Tuesday, December 30, 2014

'The sand here blowes like snow in N.H.'

Brig. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s Expedition was an early Union effort to cut off access to North Carolina seaports through which the Confederacy received trade and sustenance. After 11 months the campaign faltered and was abandoned.

Simon G. Griffin became colonel of the 6th
N.H. during the Burnside Expedition.
While disclosing little about the military campaign, this letter from Private Edwin M. Sherburne of the 6th New Hampshire Volunteers to his aunt describes in charming language (and charming spelling) what a 21-year-old saw as different and defining about the island where he had recently landed.

The letter also details the health of the boys in the ranks from Sherburne’s hometown of Epsom, N.H., men whose families his aunt probably knew.

Thank goodness his aunt ignored his advice to burn the letter.

The months the 6th New Hampshire spent drilling on Hatteras and Roanoke islands prepared it for battles that lay ahead. Before 1862 was out, the 6th had lost heavily at 2nd Bull Run, fought at South Mountain, crossed Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam and advanced up Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg. As detailed in Our War, it had also endured the blow of a ship-sinking in the Potomac that drowned several of its sick men and the wives of three of its officers. (Book excerpt on this incident is here.)

Sherburne’s letter is transcribed in full below, and afterward I update the fates of the men mentioned in it.

Camp Winfield
Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina
February 12th 1862

Dear Aunt,

I now take my pen (as I have a few leasure moments) to write you a few words how we are getting along. My health is good. I hope this letter will find you all the same.

All the Epsom boys are getting along very well. William Perkins is well & John Weeks is a little unwell. H. B. Haynes’ health is good. Benj. S. Robinson is well and in good spirits. James Marden is well. He has a lame Ankle now. He spraint his Ankle a little & is getting better.

This morning the sun rose bright. It is warm and pleasant today. We packed our napsacks and straped them on our backs, haversacks, canteens, &c & went out on Battalion Movements. There was three riggiments besides the N. H. Six & two thirds of the R. I. Battery that was out on our drill ground. They formed into a ___. We formed a halow square. The Battery was opposite of us, the 89th N. Y. was behind the N.H. 6th, the 11th Connecticut, R.I. 4th, Penn 48th is here. I believe there was four riggiments & battery that helpted formed the square.

Our commander is Gen. [Thomas] Williams. He is under Burnside, I suppose – he received a letter from Burnside last night & one of his aides read the letter before us all – that the Feds had taken Roanoke Island & Elizabeth City, 6 forts & a number thousand of arms and a lot of prisoners &c. I think you can tell me better than I can tell you about the expedition. I hope they are getting along first rate.

The 6th N.H. Color Guard
We drill now everyday. Dress-perade in the fournoon at half past eight & then we drill untill quarter to ten. We then come back to camp and stay around until one. The officers, sargents & corporals drill until noon. We go out after dinner & drill in company’s untill lately the Colonel drills us alltogether in battalion movements. It looks pretty well to see a whole rigt – or three or four riggiments – marching along together & have a band of music to go with it. We had ten drumers and ten fifers when we started from Keene, but now we have from two to four drummers & the same with fifers on dress perade. I wish that we could have a band for our riggiment. How much better a band sounds than a lot of drummers & fifers.

The New York 9th was here when we came that had a band & good music. That rigt is gone with the expedition. There is one band here now.

Today our company furnishes the guard. Our Co., a part of it, was on picket guard before. Our Co. is on guard once in ten days.

It is a warm and pleasant day today. The birds are enjoying there time in singing. There is sheep and lambs, hogs and pigs, cattle &c. that belongs to the Inhabitance. They let them run everywhere on the Island. What they live on is more than I can tell. There is live oak leaves and some stuff that they get in the swamps. The wood here is mostly live oak. The tops branch out and look some like N.H. apple trees. There is a tree here that the Inhabitance use the leaves for tea. It has a red plum the size of a curant. Benjamin S. Roberson & I has had some a number of times. I think it is pretty good for a change.

The inhabitance here dont want the trees cut down becaus as one of them said the land here would blow all away if it want for the trees. The sand here blowes like snow in N.H. Out on the beach, there is a place if it was only white, it would look like a snow drift.

The Inhabitance here rais sweet potatoes and a few cabbages. The commisare finds them flour & other stuff to live on. There houses are couriously built. There Chimneys are built out at the end. Some of them are built very well and others aint. I was in at one of the houses & the fireplace was built so that they had seats each side of the fire in the fireplace. They have no stoves or ovens to cook in. They cook over the fire the old fashion way, I should think –  put there doe into an iron pan and hang it over the fire and put some coals on top of it and they rost their potatoes before the fire. Some of them keep hens & other guina hens and others have got geese.

There is two forts on the Isl. Fort Clark is the nearest to us. Fort Hatteras is down on the point beyond Fort Clark -- west from where we stop. And now I will tell you what I have to eat. We have fritters twice or three times a day. Coffee morning & night. We have pilot bread, fresh beef, salt beef, salt pork, sugar, tea, molasses, vineger beens, potatoes, rice, had some dride potatoes once since we have been here.

Ambros Haynes of Epsom died sunday night Jan. 26th. I suppose you have herd that he was dead. He had the measels when we left Anapolis, broke out on the boat. I wrote this letter on my knee. Correct all mistakes & burn this. I like here well but I like to be moving for I can see more places. How long we shall stay here, I do not know. Uncle hasn’t goin into the army yet, has he? You & all write as soon as convient.

From E. M. Sherburne, 6th Regt., Co. I., Hatteras Inlet, N. C.

All the soldiers Sherburne mentioned were from Epsom, a town of just over 1,200 people in 1860, and all had joined Co. I. The volunteers had mustered on Nov. 28, 1861, and trained briefly on the county fairgrounds in Keene, N.H. They left the Keene train station on a snowy Christmas Day.

William B. Perkins was a 27-year-old private. He died of disease on Christmas day in 1862, precisely one year after leaving his native state. Sgt. John M. Weeks, 29, was discharged for disabilities in November 1862 and died in Pembroke, N.H., on March 1, 1864.

The Haynes brothers, Ambrose and Hiram, natives of Meredith, N.H., met similar fates. As Sherburne wrote, Ambrose died of measles on Jan. 26, 1862, at North Carolina’s Hatteras Inlet, where the regiment landed. Hiram, who was 33, became ill later that year and died in a Washington, D.C., hospital on Dec. 11.

Benjamin S. Robinson, a 20-year-old private who had moved from Lowell, Mass., to Epsom, was wounded at Fredericksburg but stayed with the regiment till 1865. He died in 1876. James W. Marden, a 21-year-old private, served out his three-year enlistment and lived after the war in Epsom.

As for Sherburne, he, too, fell ill and was discharged in 1862, less than a year after enlisting. By then he had been in military hospitals for nearly two months. Sherburne kept a diary, which you can read here. It includes an entry for the date the letter to his aunt was written.

Sherburne recovered and lived till 1916.

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