submitted by Linda Robinson
CIVIL WAR LETTERS OF SILAS SHUMWAY WHO ENLISTED IN THE 87th REGT. N.Y. VOLS. AND WAS LATER A MEMBER OF THE 40TH REGT. NY VOLS. ALSO ONE OF PETER SHUMWAY, CO. C, 5TH ARTILLERY. (From various issues, as noted, of the Worcester Times, Worcester, Otsego County N.Y. Transcribed from microfilm purchased from the NYSHA collection.)
A SOLDIER’S LETTERS (WT August 5, 1909 page 1 column 4)
Through the courtesy of I.O. Shumway of New York, formerly of East Worcester, we are permitted to publish a series of letters written by his brother Silas. Silas enlisted in the 40th Reg’t N.Y. Vols. in 1861, and the letters were written while he was in the army. The writer, who went from Richmondville, will be remembered by many older readers of this paper.
WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 14, 1861
DEAR Father:---Once more I write you to let you know where I am and how I am getting along. I am in Washington, and am enjoying good health, and I hope when this letter reaches you that you all will be well.
When I left home the last time we went to Castle Garden, and stayed there until December first. Then we started for Washington and came as far as Philadelphia. The citizens of that city presented us with a grand dinner. Then we came as far as Baltimore. We passed through there without being molested. From Baltimore to Washington we had to go in baggage cars in the night without any light so the rebels would not know that there were any union soldiers aboard. They had to have guards along the tracks to keep them from tearing up the rails. We arrived in Washington December second; we stayed within twenty rods of the capitol. One day we had a chance to go all through the capitol and the city of Washington.
We are now in camp about one mile from the capitol, and are in sight of the rebels’ camp. They are on the Patomac on the opposite side of the river. One of the Illinois regiments are in camp about one quarter of a mile from here. The night before last one of the guards saw something moving in the bushes a few rods from him. He called to the guard next to him and he came just in time to see his fellow guard shot. Two of the guards fired at him, but did not hit him. They beat the long roll and in five minutes six or eight regiments were up and armed and in pursuit of him. They supposed that there was a whole regiment of the enemy not far off.
The weather is beautiful and warm here in the day time, but cold and damp in the night. Last week, three runaway slaves came here to our regiment. One of them says his master is a captain in the Southern army, and he has heard him say that he was afraid the North would lick them.
Pete enlisted and was vaccinated. It worked quite hard and he caught cold and was quite sick, but is well now, so he is on guard to-day. We left Nicholas Hilton, James Tanner and John Ostrander in New York very sick. They have been taken to some hospital, but I don’t know which one it is. I have not heard from them since. Anson Hynds, Levi Spurbeck and Harvey Benjamin from Richmondville are here sick in the hospital. Pete sent his clothes, pictures and mine home, let us know if you receive them safely. We have not been paid yet, we expect it every day.
I meant to write before this but we did not know how long we are going to stay here. I think we will stay for some time, but do not know for certain.
I have been appointed Corporal. I do not have to stand guard. My business is to post the guard when we march in battle or any other place. I have to be in the front rank, and I get fifteen dollars a month. Tell Isaac I could not get a place for him. We were transferred in another regiment, and the Captain had a boy and more drummers than he wanted. I advise him to stay at home and be contented and not think of enlisting. He can’t undergo the hardships of a soldier’s life.
Tell Mary Jane, Asa and Sanford to be good children. I have no more at present. Give my love to all inquiring friends. Tell the boys to write and not forget me. I have to drill eight hours a day and don’t get much chance to write. From your affectionate son,
A SOLDIER’S LETTERS (WT August 12, 1909 page 1 column 3)
Headquarter 87th Reg’t N.Y.S.V.
April 16, 1862
DEAR FATHER:---We received your letter of the 11th and was glad to hear that all the folks are well. We are well with the exception of Pete having a cold.
We left Hampton April 4th and marched through Big Bethel. The enemy had evacuated that place a few days before; their pickets were there yet. When they saw us coming they left for Yorktown double quick. They did not expect us quite so soon; we surprised them. They had everything arranged to take their supplies to Richmond that night, but they had to hurry on, leaving word with the pickets that they would settle us when we reached Yorktown.
The second day we got within half a mile of their batteries. They fired several cannon shots killing quite a number, but none of our regiment were killed. A number of us were standing on a fence close to our camp looking at the enemy. I was returning to camp when they fired at the boys. They saw the flash and dropped to the ground. It wounded one fellow and he died the next day. We took our tents and went back about three quarters of a mile in the woods. There are four regiments in our brigade; the 105th, 63rd, 57th of Pennsylvania and ours, commanded by General Jameston. April 11 the 63rd and 57th were on picket and the enemy attacked them. The enemy came out with three regiments. We were ordered to fall in and help them with the engagement, but as we were turning the corner of the woods to face them, they retreated. There was but one killed and fourteen or fifteen wounded. Just at dark our brigade was relieved from picket by another brigade so we could get something to eat.
There has been a balloon ascension about every day. They report that Jeff Davis and one hundred thousand men are in Yorktown. They have five hundred pieces of cannon mounted. General McClellan is here and is said to have one hundred to one hundred and fifty thousand men with him. We are waiting for our artillery to come, and a large number are coming in every day. I think McClellan intends to shell their batteries down and get their cannons, and have our infantry bayonet them out.
When we first came here it rained quite hard for four or five days. The land is low and it made it very muddy. It has been fine weather since it dried up. The peach orchards are all in bloom and it looks fine. The enemy left plenty of stock behind---hogs, cows, sheep and plenty of grain in the barns.
I conversed with quite a few slaves and they say the enemy have plenty of everything---plenty of fresh meat, but they can get no salt, It is twenty-five dollars a bushel. Boots are from fourteen to fifteen dollars a pair. I forget the price of coffee, but it is very high.
Well, there is no more, so I will close with love to all. Your loving son.
A SOLDIER’S LETTER (WT August 19, 1909 page 1 column 4)
Harpers Ferry, VA. May 7, 1862
DEAR BROTHER:---I now take the time to write you that I am well and enjoying myself as best a soldier can. Since I last wrote you I have had a very narrow escape. Our regiment went on a march the first of April, and we pitched our camp where the rebels and guerilla bands were plentiful. Three others and myself were sent about two miles up the river to find out something that was going on and to guard the place where the rebs were in the habit of crossing, with orders to shoot any one who attempted to cross the river. At four o’clock we had news that our regiment had left for parts unknown. Sure enough they had gone, but left their baggage. We waited until the next day and also found fourteen of our company there. We all went into a barn that night and slept. The next day we were lying on the floor amusing ourselves as best we could, when we heard the busy feet of horses tramping around. Supposing it to be our regiment back after us, I sprang to the door, but alas, we were surrounded by two hundred cavalry. I warned all and we determined to sell our lives as dearly as possible. We commenced firing at the rebs, and every shot told. Seeing they could not very well take us, they dismounted, leaving their horses with guards, also a man keeping guard against the woods. Five men came upon us with a yell, broke into the barn, fired upon us, killing one and wounding four. They said, "Surrender you Yankee dogs." Well, all of our boys put down their arms. They demanded first our money, then our watches. Well, I gave a bound out of the back window and was followed by three others. We made straight for the woods and the reb guards, seeing us firing, supposing we were after them, put their spurs to their horses and fled at the top of their speed. We were pursued and shot at several times, doing very little damage, slightly wounding one man in the arm and putting several balls through our clothes. We got safely in the woods. The rebs all returned to the barn, broke up our rifles, cut up out equipage. After destroying everything they left, taking their prisoners. In about an hour our regiment came back and found two so badly wounded that they could not take them. The boys have not been seen or heard from since. I suppose they have been hanged, as this cavalry belongs to Mosby’s guerillas. The other boys and myself were highly congratulated by our captain. He said when he found out we were left, he never expected to see us again. Be sure and write soon.
With love, Your brother.
Co. C., 5th Artillery
A SOLDIER’S LETTERS---NO. 4 (WT Sept. 2, 1909 page 1 column 3)
Annapolis, Md., May 23, 1862
DEAR FATHER,---I now take the opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know that I am in the land of the living. My health is not very good, although I am a great better than I was three weeks ago. While we were in front of Yorktown I had the typhoid fever. The winter was bad and we had to drink stagnant water. About every night we had to stand picket or throw up entrenchments all night, and in that way I got the fever that thousands died with around us. A good many of our regiment died of the fever. I got so I could be around, and the 3rd of May we went on picket. We were on all night and were relieved the 4th about 6 o’clock in the morning. We marched back to camp at 10 and the news came that Yorktown was evacuated. We packed our knapsacks and started after them. Marched through part of the night, then we rested as much as we could until 3 o’clock in the morning. It rained that night and we got quite wet. Onward we marched, the rain coming down in torrents and the mud was awful. It is low, swampy land in Virginia. The mud was up to the tops of our boots. About 2 o’clock P.M. we threw off our knapsacks and all but our guns and cartridges, then we went double quick for four miles through the mud. Then we were on the battle grounds. Our blood was all heated up. I drank quite a good deal of water which we had to dip up from mud holes in the roads. That night we stood picket in the rain and I got chilled through. The rebels evacuated the fort that night, and in the morning we went as far as Williamsburgh where we spent two or three days. A detachment went back to bury the dead.
In Williamsburgh I was taken down again and I could not walk. They took me in a brigade ambulance up to West Point. There I got on board the hospital steamer R. Donelson and went up to Cumberland. There seven hundred more sick and wounded got on the Commodore. She brought us back to Yorktown where we were in the hospital two days, when the steamer Aaron Smith brought us to Annapolis. The naval academies are used as hospitals. I am in one of them now. It is a very beautiful place, also very healthy; lots of fresh air comes off the bay. We have good nurses and doctors, good comfortable beds and enough to eat. This seems great as it is so different from our usual fare, I really don’t know how to enjoy myself. Until I came here I had not been in a house for over five months. We slept on nothing but the damp ground, spring rains every other day pouring on us. Nine or ten tea biscuits or hard crackers (the size of a soda cracker) and oh, so hard, was what we had to eat.
Virginia grows coons and mules plentifully. There are only a few poor old horses that the rebels have left. There are very few white women here now, but plenty of beautiful girls, partly white.
Well father, I have no more time to write, so will close with love to all.
Your affectionate son,
A SOLDIERS LETTERS---NO. 5 (WT Sept. 9, 1909 page 1 column 4)
Annapolis, Md., June 4, 1862
MY DEAR FATHER,---I received your letter and was glad to hear that you and the family are all well. My health is improving fast. I wrote to Pete the 23d, and have received no answer. I have not heard from him since he left the regiment.
There has been a great battle in front of Richmond, the rebels taking advantage of the great storm that flooded the Chickahominy. They attacked General Casey’s division on the right, and drove them in every direction. General Kearney’s division came up and made a charge that drove the rebels back, leaving the ground covered with dead.
Our regiment is on Kearney’s division. Monday was the last account I heard of them. The papers state they were fighting Saturday and Sunday and are fighting yet. Monday the whole army under McClellan was engaged. They came out victorious each day.
Yesterday the commander brought 500 wounded soldiers here that fell Saturday. He said our regiment was all cut up. Our Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel were killed before he got wounded. The papers give no account of the killed and wounded, and we won’t get the true account in a number of days. I am going to my regiment as soon as the doctor will let me. I think I can get away in a few days.
There are many wounded coming in and filling the hospital. The doctor is very particular. He says none can leave here until they are tough and rugged. He has had some fellows here two months. I should like to come home and see you all, and I hope before many months I will be permitted to do so. Write as soon as you get this and let me know when you have heard from Peter last. If he is still living he will be apt to write you. I have kept watch of the wounded that landed here, and have not seen him. If it has been his good luck to get off with a wound, he will be sent to some northern hospital, as they are full in Washington and here. They are shipping the wounded to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. If you don’t get a letter from him, see Mr. Tanner’s folks. May be they have received a letter from James.
You must not worry about me. I will try and take good care of myself.
Write as soon as you get this. Address as before. With love to all, as ever.
A SOLDIER’S LETTERS---NO. 6 (WT OCT. 7, 1909 page 1 column 3)
Camp Near Alexandria, VA.,
Sept. 4, 1862
DEAR FATHER,--- As this is the first leisure day I have had in three weeks, I will spend a part of it writing home to let you know that I am still alive and enjoying good health.
We left Harrison Landing the 15th of August and came down the Peninsula by the way of Williamsburg and Yorktown, and so on down to Alexandria and from here I don’t known here we will go. We were sent down to Cattle Station to guard the railroad. Our regiment was sent from there to Manasas Junction. The night of the 26th Stonewall Jackson attacked us with superior forces. They killed, wounded and took prisoners about sixty of our regiment. They burned two trains of cars loaded with supplies, and captured our colonel and lieutenant. The next day we had another fight with them. In the afternoon we got them under retreat. After the battle a slave told us there were rebels in the woods so James Tanner, Nick Holton and I went out and took three prisoners. The next day we went on the old Bull Run grounds and fought for two days. We then fell back to Centerville. On Monday, Sept. 1st. General Kearney, commanding our army, was shot dead, and Corporal James Tanner had both legs shot off. We had to fall back and leave him in the hands of the enemy. Since the death of our brave general we have been sent to Alexandria. We have been so cut up and worn out that I think we will stay here and rest out while fresh troops take their turn.
I think this was the bloodiest battle that has been fought since the war broke out. The prisoners we have taken say Jackson told them they must fight or die. This was the last effort. He was bound to take our capitol if he lost every man he had, but we can’t see it in that light. I think he will have a sweet time before he gets there. We are getting reinforced by fresh troops every day.
Pete went to the hospital the 15th of August. I have not heard from him since. He said he would write home as soon as he got to the hospital. I wish you would write as soon as you get this and let me know if you have heard how he is getting along.
What are left of us are well and in good spirits, but we deeply feel the loss of our brave comrade, Corporal James Tanner. He was a brave and obedient soldier. After he was wounded he said, "I feel badly enough, but how will our poor folks feel when they hear of this?" They amputated his legs before we left. A number of our doctors stayed with the wounded. Sergeant Robert Skinner went to the hospital the same time Pete did. Corporal John Ostrander was wounded in the arm and has gone to the hospital. Anson Hynds took sick and has gone, so you see there are only a few of us Schoharie boys left.
Please write as soon as you get this as there is nothing does me more good that to get good news from home when I am in a strange land and surrounded by the enemy. With love to all.
Your affectionate son,
A SOLDIER’S LETTERS---NO. 7. (WT Oct. 21, 1909 page 1 column 3)
Monocacy, Md., Sept. 30, 1862
DEAR FATHER:--I now will sit down and write you to let you know I am still alive and enjoying good health. We have been shifted around considerably since I last wrote you. The sixth of September we were consolidated with the 40th N.Y.S.V. or Mozart regiment, which was against our will, but there was so few of us and our officers had all been killed or taken prisoners we had to submit to it. There are a fine lot of boys in this regiment, and very nice officers. We like them much better than we expected we would. It may turn out all for the best in the end. We left Virginia about two weeks ago and came to Monocacy, Maryland near Sugar Loaf Mountain, and we are doing picket duty along the Chesapeake and Ohio canal. Our company pickets along Nolan’s Ferry or Whiteford, where the rebels crossed over in Maryland three weeks ago.
I received your long looked for letter yesterday and was glad to hear that you were all well. I also received a letter from Pete, dated the 16th. He was getting along quite well, with the exception of a felon on his thumb. He says it is quite painful. He has a good berth and my advice is to stay there or accept his discharge.
Although we are only fifty miles north of Washington, we can not get any of the papers or any news of what is going on relative to military affairs. We know nothing but that our regiment is doing picket duty.
The reason I didn’t get your letter before was because we were moving around and did not get any mail. We get the mail every other day now. I saw James Tanner September 10th. He was with the rebels who captured him ten days. Then he was paroled and sent to Fairfax Seminary hospital. His wound was in a bad condition. I have seen John, and Nick received a letter from him yesterday. He is getting along as well as can be expected.
I will close, hoping you all enjoy the best of health. Give my love to mother and the children. There is hardly a day passes over my head but I think of you all, and hope before many months to be permitted to enjoy your company.
Your affectionate son,
Address, Co. C., 40 Reg’t N.Y.V.
Washington, D.C., Stoneman’s Division
A SOLDIER’S LETTER---NO. 8 (WT Oct. 28, 1909 page 1 column 3)
Monocacy, Md., Oct. 18, 1862
DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTER,---I have not forgotten you, though hills, vales and States lie between us. I often think of you and I know you think of me. You may hear father read about my being on picket, but perhaps you don’t know what it is to be on picket duty, so I will tell you. We are between our army and the rebels and keep watch of them. If we were not there they might come by night while we were asleep and kill us all, but if they come we fight them off as long as we can and then retreat back to camp and give the alarm. By the time the enemy gets there we are all up with our guns ready to drive them back.
All last summer were in the dismal swamps in the peninsula, but now we are along the beautiful banks of the Potomac. A few rods to our right is the Chesapeake and Ohio canal. About a month ago the enemy came here and dug through the banks and let the water run out. We all went to work at it and day before yesterday we completed the repairs so the boats are running again.
Our folks say that you think Pete and I will be killed. You must not think so. The war will be ended one of these days and then you will see two soldiers coming up the road. I have no more to write. You must be good children and go to school all you can. I will close, bidding you all good-bye. Your brother,
A SOLDIER’S LETTERS---NO. 9 (WT Nov.11, 1909 page 1 column 5)
Monocacy, Md. Oct. 25, 1862
DEAR FATHER:---Once more I am seated to write you that I am alive and enjoying myself as well as can be expected. The weather is beautiful here, warm in the day but rather cool at night.
We are still doing picket duty. The 4th of this month we went out scouting. We forded the river, went a number of miles in Virginia and captured a number of horses and a lot of fat cattle, also harness and wagons, 250 stand of arms, knapsacks, tents, and a lot of rebel officers’ baggage of much value.
The 8th we march down to Camp Lookout, within thirty miles of Washington. The 11th, we forded the river and crossed over in Virginia again and went as far as Leesburgh and around by Balls Bluff. Saw nothing but a few wounded rebs in the hospital at Leesburgh. We took a few guns and tents and marched back to camp. Leesburgh is a beautiful place and is nearly as large as Alexandria. Next morning we heard that Joney’s rebs were in Maryland and were trying to make their way back, so Col. Egan got us in line and we marched double quick up to Conrad’s ferry. We got there just in time to see them safe over and out of reach of our guns. I think if the thing had been properly managed they could have been captured. The fault lay in some of our generals. I hope it will be ferreted out and the person or persons whoever they are may be properly punished. I hear that our brigade general is under arrest. I don’t think he is to blame for he was absent at the time. I am afraid we have to many officers in the Northern army that are traitors. I think if a few more men like McDowell were out of the service we would be the better for it. We are still at Monocacy, but how long we will stay we do not know. It is reported that we will stop along the Potomac this winter, as the river must be guarded by some one.
I received a letter from Tanner yesterday. He said that James has his discharge and they intend to start for home soon. I wish conditions were such that I could go with him and spend a couple of weeks with you all, but as it is I cannot, but I am in hopes before many months to come home.
I received a letter from Pete dated the 10th. He was getting along quite well. I had his descriptive list made out so that he can obtain his pay the last of the month. We will have four months’ pay due us and I think we will be paid the last of next month. I wrote to you last month but have received no answer. I wish you would be more punctual in writing, as I would like to hear from you and the rest of the family often. Tell mother to write, I will answer all. I don’t hear from Isaac once in two months. How is he getting along? Tell him I would like to hear from him often.
No more at present. Give my love to all. Write soon and tell me all the news. From your affectionate son.
A SOLDIER’S LETTERS---NO. 10 (WT Jan. 6, 1910 page 1 column 3)
This is the last letter received from Mr. Shumway. He was killed at the second battle of Fredericksburg---ED. TIMES
Headquarters 40 Mozart Regt. N.Y.V.
November 26, 1862
DEAR BROTHER:-- I once more have the pleasure of writing you a few lines to inform you that I am well and enjoying myself as well as I can. The weather is quite cold here. We are now within two or three miles of Fredericksburg. The rebs, it is reported, have over 100,000 troops in and about Fredericksburg, while we have between 150,000 and 200,000. Our generals have given them 24 hours to get their wives and children out of town. Their time is nearly up now and we are expecting the battle to open any moment. Just what they are waiting for I cannot tell. Some say we are waiting for the pontoon bridges to come up, so we can cross the river. I think they are waiting for them to fortify and get reinforcements, as they always have. I don’t want it understood that I want to get in another fight any more than any of the rest, but we all know that it has to be done, and have enough forces lying in sight, why not do something while the weather is good, and not wait for them to get reinforcements, fortify and learn our plans or evacuate if they choose, and take everything with them and not lose a man, as they did in Yorktown? If it has to be done by fighting, the sooner the better. For my part I am tired of being dragged around through the country without accomplishing anything, with no more signs of getting home than there were fourteen months ago when I enlisted.
The boys are all as well as usual and send their respects to you. Our division was reviewed by Major General Joseph Hooker yesterday.
I received your letter last night and was glad to hear you were still enjoying good health. I also received a letter from home, they are all well. Father is at D. Mann’s. He expects to stay there all winter. When you write him address it to Richmondville, as he will get it sooner than if you send it to West Richmondville.
All of the patriotic friends of ours are trying to get exempt from the draft. Aley White, Hank Smith, Millard Myers and John Adams have gotten clear. You speak of coming. Well, I advise you again, as I have before, not to come. I begin to notice partiality used in the company. I have no reason to complain, but I see it in others.
Our captain was dismissed from the reserves yesterday and started for home to day. Our first and second lieutenants are sick in the hospital. Different officers command us now. Talmadge is in the hospital at Leesburgh, and is no better. Ostrander, the last I heard, was in the Elizabeth hospital in Washington. We belong to the third corps commanded by Major General Hooker. No more at present. Write soon and address as before, Co. C., 40 Mozart Regt. N.Y. Vols., Birney’s Brigade. From your affectionate brother,
P.S. ---At this moment Major General Hooker is passing by, and our whole brigade run out and shout, "Crackers, shoes and meat." Two thirds of our regiment is without shoes, entirely barefooted, and half of the time without food. We can’t get anything here. It is ten times as bad as it was on the peninsula.
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