Dear Friends, LETTERS OF A CIVIL WAR SOLDIER
Near Culpeper, Va.March 26, 1864 My dear friend, I saw General Grant in Alexandria. He is a pretty tough-looking man for Lieutenant General, but I guess he is all right on the fight questions. He came up to the headquarters of the Potomac Army the same day I did; that was day before yesterday. He is a-going to make us get right up and climb in a few days.
Herbert, I hope the time will be when we will be together again. I have faith that we will.
Near Culpeper, Va. April 14, 1864
We have to drill almost all the time to teach these awkward recruits. There is some of them that take hold and try to learn, but the most of them are as awkward as mules.
The weather is very pleasant here now. We have orders to be ready to march. We have sent off all our extra clothing, and we will soon commence active service again. I expect we will see some hard fighting this summer. We are practicing twice a week, shooting at a mark. We shoot about 20 rounds, while the recruits are shooting from five to ten. I can hear some heavy firing this morning beyond the picket line. I think by the sound it is cavalry and artillery skirmishing. The boys are all in good spirits, and the raws are waiting very impatiently to be initiated in the science of battling for their country, as they call it, but as the vets term it, fighting for greenbacks.
I was on picket day before yesterday, and it was raining very hard, when General (Lysander) Cutler and several other high officials came to see how the pickets was making it. They had just got opposite our regiment when Thurstin, one of Company E boys, hollered out, ''Oh, my greenbacks, how I do suffer for thee.''
Old Cutler looked round and, says he, ''Boys, that's pretty rough. You had ought to say 'country' instead of 'greenbacks.' ''
''I know it,'' says Thurstin, ''but, General, I can't lie. It was greenbacks that I enlisted for.''
So the old fellow rode on and said no more, but I guess he thought we was a pretty hard set.
Herbert, there is no letter that I get that does me as much good to read as yours. You know just what I want to hear. Every little thing that you may think is of no account is just the very thing that does the soldier's soul good to hear, and you know it. Be sure and write as soon as you receive this.
Camp near Culpeper, Va. May 3, 1864
My dearest friend Herbert,
The Rebs have crossed the Rapidan (River) 85,000 strong. They have advanced their picket line within three-quarters of a mile of ours. They say if we don't soon pitch in, they will. I hope they will be as good as their word, for I would a great deal rather be the attacked party than the party to attack.
I came pretty near to getting taken prisoner again while I was on picket the other day. I went beyond our line after some milk and other eatables. We went about half a mile to a house, got our dinner and some milk, and come to find out we was in plain sight of the Rebel pickets. We had just got started for camp when we saw a squad of the graybacks' cavalry coming toward us at full gallop hollering, ''Halt, you ---- Yankees.'' As we had no guns our only safety was the woods, and to the pine woods we went double quick, and the Rebs after us. They chased us to our picket line, where we made a bold stand, and they retreated in good order. The recruits thought this was pretty dangerous.
Chestnut Hill Hospital, Philadelphia May 17, 1864
I take this opportunity of informing you that I am yet alive, although I have got a pretty bad knee. It don't work worth a cent, but I think it will be all right in a short time.
We had a very hard fight the fifth of May. Our company's loss was very severe. It was a hot place, I can tell you, but we all done our best and drove the Rebels about three miles through the thickest woods you ever saw. The recruits fought like tigers.
We have the best of care here in Philadelphia, and plenty to eat. I am in hopes soon to be able to walk round again. I would like to get uptown. Philadelphia is a very nice place.
I am in hopes that this summer's campaign will settle the war. The Army was never in better condition than when we left our quarters at Culpeper. We were all in the best of spirits. I little thought of getting wounded while we were making the charge and driving the Rebels like chaff. I think we killed and wounded a great many more than they did. But our loss was very heavy after all.
Chestnut Hill Hospital, Philadelphia May 27, 1864
My dear Herbert,
I am getting along finely. This is one of the largest hospitals in the United States. There is a splendid grove of chestnuts close by it, with seats, swings, ball alley, and quoits, and they are all (used) every day by the more able patients. There is men among them that have been here for two years, and not a thing the matter with them. Oh! Herbert, I could almost shoot them, when they are needed as badly as they are now in the field to be playing in a hospital.
After being wounded, Hugh Perkins spent the summer in Wisconsin on furlough. In October he returned to his regiment.
City Point, Va. October 2, 1864
The Rebel prisoners are a-coming in in droves, and they say our corps is within a mile and a half of Richmond and driving the Rebs before them. I will soon be with my old regiment again, enjoying its pleasures and hardships. God knows it will seem good to me.
City Point, Va. October 16, 1864
You say I have friends in Pine River. Well, I suppose I have, and that's not the only place I have friends. No, Herbert, if my friends at home should all desert me, my brothers in arms would yet stick by me to the last. I have never seen a happier time in my life than these two weeks past since I have been with my old true-hearted friends.
I have got a permanent detail at division headquarters, as provost guard for General (Samuel W.) Crawford where I am now doing duty. I have no picket duty to do, no knapsack to carry on a march. In a fight we have to form a skirmish line in the rear of the main line of battle and keep the skedaddlers up to their knitting, besides taking care of prisoners.
We have plenty to do here, and the best the service affords. We have for variety mackerel, potatoes, beans, pork, beef, onions, warm light bread, sugar, coffee, molasses, pickles, pepper, salt, and vinegar. I never drawed half so many rations before, nor I never had so good an appetite. I am getting as fat as a pig.
We have to put on a great deal of style. We are the best drilled company of one hundred men you ever saw together. They furnish us shoe blacking and white gloves, and we have to have all new clothes on while on duty or parade. We are a regular band-box company.
On the (presidential) election question, there was a great many of our boys for Gen. McClellan until about a week ago. We were on picket about a mile from Petersburg. We had been on scarcely a half hour when we were up on our breastworks, both us and our Johnny friends with daily papers in our hands. We made a few exchanges of papers, when General Crawford and staff made his appearance. But the Rebs still remained on their breastwork, and hollered, ''Hurrah for McClellan.'' Our boys hurrahed for Lincoln.
We then began to talk the matter over, and we all agreed that what the Rebels liked was just what we had no right to like, and if it was going to do them so much good to elect McClellan, we just wouldn't do it. Since that you hardly hear McClellan's name mentioned in our regiment. Three weeks ago they would have given him a majority. McClellan is played out in the Army. Herbert, you may bet it now lays with the citizens of the North.
Near Petersburg, Va. November 1, 1864
The boys are in the best of spirits. Old Abe has distanced McClellan on this track. The Reb prisoners say they should stand it four years longer if Abe was elected, and we told them we could stand it for forty years, and anyway, as long as Abe lived he should stay at the White House. They are pretty spunky. They are just as good soldiers as us, but not better, but we slightly outnumber them.
Camp near Petersburg, Va. November 22, 1864
We haven't been paid off yet, but we expect to every day. But we may not be until next month. If not, I will have one year's pay coming. I shall send it in Government bonds if at all possible. I will send all except fifteen dollars. If I happen to get put out of the way, I want my mother to have it all.
The Rebel deserters come in here by the hundreds every day. They say it is common talk with both officers and privates that as soon as they hear for certain of Lincoln's re-election, they will desert if it is a possible thing. They say when Abe is elected their last hope dies forever.
Near the Jerusalem Plank Road
December 15, 1864
I received your letter last night and was very glad to hear from an old friend, especially when so worn out with marching. For eight days we were on the march night and day. We tore up forty miles of railroad for the Johns (Johnny Rebs).
It was the most successful raid of the war, especially for the infantry. We have one of the finest flocks of horses and cattle captured that you ever saw.
We have not been paid off yet. We expect it this month certain.
Camp of the Provost near the Jerusalem Plank
January 3, 1865
I was just thinking, Herbert, that had I not reenlisted I would likely have been going to school this winter, hugging and kissing the Pine River belles, sleigh riding, and having all the fun imaginable. But why should we mourn departed souls or cry for spilt milk? Here I am, well and hearty after three years' hard service, and only one year and a bit of a chunk to stay; while there is hundreds of others who have not stood the racket of one campaign, and now they lay deep down in the Virginia mud, taking their last sleep. No, Herbert, I have no reason to complain, even while comparing my fare with that of the regiment.
We will be paid off by the fifteenth of this month, so says the officers. Herbert, what say you to going west after I get home? I think we would like it where the game is plenty. The boys are all talking strong of it here.
Headquarters, Third Division, Fifth Army Corps
January 22, 1865
There is no news of importance, excepting the capture of Fort Fisher (North Carolina), which you have heard of before this. For fear you haven't seen Leslie's (Illustrated Newspaper) I will send you a picture, as drawn by one of my tent mates.
We have not seen the paymaster yet. Some think he will not get here until March.
I was over to the Thirty-Eighth the other day. Had a good visit with Charley Cook, Bill Barr, and several others. We all went to bed in a bombproof (shelter) , and about twelve o'clock it commenced to rain. When it had rained about two hours, the whole thing caved in, and let about two foot of water in onto our bed. Was we not in a pretty fix. Then our tent fell from the top, and left us with no cover except the heavens, and we was obliged to stand up and take it until morning. It was then you could hear the boys say, ''Oh! if I was only at home. What did I enlist for?''
''Oh!'' says Charley, ''I wish I was in my old mother's clothes basket and under the bed.''
I told them that was nothing, but they couldn't see it that way. They have it pretty hard. They are on picket every other day, and if they miss roll call they are on every day. They are all sorry they did not go in our regiment.
Near the South Side Rail Road, Va.
March 1, 1865
I have just been paid off.
We have had some hard marching and fighting since I last wrote you. I received your letter the day we had the fight at Hatcher's Run. We have just got settled after the hardest campaign we have had for some time. Our division lost one quarter of their men. Our brigade suffered the most of any in the division. I tell you, it was pretty hard laying down in the mud nights to sleep after a hard day's march.
Deserters come in every day. Our boys trade and converse with the Rebels, while on picket.
Camp of the Provost Guard March 21, 1865
The Rebs have sent more peace commissioners to Washington. There is pretty strong talk of a settlement. They know their only terms of peace.
Near Burkville, Va. April 19, 1865
I have seen some pretty rough times since we left camp near Petersburg. We marched about thirty miles the first day, slept all night, in the morning had a fight; got pretty badly licked. Our loss was pretty heavy. The Rebs attacked our column while marching in four ranks. The boys had no time to form a line of battle. We (Provost) formed our lines and tried to stop stragglers and send them back, but they couldn't see them go back (because of fog). But they said they would stand as long as we would, so the line formed and we held the Rebs for about half an hour, though our loss was great.
The Johnnies (Johnny Rebs) then got on our left flank and everlastingly made us git. I never run so in my life. The trees was knocked endwise with shot and shell. The flying Yankees could be seen biting the dust in every direction. Twas a horrid sight. But our men rallied at a creek and fought rather than swim. We then turned on them, gave them a Yankee yell, drove them (back) over the same ground, and advanced one mile beyond our first line, but our loss was the heaviest.
We laid on the field that night in the rain, expecting to go in to it in the morning. But instead our whole corps moved to the left, and left that field, for we had word from (General Philip H.) Sheridan that he had been overpowered by infantry and cavalry combined. We marched about fourteen miles, made the attack in the rear of some formidable fortifications of the Johnnies.
The fight commenced, sun about two hours high, and at dark we had a whole Rebel division killed, wounded, or prisoners. Our division charged. They charged five times. It was charge after charge. The Rebs flew like chaff, but night closed the ball or we would have had the whole force.
That fight the Rebs say was the lock-picker of Richmond. They were April-fooled, although they have just the best kind of breastworks. We followed the remnant of that force night and day, skirmishing and taking prisoners and stragglers until we got them all except a few that took to their homes for safety.
We then followed after the cavalry, got in ahead of old (Gen. Robert E.) Lee, cut off his wagon train and some artillery fortified in his front, and compelled him to go about ten miles out of his way. As soon as we got him started, we (the Fifth Corps and Cavalry) again marched night and day to meet him again at Appomattox Court House, while the rest of the army followed him so close he lost his rear guard and the men of his train that was left.
The last day's march Sheridan came back and said if we could make the court house that night, we might expect glorious results, for it was the door that closed old Lee in on all sides, and retreat was impossible.
We reached the court house at about two o'clock in the morning. Lee had not yet arrived, and we rested two hours. Lee's columns could be seen at daylight, advancing slowly, driving our cavalry in the direction afore him. The cavalry came flying back. We lay behind the top of the hill. We poured in a volley (of bullets) and charged. My God what a skedaddle. We chased them through town.
Just at sunrise we came upon their force that was massed. We halted our artillery of one hundred guns, got into position, and when about ready to open the ball a second time the white flags were hoisted from every tree, and Lee wished an interview with Grant. Didn't want to surrender to Sheridan; preferred a man of his rank. I saw the whole maneuvering from the top of a house. The two generals met under an apple tree. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.
Herbert, I think the war is played out. I think I shall be home by the Fourth. We have a chance now to enlist in the regulars for five years, but I can't see it.
Oh! Herbert, isn't it awful about old Abe. I would like to have the killing of old Wilkes Booth.
I am in hopes I will be where I can give you a better account of our campaign , as well as have a good visit with your honorable self. I think the time is close at hand.
Camp opposite Washington May 21, 1865
We have had some hard marching since I last wrote you. We marched through the city of Richmond and arrived once more on the banks of the old Potomac. Tomorrow is the grand review of the Potomac Army. Next day comes Sherman's Army.
That review will be a big thing, I expect. The Rebs is played out, and I expect soon to be home. We hear some talk about keeping the vets, but I can't think our Government is mean enough to do such a thing. If they do they will have trouble with them, if I mistake not.
The time never went off so slow in the world as at the present time. When we were in the field we knew we were needed, and we were willing to stay. But now there can be no earthly use in keeping us, as we can see.
Oh, Herbert, I never could stand soldiering in time of peace. Deliver me from being a regular.I hope we will be home by the Fourth of July. What a gay time we will have, Herbert. I think I shall not stay long in Wisconsin. I think I will spend my days in old Virginia. There is a good chance for me beyond Richmond, which I will tell you of when I see you.
Write soon, Herbert. I am out of money. Please send me ten dollars.
From your ever true friend, Hugh C. Perkins
After the war the friends had their reunion. Then Hugh Perkins returned to school in a neighboring town, and later moved to Sherwood Forest in central Wisconsin, where he went into the logging business. In the last letter in the existent collection, dated May 29, 1881, Hugh wrote: ''I have got to be a very poor hand to write letters, but I like my old friends as well as ever.''
These letters were compiled and edited by Marilyn Gardner, editor of the Monitor's Living page. She is the great-granddaughter of Herbert Frisbie, to whom the letters were written.