1863: Charles Henry Boswell to Parents

This letter was written by Sgt. Charles Henry Boswell (1833-1864) of Co. C, 36th Massachusetts. Charles was a “Reed Maker”—the son of Henry and Mary Boswell of Worcester, Massachusetts.

In the letter to his parents, Charles conveys the sad news of the death of his younger brother James S. Boswell (1840-1863)—also serving in the same company—who died of typhoid fever in the encampment of the 36th Massachusetts near Milldale, Mississippi. Both Charles and Corp. Frederick W. Boswell (yet another brother) were by James’ side when he died and saw to his burial on a knoll near the regiment’s encampment. James’ body was later disinterred and his remains taken to the Vicksburg National Cemetery, Section Q, Grave 452.

On 15 December 1863, Charles was taken prisoner at Rutledge, Tennessee, and was confined at Belle Isle, Richmond, Virginia. He languished there and died of disease two months later on 19 February 1864. ¹  Of the three brothers, only Fred (1836-1910) survived the war.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]

Charles Boswell’s Letter with his Tintype


Camp near Milldale, Mississippi
Thursday, July 2, 1863

Dear Father and Mother,

It is a very warm day and very dry and we are suffering for rain but when it will come we cannot tell. We are very sad and sorrowful for Brother James has gone to a better world than this where there is no war nor wickedness and where there will be no separation. He was not considered dangerously ill until yesterday and he was taken with a worse turn in the forenoon and from that time he declined very fast. He passed from this life at half past eight o’clock last evening. Fred and myself were both with him when he died though I was there but a short time. I was out on picket with the company yesterday and before I left camp I went over to the hospital to see James. I found him sitting up and eating his breakfast and he looked brighter than I had seen him before. He said he had passed quite a comfortable night and felt better than he had since he was taken sick. I went away feeling quite encouraged about him. But just before dark, I was surprised by one of the other Sergeants of our company who came out to the picket post where I was and told me that James was worse and the Lieutenant thought it best to send for me. I was about a mile from camp and I lost no time in coming back and I went over to the hospital but James was wild and he did not know me. I got there about three quarters of an hour before he passed away but he did not come to enough to know me.

Fred had been with him for some time and at one time he was rational enough to know that Fred was with him and he appeared to know that he was there. He was out of his head, He did not appear to suffer much towards the last and he passed away as quietly as if he was going to sleep. Dr. Bryant told Major Goodell yesterday afternoon that his disease had terminated in the Typhoid fever and the chances for him to live were very slim. Last night the Dr. went in to see him and left him some more medicine but he was past earthly help. When I saw him, I made up my mind that he could not survive the night and Fred and myself both concluded to stay with him through the night if he should live, but it was otherwise ordered and we saw him breath his last breath.

We helped to lay him out as well as we could and this morning a boy was obtained (for a coffin could not be had at any rate) and he was buried about eleven o’clock this forenoon. It was impossible to keep him any longer for it is so hot here and ice is not to be had and we were obliged to have him buried. I should like very much to send the remains home but it can not be done at present. There was a Free Mason inquiring at the funeral about him and he told Fred that if there had been any possible chance to have sent him hoe, it would have been done without any expense to us. But he could not be sent unless there was someone to go with the remains and besides, we could not obtain a metallic coffin nearer than Cairo—if we could there—and there is too much uncertainty about our staying here to think of sending for one. So the best way seemed to be to have him buried and trust to some opportunity in the future to obtain his remains. He is buried on a beautiful knoll nearly surrounded by trees and the place is so retired that his grave will not be liable to be disturbed. I could easily find the place if I should ever have an opportunity to come for him and he will sleep his last sleep without being troubled.

The company followed his remains to the grave and there were besides some of other companies and the Lieutenant Colonel, Major, and others of the staff and line officers for James had many friends in the regiment and was much esteemed by all. Everything was done for him that could be done but he has gone to his rest—another victim to this awful war. It makes sad hearts all over our once peaceful land but the end will come sometime and James has gone where wars will never trouble him and where all is peace. We are all going the same way and only the Father of us all can tell how soon or in what way we shall be called to follow him. He is gone before and it was a satisfaction to us that we were permitted to be with him in his last moments and to follow him to his humble resting place even in this far away country so far from home and friends. I know it will be sad news for you as it is sorrowful for us who are left here but it will perhaps be a comfort to know that we were with him and did all that we could do for him. He was sick but a week and when I wrote to you last Sunday, was not thought to be dangerous. But the hot weather proved too much for him and when the fever set in, he was too weak to bear it.

The officers and men of the company did all in their power to assist us and their sympathy was very grateful to us. It was very sudden and is deeply felt by all the company but what is our loss is his gain for he is better off than we are. I was in hopes that he would have lived to come home again but it was otherwise ordered and though we cannot always see it, I believe that all things are for the best and that, “He doeth all things well.”

The services at the grave were very impressive and were listened to with much interest. It does not seem as if I could go away and leave him here but it is impossible to say how much longer we shall remain here nor who will be called upon next. There is considerable sickness in the regiment now but James is the only one who has died here. I do not expect we shall stay here much longer but I cannot tell. Vicksburg still holds out and Gen. Grant still keeps thundering away at it. He is bound to take it and his perseverance will be crowned with success in the end, whether it comes sooner or later. But the result is sure and the city will be ours.

We cut off some of James’ hair to send home to you. He had it cut a short time ago and we could only get short curls. Fred and myself are as well as usual. We have what few things James had in our possession and if we can get an opportunity, will send such of them home as we can. There is nothing new here of interest except what I have written. Most of the troops here have been sent out towards the Big Black to prevent Johnston from coming in to the relief of Vicksburg and our regiment is left here in support of a battery. I think we shall be sent north again before a great many weeks and I shall not be sorry for I do not like this climate very well. If we had got out of it before James was taken sick, I should be better satisfied but there is no help for it now. I think of nothing more to write so I will stop for this time. Give our love to all.

Your affectionate son, — Charles

¹ From the History of the 36th Massachusetts comes the following story: 

Private Israel H. Smith, of Company C, the sole survivor of ten members of the regiment captured at Rutledge, Tenn., soon after the raising of the Siege of Knoxville, has furnished the substance of the following brief narrative of the circumstances attending the capture and the sufferings endured by himself and the brave comrades who did not survive the hardships and cruelty attending their confinement.

While the regiment was encamped at Rutledge, East Tennessee, during the pursuit of Longstreet, after the Siege of Knoxville, Smith, with nine other members of the Thirty-sixth, and a small detail from the Forty-fifth Pennsylvania, under charge of Sergeant Charles H. Boswell, of the Thirty-sixth, were ordered out on a foraging expedition, the regiment being greatly in need of subsistence supplies. While out for this purpose they took possession of an old mill about four miles from camp. The detail of the Thirty-sixth was composed of Sergeant Charles H. Boswell, Privates Daniel H. Park, Lucius A. Reynolds, Frederick Ruth, and Israel H. Smith, of Company C; Hezekiah Aldrich, Calvin Hubbard, and Patrick Gillespie, of Company G; and Charles H. Howe, of Company I. These men were in the mill grinding corn, their rifles stacked in one corner, when, early in the morning of December 15, a boy came running into the mill saying that the rebels were approaching. Smith glanced out of the window and saw a squadron of men whom he supposed from their dress to be Federal Cavalry, but it afterwards appeared that their blue uniforms had been taken from one of our supply trains captured a day or two before. They numbered about four hundred, and immediately surrounding the mill they demanded a surrender. Resistance being hopeless, our men broke their rifle-stocks and gave themselves up to the rebel band, which proved to be a detachment of bushwhackers under General Wheeler. After the surrender the rebels threatened to shoot their prisoners if they did not give up their valuables. They took from them everything, money, rings, watches, keepsakes, and then forced them to give up their clothing, receiving for it in return the old clothes of the rebels. They were then taken about two miles from the mill and turned into an open field, where they spent the night, without shelter of any kind, the rain pouring in torrents. No fires could be made, and the night was one of great suffering.

The next day was extremely cold, and they were obliged to march without covering to their feet, over the rough, frozen roads to Rogersville, a distance of nearly thirty miles. Here they were turned into an old brick building. The next morning, the second after their capture, Smith received one biscuit and a small piece of maggoty bacon. They were then marched twenty-five miles to Bristol, on the line of the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, and put on board the cars and taken via Petersburg to Richmond. Here they were placed in an old tobacco warehouse, called Pemberton Castle. The first food given them was hailed with delight. When first seen some of the men remarked that it appeared to be well seasoned with pepper, but a closer inspection showed what was supposed to be whole pepper was, in reality, small bugs, and the dish was termed “bug” soup.

Smith remained in this place one week, and was then sent to Belle Isle. Here, though snow lay on the ground, he had no shelter. During the day he made himself as comfortable as possible on the sunny side of a bank. At night he was obliged to walk nearly all the time to keep from freezing. He remained on the island until March 10, 1864, when he was sent to Andersonville.

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