1863: John Clemence to Sarah Clemence

This letter was written by John Clemence, a 21 year-old salt packer from Syracuse, New York, who enlisted on 4 November 1861 in Co. F, 14th US Infantry. At the time of his enlistment, he was described as standing 5 foot 7¼ inches tall, with grey eyes, and light colored hair. He remained in the service until 23 December 1864 when his three year term of service expired. He was discharged as a corporal.

In the 1860 US Census, John was living in Geddes, Onondaga county, New York. His mother was Sarah [?] Clemence, a native of Ireland, who gave birth to John in 1841 in Canada. By 1870, John was married to a Canadian-born woman named Margaret and working in a rolling mill in Geddes. They had two little boys, John (age 3) and Robert (age 1).

The 14th US, 1st Battalion, was commanded  by Capt. John D. O’Connell at Fredericksburg. They were in Lt. Col. Robert C. Buchanan’s First Brigade, of Brig. Gen. George Sykes’ Second Division, of Daniel Butterfield’s Fifth Army Corps.

“I would take the 14th to the very gates of Hell, but I want a chance to whip the Devil when I get there.” —- Captain John “Paddy” O’Connell, 14th U. S. Regular Infantry

Letterhead of John Clemence Letter dated 4 March 1863


Camp near Falmouth, Va.
March 4th 1863

Dear Mother,

I received your kind letter yesterday, March 3rd, of which I was very glad to hear of you being in good health—also all the rest of the neighbors. I received a letter from Kobert the same day that I got yours. He and family are well. All the men that got furloughs hasn’t come back yet and I suppose that they will never come back and if they don’t, that will spoil all the rest.

We were mustered in the last of February and has four months pay coming to us now and we expect to get paid some time this month and if we do, I will apply for my furlough. I wrote to Thomas Tully the day after I wrote my last letter to you but I have got no answer from him yet. I am expecting a letter from him every day. I got a letter from Alfred Gouran the other day and I answered it.

There was a boy got his discharge. His name is Francis Oden and lives in West Monroe. He belonged to our company. He left for home today and I gave him a medal to bring to you. He said that he would go to Geddes and give it to you for me. On the medal is the battles that I have been in. I hope that you will get it safe.

Dear Mother, I think that we will stay here a long time. Our Brigade is working every day building forts. Our brigade is building three forts near the railroad depot and I think that we are agoing to stay here and hold this place while the rest of the Army will be in South Carolina. I don’t think that there will be much fighting done in Virginia. I suppose that there will be a good part of the Army leaving here before a great while and that part of it will stay here to hold this place in front of Fredericksburg and I hear that it is our Corps that is agoing to stay here. The Rebels may attack us when they find out that part of our Army has left here but if they do, they will find a warm reception for we are a building forts and rifle pits here every day. And if they should cross the river to attack us. I think that we will give them as much as they gave us when we crossed to attack them at Fredericksburg.

Dear Mother, we are agoing on picket again in a day or two. My health is good, thank God, and I am quite comfortable now considering. We get soft bread now and tea twice a week and we get potatoes twice a week. The sutler’s charge 10 cents per pound for potatoes. Tobacco is very dear here. It sells at the rate of $2.00 per pound. We have very curious weather here. It rains one part of the day and snows another part of the day and some days are very warm.

Dear Mother, don’t forget to send me a paper as soon as you can. I haven’t much to say this time so I will conclude by sending my best respects to Henry Gorman and Family. Also Wm. Gall and Family, Mr. Tully and Family, and all enquiring friends. Let me know how Billy Haughton is getting along. Give him my best respects. I hear that Silas Carpenter is home on a furlough. No more at present.

From your affectionate son, — John Clemence

Direct your letter to Co. F, 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry, USA, General Sykes Division, Washington D. C.

Write as quick as this comes to hand.

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