Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Beaufort, S.C., July 15, 1862: a soldier's snapshot

Fort Jefferson, west of Key West
Private Onville Upton was 18 years old when he went to war with Co. D of the 7th New Hampshire Volunteers in late 1861. Nine months later, when he wrote to his sister Mary in Contoocookville, a section of Hopkinton in central New Hampshire, the 7th had yet to see battle.

The regiment arrived at Beaufort, S.C., on June 22, 1862, after several months posted at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas 70 miles west of Key West. The chief enemy there had been formidable enough: smallpox.

Upton remained with the 7th through its many battles, two of which, Fort Wagner and Olustee, Fla., are chronicled in Our War. He made corporal in 1863 and was wounded near Chester Station on the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad on May 10, 1864, during the Petersburg campaign. He was mustered out just after Christmas that year and returned to New Hampshire. He settled in Concord, where, in the late 1890s, he helped found a the Friends' Christian Union, a religious society along Putiran Baptist lines.

Tents of the 7th New Hampshire pitched on Morris Island in 1863.
The photographer, Henry P. Moore of Concord, traveled to the South
Carolina coast to take pictures at the front and did a thriving business.  
In the letter below, which was sold recently on eBay, Onville gives his sister a sharp snapshot of life at his new post at Hilton Head. He is eager for men back home in Hopkinton to join the army and fight at his side. He is collecting war booty, enjoying the bounty of the Carolina coast and anticipating battle at any moment.

Upton shares camp rumors about the fate of George McClellan's campaign on the Virginia Peninsula. The first assessment, judging McClellan's Seven Days retreat a defeat, is closer to the mark. McClellan did capture a large number of prisoners but not Joseph Johnston, who was replaced as commanding general of Confederate forces after being wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines. His successor was Robert E. Lee. 

Here is a transcript of Upton's letter:

Co. D 7th Regt N.H. Vols.
Beaufort, S.C., July 15, 1862

Dear Sister Mary

I now take my Pen in hand to write a few lines to you to let you know that I am well now but have been unwell for the past two days after eating meat after Returning from Picket. I was Pretty hungry, but I made some herb tea and the next morning I was well.

On the fourth of July the Rebels attacked out Pickets. As I have wrote before today, the 7th, they are going to be Paid for the gun Boats are going around the island to-night to attack there Battery in the morning. The Pa. 100 Reg., or Round heads as they call them, has just arrived and are going up there to Cross over after the gun Boats begin. We have got a strong Picket out to-night and the Rebels have got to take it. I will Close for to-night and write more in the morning.

The first page and envelope of Private Upton's letter.
This morning at about 6 o’clock the Boats opened fire on the Rebel Battery and they fired a few times and left. There was brisk firing for a short time. Our men then took there guns and there Small Boats that that Came acrost to attack our Pickets and anumber of the things and brot them off. Our men drove them on five miles to there Reserve and then the Rebels drove them back till more of the federals landed he 50th Pa. Reg. has left for fortress monroe to help reinforce McClellan. It is said he got whiped at Richmond.

At church this forenoon the 8th Maine Band played Old hundred and it sounded good, I tell you. It made me think of the Contoocook Band. It played just like that when it went up to the Academy.


Tuesday the 15th was a very fine day and after 9 o’clock at night I went in to the tent to lye down and rest a Little. The enemy was troublesome all day. The Caveldry had bin Called out as they thought  the Rebels were coming and soon after 10 o’clock Orders came for us to go out So I sprang up and dresed, loaded my Revolver and we went out. We only went out for the night to Strengthen the Pickets. We have to in Case the enemy is approaching, but next Monday the 21st we have got to go on the out Poasts and stay 15 days. Then we Shall have to look out for our selves and then you must not expect letters from me because I Cant write on the B----.

Magor Smith of this Regiment [Major Daniel Smith died of disease two months after this letter was written.] and three mor men are going home to Recruit for this Regiment. You tell Barlow to tell the Boys to Come out and joine this Reg. if they think of enlisting.

I am going to send you a few Pieces of the Distroyed Secesh Organ that I took out of one of the Churches of the city of B. [Beaufort]. The houses, Churches and other Buildings are left empty and the doors wide open.

There are any quantity of figs here. They are just getting ripe. They are very nice. Oranges are about full size but not ripe as yet. The government has got large fields of Cotton. There is a suprentendent apointed to keep the Nigers at work. They have got Corn to. There is any quantity of Mellons and green Corn to Boil and rost.

Last night the 16th after 9 o’clock the mail Come in and I received your letter Dated the 2nd of July and was very glad to hear from home. I see that you are very Prompt in Answering my letters. I have wrote to grafton and Frank quite anumber of times and have not received a single letter since I left N.Y. City, but you have Answered every letter and that is just what I like.

I have got my Box ready to send home. I have got a regular Secesh Port-mony [wallet] for you in alittle Box in the Corner of the large one. I got it of one of the fellows that was in Beaufort. He found it among other things that the Rebels left in there flight.

Does Barlow use my wagon eny. If he does tell him to be very Careful of it for I set a good deal of it. If I ever Come home again I shall want to keep it. Has he fixed his drum yet. I hear that McClellan has Captured Old Johnston and fifteen thousand troops and is near Richmond, but I don’t know how true it is. There will Probably be amovement here before long.

I have bin out and got some figs  just before I began to write this and now I am going to stew them for supper.

I don’t think of eny thing more to write this time so good by. My love to all.

Please excuse.
From Onville.

Write soon.

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