1861: Otis C. Dewey to Harriet M. Allen

These letters were written by Otic C. Dewey (1838-1862) who enlisted on 16 April in Co. F, 8th U. S. Regular Infantry. He died on 28 October 1862.

Otis was the son of Amos Dewey (1813-Aft1880) and his first wife, Sally (Sprague) Collins (18xx-1845) who came from Hartford, New York, to Granville township, Putnam county, Illinois, in 1836. At the time of the 1860 US Census, Amos and his second wife, Nancy M. Reniff, were enumerated in Norman township, Grundy county, Illinois.

Otis wrote these letters to Harriet (“Hattie”) M. Allen (1846-1909). She was the daughter of Rodney Allen (1805-1863) and Nancy Shirley (1806-1863) of Grundy county, Illinois. She married George C. Renne in November 1868.

Letter No. 3 penned on 3 August 1861 below suggests that Otis fought at the Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. A history of the 8th US Infantry suggests that only Co. G participated in the battle, and joined with Co. F afterwards serving as Provost Guards at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac afterwards. Either the history is wrong or Pvt. Dewey has stretched the truth a little to impress his girl back home.

Newport Barracks in Kentucky


Newport, Kentucky
June 18, [1861]

Dear friend Hattie,

I now take the opportunity of writing to you for the first time to let you know what I am doing. I am as full of the devil as ever I can be. We have to drill four times a day and go on guard once in 9 days. We are expecting the order to come from Washington in two or three days for us to go south to try cold steel and lead on human critters. I am going to get a shot at Jeff. If I don’t, then damn him. I have the gun that has been in the Mexican War. It is pretty.

Oh, but I have fun here when I am on guard on No. 3. There is a fight every night. I go up to them with gun as cold as a sheep and tell them to dry up. If they don’t, I call the Corporal of the Guard and march them up to the guard house. I got in the guard house once for not going down to drill. I was in an hour and was let out.

What are you doing? How is the Mother and Father? Is Rod any better than when Ed wrote? What is Ed doing? Is he going to fight or not? Tell him to come here if he goes anywhere. The way to come is to go to 168 South Clark Street, Chicago, and enlist. Then he will be sent here to learn his drill.

You must take care of yourself and keep single and when the war is over, I will come back to you. So farewell, my dear. Write just as soon as you get this. Direct to Newport Barracks, Kentucky. ¹

No more. — Otis C. Dewey

P. S. I just speared a bed bug with my pen.

¹ Newport Barracks was a military barracks on the Ohio River, across from Cincinnati, Ohio in Newport, Kentucky. It was operational from 1803 until 1894.


Otis Dewey - 8th US - 07061862a
Patriotic Stationery of Dewey’s Letter

Newport, Kentucky
July 6, [1861]

Dear Hat,

I received your welcome letter day before yesterday but could not get time to answer it. I was on guard and yesterday on police—that is sweeping and carrying wood to the officers. As for being dead, I guess I ain’t yet. And as for fighting with the officers, I didn’t do it, but I did join my fist to a secessionist’s nose on the 4th [of July] in Covington. They put up a flag that we did not like the looks of and we took it down and [they] tried to whip us but I couldn’t come it. We cleaned them out. There was 70 or 80 on a side. Two of them [were] killed.

Tell your Ma that we have bread and coffee, fresh beef 5 days in a week, and the other two pork. I have not drank a drop since I came here so that need not trouble you. Tell Lib not to get to drinking in Seneca. Tell Mary Cooper to not ask too many questions (how is Ester).

There is 500 soldiers here. We wear blue pants, coat & cap. There is at least one fight a day with some of the drunken ones and then they put in the guard house [locked up safe?] I was up once for not going down to drill but was let out in an hour. My plea was sickness.

You had better quit having such fun breaking the poor fellows hearts. I enlisted for the war—longer or shorter—and I shall stay it out, if I live. I expect to go to the Sunny South in two or three weeks. Then the secessionists had better look out! Some of them will get hurt.

Bridget is at our house. Oh how I wish she was here for an hour or two.

We got new rifles Tuesday. They will kill a man three quarters of a mile. I am a going to join the bloody 10. They are on the way here and will be here this week. We have not been paid since I came here so we do not spend much money. How is Jim Richey?

You must write as soon as you get this. It is so lonesome here without your sweet company. I will send you my likeness when pay day comes. So no more at present. From your lover, — O. C. D.

P. S. The secessionists are talking of trying to take the barracks but they had better let the job. — Otis

Retreat from Bull Run, Harper’s Weekly, 10 August 1861


Washington D. C.
August 3rd [1861]

Dear Hat,

It has been a good while since I wrote to you. Then I was in Newport [Kentucky]. I have seen some queer times since then on the road here and in Virginia when in the Battle of Bull Run out of which I came back alive and well but awful tired. Our regiment got there on the day before it began and got back the day after it was over. The papers say that we whipped them but we know better. We had to leave on suspicion they were too strong for us. We had a drunken general—that was what whipped us. His name is McDowell. It was hard to see the poor soldiers marched up to their masked batteries and get shot when we could not see what it was they were doing. The damn rebels made sure work. They ran their bayonets through our wounded men but after they began that, they got no quarter from us. The Ellsworth Zouaves fought like devils.

We will not have so hard a time now [that] we are the city patrol—that is, we have to go through the streets and take all soldiers that we find to the guard house unless they have a pass. Last night we took 15—8 of them drunk. It was fun to see them fight us but they had to go.

I went to the [Washington] monument today. It is a great thing. So is the Capitol, Treasury, Patent Office & Post Office.

I have just heard that we have to go to another battle in the morning. There was 11 of our company killed in the last one but their place is filled up. Poor fellows. One of them was my particular friend. We fought side by side when he fell. I had but two or three swallows of water in my canteen which he wanted although some of them gave $50 for a drink. I gave it to him. What did I care for money, expecting to be killed every minute. When we commenced to retreat, there was gold and silver, guns and pistols, dead men and dead horses by the hundred in the road.

We have not been paid yet and don’t want to be. When you write to me, direct to Washington, F. Company, 8th Regiment USA.

Yours truly, — Otis C. Dewey



Washington [D. C.]
August 26, 1861

Dear Hat,

I got your letter that you wrote on the 21st of July on the 25th of August. It got to this place on the 16th but I could not get it till then. It done me a heap of good [even] if it had been written a good while. It is very short. You must write a good long one the next one.

It is very lonesome where I am now [which is] in the guard house [in] solitary confinement on bread and water for thinking myself as good as the Orderly Sergeant of our company. It is enough to make a man desert to the enemy the way we are used. We are used worse than Rod ever used his oxen. If we do not look just so, we are put in the guard house and kept there for three or four days ad like enough fined 10 dollars for making a mistake in drilling. The damn buggers have their nice things to eat while all the privates have not half enough to eat. And if we say a word, we are put in the guard house. We do not get half the rations that is allowed us by the Government. The Orderly Sergeant draws our rations and sells them. That is how he got a spite against me—because I was not afraid to tell him so. All the rest of the boys but three of us knock under to them. They that give up without a word are good fellows while us four are the worst men in the whole company because we stick up four rights.

I have not been paid yet since I enlisted but expect to be by the 6th of next month. Just before I got in the guard house, I made a raise of a V out of a drunken secessionist. He had but ten dollars which I took and divided with the other fellow that was with me and so relieved the poor devil of a load of sin and a little tin.

I hope we will have another fight in a little while. Then is the time that we have peace. We are used like men then.

Well Hat, I can think of nothing more to say, so goodbye. — Otis C. Dewey


[Washington D. C.]
[October 1861]

[First page not yet scanned]

What is going on around Pig Run? Tell all the fun—anyhow, all who have died and have got married and all that has been born and all that have left the neighborhood. What in the name of the Devil are you all doing? Please tell. If you don’t, you may be sure to hear that I have committed Susans side [Suicide] by drinking whiskey and alloy, sure as you live. Tell Rod to answer the letter that I wrote to him or I will kill some poor secesh by the holy horn spoon. I will do it. How is Jeems?

Our boys had a fight night before last on the sacred soil of Virginia and moistened it with the blood of her sons and whipped them beautiful. It won’t be many days before we have a great battle that will decide the thing one way or the other—that is the calculation of McClellan since the Rebels have stopped navigation on the [Potomac] River which they have done. I saw a vessel that they fired on. They cut her up like sixty. I have to stop to drill so I will close.

Yours truly, — Otis C. Dewey

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