These letters were written by Benjamin P. Nelson (1824-1862) to his wife, Eleanor M. (Babb) Nelson (1830-1906). Benjamin was the son of William Nelson (1795-1869) and Patty Teel (1795-1891). Eleanor was the daughter of Joshua Babb (1796-1868) and Miriam Powers (1797-1886). Benjamin and Eleanor were married in March 1847.
Benjamin was 37 years old when he enlisted as a private in Co. F, 11th New Hampshire Infantry in August 1862. He was killed on 13 December 1862 in the Battle of Fredericksburg — not long after these letters were sent to his wife in Sutton, New Hampshire.
Benjamin’s death on the battlefield was described in a letter by George Morgan that was started on 6 December and finished on 16 December 1862. The letter reads: “There was seventeen out of our regiment killed on the field and a large number wounded. Benjamin [P.] Nelson was killed. The ball went through his head. He was close to me when the ball hit him. And George [H.] Filbrick [Philbrick] was killed, and they are all that we know were killed out of our company. Charles [C.] Pike was wounded in the face. George [M.] Jewett was wounded through the hand, and Robert Blood was badly wounded, and Dave Bunker, John Lorden, and John Rollins, and [I] don’t think of anymore in our company that was badly wounded.” [Letter: 6 December 1862; When I Come Home….The Civil War Letters of George Morgan of Co. F, 11th New Hampshire Infantry]
These letters were part of a larger collection of letters written by Pvt. Nelson along with a tintype and a “Soldier’s Prayer Book.” The 1/6 plate tintype of Pvt. Nelson has an early “jelly label” tucked into its brass frame that reads, in faded pencil, “B P NELSON.”
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Virginia, November 3, 1862
I thought I would write a few lines to let you know I am well. There was a small fight Saturday in about 8 miles of us. Sunday morning we started for them. They retreated. We follow[ed] on all day. We went 20 miles and could hear the cannons until sunset. Then we stopped and we was very tired. We camped down and it was very cold before morning. We shall not move today unless we hear the cannons. They are not firing now.
We are about 30 miles from Harpers Ferry — right south. I think we shall march in one or two days as quick as we get rested. We are all well as common. Frank Stevens is better this morning. My clothes was wet with sweat. It was so hard to carry my load and it was very warm but I stood it very well — better than I expected. I though we should march again today but I guess we shall not. Yesterday it looked like war to see the wounded go along but we did not get near enough to see the fighting but we expected to today. But we shall not. But we shall soon, I think. This war will stop soon some how or rather but I guess there will be some fighting before long but we can’t tell.
I get along very well. About my clothes, I have not had to mend my feetings since I left home. My drawers is poor things and my boots is getting thin. The rest of my clothes is good.
You had better keep the old hog as long as you can. You write how he does and how the old cow holds out her milk and if the heifer is conted [?]. If I was at home, I would do some hunting this fall. I should like to be to home with you if I could but I can’t at present. But I hope I shall sometime but it will seem a long time if I have to stay 3 years. But I do not think we shall have to stay so long.
Our rations is rather hard. We have to carry three days rations when we are on a march. It is mostly hard tack and not enough of that. But we get along somehow. If you had to live as we do, you would think you lived well at home. I have not seen a potato nor a warm cake since I left Concord nor any brown bread.
You must write all the news and how you get along. I want to see Lorin to see if he is a good boy. I would send him something if I could get it but I can’t. Here is a line for Lucinda. You give it to her. Be sure and write soon as you get this.
— Benjamin P. Nelson
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Virginia, November 7, 1862
It snowed all day. We are near the gap. We marched about 7 hours. We are about 50 miles from Harpers Ferry. Today is the 8th — Saturday. We are going to march today.
November 8th — We marched about 8 miles
November 9th — We are at Jefferson in Virginia. We have marched every day this week. We expect to march every moment. We keep in about one days march of the Rebels. We expect to fight every day but we may not until we get to Richmond. There will be the big battle. It will take us about 8 days to go. We move slow and it is very hard. We do not get enough to eat. They can’t draw it fast enough. It is so far from the railroad. It is a big job to draw the provision.
I should like to hear from home but we cannot get any mail when we are on the march. I wrote this first one but I could not send it nor do I know as I can this but I can when we get to a railroad. I saw Luke Nelson & Robert Campbell yesterday. They was well. We are all well now but it is a hard life to live but I think I can stand it if the bullets don’t hit me. We all want to see home but we cannot at present. All we get to eat is hard tack and fresh beef. They drive the cattle as fast as we march. Then when we stop they kill 9 or 10 in one day. That will give us about 2 lbs. each. The whole army is moving towards Richmond. It is very cold here in nights. It snowed last night and it is cold today.
I have wore out my boots so they both leak. I don’t know how I shall get along. There is none to be bought. I could [have] bought a pair the other day for 10 dollars but I did not get any.
You must write how you get along for I cannot be with you at present but I hope I shall some time. If I do get home, I shall not come out here very soon again. You write how they get along about the draft in men. I had ought to write to Henry but I can’t stop. We do not have much time to spare. You must write as soon as you can and as often. I may get a chance to write again soon. If I do, I will. I must say goodbye.
— Benjamin P. Nelson
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Thursday, September 11, 1862 — Broke camp at Concord 7 o’clock A.M., arrived at Stoneston 9 P.M., thence by boat. Arrived at Jersey City 7 A.M.
12[th] — left at 11 A.M., arrived at Philadelphia.
13[th] — Left Philadelphia 7 A.M. Arrived at Baltimore 4 P.M. Left 6 P.M.
14[th] — Arrived at Washington 7 A.M. Marched at East Capitol Hill and encamped.
16[th] — Broke camp and marched to Arlington Heights and Camp Chase.
30[th] — Broke camp 7 A.M. Marched to Washington.
October 1[st] 9 A.M. went on railroad to Frederick City. Arrived at Frederick 6 A.M.
2[nd] — broke camp. Arrived at Sandy Hook [Maryland] 2 P.M.
October 6[th] — Moved 3 miles north to Pleasant Valley.
27[th] — Broke camp. 12 P.M. crossed the Potomac at Burlin on pontoon bridge.
30[th] — Broke camp 6 A.M. Marched 5 miles, encamped near Wheatland.
November 2 — Broke camp 9 A.M., marched 15 miles.
3[rd] — Broke camp 2 P.M., load our guns soon after starting, march 5 miles.
4[th] — Broke camp, marched 9 A.M. Mrch 5 miles to Upperville,
5[th] — Struck tents 9 A.M., marched 9 miles across Manassas Gap. Encamp at Piedmont.
6[th] — Struck tents 8 A.M., marched 12 miles.
7[th] — Very cold. Snowed all day. Struck tents 3 P.M.
8[th] — To Jefferson, Culpepper county.
12[th] — Broke camp 2 A.M., marched 4 miles to Warrenton Springs.
15[th] — Left camp 5 A.M. When we got about a mile from camp, the Rebels undertook to stop our train of wagons. We were formed on a line of battle. The shells flew and burst around our [regiment]. [Battle of White Sulphur Springs] None of our [boys] was hurt. Marched 4 miles.
16[th] — Struck tents 8 A.M. Marched 6 miles. Went in camp near Warrington Junction.
17[th] — Struck tents 11 A.M. March 12 miles.
18[th] — Struck tents 6 A.M. Marched 12 miles.
19[th] — Struck tents 6 A.M. Marched 8 miles. Encamped on Falmouth Heights and here we be now. [If] you go to Mr. Whidden’s, ¹ you can get a paper that has got the piece in it where we had our battle at the Springs. I want to have you keep this so I can see this when I get home. I am well today and hope you [are] all the same.
[to] Eleanor M. Nelson, Sutton
¹ 43 year-old Cpl. James G. Whidden of Sutton also served with Benjamin in Co. F, 11th New Hampshire Infantry. In a letter dated 8 October 1862 to his wife, Benjamin wrote that Cpl. Whidden cut 2 fingers off in an accident when 5 miles from Harpers Ferry as the regiment readied itself for battle. Benjamin’s letter suggested that Whidden did it intentionally so as to avoid the battle and so that he could be sent home. “His hand is spoilt forever,” wrote Benjamin.