1865: James Forsaith Grimes to Sarah Ann (Jones) Grimes

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Col. James F. Grimes, 17th US Infantry

This letter was written by James Francis Grimes (1835-1910), the son of Hiram Grimes (1798-1885) and Clarissa Forsaith (1799-1873) of Hillsborough Center, New Hampshire. He was married on 8 February 1864 to Sarah Ann Jones (1834-1906), the daughter of Ebenezer and Mary (Carr) Jones of Hillsborough.

James wrote this letter to his wife who was eight months pregnant expecting their first child.

The following biographical sketch was lifted from Find-A-Grave:

James Forsaith (the subject of this sketch) passed his boyhood on the farm of his father in Hillsborough. His educational advantages were those afforded by the district schools of the time, supplemented by attendance at the academies of Gilmanton, Hopkinton and Washington. His summers were spent in farm-work, where he gained experience and vigorous health. At the close of his school-boy days he spent his winters in teaching in the district schools of his own and the adjoining towns, commencing at the early age of sixteen. As a teacher he was successful, and gained a wide reputation as a disciplinarian, and his services were much sought in localities where something like insubordination had at times been partially established.

In connection with his school duties, at Hillsborough Lower village, in 1859, Colonel Grimes commenced the study of law with Francis N. Blood, Esq., which he continued until the breaking out of the War of the Rebellion, in 1861. When it became known that Sumter had been fired upon, he was one of the first from his native town to volunteer in defense of the Union. Just at this time, hearing that his uncle, Senator Grimes, had presented his name to the Senate of the United States for confirmation as a captain in the regular army, he placed himself under a private instructor to be fitted for the proper discharge of those responsible duties. Colonel Grimes received his commission as captain in the Seventeenth Regiment of the United States Infantry August 5, 1861, and immediately joined his regiment at Fort Preble, Maine, and was detailed as recruiting officer, first, at Hillsborough, N. H., and afterwards at Ogdensburg, N. Y.

It was while thus engaged that he sought the influence of Senator Grimes to secure orders to join his regiment in the field. In answer, he received a letter from the Senator, from which the following is an extract: “A good soldier obeys orders, but seeks none; I cannot agree with many of our public men that this war will be brought to a speedy close. I think we shall have a long and bloody war, and you will see all the fighting you desire before it is over. Wait patiently; your time will come.”

Colonel Grimes soon joined his regiment in the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, and participated with it in some of the hardest-fought battles of the war. He was in command of his regiment most of the time during the latter part of the war, and led it in what will ever be known as the “Memorable Battles of the Wilderness.” He was wounded near Spottsylvania, Va., and carried from the field and ordered back to Washington, where he was tendered leave of absence to return home, which he declined, and made application to be returned to duty, and he was “returned to duty at his own request,” the surgeon declining to take any responsibility in the matter. He joined his regiment at Cold Harbor, Va., as they marched “on to Petersburg.” May 18, 1864, Senator Grimes wrote to his wife, among other items concerning the war, as follows: “J. Grimes commanded the Seventeenth Regiment of Infantry until he was knocked over by a shell.”

The Seventeenth United States Infantry suffered heavy losses in the campaign of 1863 and 1864, especially in the battles of Gettysburg, Pa., July 2 and 3, 1863; Wilderness, Va., May 5, 6 and 7, 1864; Laurel Hill, Va., May 8, 10 and 13; Spottsylvania, Va., May 14; Bethesda Church, Va., June 1 and 2; Cold Harbor, Va., June 2 and 3; Petersburg, Va., June 18 and 20; Weldon Railroad, Va., August 18 and 21; and Chapel House, Va., October 1, 1864.

At the close of the latter engagement the regiment could muster only twenty-six men able to bear arms, and in consequence of these severe losses the regiment was detailed by the officer commanding the corps for duty as guard at headquarters, and soon after were ordered out of the field for the purpose of recruiting, and arrived in New York about November 1, 1864. Colonel Grimes was in command of battalion Seventeenth United States Infantry, at Fort Lafayette, New York Harbor, guarding noted prisoners of war and performing garrison duty from November, 1864, to October, 1865, and after that was stationed at Hart’s Island, New York Harbor, organizing companies and drilling them until the regiment was ordered to the Department of Texas, in the summer of 1866, which point the last battalion reached about the 1st of October.

From Galveston Colonel Grimes took his command of eight companies by rail to Brenham, and thence marched across the country, a distance of over one hundred miles, to Austin, Texas, arriving about November 1st. In the spring of 1867, Colonel Grimes was appointed judge advocate of a military commission, of which Major-General Alexander McD. McCook was president, and convened at Austin, Texas, by order of General Philip H. Sheridan, for the purpose of trying criminal cases under the Reconstruction Act of Congress, and served in that capacity several months. Colonel Grimes was in command of the post of Nacogdoches, in Northeastern Texas, from October 1867, to April, 1868; thence proceeded to, and took command of the post at Ringgold Barracks, situated on the Rio Grande River. In the meantime his health had become impaired, and his physicians advised him to go North, which he did, remaining during the summer, and returned to his duties in the fall much improved. Upon his return he was stationed at Brownsville, Texas.

Here it soon became apparent that the climate did not agree with him, and that, in order to prevent permanent disability, he must have a change, and he was again granted a leave of absence upon a surgeon’s certificate of disability. He reached home about the 1st of August, 1870, and in consequence of ill health resigned from the service, to take effect January 1, 1871, having served nearly ten years. In the reorganization of the army, in September, 1866, he was transferred to the Twenty-sixth United States Infantry, and in May, 1869, was transferred to the Tenth United States Infantry. He was commissioned major by brevet in the United States army, to rank from August 1, 1864, “for gallant services at the battle of Spottsylvania, and during the present campaign before Richmond, Va.,” and commissioned lieutenant-colonel by brevet, to rank from March 13, 1865, “for gallant and meritorious services during the war.”

The colonel thus came to the close of the war both deserving and obtaining the reward of the gallant and faithful soldier. His comrades bore unequivocal testimony to his bravery as a soldier and his worth as a man. At home and in the field there was an inspiring motive urging him on to high and noble deeds, a motive greater than the love of fame and glory,–it was the love of a noble woman. September 8, 1864, while at home on a leave of absence, Colonel Grimes married Sarah Ann, youngest daughter of Eben and Mary (Carr) Jones, of Hillsborough, N. H., who endured with him all of the fortunes and vicissitudes incident to army-life, in camp and upon the march, while he was sojourning in the Department of Texas.


Addressed to Mrs. J. F. Grimes, Hillsborough Center, New Hampshire

Hart Island, New York Harbor
October 29th 1865

My Dear Wife,

Your kind letter of the 25th instant, came duly to hand last evening.  I had been very anxious on your account for some days, the more so perhaps, because I knew you were suffering from a cold when I left home and I had not received any information from you since that time and consequently did not know whether you were sick or well. I am, however, most happy to be informed that the latter is the true state of affairs. I suppose you, like myself, look anxiously forward to the time when you can take the offspring of our affections and fold it closely to your bosom. Oh that it may live and become an ornament to society and a blessing to its parents, shall be my fervent prayer.

My dear wife, I know that you must suffer much pain and I feel for you as now but a husband can feel. I would most gladly take all of your pain and suffering upon myself were it possible but as it is not, I place my trust in the Almighty Ruler of the Universe, hoping and firmly believing that He will bring you safely through all your troubles and that we may live to mutually enjoy each other’s society for many many years yet to come, bound together by that indissolvable tie of affection, “our first born.”

I have not been away from the Island since I came here but I think I shall go down to New York sometime during the week on business.

Nothing new to communicate except that according to last report, we are going out to St. Louis to report to General Sherman for duty.

I forgot to tell you that we had buried one of our officers recently. Capt. Mengies died at the New York City Hospital [on] October 25th and was buried at Greenwood the next day. He was sick but a few days and was not sensible any of the time.

Writer frequently and let me know how you are getting along for I am very anxious to know all about your health &c. Your letters will always meet with a warm reception.

I close sending a goodnight kiss. Devotedly your own, — James

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