1863: Unidentified 5th Rhode Islander

The identity of the author of this letter has not been confirmed but is conjectured to have been an officer, or non-commissioned officer, of the 5th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery stationed at or near New Bern, North Carolina in the fall of 1863. My reason for believing him to be of such rank is that he appears to be able to move freely without a pass and he speaks of having his wife come and visit or even live with him—especially if they are to garrison Fortress Monroe in the future.

The author’s signature appears to be “Lew” and he wrote to his wife “Sarah.” There are only three individuals in the regiment that are named “Lewis.”  My first thought was that it was written by Lewis Richmond (1820-1894) who served as an adjutant but he was married to a woman named Magdelaine. The other two men by that name were Lewis H. Bowen who originally served as at 2d Lt. in the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry and then became the captain of Co. I of the 5th R. I. H. A. in August 1863. The other was named Lewis T. Hall who served as the Quartermaster Sergeant of the 5th R. I. H. A.  Unfortunately I cannot find any additional personal information on either of them to confirm if their spouses were named Sarah.

I limited my search to those named “Lewis” but of course some soldiers signed their names “Lew” when their proper name was actually “Louis” and I did not look into these possibilities. With more effort, I believe the identity could be learned.


Hammond Hospital
Beaufort, N. C.
Sept. 27th, 1863

My Darling Wife,

The quiet Sabbath day—were I not in the Hospital—it would seem like the lovely Sabbaths of the fall of the year at home. The day is fine & clear, the mellow rays of the sun as it reflects to our view the yellow leaf, reminds us that he has left his impress upon all nature and in taking his departure to a more Southern clime, has numbered up the days & hours of ’63 thus far, reminding us also of it’s certain departure, of the constant decline of years, & with it the everlasting decline of life.

Only think, dear wife, here it is almost the first of October—three-fourths of the year has left us & we have spent its hours, its days, its months, separated from the dear society of each other’s presence—of each others love—by the cruel fate of war. Does it not seem cruel sometimes, Sarah, to deprived so long of the loving sympathy of each other’s presence, of the soft___ glances of the eye, the windows to the same through which we look & learn the secrets of the heart, the gentle & electrifying presence of the human ____ & loving voices, which whispers to ever in dearly pledges the love of a dear sweet wife, a kind husband? You can but join with me & say, “Ah, cruel fate, why am I deprived of all them joys now which I am most fitted to realize & enjoy them to its fullest capacity & in its most perfect sense?” That such is the fact, Sarah, we are more sympathizingly  aware. Why it is so, we cannot say. We will hope for the future to reveal to us that it is all for the best. And while cruel distance thus continues to separate us & time still lingers, I will still think of her whose gentle life trials are intertwined with my own & pray that time may deal gently with them & put them silken chords still binding us together as one, is only extended for a time, soon shall coil upon itself, bringing us again together close within its folds.

I put a long letter to you into the office yesterday. But as time passes rather heavily with me & I know of no way of passing away the lonely hours more swiftly then in writing to you, my dear darling wife, I betook myself into a room alone to again write. And I am now sitting on my bed with a checkerboard on my knees (would it were my Sarah instead) which serves the purpose of a table writing to her who loves to read my oft repeated expressions of love & thus I take pleasure in writing you dear Sarah as you seem so much to enjoy my letters which seem to me desolate of news or any particular information. But I am glad, Sarah, to have you enjoy them. I hope they revive your spirits, which they seem to ____ by reason of ill health or disappointment. My whole heart you can read in those epistles, so dear to you & of your love to think of your dear husband’s kind wishes & his love. You can feel it, I suppose, in reading his letters, as they are simply the expression of a devotion to you & of which you are the sole possessor. And while I write, I feel happy in the thought that my kind words & devoted love to you are received so trustingly that no distrust in my confidence of fidelity, or the canker of jealousy burns with your thoughts for a moment to poison the happiness you feel in ____ in your soul that the ____ you possess on earth is your absent husband. And still happier do I feel in knowing & feeling that the confidence you repose in me shall never have cause to change by any act or misdemeanor of him who would sooner deprive himself of his right hand than be guilty for a moment of an act which would set aside the thoughts of my darling absent wife or bring grief to her heart. And while I write his Sarah to you, I know you will say that it was uncalled for as you have no reason for a moment to distrust your dear husband. But I fear there are many an absent wife could they know the departure of the morality & their faithfulness to ___ as a true husband, would feel sad indeed & while I say this of the husband, perhaps the same thing would apply to the wife also. Thank Heaven I feel & know that no such applicate can be applied to me or mine. A true and noble woman is a priceless gift—a true & faithful husband is a source of constant joy to her who has given her life to him as a faithful companion & comfort. Ought they not to be true to each other. If they truly love, it cannot be otherwise. God grant it may not be otherwise with us, Sarah.

I think now Sarah I shall go to New Bern tomorrow or next day. I do not hear from my paper & it ___ or someone stops them so I have [paper creased] either a leave of absence for the present & if you come out to see me, I shall not ____ for one till you go home. I shall write you & Mr. Steel as soon as I get to New Berne & find out how things are & you will get it in time I think to start for N. Y. to come on with Mr. Steel. I will make all the necessary arrangements for you. If you come, I cannot assure you how long you can stay, as one of our boys here in Hospital told me a few days ago that Gen. Foster he heard intended to get the 5th Rhode Island to Fortress Monroe in less than six weeks & then he heard one or two companies had gone. I cannot think it so, but shall find out as soon as I get to New Bern. If it be so & we go to Fortress Monroe to garrison the Fort, I should feel rejoiced as it is a fine, healthy place & I could have you with me. So Sarah, I will not tell ____ write you not to come if we should happen to go there as you could go from N. there with us, but I do not [know if its true]. Still there may be something in it as Gen. Peck is now ordering all issuing _____ may have been the cause of this movement. The placing us in the Forts was comp— by Col. Sisson by Get. Foote after he ran the blockade & now if we are taken over & Gen. Foote may take us to Fort Monroe. It is all talk or rumor, I think, but we shall know soon. I think there is to be an active campaign either in South Carolina or this State or in both this fall & they want to get all the infantry together. What Fortress Monroe is garrisoned by Infantry, I do no not know. Some artillery would take the place….Gen. Palmer under Peck & who has command of the Fort — Col. Sisson &c.

….God Bless you my sweet wife. May you become a Christian & help your dear husband to become one also. You may send me____ with a sweet kiss, Sarah, will say goodbye, —Lew

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