but I don’t know him. I want to notice every letter from his chums so that they may know he receives them & I will say here again that he has received every letter that has been written now. We have 17. Staid until he had read all the letters & told him I would take the [Portland DailyPress up to the House & read it as he must be tired in reading so much. Would not agree to that. Said I can read all day so I had to leave the paper with him. I shan’t find them letters in the Post Office as they are lying on my table. All of William’s letters received. No fear of Josephs being forgotten. One that has at his age shown such pluck, all right.

About Daniel Winslow, we are neighbors & when he can get leave of absence, he calls me & we go down to [see] Joseph together & then take a walk together. I like him much. [He is] steady and correct as his father. Give my respect to Vathe & wife & everybody else that you think proper. When I am writing to you, my mind is so much on Joseph that I don’t think of particularizing. [You can] see how if I did, how much other interesting matter would be crowded out. Capt. William, his wife Dutchess, Elizabeth, James, Addie, Johnny & others. So just you, when you see any of them, give them my respects just as though I had named them separately.

I wrote you my opinion about the box. I still think it is the best plan — if agreeable to all parties — for as I wrote you, one article may be used up today of the Stevens’ box & there may be another tomorrow & enough of other things to last a month or more. So you see, if my plan was accepted by the contributors, every deficiency as it occurs could be filled up here & as cheap, or nearly so, as in Portland. The risk I consider nothing in sending by mail as we have received every letter that has been sent & I don’t know how to make out a list at present for if he should continue to improve as I think, he has something different from what we can think of now would be better for him. I don’t urge this plan but only lay it before you & give my reasons for it & leave it with Joseph’s friends.

When I said I may be home or stay a fortnight longer, was a feeling then that I should like to come home & the staying here a fortnight longer was drawn out by what I verily thought would be pleasant for Joseph & wanting to be certain about his situation before I left. I don’t want to leave until I feel satisfied & told him I should extend that fortnight & add another week as I have wrote you. I am bound to do as he wants me to do. Does Aunt Eliza make you work to pay for your grub? But what can we expect from a believer in Total Depravity. Well, I declare, you have done it by reminding me of that barrel of black flour. I charge you to save some for me.

I wish Charley would write to Joseph. I know it would please him as you know how much Joseph said about the good treatment he received from his father & mother & Charley. Frank Crawford I have not seen unless it is one that I now hold in my hand closing with, “Cheer up Joe & hurry & get well & come home & see the boys. My folks send their best respects to you & so does Put. From your friend, — C. Y. C.” — the “C” will stand for Crawford but I can’t make out frank with the two others. I forgot to ask Joseph who wrote it.

Give my thanks to my Nephew faith. I have not forgot to spell neffew (never mind, you know what I mean). Give him my & Joseph’s thanks for the interest he manifests to Joe. The commission all right, I think. I have written to Col. [Clark Swett] Edwards or to whoever may command the 5th [Maine Infantry]. But as you say, it is recorded in Augusta & I guess the Governor knows him by this time & his letter to Joseph in answer to one I wrote I think settles that matter. I have made out to translate this much: “Augusta, June 7th. Mr, Joseph Leavitt, Dear Sir. I have sent your father’s letter to Senator [William Pitt] Fessenden & have written him myself requesting him to aid in ______ you mustered [?]. You can communicate with Mr. Fessenden & let him know where you are. You shall have a fair chance to get mustered before I appoint anybody to your place. What more can we have?

I told you yesterday would go up to Washington today but I thought I would keep quiet today & wait until Monday. I have stated what I thought about the box & leave it with you & those that take it in hand. I will just say again that one thing in the Stevens’ stock may give out today & another some other day & there may be some things that will last a month. I can tell you the Stevens’ stock was a snorter about my staying with Joseph. I think it will do him no hurt but still I mortally hate to be any more trouble to my friends than I have been.

I saw Mrs. Doct. French in the hospital yesterday — not in Joseph’s room — on her errand of mercy & she asked me how Joseph got along & I said I thought he was first rate. That, she said, I partly attribute to your being here. I replied that possibly the sight of my countenance might cheer him & be some benefit. You think I was rather hard on us by saying as I guess you mean what I wrote about nobody writing to Joseph. I was cross & mad as blazes but let us look at it. I was rather too much in a hurry. In fact, you & the rest that have written did not know where Joseph was until I wrote & I did not write until I had been so much of the hospitals & that time I had conjured up the situation of Joseph before I saw him in all manner of shapes that I was not exactly ____.

I did not tell you that I got into the cars to go down to the Pennsylvania Avenue & found myself in Georgetown. What can you expect of one in such a situation? Mind now & not eat up all of that black flour. You will forgive me this time. That’s fair, by jolly. Who has had the hardest time? You or I? If I will promise better fashions? I shall promise no such thing for you know I don’t care a farthing about the fashions. That photograph? Well, [when] I first saw them, I laughed out & the man laughed to see me laugh. I had no idea that I was such a looking c_____ & should not have sent it but Joseph & Jennie [nurse] & my landlady said they were good ones so I sent you one lacking the pipe, thanks to Joseph. Guess I was good-natured when it was taken. I was seen Joseph & felt right. How natural to excuse bad writing. You can write plain if you please. No matter. I can read it. A good one that better half is doubted. I have noticed all in your letter which I thought you wanted noticed in a short way. A large fire for Portland in the daytime.

The shot went in about half way from the knee to the hip. I thought I would not describe it. I never saw it till the first of this week. I cannot give correct or I mean exact time & thought it would do no good. About giving your respects to the wounded Rebels, I would with pleasure but I don’t want him to know that I have been writing about him. He may think I have said something hard about him. Yes, I will fill my paper if you do not. Tired — that sounds like home. A good letter. Read William’s to Joseph fourth letter. All right. Directed right & come safe to hand as any office in the Union. Of course I call every day & began to call before it was hardly time. Do get them. Have the whole boodle on my table. Now take up some room. Got 3 [Portland DailyPresses but one was sent by someone else as two were of the same date. Yes, he likes to see a Portland paper & so do I — especially out here.

Clearing out that rum hole at that time was fun to those boys & when the civil authorities sent a sheriff to arrest the Captain of the squad, I was up to the camp. He stated his errand to the Captain & was soon surrounded by his company. The squad were from different companies but the company that surrounded was under the Captain who commanded the squad & the Deputy Sheriff King was glad to get off with a whole side. He would have to take the whole regiment before he could have taken away that squad.

Four o’clock. Just from Joseph. Rather late but my landlady had set this afternoon to visit him & the other wounded men with their strawberries & ice cream. But before Joseph would touch either, he enquired of Jennie [nurse] if he could eat any & she told him that she did not want him to eat anything of the kind at present. I told the women on Joseph’s behalf that I thanked them just as much as though he had eaten their good things. My party to visit Joseph was Mrs. English, Mrs. Wimsett & her niece, & while there, two more women came in with their good things & with their enquiries.

When we went down, Joseph was off his cot on the floor & we waited until he was put on his cot. I was sorry we made the visit at this time as it fatigues Joseph to have such a shift. They put on clean bed clothes & a clean shirt & it takes three or four strong men to handle him safely. Such care is necessary. One man around to help in such cases looks strong enough to left a small schooner. He [Joseph] looks well & wanted the paper which I carried down in the morning which he said he had not seen for I lent it to the Rebel while he was reading The Press. All five of the women are Secesh & one of them brought the Rebel a new hat [and] another a valise to put his things in. What he could save is more than I know as Joseph had nothing but a shirt & night gown. There is much kindness shown to the wounded.

These two days past has been cool & this day I call it nearly cold. Shall put on my drawers this afternoon as soon as I finish this. I must go out & get shaved soon. There is a fine of 50 dollars if a barber keeps open shop on Sunday. Last Sunday I had on one of my old crops & started in the morning to get shaved [but] had to give it up & went to church with it on. Nobody hurt that I know of. In some of the letters that Joseph receives, an answer is requested as soon as possible. He will not be able to write for some time. What I want to see is that he can sit up & relieve his back. Then he can write & his back will have a chance to heal up. — John Leavitt

¹ Edwin M. Safford was born in February 1847 in Maine. In 1870 he was working as a clerk in Boston. He was working as a clerk for a paper company in Malden, Massachusetts in 1900.