1862: George Bills to friend Calvin

This letter was written by Pvt. George Bills (b. 1842) of Norwich, Windsor county, Vermont, who enlisted on 19 October 1861 in Co. C, 6th Vermont Infantry, and died of disease on 2 December 1862.

The 6th Vermont was part of the Vermont Brigade ((2nd through the 6th Vermont Infantry Regiments), virtually always complimented for their gallant conduct in every engagement. From April 13, 1862 to May 19, 1862, the Vermont Brigade was posted at White House Landing—the main supply base for the Army of the Potomac while invading the Virginia Peninsula. In early June 1862, they were stationed on the east side of the Chickahominy river and engaged in building corduroy roads.  They participated in the battle of Golding’s farm on June 26th and then in the Seven Days Battles.

In 1860 US Census, George was employed as a farm laborer on the farm of 69 year-old Percis Spencer of Norwich.

George Bills’ letter of June 16, 1862 with image of the Kent Brothers who also served in the 6th Vermont Infantry


Camp near Richmond
June 16th [1862]

Friend Calvin,

I take this opportunity to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope this will find you the same. Almost all of the company have gone on picket today so I am a going to spend the day in writing and mending my pants which are almost worn out. I have the same ones that I first drew at Camp Griffin. I have spoken for a new pair but may not get them for a month.

Everything is quiet here, only once in awhile a picket or sharpshooter fires his gun. The rebels are in sight from our camp. They have shot two men in the Fourth Regiment. The rebels are so near that they shoot at us if there is a crowd anywhere in sight of them. They will send a few shots into them. That was the way the men in the Fourth got shot. They were crowding around the sutler’s cart.

Our pickets are stationed within thirty rods of those of the rebels. We are in the woods and so are they. There is a field of oats between. They shoot across this at each other if anyone is rash enough to show himself. At night our pickets are advanced out in the oats about ten rods. The last time I was on, I could hear them as they walked along in the oats and hear them talk. The rebel pickets are in the oats at night the same as ours are so at night the pickets are not more than ten or twelve rods apart. We have to get up at three o’clock in the morning and stand in line of battle until after sunrise. The rebels broke through the lines somewhere near White House Landing and burned some sloops that were in the river and tore up the railroad, fired on the train, and thirty teams. They took the sutler of the Fourth Regiment prisoner and took five hundred dollars worth of stuff from the sutler of the Fifth. A company of cavalry was sent in pursuit of them and took fifteen of the rebels prisoner. The rest escaped with their plunder. ¹

I have just been trying my skill in cooking. I have got to be a great cook. My cooking operations of today consisted in changing hard crackers into jacks. This is a very nice job and it requires a great mind to accomplish it. I will send you the recipe I go by in doing this.

First take half a dozen hard crackers, cut or pound them fine, and ten soak them in water 10 minutes. They fry them in a little fat. This makes a nice dish for them that like it. The report is that one of the sutlers has been found hung to a tree.

I am a going to give you one of the soldier’s commandments for keeping the Sabbath.

Six days shalt thou work and so all guard duty and on the seventh, build corduroy roads. Some of the boys had letters from home today which stated that Richmond was taken and that our loss was fifteen thousand. We have not heard of it here yet. Everything is all ready for a fight or anything else. I think that we are waiting for the rebels to attack us or else for them to run.

It has been very hot here for a week. Last night we had a thunder shower and it cleared off cold so that overcoats come in play and so would mittens if we had them. I have got two pair of them yet. A great many of the boys have thrown away their overcoats and some have thrown away boat coat and blanket. We had six new recruits come into our company yesterday. There is sixty-four men in the company now. We have had thirteen recruits and there was 100 in the company when we left Vermont. You see by this that nearly one half of the company is gone. Of this number, sixteen have died or been killed. Some have been discharged. The rest are in the hospitals at Georgetown, Philadelphia, and Newport News. What there is here are well and in good health with one or two exceptions.

I must close for tonight. Write soon.

— George Bills, Co. C, 6th [Vermont] Regt.

¹ George is referring to the raid made by J. E. B. Stuart who led his cavalry into Garlick’s Landing on the Pamunkey River above the railroad bridge and captured 14 wagons and some sutler’s stores, and burnt two shooners laden with forage and then headed toward Turnstall’s Station.

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