Monthly Archives: November 2013

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Fairfax Seminary ~ Thursday, September 4th, 1862: One and a Half Miles from the Rebels

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Categories: Jamie & Katie, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This letter was written from Fairfax Seminary, which is now the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. The Fort Ward museum is nearby. There’s also a bunch of high schools, Inova Alexandria Hospital, and the Bradlee Shopping Center if that means anything to anyone. Here’s a picture of what it looked like back then. It looks pretty much the same today.

Fairfax_Seminary,_Alexandria,_Va_-_NARA_-_529388-1 Cropped envelope Fairfax Seminary - Sep 4th, 1862 Page One Fairfax Seminary - Sep 4th, 1862 Page Two

Fairfax [Seminary] W Vir, Sep 4 ‘62

Close by Fort Ward, Thursday morning 7 O’clock

My dear Wife,

I now take this opportunity to pen you a few lines to let you know that we are all well. H.J. we have not got our [tents] we sleep on the ground [at] night. I made H and me a hut out of brush, so have some of the rest [have] done the same. Robert and Fred & John day come over to see me yesterday but I was down to Fort Worth about a mile [digging] rifle pits and did not see him. 4 Conn. A.D.F. rifle pits around the fort. The rebels pickets is within a 1 mile & ½ from where we are so they say, I have not seen them yet, our army has fell back to where we are a about one hundred and fifty thousand of them. [Cavalry] artillery and [rifles] by lively times here. At 8 forts & 1.50 thousand men within 6 miles of us all in [sight], I can’t write more now I got to black my boots & [?] for the drill, good morning Katie.

We have guns and ammunition.

Good morning Katie­

Friday [morn.] I now sit down to finish this letter to you. Horace has got a [diarrhea]. I am well and [hardy] except a little cold, we expect to have warm work here soon. The Rebels pickets is in [sight] of our camp 1 mile long we have got lots of contrabands to work on them beside our soldiers. I have not seen Robert since that day but he is well, saw some of his men this morning. I am going over to see him today if I have time. We sleep on the ground yet but that is nothing bad plenty to eat, well [goodbye] at present I must close [for] this to go in the mail this morning love to all from your ever-loving husband,

James

Direct your letters to James W. Peckham Co. I. 16 Reg

Ct Vol

Washington, D.C.

In write soon as you get this I want to hear from you [goodbye]

My R[?] wife

From Fairfax [Seminary] Virg

 

Though James is mostly in good health, poor Uncle Horrace is suffering from an unfortunate gastrointestinal situation. Like most of James’s letters to Katie, he’s primarily just writing to reassure her that he’s okay and to update her on where he is. He may not have been receiving all of her letters due to his regiment moving around. However, he seems to have been in good spirits during the writing of this, keeping himself busy by checking on his friends camped out nearby, tending to Horrace, building more makeshift huts for them to sleep in, and of course by writing to Katie.

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Fort Ellsworth, Virginia ~ Tuesday September 2, 1862: Within Earshot of the Battlefield

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Categories: Jamie & Katie, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here we find Jamie camped out with Uncle Horrace and their regiment 12 or 10 miles away from the battlefield. I’ll let you read the letter before I say anything else.

Fort Ellsworth - Sept 2nd, 1862 Envelope CROPPED

Fort Ellsworth - Sept 2nd, 1862 Page One Fort Ellsworth - Sept 2nd, 1862 Page Two

 

Fort Ellsworth Virginey 12 miles from Washington

Tuesday Sep 2 , 1862

Morning six o’clock pm

My dear wife                        it is just half past six.

Horrace & I are sitting on the ground beside a brush fire. Horrace is shivering with cold & wet. It rained all night and we all slept on the ground, the Reg and officers & all slept together. I went down into the bushes, [piled] up some brush, spread Horrace’s blanket on them then we lay down, put mine over us & went to sleep until morning. I feel first [rate?] we’d all got wet through to our skin, I expected to have the [rheumatism] but have not. We shall have our tents [today]. We marched from Washington yesterday, we [passed] a train of sick and wounded soldiers some with an arm, leg gone. 8 Oclock I have just been over to Fort Ward the first Lt. Ar. Is there 2 Comp E.L. Cor A.B. is in Fort Blinker about ½ miles from here. They say Robert is there. I am going over there after breakfast if I can to see him.

We are within 10 miles of the battlefield­ where they are [fighting], can hear every gun that is fired, it sounds nearby I tell you but we are ready for them, let them come. The pickets took 3 rebels [Cavalry] last night and brought them in to the fort [within] 50 rods of where I am writing, [goodbye] I am going over to see Robert.

20 min to 4 oclock am. I have been over to Fort Blinker and found Robert, [they’re] all well, he had a letter from Bub Brown last night the first he [knew] about my [enlistment] but he did not that I was so near him. I was glad to see him so was he to see me, he went back to camp with me and [stayed] a hour. He is not so fat as he was when he left home. He wrote home just before I got over there this morning, we are close together now so we can see each other every day if nothing happens.

He does not stand it as well as I do. I am well hope this will [reach] you the same. Tell Mary I will write to her next. Give my love to all. I don’t know as you can read this letter if you can’t I will write the next letter.

Lots of love to you

And good wishes

I was [sorry] that we did not stop to Lyme that night.

Wrote in a [hurry]

[Goodbye] wife.

Direct my letter to

Washington

Co. I. 16 Reg Ct [Val?]

Washington DC

{scrawled message on page 2}

I am in a hurry to get this in the mail wagon.

[Goodbye] O friends at home.


The conditions Jamie describes sound fairly miserable but were probably very typical for a camp that hadn’t even set up their tents yet. The image of Jamie and Uncle Horrace huddled together underneath his blanket on a makeshift bed made out of a pile of brush makes me smile. Sometimes when trying to transcribe these letters, I get really frustrated over his horrible spelling and find myself assuming that he wasn’t the brightest of men, but he clearly had a sense of humor and was very resourceful which are much more important indicators of intelligence, or at least of a more useful kind of intelligence than being book smart. If you threw me out into the woods to fend for myself against the elements, I’d probably end up dead within the first ten minutes because I’d trip over a tree branch and bust my head open on a rock.

Something else here that I found interesting is that Jamie isn’t keeping all of the disturbing stuff from Katie – he tells her that they passed a train full of sick and wounded, some of them missing arms and legs. He also tells her just how close he is to the battlefield, but assures her that they are ready should anything happen. I am happy that he didn’t keep these things from her for two reasons – 1) I wouldn’t have much to write about here if all he said was “yeah, we’re fine nothing too interesting going on don’t worry about it, and 2) it shows that he had enough respect for Katie to want to share the truth with her and to know that she could handle it.

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Hartford ~ Wednesday, July 30th, 1862:

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Categories: Charlotte Lay, Jamie & Katie

So this letter is kind of a mess, but there is some interesting information just the same. We have a huge jump in time from the last letter, and I’m not entirely sure what was going on in everyone’s lives at this point. I should probably point out that James’s affectionate name for Katie (which was already an affectionate name for Ezrena) was Rosa. None of those names are at all alike, I know. Also, Jas is short for James. That seemed weird to me at first, but then I remembered that in Peter Pan Captain James Hook goes by Jas Hook and now I find it completely acceptable.

The second part of the letter is from Charlotte Lay to her son. There are a few Lays in my family tree, but I’m not entirely sure where she fits in. I’ll ask my grandmother and update the “Cast” page once I get the details.

Hartford - July 30th, 1862 Envelope CROPPED Hartford - July 30th, 1862 Page OneHartford - July 30th, 1862 Page Two

Hartford

Wednesday July 30th, 1862

I write a few words to you. I received your good letter to night, was glad to hear from you. You was well and friends. I am well and to work on Prospect street yet. Uncle Hor, Aunt Chas is well. Hope Eddy will be well while he is down to Lyme. We had a heavy thunder storm last night and another to night rains hard. Joey Branch is here to night going to stay all night. Jimie is sick had the [Doctor] last night. [Doctor] said it was [diphtheria]. I went to the boad to meet Harriet but got told [she?] went home in the rain.

I have to wrote all of the news I must draw this to a close. Let Chast fill it out. Chalt & I went to the [Union Church?] Sunday fournoon took a walk in the afternoon I will close.

Please give my love to all, May, Richard, all to Whipperwill your father & mother & Lottie, Eddy, all inquiring friends.

That is all.

Good night,

From you husband to his Rosa

James,

N.B. Josephine sends her respects she had a tooth pulled to day.

Jas to Katie

{the part in pencil}

Thursday morning,

Rosa you must write us soon [I’ll answer?] & come home soon as you can it is lonesome without you. Love to you Rosa, Jas.

{Charlotte’s note}

My dear little son

I received your letter yesterday, was glad to hear from you. You must be a good boy and mind Aunt and Uncle Greenfield. Write soon as you can. I cannot write much for Harriet and I are going down street and I want to put this in the office. I shall come before long. From you Mother.

When I come I will tell you all the news which is not much.

Charlotte T. Lay

 

We’ve got diphtheria, a dental situation, and a bunch of names I only vaguely recognize. I don’t know about you, but I really want to know who Whipperwill is. I’m not sure what this Chalt and Chast business is. There’s an Aunt Chas, but that’s not who he’s talking about I don’t think. I do, however, know that Lottie is Katie’s sister. I have several pictures of her that I’ll post soon.

The next letter is much more interesting, I promise. It was sent when James and his regiment were camped out near a battlefield.

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Hartford ~ December 8th 1861: Consent to Enlist

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Categories: Jamie & Katie, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This is where things start to get dark. Jamie still hasn’t found much work, but believes he has found a solution. You’ll notice if you look at the original letter that there’s a sense of urgency in Jamie’s writing, as he begins to scrawl notes in the margins and he even shoved in a little extra piece of paper with more writing that I almost didn’t find because it was still hidden inside the envelope.

Hartford - Dec 8th, 1861 Envelope

Hartford - Dec 8th, 1861 Page One Hartford - Dec 8th, 1861 Page Two Hartford - Dec 8th, 1861 Extra Page Part One Hartford - Dec 8th, 1861 Extra Page Part Two

Hartford Dec 8th 1861

Sunday Eve

My dear wife,

I received your kind letter Friday evening and was glad to hear you was well and all of my friends was well too. You must try to take good care of yourself fore I shall want to find you alive and in good health at the end of three long years fore I am going to enlist to go in the 12th Reg to go for three years or for the war with Uncle Horrace. He and I are going to enlist next week that is our determination now and I want your consent. I [promised] you that I would not enlist without your gave your consent but I have not got much work now. I got though work at Phelp’s last night but Friday morning I went in [search] of work I found a job down to Colts on the new factory for a few days but when that is done I [shall] not have any work and I think that it is the best thing that I can do is to go in the army to fight for my country. I shall be just as well off at the end as I should of if I [stayed] at home. You will draw six dollars from the State per month. I shall get ten dollars when I enlist extry and ten [dollars] from the State a month 13 [dollars] from the government a month and 30 (80?) [dollars] bounty a year from State. 100 from the government at the end of three years. Do you not think it best for me to do it. Say yes my dear wife and I will go.

Do not be [frightened] when you read this fore thousands have gone it is duty to go in war.

My dear wife

I hope this will not make you feel bad. It must not my [?] make you feel bad because I shall see you before I go if you are willing I should. You can come up here as soon as you want to and stay with me until I leave Hartford fore the [l__t?] of war. I will do the best with you that I can. I can lend my money home to you. You can use all of it that you want and put the rest of it in the Bank as do what you are a [mind] to with it. Katie I want to hear from you before enlisting. Uncle Horrace and I went out to the camps the 11th & 12th Reg. I saw Augerine Comstock and John Baley from Lyme. Bill and Charles Slate had gone home. I did not see them. John Handal Parker from Deep river and Joseph Rozzi from East Haddam they all like first rate and think that I shall like it [too]. What do you think about it Katie. You must not feel hard of me but I do want to go with the soldiers. I cannot see all of them in the war me a looking on I feel lazy to think they have all gone me to home. But I shall not enlist without you are willing fore me to do so. I want to do things as near right as possible if there is no work it is no use to stay at home.

Good by my Katie

Fore this

Write soon

 

Jamie’s reasons for joining the Union are strikingly similar to the reasons that many soldiers in our day and age decide to join the military. The Union was offering steady pay which he wasn’t able to find on his own, and he felt a sense of guilt when watching so many of those around him enlist while he remained a civilian. He knew Katie wouldn’t be crazy about the idea, that’s why he’s so apologetic, but his mind had clearly already been made up. I don’t know what Katie’s reaction to this letter was. What I can tell you is that Katie and Jamie were very genuinely in love, so I can’t imagine she felt lightly about his desire to enlist. When my grandmother was little, Katie used to talk to her about Jamie all the time, calling him “my Jamie” when she did, and that was in the 1920s, decades after the Civil War.

I’ve been debating how much to reveal about Katie and Jamie’s fate as I go along, and I think I’ve decided to leave out as many spoilers as possible as so to leave it up to the letters to tell the story. I’m just going to warn you now though – it gets rough.

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Hartford ~ December 1st, 1861: The End of the World and Other Trivial Matters

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Categories: Jamie & Katie, Tags: , , , , , , ,

NOTE: These letters have A LOT of misspellings and grammatical errors, sometimes to the point where it almost reads as if English were not Jamie’s first language. This makes the editor in me want to tear my hair out and practically rewrite everything, but I’ve decided to make a compromise – I will write it out so that it at least mostly makes sense, and I will correct the spelling mistakes that I absolutely can’t stand to leave in, but I’ll leave most of it as is. That means that some of this might sound really weird. You can refer to the original letters if you want to see what I mean (that is, if you can even read his handwriting). He also rarely uses punctuation, so I’ve taken the liberty of throwing in a few periods and commas where they are sorely needed.

 

Hartford - Dec 1st, 1861 Envelope Hartford - Dec 1st, 1861 Page One Hartford - Dec 1st, 1861 Page Two

Hartford December 1st, 1861

Sunday Eve

My dear wife,

I feel lonesome to night without you. I think it will enliven my ideas a little to write you a few words to let you know that I am well. Hope this will find you well and enjoying yourself.

I arrived in Hartford at five O’clock Friday morning and got up to aunt Chas half past five in time to call them up. There was a bed and sleep had no thought of my coming so early. I went to work at leven O’lock. It rained all day Fri & Saturday and this after noon. I went to meeting this morning to the Methodist Church. This after noon Jane & Win came up here. Stayed two or three hours. She said you told her a lie, you told her you did not know when you would be married. I told her you did not know yourself this evening. Uncle Horrace & I went down to central hall to [hear] Elder Himes preach the Millerrite. He said the world was coming to an end in 1867 & 1868 without fail. So you must prepare yourself for that event without fail. I do not know how much longer I shall have work. He has not spoke of turning me up yet. I hope he won’t. This winter – I must draw this to a close for it is late and I am writing to Robert to night too. So good night.

 

My dear wife

From your loving Jamie

Monday Eve

Dear Katie

I am going to put this letter and one for Robert into the post office this evening. I thought I would tell you what I have been doing to day. I have been putting down base and laying floor & sealing up stairs & jointing in windows. Sash [?] when I was going back from dinner I saw Albert Smith on Walnut St. Shook hands with him. He was going up to Frank’s had been up here two or three days good by I must close and go to the post office.

Excuse all mistakes bad writing I am in [hurry] for the union. Good by with love and kiss.

James

 

So what we have here is a fairly ordinary letter from James Wallace Peckham, or Jamie, to Katie Greenfield whom he had only just married less than a month before on November 7th. Jamie was 20 at the time (if the birth date I have for him is correct) and Katie was 19. I’m guessing that the whole thing about Jane and Win claiming that Katie lied about knowing when she would be married is about her failing to inform them about it before it actually happened, but I can look into that. Another thing I need to ask about again is how Katie came to be called Katie, since her real name was Ezrena Aurelia Greenfield, a name that was passed down to my great grandmother. I know one of the adults in her life disapproved of her having such a stuffy name and then dubbed her Katie, which stuck for the rest of her life, but I can’t remember who that was.

I personally can’t tell whether Jamie was being sarcastic when talking about the end of the world, but I certainly hope so, and it seems that he must be including that bit in his letter as a joke since he just goes on to talk about more practical matters like if he’s going to be able to get work over the winter. According to my grandmother though, he was supposedly pretty gullible, so who knows.

This letter is a good introduction to Jamie and Katie’s story, as it illustrates his financial situation which you’ll soon see was an important factor when he decided to enlist, and it shows us a little of what their relationship was like. Uncle Horrace will come to play an important role in the events to follow as well.

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So what are we doing here exactly?

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Categories: General

For some time now I have been the caretaker of my family’s old letters, photographs, and various trinkets, all of which were given to me by my paternal grandmother who knows a startling amount about our family’s history stretching back quite a ways. Over the past few years, I have been working on archiving and digitizing the gigantic collection, but like everyone else on the face of the planet I’ve also been incredibly busy, so I haven’t been nearly as productive or expedient as I had hoped to be when first taking on the project. Recently I got the idea to set up this blog. It seems like this could potentially be a good motivator, and it’ll allow me to share what I’ve been archiving with any family and friends who might be interested.

The stories contained in these letters are pretty incredible. Some are humorous while many others are horribly depressing, as one might expect of any writing produced during wartime. Not all of the letters I’ll be posting here will be from the Civil War, but I figured that this period in American history would be a good place to start.

Oh, perhaps I should address the matter of the title I’ve chosen for this blog. It’s a recurring line from a poem written by my great great great aunt Katie Peckham to her husband (I’m not sure if they were married yet though) James who went on to be a soldier in the war. I thought it was appropriate for the theme. I’ll be sure to post the full poem eventually.