1862-64: Henry Clay Beckwith Letters

becks
A post-war Image of Henry Clay Beckwith

These letters were written by Assistant Engineer Henry C. Beckwith (1839-1885), the son of David Beckwith (1793-1860) and Eliza Rathbone (1796-Aft1865) of Chesterfield Post Office, Montville, New London, Connecticut.

Beckwith entered the U. S. (Regular) Navy on 27 June 1862 as the Third Assistant Engineer as was assigned on 15 July 1862 to the USS New Ironsides, a large wooden “Ironclad” launched in May of 1862. He was promoted to Second Assistant Engineer on 7 November 1863 while on the New Ironsides and reassigned to the USS Yantic on 22 July 1864 at the same grade. He served onboard that vessel until June 5th 1866 when he accepted an assignment at the US Naval Academy for a year. He later served on the USS Saco and the USS Franklin where he was promoted to First Assistant Engineer. Ill health forced his to retire from active service in 1873 and he was placed on the Retired List in 1876. Died of consumption on 12 July 1885.

All the letters were written in the South while on duty in Hampton Roads, Newport News, Charleston and Fort Monroe.

After the war, Henry married Lucretia (“Lou”) Clara Merwin. He was buried in Amenia, Dutchess county, New York.

tumblr_o7hageCl4s1u3ttcio1_1280
The USS New Ironsides (foreground) in Charleston Harbor

TRANSCRIPTION

U.S.S. New Ironsides
Hampton Roads, Virginia
October 13, 1862

Dear Mother,

Imagining that you would have no objections to receiving a letter from me provided that it is written in a manner that you can read it—-ah, see my pen begins to go much better already. It is a rainy day, Oh well, say you then, you can write a long letter most certainly. I can, but not a bit longer on that account. The days are all alike to me in this respect & I came near saying in all respects but I am one of those who are willing to give every man every institution its due. We do have religious service on board on Sunday but as far as my observations extend, I am free to say that I don’t think that they amount to much. Great good may result from them & most certainly I hope that it may be so. We have the same duties to do on a Sunday that we have any other day which are not usually very tedious when laying under banked fires as we are at present. But sometimes at sea we see little different times. I mean by banked fires that they are piled up with coal & lays in smothering state but can be raked & in a few minutes will become a good fire. When running, we burn 25 tons of coal per day. Under banked fire, [only] 4 tons. Our engines are sixteen hundred (1600) horse power—that is, they will draw as much as 1600 horses like “Old Tom” on level ground, up or down hill.

I find that we have on board only 450 men and 31 officers at present. I think I told you that we had 500 men. I think that we did at first but the remainder ran away. A sailor will run away if you but give him a chance. They are bound to do it as soon as they set their feet on shore provided that a man with “Brass buttons” is not around. Then if he attempts to do the same, he is very apt to get caught up. Some of them of course are trustworthy but many are not.

We are still laying in the same place that we were when I last wrote & expect to stay for some time to come but the length of time, time only will determine. We arrived here the 27th ultimo & strange to say I haven’t set foot on land since. No, I haven’t since the 23rd ultimo. Sometimes for twenty-four hours I don’t see daylight. I have been writing all the time since we arrived here & by candlelight at that. We are obliged to do almost everything by the said light such as writing, studying, eating &c. &c. In fact, our quarters are just about as dark as our cellar without a light. Oh! it would be a rich treat if I could spend a few weeks at home just about now, provided—yes, provided I need not say what you already know—that I was very bitter against hard physical labor & strange to relate a change of climate does not appear to erase this peculiar disease in the least. And I tell you the plain truth as sorrowful as it may be, it would in the course of time come to light. I think the case incurable.

I am so cut off from the world that I can’;t imagine what you are doing at home—pears & peaches must be gone, apples from the trees. But I imagine that there are plenty “down cellar with the cider.” I would not mind—-oh look here, I forgot myself. I would mind just as well but what I intended to say was that I would not have any objections. Corn, I think, must be “cut up” by this time but I am not quite sure on this point but I am quite sure that it all right. I cannot go up to East Haddam this fall after chestnuts, don’t you think so. I begin to realize it but don’t mind. I will make it all up when I do come home.

Oh! I must stop writing very soon to go to quarters—that is, to arrange ourselves in the proper position for battle. I, you know, am classed with the non-combatants. Am in the same general class as doctors from the fact that I am not obliged & not expected to do any fighting. When I spoke of quarters on the opposite page, I meant our room in which we stay the most of the time which is about 12 feet by 9. I would [pay] $10 per month if I could have one all to myself with good windows in it but such luxuries are unknown to us on board ship. In fact, no officer in the ship except the captain can read either a book or paper on the Quarter Deck—one at first very naturally says that is very hard—over and above exact; but this is a man-of-war and that is a fair sample of the rules of the U.S. Navy. And after a person has fairly examined them—has given them a fair investigation in view of the discipline that we should have in our Navy & the investigation is very apt to overlook such a small thing, but withall we have some good times but at the same time, there are certain bounds set and we are obliged to stay with them.

I have neglected thus far to tell you that I am exceedingly well but I presume that by this time from the tenor of my writing you have come to the conclusion that I am not very sick. In fact, I never enjoyed better health in my life than at present. Remember me to my friends. I am your son, — Henry

 

 


TRANSCRIPTION

U. S. Frigate “New Ironsides
Off Newport News [Virginia]
November 7th 1862

Dear Mother,

I again seat myself to let you know of my welfare. Yours of a late date came duly to hand. We are laying at the same place that we were when I last wrote but since then I have been on shore. I did not put a foot on land from Sept. 23rd till last Sunday but it was my own fault if it was anyone’s. I might went on shore but I did not try. Some of the officers go ashore quite often for the purpose of shooting quails & if I had a gun, I think that I should try the same but most unfortunately—or fortunately—-I have not one.

I am enjoying excellent health. My mess mates say that I am “growing fat.” I am sure that I am not losing any of my former proportions.

The weather appears very cold here at present but I suppose that it is owing in a great measure to my employment which in the summer is quite a warm berth but in the winter the engine room is quite a favorite resort not only for the engineers but other officers of the ship find their way hither. Yesterday we had a slight fall of snow which is a very rare occurrence in this latitude at this time of the year but what is more singular we have not had any frosts yet. The trees are as green as in mid summer.

Sunday, November 9th

You will notice from the fact that I commenced this letter several days before I finished it that I am busy about something—such is the case. I am very busy studying my employment which is very necessary that I may become a successful engineer. We have had a terrible storm at this place. Snow fell for several days in succession & at the same time the weather was exceedingly cold for this place & this season of the year. For several days we could not get ashore to get provisions which we are accustomed to get every day fresh. We have salt or rather sea stores enough to last some time but for some reason we cannot relish them while fresh stores are attainable.

Mary in her last letter says she thinks that I am homesick but such is not the case. We are having splendid times here & I am enjoying myself extremely well. I cannot deny but that I would like to see my friends at home but I could not stay in Chesterfield any length of time. I would like to stay a few days and then be off again. I have lived so much excitement since I last left home that it has become almost indispensable to me.

I wrote to Josie Latimer several weeks ago but have not received an answer. I suppose that long ‘ere this he was gone South. If so, I know that the time will come when he will be sorry that he enlisted. I can imagine what the soldier is obliged to endure but I must say that I am not anxious for the realization. On Newport News—-a place close to which we are now laying—Gen. McClellan once had had the whole of his army headquartered.

I have not any news to write except that very probable that I shall not have any money to send home this month from the fact that I am in want of a Naval overcoat & expect to get one. Yours son, — H. C. Beckwith

 


TRANSCRIPTION

U.S.S. New Ironsides
Off Fortress Monroe, Virginia
January 9, 1863

Dear Mother,

I expect that we shall leave here tomorrow but our destination to me is unknown. I expect that we shall turn up somewhere in good time.

I am well with the exception of a bad cold but I anticipate nothing serious from it.

I have about $200 which I could spare as well as not but I don’t like the idea of trusting it by mail & as you are all in “comfortable circumstances,” I will keep it.

I send by mail a picture of the “New Ironsides” which I wish you to have nicely framed & if per chance I am not to return more to Chesterfield, trim it in remembrance of the same.

No more at present. Good night. Your affectionate son, — Henry

 


feruy
CDV of the USS New Ironsides

TRANSCRIPTION

U.S.S. New Ironsides
Off Fortress Monroe
January 11th 1863

Dear Mother,

We did not go to sea yesterday as we anticipated but expect to do so without fail today. The last mail has gone ashore but I write this with the expectation of sending it ashore by the pilot off Cape Henry. We are now nearing Cape Henry consequently I must bring this short epistle to a close.

The weather is very fine and calm & we expect to make a prosperous voyage. We are going to Port Royal, South Carolina, which will take us five or six days to run.

I expect that we may see some fighting but the rebels have nothing that can stand one of our broadsides. I feel as secure as if I was in a strong fortress. But one thing is certain—that we shall do no fighting for months to come & when we do, I expect that it will be a mere petty affair. I hope that all will be for the best & I remain as ever your affectionate son, — Henry

P. S. Send me 50 ct. in stamps.

Direct to Asst. Engineer, H. C. Beckwith, U.S.S. New Ironsides, Port Royal, S. Carolina

“Via New York”

 


TRANSCRIPTION

U.S.S. New Ironsides
Off Charleston, South Carolina
February 2d 1863

Dear Mother,

We arrived off this place and are now laying here on the blockade. I am as well as usual which is exceedingly well. You may know by this that I am in a great hurry which is owing to the fact that the mail leaves ship in about ten minutes. I expect that we shall lay here for a long time. I received a letter a few days since from Mrs. Merriam. Did you receive my picture of the New Ironsides? Please write soon.

Direct to Asst. Engineer. H. C. Beckwith, U.S.S. New Ironsides, Off Charleston, S. C.

“Via New York”

I am your affectionate, — Henry

aacivonep98


TRANSCRIPTION

U.S.S. New Ironsides
Off Charleston, South Carolina
February 21st 1863

Dear Mother,

Your very kind letter of the 28th ultimo. came duly to hand. I was exceedingly glad to hear that you were all well & you may rest assured that I was glad to hear that you had been to New London & made such a long visit but on the contrary I was very sorry to learn that it was under such sad circumstances. Sarah will mourn greatly her loss but such is the great drama of life. Our dearest & most precious gifts are taken from us. At times it seems that all the ties which bind us to earth are cut & we are left by ourselves to wander like the restless current through darkened space. But there is a “home for the weary.”

I hope that you & Mrs. Merriam will not miss of your visit to Hadlyme. Oh! if I could only be at home about two weeks now, I would awaken your ideas. I would show you how to visit. I think it must be that you don’t know how or if you do, you don’t put your knowledge to any practical use. I have been from home now almost seven months & during that time I have not seen a friend except those which I have made during the said time. I will write to Maria & tell her that you are certainly coming but it must be very cold with you at the present time. Oh! I wish that you could experience such weather for one week as we have here at the present time. You would wish that the South had been your native place. It is so calm, warm & salubrious below in our Department. We presume summer heat nearly all the time. But the climate is much colder here this winter than it usually is. Sometimes there are flowers in bloom in the open air here every month in the year & flowers here are genuine worthy of the name—no imposition or counterfeit. The wild flowers here are far superior to any cultivated ones at the North.

I had also heard that Eliza Rathbun had been sick [and] was obliged to leave her school but had again returned. By the way, we are remarkably well on board of this vessel—only one death has occurred since we have been out & that was not from any disease but an accident. As for myself, I don’t believe you ever saw me so fleshy as I am at the present time since I was a small boy. Tis true, I am in favor of living well but it is not my wish to live so expensive as we do. Our expenses for food is about one dollar per day for each member of the mess.

David Thompson you say thinks of staying another year. He has paid all his rent, I suppose. Well if he can get work, he can get waste, he can make a good thing of it but as it is, I see no prospects of getting cotton for at least six months to come & not even then unless we humble ourselves to recognize a “Southern Confederacy” which I think our government will hardly do. I was very glad to hear that Elder Tefft was to stay another year. I shall be at home to hear him again before that time expires.

Charles Wickwire, Maria says, is going housekeeping soon. Well I wish him much joy as I do all married persons. Good steady souls. I wish I could be as contented but I am afraid that that time is past but may not be. I have seen the time when if I had some pleasant employment on shore I had as soon be there as anywhere, but at present, give me the life of a sailor. I at first was afraid of the deep blue sea but since it has been so parental to me, I pass without a murmur its former chidings to my race by. I wish that you could look in upon me sometimes when vessel rolls so much that I could not lay in my berth without holding on at the sides which is often the case—or when we cannot keep anything on the table. You would think that I had  a very hard time. I doubt not but that you would advise me to come home. Ah! such things did annoy me, but not now.

Did you get your picture taken when you was in New London? You did not say. I cannot send any money from here except at my own risk. The express will carry money but at the sender’s risk.

You wish to know what my salary is. $850 per year or about 70 per month. My expenses far exceed what you imagine. My dress, I suppose, you would call extravagant. Direct as before. Write soon & I remain your affectionate son, — Henry

 


TRANSCRIPTION

U.S.S. New Ironsides
Charleston Harbor, South Carolina
April 11th 1863

Dear Mother, Brothers & Sister,

We made an attack on Charleston the 7th instant & neither shipped or was whipped & no one on board of this ship was either killed or wounded.

I should have written before but I considered it a very trivial affair. Consequently you will please pardon me for the neglect. I will not give you an account of the fight for I consider it an insignificant thing. We were truck only 49 times during the whole & I am of the opinion that none of their shot were more than ten inch.

Yours dutifully, — Henry

N. B. Direct as before. Find enclosed $10.

 


TRANSCRIPTION

U.S.S. New Ironsides
Off Morris Island, South Carolina
August 15th 1863

Dear Mother,

I am enjoying excellent health & myself generally although the weather is rather too warm for comfort. I am just in the mood to write a good long letter. Would that I had something to write about but I have  nothing of interest to write. My letters [read the] same as did a Yankee’s writing home from out West: viz “Dick is dead. Corn has risen. Your son, — Bill” This you see was very brief but probably expressed all that he had to say. Tis true he might have communicated the diseases that affected Richard & what he said in his last moments but he considered comments useless. The same in reference to the corn. He ought to have specified what the price of corn was before it rose and after the same but he merely gave the fact and then left the subject. I said I was a going to imitate him.

I am well. Your affectionate son, — Henry

P. S. Write soon. As this letter contains much value in imitation, I wish that you would be very careful to not show it to anyone who might use it to the detriment of our cause. Of course I don’t mind it being shown in the family. — H

P. S. If this letter does not come to hand. Write immediately and I will try and get a “furlong” to discover the cause of its absenting itself. — H. C. B.

P. S. If I had any more time & anything to write about, I would write a longer letter. yours &c. — H.

 


TRANSCRIPTION

U. S. S. New Ironsides
Off Morris Island
October 8th, 1863

Dear Mother,

Charleston has not been occupied by the Union forces and consequently I am not on my way home. Everything is progressing well here & the general health of the fleet is excellent—mine unsurpassed. Very probable I have letters from you on the way for I have not received any for several weeks. I went on shore a few days since—the first time since the 1st of February which was about eight months. A new life for me & a steady home—something which would do many a young man much good. We are inactive too much to suit my taste. Those “hard times” which everyone was so fond of encouraging  me on to my duty of hurrying me in my wild career I have not as yet encountered & from what I have already seen, I place them far, very far in the distance. I have not seen the time for the past twelve months when I wished myself out of the service.

The weather is now delightful & our mess sets as good a table as many Northern hotels. We have all the vegetables that the passage from Philadelphia will afford.

The weather must be getting cool at the North by this time. It must be most time for the huskings to commence but where are the young people to attend them? There are a plenty of girls, I suppose, but the young men are minus. There are the veterans of the Gallant 26th. The 6th Connecticut is here and has done excellent service but I hope that soon their services will be no longer needed & they permitted to return home. The rebellion is without a doubt in a close corner and in my opinion must soon die out.

I heard from Miss Fox a few days since through the instrumentality of a friend. I received a letter a few days since from Edwin Chahman who is teaching in New Jersey.

Your son, — Henry C. Beckwith

 


TRANSCRIPTION

U.S.S. New Ironsides
Off Morris Island, South Carolina
November 30th 1863

Dear Mother,

Your very kind letter of the 16th instant came duly to hand & if I had time and anything to write about, I would try and answer it but unfortunately for me I have neither.

I am as well as usual. Much obliged for the minute description of affairs in the matrimonial department. How soon do you think that something will transpire that will startle the whole state (of matrimony)? How soon do you think that there will be a grand advance & something decided to be done? Find enclosed $10 & I remain your affectionate son, — H. C. Beckwith

P. S. If I had time & space I would tell you all about the New Ironsides, the Monotors, Fort Sumter and the big cannon balls that we fire at the Rebs but I have not the time and you must pardon my shortcomings. — H

P. S. If I had more ink and it was cooler here, I would tell you about those 440 lbs. shot being large enough for a person to ride on but under the present (I don’t mean past) existing circumstances, I shall be under the absolute necessity of disposing of the subject as previously. — H

P. S. You will instantly discover immediately on inspecting this manuscript that my scribing surface is limited in view of which I write F I N I S – H

 


TRANSCRIPTION

U.S.S. New Ironsides
Off Morris Island, South Carolina
March 3rd 1864

Dear Mother,

Your kind letter of a late date came to hand a few days since. I am very much obliged for the postage stamps. Your letter contained sad news indeed but I see that the casualties are not confined to those that go to war. Many, very many, that stay at home in the midst of health and enjoyment are suddenly launched henceforth bidding adieu to all earthly things/ The death of Edward Latimer was extremely sudden & sad. He had served his country a long time in a subordinate capacity & patiently waited his reward. He received it. But on the morn of enjoying the same, that hard-hearted, merciless destroyer of death took him from it. Hen gave his life for his country. Under the present circumstances, he met with the noblest of death & the name  of each such true patriot should be enshrined in letters of “living gold.” Mr. Latimore’s family, I know, must be deeply afflicted. I was glad to learn that Mrs. Oliver Chapman bore up so well under her afflictions. She is one of the best of women. You all can but sympathize with her deeply. Mr. Johnathan Rogers’ family, I see, has also cause to mourn the loss of one of its members.

I am as usual enjoying excellent health. Where is Mr. Jesse Maynard? You said that “Mr. Raymond came and paid the Esqr. Chapman note.” I do not understand. What Raymond & what Chapman do you have reference?

Does the people in Chesterfield appear to become materially less? I should think that they church would appear almost deserted—there have so many gone to different parts of the country and so many to their long home.

What does David Thompson pay for the factory this year? And what is he making?

Where is Josie Latimer? Have the Bishop girls sold out yet? Are both the Morgan girls married?

Mary told me of Emmaline’s marriage. It amused me very much indeed. I wish that Ester would also pick up a kind husband. Is Ann Latimore staying home this winter?

I would enjoy being at home a few weeks very much indeed. I have just received a letter from cousin Augusta Stevens. She is also one of my model women. She writes a very cousinly letter. Find enclosed fifty dollars $50. Write soon & have your photograph taken for me the first opportunity, will you? I remain your affectionate son, — Henry

Have your photograph taken with your bonnet & cloak or shawl, mantilla—at any rate, in your walking or riding dress. This ship is in just as good fighting condition as she was the day that she started from Philadelphia.

 


TRANSCRIPTION

U.S.S. New Ironsides
Off Morris Island, South Carolina
May 9th 1864

Dear Mother,

No doubt but that you are somewhat surprised for my long silence. I have been waiting to hear from you but the mails are still delayed by the Government (I suppose) & it is very uncertain about this reaching you soon but I feel that I want to write & consequently shall gratify my desire.

I suppose that you are all very busy farming—plowing, I believe, is the work of this season of the year.

There is a rumor afloat that this ship is coming home this summer. I only hope that it will prove true. I shall enjoy seeing you so much. I may be detached if we come North. I may remain attached to this ship still but in either case if we come North, I shall come home for a few days. But to tell the plain truth, I hardly think that we shall come this summer.

The stoppage of the mails indicate warm work on the Potomac. I hope that the indications are true & that long ‘ere this Richmond is ours.

The weather is getting quite warm in this latitude, The thermometer in the engine room stands at 90º which is about the coolest place in the ship in mid summer. We are obliged to stand heat that is seemingly unendurable—but a person can become accustomed to endure a great deal. I suppose that there are a plenty of Soldiers Aid Societies & like associations in vogue throughout the country at the present time. Hope that they will be amply sustained & render our brave soldiers the aid that they are worthy of.

Josie Latimer is a clerk in an Insurance Office in New York City. I know this to be a fact & whoever reported to the contrary was either misinformed or meant wrong.

I commenced a correspondence with cousin Augusta Stevens some six or seven months ago but as yet have received but one letter, I think that my last must have gone astray.

How does my little niece grow? John will be obliged to burry to catch up with Joseph. I presume that he is making “good time.” Has Henry Tinkler been heard from lately? If so, where is he?

You have my Album, I believe. Don’t let it get soiled or my cabinet of minerals in my chamber get scattered for I prize them highly.

Write soon. It will come to hand in good time. Find enclosed $20. I am your affectionate son, — Henry

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s