These letters were written by Benjamin Franklin Barrows (1839-Aft1905), the orphaned son of Greenleaf Barrows (1809-1856) and Lydia Briggs Robinson (1813-1854) of Augusta, Kennebec, Maine. He wrote the letters to his cousin, William “Edward” Barrows (1841-1921), the son of Elisha Barrows (1802-1886) and Ann Marion Clifford (1807-1890) of Augusta.
Benjamin served in Co. C, 31st Maine Infantry. This regiment left Maine for Washington, D.C. on April 18, 1864 and was attached to the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, IX Corps, Army of the Potomac, in which it remained for the remainder of the war. The 31st commenced active campaigning on May 4, 1864 and took its first battle casualties two days later in the Battle of the Wilderness, where it suffered heavy losses. The regiment fought again at Spotsylvania Court House on May 12, again taking heavy casualties: 12 killed, 75 wounded and 108 missing in action.
The regiment fought in engagements at Totopotomoy Creek on May 31 and June 1. Between the 4th and 12th of June, the regiment was before the Confederate works at Cold Harbor, then crossed the James River and fought in the Battle of Petersburg and remained there for the ensuing siege. In the July 30 Battle of the Crater, it was the first regiment into the Confederate works and lost heavily in the failed assault.
It was here in the Battle of the Crater on 30 July 1864 that 1st Sgt. Benjamin F. Barrows, with eight other enlisted men from his company, was taken prisoner and taken to the Confederate prison at Danville, Virginia. The other enlisted men taken as prisoners with Benjamin from Company C included: Caleb Taylor, John P. Wells, Daniel Brown, George H. Harrington, Charles Bridges, L. Varnum, Levi Newell, and R. F. Lowell.
I cannot find a record or newspaper notice of when Benjamin was exchanged but from these letters we know that he was at Annapolis since at least the 6th of December 1864 and apparently in good health. He seems to have been assisting the hospital staff in caring for the exchanged prisoners at the Parole Camp Hospital.
In 1876, Benjamin was employed as a “hand pressman” at the Government Printing Office in Washington D. C. In the 1900 US Census, Benjamin was working as a “printer” for the government in the District of Columbia, boarding with the Devine family on F. Street. A 1906 article in the Evening Star (June 26) lists him as a night watchman working at the US Treasury’s Printing Office.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
[Partial letter, location not stated but probably Annapolis, MD]
December 23, 1864
This letter I have carried in my pocket a few days and as it will be somewhat aged when it reaches you, will add a few lines.
I am getting along finely and am in excellent health. I never felt better physically which I know is saying a great [deal].
To give you an idea of deaths at this hospital, I will give you some items from my “Record.” Since the 6th of present month, there have been 240 deaths. Tuesday morning there were over 80 bodies in the Dead House of which some over 60 were buried. Yesterday 49 more were taken away and this P. M. there are 22 left.
That table that I mentioned before will accommodate at one sitting 500.
Ask Greenleaf why he and Martha never have written.
Write soon. Love to all. Truly &c. — B. F. Barrows
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Addressed to Edward Barrows, Esq., Augusta, Maine
January 8, 1865
Dear Cousin Ed,
I received your kind letter a few days since and I thank you for it. That day I received three letters but none since. My letters always arrive in a bunch.
We have quite a change in the weather since I wrote last. Then I believe the ground was covered with snow, but it is not so now. Last Friday we had considerable rain which melted the snow at a great rate, and now the earth is nearly bare. Snow is to be seen in patches which—like angel’s visits—are few and far between.
Yesterday the weather was clear and towards noon a northwest wind sprang up which blew violently until nearly 9 o’clock P. M. when it subsided. But it made havoc with some of our tents. My tent survived but at times I thought it would go, The wind tipped our “Privy” over into the water but fortunately no one was in it at the time.
Different arrangements are now being made about this hospital. There are comparatively few patients here now. They were taken out of the
buildings tents last evening and conveyed to the buildings where there is no danger of the wind blowing them out of bed.
I imagine that you have taken a ride with “George” today. Now, am I right in my conjectures? I think I would enjoy a good sleigh ride first rate about this time but it would be too cold his evening to attempt it. Thus far, I have worn no overcoat this winter—have felt no need of it.
I can now go out into the city at any time but I do not go out very often as there is nothing very attractive—prices being so high. Tomorrow I shall visit Camp Parole to have the body of Charles Avery ¹ disinterred as his mother is anxious to have it sent home. Yesterday I ascertained the cost of sending it home and find it will be expensive. It will cost $53.
I should think you and Greenleaf were working hard and enjoying yourselves. I hope you never violate the principles of our Maine law. Greenleaf wrote that it was reported that he was to be married Christmas eve. Please tell me what gave rose to the report and to whom rumor had it [that] he was to be united. I hope if ever there is such a report about you and I, it may be verified. I have heard nothing from Waterville for some time.
I am in the same situation now as when I wrote to you before. I have heard nothing further concerning the examination except that it amounted to nothing, but hope I may know something definite soon.
Give my love to your parents. I think I may receive a letter from Marcie the present week. Write soon.
Yours very truly, — B. F. Barrows
¹ Charles S. Avery served in Co. C, 31st Maine, with Sgt. Barrows. Corp. Avery died of chronic diarrhea on 7 December 1864. He was initially buried at Annapolis, Maryland, but was disinterred and shipped home to August where he was laid to rest in the Riverside Cemetery.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
March 12, 1865
Dear Cousin Ed,
Your kind letter came duly to hand a few days ago. This evening I will attempt to answer it.
The most interesting event to me that has occurred here of late was the arrival of the officers of my regiment. They were all captured on the same day that I was & have been confined at Columbia, South Carolina, most of the time. They look much better now than when they were captured but they say that they do not give the rebs credit for their good looks. They were enabled to supply themselves with money and of course if a man has a plenty of money, he can live well—even in South Carolina. ¹
We are having very beautiful weather here—about like the latter part of April in Maine. Prisoners of war daily arrive and many of them are in a wretched condition and soon die after reaching the hospital. Forty-one were buried today.
What are you and Greenleaf doing now-a-days? I have not heard from Greenleaf for some time. Are they drafting in Augusta yet, or will it be avoided? I see that P. Graves has been drafted. What does Aunt Eunice say? It is doubtful if he is accepted by the Surgeon.
I am glad to hear that your mother is gaining and hope she will be well again soon. My love to her if you please.
I have not gone to my regiment yet but as soon as paid—which I think will be in two weeks or more—shall make application to be sent there. I met Capt. [Herbert Redding] Sargent ² of the 32nd who is assigned to my company the other day and like him much.
I suppose Martha has gone to Waterville to attend school.
If you build a house for Sue next summer and she inhabits it, I’ll get a furlough and go and visit her. I have no news to write and therefore close. Let me hear from you soon. Love to all. Truly yours, — B. F. Barrows
¹ The officers taken prisoner at the Battle of the Crater on 30 July 1864 included: Col. Daniel White; C. O. Noyes, Capt. Co. D; G. R. Bartlett, Capt. Co. G; J. P. Shehan, 1st Lt. Co. E; C. O. Brown, Lt. Co. K; C. O. Pendexter, Lt. Co. I; J. P. H. Tobey, Lt. Co. B.
² Capt. Herbert Redding Sargent (b. 1836) is mentioned in the blog article, The Crater sent a monster home to Turner: Part 3, published on 3 April 2014 by Brian Swartz. He was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Crater on 30 July 1864 and confined successively at Petersburg, Danville, Richland county jail, the Insane Asylum yard at Columbia, S. C., and at Charlotte, N. C. He was paroled from Charlotte on 25 February 1865 and taken to Camp Parole at Annapolis, Maryland, where he remained until 3 May 1865, when he rejoined the regiment.