1862: James Fillow Jelliff to Aaron Jelliff

These two letters were written by James Fillow Jelliff (1831-1881), the son of Aaron Jelliff ¹ and Caroline Dunning of Weston, Fairfield county, Connecticut. James was married in October 1852 to Malvina Brower (1835-1907), the daughter of Milton and Mary (Waterbury) Brower.

James enlisted in Co. E, 23rd Connecticut Infantry and was mustered into the service on 30 August 1862. He received an honorable discharge on 31 August 1863 after one year of service.

Company E of the 23rd Connecticut Infantry was recruited primarily from Fairfield county. They rendezvoused at Camp Terry (New Haven) where they were assigned to General Banks’ Expedition. From New Haven they proceeded to Camp Buckingham on Long Island and embarked on steamers for New Orleans by way of steamers from New York City on 29 November 1862. Three of the companies were sent on one steamer; the remainder on the Chi Kiang—a river steamer not necessarily crafted for open waters.


Addressed to Mr. Aaron Jelliff, Georgetown, Connecticut

Ship Island
December 12, 1862

Dear Parents,

We have finally found a resting place—a place we did not expect to see. I have seen enough already of the war. If there was a hell in earth, I have been in one. I never want to cross the ocean again. Of all the places I was in was in that boat—1200 men packed in one boat—salt meat and crackers for our subsistence. I never knew the [half] of anything before. We merely escaped a watery grave. We got in a gale off Cape Hatteras—just lived through and that is all. And I am thankful that we have reached land once more. ²

We came off of the boat at 10 o’clock and have got our tents pitched once more. It is right in the sand. It looks like snow. It is hard work to travel here. There is several boats lying here. There is quite a village of huts [and] plenty of darkies. I have been in 2 or 3 of their houses to find something to eat. They are very clever to us. They do all they can when we come off of the boat. I looked as if I had been cleaning out a hog pen—it was so nasty, greasy and muddy. They think they have been uses like hogs but we have got to make the best of it.

They are building a large fort close to us 7 feet thick make of brick. There is a number of rebel prisoners to work there. I seen one with a ball and chain to his leg. He sat pounding up brick. They fill up the wall with it and one slaveholder was pounding brick too. He is a smart-looking man.

Well I never thought of being here. It seems like a dream and I wish it was, don’t you? I feel as if I had a bit of sickness but I have come out better than some of the rest. I have wrote a little sketch of our voyage to Mamma so I won’t write it now. I don’t feel like writing much today but I feel a good deal better since I come off of the boat. The air feels good. It is warm here as summer. Days are hot. The nights are chilly. There was only two companies on here when we come. They have been here 9 months. I don’t know how long we shall stay here. They say there is 5,000 men a coming here. We was the first load that got in but someone has got in today. I think I shan’t come home by water. I have seen enough of the water.

I don’t like to write all the particulars. It would only make [my wife] Malvina worry but I suppose you will hear of it. A boat run into us and knocked two holes into her side but did not hurt much but scared me some. I thought a rebel had fired on to us but through the mercy of God we have been spared and I hope we ever shall be. I want you to do all you can to cheer up Malvina. Mother, I would like some of your good cake for supper. When you eat them good things, you must think of me. I think of you often and all the rest. So write me a letter as soon as you get this. You don’t know how I want to hear from you. Write a long letter about everything.

I suppose [brother] Aaron is knocking things round. Tell him to write. He may be thankful that he has got a sore leg. I can stand pain better than I can this. I send my love to all enquiring friends. I must close and go and wash me up for I have not had a good wash since we left New York. I think it will do me good. You don’t want to direct your letters to Ship Island. Direct to Banks Expedition, Co. E, 23rd [Connecticut] Regiment.

Goodbye. From your son, — James

¹ An article appearing in the History of Redding, Connecticut, stated that “in the 1850’s, Aaron Jelliff, built a shop for wire work on the Weston Road in Osborntown. The motive power used in this shop was a one man power tread mill. This tread mill wheel was on the outside of the shop(south side). It was about twelve feet in diameter and six feet wide. It was built with treads to step on. The weight of the person inside the wheel stepping on the treads turned it and furnished the power to run a saw and other small machines. The wheel was operated by Abraham Dreamer, a veteran of the Mexican War. It was a great treat to the boys of fifty or more years ago to see Uncle Abe walking in this wheel, never reaching the top. Years later, Mr. Jelliff’s sons, Aaron and Charles, were in the wire business, Aaron in New Canaan and Charles in Southport. On the top of the hill in front of the Waterman Bates place can be seen an old ditch running back from the brow of the hill to the old reservoir. This was dug by the Gilbert & Bennett Co. to bring the water from the reservoir to the Red Mill to wash cattle and horse hair, but it was never finished.”

² Joseph Dobbs Bishop, Co. B, 23rd Connecticut Infantry wrote a letter to his wife on the same day as James Jelliff in which he stated:

“We arrived at this Island last night about 5 o’clock after having been at sea 8 days and 6 hours between the ports. We first made the Port of Mobile yesterday morning and communicated with our Blockade fleet about 11 o’clock in the morning. We saw the rebel steamers inside the harbor waiting to slip out. You never saw a happier set of men than we were to get out of that vessel. We had a dreadful rough passage to me as I could not get used to the motion of the vessel when it was rough. It will not give confidence in the vessel as she was not built for an ocean steamer but to run on some river in China, She was named the Chekiang [Chi Kiang] and I never shall forget her… You cannot think how thankful we were to be preserved from the dangers of the sea. We were packed 1200 at least on that vessel like cattle and fed in the morning about 8 or 9 o’clock and about 5 in the afternoon with hard crackers and salt junk boiled in salt water. We all got so tired of the fare that could not take any comfort in eating it. We were the first vessel of Banks Expedition that arrived here although one or two started out of New York 19 hours ahead of us. This morning 2 other steamers came in filled with soldiers… We found some soldiers here that came out with Gen. Butler and some Rebel prisoners and plenty of contraband.” [Noble Sentiments of the Soul: Civil War Letters of Joseph Dobbs Bishop, 2015]



Ship Island
December 13, 1862

Dear Wife,

I feel as if I must write a little more. It seems that the mail is not going out till tonight and it gives me much pleasure. I would like to spend all of my time writing if I could. It is all the comfort I have. I felt better after I got my supper. We had a good supper—crackers and sugar and it was good, and a cup of tea. I think we shall improve.

We have got our tents up once more and it seems like home. It is quite a place here. There is a good many darkies and they are very clever. I went into 2 or 3 places to find something to eat. They would give you all they had. Some of them are very nice looking and clean.

The floor of our tent is sand—white as snow. It looks like snow. I wish you had some of it to scour with. It is hard work to walk here. It is just like walking in snow. Well, I have spent one night on Ship Island. I dreamt all night. I dreamt of being home—that dear place I love. I hope the time is not far distant.

I have just eaten my breakfast—hominy and sugar. Banks went out to one of the darkies and got hoecake. Give 30 cents for it. It is a hungry place. There is a great many people here by this time and they keep coming. I wish I could take a peep in and see you this morning and have one good kiss of idol’s cheek. It would be some consolation.

I hope that these feeble lines will find you well and in good spirits. That will be a comfort to me to know that. Write me a long letter and full of comfort. I hope there won’t be one word of sadness. About all that is going on [here] is writing. Some of the boys are not very well but I think they will be better some after resting.

[remainder in pencil]

Now I will try and finish my letter. I been a diggin’ a little. It is warm today. We don’t want any fire here. I suppose you are sitting around the stove to keep warm. It seems singular to be where it is warm. The trees are green as summer.

Tell Theodore I shall write to him as soon as I can tell him. I have thoughts of him a great many times and hope I shall hear from him soon. Tell Rhoda I felt bad when those apples and cake was gone. I have had none since. O how I wish I [had] some today. They would tough the spot. I want you to write and let me know if you can read this pencil writing. If not, I will write with ink. O how I wish I had a letter to read today and hear some good news.

I suppose the hogs will be killed before I get your letter. Write and let me know how much they weighed and all the rest of your business. Write as much as you can.

There has a transport come in today. There will be quite an army here soon if they keep coming. I don’t think we shall have  to do much fighting. The gunboats will do that. I don’t think the war will last long. The darkies are forced to go and fight. I believe they take comfort. I know they do here.

Well, I have [wrote] about all. Tell Charley and Carey to write. I would [like] to hear from anybody. It is roll call dinner time. So goodbye.

From [your] dear husband, — James Jelliff

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