1862: George Barney Hale to Oscar Hale

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George B. Hale’s Headstone

This letter was written by 36 year-old George Barney Hale (1826-1910) of Gill, Franklin County, Massachusetts. George was the son of Aaaron Hale (1800-1887) and Rachel Stevens (1801-1881). George wrote the letter to his younger brother, Oscar Hale (1835-1865).

George enlisted at Gill on 3 September 1862 as a corporal in Co. A, 52nd Massachusetts Infantry—a Nine Month’s Unit. He mustered out on 14 August 1863.

“The 52nd Massachusetts left New York Harbor on December 2 as part of the force sent with General Nathaniel P. Banks, who arrived  in New Orleans on December 14 to take command of the Department of the Gulf from General Benjamin F. Butler, Banks, nicknamed “Nothing Positive” for a military record that included several reverses at the hands of “Stonewall” Jackson in Virginia, had been sent to cooperate with Gen. U. S. Grant in opening the Mississippi, in and attempt to divide the Confederacy in two and to prevent vital supplies from reaching its eastern half.” [Source: A Massachusetts Soldier at the Siege of Port Hudson, 1863 by Glenn L. McMullen, JSTOR, p. 316]

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Corp. Hale’s Letter with lithograph of Ship Island

 

TRANSCRIPTION

On board steamer Illinois off the coast of Florida
Sunday, December 7th [1862]

We left New York [Harbor on 2 December 1862] Tuesday at four o’clock. Was out of sight of land about nine that night. We passed Cape Hatteras light house Thursday morning but no land in sight until this morning. The coast of Florida was in sight about two hours,

There has been two deaths on board; one before leaving New York—a soldier from Hadley. Last night another died from Shelburn Falls. This morning he was sewed up in his blanket and buried in the ocean. That looks hard to see men thrown overboard. ¹

We had a fine time until Friday morning. Since then, until last night, the wind blew a perfect gale. It is unpleasant and warm today. Almost all have been seasick. They feel better today. I am one of the few that escaped. I will finish this before we land so that the first mail bound east will carry it.

Friday morning. Off Ship Island. We came to anchor within one half mile of land yesterday at four o’clock, We have had a good trip so far. There is a chance to send letters to New Orleans today and I will send this and one to Wilson. Some think we shall go there but I don’t. The next time I write, I shall know.

Goodbye from your brother, — G. B. Hale


¹ The soldier was William N. Richmond of Co. E who had died “from the effects of sea-sickness and too close confinement” [most likely typhoid fever]. He was “sewed up tightly in his woolen blanket and placed in a horizontal position on a wide plank, one end of which projected over the larboard bulwarks, while the other end, a little higher, rested on an old box or other thing adapted to the purpose. Heavy weights were attached to the feet.” After a prayer from the chaplain, the “soulless form plunged into the sea, the blue waves thereof closed over it, and the soldier-lad was lost to sight forever!” [History of the 52nd Regiment, pages 22-23]

 

 

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