These two letters were written by English-born, 20 year-old George Roden, Jr. (1841-1923), the son of tailor George Roden, Sr. (1801-1890) and Rachel Jane Patrick (1809-1889) of Newark, New Jersey.
George Roden enlisted in late May 1861 as a private in Co. K, 2nd New Jersey Infantry—a regiment in Gen. Phillip Kearny’s 1st Brigade. Stationed in northern Virginia during its active service, the 2nd New Jersey infantry was involved in several important engagements, including the Union defeat at Blackburn’s Ford and as a reserve regiment in the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas). Roden left the service on 21 June 1864 as a 1st Sergeant.
The letter was addressed to his parents and his sisters—Agnes, Lizzie, and Rachel.
Twenty-eight of George Roden’s Civil War letters are housed at the Princeton University Library Special Collections [George Roden Civil War Letters to his Family]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Camp Seminary, [Fairfax] Virginia
October 17, 1861
Dear Father & Mother,
Your welcome letters came to hand in due season with the good news that you are all well. I am glad that you have got plenty of good work [tailoring] to do. I do hope it will continue.
Father, I received your letter all right. I was so glad to hear from you. I am so glad that your health continues so good. I hope it will be left for you all to enjoy.
Our fare is pretty good now and has been for the last month with very few exceptions. Congress at its last session voted 20 oz. of bread per day for each man. It is found that while in camp the men waste a good deal of bread—that is. some of them do. The General, seeing this, ordered the weight to be altered to 16 oz. This has been done for several days but it found that it is insufficient so the General has ordered that those companies wishing it, will report so to their captain and he to the General when they will get the rest that is due them. I take notice that the quartermaster, or somebody else, would have made a great haul out of it if it had been continued. 4,000 lb. of flour wheat a day is not a little item. But it was too bad to see so much wasted. The reason of it it that some of the boys spend a great deal at the sutlers for cake and stuff, spoiling their appetite for anything else. It is a rare case, I tell you, for anything to be wasted round here. We have beautiful bread now—baked in our brigade ovens. It is [as] fine bread as I ever eat.
We have had some very stormy weather lately. While I am writing, it is raining with a fair prospect of a stormy night. I would liked you to have peeped in on us one night. The camp had been moved while we were out so that we didn’t have things as comfortable and straight as they might be. The water coursed freely to the depth of three inches through a part of the tent. The boys made the best of it, piled knapsacks &c. in the centre of the tent [and] passed the evening joking and singing as we always do on such occasions. When it came time to retire “tattoo,” we had not ceased so we lay down spreading our “rubbers” over us and was soon in a good sound sleep, lulled perhaps by the music of the “patter on the roof” of the rain as it fell in torrents, dashed against the tents by a regular hurricane. The only inconvenience we found was to awake a few times through the night to arrange the blankets so the water that tricked through the tents would run off the sides instead of down the neck. I don’t know what we would do without those rubber blankets—life preservers they should be called. I often think what a good thing it is that we are not a lot of old bachelors who would be grumbling and growling at such sort of fun.
The storm is over and cleared off fine. Captain [Charles H.] Tay takes command of the company again this morning. The fort is finished at last, The captain in an order read last night on parade, was highly recommended for promotion and distinction by the General for the manner in which he has conducted the engineering at the fort. While he has been there “nearly a month,” Lieut. [Richard] Hopwood has had charge of the company and we are glad to get rid of him, I tell you.
There goes the assembly for drill. We have to drill so much and so often that we can find scarcely a moment to do anything in for when we come, we don’t get rested before the cry, “fall in” is again given. Lieut. Tucker has returned to the regiment again, having been acquitted the charges preferred against him by the General—General McClellan not thinking them worthy of notice. I have just come in from drill—a drill of one and a half hours in the skirmish drill which we drill [and] we are getting very proficient in.
Everything is quiet here now. No more like war than it was a month ago. Occasionally we have a little skirmish but nothing more. Balloon ascensions are made every evening, nearly passing over our camp on the way south.
There is little else to write about. Nothing of interest happening. If Mr. or rather Lieut. S. H[enry] Baldwin called to see you, I hope you will tell me what he had to say. Give my love to all the folks. Hoping this will find you all well—well as I am at present. I am your affectionate son, — George
P. S. Agnes, I will answer yours very soon. I received it the other day. Love to Lizzie, Rachel and a kiss for all, — George
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
In camp near Belle Plains, Virginia
December 7th 1862
Dear Father, Mother and Sisters,
I started to write you today and while writing received a letter from you so I commenced again for it came so welcome that I felt I must write you now. It was yours of the 1st. I don’t know that I can do much writing with fingers so stiff and cold as mine but I guess I can try. I am sorry to hear that Mother and Rachel are so poor. I hope you are all right before this. It does me good to know that the work continues steady. I hope it will all winter.
The old Division of Hooker’s passes our camp on their way to their position in the centre Grand Division. I saw [brother] Hugh. I tell you, he looks fine and healthy and he has grown wonderfully since I saw him last at Harrison’s Landing. But it was only for a few moments for he had to go on with his regiment. I saw Edward Van Horn. He spoke of John being sick. Poor fellow. I feel sorry for him but I am glad he is where he can be taken care of—more fortunate than many poor fellows who die before they can get away. Edward spoke of John’s getting his descriptive list. Tell her I will see the Capt. about it. Enclosed a letter John left with me. Give it to him. I think it is just as he left it.
Father, we expect soon to be paid off. So it has been reported for the past few days. It is impossible for me to keep my feet dry or warm with these shoes. So I wish you would have a pair of boots made for me against the time we receive our pay. Have them made well, with thick soles. Let the uppers be of leather that will not crack or hurt my feet too much, Enclosed is the measure of my foot. Have the legs wide enough to put my pants inside. You can send them by post cheap by leaving the and of the paper open, that they may come at paper rates so attend to this soon if you can.
I forgot I suppose to answer the question that Agnes asked. I don’t know anything about Bulliver [?] or who he is. Alexander is in or ought to be in our company. I don’t know anything of him but what I’ve seen here. I never liked him much as there was a loaferish way about him that didn’t suit for he drinks and swears quite freely. Don’t be too friendly with them, however.
Last Thursday we advanced fourteen miles from Strafford Court House to our present camp at Belle Plain. On Friday it commenced to rain, changing to snow & hail. Our camp ground, being in a new plowed field, soon looked like a mud pudding of old times, only on a grander scale.
Our little mess of four got in and fixed up the tent as comfortable as possible with logs &c. but it’s cold work. It stormed till yesterday. It cleared off cold with a north wind entering freely all around. The roads are in a terrible condition. You cannot imagine the difficulty in getting wagons and artillery over them. The artillery coming right after us do not have it so bad as the wagons for when they come, the wheels soon cut up the road so that little puddles become large, deep mud holes—the wheels entering over the hubs every few rods. I don’t think these soft country roads are agoing to stand a winter’s campaign. But I am well, saving a slight cold which isn’t much.
I suppose in a couple of weeks or so we shall all be a few miles more off which fact I will let you know if it occurs. I have an idea that if some of these lying Parlor Editors could see the kind of enthusiasm and suffering this kind of work is causing, they would not be so flowery in their language to deceive the people.
But I must conclude, don’t forget the boots as I need them bad. I hope to be able to send the money by the time they are done.
Dear Mother, I did hope to spend my 21st birthday at home with you all but it cannot be. But I know who will be thinking of me on the 22nd of December. With love to each of you, I am ever your affectionate son & brother, — George
Stafford Court, Virginia
December 8, 1862
P. S. Enquire at the Post Office when you send the boots. As to the cost, show them the package with the end open that they can see the contents. It will then come all the way through for what they charge. John Van Horn’s brother Edward wished me to see the Capt. about John’s descriptive list. I have just seen him. He says that we can only send it by order of the U. S. Surgeon at the hospital. Tell them of it—that they can have it surgeon send it on as soon as possible.
We still continue in camp here though the reports have [us] going on transports soon for some point, North Carolina, or the James River again. Of course we don’t know but are patiently looking out for something—winter quarters if nothing else. I’m sure it would not displease us by any means.
Mother, you asked me if we received any food after that day’s starving. I forgot to tell you—that I was on guard that night for the first half of the night. About 11 o’clock the wagons came. They dealt out a box of crackers to each company right away but as the boys had all turned in, they did not get them till morning. I, however, being up and hungry, took my rations and made a rousing dish of “____” (i. e.) — crackers friend in pork and water. That with a cup of coffee which Charlie L. handed me and the long march of the da, made me feel ready for my blanket when my relief came at midnight. It is when the supply wagons are delayed that we go hungry.
Give my love to all the folks. You know who they are. With love and a kiss to each of you—Father, Mother, Agnes, Lizzie, and Rachel.
I am yours affectionately, — George Roden
P. S. I wrote to Charles. Perhaps he will answer. If not, he will not hear from me again, I assure you. Franks sends me three Illustrated papers and two others daily. Charles left off doing that long since. I receive all your papers regularly. Write soon. I’ve plenty of writing paper. — George