1862-64: Robert Henry Greenfield to Mary (Lowell) Greenfield

Items belonging to a member of the 1st New York Dragoons

These letters were written by Pvt. Robert “Henry” Greenfield (1838-1912) who enlisted on 16 August 1862 for three years in Co. I, 130th New York Infantry.  This regiment was converted into a regiment of cavalry during the summer of 1863 and was designated the 19th New York Cavalry. A couple months later it was designated the 1st New York Dragoons, at which time Henry was appointed its farrier. Henry was born in Lester, New York and was a hostler by trade. His muster roll abstract indicates that he stood 5 feet 6 inches tall, had brown eyes, brown hair, and a dark complexion. He mustered out with the company at Clouds Mills, Virginia on 30 June 1865.

Henry wrote all of the letters to his wife, Mary (Lowell) Greenfield (1838-1903). Mary’s younger brother, George W. Lowell also served with Henry in the same regiment (in Co. F) but unlike Henry, he did not survive the war.

Henry and Mary lived in Grove, Allegany county, New York. After the war they moved to Nunda, Livingston county, New York.

Mentioned in most of Henry’s letters was his comrade Pvt. Milon Parker (1837-1864). Milon died on 10 September 1864 in Washington D. C. and was buried in Arlington Cemetery. In one letter, Milon added a note to his sister Henrietta (“Etta”) Parker of Grove, New York.


Camp Suffolk, Virginia
November 13, 1862

Dear Wife,

I received yours of the 6th and was glad to hear that you was all alive and well as this leaves me. I received your letter last night but, Mary, I did not have time to answer it until this morning for our company went to guard a fort and I went with them so this morning I will pen you these few lines to let you know that the rebels has not taken us yet.

About one o’clock last night the news come in that the rebels had drove in our cavalry pickets. There has three regiments gone out and some cavalry. Our regiment has not had orders to march yet. We will probably have to go in two or three days. We may have to go in two or three days. We may have to go to Blackwater again.

Mary, you would hardly know me now for I have not shaved since I left home. I am heavier that I ever was before. I weight twenty pounds more than I did when I came here. The climate agrees with me. I never had a better appetite in my life.

Mary, tell George that I was very much pleased with his likeness. It looks natural to me. Mite says it looks better than the original. O Mary, Mite [Milon Parker] has got Eliza Mays’ [likeness]. She sent it to him. He feels very much pleased with it. He says, “Hank, if we was only home, would we enlist again?”  “No,” says he, “not for five hundred [dollars]. How we would ride round, wouldn’t we, Hank.” I guess you would smile right out loud to see us coming, would you not? But Mary, I do not expect to come home until the regiment comes. Mary, you said that you wanted me to come home on a furlough. Mary, that is impossible. We could not get one very well unless we was sick a good while and then we might get one to go home long enough to get well and then we would have to return to our regiment again. It is not like it used to be. They are more stricter than they was when this war first broke out. If they let one have a furlough, they would have to let another have one and that would be the way it would go.

Mary, keep up good courage and be careful of your health and not get cold for I am afraid you are getting careless as you was when you worked to George’s for it would worry me to hear that you was sick and I away off here. I think this war will be settled before six months roll around. There is more prospects of it now than there has been since it first broke out.

Mary, we had a grand review here yesterday of all troops by General Dix and three other generals. It was a grand sight. There was fifty thousand troops in one body. That would be a great sight for you to see. Mary, please write to me if they have drafted any or not and if they are going to. Tell George to be a good boy and not speak too much for it is a foolish notion for young boys to get in to, I suppose it is lonesome times there now days. So I have written all that I can think of now for I must go to bed. Mite is asleep now. We was on guard last night and we can sleep today. Give my respects to your folks and my love to yourself. From your affectionate husband, — Robert H. Greenfield

Please answer this soon.


Camp Suffolk [Virginia]
December 4, 1862

Dear Wife,

Having just returned from a march to Blackwater, I thought you would be uneasy and want o hear from me. Well, Mary, we have been on a bigger march than we ever was before. We got in camp yesterday in the afternoon but I did not feel much like writing. I received a letter from you last night dated the 26th, but I thought I would not answer it until this morning. I am well and hope these few lines will find you the same. We came the nearest of having a brush this time of any time yet. Our regiment was in the advance this time. There was one company of cavalry ahead of us. We got within half mile of the rebels when a brisk fire commenced between our cavalry and the rebels. Then there was another company of cavalry went out in the direction where the firing was heard and we was ordered to halt and fall in line of battle and in half an hour the cavalry came in with twenty rebels and one battery and eleven horses and forty stands of arms. The battery is one that the rebels took from our men at the first Bull Run fight. It is called the Rocket Battery with McClellan’s name on it. ¹ I tell you, Mary, they was hard-looking fellows. Some of them was badly cut to pieces. Some had their ears cut off and their faces all cut to pieces. Our men killed one of them. They was poorly dressed. One of them did not seem to care. He said to us when he passed by that we would catch hell before night, but before light [he was] to [the] Suffolk jail. I guess he changed his mind. Mary, it was a hard sight to see old men with the blood running from their wounds.

There was none killed on our side. One [was] slightly wounded in the face. He was a Pennsylvania Cavalry man. The property that our men took is estimated at sixty thousand dollars and if they would only let our regiment went when they wanted to, we could of taken them all prisoners before they would have crossed Blackwater. There was a small piece of woods between us. We have missed one from our company. He fell out and we have not heard from him yet. His name is Sophrenus [Sepherence] Ward ² from Grove. It is thought that he is taken prisoner by the guerrillas for there is lots of them here in Virginia. Mite [Milon Parker] and I marched together all the way there and back. It is twenty-three miles to Blackwater from Suffolk.

caf509909866a05a8b0ccd20a424aa2e 2
A Civil War era Rocket Battery

Well, Mary, I shall have to close this letter so give my best respects to your folks and my love to you from your affectionate husband, — Robert H. Greenfield

Please answer this soon.

¹ General George McClellan had a rocket battery in his Army of the Potomac and employed it during the spring of 1862 in the Peninsular Campaign. About 20 of the 2¼” Hale rockets have been unearthed in the last few years in the vicinity of the Battle of Seven Pines. They all had the solid heads and three rear tangential vents.

² Sepherence Ward—Age, 21 years. Enlisted, August 12, 1862, at Portage, N. Y.; mustered in as private, Co. I, September 3, 1862, to serve three years; transferred, October 29, 1864, to Sixty-fifth Company, Second Battalian, V. R. C, from which discharged, June 29, 1865, at Washington, D. C.


Camp Suffolk, Virginia
May 4, 1863

Dear Wife,

Thinking that you would be anxious to hear from me, I thought I would address this letter to you. The rebels have dispersed. We had a fight here yesterday and drove the rebels two miles. There was upwards of one hundred killed and wounded on our side. The rebels loss is not known yet. They are retreating towards Petersburg. They left last night at ten o’clock. Many deserters have come into our lines. Already forces have gone out from Suffolk on all the roads. We are in the rifle pits yet but expect to go in camp tomorrow. The rebels have made up their minds that they cannot take Suffolk. They would never have attacked Suffolk but they supposed that our brigade hd gone to North Carolina to reinforce Foster. But they got mistaken this time. The woods is full of dead rebels that was killed by our shells. They lost a great many men more than we did.

Tell Ett that she must write. Mite is going to write a few lines to Ett [Henrietta Parker] in this letter so give my respects to all and my love to you. From your ever true and affectionate husband, — Robert H. Greenfield

Dear Friends,

As Henry was writing, I thought I would try and address you by the pen to let you know that I am well and hope this will find you the same. The excitement seems to be here today that the Rebs has give us the slip but our boys are after them and they just sent in 8 prisoners that had tired out and we are giving them fits. I should like to see you but I can’t and there is no use of talking.

Where is the boys this summer and has Silva gone to teaching? I suppose that she will make them fly after Ester now. I should like to be to Rob’s to one dance, don’t you. Certainly you would tell Mary that I sleep with her man every night but will give him up to her soon as the war closes. I suppose that my gals in Grove is well and I should like to make them a call. Now, Ester, I shall have to close. Please excuse this poor writing and my love to you and all of my friends. Write soon and answer your cousin, — Mite


Frederick City, Maryland
July 15, 1863

Dear wife,

I now take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well and [to let you know] where we are. We came from Yorktown to Washington and from there here. We expect to move forward tomorrow. We are about one days march from the Rebel army in Pennsylvania. We expect to see some fighting in a few days. The 136th Regiment is only twelve miles from us. The 104th [New York Regiment] has been badly cut to pieces. They are not far from us. We will probably see some of them in a few days.

The weather is not as warm here as it was in Suffolk. We are encamped in a wheat field. The boys takes the wheat today. Mary, you may think hard of my writing with a pencil but I am in a hurry and ink is scarce here. Besides, it is unhandy to carry so far. As I am writing these few lines, I can here the distant cannons’ roar towards the scene of action. We passed a train filled with Rebel prisoners yesterday when we was coming down here. It has rained for the past week most of the time.

Mary, I am in hopes that the next letter that I write I will have some ink. I suppose you are very lonesome this summer but I am in hopes that the Lord may spare my life so that I may see you once more. Mary, I cannot think of much more to write this time but I will write soon and do better next time so give my respects to all and my love to love you from your ever true and affectionate husband, — Robert H. Greenfield

And may the stars and stripes for ever wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Please excuse my poor writing.


Camp near the Rappahannock, Va.
November 9, 1863

Dear Wife,

I now take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well and hope these few lines will find you the same. I have received several letter from you but could not find any time until now to answer them. Our brigade is across the river. The report is that they had a fight and captured 12 hundred rebel prisoners. I do not know how many of our regiment is killed yet for we have not got the General Report yet. But I think there is a good many for they had a hard fight. There was sixteen hundred prisoners went by here yesterday. They looked very hard indeed. Some barefooted and half naked. Miland is with the regiment. I have seven men here with me to help take care of my horses.

Tell Ren and Ett and George that I received their letters and will write as soon as I get a chance. Mary, I think it looks more favorable for this war to close than it did for the rebs say this rebellion must close for the poor in the South are starving to death. Our infantry took two brigades of rebels and two brigadier generals and staff. Mary, there is not much more news that I can think of now but you will see an account of these battles in the newspapers. Our regiment is in the regular brigade commanded by General Merrit. They are called the Regular Brigade but there is our regiment and the Six[th] Pennsylvania are volunteers regiments. I do not know how long we will stay here in this place.

Mary, I saw the 104th [New York] at Bristol but did not see many of the boys that I knew. I saw Hiram Passage, ¹ Sam Wright, ² and John Satterle. ³ That was all that was there. Well, Mary, I have written all I can for this time and will try and do better next time. So give my respects to all and my love to you from your ever true and affectionate husband, — Robert H. Greenfield

Please excuse all mistakes and poor writing. Yours forever.

¹ Hiram Passage—Age, 19 years. Enlisted at Geneseo, to serve three years, and mustered in as private,. Co. A , October 12, 1861; re-enlisted as a veteran, January 4, 1864; wounded in action, May 12, 1861, at Spotsylvania, Va.; captured in ac-tion, August 19, 1861, at Weldon Railroad, Va.; died, November 8, 1864, at Salisbury, N. C.

² Samuel L. Wright—Age, 13 years. Enlisted at Geneseo, to serve three years, and mustered in as musician, Co. A, September 30, 1801; discharged, September 30, 1804.

³ John S. Satterlee—Age, 22 years. Enlisted at Geneseo, to serve three years, and mustered in as corporal, Co. A , October 12, 1861; promoted sergeant, prior to April, 1863; first sergeant, July 2, 1863; re-enlisted as a veteran, January 4, 1864; killed in action, May 12, 1864, at Spotsylvania, Va


Camp near Washington, D. C.
August 3, 1864

Dear Wife,

Having just arrived at this place, I thought I would answer your letter which I received on the battlefield near Petersburg. I am well and hope these few lines will find you the same. I just received word that George is dead. ¹ He died near N.Y. City. Captain Thorp got a dispatch that he was dead. I do not know but what you have heard of it but it is sad news to write home. But Mary, it is not my fault for I done all I could for him when he was with us. But Mary, I suppose your mother will go crazy if crying would do any good, I would cry myself to sleep. But Mary, I cannot cry—but I feel a great deal worse than if I could. I cannot make it seem possible that he is dead.

Mary, our brigade has been in another hard battle on the James river near Fort Darling—between there and Bermuda Hundred. The Rebels tried to surround our brigade but they met with an awful loss. There was one place in a cornfield [where] there was four hundred dead Rebs left for our men to bury and a great many wounded. They did not find the one hundred day’s men to fight with this time.

We came here o transports from City Point and I think we are going up in Pennsylvania and Maryland to catch them Rebs that are plundering through there. Our division is all that is ordered here.

Mary, Mite [Milan Parker] ² is sick and I think he will be sent to the hospital before we leave here. He is nothing but skin and bones. He looks hard, I tell you. Billy Clyne’s ³ wife is here and several of our boys wives. Mary, we expect to get our pay before we leave here and if we do, I will send you some money and my likeness so you can see if I have changed any. Billy’s wife did not know me until I spoke to her and then she knew my voice. I suppose I do not look as I used to.

You must excuse me for my poor writing for I am in a hurry. So goodbye. Give my best respects to all and my love to you from your ever true and loving husband, — Robert H. Greenfield

¹ George W. Lowell—Age, 20 years. Enlisted, December 16, 1863, at Buffalo, N. Y.; mustered in as private, Co. F, January 5, 1864, to serve three years; died, in hospital, New York city, date not stated.

² Milon Parker—Age, 25 years. Enlisted, August 12, 1862, at Grove, N. Y.; mustered in as private, Co. I, September 3, 1862, to serve three years; died of disease, September 10, 1864, at Washington, D. C.; also borne as Milan Parker.

³ William Clyne— Age, 22 years. Enlisted, January 4, 1864, at Nunda, N. Y.; mustered in as private, Co. I, January 5,1864, to serve three years; mustered out with company, June 30, 1865, at Clouds Mills, Va.

[Note these last two sheets appear to be fragments of other letters. I cannot conclude that they belonged with any of the other letters presented here though they were also written by Robert Henry Greenfield.]


[Probably Suffolk, Va. 1862]

Mary, I could not get all on one sheet so I thought I would commence another. I was sorry to hear that your head ached when you wrote to me. Do you have the headache as much as you used to? You must write and let me know all the news.

Mary the noise of he cannon have commenced toward Fortress Monroe. We do not know but the Rebel steamer Merrimac is trying to pass the blockade. I will write to you in a few days. I guess I have written you most of the news. Oh Mary, Mite just got a letter from his dear. It is all “dear Mite” now-a-days. Mite seems to think that nobody can cut him out there but Mary, one bird in the hand is worth ten in the bush. There is a great slip between the cup and the lip.

Mary, I suppose if I was there you would not be so laughed to come to bed as you was that night before I left home. Mary, I have laughed when I am alone to think of it and what good times we used to have. Them times have gone by, never to return. But we may have some as good times as we ever had yet. Well, I must stop writing for this time. So give my respects to your folks and my love to you from your affectionate husband, — Robert Henry Greenfield

the world over.



Mary, you spoke of my sending my likeness. Well, Mite and I are going to have ours taken together and send it home. That will suit you, will it not? Mary, you must write oftener. So take good care of your health for I should feel worried about you if I should hear that you was sick and I away off here.

Mary, we have had three new regiments come in while we was gone. There will soon be one hundred thousand troops here. Then I think we will march to Petersburg and take it. Then we will be about sixty-five miles from Richmond. Then we will make the Rebels hunt their holes on double quick time.

Mary, please write all the news and what is going on around there. Mite is writing to his deal Eliza. So no more. From your affectionate husband, — Robert H. Greenfield, the world over

Respects to all friends and relations and love to yourself.



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