1862: Rufus Y. Crockett to Susan (Longfellow) Crockett

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Lt. Rufus Y. Crockett, 81st USCT

This exceptional letter was written by Rufus Y. Crockett (1830-1884) while serving in Co. B, 3rd Maine Infantry. It was written immediately after the Union defeat at Second Bull Run where the 3rd Maine fought with Birney’s Brigade in Major General Philip Kearny’s Division of the Heintzelman’s Third Corps.

Rufus enlisted in June 1861 and rose in rank and duties—as we learn from this letter—only to fail in being rewarded with the captain’s position of his company when it was being filled after the Battle of Fredericksburg. A battle-hardened sergeant by this stage of the war, Crockett felt, “deserving and competent to have a commission” to command Co. B. “I have been in every battle which the [3rd Maine] Regt has been in,” Crockett wrote Gov. Coburn in January 1863. “I have faithfully performed my duty as a private, [Corporal] and as Sergeant….How well I have discharged my duty under fire, I leave others to tell you.”

Unfortunately for Rufus Crockett, a junior officer filled Bachelder’s captaincy with Co. B, 3rd Maine Infantry. Yet Crockett still attained his dream; Gov. Coburn later offered him a first lieutenant’s commission with a black infantry regiment being raised in the Deep South. Resigning from the 3rd Maine, Crockett joined the 9th Regiment Corps d’Afrique in Louisiana. Among the first black regiments created in that state, the 9th later became the 81st United States Colored Troops.

Rufus was married in December 1854 to Susan R. Longfellow (1831-1897). It should be noted that some military records give Rufus’ name as Rufus T. Crockett but his signature looks more like Rufus Y. Crockett and this is consistent with family records.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]

TRANSCRIPTION

Centerville, Virginia
September 1st 1862

Dear Wife,

Low-spirited but alive and unhurt, I snatch this opportunity to drop you a line. We have just passed through another fierce battle of two days and overpowered, we have collected here. It seems as if the Lord had forsaken our cause and us. The slaughter on both sides was fearful but you will probably get the particulars before we do. We lost six in wounded & missing out of our company which has decreased our number to a mere handful. Lieut. [Warren] Cox is missing and probably a prisoner. [Lewis] Selbing was wounded and taken prisoner I think. [William] McDavitt is missing. G. H. Thompson wounded. This is all of the Augusta Boys that we lost. Asa Rowe is here but quite sick today from a cold. God only can tell what trials we have passed through since last spring. It makes me almost sick to look back.

Tell Packard’s folks that Eben is well & wants them to write him.

In the confusion of battle, I could not tell how bad [Lewis] Selbing was wounded but somewhere in the neck. Our Brigade was nearly surrounded. All the regiments broke but ours and Old Kearny led us on a charge when we received a volley from a whole brigade of Rebels. ¹ We got out of it without a great loss but it was a terrible shower of bullets. I hear that the 5th & 6th Maine Batteries were nearly all taken.

Our troops were nearly worn out without fighting. We shall try to save Washington but it looks blue now. They are desperate and numerous, well-armed, and are living on our stores which we are suffering for.

A. Staples was here yesterday but I did not see him. Henry is in Alexandria. We have not seen any mail since we left Harrison Landing. I am all the command that Co. B has now got. I am Orderly Sergeant, Captain, and Sergeant, but I shall probably have to lug my rifle and box of lead until the end unless I am killed. I am growing old and I dare not think of what the end will be but I may get through alive. Hope I shall. Our cause looks gloomy to us now. May God help our poor country for her frame is trembling and unless speedily succored, must cease to exist.

Remember me in love to all. Write to my friends when convenient.

Yours truly, — R. Y. Crockett


¹ Presumably Sgt. Crocket is referring to Kearny’s attack at 5 p.m. on August 29th when Birney’s brigade surged forward into A. P. Hills exhausted division—an attack which fell primarily upon Maxcy Gregg’s Brigade.

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