This letter was written by Cpl. Charles Franklin Stevens of Co. A, 7th New Hampshire Infantry from Fort Jefferson (or “Dry Tortugas”) in Florida. “Frank” was born in Francestown, Hillsborough county, New Hampshire. He was 25 years old when he enlisted in late September 1861. He died 30 August 1862 at Beaufort, South Carolina, and is buried in the National Cemetery there, Section 18, Site 1448.
Frank was the son of Samuel Stevens (1805-1894) and Mary Lolly (1806-1875) of Francestown. He wrote this letter either to his older brother, George Henry Stevens (1835-1901) or his younger brother, Samuel Epps Stevens (1843-1914).
The 7th New Hampshire Infantry left New York City on 13 February 1862 for Florida in two different vessels — six companies (B, D, E, H, I, and K) under the command of Col. Haldimand Sumner Putnam on board the clipper ship S. R. Mallory and the other four companies (A, C, F, and G –including Frank Stevens) on board the barque Tycoon. The Tycoon arrived at the Tortugas Light a full week before the Mallory.
At the time that the 7th New Hampshire Infantry occupied Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas Island was serving as the principal supply depot for rations and ammunition to the U.S. Military posts at the South. With the regiment back together again at the fort, Col. Putnam assumed command, occupying the fort with Co. M of the First U. S. Artillery under Capt. and Bvt. Major Loomis L. Langdon. Three companies of the 6th New York Volunteers (“Billy Wilsons’ Zouaves) were stationed in the fort when the 7th New Hampshire arrived but the Zouaves soon left for Fort Pickens.
Fort Jefferson, Florida
March 16th 1862
It is Sunday and we have been though inspection and I will write a few lines to you. I am well at present although the climate here makes me feel rather dull or lazy. I should like here first rate of the Fort was finished but everything is upside down now. The barracks are not made yet. There are two wooden buildings — one is occupied by a company of Regulars, Artillery — and the other has just been vacated by Co. A of Wilson’s Zouaves. They left here Friday night for Pickens in a schooner. There were four companies of them here and they all went off together. I have always supposed them to be middle-aged men but they are all young, unmarried men — but are very rough fellows.
Our company has been in the Hospital outside of the Fort but we are going to move into the second tier of casements as soon as we van kill out the bedbugs and I hope that we shall be more comfortable in there. Our quarters are quite small now right close to the water where we get a good breeze from the south and west and have a good chance to bathe which we improve to our hearts content. If we wake up in the night and are too warm, all we have to do is to pull off our shirt and step out into the Gulf of Mexico — along with the crabs — and sharks and cool off. The water is very shallow and we can see the sharks coming and get out of the way. It is not more than three feet deep on this side out fifty rods. The bottom is coral sand. There are three wharves on the east side [of the Fort] where the vessels unload. The channel is very narrow but the largest of vessels can come in when the wind is right. It is forty miles to Key West and there is a schooner runs between here and that place twice a week. They bring in the best oranges that I ever ate. They are sweeter than we get in New England. There was a schooner brought in here loaded with fruit and liquor that was taken by a Federal gunboat off the coast of Alabama. She is leaking badly. She was scuttled and the prize crew had to pump night and day to keep her afloat and they got drunk and two of them are in irons here now for fighting — one is a sailor and the other belongs to the Navy. Here crew was taken to Key West. If they would only fetch her up to the wharf, we would discharge the cargo but they keep it out of our reach.
We have been here now two weeks today. Those that came on the ship did not get here until last Sunday and our Colonel took command on Tuesday, Gen. [John Milton] Brannan was here last Thursday and inspected the regiment. He has command of the Department of Key West. It includes Forts Taylor, Pickens, & Jefferson. He is a small man but looks smart. He inspected us very close. He fined two of our boys — one two dollars and the other one for [having] rusty guns. One fellow in Co. C had to pay 20 dollars — the price of his gun — for it was spoilt.
We were inspected by the Colonel last Tuesday. We have to put on everything that we have received to the stopple to the gun, anything [ ] or missing is charged to us. Well, I could not find my canteen and he came along and says, “Where is your canteen?” Says I, ?It is in my quarters somewhere but I could not find it this morning, Sir.” Says he, “What is your name?” Says I, “Corporal C. F. Stevens.” Says he, “Adjutant, charge Corporal Stevens with a canteen” and so it was with everyone that was missing any part of his outfit. He is always right up and down just like that and I like him for it. We have to keep everything just so clean or we catch it. It takes us all of our spare time to keep our brasses bright, we are so near the salt water that they tarnish very quick. Our guns rust awfully. I oiled mine up yesterday as nice as a pin and set it away carefully and I thought that it would be nice this morning for inspection [but] this morning after I had got my equipments read and knapsack packed that I would look at my rifle and by thunder, it was as rusty as an old crowbar. Then I had to rub and sweat and swear but I got it clean after awhile and he said that it was in very good order and that paid me and he went along.
The Fort here is quite large. There is enclosed within the breakwater 14 acres. There are two tiers of casements which are nearly done. There are about 100 guns mounted. There are only 4 guns on the parapet yet. They are 10 inch Columbiads and command the channel all around. The breakwater is about 9 feet high and five feet across on the top. The ditch is about 50 feet wide. The walls are 40 ft. high and from the outside to the inside including the embrasures and gun rooms (I call them) about 40 feet, it has six bastions that is six corners, 2 long sides, and 4 short sides. The top is not anywhere near finished. It will take a thousand men 3 years to do it. It was commenced in 1846 but they have not worked on it near all of the time since. I can’t see what it is here for anyway. Vessels can pass on either side safely, I should think. I understand that it was proposed by Jeff [Davis], but he cannot have it now because the 7th New Hampshire Volunteers are here.
We have all got the itch but it is not catching and so you need not be skart [scared]. Everybody has it that comes here from the North. It is a kind of humor that breaks out in little red spots and itches like damn, I am not so bad as I was. It don’t last long.
We get good bread here and pork but the salt beef is rather old. We have fresh meat twice a week. There are about 20 cattle here now and there are hens and turkeys and doves and 5 or 6 mules and 2 horses which they use to cart sand and haul up brick and mortar on to the walls. There is also one engine for that purpose. There are about twenty negroes here. They are owned in Key West by an Englishman. All but three are free. There are so many trees inside that we cannot get into a line. They are coconut, bay, cedar, and buttonwood and two or three other kinds. They are all green and look beautiful for March.
We don’t expect to stay here very long but we don’t know anything about it. I have written two letters to Father — one I set the day I got here and the other last Tuesday. I believe I don’t know as he has got them but I should think that it was time that I had an answer to the first one. I have forgotten whether I sent the direction or not. If not, that is good reason for delay. But I tell you, I should be very glad to hear from home. That helps to keep up the spirits of the soldier more than anything that I know of. I hope that you will write often and tell all of my friends to write to me too.
Tell them to direct to Corporal F. Stevens, Co. A, 7th Regt. N. H. Vo., Fort Jefferson, Florida and it will get to me no doubt, if it don’t get mislaid. I want to hear all about town meeting and how you get along. Give my love to all of the folks at home and my respects to Newton & Lizzie and all other enquiring friends and tell them to write.
Your affectionately, — Frank
Company A, 7th Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers, Fort Jefferson, Florida