1862-63: John Henry Backster to his Parents

These nine letters were written by Pvt. John Henry Backster [Baxter] (1845-1863), the 17 year-old son of Sharp Baxter (1816-1881) and Mary Quick (1822-1878) of Vernon, Sussex county, New Jersey. Henry enlisted as a private on 5 September 1862 and mustered in for 9 months service in Co. F (Bailey’s Boys) of the 27th New Jersey Infantry on 19 September 1862. He died of typhoid fever on 27 January 1863 at the General Hospital at Aquia Creek, Virginia.

John enlisted in the same company as his cousin 1st Sgt. Charles Baxter (1842-1911), the son of John C. Baxter and Mary Jane Elston of Vernon, New Jersey. Several of Charles’ letters were sold on Cowan’s Auctions recently which described the regiments movements. To wit:

The first letter in that collection was dated August 5, 1862, from Newton, New Jersey, where he enlisted along with his companions: “We have been the most of the time this forenoon being examined & sworn in & are now in reality Soldiers of the United States army…the time has come & the boys are ready to start to Camp.” Camp Frelinghuyson, near Newark, was the next destination for the 27th New Jersey, and there were several letters from that camp prior to departing for Washington, DC on October 9th. In DC, the 27th New Jersey was attached to the 2nd brigade, with Casey’s Division, Defenses of Washington, DC, where it would stay through December.

Upon arrival in DC, the 27th New Jersey was the first regiment appointed in a temporary camp at East Capitol Hill. Writing from Camp Kearney on October 23, 1862, Charles Baxter wrote: “We had a splendid address from a Vermont chaplain (I suppose I mean sermon) which was characterized by a great deal of patriotism, He said there were those among the green hills of Vermont & NJ that expected noble things of us & he entreated us to add honor to that already won by the soldiers of these states, when brought to face the foe. One of the tunes we sang was America & I tell you it sounded splendidly, being sung by a full chorus of male voices & in the open air. I think it is just the song for the soldier to sing…& [was] forcibly reminded of having sung it in other places…”

In late October and early November, the 27th New Jersey Regiment moved closer to the front lines. Following a difficult march, the regiment finally arrived at the front lines on the evening of December 10, 1862—just in time for the Battle of Fredericksburg. Two days earlier, in a letter dated December 8, Charles Baxter had expressed his thoughts on confronting the enemy there saying, “I heard the Col. say we would go either to Fredericksburg or Fortress Monroe; though going to Fredericksburg is a disputed privilege as it is yet to be taken from the rebels. Three week ago the ground we now occupy was in their possession….” Writing six days later from “Fredericksburg, on the bank of the Rappahanock,” Charles Baxter laid out in detail his experiences leading up to and during the landmark battle. He wrote: “The engagement is now going on in front of us as our regiment forms a part of the reserve and we are unengaged…We, the 27th, crossed the river early on Friday morning having no doubt we would go in battle sometime during the day. On our way in the city we met several families going out. Mothers were carrying their babies in the arms & leading their little ones by the hand, leaving their homes to save their lives, but where to find shelter? …We lay all day ready at the foot of the city along the river’s edge, the shells screaming over our heads as this were fired by our troops from a hill opposite…saw five dead rebel bodies killed by Thursday’s shells. Although they were traitors to their country, it made me feel bad to see their mangled bodies…”

The 27th New Jersey was never directly engaged in battle at Fredericksburg due to what Charles Baxter later described to his family as “a kind of Providence” as “Orders were given for us to participate in the action…but through some misunderstanding and a delay of said orders, we arrived on the ground too late…” Charles Baxter also described the sentiment of the soldiers in the field following the North’s resounding defeat: “In what light do the people of Vernon regard the Fredericksburg battle? In the same light (of course) in which it is represented in your papers, which as far as I have had a chance to see they speak as well of it as is possible. Among those who were engaged in it (the soldiers) it is regarded as a disastrous failure. And the hopes of a speedy termination of our present difficulties, an early return to their homes, the order of the Union Army is blasted. The battle of Fredericksburg has disheartened them, they were not there led on to battle but to slaughter…”


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE

Newark [New Jersey]
September 5th [1862]

Dear Parents,

For the first time as a soldier and as one away from home among strangers, I now pen you a letter. I will first give you a brief sketch of our proceedings from the time we left Newton. We all left Newton in good spirits and proceeded along until we came to the branch of the Harhestown Railroad where we were joined by Charles A. Crissey who met with a hearty welcome from the boys. From that station we kept on, stopping at the various stations on the route until we came within a mile of Newark where we left the cars and marched a short distance from the railroad where we came to “the camp ground.”

Here we found a large number of troops. Here we stayed about three hours and then (the barracks not being yet finished) we were marched down to Newark where was given to us a large building called “the foundry.” We arrived at “the foundry” a little after dark. After staying there an hour or so, we went to Cole’s Hotel and got our suppers at which place I am now staying. D. Bailey, Matthew Van Nostrand, and three others are also here. Charley Backster [Baxter] and the rest of the boys are at the foundry.

I forgot to tell you that we each received a blanket at the camp ground. The boys make so much noise at the foundry that I concluded to stay at the hotel.

Give my regards to Grandma and to all my friends.

The boys began to feel a little more serious when we got to the foundry and I know a good many of them were thinking of home—a name which has now become doubly dear to all of us. We have not received our bounty as yet but expect it tomorrow.

I hope Daniel Bailey will succeed in being captain of the company of which we will form a part. If he does not, it will depress the spirits of the Vernon company very much but if on the other hand Daniel does succeed, why then we are all right. As to myself, I would be cheerful enough if it were not for ma’s being sick and my being a trifle homesick which is perfectly natural.

And now, before closing, I would urge upon you all to write to me. Also tell my friends to write because I am anxious to hear from you. So goodbye all.

Yours truly, — John H. Backster

[in pencil]

Friday noon. Camp 2 miles from Newark. Dan will certainly be captain. As to the other officers, I am unable to say. We are about to receive our bounty. If you have a chance, I wish you would send me a change of clothing as we have not received our uniforms. I will send this letter to you by one of the company.


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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO

Camp Frelinghuyson
September 15th [1862]

Dear friends at home,

Once more I undertaike the pleasant duty of writing a letter home. I write with a lead pencil because I have nothing else to write with that is so well suited to the circumstances. I answered that telegraph dispatch as soon as I possibly could do. I received it about three o’clock in the afternoon and answered it as quick as I possibly could which was about five o’clock. It gave me quite a scare for I thought that something serious had happened at home but when I opened it, my apprehensions were removed.

Last Friday, I got a furlough but got it too late in the day to come home. It came so late that not one of our boys wanted it because they could not get home so Lieutenant [George] Cooke (who is a very good and accommodating officer) said that I could have it and that owing to the circumstances it would not interfere with my getting one to go home on. Our furloughs are only for forty-eight hours which is very inconvenient.

I took that opportunity to go to New York City and started from camp alone for that place. When I had arrived at Jersey City, I concluded to go to Uncle Charles Backster’s who lives in Hudson City. I did not know where he lived or which direction to go to find him. I got out of the fix, however, by going in a hotel and searching in a directory for his name. I found his name and the name of the street in which he lives. It was raining hard all of the time. I got in an omnibus and rode to the street in which he lives. I had a very good time while at New York. I was over in Brookline, stayed there all night. The second night I stayed at Uncle C. Backster’s. When I learned the street in which he lived, it was an easy matter for me to find it.

I was glad to get them clothes. They are as safe here as when at home. I have lent Captain Dan Bailey thirty dollars. I have spent some money but no more than was necessary to supply my wants. I wished you would in your next letter give me an account of what is going on on the neighborhood & how near you are through plowing. You have not told me in your last letters any of the news of the neighborhood. I want an account of the gossip of Pochuck. Please answer this letter immediately if you can do so conveniently and oblige your affectionate son, — John Henry Backster


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE

Camp Kearney [near Washington, D.C.]
September 18, 1862

Dear father,

It is one week today since we came to this camp, We came here last Sunday and there was so much bustle and confusion in raising our tents and unpacking boxes that it did not seem much like Sunday. I did not in my last letter give you a very good account of our our journey as I was pretty tired and had not much space. I suppose you were quite surprised when you learned that we had left [Camp] Frelinghuyson as we all thought the afternoon you left our camp that we would stay there a week at least. But before you left New York [City], we were preparing to leave and by the time you got home, we were fairly started on our route. All along the road through Maryland and Delaware we were cheered by the inhabitants. I noticed that those in ordinary circumstance were the most pleased to see us but the wealthy class look rather sullen. This was especially the case in Baltimore, Of course there were some exceptions.

The country is very level and I saw splendidly situated farms but the houses looked behind the times “Old fashioned in appearance.” The town of Wilmington, Delaware, looked old and dilapidated. This probably is the evil effects of slavery and if slavery causes this, how much greater the harm caused in those states where slavery is practiced to a greater extent.

We were received with three other regiments by Gen. Casey last Thursday. There was also one Massachusetts Battery. Gen. Casey has been in the battles on the Peninsula—is an old man.

Last Saturday we had a grand review of six regiments and two batteries by Maj. Gen. Banks. He is a young looking man. We had a very long march that day of eight or ten miles. I did not give out by a good deal. We went to the banks of the Potomac, to President Lincoln’s residence, and past the Capitol house, and back to camp. We are situated about two miles and a half from the city of Washington. Today being Sunday, all drills are omitted except dress parade. This afternoon, the regiments encamped hereabouts met on the parade ground for divine worship. In the forenoon we had preaching in camp by our new chaplain. I suppose while we were listening to him and sitting on the ground, you were siting in the North Vernon church hearing a sermon from Mr. Grenell. The new chaplain is Mr. [John] Faull who used to preach at Port Jervis. I heard him there and saw him at grandma’s. Ma remembers him as she was with me at the time.

I have not as yet received any letters from home since being at our new camp. I am very anxious to hear from home. I am finishing this letter Monday morning. If you get the Sussex Register for me, it would oblige me very much and I would bear the finance part of the business.

We are learning to drill pretty thoroughly. Large numbers of troops are pouring in and if they are only properly commanded, the rebellion will soon be crushed. Tell Ma that I would like her to write to me. I must now bid you all goodbye.

Yours affectionately, — John H. Backster


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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR

Camp Kearney
October 29 [1862]

Dear Father & Mother,

We have changed our camp and are now encamped within a mile and a half of Washington in the opposite side from where we were before encamped on the Virginia side of the Potomac and we can see the City of Washington much plainer from our new camp that we could from the old one. We pulled up stakes at Camp Kearney No. 1 yesterday at noon; arrived at this camp at three o’clock. It is said that we are to stay here two or three months at least. I heard the colonel say so. We have very comfortable places to sleep and are all in the best of spirits. Our rations are first rate. We have coffee given to us in the grain and it is the pure stuff. It is better than you can buy at Warwick for thirty cents. You need not be the least particle uneasy about the quality or quantity of our rations as they are the best kind and all reports to the contrary are untrue.

Postage stamps are getting pretty scarce in camp and my stock is entirely exhausted— pens, paper, stamps. I can easily procure paper and pens but the stamps are a little harder to get. A good many of the boys have received boxes from home by express containing luxuries that can be procured here only at exorbitant prices. Milk sells for ten cents a quart, chestnuts fifteen cents a pint, butter at thirty and forty cents a pound.

It is pretty warm here in the middle of the day but mornings and nights it is quite cold and we will soon need mittens, or gloves rather. I have worn out one pair of government stocking and will need another pair of stockings or two certain. The rest of my clothes have worn first rate. I have spent very little money since leaving Newark. William Bissett received a box from his wife containing butter and a can of preserved peaches and other things that we don’t get here but which we like very much to have. The boys from Milburn have also received packages and when you read this, I would refer you to a certain passage in the scriptures (“Go thou and do likewise”).

Everything that has been sent here thus far has come safe. Direct your letters as heretofore. Yours affectionately, — John H. Backster

Co. F, 27th Regt. N. J. Vols.
Washington D. C.

Care of Capt. [Daniel] Bailey


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE

At Camp Fairfax Seminary, Virginia
November the 21, [1862]

Dear Father & Mother,

I received your letter Wednesday eve stating that you had started that box on the way which was very agreeable intelligence indeed. Enclosed I found a generous supply of postage stamps which came very acceptable, I assure you. I send you my thanks for them. I am expecting the box every day. There is not the least danger but what it will come safe even if we move our camp everyday.

The boys returned to camp last Wednesday from off picket duty. For the last two days we have had very rainy weather and we all have to stay in our tents which keep off the rain first rate. Every tent has a stove inside which is a very good arrangement. We keep the fire going nights as well as in the day time.

Yesterday we were ordered to prepare for a division review. We were told that the review was to take place five miles away in the direction of Washington. Early in the morning our regiment formed on the parade ground and marched out and united with the other regiments that form our brigade and started for the place where the review was to take place. We had not gone a great way before the whole brigade was ordered back to camp. The brigade to which we belong is composed of four regiments. Viz: the 12th Rhode Island, 15th Connecticut, 25th New Jersey, 11th Massachusetts Battery, and last—but not least—27th New Jersey which is about as well drilled a regiment as any in the brigade.

The general opinion prevails around here that the war cannot last much longer. Tell Frank that I think that he is learning to write very fast and that his letter was read with great pleasure. His letter also contained postage stamps. I will answer his letter as soon as I get time.

I have heard that Col. S. Fowler is dead. Is this true or not? I hope you will write to me often. I do not have much time but I will be sure to answer every one you favor me with. Gen. Burnside is pretty generally liked and I hope he will do better than Gen. McClellan has done. Gen. McClellan promised us great victories. Gen. Burnside promises us nothing.

My health is as good as ever. I must now bid you goodbye.

Yours affectionately, — John H. Backster

For Frank

Dear Brother Frank, I received your letter last Wednesday night. Charly Baxter read it and thought you wrote a first rate letter. I suppose you have fine times gathering apples and helping Pa do his fall work. I am very much obliged to you for them postage stamps. You must try your best to beat all the boys of your size in studying at school. It may be that you can catch up to Ann Rebecca. I must now close as I have not time to write anymore.

Yours, — J. H. B.


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX

Fairfax Seminary, Virginia
November 27th [1862]

Dear Father,

Having the time to spare and feeling in the mood, I thought I would again write a letter home. I wrote a few lines last Sunday morning and sent with Dock’s letter but I was in such a hurry that I did not write one half as much as I wish to write. That much wished for trunk arrived last Saturday night and the hearts of Dock and I were made glad thereby. We were much pleased with the contents as was plainly shown by the way we ate.

I am sorry to say that the Captain has been—and still is—very sick with a sort of a camp fever. He was first taken when on picket duty a week ago last Monday. He has been moved from his tent into a house close by camp where he has a very comfortable room which is a very great luxury indeed to have here. Last Saturday, Daniel’s fever got worse. Sunday he telegraphed for his mother to come here. Yesterday, which was Tuesday, Mrs. Bailey, Lizzie Brown, and Daniel’s uncle, arrived here in camp and I think their presence will do him more good than medicine. It would be a great pleasure to see those familiar faces here if it were not for the circumstances that brought them. Daniel is getting better very much to our satisfaction. We are all afraid that the captain may have to resign which we sincerely hope he will not have to do for we can not tell what kind of a captain we would get in his place. If he should resign, we will never get another captain that will care for our wants as he has done. The boys would all be in first rate spirits if it were not that they are afraid that our captain’s health may compel him to resign. It is probable that he will get a furlough as soon as he gets well enough to stand the journey home.

Uncle David has agreeably surprised us by making us a visit. He arrived in camp yesterday and returns this afternoon to Washington. I will send this letter to you by Lizzie Brown who will start for home this afternoon. Yesterday was the captain’s twenty-first birthday. He spent it on a sick bed. I hope that one year from today he will be a healthy man and that his twenty-second birthday may find him enjoying the blessings of health.

Those postage stamps you sent me came very good indeed. I found nine sheets of paper and five envelopes in that trunk. Everything came safe. All that you gave me an inventory of came safe and correctly. Charley Backster [Baxter] received his box Monday night. He had a first rate pair of boots. A pair of boots here cannot be bought for less than five dollars. If you send me a pair of boots—no. eights—I would be very glad of it. My shoes have given out entirely. You could get them in with somebody else that will send a box. You will have plenty of chances. Mark them plainly to me. Mrs. Bailey will not go home in some time. If we get our pay in time, I will send it home by her.

Yours affectionately, — John H. Backster


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN

In Camp two miles from Fredericksburg
Wednesday, December 17th [1862]

Dear Parents,

Today is the first fair chance that I have had to write to you since we left “Camp Seminary” which was December the first. Since then we have been on the march and have passed through some quite exciting scenes. The first day that we left camp we marched to Washington, crossed the Potomac at Long Bridge, and marched down the river on the Maryland side. That day we marched thirteen miles. I carried my knapsack the first six miles when getting very tired, Joel Decker carried it for me together with his own. This was very kind in Joel. I kept up my spirits and marched the rest of the day very well. The second day, I hired one of the wagoners to carry it for me. The second day we marched about ten miles. The next day we marched twelve miles and encamped for the night in a beautiful grove. I continued to hire my knapsack carried. The money that you sent me did me a great deal of good in that way. The farthest that we marched in one day was about sixteen miles. At the end of five days, we arrived opposite Aquia Creek—a distance of sixty-five miles from Washington which I call pretty tall marching.

In our march through Maryland, we passed some pretty thrifty looking farms and large tobacco fields. The third night after leaving camp, the boys getting short of rations, went out a foraging which I do not think is right by any means. The night of which I speak we happened to be encamped in a neighborhood known to be inhabited by rank secessionists. That night there were a great many pigs that breathed their last.

On Sunday morning [7 December] the regiment crossed the river and were landed at Aquia Creek where we stayed until Tuesday [9 December], when we once more started on the march. Two days march brought us to the place where we are now encamped called Falmouth.

Thursday morning [11 December], I was awakened by the boomiong of cannon. Our batteries had opened on the rebels to cover our men that were building pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock. We were held in readiness for marching all that day. At night we encamped in the same place of the night before.

Friday morning [12 December] we were marched forward with the expectation of being in a battle. That day we crossed the river and occupied Fredericksburg and lay between our batteries and the rebel batteries. In the afternoon of Friday, the rebels dropped a few shells among us or solid shot. One shot passed directly over my head and struck within a few feet of where I was standing. One shell bursted above our heads, a piece of which struck a man belonging to our company by the name of Bonnell who was the only man in our regiment hurt.

Fredericksburg is deserted by the inhabitants and presents a forlorn appearance. There is hardly a house but what has been struck by a shell or cannon shot. The rebels threw many thousand dollars worth of tobacco in the river. Our troops found a great deal of tobacco in the city. Thursday and Friday the battle was fought mainly with artillery. Our batteries soon stopped the rebels from sending shells.

Friday night [12 December] we encamped in the city right out in the open air. I slept soundly. We were not allowed to make fires that night as we were within fair range of the rebel batteries and if they had known our position, they could have shelled us very easily. Friday afternoon I saw five dead rebels. They were laying in a garden unburied. They were sharpshooters that had been picking off our men when they were building the pontoon bridges.

Saturday morning [13 December] we were moved very early so as not to be seen by the enemy under the brow of a hill about a quarter of a mile down the river and on the side toward the rebels. We lay under the shelter of this hill all day. We had to lay flat down holding our pieces in our right hands ready to move at a moment’s notice. We were acting as reserves ready to go to the front in case our troops were defeated. That day there was some very hot work in front and our heavy artillery firing. We lay between the rebel batteries and our own all day and could hear the shells and shot whistling over our heads. We were out of danger—the hills sheltering us from the fire of the rebels. From where we lay, we could hear the musketry firing of both sides which was kept up incessantly all day long. Some of our divisions suffered a great deal on that day. Our troops attacked the rebels in their chosen positions which gave the rebels a great advantage over our troops. This day was the turning point of the battle and I fear we lost more by advancing on Fredericksburg than we gained.

Saturday night we were ordered to move down the river which we did, moving down the river a quarter of a mile where we marched straight out from the river towards where the battle was raging. Our brigade formed a short distance from the battlefield and under the protection of rising ground which hid us from the rebels. As soon as the brigade was formed, we were ordered to lie down. We expected to go in the battle which was then raging but did not go. We slept on our arms that night in readiness to move at short notice. We had plenty of straw to lay upon. The rebels had encamped in the same place a few nights before. In the morning [14 December] we moved back to the city where we stayed all day. The night before a few shells passed over where we were sleeping. I think our colonel expected our brigade to go in battle the day after we were led up to support our men.

Balloon ascensions were made by our men all day Saturday [13 December]. It think it was lucky for us that we were not led forward as the rebels had all the advantage. Sunday, there was very little firing going on. Sunday night we slept in the city in the open air near the place where we stayed the night before.

[John H. Backster]


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER EIGHT

Camp opposite Fredericksburg
Near Falmouth, Virginia
Friday, December 26th [1862]

Dear Mother,

We are at the same camp at which we were when I wrote you my last letter which is the same place that we came to the night our forces evacuated Fredericksburg. There were three pontoon bridges across the river. Our brigade was among those that crossed the middle bridge which was across the river at the city. Over this bridge the center of Burnside’s Grand Army retreated on that eventful night.

Our regiment was encamped for the night in the street a short distance from the bridge when the order came to be ready for moving at an instant’s notice. Most of our boys were sound asleep and had to be awakened. I had not laid down  or spread my blanket, therefore I was soon ready. We had no tents to take down as we all slept in the open air. The officers issued their commands in whispers so as not to apprise the enemy of our movements. We all supposed we were to march on the enemy’s works. In fact, our officers thought the same thing and told us to keep perfectly cool and to aim low and so forth. All this gave the impression that we were to make a night attack on the rebels. We all knew the danger of such a proceeding but had determined to face it and stand up to the scratch although to tell the truth, we disliked the job.

About nine o’clock at night, our brigade moved. At the bridge we were delayed a good while as they had to place dirt on the bridge so that we would not be heard when crossing. That night we marched about two miles to the place where we still are encamped. How long we will stay here, I cannot even conjecture. I do not think there will be any more fighting for some time although no one can tell as to that except the chief dignitaries at Washington and Gen. Burnside. I saw numbers of ambulances containing wounded, and wounded men on stretchers, crossing the bridge. This was on Sunday [14 December] as we lay in the city all that day.

On Saturday [13 December] when the fighting was the fiercest, we were in hearing [distance] of every volley of musketry that was fired on both sides. Our position was under the brow of a hill where we lay flat down so as not to be seen by the enemy. There we lay on our arms all day Saturday. Once in awhile the rebels would throw a shell over our heads but happily on this day, not one took effect. The day before [12 December] we were in a much more dangerous position. Then the rebels had the range of our regiment and what is more, of our company. The reports in the papers of the wounded in our regiment are untrue. Nobody in Company B was touched as stated by the Sussex Register. The only man wounded in our regiment belonged to our company as I saw him when he was wounded. He was standing only a few feet from me when struck. This happened Friday afternoon [12 December]. A few moments before [William] Bonnell was wounded, a solid shot passed over where Charles Crissey and I were laying and struck in the ground a few feet beyond. It struck with awful force, burying itself deep in the ground.

Saturday night [13 December] we were moved very near the battlefield. I could not realize that we were in such close proximity to such awful suffering. Every hour, numbers of wounded men would hobble by where we were laying but that has all passed now. We were on the other side of….[remainder of letter missing]

[— John H. Backster]


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER NINE

Camp opposite Fredericksburg
Sunday morning, January 4th [1863]

Dear Father,

Yesterday morning I received a letter from you dated December the twenty-eighth by which I see that you have not received any of the letters I have written home since we left Camp Seminary. This almost discourages me from writing letters but I will always write home as long as there is the faintest hope of your getting my letters. This is the third time I have written home since we left Camp Seminary and it is strange you do not get my letters as I get those that you write a few days after they are mailed.

The regiment for the last few weeks has been enjoying the rest we all so much needed after the long marches and fatigues we have endured which we laugh at now as they are past. I think that before you get this letter, you will have received the other letters I wrote home.

Our march through Maryland did tax my endurance and almost [did] wear me out but I am all over than now and am in the best of spirits. I think I can stand a soldier’s life if they do not give us to long marches and we do not have to sleep too much in the open air which is the great trouble in a winter campaign. I suppose you know that sleeping out of doors in the winter time is not very pleasant as we all know by experience. The boys all says they have earned their bounty twice over.

We have not yet received any pay from the government. There are some of the old regiments that have not received any pay in eight months. Therefore, it is hard to tell when we will get our pay—perhaps not until our time expires. That note against the captain, you will please collect when it comes due and use the money as you see fit and if you have no use for it, put it out on interest. I hear that the captain [Bailey] is home at last and that Dock is with him but that he is not yet out of danger. I fear very much that he will never be able to stand the hardships of the coming campaign. If he has to resign, we will never get another captain that will care for our wants as he has done as the experience of the last few weeks fully proves.

As to whether I will be able to stand the fatigues of a soldier’s life and the hardships in store for me will be just owing to how great they are and to the circumstances under which I will be placed. Thus far, in all our marches, I have been able to hire my knapsack carried, thanks to you for sending me that two dollars. You can form but a faint idea of the fatigue and the trouble that money saved me from. I am exempted from duty on account of a swelling on my leg just a little below the knee. Of course it is not dangerous at all but it is mighty inconvenient. In all except this, I am in first rate health. Being off duty, I have very little to do except to eat which is not hard work at all. I had a bad cough while we were on the march but am entirely over it now.

Our tents now are very comfortable as we have stockaded them and everything taken together, we are getting along very comfortable indeed. As to our fare, we have plenty to eat—such as it is. Lots of salt pork & hard crackers which are most awful hard and well deserve the name. Once in awhile we get fresh beef, rice, beans, and onions. The want of vegetables is probably what caused the swelling on my leg. We have also plenty of coffee and sugar. We have all got to be great coffee drinkers and great eaters too. Some of the boys have received boxes from home but they were delayed so long on the way that most of their eatables were spoiled by the apples freezing and thawing. The dampness molding their cake. Their butter was not spoiled.

[—John H. Backster]


 

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