1862-64: Charles Ambrose Gillet to Melissa Gillet

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Charles Ambrose Gillet, age 20

These letters were written by Charles Ambrose Gillet (1841-1917) who enlisted at the age of 21 in August 1862 at Hopewell, Ontario county, NY, to serve three years in Co. K, 148th NY Infantry. Charles was promoted to corporal almost immediately upon entering the service and was promoted to sergeant two years later. He was discharged for disability in May 1865 at Whitehall Hospital in Philadelphia. The following excerpt regarding Charles’ military service comes from a family memory: “He saw a lot of action, was taken prisoner, exchanged then wounded in sudden outburst of fighting by a ricocheting bullet during lunch hour in a barn during the Seige of Petersburg, Va.  Was in battles of Cold Harbor, Appomattox. Was at Camp Whitehall, USGM, April 5, 1865 when word was received of Lincoln’s assassination.”

Charles was the eldest child of James McBurney Gillet (1816-1884) and Eliza Esther Berry (1818-1887); his mother a native of Rhode Island and the daughter of Samuel Foster Berry (1787-1864) and Lucy Stanton (1794-1875). Charles married Mary Etta Wakefield (1841-1920) in 1872.

See Accession 45423 at the Library of Virginia in Richmond, Virginia.

See also—1863: Unidentified Female to Charles Ambrose Gillet

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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE

Headquarters 148th N. Y. V.
Near Portsmouth, Va.
October 15th [1862]

Dear Missa,

My last letter, directed to Phema, was written in Suffolk just before we started for our present camp and before I knew whither we were going. I hope that you have not been worried about us on account of its indefiniteness. If I had waited a little longer, I might have told you our destination. It was Saturday forenoon that I wrote the letter and in the evening about half past 11 we started on the cars for Portsmouth. It rained nearly all the time from Saturday morning till Tuesday night so you see that it was not very convenient to me to write much during that time.

First you must know that I am well, hearty and happy. Then I will tell you what an interesting time we had getting here. In the morning we were ordered to pack up everything but our tents so that we might be ready at a moment’s notice when the train came up!! But I must stop for the present for Co. K is ordered to fall into line with their equipments. It was only company inspection and that was soon over. I will be brief in order to get this off in today’s mail.

But to my story. We waited for the train until nearly night. Then it came with the 58th Pa. to take our places and we learned that we were to take theirs at Portsmouth to do picket and provost duty. If it had not been for the officers baggage, hospital, commissary, and quartermaster stores, we could have moved off immediately but we had to wait for the slow coaches of Uncle Sam to come up after the freight and for some unaccountable slow movements of somebody somewhere so that before we could get on the cars, not out of the rain, for most of the cars were open ones, it was after eleven. Whether the officers justified the act or not. I looked out for No. 1 enough to get in a covered car. I was sorry for those who had to ride in the rain with overcoats completely filled with water. I was wet enough as it was. If we had passed through the same at home, there would not be many without colds the next day I am sure. But I did not see many who complained at all. I tell you, we are tough as iron. If you see anyone who thinks that they can not stand soldier’s fare, just tell them that the best thing for them to do is to enlist at once.

We are soon to have the Sibley tents. Then we can have things as comfortable as one could ask for. We have a good floor already for one, built about a foot from the ground. The 58th Pennsylvania had Sibley tents, good floors, and in many of them cribs, or bunks, with berths for two, side by side, each bunk with two berths to accommodate 4. These bunks were built of rough boards of course. Each tent will accommodate 20 without difficulty. The 58th too had cookrooms built of boards and many arrangements that other regiments could not have because they had been here ever since they entered the service—some nine months. But we did not find all of these accommodations for the neighboring regiments “jayhawked” what they could before we came. Mark you, soldiers never steal. It is all “jayhawking.” If they take the same liberties of their fellow soldiers, it would probably be called stealing and punished accordingly but I have not seen anything of this.

Our camp is on the north side of a small stream called “Paradise Creek.” I can see the stream very easily but why it is called Paradise unless it is because of the contrast, I am unable to understand. The stream itself is very small but when the tide is up, it is almost as large as the Canandaigua Gullet. Just by this stream to the southwest of us is a rough fort nearly in the form of a semi-circle built by the rebels. By the appearance of things, it contained at one time three large pivot guns. One platform only remains. It looks as though it had been set on fire and the fire went out. The other platforms were burned completely. I will draw on another piece of paper a little draft of the deserted rebel earthworks that are near us. Our tents have come and we must put our up as soon as we can. For one and all, I subscribe myself your affectionate son & brother, — Charles A. Gillet


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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO

Fort Norfolk, Va.
Saturday, November 13th 1862

Dear Parents & Sisters,

I address you but I will say as I have omitted to in previous letters that I include all who belong to the “Home Circle.” I must include Niles this time according to the latest news from home, and I assure him that I shall not think of him without thinking of him as belonging there. This for Niles’ sake, a newcomer should at once know his friends.

When I wrote last (the mere name of writing”) I was not well. I was soon better and am now well so that I am now doing guard duty as I did before my sickness. I found an herb that tasted very much like thoroughwort, so near that I ventured to take a strong cup of the tea. This was a good thing I am sure. There must be more than one kind of thoroughwort, I think. This kind had small leaves in it of a different shape from that growing in the North. If you have not sent that yet, you may do so at your convenience. It will be well to keep a supply on hand in this climate.

That box came along on the afternoon of the 13th—the day after I wrote my last letter to you. You must have thought that I was in a hurry for the bones or else I did not care much for the box. I wished to send that letter that you found enclosed and the half sheet was all extra. The box came all right. It had been opened. We could see by the looks of the cover. It was in three pieces, one of which read bottom upwards. We were glad to get it, you may as well think. We took it out on a good grass spot, there spread our blankets and opened the box. Some of the boys came around to see and I thought that we looked like the “Indians” receiving supplies, as I have seen it pictured in books. We divided the articles according to directions and was well pleased with everything.

I gave Lieut. Aldrich one of those pears and some of the cakes, which he pronounced good. Cash, Frank and Russ had each a share. Today I made a box out which is just the thing wanted to keep the things in. I made a small box which occupies one end of the larger one. In this box I put the medical supplies so that everything has a place. I divided some things with the boys but can not much. The blanket will do very well. The gloves are capital. The portfolio is good enough. The paper was very acceptable and much superior to anything that I can get here. The butter was good, whether 1st premium or not. I could not tell. I should like to be sure that it was made at home but we divided them to the best of our judgement. The cakes tasted like home fare. They were all good ones. The can of peaches is good. They are some dryer than when put up on account of the broken spot and open top. They will keep well now, I guess. The cheese looks well. Have not yet divided this large piece. The small piece is too good to keep. All the medicines are good but if we should leave here, I could not carry much of it.

This sheet for what it is worth. One more.

Sunday, November 16th. Yesterday I knew that today would be Sunday but today I have been so busy that I have not realized it fully. The only difference that I can see between the seventh day of the week and another is that on the seventh day we see no visitors at the Fort. The visitors that come to the Fort do not come out of curiosity for it not easy for everyone to come—we are so strict in the performance of our duty. The most of the visitors come to see some relatives who are among the imfortunate ones.

I am writing this in the Guard house. My relief is not on guard or else I should be ready to attend to all calls. I said they are not on guard. I might have said, they were not on duty at this time for they will have to go in a short time. The guardhouse is used to accommodate the guards as all guardhouses are when not wanted to confine culprits in. This one is never used for that. We have two dungeons to shut up all scamps. When we were in camp, we had a guardhouse but the guards had to sleep out of doors on the ground.

Inside the fort is a large building built for a magazine. This is now undergoing a clearing out preparatory to its occupation by the prisoners. There has been some talk of fitting up one building now occupied by the prisoners and taking our quarters in it but this, I think, will not be consented to by us. We had rather stay in our tents if possible.

Yesterday the hull of the frigate United States that lay in the river to the southeast of us was towed down to the Navy Yard by a boat that has been at work for a few days past raising her. When I saw the men at work I thought that they would not be able to raise her so soon. What is to be done with her, I do not know. Some say that she is to be fitted up for a hospital. She is the largest of her kind that I ever saw.

We do not have much of a chance to drill here. It is altogether different here from what it is in the camp. Those at the camp have drill of all kinds. Referring only to their inexperience, I will say that our officers know no more about the manual of arms than the men and with our Captain less I am sure. This provokes me at times when orders are given wrong. If I ever enlist again, I shall not go under an inexperienced officer. On loading the commands, instead of coming in order as they should come, all come mixed up. Instead of load, handle cartridge, tear cartridge, charge cartridge, etc., quite likely we will hear, handle cartridge, tear cartridge, prime, then may be ram cartridge before we are told to draw hammer. He is absent-minded among other things. Aldrich has not had as much chance to show his qualifications for office but I believe him to be a better officer than [Hiram] Schutt.

You may be surprised to hear me complain of my officers but I mean to state it as it is, if at all. You will see that I am not writing for the press but I would in some way try to make it public if I thought that it would make a change for the better. Schutt must rely too much on his good looks.

I will not write much more now. You will be quite apt to think that my letters have lost their interest. I will write again and answer Phe’s & Missa’s letters before I come home. In case of a compromise, I may be sent South to cultivate cotton. With the promise that you shall have something different next time, I subscribe myself your affectionate son & brother, — Charles A. Gillet

That journal that you have been making so much calculation on, I must copy or not think of sending. When we will be paid, no one knows. We are all anxious to see the paymaster. I sent one dollar some time ago and can not get it until payday. Then I will be able to buy stamps enough. You need not send me many. I had rather Ma would buy a silk handkerchief and send it by mail. It can be sent me much cheaper than I can get it here.

This magnolia leaf is one that Frank picked off a tree in Norfolk.

Bring your corn down here. There is more corn than any other grain here. There is much yet uncut and I do not know as the people cut their corn. It is not yet husked. The white men who should be around have doubtless gone to war to fight for slavery and the complaint is with some of the people here abouts that their servants have run away and left them in a bad fix.


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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE

Ft. Norfolk, Va.
April 12th 1863

Dear Sister Missa,

It is Sunday. I am off guard and I can have a good opportunity to answer your letter of the 31st ult. which I received on Monday the 6th inst. Too long a time it has remained unanswered, but I offer the plea that the most important part was answered in a letter that I had just sent quite as well as I could answer it again, and I could not well write sooner. I had hoped to get another letter by this time but I now think that you are waiting like myself. I am now writing in the upper story of an old building near the fort having taken my station here for the sake of being by myself. I have just finished a sheet for Euphema that I began last evening on guard. I finished it without changing the date and sealed it in an envelope with three of my letters that I wish to send home for your keeping. Phema must not think that I wished to make her believe that she has a larger letter than she will find. I guess she will not. I not not well write her more than I did and I thought it as well to end the old letters no as to put hers with yours and send the old letters by themselves in a package. I will get this letter ready to send in tomorrow’s mail with hers.

Co. H that I wrote you had come here to lighten our labors a little has gone back to camp so that we are now situated as before they came. They came on the 29th ult., consequently they were with us nearly two weeks. They did not make it much easier for us though it was much better. When the Major was with us, we had plenty of drill when off guard so that we were ___ enough. The calls, drills, etc. for one day came on the following order. Reveille 6 a.m., roll call 6½ a.m., breakfast 7 a.m., guard mounting 7¾ a.m., then all must clean their guns so that the non-commissioned officers can be on hand for their non-commissioned drill 10 a.m., which last till nearly inspection of arms at 11 a.m. Dinner at 12 m., battalion drill at 2 to 4 p.m., dress parade at 4½ p.m., supper after this. Roll call again at 8 p.m., taps at 9 p.m. when all lights must be put out in camp. This is same as we had it in camp with the regiment and as it ought to be but with the two companies only here, it is too tasking for the men when they are broke of a part of their rest every other night. I had rather have the Major with us so that we can learn more about battalion drill than to have my time to myself when off guard for I want to be as well drilled as it is possible for one to be. But I suppose that the Major’s services are needed where he now is to prevent any real demonstrations on this place.

The Rebs can do no more than to make a raid if they undertake it. I do not believe that they dare try to take this place with a view to hold it. They are within a day’s march of us. There are gun boats in the river ready for them if they try it. I would like to see them get gobbled up in the attempt but they are pretty cunning.

Missa, the reason why I do not write while on duty is that when my relief is on, I cannot and when it is off, I can not get a good time unless it is at night when others are asleep. I stopped last night because I was afraid that I would hurt my eyes. I find that it is not best for me to write and read very much by candle light. Though my eyes re not weak, you know how it goes, I guess. This sheet I took because it was handier for me but I will try to use the larger sheets hereafter as you wish me to. This sheet you can count as an extra. I am your only and affectionate brother, — Charles A. Gillet


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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR

Portsmouth, Va.
June 16th 1863

Dear Sister Miss:

I have just received a letter from Lee Babcock enclosed in an envelope bearing your well-known handwriting. The envelope was not stamped at the Post Office so that I do not know when it was mailed. It said in pencil that you had just received my last letter containing $10.00 in U. S. currency etc.  This letter was written soon after we came here to Portsmouth and in more than common haste to answer the home business letter received the day before. I did not write as much as I would had I not calculated to write you a long newsy letter very soon.

I wrote on the 9th inst.  The day after, the 10th, I was closely occupied with different small but unavoidable matters and drills to be able to write you then. On the 11th I was detailed to report with 10 men of our company at the Adjutant’s Office at 6½ A.M.  We were to go with two days rations in our haversacks, without coats or blankets. I could not at first understand what was to be done but when I arrived with my men at the Adjutant’s, I saw other squads coming from each of the other companies. Then I guessed the truth—that we were to go out on a scouting expedition. Capt. Johnston of Co. E took charge of the party. Two lieutenants were along—the 1st of Co. I, the other from Co. F. In all we had 100 men.

We went in a direction about southeast from Norfolk through the County of Princess Ann to Princess Ann Courthouse, about 25 miles from Norfolk by the route we took and full 20 by the shortest possible route. You must remember that a mile in Virginia is a full mile—none of your 2 or 1½ as we call it from our house to Chapinville. So all soldiers find Virginia miles. We arrived at the court house about 4 P.M., made ourselves comfortable in it with what blankets were brought along in an army wagon on our rear. The weather was warm and we were easily made comfortable as far as clothing was concerned for the nights rest. We had enough to eat—all except meat, and that was after coming as I will tell you.

Soon after we got to the court house, the Major rode up on his grey and a darkey or mulatto followed in a cart with a horse. The Major had come up to take charge of the party movements we learned. The Contraband (for he had never been free until he came to our men) came up to show us where we could get something worth taking and to be sure of protection in his visit to his Master’s house for something for himself. I was ordered to take the charge of a squad of 10 men including the teamster and ride in his wagon to the place (about 3½ miles beyond) where the Contraband lived and get whatever of value in the eatable line and of value to us in other lines that the contraband might show me, he being to lead the way in his cart.

We started just after dark and rode through some gloomy places for a stranger in a strange place, I assure you. This contraband had been taking the entire charge of the house & farm of a Dr. now in the Rebel service. [Paper torn] his master and considered him very trusty. Perhaps the contraband would have remained there longer than he did had he not been frightened by the frequent taking of colored people by the Rebs and carrying them away into the Rebel service. He started for Norfolk as soon as he could when this work began. As I rode along with the men I could not help thinking of the trouble that we might meet in case the contraband was a rogue and working his card to get us in a trap. But we found all right. He showed us the things that we wanted and we put them in the wagon at once. We got 114 barrels good fresh pork, about 100 lbs. bacon, & 30 hams small ones. A keg of good fresh lard about 100 lbs., some geese & chickens, some bedding, etc, out of the house and at least $30 worth of wool. We returned to the court house about midnight. Until A.M., we slept.

About 6½ A.M. Major Murray and Capt. Johnston took 50 men and went on to the sea shore and in the direction of the state line. They impressed carts & mules or horses whenever they came to any, taking a darkey along as driver. They soon had enough conveyances so that the whole 50 were not marching but riding. They went on a trip of discovery solely. They saw at the end of their trip in the distance some salt works which they did not then venture to destroy. They returned to the court house about 3 P.M., having made about 24 miles. While they were gone, those who remained at the court house were looking out for themselves by eating goose and ham and in making small discoveries around the premises. In the stove in the court house was found a package of letters intended for the Rebel soldiers. Through this section we have had few soldiers and only as scouts. The people are all slaveholders and the worst secesh. They have had a system of mail carrying which seems to have been done in a quiet way. The letters are left at places arranged by the parties and are taken quickly and left at others, thus helping it along a little every move. Some of these letters were notes. I wish that I had them.

At night I was sent out with a squad to get carts. By nine we had enough with what were already at the court house to carry the whole party. We had over 20 carts besides our 4 horse train—quite a train. We started at 10 P.M. for Norfolk and arrived about 6 A.M. of the 13th. We had a gay time. If I had room here I would tell you how the secesh women act but it is not worthwhile enough to say that they were hopping mad when I took the carts & mules. One said in her actual way when I told her that we wanted the mules & carts to take us to Norfolk, “Jesus Christ.” The carts I believe are returned as the drivers were left with that charge.

Since then I have been rather busy in different ways. Yesterday I was on picket. A scouting party is now out to Princess Ann Court House or beyond. They left yesterday morning with three days rations. Russ is with them. Today a party of 50 is going out with 5 days rations. I am not going with it. Chapin goes. I do not know whre they are going but I think that they will go on a boat to North Carolina as guards for some purpose. They will return in 5 days. I must explain this letter a little. Hattie’s piece I wrote some time since and Frank’s was handed me at the time. I put his in this envelope at the time and it has remained here until now. I forgot it thinking that I sent it in another letter. Tell Father to answer it to Frank immediately and not say when it was received. A little delay will be excusable with Father. Frank expects an answer now. It is my fault. The song I send you so that you can get it if you have not already. I will send you a greenback to get your album and new music with etc. Get a good album. I will try to remember all but I can not get $20 home now. I will try to make it up in the future. I will write in less haste in a day or so. I am as ever your affectionate brother, — C. A. Gillet

I have received your letter giving an account of the minister’s visit.


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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Addressed to Miss M. M. Gillet, Chapinville, Ontario county, New York

Near Williamsburg [Virginia]
April 29th 1864

Dear Sister Missa,

You will have to excuse pencilings now as I have not the conveniences for writing with pen & ink as when we were at Yorktown. I can procure enough writing materials that the difficulty often, as at present, consists in not being able to make a practical use of them. I have just received & read with wonted pleasure your favor of the 25th inst. I have written one letter that has probably reached its destination ere this—a letter to Father. Many thanks for it. I would answer if I could that I have not heard from yet.

The day that we left Yorktown I mailed a book, “John Brent” to you. I bought the book of the news dealer at Yorktown for I wanted something to read & I had seen very flattering notices of this & the rest of [Theodore] Winthrop‘s works. I like the book for the originality of the style & the seeming truthfulness to nature of the characters as well as the noble-mindedness of the heroes. Winthrop’s love for the horse is shown in many happy expressions. But I shall not criticize the book or articles in the Atlantic as I would like to had more time to write. Your criticism on the schoolmaster’s story I think shows that you are not quite fun-loving enough—too much inclined to the belief that all innovations on ancient customs of approaching the subject are all wrong. Look out or you will be a straight-laced old maid. I thought that when the schoolmaster was at the squire & the stage waiting etc. he was in a predicament. I was quite fearful that he would be left. I have the Atlantic for May & “My Days & Nights on the Battlefield.” I sent to T & F, Boston for them just before we left Yorktown. If I had known that we were to leave so soon, I would have sent you the money & let you get them for I can not read them as I would like to. They keep us busy drilling &c. or on picket or guard. I have been on picket once & on guard once since we came here. If we move soon, I will try and mail them to you whether I have them or not.

The book is a capital one. I will mail $10.00 in this letter for Father. Then it will be twenty of last pay. Tomorrow is muster day. We are all in shelter tents—officers & all. We will not be apt to stay here long now.

I have been well since I last wrote. I think I will not be troubled with the ague any more. Do not be worried about me. The 148th is brigaded. My address will be Co. K, 148th Regt. New York Vols., 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 18th Army Corps, Washington D. C.. We can not tell what for a move will be made but I believe that ere long there will be fought the greatest battle of the war. I shall cherish the hope so dear to us all of some day meeting you in the home of my childhood and shall be comforted with the thought that if it pleases our Heavenly Father not to grant the realization of this hope, we may still have the pleasing hope of one day meeting in that Heavenly home where traitors cannot enter. I almost forgot to acknowledge the receipt of Hattie’s note.

— Charles Gillet


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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
Addressed to Miss M. Melissa Gillet, Chapinville, Ontario county, New York

Base Hospital 18th Army Corps
Near Point of Rocks, Va.
September 19, 1864

Dear Sister Missa,

I have written one short letter home since I have been in this hospital. I should have written more had I considered it prudent in me to do so. I am much better than when I last wrote. Shall be with the company if all goes well in a week. My eyes are not strong enough to allow me to read or write much. They ache very easily with a little too much use like reading & writing. Yet they do not seem to be inflamed. I will on this account alone make this a short letter.

Russ came down to see me this A.M. He is well. Wished to know what word I wished to send to Ma___. I told him to excuse me for not writing on the ground that I relied on him to ___ posted. Rudd does well for ___ of his opportunities. He is ingenious & possesses a knowledge of almost all bachelor graces. He has built him a small oven near the _. Cook house and bakes pies and the like for the boys. He can make money at it too. But enough. I will write more & upon other subjects when I can. Goodbye.

From your affectionate brother, — Charles Gillet


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Charles A. Gillet’s Reunion Ribbons

 

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