This letter was written by Wesley Harrison Shaw (1840-19xx), the son of Hiram E. Shaw (1815-18xx)—a clothier in Otselic, Chanango county, New York, who worked in the Quartermaster’s Department during the Civil War.
Wesley served as a private in Co. H, 35th New York Infantry from November 1861 to June 1863 before enlisting as a private in Co. G, 2nd New York Heavy Artillery. He served with the NYHA from January 1864 until he was honorably discharged on 29 September 1865.
Shaw’s letter includes an alarming statement regarding the military executions for desertion that prevailed at the time. “I saw three men hung for desertion to the enemy last Friday [30 Dec ’64] near Corps Headquarters. There has been seven hung out of the 5th New Hampshire Regiment and tomorrow three to be shot. There is some 40 yet to be hung or shot.”
Addressed to Mr. Hiram E. Shaw, South Otselic, Chenango county, New York
In camp near Petersburg, Va.
January 5th 1865
Dear Father and Mother,
I have seated myself to write a [few] lines to you to let you know that I am alive but not in very good health. I have got a very bad cold on my lungs besides the diarrhea. I got to the regiment the 29th—started the 22nd. I had a nice dinner for Christmas. I was at Camp Distribution near Alexandria. We had roast turkey and stuffing, mashed potato and turnip and bread pudding with raisins and bread and coffee.
The regiment is in winter quarters near Poplar Grove Church [on] the left of Petersburg. We have enough to do here—camp guard, picket and fatigue [duty]. I was on picket last Saturday. Came off Sunday morning at 10 A.M. I never suffered so much in my life as I did then. It rained and then it snowed. Then the wind blew and it cleared off cold.
Our camp is not over ½ a mile from the Johnnies a little to the left of our camp. The pickets is not over 12 rods [66 yards] apart. We can talk with each other. We are on friendly terms—no picket firing.
We have got our works most done. We have got very strong ones in front of our camp. They are 6 feet high and 8 feet thick.
We have some cold weather here now. We had a Corps Review day before yesterday. Was reviewed by Maj. Gen. Humphreys. It lasted 2 hours in heavy marching order. I saw three men hung for desertion to the enemy last Friday [30 Dec ’64] near Corps Headquarters. There has been seven hung out of the 5th New Hampshire Regiment and tomorrow three to be shot. ¹ There is some 40 yet to be hung or shot.
My butter is not gone yet. I had some buckwheat pancakes and butter and coffee. Charles Murray and I bought a sack of buckwheat flour 25 lbs. for $3.00.
I have not got my State Bounty yet. I have sent for it to Beverly. I hope I will get it before long. I got a letter from Mary the 21st. She was well and was at home. They was all well. I have not answered it yet. I have been very busy. I have been on fatigue [duty] all day and went on dress parade at 5 P.M.
Well, I will have to draw my letter to a close. Well, Elemie [Emily?], how do you get along this cold weather? Tell me the news at the burg. Give my best respects to grandmother and my love to all. This is from your son. Write as soon as you get this.
Yours truly, — Wesley H. Shaw
Co. G, 2nd Regiment New York Heavy Artillery. 1st Division, 2nd Army Corps, Washington D. C.
I have no money for stamps so I will send this as a soldier’s letter. Please to excuse my poor writing, will you. — W. H. Shaw
I went to watch night last Saturday instead of watching the old year out and the new one in so I was watching the Johnnies.
¹ Michael Genan of the 5th New Hampshire Infantry was one of the deserters hung on 30 December 1864.