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.”
June 11th 1864
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 Daily] Press 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 Daily] Presses 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.