1861-63: Henry Czar Merwin to Ruby Sophia (Merwin) Osborn

These letters were written by Henry Czar Merwin (1839-1863) of the 2nd Connecticut and 27th Connecticut Volunteers. Henry was the son of Samuel Edwin Merwin (1807-1886) and Ruby Nearing (1808-1886) of Brookfield, Fairfield county, Connecticut. The outbreak of the Civil War found Henry living in New Haven and operating a business with his father and brother.

As a member of the New Haven Grays militia, Henry immediately volunteered for 3-months of service with the 2nd Connecticut Regiment, serving as a sergeant in Co. G. With the 2nd Connecticut, Henry first saw combat during the battle of Bull Run. In the first letter, written just one week before Bull Run, Henry describes his first close encounter with the enemy.

[Note: The 13 July 1861 Letter, addressed to Henry’s brother, is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

In the summer of 1862, Henry recruited what would become Co. A of the 27th Connecticut, and was subsequently elected Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment. In this position, Henry served at both Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, becoming a prisoner of war held in Richmond following the latter battle. Upon being exchanged, Henry swiftly returned to the regiment, assuming full command. Leading the 27th Connecticut into the Wheatfield at Gettysburg on 2 July 1863, Henry was shot down, mortally wounded. Eyewitnesses recorded his last words as: “My poor regiment is suffering fearfully.”

[See also John Banks’ Civil War Blog, “Letters after Gettysburg: ‘Your sainted husband fell asleep.’ July 1, 2017]

Lt. Col. Henry C. Merwin’s Letter and Image

Letter 1

Oak Hill
Fairfax County, [Virginia]
July 13th 1861

My Dear Brother,

I hope you will receive this in due time for you may hear before you receive this that I have been taken prisoner—but I have not—and I am in camp and well. Since I last wrote you, I have been surrounded by over one hundred of the enemy. I will now give you the circumstances.

Yesterday morning (Friday, [July 12]), our company [Co. G], Capt. [J. W.] Gore’s [Co. D], & Capt. [E. C.] Chapman’s [Co. C] with fifty cavalry under Colonel [Erasmus D.] Keyes of the army who is now in command of the Brigade, took us out reconnoitering and of course we were in advance. When we got out about four miles, we were sent out as skirmishers about two or three hundred yards in advance of the main body. Our line reached—or I should say stretched—about half to three-quarters of a mile so we had quite a sweep. After we had searched several houses and not found much, we kept on and we must have been within a few miles of Fairfax [when] we entered a very thick woods. After we (by the way I was in command of the right group and the aide-de-camp was with us) had got quite a way into the woods, we captured two secessionists. They had Sharps rifles and one had also a six-inch Whitney pistol. They were first seen by men. They ordered them to halt and called for us. We rushed up and put a guard around them and after we took their arms, I sent a man to the main body for a squad to take them. I delivered them to Capt. [E. C.] Chapman. They were taken away and just in a minute or two after, Major Colburn was calling to find where we were. I stepped out and told him I had [already] delivered them to Capt. Chapman. He then said, well then, wait here.

The line of skirmishers had got broken. He went then to the main body and Colonel gave the order by the left flank. My group was so far from them we could not hear the order so of course we did not move. The skirmishers then joined the main body and after they had formed, they seen I was missing with Dolph Townsend and three of Capt. Gore’s men. The aide-de-camp was with us [too].

At that [discovery], Lieut. Col. Young—who happened to ride out with us but [was] not in command on account of a sore hand—sent the bugler of the cavalry into the woods and gave the retreat call. But he could not have been sent in the right direction or the wind was so we could not hear. After they had waited an hour or two, Col. Keyes said he would taken them in and have another party come out but the boys said they would not go in without us. But Col. Keyes said they had better fall back a little way and at that, Col. Young run his horse all the way into camp and had a short roll beat and called up the men. He then took quite a large force and put them on double quick time. Soon they reached our company and the others and they say never was such long faces seen before. Walter and all our boys said they knew I was not to blame but blame rested on someone. When the company met ours and the others were sent into camp, the cavalry was sent back with the other force. They would not let our boys go for they were afraid they would go too far [looking for us] and not obey orders so they went in with long faces.

Now I will tell you what we saw and did. After remaining there for a good while, I knew all was not right. I told the aide-de-camp we had better try to find the road [where] we started. We had not gone far when we saw a house a little way off. We thought we would go towards it and see how things looked. We worked along through the woods and when within about one hundred feet of the house—I was in advance—-I saw from twelve to fifteen men going towards the house. As soon as I saw them, I dropped to the ground and the rest did as I did. After they had got some way, we got up and went back, and before we had gone a great way, we heard chopping in the woods. We went within about one hundred feet of it and then we heard one say, “Get out of the way!” and then a tree fell. there must have been a great many chopping. Then we heard horses or men in a little brook close by. We then went close to the brook. It was about five feet wide. I lay down back of a very thick brush right on the bank. The aide-de-camp was some three or four feet back of me and the other boys right back of him. We heard men advancing. We all lay low and there was a company of over thirty men with their muskets marched down on the other side in close order within twelve feet of me and as soon as they got any distance, we got up and crept towards the edge of the woods.

After laying there some time, we got through into a cornfield and crept for a ways, when one of our boys said that their picket saw us. Then we got up and went double quick through the field. Then we reached a rye field and walked through it. Then when we got through the rye, we entered some other woods—the ones we started for. Nothing troubled us or occurred but we heard now and then a noise.

Emory Upton as he must have looked when a Lt. in 1861. Though never named in Henry’s letter, Upton was the Aide-de-Camp to Brig. Gen. Daniel Tyler.

By the middle of the afternoon we reached a house. We went to it and told the man we thought he was on our side. We told him we were the secession pickets and were out to see if we could see or hear anything of the Black Abolitionists. He said we were just the ones he wanted to see—that there were some of their pickets not far from his house, so we must be careful. He then called out his son who is about thirty. They then brought us out a bit of milk which we used up very quick. Then the aide-de-camp went to asking about the Northern troops and once in awhile would find something about the others and in this way we got the names of quite a number of secessionists and some Union men. Finally the old man told us that the girls that got Capt. [A. G.] Kellogg taken [prisoner] were in the house. 1 We asked to see them. We told him we would like to have the pleasure of complimenting them. They came out on the stoop and we were introduced to them. They had a place to hide. It was under the stairs—a piece of floor took up. After we had all the information we wanted, the aide-de-camp told them that we must be going and that he would like to see all the family to bid them goodbye. They all came out on the stoop and then he stepped up, drew his sword, and in the name of the United States, took them prisoners. We then asked the two Scott girls to put on their things and took them and the young man to camp. 2

Nothing of interest transpired until we reached our picket. They told us they had given us up in camp but that they had a number out looking for us. So the aide-de-camp took the first horse he could get and gave chase and before long he returned with the cavalry. We were waiting at our outer picket for him to return. When he did, we got a wagon and let the girls ride [see image below].

From Harper’s weekly, 3 August 1861

We reached headquarters which is nearer the picket than camp. I gave the girls and man up to General [Daniel P.] Tyler. By this time they had got news in camp and when we were within half a mile of camp, we see the boys coming. And as soon as they saw us, they broke and rushed down to us, Walter at the head. They all grabbed us, hugged us, and would have carried us into camp if we had been willing. Col. [Alfred Howe] Terry, Lieut. Col. Young, Adjutant Russell, and a number came way down the road to meet us. Col. Terry & Young treated us handsomely. At half past eight, we went to see General Tyler. He paid us quite a compliment and was very kind to us.

I am now sergeant of the guard today. It was my turn and quite a number offered to take my place and let me rest. Colonel said I need not go unless I wished to, but I got well rested Friday night and am as well as ever. I got a scratch on my nose is about all the marks I got. I took one of my pistols with me and I had the misfortune to lose it. I thank God I did not lose my life. The pistol I must of lost when I was crawling when we first came up on the first body of me. I unbuttoned my holster and in that way must of lost it. My other one is now in my knapsack. I hope I shall not have the next time to lose it.

Sunday morning. Giles and Dick is getting our breakfast ready. We are all well and all send love. You must excuse looks as I write somewhat of a hurry. I give you this just as it happened. J. E. Lewis will probably have a letter in the Paladium soon. I read your last night. Give my love to all. Write often. I will write to you again soon. Yours truly, — Hen

1 One source claims that Captain Abram Goodwin Kellogg, 2nd Connecticut Infantry, Infantry Company B, was captured at Scott’s House, one mile northwest of Falls Church, Fairfax County, Virginia, on 21 June, 1861. This is corroborated by another source claiming that Captain Kellogg’s captivity lasted from June 22, 1861 to January 21, 1862. Another source states the following regarding Capt. Kellogg’s capture: “Capt. A. G. Kellogg of the Second, while out in command of the picket-guard, was taken prisoner. He left his command to escort two ladies, the Misses Scott, to their homes near by, and was seized by the enemy lurking near the road. The captors were pursued, but not overtaken. A few days afterwards, the young women, who were believed to have betrayed him, were brought into camp; but, after a short detention, they were sent home again, after the fashion of that day.[The Military & Civil History of Connecticut during the War of 1861-1865, page 87.]

Columbian Register (New Have CT), Saturday, July 6, 1861
[This article erroneously reports Captain Kellogg’s age as 60; actually he was 49.]

2 Although Henry never mentioned the aide-de-camp by name, it was none other than Emory Upton (1839-1881), an 1861 graduate of West Point Academy, and a 1st Lieutenant in the 5th US Artillery who, at the time, was assigned to Brig. General Daniel Tyler’s staff as aide-de-camp. According to the book, “a day or two later [after Kellogg was] led into an ambush and captured, Captain Emory Upton of the 5th US Artillery approached the Scott house in civilian dress ‘representing himself as a secessionist chased by the federal cavalry’ and was given clothing and shelter. After soliciting the names of all ‘reliable secessionists in the vicinity,’ Upton revealed his true identity and promptly arrested the women despite their loud protest that they were the victims of a ‘damned nasty Yankee trick.'” [Joseph and Harriet Hawley’s Civil War: Partnership, Ambition, and Sacrifice, by Paul E. Teed, page 74]

By the by, the two sisters were 18-year-old Artemisia D. Scott and 20-year-old America V. Scott.

Letter 2

Head Quarters 27th Connecticut
January 27th 1863

My Dear Sister,

Yours of the 22nd just received.

I am very glad to hear you have sent a box to Uncle John for it will do him lots of good. He is very lucky to be in such a good place this winter. I hope his regiment will not have to move.

We have not received any Express in a long time. There is no use trying to send as no telling whether it will be received or no.

Le Roy & Keeler have gone to some hospital, I suppose, to Washington. I think they will get discharges or get furloughs. Le Roy said he would write me so I will know where they send them. Keeler was getting along well.

I hope you do not believe all you hear. I see by the scrap of paper you put in my letter our army had moved and we had no doubt whipped the enemy. Do not believe all you hear. We hear Hooker is in command of the army and that Sumner and Franklin are relieved of their commands. We hope the day is not far when George B. McClellan will be in command of the army.

Mr. Mansfield gave our regiment 111 barrels of apples—also oranges & lemons. He is a good fellow.

Love to all. Tell Mother to write often and give me my box in letters. Is Father’s health as good as usual? Have him send a word now and then by you if he does not write.

Your affectionate brother, — Hen

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