1862-64: Mahlon Nelson Thatcher to Family

These remarkable letters were written by Mahlon Nelson Thatcher (1821-1864), the son of John Voorhees Thatcher (1794-1886) and Charlotte Thatcher (1797-1883) of Hunterdon county, New Jersey. Mahlon was married in January 1850 to Julia Wallace (1819-1894) and was working as a salesman in Boston when he enlisted on 26 June 1862. He enlisted for the 32nd Massachusetts but as his first letter states, he was transferred to the 35th Massachusetts and then to Co. B of the 40th Massachusetts within a matter of days. Besides his wife, Mahlon left three small children at home—twins Charlotte Emily and John Voorhees (b. 3 Jan. 1854) and Margaret Julia (b. 3 May 1857).

The 40th Massachusetts left the state on 8 September 1862 and was comparatively inactive for some time and remained on picket and guard duty in and around Washington until the spring of 1863. On 15 April 1863, it moved to Suffolk, Va., then under siege, where it was engaged in two reconnaissances on April 24 and May 3. It then moved to West Point, Va., Yorktown, Williamsburg, White House landing in succession, and was engaged with the enemy at Baltimore cross-roads, on July 2. It then passed through Washington on the 11th, and went to Frederick, Md., where it joined the Army of the Potomac in the pursuit of Lee’s army after the battle of Gettysburg. On Aug. 6, it was ordered to Folly island, Charleston harbor, and occupied the trenches in front of Fort Wagner until the surrender of that stronghold. On account of its high repute for excellence in drill and discipline, it was equipped as mounted infantry at Hilton Head in Jan., 1864, and moved on Feb. 4, to Jacksonville, Fla., where it formed part of the Light brigade composed of the 40th, the independent battalion Mass. cavalry and Battery B, 1st U. S. artillery, Col. Henry acting brigadier. It was engaged at Barber’s ford and Olustee, losing in the latter engagements 5 killed, 23 wounded and 4 missing. For his bravery under fire, Mahlon was promoted to corporal after the Battle of Olustee.

In March the brigade was broken up, the 40th Regiment, again unmounted, reported to Gen. Butler at Gloucester Point, Va., on the 28th and was assigned to the 1st brigade, 2nd division, 10th corps. It shared in the battles of Arrowfield Church and Drewry’s bluff, suffering a loss of 10 killed, 42 wounded and 22 missing in the latter battle. As a part of the 18th corps under Gen. W. F. Smith, it joined the Army of the Potomac, and was heavily engaged at Cold Harbor.

From his own letters we learn that Mahlon was hit in the breast by a musket ball in making a charge upon the enemy’s breastworks at Cold Harbor—the ball passing entirely through his body. He was taken to a field hospital at White House Landing and eventually transported to Knight Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut, where he died on 14 July 1864.


Dear Wife,

I forgot to say one thing—that is, the United States owed me fifty-two dollars pay to day besides one hundred dollars bounty and something for clothes that I have not taken up for my first year ended June 25th. Dear Julia, I wrote this to you so if it should be my sad fate to fall in the coming battles, you might know how much was coming to you from the government. I suppose you know that I enlisted and was mustered into the service of the United States on the twenty-sixth day of June, One thousand eight hundred and sixty-two by Captain John M. M. Goodhue, then the mustering-in officer of Boston. I enlisted for the Thirty-second regiment under Lieutenant Nat Wales who was afterwards promoted to Adjutant of the Thirty-fifth Regiment. So if there should be any trouble of getting my money, you can show them this letter. I was transferred to the Thirty-fifth Regiment by the order of Colonel H. Day, the military commandant of Massachusetts and the captain that I was transferred to did not get his commission. I was transferred to the Fortieth under Captain D[aniel] H. Johnson’s Company B.

— M. N. Thatcher

Screen Shot 2019-03-01 at 11.00.13 AM
Members of the 40th Massachusetts engaged in Skirmish Drill at Miners Hill


Miner’s Hill
November 14, 1862

Dear Julia,

I received your letter of the ninth inst., and I was very glad to hear that the children is getting along so well but I am not disappointed but displeased to hear that you did not buy anything for yourself. But it is so like you. I did not expect that I should of been paid off before this time but I have been disappointed and I now do not expect any money before the tenth of January next and maybe not then. So I hope you may be assured that as soon as possible you will get the money for I want the gloves and other things that I mentioned, but I expect my hands will get many cold days drill and many a slap for drilling with the gun barrels is very cold work of a frosty morning, and the mornings is frosty enough, you may say.

But I suppose that by this [time] you have heard that this regiment is going to Texas, but I do not believe it. If you but knew how much we believe or care for the stories that is flying round the camp, you would not be surprised at anything. And as for the movements of the army, we do not care one snap for, for I think that if they that is the men at the head of the government was to go to pandemonium—the council chamber of hell for dictators—they could not get any more damnable spirits of contention between the politicians and the speculators. The country is getting ruined as fast as it is possible for it to do, but I hope the time may come when the country may get right side up and this accursed war may be brought to a close. But Heaven only knows when that may be. Staying out here and moving one day one way and then another day back again has a great effect on the rebels we all think, but that seems to be all that we have all to do now-a-days; that and picketing, drilling, and guarding the camp seems to be the amount total of the good we are doing out here. I did think that when the large…[remainder of letter missing].


York County, Virginia
June 20th 1863

Dear Wife,

As I wrote that we expected to march at any moment, in about an hour after mailing the letter to you the order came to get ready for a march with three days rations and by six o’clock in the afternoon we started. We marched for three hours and then halted for the night. In the morning we started on for a few hundred yards then commenced to throw out pickets and sentries on the road until the whole regiment was doing picket duties on the direct road to Richmond and forces lined the whole road for almost twenty miles in length doing picket duty and watching for bushwhackers and guerrillas and we take some almost every night, not without some cost to ourselves for there is seldom a day passes but some of our men is shot at their post and it is the worst of duties for you cannot see the enemy for they skulk in the bushes and lay still until they get a chance to fire on us in the place that our company is. The road runs right through the woods and it is very dark in the night. We have to guard the road so as to keep it open so our transportation can be kept up when our forces moves on as they say that there is a large force coming through this place for Richmond.

Dear Family—this is the dreadful Peninsula that General McClellan went up when he lost so many men but I hope that this may not be so severe this time and I hope that the result will be more satisfactory to our army and country.

Julia, there has been no chance to write to you since I come out here as everything was left in camp and we thought that we would come back but they say now that they will send in for our things so that we may keep on for Richmond without going back.

Dear Boy, I hope you will not think hard of me for getting Mr. Cole to direct the letters as they would come more safe not but that I can read all that you write every word, but they might go wrong having to pass through so many post offices before they reach here.

I remain yours in love and affection, — M. N. Thatcher, husband & father

My [health] is very good and I will write as often as I can. I hope you will write often to me.

Direct to Washington, D. C. and they they will come anywhere in the U. S. as they know where the regiment is.


Folly Island, South Carolina
Sunday, September 20, 1863

Dear Family,

I thought of home so often last night in my uneasy sleep, this morning I will try to let you know how I am getting along. The Doctor thinks of my disease does not get any better very soon that the inflammation of the bowels may set in, or that something of the kind, and then the chances of my getting well would be very unfavorable indeed. But I trust that their fears may not be realized and that in a few days I may be at my post again doing duty. I am ordered this morning to have an injection after every operation of my bowels and for the last twenty-four hours they have averaged once an hour, but I put trust in Heaven and hope for the best.

Dear family, you must not feel uneasy if anything should turn up and that you do not get my letters regular as there is many chances of things to [make] them unregular in their coming to hand in proportion. Yesterday afternoon our mail was delivered and the regiment but no letter for poor me and I felt very much disappointed for I have not had any letter from home but one since the sixteen of August. That was the date of my last I had from my sweet little____. I think that there is some mistake as I cannot think but that there is some due mer on the road now—at least I hope so—and I also [paper torn]. I feel quite uneasy about home.

I have not heard how Mr. Miliken is this morning but before I close this I will try and find out. It seems that our company has all of their share of misfortune and some more as last night at about seven o’clock another member of the company paid the last great debt of nature. His name was William H. Garney of Marblehead, he having been in the hospital for some time. His disease was in the first place dysentery and the Doctors thought that he was quite recovered but they was mistaken. There is one strange fact about our company—that is not one of the company who has had the misfortune to go to the hospital at any time for to stay at any length of time is now with the company. They are either dead or left in some other place unfit for duty and there has been some twenty-five in number. Seven of the number is dead. The rest are all unfit for duty. May the Blessed and Holy Mother intercede for me with her Divine Son to keep me out of the same place.

Dear Family, to see the camp of our regiment now, you would think instead of our being the same regiment that was at Miners Hill last winter all full of fun, that we was some body of men now to mourn over the fate of the country as after supper in the evening there is no singing or any fun at all. The men feels that they are all worn out—at least so it seems to me. I must stop now for this time as I am very tired and I must lie down.

Five o’clock P. M. — I have just been up to see Mr. Meliken and he is a good deal better and he thinks with good care he will be able to be on duty again. The Doctors gave him an injection this morning and has been a first thing. I am happy to say that the bloody discharge has stopped with myself though I feel very weak and very shaky on my legs but I hope that the worst is past as the dreadful pain in my bowels is almost stopped. I think by tomorrow morning I will be able to say that I’m out of danger if nothing more sets in and I have my hopes in the Giver of all good.

Dear Family, O how I long for home. May I be enabled to enjoy those blessing again as I think I may appreciate them as a husband & father had ought to do. I must close this for the night as I am very nervous this evening hoping to be able to write good news of health improving tomorrow.

Monday. Twelve o’clock. Dear Julia—I find that the news I thought I should send of improvement of myself is not so good as I could wish this morning. The bleeding commenced again and it is very severe. Indeed, worse than I have yet been since I was taken sick. Mr. Miliken is still getting better he thinks and I hope he may continue to improve. I have such horrid dreams every night that it makes me feel very bad. The blood stops circulating and that makes those unpleasant dreams but I put my trust in Heaven knowing full well that the Almighty is able to do all things for the best.

Last evening at about eight o’clock there was another soldier died in our hospital. They are dropping off very fast and if they do not remove this division from this island, I think there may be many more soon go the same road from which no traveler ever returns. The whole truth of the fact is that this division was all worn out before it come to this place. It made all those that was able to do duty sick themselves and now the camps of the whole division looks more like a hospital than the defenders of their country. But so it is and we have to submit and I hope for my part that I will always try to bear the burthen without murmuring at the dispensation of Heaven or finding fault with the Rulers of our Country. May they always rule with wisdom and the fear of the Almighty God in their hearts.

Dear family, I expect that the fall of Charleston may soon be accomplished and that will give it death blow to the rebels in this part of the country and hope soon to hear the notes of Peace proclaimed through the whole country. As I wrote the last word, the fife & drum struck up the funeral dirge of a poor soldier being carried to his last resting place on this earth. Another comrade in arms has paid his all to our country’s cause. May his death be rewarded with our final success in conquering the enemy of the Flag he gave his life to protect.

My sweet, good children, remember your poor sick Father who is far away from home and try to be as good as any children can. Master John V. Thatcher—my only son on this Earth, I hope you will always love, cherish, & defend the Glorious Stars & Stripes of your Country’s Honored Flag.

I must say goodbye for this time and will write as often as possible to you. I remain your loving and affectionate husband & father, — M. N. Thatcher


Camp Finegan, Florida
Wednesday, February 24, 1863 [1864]

Dear Family,

I have just received a letter from home and it gave me great pleasure. My health is first rate and spirits is good although we have been in four fights since we arrived in the State of Florida. Three of them we was victorious and the last was a drawing battle—or in other words, we got the worst of the fight as we had to have all of our dead unburied.

The fight [Battle of Olustee] commenced at about two o’clock in the afternoon and lasted until dark, Then we fell baclthough in good order. Our side lost 1500 in killed and wounded and missing. Our loss was very severe for we had not over four thousand men with us and some of them was black soldiers. But the enemy had fifteen thousand men and we held them [in] check some five hours. O, I hope never to see so hard a fight for us. Out of a fight that I was in of four men, two was shot and the sergeant’s horse was shot under him right at my side so I may say that within five feet of my place in the ranks, two men and three horses was shot down. And through the divine mercy of Providence, I escaped unhurt and it was not for any safer place or any [skedaddling?], for I have just been promoted for my good conduct on the field of battle.

The sight of the poor fellows lying on the field was very hard to behold but thanks to the Almighty God and the blessed Virgin, I am safe yet.

I must close as our company goes out on picket in a few moments and I must be at my post. Give my love to all as this may be my last but I hope not. O place my trust in the whole of our Church and the prayers of my dear family. Goodbye for this time. Yours in love and affection. — M. N. Thatcher, husband & father.

Be sure to write to me often. Direct it to M. N. Thatcher, Hilton Head, S. C.

Jacksonville, Florida, is our headquarters but I think best to direct to Hilton Head.


Camp 40th Massachusetts, Florida
April 8th 1864

Dear Family,

Still with the blessing of God, I am enjoying good health. I hope this may find you all the same. The mail closes at six o’clock tomorrow morning. I must be brief. I received a letter from you dated the 22nd of March. How happy it made me feel to hear from you, You spoke of my sending you some money. I hope you know that this regiment has not received any pay since since last November and the Government owes us almost six months pay and soon as I get any pay, I will send it to you. We expect to get four months pay this time and I hope you all may get some new clothes. I am very sorry that my dear little ones is so bad off for clothes but I cannot help it at this time. I hope you will forgive me for not sending some when I was paid off before but I was very sick and I used a good deal to get me things I could eat as I could not east any of the army rations then.

My dear son, you spoke as if I thought more of Charlotte than I did of you. I hope you will not think so, you do me injustice as you are my only little boy now alive and I have all the Father’s love for you. I am as proud of one of my dear children as another and as you felt hurt, I hope this may make all right. I know no difference at all—only I have two daughters and only one son. Be good children and obey your poor dear Mother in all things as I know she will do all the best things for you.

Dear family, as this may be my last letter I can send from this place as our regiment may move any moment, we have got sabers now and we are learning the saber exercise and my arm is very tired and sore just now. Give my love to all and say I expect to come home some time yet. Please to write often as you can as a letter from home is very pleasant to receive.

And may the blessing of Heaven be yours now and ever more.

From your loving and affectionate husband, — M. N. T.


Dear Family,

I still have my hopes that I will be able to come home to you again and hope you all ask it of the Almighty God and his holy and blessed Mother when you kneel down to pray often when the shot and shell rains all round me like hail. I think I cannot escape all yet with the divine blessing [paper torn] …I am untouched ___ners right by my side has been cut down those in front and those in the rear of me has been made to feel the enemy balls and still I have cone through all thanks be to the most high for all the mercies I enjoy.

Dear family, last night I thought you had better have your letters sent via Fortress Monroe but as our place of destination is not known, you had better direct them by the way of Washington and I will be sure to get them sure. Please give my love to all and kiss our sweet little ones for me. May kind Heaven guide and direct you now and evermore is the prayer of your loving husband & father, — M. N. Thatcher

P. S. Please to write often as how good I feel when I [get] news from home.


Yorktown, Virginia
April 29, 1864

Dear Family,

We have just landed at this place and I put third-five dollars in the Express for you. I hope it may be of some benefit to you. Please to answer this as soon as you get the money for I will be uneasy until I get an account of its getting home safe.

My health is very good now but I expect it will come quite hard for me as I expect we will have to march up the peninsula once more for Richmond and this time I think Richmond will come down as General Grant does always do what he undertakes. I hope to be able to say to you before long all is right and that this war may be over and I come home to forward to you what I wrote in my last letter. If we stay long in this place I will write to each of my sweet babes a long letter. Julia, say to John V. I think he is unjust to poor Papa in saying that I thought more of Charlotte Emily than I do of him. I hope I do not think any more of one of my sweet children than another.

Dear family, I expect to hear the roar of the heavy guns and the rattle of small arms quite soon but I put my trust in this that is able to bring me safe through all.

Dear family, may the Almighty God of Heaven guide and direct you now and ever more. From your loving and affectionate husband & father, — M. N. Thatcher

Direct your letters for me [to] Washington D. C.


Camp 40th Massachusetts Regiment
Near Petersburg, Virginia
May 7th 1864

Dear Family,

We have been to West Point since I wrote my last to you but now we are here way up the James River on the Petersburg side and almost twenty miles from Richmond with quite a force and I do not know the moment the order may come to go into battle as the enemy is close to us and some think that they have left Petersburg but I don’t believe it as that place is said to be very strongly fortified and I think that they will make a stand there and we will have to whip them out of the place before they will leave. But they must give way this time as we are bound to drive all before us this time and Richmond must come down. If Jeff Davis gets out of this, he will have to run for it, I think. The heavy guns is making a great noise in our front as I am writing and the rattle of small arms is very plain and that a great battle may be very soon [is certain].

I hope you have got the money I sent you on the 29th of April and I expect you to answer it very soon. I have got myself a good watch as I have to use one quite often and if anything should happen to me, I hope you may get it for my dear boy as a keepsake. But I hope and expect to come home and them I can give it to him myself.

Dear family, please to give my love to all and do not forget to offer up your prayers for me. Goodbye and may the Great God of Heaven be your guide and protector. From your loving and affectionate husband & father, — M. N. Thatcher

P. S. My health is quite good but the weather is very hot today.


Camp 40th Massachusetts Vol.
Near Petersburg, Virginia
May 8th 1864

Dear Family,

I expect tomorrow to go on a fight. Such is our orders and our [paper creased & torn] do all he says and start at 4 o’clock in the morning an I hope in God and his Blessed Mother that I may come out safe. But if I fall, remember me with love and affection and say God’s will be done. I may fall but it will [be] fighting for my country and the noble flag. Say to my dear boy always to love and cherish the Glorious Stars & Stripes, the ____ flag in the whole world and the most respected.

God help me. How I should like to see you all and I think I will have that pleasure yet. But I know that there is many hard days work and many hard fights to go through first.

I must close or my feelings will get the best of me. Heaven bless you all. From your loving husband & father, — M. N. Thatcher

Write often for God’s sake.

Dear Julia
Dear Charlotte Emily
Dear John V.
Dear Margaret Julia

A kiss for each


Camp 40th Massachusetts Vols.
May 17th 1864

Dear Family,

Thank the Almighty God and the blessed and his Holy Mother, I am still able to write to you and I have not been hurt in the least but how I was brought safe, God only knows for the shot rained very thick and we have for eight days & nights the dreadful fire has been kept up and our little regiment has done its duty manfully all the time. God bless her. Yesterday was the worst of any time and our loss was very severe but still we meet them as only brave men can and for some time our small regiment held the whole center of the line at defiance and we was praised by both of the corps and department generals in command and they say when this regiment has to fall back, it will be when they are ordered or that they are all dead.

Dear family, I cannot write much as I am very much worn out by exposure and fatigue. Give my love to all. May Heaven bless you all is the prayer of your poor husband & father, — M. N. Thatcher

Richmond must fall this time and how I wish to live to see the day. Please to write often as I have but a poor chance to do so. I bought a sheet of paper at a very big price and wrote a few lines to you but I could not get a chance to send it and in the fight yesterday, I lost it on the field of battle.


White House [Landing]
June 5, 1864

Dear Family,

Through the blessing of the Almighty God and his blessed Mother, I still am amongst the living but I am very severely wounded. The ball hit me in my breast and passed through my body and out my back making a hole right through me but I am a good deal better than anyone could suppose me to be. I was wounded at Gaines Hill [Mill] or Coal [Cold] Harbor—I do not which it is called—on Wednesday night about 7 o’clock. I do not know where I will be sent to but I hope it may be to Boston sometime soon.

Dear family, you may think that I am dangerously wounded but I hope that the danger is over now and I may get well again as soon as possible. You must keep up good courage and all will be for the best. Our men fell very fast as we charged right in the face of the rebel rifle pits and the fire was dreadful. I fell on the second charge that we made, facing the enemy as I always said I would if I was hit at all. I can’t write no more now.

Give my love to all and kiss our sweet pets for me and tell them poor Papa is hurt but he will come soon to see them. From your loving and affectionate husband & father, — M. N. Thatcher

As soon as I get to any hospital, I will send you word and tell you how to direct a letter so I will get it. If you send it to our regiment, it will not come to me until it goes to the regiment first and it may be sometime first. — M.


White House Landing
June 7th 1864

Dear Family,

O how thankful I am to think I am so well [paper creased & words illegible] ..and now all it will take time to get ____ again. I suffer a good deal of pain but that is nothing compared to what some poor fellows suffer. O great God, dear Julia, to see the dreadful wounds of some of the poor soldiers would make the heart almost break to see a piece of ground as large as the [Boston] Common all covered with poor men—all wounded soldiers—some in one way, some in another. Although we suffered so severe and drove the enemy out of their works and took a good many prisoners, and are still driving the enemy nearer to Richmond and soon the city must be in our hands, then there will be some signs of conquering the enemy. But they do fight hard and they all are covered with earthworks to keep off our shots. But we wound and kill more of them than they do of us and they have not the good care of our soldiers and their suffering must be dreadful in the extreme. Although they are enemies, I pity them.

Dear family, where I will be sent to is very uncertain. O how I wish I could come to Massachusetts. Then I think I would get home to see you again. But as soon as I are in a hospital, I will write to you and then I hope you will send me a good many letters.

Dear Family, our once proud regiment is now almost gone up. There is but very few left to do duty. It seems as if we suffered as dreadful as any of them and a great deal more than some others. In fact, the whole of Massachusetts regiments is cut up very much as they will stand right up to their duties all the time and they have to suffer for their bravery. We are all proud of our state and she may be well proud of her soldiers.

Dear family, I do not think for one moment but that we will come out of this campaign victorious and that the rebels will have to give in at last. May Heaven bless you all.

From your poor wounded husband & father, — M. N. Thatcher


Knight Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut
June 29th 1864

Dear Wife and Children,

I now address a few lines to you to let you know how I am getting along. My wound is about the same as when I last wrote but the diarrhea is not any better. I am troubled bad with it but I am in hopes that in a few days it will be better so that I can get a furlough and go home. But it will be some few days before I shall be strong enough to travel. I do not sit up now but hope to be so as to sit up in a few days. You had better not come to see me—not by any means. I will write again in a few days.

Your husband, — M . N. Thatcher


Pension Record Files

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