1862: James William Watts to James N. Webber

James’ fallen headstone indicates that he belonged to the Masons

This letter was written by Sgt. James William Watts (1838-1871), of Co. A, 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery who enlisted on 5 July 1861. This regiment began its service as the 14th Massachusetts Infantry. It was reorganized as a heavy artillery regiment in January 1862 and garrisoned several different forts around Washington D. C. until August 1862 when they were sent to the front. James reenlisted on 30 November 1863 and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant of Co. K on 20 July 1864. He was discharged for disability on 17 February 1865.

James was the son of William D. Watts and Nancy Weymouth of Portland, Maine, later Ipswich and Newburyport, Massachusetts where James’ father worked as a mariner. Prior to his enlistment, James worked as an operator in a mill. After his discharge from the service, James married Laura A. Willcomb (b. 1843) in January 1865 at Haverhill, Massachusetts, and worked as grocer until his death in 1871 which was attributed to chronic diarrhea.

The letter was probably sent to James N. Webber (1834-1908) who married Clara L. (Willcomb) Webber (1839-1923) of Ipswich, Essex county, Massachusetts in January 1862. James was employed in a shoe manufactory in Ipswich. Like, James Watts, Webber was born in Maine.


Fort Barnard ¹
May 27, 1862

Friend Webber,

As I have a few moments to spare, I thought I would just write you a few lines and let you know how things are going on in this part of the country. Everything is excitement since Banks’ retreat. We have been in a stew and there is no mistake. But the prospect looks as though we should have something to do. We now occupy the outpost on this line but let them come—we are ready for them at any moment. The guards have all their muskets loaded—something we have not done for the last six months—and we have sent out scouting parties four or five miles from camp. The report is now that the rebels are at Manassas but it is not known how many are there.

The most trouble is the cussed guerrillas. There is quite a lot of them round Centerville so it is not safe for a small party to go out round the woods. There is no troops between us and the rebels but there will be in less than 24 hours. Let them come as soon as they please. Yesterday the cars broke through the Long Bridge but no serious damage done for the under timbers did not break.

Now for something else. Yesterday was pay day and I have sent you $50,00 by Express but I don’t know how soon you will get it for the Captain can’t get a pass over to the city. But you will get it soon. I will pay you for the boots Charley had and now I want you to let me know how you and I stand. Please let me know and we will square up (in double quick time). Things look rather blue here now for the boot business. We are under marching orders and there is more prospect of our going this time than any time before. But it may all blow over and not amount to anything.

And now I want to ask you to do me a favor. It is this—I have been thinking of sending some money home to put in the bank and I thought if you would take it and put it in the bank for me that I would send it to you. If I send it, you would oblige me very much by taking care of it and I want you to keep it kind of still if I sent it. Please answer this and let me know what you can do for me.

It is getting late. You may think I keep late hours if I tell you what time it is but it is most three in the night and I am on guard. We have got strict orders—more so than any time since we have been here. I must close hoping to hear from you soon.

Yours, — J. W. Watts

How is the affairs at home? Is there any excitement there? We are all up in arms here. Did you get that box yet? Give my respects to Clara and all the rest of the girls and all enquiring friends.

Set. Up. Um Old. Wabber and send the Secesh along and we will take care of them if there ain’t too many. Please excuse all bad spelling and writing.

¹ Fort Barnard was one of the ring of Union fortifications surrounding Washington DC during the U.S. Civil War. It was established in late 1861 by Bvt. Captain Henry L. Abbot, U.S. Topographical Engineers as a redoubt with a perimeter of 250 yards and emplacements for 20 guns. Early armament (1862) included three 32 pounder cannons, one 24 pounder siege gun, two 30 pounder Parrott guns and two 10″ siege mortars.

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