Tag Archives: Uncle Horrace

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Near Frederick ~ September 11th, 1862: Dear Parents

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I have some notes from my grandmother I plan on posting soon regarding some of the things I had questions about, but in the interest of just keeping this blog going I’ll probably start posting more letters with minimal commentary. One important note though – Robert is James’s brother.

Also, I’m going to try to restrain myself from editing and adding punctuation or fixing spelling errors. Of course I say this now, right after I’ve transcribed one of James’s only legible letters. As you can see, he took special care to write in neat handwriting with passable spelling when writing to his parents. Apparently he was a little more concerned about the impression his letter would leave on them than he was with the impression Katie would get from his insane sprawling handwriting and cramped side-note-ridden margins.

#7 Dear Parents - Sep 11, 1862 Page One

#7 Dear Parents - Sep 11, 1862 Page Two #7 Dear Parents - Sep 11, 1862 Page Three

In Maryland                        September 11, 1862

Not knowing where we are I cannot tell you the name of the place

My dear parents                                                            Thursday night by candle-light

I now take this opportunity to let you know how we get along I am well except some rheumatism in my right leg and shoulders Horace to is well except a blister on his heel, we left our encampment in Leesboro this morning at 7 oclock marched 15 miles to this place got here at half past 4 oclock PM it was a hard march it rained most all the time the road was rough and my leg was a little sore Horace & Mr. Twiss and myself lagged on behind although we kept up with them we are near Frederick where Jackson is but that does not scare me we march again in the morning do not know what direction it matters not. it raines  now but we have got out shelter tents, I went over to a farm house and got some straw to sleep on so we are comfortable Sargent Macarty, Mr. Twiss Horace, Corporal Peckham are in one tent together sergeant is writing to his wife I to you and my wife & friends I left Robert in Virginia I supose he is well I do not stand in need of anything but should like to see you all and Katie for a short time but would not leave my country for I think it is my duty to do what I can. We have Prayer meetings as often as we can thank the Lord. I should have wrote to you before but did not have time we we have to march and drill most all the time but will write as often as I can you must do the same. I have not heard from home since I left Hartford should like to hear first rate expect to every day I cannot write half as much as I should like to must draw this to a close for tonight for it is time for roll call then the light is put out will write more in the morning if I can so good bye once and all for tonight Mr. Twiss sends his respects to my friends Katie knows him Horace sends his love also he will not write this time good night tell father to take care of himself                                                                        with love

September 12                        Lebanon Chourch

Dear Mother, Damaskus, Montgomery Country md

Friday night we moved on 15 miles from where we was last night got to this place at 5 oclock along march and a hard one. I had the rheumatism pretty hard this morning when we left at 7 oclock I walked a little ways then had to fall out they took me into the ambalance carried me about 2 miles then I walked the rest of the way Horace has got very sore feet he could not keep up in the ranks but we hobbled along behind we are very tired. Charles Parker & Perry Woodford and your James has just been over to a house to get some supper we got two cups of tea some fried ham potatoes hoecakes for 25 centers apiece we are 10 miles from Frederick City they have been fighting to day. Burnside and Jackson we can hear every big gun that is fired it sounds ugly. Good news a carrier had just come from Frederick the news is Burnside had whiped Jackson and taken back Frederick city good we will be there tomorrow if nothing happens I must close this for this time I am tired and lame and sore and will write no more it is 8 oclock at night tomorrow we expect to fight or next day

Well good bye

from your ever loving son James

love to all

write soon

Direct as before

Company I 16 Reg CT Vol Washington DC

from James WP

please write to me

by gorris please write to Horace

James

 

Jamie was younger than I am now when writing this letter, yet he complains of rheumatism. I guess we’d all be complaining of rheumatism if we had to march 15 miles every damn day.

 

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Leesborough, Maryland ~ September 9th, 1862: Running Low on Rations

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Today is my grandmother’s birthday, so I felt that now would be a good time to add another post while I take a quick break from working on finals, since I did start this blog partially in honor of her 90th. I haven’t shown her this blog yet, but I plan to at some point today before the horde of partygoers descends upon us. Here is the letter:

#6 Leesboro, MD - Sep 9th, 1862 Page One

#6 Leesboro, MD - Sep 9th, 1862 Page 2

Leesboro, Maryland Starvation Hill
Tuesday morning September 9th, 1862
My wife and friends at home,
I now take this opportunity to give you the news. Horace is well except a sore foot his
heel is blistered. I’m well, hope this will find you the same. Last Saturday Robert &
Charles Parker & your James went to [Alexandria?] got back to camp at two Oclock PM and
found it all in a heap for a long march to start Sunday morning 5 Oclock but we did not
until 1Pm. Hastied from Fairfax Vir and marched to Washington 9 miles halted for 1/2
hour then marched 5 miles out of Washington halted as was 11 Oclock at night stopped
until morning. Slept upon the ground. At 7 Oclock we started went 6 miles farther to
Leesboro got [there] Monday morning 11 Oclock marched into a field and stopped here
[where] we are now. I have not had sleep under a tent since we left Hartford. Slept on the
ground.
Every night we have got some shelter tents came this morning large enough for two men
Horace and me got our tent together this morning. I have [not] got any cold now, got so I
can stanit first rate. The 8 & 11 Reg Ct. Vol. is here with us, we are in Burnside’s Brigade
now, we expect to go into action soon. We have not had any rations since we left Vir, only
what we bought on our way along the road that was a little we got one [loaf] of bread [a
piece] this morning 10 cents a [loaf]. Horace [and] I got some corn yesterday and [roasted] it. It was good for we was hungry. I [have] got to drill now. [Goodbye] while I get through
[the] drill I have got through [the] drill we have just got orders from the [Colonel?] to [?] to march at ten minutes [notice], don’t know where as yet. There is 10 of our company sick some of them in Virginia some is here with us.
My [knapsack] is in Virginia and all of my things, paper any and all I had. To barrie this of
some of boys. Tell Mary and mother I will write as soon as [I] can get paper to
write on. Give my love to all of my friends far & near I hope they are all well, I am.
Much love and respects to all.
Write soon as [convenient].
From your loving husband,
James W
Starvation Hill
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday
To his wife
Mrs. Greenfield
Lyme Conn.
My dear wife, [goodbye]

When I first read this letter and saw the name Leesboro, or rather Leesborough, I was interested in where that was exactly, because I’m from Maryland and couldn’t recall ever hearing of it. “Oh, I wonder if it’s a nice small town surrounded by nature, maybe with a historical museum or something,” I thought. Yeah, so turns out Leesborough is now Wheaton. If you’re from Wheaton or know it, then you probably won’t have a hard time imagining the expression on my face when I found this out. Wheaton’s only a couple of minutes away from my hometown, and let me tell you, it’s not exactly a picnic destination (all right, this is partially a lie as there is Wheaton Regional Park which literally does have a picnic area). It is, however, known for its mall parking lot stabbing incidents. Leesborough was eventually renamed Wheaton, after General Frank Wheaton who was a local folk hero according to Wikipedia, in 1869. Now when I try to imagine Jamie and his brigade camping out in Leesborough, I can’t exorcise the image of them sitting in Westfield mall across from Hot Topic with cups of froyo.

I can’t find any record of anything really called “Starvation Hill”, so I’m going to go ahead and guess that this was Jamie being hyperbolic. Or maybe not so hyperbolic – they were running low on rations and getting really excited over corn, after all. Horace (or Horrace, he’s spelled it both ways so I don’t know what’s going on), is still having a rough time of it, what with his stomach ailments last time and his blistered foot now. Jamie still seems to be in good health, though he did leave his knapsack in Virginia for reasons that I can’t quite understand. They’re also still sleeping completely exposed to the elements. I can’t help but think that by this point it’s really starting to sink in for Jamie just how challenging and miserable the life of a soldier can be, and that even though his spirit still seems mostly intact, he’s becoming steadily more and more disenchanted.

Also, it might be important to note this mention of Charles Parker. He’ll become an important player later on.

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

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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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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 ~ December 8th 1861: Consent to Enlist

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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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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.