Civil War Letters of
Company E, 20th New York State Volunteers
1861 – 1863
Written to his mother, his brother Fritz,
His sister Wilhimina ("Mina")
And Mina's husband Louis
Obtained from the
Manuscript Archives Branch
U.S. Army Military History Institute
Carlisle, PA 17013-5008
These letters had been translated by an unknown individual
Presumably a descendant.
I transcribed them in June, 2001, omitting paragraphs of a personal nature
that did not contribute to the reader's understanding of Albert Bärenreuth's
Civil War experiences. Gary Kappesser 7/1/01
Individuals Mentioned In the Letters of
GMEHLIN, PAUL.--Age, 24 years. Enlisted, 5/3/1861 at New York City to serve 2 years; mustered in as MUSICIAN Co. F promoted fife major May 18, 1861; second lieutenant Nov 16, 1861 mustered out June 1, 1863.
DOXIE, LUDWIG.--Age, 21 years. Enlisted, 5/3/1861 at New York City to serve 2 years; mustered in as private Co. E wounded Antietam, MD, Sept. 17, 1862, discharged for disability May 10, 1863 at Washington DC.
BERNET, ERNST OTTO.--Age, 33 years. Enrolled, 5/3/1861 at New York City to serve 2 years; mustered in as Captain Co. E resigned July 10, 1862.
PFAFF, CHARLES.--Age, 27 years. Enlisted, 5/3/1861 at New York City to serve 2 years; mustered in as private Co. E promoted corporal, Sep. 29, 1862 mustered out June 1, 1863.
HOTTENROTH, ALBON.--Age, 24 years. Enlisted, 5/3/1861 at New York City to serve 2 years; mustered in as First Sergeant Co. C promoted second lieutenant Nov. 4, 1861 wounded at Salem Church, mustered out June 1, 1863.
BAUER, HENRY.--Age, 21 years. Enlisted, 5/3/1861 at New York City to serve 2 years; mustered in as corporal Co. E promoted sergeant, July 14, 1861; first sergeant, Sept. 17, 1862 mustered out June 1, 1863.
HORN, HERMANN.--Age, 25 years. Enlisted, 8/24/1861 at New York City to serve 2 years; mustered in as private Co. E mustered out June 1, 1863.
DAHLEM, MORITZ.--Age, 23 years. Enlisted, 5/3/1861 at New York City to serve 2 years; mustered in as private Co. H wounded White Oak Swamp, discharged for disability September 22, 1862.
HERRMANN, GEORGE.--Age, 23 years. Enlisted, 1/1/1862 at New York City to serve 2 years; mustered in as private Co. E mustered out June 1, 1863.
Camp Hamilton (mid-1861)
Dear Sister and Brother-in-Law!
Well here I am in all my military glory complete with shoulder bars as drawn with an ordinary lead pencil by one of my friends.
Another one of my tent - comrades is going to New York just now, so I am using the occasion and am sending you a few lines.
Actually I have not much to report. Our regimental trumpeter whom we call "Herr Gmehlin" has been promoted to Lieutenant. So tonight we are downing a few mugs of beer and will drink to Herr Gmehlin's health.
You have reason to be pleased - your wish has come true. I am working in the kitchen again and for that I get five dollars extra per month.
Many thanks for the clipping from the newspaper published in Germany. It was a joy to see one of my letters reprinted there. I sent it on to Mother, she should have it by now.
My picture enclosed herewith was sketched by my friend Doxie. He has quite a reputation as an artist throughout the army here. In fact he is so good that General McClellan sat for him and he drew a wonderful likeness of the General.
I must close now - don't forget I am in the kitchen again and must start cooking supper. Everybody in my tent is well and in good health.
Greetings to all. Good bye dear sister Mina.
October 15, 1861
Dear Sister, Brother - in - Law, and Other Relatives
I sincerely hope that Louis and you are not mad at me that I sent my money to Mother. Likewise do I hope, dear Sister, that you are not offended because I sent your two dollars to you by way of Mother. I did receive your welcome letter of September 22nd. I seem to remember that I acknowledged it and answered it right away, but I am not sure any more.
In the meantime I got letters from Mother, Fritz, and Father, but nobody said a word about you two. And you yourselves did not give me any news. How do you live? What are you doing, if anything? Dear Brother-in-Law, don't get me wrong. I did not send the two dollars to Mina, so you would not go hungry, that would have been an insult; I know you are not that badly off. I did owe two dollars to Mina for something she bought for me long ago, and I paid my debt now. So please excuse it, if I gave the wrong impression. I hope that this letter finds you in good spirits and good health, that is the most important. If things are bad for you and you are not doing so well economically, don't lose courage, conditions change all the time.
I myself was in poor health most of the summer, but I kept on hoping for the better and now with the weather being cooler, I am OK again. All of my friends who share the tent with me are well again too.
How are Mr. And Mrs. Kuhne? Do they still live in your neighborhood? They never wrote to me, as they promised when I left home. Mr. Kuhne's brother is quartered here, not far from me. He seems to be a nice, friendly fellow, who is easy to talk to, and I will cultivate his company. Unfortunately this brother of Mr. Kuhne's has a bad leg. I don't know what from. He says his knee is almost healed now, but the medical orderly does not think so. There are also Otto Slorn, George Haefler, and Zensing. I knew them in the Turnverein and now we are all good friends who help each other. They also know how to play various musical instruments and make good entertainment when it does not rain in the evening. Lizzie (That's really Miss Lissenden) is trying to teach me how to dance. She makes fun of me and says that any bear dances better than Mr. Bärenreuth.
Dear Mina - you should remember some of the fellows from my Turnverein. If you do, please tell their folks that they are well and make merry most of the time. Not everybody writes as often as I do. Families always expect the worst when they don't hear from their sons and husbands in the army. I like to write when I am not on sentry or patrol duty.
Please take the trouble to convey my express greetings to Detleff - you know who he is.
Good bye, Dear Sister.
N.B. - Now read this carefully and get out the very best maps and mileage charts: We are very close to a place called Seyars Farm - near us are the 16 Mass and the 48 Pa. and in addition a heavily armed Naval Brigade. You should be able to figure out the enemy positions much better than we enlisted men can do it here. Ask the others too.
Kisses to you, Dear Sister
November 7th, 1861
It made me feel so good to get a letter from you today. We had a terrible thunderstorm yesterday. Heavy driving rains and constant lightning from the blackest clouds you can imagine. But we all lived through it. But such upheavals do not help my health. I should not get drenched so much because as I told you already, I am not feeling so well right now and the state of my health is not good. The pharmacist's apprentice has just come from the dispensary with my anti-emetic powders. They do help the vomiting which I get from the fever medicine. As you know I suffer from attacks of quatrain fever every year now. I had a petty bad attack of it yesterday on top of the bad weather, and now am confined to the tent and excused from all military duty until the medical officer decides otherwise. So I am taking life real easy and take care of myself all the time. I feel I am a good soldier and will not neglect my duties when I am called again to fulfill them.
Dear Mother, you ask me to be careful and not fall asleep when on sentry duty. It has never happened to me yet. The ronde-officer makes several rounds every night and always comes upon you with the password ready when you least expect him. If he catches you asleep you get punished by losing pay or rank, but if you are also drunk and cannot be roused, the officers make sure it is the presence of alcohol and not of sickness that is the cause of the unconsciousness, then things turn out very bad for you. The adjutant takes away your rifle and sidearms, if any. Then they tear off all military insignia, but you still have duties to perform such as cleaning latrines and stables, building Spanish riders (those are heaps of barbed wire), retrieving cannon under fire when the horses have run away, dig graves or run across the battlefields to draw the fire of the enemy. Without insignia the enemy can shoot you for treason or even your own army can do without consideration. Dear Mother, I don't know what you read in the newspapers – I know in the rebel army, sleeping and drunk soldiers get put in irons and are left in dangerous places or shot by court martial. Neither army will deliver mail or packages to them.
Now, Mother, please, something else that needs clearing up. Boots are the most important thing to a foot soldier, such as I am. Yes, it is true I told Fritz to buy for me the very best boots he can buy from the German shoemaker at home. Yes, I know they cost more than what the army issues or sells to me. The army boots are so hard they make me insane – so please give Fritz the money he needs from my account or I will send it to him directly, even if I have to borrow on the strength of my back pay I have coming.
So much for that. Now, dear Mother, I want to send a present for the whole family to enjoy. I myself cannot go, because of my fever attacks, but when one of my tent mates has leave to go to Hampton Roads he will buy it for me. They sell beautiful etchings there of an iron-clad steam frigate, such as our lamented battleship, the Merrimac. They mail it very cleverly in a hollow bamboo stick, so it does not get wrinkled at all in the mails. The bookbinder at your library can make a nice frame for it. I know he does things like that on the side.
I don't know why Fritz and Mina make such a fuss about not getting any letters from me. I write oftener than anybody else. When I get a letter on Saturday I answer it on Sunday and it gets mailed on Monday. I wrote to Father over a week ago, but had no reply as yet. I mentioned in my letter that you want to take a day job at the library. I know he objects to that – he says you get sick often with severe pains ( I know your doctor does not know from what) and that contact with so many strangers at a library can't help it any. But Father will change his mind and agree to it, if we just ask him often enough.
Mrs. Bernet and children came to see her husband here. She remembered me from the New York period – also saw my picture in a newspaper. She said I must have gained a lot of weight to look the way I do. Her daughter Gretchen is a nice looking teenager by now.
I must close now, please write soon. My friends Doxie and Baber want to be remembered to you.
December 18, 1861
About an hour ago I received your letter, which is so precious to me. But I see nothing in it that tells me whether you are well or not. Dear mother, when you write again please be so good and include some remarks that will tell me whether you are in good health or that you are ill. You know very well that I am much concerned about the health status of my dearest relatives. I just finished a letter (4 pages long) to our dearly beloved grandfather and to aunt Beby. I will enclose this letter in the same envelope addressed to you. If there is anything in my letter to them that they should not know, please feel free to exert some censorship, and please, dear mother, strike out what you don't want their eyes to see. If I find enough time I will also enclose a separate note to aunt Mina. Today also I received a letter from Father. Father is very angry about the way this war is waged. He says we are so close to the enemy and we don't attack and are not being attacked by the other side. In his opinion this war could have ended long ago, if it were not conducted in such a sloppy manner.
I am in good health thus far, except that my tonsils are swollen. This is not a serious matter, and I would be a very busy man if I were to write every time I don't feel quite in top condition. A perennial weed like me does not perish so easily. Now you ask when I could come to see you again. It's like this: a few days ago the regiments that were quartered on our periphery were ordered to advance to the front together with their heavy artillery. They packed up and went and took their cannons with them – but since we don't hear any shooting, God only knows where they really are.
Dear Mother, you tell me that you are going to give a Christmas present to Fritz and Mina. Please tell me what I should do about it. Please remember in the first place that I am not at home, and secondly that I don't have very much money – but I have a little saved, so please do help and advise me what you yourself and my brother and sister can use – you know best in such matters. I wish you all the best of luck for the first Christmas without my being at home and also a Happy New Year.
The new year will find me deeply immersed in work and I will be hardly conscious of its beginning. You know, its funny if I didn't receive your regular letters all the time I wouldn't even know what time of the year we are living in. what winter is really like nobody around here has really found out yet. So far the weather is just like spring at home.
Dear mother, I must confess, I am quite curious about my Christmas present which I will get in the land Virginia. My friend Mephi is quite sad and disconsolate, he is waiting so long already for a letter from his wife. Right now, Miss Lissenten is sitting across from me and is reading an old Sunday paper. She is wearing some flowers in her bonnet. She picked them today only in the woods. I was busy splitting wood, since my comrades "organized" a very nice iron kettle for the field kitchen. It is really a beautiful piece of war booty. Pfaff the barber is on sentry duty. Spatz is also on sentry duty. Lieutenant Gmehlin visits with us every evening and tells a few jokes. Lieutenant Hottenroth is so proud of his promotion, that he does not know how high up in the air he should hold his head. Procofsky got his new stripes sewed on by Heins. I would like to say to Mina that she should not be offended by my last letter, but it seemed so long a time that I did not receive any news from you people. Is my brother-in-law Louis working, or isn't he? I should feel very sorry if he were not working. How are you all, are you in good health or not?
I must stop now, they are sounding the curfew and I must blow out the light. Many greetings from my "parlor" and from all the others.
Take care of yourselves and give my best wishes to the Keller family. Remember me over again to Mina and to all the others. Your son,
Cook in Company E
Camp Hamilton, Virginia
December 27, 1861
We had a wonderful Christmas but first let me thank you and all the others for the nice presents which arrived on time against all expectations. The vests from you and my dear sisters I will wear every day. The embroidered one in the afternoon, and the knit-one in the mornings when I cook the breakfasts and the noontime meals. These vests or sleeveless sweaters as you may call them fit me very well and look good too. The scarf I gave to Pfaff and he thanks you very much. He will put it away until the cold weather comes. Mr. Horn thanks you also. I gave him the slippers and the bottle-warmer. We cut a Christmas tree in the woods, put it up in our parlor and hung all the presents on it, even the pots and pans which you sent for Lizzy and for which she thanks you from the bottom of her heart. They delivered the wooden boxes which contained our presents on Christmas morning only. Pfaff's box contained a little tree all decorated and fixed up with little presents. Since there was no room on the table for it, we hung it up from the ceiling. I cut the candles carefully and put them all over the tree and our parlor. We boiled a lot of water and made glow-wine or hot punch as they call it here. Pfaff brought our big fruit cake in from the kitchen and so we celebrated our Christmas. We didn't have any glasses for the punch, but it tasted just as good or better from our tin cups. We had entertainment too. Moritz Richter has a good sense of humor and played the funny man. Pfaff was the merry barber and Lizzy did her part too to keep us laughing.
Richter has now been assigned to the kitchen staff permanently. He works at my side all day and wishes that you will tell his mother that he got his wooden box too. He also wants his mother to know that he made a trip to Newport News right away and delivered to his brother all the things intended for him. I too will go to Newport News on the Sunday a week from New Years and will spend the day there. This will be my first day of leave.
The wife or our Colonel came for the holidays, so did the wife of our first lieutenant who also brought her two children.
Dear mother, I also wrote a letter to Mina – please give it to her, I enclose it with this one to you.
We are free
We are of good cheer
Camp Hamilton, Headquarters of the 20th Regt.
December 28, 1861
Dear Sister, Brother-in-Law and Relatives,
Your much-cherished letter and the package were given to me on Christmas eve. Everything was in prime condition. I thank you and all of the others for my presents from the bottom of my heart.
I hope you like the picture and fancy drawings which are part of this stationary. It costs me 6 cents a sheet! It is really a well-made and fanciful drawing, except for the expression on the faces of the two volunteers. There are no such old-looking fellows among us – and we don't look so grim either, we are really a cheerful lot at present, the whole lot of us here.
The gloves you sent are very warm, and I will keep them, although I don't wear gloves very often.
We had a lot of good cheer on Christmas eve well into the night. We had all the hot punch and fruitcake we could eat and drink. Present were the barber from Herter Street (his name is Bauer) and Pfaff came to our parlor too, as did some others from our neighborhood at home – the two brothers Hermans and the Horns. We talked a lot all through the evening. I prefer the white cap which you sent, it is much nicer than the one which I had wanted originally.
I hope that all of you had pleasant holidays. I just want to tell you one thing – don't believe everything you read in the newspapers. There was a small encounter with a few soldiers from the enemy camp at a place called New Market Bridge. Right away the newspapers make a big battle out of it; it wasn't at all so – three of our men got hurt but not seriously. I see all three of them walk all over our camp when drill time is here. The newspapers always must make great big elephants out of little mice.
We have real white fir Christmas trees all over the camp and everyone has a bouquet of Christmas flowers over the entrance to his tent or dugout as the case may be. I could not get any fowl for my kitchen, but they had always furnished me with excellent meat, so I was able to serve a real good sauerbraten with purple cabbage and all the other fixings including berries and jams.
Dear Mina – that loaf of real rye bread that you sent me was the nicest present you could have picked. It is definitely the best bread I have eaten since I left the New York area, and I enjoy it very much. They just don't have any rye around here and I miss the German type kommisbrot so very much. They don't even know what rye is around here – they just have wheat flour and corn meal.
Dear Mina, please excuse any grease spots on my writing paper. I am writing it in my regimental kitchen; right now there is little room in my tent. The brother of Max Horn is there (he is supposed to help me with the work in the kitchen) and they just assigned two more men to my tent. Dear Mina, I hope you are well. You write nothing at all about your husband Louis. Is he well? Is he sick? Is he working? I think that's most important. Please let me know. Fritz advised me some time ago that Louis resigned from the Turnverein for good. I don't like that at all. It is a very bad thing for a man of German ancestry to quit his Turnverein, unless he is very very ill, and Fritz said nothing about Louis being sick. One of my comrades who is friendly with the girl that works in the cigar store near your house, heard from her that Fritz now works in Brooklyn every day – that's quite a trip for your brother who was rejected by the army for reasons of poor health. Please let me know how he is standing up to this – why didn't you tell me in the first place, I shouldn't have to learn about him in such a round-about way. The cigar store girl will bring you this letter of mine, it is the fastest way by far, since her friend is going on leave tomorrow or the day after.
I have to stop for today, they are sounding the curfew, and I have to blow out the light, otherwise they'll put me in irons! – More tomorrow.
Dear Mina – Well, it is not tomorrow now, but Sunday afternoon thereafter and I have the big "apartment" as we call it now, all to myself. Horn, Doxie, and Wehner were suddenly called this morning to patrol the big picket fence which now surrounds all of Camp Hamilton. All the reconnaissance patrols and sentries have been doubled and reinforced. Am all alone in the big apartment. Even Lizzy (Miss Lissenden) went to Newport News and won't be back until tomorrow. Besides the cooking I also have to serve the meals at the officers mess, and for this I am wearing my white dress uniform. Your white cap goes very well with it. I will save it for such occasions and will wear the army issue cap on weekdays.
The reason for the doubling of the patrols is this: we had captured a schooner from the enemy and had anchored it inside the harbor close to the fort where it should have been quite safe. Yet, before the dawn's early light the enemy commandos swam to the schooner, lifted the anchor, set sail, and stole away, ship and all. What a disgrace for us. To make matters worse, they threw some bombs at our ships at the exit from the harbor and did some damage. We then opened fire with our cannons. It is said that we did heavy damage to a ship that belongs to the Southerners. But I also know that we hit some of our own ships. All these warships were built in the same shipyards and are exactly alike, so how are the gunners on land supposed to tell the difference?
I went to see Fritz Kuhne yesterday afternoon in his part of the camp. He got his Christmas package somewhat late and was just opening it. I saw that there was something from you too. He gave me some of his apple pie which was excellent. I saw Hermans on the way home. I invited him for this evening so I won't be so alone.
Since I am a professional cook now, I have picked up quite a few tricks and I am proud of them. All of my friends are invited for New Years Day dinner. Am going to have sauerbraten again, but this time with potato dumplings. I am sure they will turn out well.
Since so many wives come to see their husbands in the camp, I see no reason why you and your husband Louis should not come for New Years day too – everybody will make a good welcome for you.
Around the camp the weather has been very good. We had gorgeous fall weather and now just a little snow – perhaps half an inch, but it was gone the next day.
We think that we will camp here through the winter and then go home for good when spring comes. Naturally I cannot come home to Hoboken, since I signed up for two years voluntarily. This is not the same as when you have a boss to whom you can say I don't like the way you run your business, so I am quitting now. The army is different, and courts-martial would have me shot if I'd said anything like it. We Germans make excellent soldiers, as my corporal tells me. Well I think with a little courage and a humorous outlook I can enjoy the beauties and the drawbacks of a soldier's life, it hasn't been bad at all so far.
Dear Sister, all of the comrades in my tent and all the other soldiers who know you send you greetings. I hope you can come for a visit. If you cannot, write often please. Best regards to all our relatives and friends at home.
Your loving brother,
January 24, 1862
Dear Sister Mina –
I feel so much happier now that I know that the quarrel between Mother, Anna, and Fritz has been settled – finally! I hate nothing more than this type of family quarrel.
Last week was "big" payday, which means that we got all our back pay (in nice new money too). I sent Mother 25 dollars – please find out when she got it. Morris Dahlem came to visit me – all my tent mates are either on sentry or patrol duty (what we call pickets here). It is nasty outside – a very cold drizzling rain, but when you have patrol duty you go whether you get sick or not and whether your uniform shrinks to a rag or not. I am excused from outside duty because I am the cook and (don't tell Mother) my chest pains are worse and my cough does not sound so good. So I am enjoying the day inside with Morris. And my fine-feathered friend Hottenroth is out getting wet and cold too. You can tell his equally fine girl friend Miss Burkehardt that she goes to church oftener than is good for her. I know that's how you learned (where she whispers to you in church) that I got drunk and that I got put in the jail for 24 hours to sober up. But it was all legal and proper. We were celebrating somebody's promotion – I am a soldier and a soldier has to get drunk once in a while, otherwise he goes crazy.
Rumor has it that next May the whole war will be over and our Turnverein – Regiment will parade in New York down to the "Military Place" with all the pomp and circumstances you can imagine. After that I won't leave my bed for a whole week.
It is good that Louis is working full time again. Nice that your friends gave you such a nice shower. Six months from now when your baby is born, I will be home to attend the christening of my niece or nephew – however the case may be.
Don't worry, dear Sister, I never drink anything before going on patrol.
Your brother Albert
Cook in Camp Hamilton
The Father of His Country
First in War – First in Peace
And First in the Hearth
Of His Countrymen
January 27, 1862
Now what is the matter again – all I can say is that the family is damned lucky that I am a good-natured fellow who is always trying, even under conditions over which I have absolutely no control.
Now, Sister Dear, I have a special wish, please don't forget, give to Fritz Duhne to bring back to me what I am asking for now. All my socks have holes, big ones at that. No, I am not sending my holy socks for you to wash and mend. I can darn my socks myself, but I need a big ball of yarn (heavy woolen thread) and darning needles – so please give this to Fritz Kuhne – I know this is easily forgotten over all the visiting and story telling. So don't forget, you hear me, sister dear.
Horn's mother was visiting her son here, I gave her $25 to give to mother to put in my bank account. She is a trustworthy German lady and will do this, I am sure.
February 9, 1862
There never was any attack or encirclement of Newport News and Fortress Monroe. Nothing in the way of any military offensive took place at all. That's all fabrication and stories which the rebel general with the name of Buragard dreams up when he is drunk. Furthermore, he is not even in Yorktown any more, but has retreated to Richmond.
Now I have heard from a sure source that we are going to be transferred to Baltimore. This relocation is supposed to take place on the twentieth of this month. I myself will be very glad to be in a city again, and much closer to New York too. Nothing ever happens here and we have lots of time to kill. All we ever do is go on sentry duty or on parade. The best that can be said for this is that there is never any danger.
In Newport News I met a friend from the Steuben Regiment. He is the fiancé of Miss Turner (in New York). He has one foot a little short, but the army took him anyway. I am sure you remember this couple.
I am pleased that you now get support pay from the army since I am a soldier. It is also an honor for us. The letters from Germany are very nice and I was pleased to read through them. Am enclosing a thank-you note for Mina. I received the box of gifts yesterday. Everything I asked for was in it and many extras. The cigars and the bottle made the rounds right away, as you can imagine. Kuhne brought me the ball of wool but I was a little upset that he did not go to see Mina himself. The smoked sausage you sent was excellent, we ate it for breakfast in one swoop. Now I have enough writing paper to last me until we come home for good. Many thanks.
Must close now. At five o'clock we have another one of our useless parades, but I have to dress up for it. Am in good health and so are my comrades.
Your most obedient son
March 30, 1862
I am in excellent mood today. Not only did I receive your nice letter, indicating that all is well with you and the family, but it also was payday yesterday, and what's more, they actually paid us - not everything they still owe us, but nevertheless they handed us cash. Because they did not pay everything, I can send you five dollars only; but as soon as I get my ten dollars for my kitchen duty, I will transmit them to you immediately.
The war situation is very quiet around here. I have heard that about 40,000 troops are assembled here. Also I am under the impression that our regiment is quartered here more or less permanently. Time hangs heavy, and we have plenty of it our hands. All we do is sentry duty and some more sentry duty, interspersed with some drills, mostly shadow fighting with bayonets mounted.
Big Bethel has been occupied by our troops. They are advancing every day and soon they will encircle Richmond. If they go on like this the war should be pretty much over when the month of May arrives. If I am correct in this assumption, my regiment will hold its triumphal march in New York in July and associated festivities will also be in July.
This means that you dear Mother, and I can plan to start our big trip sometime in the early fall. I am absolutely firm in my mind that I will be able to go with you. If I get all my money here, I will have at least 145 dollars and one can travel pretty far on that, don't you think so?
Dear mother, I wish you the very best, as I do for Father and Mina.
I remain you son Albert
"DON'T ANGER ME"
Received your letter yesterday, but they gave it to me so late in the day that I could not start writing my reply any more. During this spring our military service requirements have been eased considerably as compared with what was demanded of us during the winter. Sentry duty, patrol duties, and other activities are much lighter and shorter than before. Most of my time is spent at our quarters, when I don't feel so well I lie down or sit and read, as I have permission to do.
As soon as I get a leave of absence for reasons of ill health I want to see our Doctor Kindlich at home, so he can treat me and make me well in due time.
The battleship Merrimac was in evidence again, but no shots were heard. In Hampton I acquired a nicely carved ornament from such a big ship, it has battle scars. I put it in my big trunk locker and hope to bring it home as a war souvenir.
My friends are healthy and in good shape and send you their most cordial greetings. My hair and beard seem to grow so fast in this climate. We are fortunate in having the regimental barber right here in the tent with us. Some days are very hot already.
Pfaff is just bringing our lunch. It's pea soup with bacon again. Pfaff does very well in preparing it, but all of us enlisted men here are so sick and tired of pea soup that after the war we won't want to see or smell any of it for a long long time.
Dear Sister, take good care of yourself and give my best to everybody at home.
Excepting some hot days the spring weather here is really beautiful and all the flowers are in bloom (much more than up North).
Camp Weber (Norfolk)
May 17, 1862
Your letter was delivered to me while I was still in Fort Monroe, but I could not answer because we already had orders to begin our long forced march. At this moment we are about two mile pas the city of Norfolk which the Turnverein regiment entered triumphantly on Tuesday May 13, 1862. But tomorrow it is one, two, three march! Again. I have no ink to write with, just this miserable pencil, please excuse it, but you are used to army life and will understand.
Yorktown is ours and I hear that Suffolk and Richmond are soon to be ours. I am writing another letter to Mother from here. Am not really sure, but I venture to guess that we are on the way to join Burnside's expedition near Suffolk and from there we will move in a western or southern direction. Have just heard that the secretary of war Seward has issued new orders about the conduct of the war and where we will fight in the future.
You, dear Father, will be able to read exact details in the newspapers long before we poor foot soldiers from where we are will find out anything. All I know is that we shall march, march, march – but that's better than getting shot at.
Dear Father – I should love to get another letter from you. My permanent forwarding address is:
20th Regiment N.Y. St. V.
Camp Fort Monroe, Virginia
Your obedient son
May 20, 1862
At least we have arrived at a decent place again where I can write with pen and ink once more. I am in pretty good health now, and I only hope that this letter finds you at least in such healthy and trouble free condition as I am at present.
Yesterday morning we left Camp Wool on the other side of Norfolk, we crossed the Elizabeth River and we are now outside of Portsmouth at the Yoosporter Navy Yard, which is making quite an impression on me. I have good reason to believe that we will be allowed to rest here two or three days only alas.
To me the weather here is already pretty hot. Yesterday's march of 5 miles with a full back-pack was a little hard on me. I began having chest pains toward the end of the day, but otherwise was OK. Unfortunately I was still wearing my winter boots. These accursed boots became hotter and heavier and heavier, so I just took them off, left them where we just happened to be, and did the rest of the marching on my bare feet. So now I have to buy myself a good sturdy pair of shoes as soon as possible. The inhabitants of Norfolk are not particularly friendly towards us, yet they are very glad that we, the Union troops have arrived, because now the blockade will be lifted. As soon as the blockade is lifted next month, the stores will be open and business will be near normal again. Actually, we soldiers are pretty well provided for. Still we need dried produce – beans, peas, lentils, etc. What I miss most is kommissbrot, a good rye bread. I have not eaten any of that since Camp Hamilton. There just isn't any rye flour, still when you are hungry wheat crackers taste pretty good too.
In battle (if you can call it that) our regiment has been phenomenally lucky. When we broke camp yesterday, the rebels opened fire and the bullets came down to the right and left of us, including where our commanders were marching. But nobody was hit, we broke rank but did not retaliate because we had been ordered not to. Then toward evening the rebels started shooting again, we rushed to get our tents up, because just then a terrible thunderstorm broke loose, with much lightning. That drove the rebels away and we have not been bothered since. It rained all night, but now the weather is beautiful.
General Max is in town and reports that Richmond has been taken by our troops, but that there were heavy losses on both sides. Things should come to a head soon now. The citizens of Portsmouth bade us a hearty welcome. The Union flag waved out of nearly every window, and the Germans there showered us with flowers and hoch and hurrah as is the German custom.
Dear Mother – I used to send a few secret letters to Fritz now and then about political happenings, but I will no longer do so. In the first place I do not have the time to write so many letters, and in the second place these secrets are no secrets any more, things are moving so fast and everybody knows how the political tide is turning. There was no letter from Fritz waiting for me here, so I just send this one and you can give it to everybody to read.
Yesterday I took a boat trip from Portsmouth to Norfolk and back. The ferries look exactly like those in Hoboken.
I hope that the Schwarz that you mention as dead is not my friend Carl Schwarz.
Things are very expensive here, but everything can be gotten at a price. Downtown I can buy well made summer marching boots for $18 to $20. A pound of salt costs 25 cents.
Dear Mother, forgive me but I did give away some of my shirts. You sent too many, and my pack was just too heavy. I also threw away some underwear with holes.
Please write down my address in several places and give it to the others too. No matter where I'll be, this will always reach me, not right away, but they will find me as long as I am alive.
20th Regiment N.Y.S.V.
Fare thee well, dear Mother, auf wiedersehen.
Your obedient son
Point Lookout, Maryland
January 2nd, 1863
Dear Sister Mina
Please write more often. Fritz and Mother have let me know that all is well with them and with you, but I have not received any letter from you for some time now, or so it seems to me.
Everything may be fine with you, but it certainly is not with me.
Now they brought me here to this gypsy camp what they call a field hospital, and what was really a gypsy camp is now a convalescent home for wounded soldiers; only I don't have any wounds incurred in battle – I am just miserably sick.
I have a male nurse (who has many other patients as well) who attends to my needs when he has the time, not when I really need him. He brings me breakfast at 8 in the morning and takes it away at 10 because I cannot swallow that stuff any more. I don't get any lunch because whoever does not eat his breakfast is not served lunch. So when I am strong enough I sneak over to the general store close by, where I can buy licorice and other candy, which is the only kind of food I can get down without throwing it up again. The money for the candy came really from you, dear Sister, according to Fritz who enclosed it in his letter.
I am just skin and bones now, and the skin is falling off in patches because I have so many bed sores – but there are times when I can get up to go to the outhouse or to the store which is my only recreation.
I cannot read most of the time, because the insides of my head burn like fire at times – and then I cannot sleep and I cannot lie down any more – Oh my God what shall I do?
When the doctor comes – he always says you'll be all right, but the attendant just shakes his head – I shake too, but it is from my quartan fever. The commanding officer has assured me that when I get well I can go home right away with an honorable discharge and that I will get veteran's pay for life, if the Union wins the war that is.
I have this monstrous headache now and must close.
Greetings to all
Died of disease
February 1, 1863
Place not stated