This superb letter was written by Sergeant Major Joseph Fowler Field (1835-1932), the son of Joseph Field (1801-1853) and Mary Ann Fowler (1807-1835) of Worcester county, Massachusetts. Joseph (“Joe”) entered the mercantile business in 1850 and continued in the same until September 1862 when he enlisted in the 46th Massachusetts Volunteers and was appointed sergeant major of the regiment. He was later promoted to second lieutenant of the 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery on 30 April 1863; first lieutenant on July 30, battalion adjutant in April 1864; regimental adjutant in March 1865. He mustered out of the service on October 1865 and went into business in Hartford, Connecticut, after the war.
Joseph wrote the letter to Catherine (“Kittie”) Louisa Chapman (1843-1911) with whom he later married in 1863. After their marriage, Kittie went South with her husband and served as a hospital aide in Norfolk, Virginia.
In this letter, Joe provides his future wife with a detailed account of the “Goldsboro Expedition” led by Major General John G. Foster during which the 46th Massachusetts found themselves engaged with the enemy for the first time. The expedition consisted of four brigades of infantry, 640 men of the 3rd New York Cavalry, 40 pieces of artillery, including 6 batteries of the 3rd New York, Belger’s Battery of the 1st Rhode Island, and sections of the 23rd and 24th New York Independent Batteries—about 11,000 men in all. The objective of the expedition (December 11-20, 1862) was to destroy the bridge and tear up the railroad at Goldsboro, North Carolina.
Newbern [North Carolina]
December 22, 1862
My Darling Kittie,
Here I am again in Newbern & thank God safe & well excepting a little foot sore so that I have to limp around. We started from Newbern the 11th and when we formed ready for a start, the fog was the heaviest I ever saw. We said goodbye to those left behind. I never saw Hen [Henry E. Chapman, Co. C] feel so bad since we left & if I had said the word, he would have gone. But I told him it wouldn’t do for him for he would be obliged to fall out & then be left no one knew where. The whole column did not get started quite as early as was expected so we did not get out of sight of Newbern till about 3 P.M. Then we began to march & went 15 miles to our camping ground. The whole distance that day was 18 miles.
We encamped in a corn field & when we got in sight of the ground, it was a splendid sight. You can imagine something of it. There were 20 regiments, 1000 cavalry, & 6 or 7 batteries of artillery, and each company had four or five & the artillery & cavalry had about the same proportion & all in regular order. It was a magnificent sight & in a very short time our boys had the fires started. Rail fences had to suffer. We made our coffee in our own cups & ate our rations & then turned in by spreading our rubber blankets on the ground, then rolling ourselves up in our woolens & feet to the fire went to sleep & that was my first night camping out. We were up early the next morning & ready for a start by daylight but the advance had to wait until the pioneers had cut away a large lot of trees that the Rebs had felled across the road so it was nearly 11 o’clock before we got underway & then came a hard march.
About noon we first saw signs of the Rebs for on the side of the road we found ten Reb prisoners & one wounded. A little way on we saw another one laying on some straw guarded by one of our cavalryman but he did not have to guard long for he soon died & so it was all that day. Every little while we would come across a Reb wounded or a prisoner. That night we did not get into camp until quite late & the boys were very tired. We had passed through lots of mud holes—one in particular I had cause to remember for I ran against a rail & measured my length but I soon picked up & on again & got to camp a little while before the regiment & went into Capt. Moore’s quarters & got warm & a drink of his cider brandy. That day I carried my blankets & was the only day I had to do it for the first day Royal Fowler came along & took them aboard of his wagons. I found it quite a nice arrangement for they hung down big & heavy.
But to continue my story, the regiment soon came up & we turned in again to a cornfield & then the boys began to forage. They cleaned out one house of all the potatoes, pork, honey, & whatever else they could lay hands on & then went at the hogs & poultry. We had plenty to eat that night. The next morning we had got about six or eight miles when we were ordered to stop at some crossroads & hold them at all hazards. We had a battery of two guns to assist us, & the rest of the forces pushed on by another road & here it was while waiting that I began a letter to you but as I carried it in my haversack. It has got somewhat soiled &c. We stayed there until about 5 P.M. when our artillery came with an order to advance about four miles & hold the road at another point so we picked up and on it was also here that one of Co. H’s boys captured a gourd fiddle & gave it to me & I got Dr. [James H.] Waterman to put it into his wagons to carry for me—but it is lost. I wanted it for Willis. It was a real curiosity.
That night we slept with one eye open expecting to be attacked but all went well. One of the Rebs pickets strayed into our camp thinking it was their own. We were as nigh as that. The next morning we were ordered to join the main body on a road about three miles south of us. This was Sunday morning but no one near us would have thought it so. Well we joined the army just in time to take our place. In a short time the cannons began to play, but we kept on & found that our advance had captured one gun & killed a few Rebs. We passed close by one dead one & a filthy-looking object he was too. We were then nearing Kinston & soon our advance began to fire & it grew pretty heavy. We soon reached the spot & our Brigade was ordered to form a line of battle. Our position was to support Battery H, 3rd Artillery, so we formed & lay down behind. All the while in front of us, heavy & brisk firing was kept up on both sides. Our brigade was the reserve so we were not called immediately into action. We waited there some time when the cheers began & Col. Lee rode up & shouted that we had captured their battery & saved the bridge & then the cheering went up.
We again fell into the column ready to go forward & while waiting, they began to to bring the wounded back & it was heart sickening to see the poor fellows. One was Col. [Charles O.] Gray of the 96th New York Volunteers. He had a mortal wound & died soon after getting him to the hospital. But we soon started forward & came to the principal scene of action & it was a sight to behold. We had passed quite a number of killed & wounded but they were nothing compared with what we saw. The dead were laying about & they were bringing them out of the swamp as fast as they could. I went into a little church & found Royal Fowler attending to his wounded. He was very much excited as his regiment sustained the principle part of the fight and out of 300 had 117 killed & wounded. His regiment charged the Rebs over the bridge right in the face of their batteries & whole force. The Reb General was mad enough & had said he could hold the place against any force we could bring. We captured about 500 prisoners & sent the rest through the town on the double quick. Kinston is by far the prettiest place I have seen yet.
We passed over the bridge & went into camp in the town. After we had got our supper, Pliny Wood, Lieutenant Nutting of the 27th, [Capt. Andrew] Campbell, [Lt. Joseph T.] Spear & myself took a turn around town. The boys were making sail havoc in the Main Street, The Rebs had set fire to a large lot of cotton & it gave—in addition to our camp fires—a brilliant light. We passed one store our boys had broken open so we went in there. We found a large lot of smoking tobacco & each of us took a 5 lb. package & what apples we wanted to eat & started back to camp & went to bed. That night our teams did not come up so I did not get my blankets so Jim Fowler asked me to sleep with him which invitation I accepted & had a good night’s rest.
In the morning the boys began to bring in horses & mules but the most amusing sight was when the Dr’s boy brought in an old mule harnessed into a buggy. I can’t do justice to the scene so will defer that till I see you.
The advance began to pass us & I went out by the road and almost every Massachusetts Regiment some one would sing out, “Hallo Jos.! You here? What’s your Regiment?” &c. But we soon got off & passed back over the [ ] & our rear guard stayed behind & burnt it after all was clear. Then we put for Whitehall & encamped for the night within six miles of it & in the morning, on we went again. Soon our cannons began to roar again & here was the heaviest cannonading I ever heard. It was terrific. Our regiment this time was got near, drawn up, ready to sail in. The balls would whistle over our heads so that it made some of the boys quake. One fellow near where I stood started for the woods. I saw him & sung out to him. Says he, “I never drilled a day in my life.” I told him to get into the ranks & if I saw him leave again, I’d fix him son he wouldn’t drill anymore. His company received him with a shout & they kept their eye on him after that but he was pretty badly scared.
Here the Rebs had burnt the bridge so after silencing their guns, we went on our way to Goldsboro but halted for the night about six miles from there. The next morning after we had started, we soon heard the usual noise & soon we came to a halt. I came ahead some ways of our regiment to see the fair & found the Rebs battery as usual scattered by our shells. Our regiment was drawn up behind a battery but I did not know it & wondered why they did not come along but soon they made an advance & took a position & then our battery began to play. It was music & lasted about an hour or so when we set the bridge in fire, 3 were [ ] & ten of them were shot. Then we thought we had scattered them for good & Gen. Foster told us our work was now done for we had burnt the bridge & & tore up their railroad for about two miles & we had started back. Nearly all the force had got underway & our brigade being the last, had waited for them & two of our regiments had started, word came that they were flanking us & then there was lively times. Our regiment was put back & quickly formed. Our battery returned & began to belch forth grape & canister, & in a few minutes one man in the company directly in front of me was shot and another one wounded. We were then ordered to lay down & that order was obeyed mighty quick.
The poor fellow that was shot lay about a rod in front of us so I started back for our Ambulance Corps & had to go twice before I found them. The shot & shells were flying thick & fast on both sides of me but I was so excited I hardly noticed them except when one would whizz by my head & that made me dodge. It was a most exciting time & our boys behaved remarkably well for the first time under fire. George Myrick was in all parts of the field & behaved splendidly. He rode a grey horse & acted as aid for Gen. Lee. The Captain of one of our batteries said we must have killed & wounded nearly 500 of them for he waited until they came very near before he opened on them & then he mowed them terribly. They threw up their hands & would fall over, but it did not last long for we soon silenced their guns & sent their infantry flying in all directions. Then we began to get ready for a start home again & soon got underway. But the fun of it was that a little brook that we passed over only ankle deep was swollen in consequence of burning a mill & dam nearby to quite a stream & we had to go through the water nearly waist deep. But the boys held up their guns & put through & off we started for home & the sight was splendid for the advance had set fire to the woods on both sides & the pine trees being full of pitch did make a splendid light. I never shall forget the scene.
We encamped that night on our old camping ground. The next morning we started again & I soon found I had a big blister on my heel & by getting my feet wet, the cords near my ankle were quite stuff & pains but I stomped along till noon when Jim Fowler & I went way ahead & soon John Trafton came up & we made a cup of coffee & had some sweet potatoes. It really tasted good. Then the Dr. came up & wanted me to ride his horse along & I rode till nearly dark. Then I got a ride to camp on a mule team. The next morning I hopped along & after walking about 3 miles I caught up with the wagons & one of our teamsters gave me a ride to Kinston when he had to take his team & carry some of the wounded down to the boat about four miles so I started on & walked the four miles to where they turned off for the boat. When he came along, he asked me to go down with him & I availed myself of the change for I saw the Rebel blockade & defenses of the river. Then we started back & joined the train.
That night we camped within half a mile of where our Regiment & the battery camped along the Saturday night before & found 13 Rebs dead that our cavalry & artillery had killed the next day after we had left them. One was found by one of our boys while he was picking up sticks for a fire & lay as near to where we slept as from your back door to Louise’s door, but it didn’t disturb our sleep. We camped once more before we got home, which place we reached about noon Sunday, December 21st, having been gone 10 days, fought four battles, captured 13 guns & 600 Rebs, but our loss is quite heavy—but not near so bad as the Rebs.
I found Hen much better than when I left & as glad to see us as he was sorry to have us go. I wish he was not quite so homesick but he cannot help it, having such a good home as he has got & such friends to love him. But Kittie, darling I have already written enough for you to know I am safe home & that we are all well. Hen is on duty today & I hope will continue to get better fast. I found two letters from you—the last mailed December 13th. Hen also got one from you & your mother today. I will write & answer your letter as soon as I have got rested for I am pretty tired as you may know by the writing in this letter.
[illegible] all say this was the hardest marching & fighting they have had since they have been in the service. All our things are down to the boat so we are just about as we were when we got back—only we have got some of the dirt off for you wouldn’t know us when we got back, we were so black & dirty. But thank God we are safe. Write often. I shall write you again in a day or two, Also Louise. Kiss the baby for me & give lots of love to all, accepting any quantity for my own dear Kittie.