1861: Seth Bonney to Mr. Bancroft


This letter was written by Lt. Seth Bonney (1839-1908), the son of Seth Bonney (1804-1880) and Sally C. Goddard (1801-1870) of Sterling, Worcester county, Massachusetts. Seth wrote the letter while serving in Co. D, 26th Massachusetts. He had previously served for 3 months in Co. C, 6th Massachusetts. With the 26th, Seth was commissioned a 2d Lieutenant in October 1861 and by October 1864 had risen to Full Captain.

I have not been able to confirm the identity of Mr. Bancroft, to whom Seth addressed his letter.

[Note: The University of Chicago Library houses a collection of letters written by Daniel (1835-1898), James (1836-1864), and Seth Bonney, three brothers who all served in Massachusetts regiments during the Civil War. The Seth Bonney letters in this collection were written while Seth served in the 26th Massachusetts and were written from Ship Island, Mississippi, Savannah, New Orleans, and from Virginia, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania. Daniel Bonney, with the 15th Massachusetts Volunteers, served in Maryland and Virginia, where he was wounded; several of his letters were written from Army hospitals in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. James Bonney, also with the 15th Massachusetts Regiment, was captured in 1861, and spent some time in a prison camp at Richmond, Virginia. After an exchange of prisoners, he spent two years in the Commissary Department of a parole camp at Annapolis. Finally he returned to his regiment in April, 1864, and soon afterwards was killed in the Battle of Spotsylvania. See Guide to the Bonney Family Correspondence.]


Ship Island
December 28th, 1861

Mr. Bancroft
Dear Sir,

We have now been on this island nearly four weeks having had a pleasant voyage as a general thing from Boston. Ship Island is a barren island sure enough and nothing flourishes here except on one extremity. There there are a few trees of a hard kind of pine and a small number of clumps of rushes which grow in low parts of the island.

Today is warm enough for me to wear a straw hat and no coat and the men go in bathing a good deal. There are some days that an overcoat is not uncomfortable though t’is generally warm enough to be in shirt sleeves most of time. It has scarcely rained since we came through. The dews are very heavy.

We notice something that most of us are surprised at and that is a moon nearly all the time. Every clear night since we came from the first evening there has been a moon in some quarter, Now I cannot account for it considering the motion of earth and sun.

There are but three or four U. S. gunboats here in the sound most of the time though occasionally there are some which come over here from Fort Pickens, this place having been recently made the headquarters of the Commodore of the Squadron of the Gulf of Mexico. The Federalist gunboats have taken several prizes among which are two Rebel steamers. We often see engagements between our boats and the Rebel gunboats of which there are a good many—ten having been counted in one day. At first they came out very often in sight but now they stay back seeming to fear us. There is no mistake (in my mind) that if they have a plenty of ammunition, with concerted action of boats and troops, they might stand a good chance of occupying this island in one place and dislodge us perhaps. I have no apprehension, however, of such an events taking place else they would have re-taken it before we came as they must have known it would soon be a place of rendezvous for our troops.

There are some very strong batteries reported by our gunboats on the mainland across directly north of us at Mississippi City and east of that place along the Southern coast. It is said that five companies from the right of the 26th [Massachusetts] Regiment and the same number from the 9th Connecticut Regiment are to go over with some gunboats and make a landing next week. Our company (Co. D) is the second from the right and we shall be most likely to go—also the Groton Company, the first from the right. We are next to Co. D, it being the best company on the island. Of course “ours” is the next best.

By the way, Mr. Bancroft, the note in your hands I intended to have taken up before I left Massachusetts; as it is, I will either send by mail next steamer or will authorize someone of my folks to pay it. By the way, Co. B had a man blow his hand off or nearly so this morning. I did not learn his name. ¹ It was done carelessly while on picket guard. If you write me, please direct as follows:

Co. D, 26th Mass. Regt., Ship Island, Miss.

Please remember me to Charles, Lizzie, and other friends. Truly yours, — Seth

¹ I don’t see any record of this incident in the regimental records though the soldier may have been Henry Oliver Shattuck who was discharged from the service on 31 December 1861 without any further explanation.


One thought on “1861: Seth Bonney to Mr. Bancroft”

  1. Hello,

    I wrote about the Seth Bonney letters at the Univ. of Chicago, indicating I had a problem. No more. The Univ called and told me how to get copies of the letters. Thanks. Larry DeCan


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