Saturday, September 14, 2013

Capt. Sturtevant: 'Before this rebellion is crushed out I fear a great many more of us will be in the sacred soil.'

Edward E. Sturtevant
Edward E. Sturtevant, a Concord police constable, joined the 1st New Hampshire Infantry in April 1861, becoming the state's first volunteer for the Civil War. In the days after the firing on Fort Sumter, he recruited more than 200 men for service. His regiment went to Washington and returned after its three-month term of enlistment without having fought a battle.

When Sturtevant reached Concord, the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers were forming. He joined as a captain of Company A, the Merrimack County company, and went to war under Col. Edward E. Cross, the fiery commander from Lancaster.

Most of the people I write about in Our War appear in only one chapter, but a few make multiple appearances. Sturtevant is one of these. That is because so many letters by and about him survive and are available to historians.

Some of his letters are well hidden. John Kimball, Concord’s marshal and a colleague of Sturtevant's, apparently agreed to look after his friend’s affairs at home while he was serving in the Fifth. Sturtevant wrote him regularly. These letters are now in the regimental files of Augustus Ayling at the New Hampshire State Archives. Ayling was a state adjutant general who compiled a register of New Hampshire soldiers after the war.

These Sturtevant letters give a strong sense of the local camaraderie that made life in the army more pleasant, and death more personal, during the early years of the war.

After the 5th New Hampshire’s first battle, at Fair Oaks, Va., on June 1, 1862, the regiment remained in place near the battlefield. Sturtevant wrote the following letter 22 days after the battle. He was now 35 years old, more than twice his age when he wrote the letter in the previous post. A few days after writing this letter, Sturtevant led the 5th in the Battle of Malvern Hill on the Virginia peninsula. He was also soon to receive the promotion to major that he refers to near the end of the letter. 

                                                                        Fair Oaks, Virginia
                                                                                    June 23rd, 1862
Friend Kimball –

Received your letter of 16th inst. a few days since and was glad to hear from you. Of course you have heard of the battle of Fair Oaks in which our Reg’t were engaged on the 1st of June. You probably have seen many persons who were engaged in that battle before this time, and have heard from some of them the part our Reg’t took on that occasion. If you have seen any who were here, they undoubtedly have told you much more than I could write.

It was a hard struggle – our chance was a hard one – and I think we done our part well. We had one of the hardest positions in the fight and have been complimented for the bravery and determined part we took in the battle by Generals high in rank.

Since the battle we have been in the front rank where we still remain – only about 500 yards from the rebel pickets – we have constant alarms – have to keep our harness on day and night, and “fall in” to receive the rebels should they be so insane as to attack us (which they occasionally do but are as often repulsed) in our own position.

We are now and have been since the battle “bivouacked” near the battle field. We are within some 5 or 6 miles of Richmond, which place we can see by getting up in tops of tall trees. We have to go on picket duty about twice a week. That is rather dangerous business, and frequently results in having some one or more killed and wounded.

An unfortunate occurance took place only last Wednesday night while my company were out on picket. Just as we had got out on post and relieved the company who were on the last 24 hours, rapid musket firing took place on our right with the pickets. The rebels were advancing and endeavoring to drive them in. Our lines in the camp were drawn up and grape and shells were used to drive them back. One shell, having a premature explosion, burst where my men were posted and injured one or more men.

We could not get in without receiving the full fire of our five cannons, so we remained, hugging the ground as close as we could. Soon grape and canister fell like rain all about us – tearing up the ground and cutting down trees, &c. After some five minutes a halt was made in the firing when I succeeded in getting word to our gunners that they were killing all my men and that no rebels were in front of my pickets.

I then went to my picket posts – to find who was injured – the first man was Wm H.H. Hayes, one of my best men, was the first one I saw – he had grape shot through his thigh – and yesterday we buried him. He belonged in Milton. I also learned that some others of my men had taken in S.S. Lovejoy of Concord severely wounded – having the flesh torn up the whole length of his back by a shell. I saw him afterward. He was badly though I think not dangerously injured. He has now been removed to White House Point, from whence he will go North to some hospital or perhaps home. Chas. H. Willard of Concord (Sand Hill) had a narrow escape, but was injured only slightly in the back and shoulder, and James H. Ferrin of Warner received a slight injury. . . . George Morse of Co. F (of Concord) who was inside our entrenchments received a wound in neck from a piece of tin in which the canister shot were enclosed. The last three are not serious wounds. But the loss to the rebels was immense, as was reported, several hundred wounded and killed.

Almost every day the rebels make some attack on our lines. Saturday night last a whole division of them attempted to break through and take some of our works but they were immediately repulsed with great loss. We lost two or three in killed and wounded. This happened in front of our Division and Hooker’s. All hands of us were kept up all night and picket firing was constantly going on.

From prisoners taken at the time we learn the same old story that “the rebels are short of provisions,” that this attack was made to take our commissary stores away from us, as they (the rebels) had that morning two days’ rations given out that the next rations they got they must take from us. The effort of the rebels failed and if the deserters can be relied on, they must be very short of rations.

We were in line, waiting rather impatiently for them to come on all Saturday night and Sunday, but they have been very quiet and we cannot hardly hear any noise from them since their effort last Saturday up to this time (Monday morning 6 o’clock.) Every morning a ½ past two we are in line of battle until after 6 o’clock, and don’t mean they shall catch us “napping.”

Lt. Albert G. Cummings
Often of late they have kept up a continual “drumming” all night and most of the time during the day. Our army do not allow any music of any kind, so the rebels are deceived of where all our forces lie. We have had quite a number of reinforcements arrive recently. We have many sick especially in our Reg’t – Diarhea and “general debility” prevail to a great extent in the Reg’t. I have now present for duty only about 40 men – I am alone with my company – Cummings [1st Lt. Albert G. Cummings of Enfield], home wounded – Larkin [1st Lt. James E. Larkin of Concord], sick and will probably go to Philadelphia or some other city for repairs in hospital to-day or to-morrow. I have now absent sick including the wounded some 25 or 30 men. Other companies in the Reg’t are in about the same condition.

All of the severely wounded I have yet heard from in my company were in Philadelphia, where they write me they are receiving excellent attention. I receive many letters as to the condition of those wounded in my company charging me to look especially after them, &c.  I cannot do nothing for the wounded, except those who remain, (and those are the ones only slightly wounded,) with the company, as all of them were taken from here and transported to some of the hospitals in Philadelphia, Baltimore, or New York where after their arrival they or someone else notifies me of their arrival. All I have now heard from were in Philadelphia, but in different hospitals.

The dead from my company I burried or rather had burried in separate graves and placed over the head of the grave a slab on which was marked their name and company. This was all I could do – and it was a sad duty to perform. I have lost my best men. They fought bravely and died for a worthy cause, and before this rebellion is crushed out I fear a great many more of us will be in the “sacred soil.” But we enlisted for the war, and therefore must take its chances.

I am pretty tough myself now – my shoulder is about as well as ever. We have not yet been paid off, expect to be soon. The 2nd Reg’t is only a short distance from here. I see some of them nearly every day – have just had a call from John Cooper and Bill Wallace. I see Maj. Stevens (or rather Lt. Col.) [Josiah Stevens, a Newport native, lived in Concord and was a friend of Sturtevant’s] has got back, but have not seen him to have any talk with him yet.

I saw several big cannon have just arrived and we shall soon be putting them in position, so I infer that Gen McClellan has adopted your suggestion in regard to the “big guns.” It would not be strange for me to have a fight at almost any time, but I think it will be a few weeks at least before the battle if the rebels do not attack us, in which case of course we must fight whether we have “big guns” or not.

In case you hear of their being a chance of any promotion within this regiment I think I have as good a claim for it as any body else, and shall claim it, but their probably will be none at present – the Col. and Maj. are both home wounded now. I wish you would “pull a string for me” if there is any chance. The reason I speak of this is there are some ambitious ones who are very anxious for promotion who I should not wish to have rank me without sufficient cause – just because they happen to have had better advantages than I have had for an education – I think and will try to do my fighting just as well as they do, which I think I can do now and have already done.

Perhaps I am chasing a phantom and no one is anxious, but I thought it might be well enough to look out for myself once if there was a chance. Keep this to yourself.

I have many letters, descriptive lists, finals statements &c to make out today. I shall send you some money when paid off. We hear nothing as yet of our missing men. I wish you would express my thanks to Chas Savoy when you see him for that box of Sardines he sent me by Maj. Stevens. I had them for my Sunday dinner yesterday.

Remember me to all the boys at the office. Accept my best wishes for yourself and write when convenient. Excuse this badly composed letter as camp is no enviable place to write in.

                                                            Respectfully &c
                                                            E.E. Sturtevant

Our reg’t is now commanded by Lt. Col. Langley – he was sick the other day and I had command during the time, as I am the ranking Captain. Our Brig. Gen.s name now is Caldwell. We are in Richardson’s Division.

No comments:

Post a Comment