1864: Ossian E. Alexander to Emily (Alexander) Burnham

This letter was written by Ossian E. Alexander (1846-1922), the son of Harry Alexander (1809-1860) and Phebe Bullock (1813-1880) of Jefferson county, New York. “Ossy” enlisted in Co. B, 186th New York Infantry in August 1864. Ossy wrote the letter to his sister, Emily (Alexander) Burnham (1834-1922), the wife of Emory Burnham (1833-1904) of Henderson, Jefferson county, New York. Ossy also mentions his sister, Clarinda Bullock Alexander (1839-1912).

This letter was written soon after the 186th New York arrived near Petersburg and were assigned to the Army of the Potomac’s Ninth Corps. In an article published in the New York Times entitled, “The Civil War’s 11th-Hour Soldiers,” author Will Hickox wrote, “Frequent near-misses from shells and bullets indicated that the novice soldiers had entered the war at last. ‘We were a lot of green young fellows, liable to do most anything,’ recalled 17-year-old Pvt. John B. Fowler of Company C. Fowler and many of his comrades burned to see a fight, but instead they waited and endured the miserable monotony of siege warfare.”  The 186th New York remained in the trenches of Petersburg for the duration of the war, participating in the final 1 April 1865 assault and capture of Battery No. 28, sandwiched between two other Rebel forts the federals had nicknamed, Forts Heaven and Damnation.

Ossian E. Alexander, his wife Phoebe Ann Fillmore, and their six children (ca 1890)

Addressed to Mrs. Emory Burnham, Henderson, Jefferson county, New York
Postmarked Washington D. C.

City Point, Va.
October 22, 1864

Dear Sister—absent but not forgotten,

You may think that I have been negligent in not writing to you before but circumstances have prevented me from doing so till now. But now I will try and make up for negligence before. I think that I know what you will want me to write and that is all that has been going on in which I have been an actor.

We left Sacket’s Harbor and footed it to Watertown. Then we took the cars at six in the morning and at eight in the evening we were on the boat going down the Hudson and landed at New York the next day and stayed there four days. Then we went on board of a government transport bound for Fortress Monroe—there to wait for further orders. We made the trip in two days and the most of the boys were sick but I stood it first rate.

Sunday we lay at the mouth of the James river and about four o’clock we started up the river. We went till about eleven o’clock when we run aground and did not get off till five the next morning. Then we got underway again and at noon, we landed at City Point and marched two miles and camped. The next day we drew our tents and pitched them for awhile.

The next day our Colonel got orders for us to go to work on the fortifications that are building close by our camp. We armed ourselves with shovels and picks and charged on the ground in double time and have kept it up every day till noon today when we were ordered to pack our tools. Then we were all marched over to the sutler’s by Lieutenant Bates when he dismissed and told [us] to buy what we wanted for we might not have another opportunity to do so for the regiment had had marching orders—for what place he didn’t know. Then we came to camp waiting for orders to pack knapsacks and march. Last night I received a letter from Clarinda—the first that I have had. I am well. Hope to hear you are the same. I hope that you will write soon.

From your brother, — Ossian E. Alexander

Direct your letter to Ossian E. Alexander, Co. B, 186th Regt. N. Y. V., City Point, Va.



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