1854: Charles Mitchell Crawford to Hiram Cass

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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.

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

TRANSCRIPTION

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.

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