1864: Franklin Benjamin Doty to Helen Fowler Finch

This letter was written by Franklin (“Frank”) Benjamin Doty (1831-1865), the son of Christopher Doty (1788-1857) and Lucinda Hyde (1794-1876) of Hornellsville, Steuben county, New York. In the 1860 US Census, Frank was a 30 year-old carpenter boarding at the William Coykendall’s hotel in Hornellsville.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Frank enlisted in Co. G, 23rd New York Infantry. He rose in rank to captain of his company before he was discharged on 22 May 1863 at the end of his two year enlistment. While with the 23rd New York, Frank participated in the battles of First Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.

In May 1864, Frank entered the service again, accepting a commission as the Lieutenant-Colonel of the 179th New York Infantry. The regiment took an active part in the first assaults on Petersburg in June, losing 11 killed, 70 wounded and 10 missing. On the failure of the assaults the regiment went into the entrenchments occupied by Burnside’s IX Corps, on a part of the line very near to the enemy’s works where the men were exposed to an almost incessant fire during the long siege, resulting in a daily loss of men.

In this letter, Frank informs his friend that he was wounded in the assault on the Petersburg works on 17 June 1864. He tells her his wounds were minor but thinks he will be transported with the wounded to Washington D. C.  I cannot find any newspaper accounts that mention Frank’s wounds, however.

The 179th New York took a prominent part in the storming of Petersburg on 2 April 1865, losing 60 killed, wounded and missing. In that assault, Frank was mortally wounded; he died three days later from the gunshot would to his chest that felled him from his horse. A comrade named Benjamin H. Thomas later testified, “I saw Doty when he was shot and furthermore I led his horse off the field and had charge of said horse until I delivered him (the horse) to his mother at Hornellsville on my arrival home.”

Frank wrote the letter to Helen Fowler Finch (1837-1928), the daughter of Ralph Knickerbocker Finch (1808-1848) and Mary Doty Metcalfe (1810-1889). It does not appear that Helen ever married. In the 1870 US Census, she was enumerated in the household with her mother working as a school teacher.

[See also—1865: Martin Van Buren Doty to Cousin]

Frank’s letter with a snippit of his hair (presumably) & CDV of his brother, Martin Van Buren Doty who served in the same regiment.

Addressed to Miss Helen Finch, Bath, Steuben Co., New York
Postmarked Washington D. C.

In hospital near Petersburg, Va.
June 18th 1864

My dear Helen,

I have an opportunity to write you a few lines to let you know how I am. I was wounded last evening in a charge on the enemy’s works. I am happy to say that my wound is not dangerous. I was shot through the thigh—a flesh wound. My regiment was in the first line. We were exposed to the most terrible fire that I ever witnessed. I succeeded in entering the enemy’s works with what men I had left—which was not many—and captured some prisoners. My regiment is badly cut up. My Major [John Barnet Sloan] is mortally wounded, one Captain [Daniel Blatchford of Co. E] killed, two more wounded. I can’t form much of an opinion as to how many men I have lost. ¹

The hospital is crowded with wounded. I suppose that I will be removed to Washington as soon as possible. I shall try and get a leave of absence and come home.

I was hit on the shoulder and knocked down when we first commenced the charge. I thought first that I was badly hurt but I got up and went on again. I am proud of my men. They charged like veterans. I was afraid that I could not get them up to the rebel’s works but I think that they have done credit to themselves.

Since I wrote you last, I have done some hard marching. I am lying on my back writing this so you must excuse the writing. I have received no mail since we left White House [Landing]. I am pretty tired and I must write to Mother so I must close. I will write you again soon. Give my love to all the family and lots to yourself.

— Frank

My regiment is in the 9th Corps, 1st Division, 2nd Brigade

¹ Privates: Jeremiah Ryan, wounded in arm and side; Patrick Breen, side; Patrick Breen, 2d, missing; Edward Campbell, hand; Thomas Connor, thigh; Charles C. F. Favernp, mouth; John Hancock, right leg amputated; George T. Morgan, missing, supposed to be killed; Abraham Meredith, wounded in hand slightly; Lawrence Smith, right arm amputated; Geo. Seiffred, arm; Thomas L. Thomas, abdomen; Issiah Wiley, missing, supposed to be killed; Stephen McEwan, in leg slightly; Total, killed, 1; wounded, 11; missing, 3.

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