[Manchester, N.H., Boston, Ma., Ship Island (off the coast of Mississippi) and locations in Louisiana, as detailed below]. January 22 - December 10, 1862. Eleven autograph letters, signed, (ten with envelopes), totaling pp. Later transcriptions accompany the letters. Old folds, occasional light staining and/or tanning, one letter with small tears repaired with archival tape. In very good condition. Item #WRCAM55290
A small but rich collection of early Civil War letters written by Private Aaron A. Smith of Wilton, New Hampshire, to his sweetheart Adaline ("Addie") D. Jones of West Wilton. The letters describe Smith's training at bases in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, time spent at Ship Island (off the Mississippi Coast) and his service in Louisiana as part of the Union occupying force in the summer and fall of 1862. Smith eventually served as a musician with his company, giving an interesting perspective on his brief Civil War service. The letters continue until Smith's death in Louisiana from typhoid fever just over a year into his service. Letters from the western theater of the Civil War, especially at such an early point in Union advances, are uncommon. Smith's letters are especially informative of the conditions at Ship Island, describing the poor health conditions there and the Confederate prisoners and escaped slaves he encountered. He also gives valuable information on Louisiana and New Orleans just after the Union retook the region, describing the ongoing resistance efforts of Confederate soldiers and civilians. Smith also transmits his love for his hometown sweetheart, and his hopes that they will meet again. Aaron Smith (1837-1862) enlisted on October 28, 1861 and mustered into Company "B" of the 8th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, under Col. Hawkes Fearing, Jr. The 8th left Camp Currier (Manchester, N.H.) on January 24, 1862, en route for Fort Independence in Boston, where they trained and drilled until transport south was available. They departed Boston for Ship Island, Mississippi on February 15 aboard the E. WILDER FARLEY, and finally arrived on March 15. Smith served the entirety of his comparatively brief enlistment in the Department of the Gulf as part of Gen. Benjamin Butler's Expedition. In his letters, Smith details his transport to Ship Island and the conditions there, and then gives descriptions of New Orleans. Smith remained at Camp Parapet (just upriver from New Orleans) through September before joining Gen. Godfrey Weitzel's brigade and participating in the Battle at Georgia Landing (Labadieville), an engagement he describes briefly in his final letter of December 10. Aaron Smith then fell seriously ill and succumbed to typhoid fever on December 22, 1862, according to the REGISTERS OF DEATHS OF VOLUNTEERS. The letters are described individually below: Camp Currier: January 22, 1862. pp. With envelope. Smith writes just days before he leaves for Boston. His tone is light and focuses on the personalities in his and Addie's choir in Wilton. In fact, Smith writes that he's just received her letter as "Sargent [sic] Marshall, Abiel Livermore and myself were spending the evening in singing." Smith also asks about which regiment a friend of theirs has joined in hopes that he can locate him later. Fort Independence: February 10, 1862. pp. Smith is now in Boston, waiting to for the ship south, and his thoughts have turned more serious. He writes that he hopes his and Addie's feelings for each other will not dim, since "when we shall meet again I cannot tell, as separations must occur on Earth I must reconcile myself to it." He then veers into a religious vein: "The hand of God can protect us from all harm, and guide us safe through many dangers, I wish I had more faith in Him and more love for Him. Addie it is my deep desire, and has often been my prayer, that you may seek and find if not the love of God and I hope live a more consistent christian life than I have." Nevertheless, no one seems to know (or will tell) where they are headed: "where we shall go to, I think that no officer under Gen. Butler knows, those that put confidence in reports believe we shall go to Ship Isl. but I do not put so much confidence in them as I did, by doing so have been obliged to contradict a part of some of my letters." Smith mentions the wreck of a troop ship and marvels that more lives were not lost. Towards the end of the letter, perhaps to lighten the tone upon closing, Smith seems to allude to a joke between him and Addie (and his mother?) that he was married before (he was not): "I am some forgetful, perhaps I never was married, if I have been and you should see her [his mother], tell her to be of good cheer...I must close now. I send a kiss for you...As we all are past furloughs I think I shall not try to go home again to see my wife." On Board E. WILDER FARLEY: [February 16, 1862]. pp. With envelope. This is a brief letter letting Addie know that they are almost underway to Ship Island: "We are in the greatest state of confusion possible. I am now down on the second deck trying to write a few letters, or what I shall have to pass as such. There are scarcely five rays of light that can get to my paper, can find a better place in our cellar or in the barn than this to write in." Still, Smith is optimistic about this war: "I hope and expect not to stop more than a year, as the prospects are that the war will not last long, and if spared think will be back within that time." Ship Island: April 22, 1862. pp. With envelope and three small seashells. Smith has arrived at Ship Island and paints a vivid picture of the pestilent sand, the soldiers in camp, and the various inhabitants, including Confederate prisoners of war: "Our Sothern [sic] prisoners run about at their leisure, appear to enjoy themselves very well...the ladies frequently take their work and sit out on the shady side of a building and talk with the men. Some appear to be quite friendly to the union, a lady told a man in our squad...that there are one half in N. Orleans that are union people if they dare to be...." But then he heard from a girl who "said she wished she could put out the eyes of the northerners with those guns with bayonets, she thought the northerners were not any better than the n[__]s." Nevertheless, illness is already a problem: "Two have died in our Reg. since we have been here, it is considerable sickly...last Friday I raised some blood from my stomach, but the next day I went on duty feeling as well as usual." Smith attributes this to the sand in the food, but Ship Island proved to be a very unhealthy place. By the end of the war, 153 Confederate prisoners and 232 Union soldiers had died due to contaminated water and related fevers and infections. Smith closes the letter somberly: "I hope and trust we shall be spared to meet again...I think I realise the danger before me, hope I shall be prepar [sic] to meet it." Ship Island: May 8, . pp. With envelope. "We are here still, on this desert." Things are no better on Ship Island. Smith includes some brief accounts of the Union battles in Mobile and Baton Rouge, and continues his descriptions of the heat and the sand. The heat has gotten worse: "It is not very healthy, from nine to three o'clock....A great many are having very bad eyes caused by the white sand reflecting to the sun's rays....Some have lost their sight and been discharged." He insists his health is fine, but notes that he avoids going outdoors whenever possible. Smith also records some fascinating interactions with escaped slaves. He reports that they "frequently come over here and are quite tickled to get here. I heard one say that their masters represent us to be very cruel and tell them we will cut off an arm, starve and whip them if we get them....This one said if they should get him they would hang him, for the negroes were planning an insurrection and he was at the head. He said he could not get much to eat, and the soldiers do not have much either, his master he said was in the army and hoped we will kill him." He closes morosely with a count of the graves in the cemetery (79 as of writing), "...brothers husbands sons and fathers, killed and buried in such hast [sic] that no one can tell where they lay, this is the result of war, and still for one side it is just." Camp Parapet: May 24, 1862. pp. With envelope. Smith is finally on the move, detailing his departure from Ship Island as part of the Union occupation of New Orleans. He notes the defenses, in particular the "parapet," built up by the Confederates, who anticipated the Union invading from the north, rather than coming up river from Fort Jackson. He also describes the efforts of locals to destroy military equipment and foodstuffs that would be of value to Yankee invaders. They even attempt to befoul the waterways by dumping sugar and molasses into the river. Smith writes, "When they heard we had taken Ft Jackson and only a few gun boats had got up to N. Orleans, the soldiers at this place ran in every direction some even over the parapet into the ditch of water, some took off their equipments and burnt them then put on citizens clothes, to prevent them being caught with soldiers uniform on....The carriages of the guns were burnt by the women, the guns spiked, the equipments and every thing that the soldiers left that would fall into our hands were burnt, and all done by the women." Smith also includes observations on the poverty he has seen: "The destitution of the people, white and black in this state and Miss. is not a fable but a reality, there are not but a very few that had money enough to live comfortable....I hardly know where to stop there is so much to write about...." Smith closes with some notes for his mother and chaste love for Addie. Camp Parapet: July 9, 1862. pp. With envelope. This letter is less focused on combat and troop movements and is more conversational, with casual thoughts about the civilian world and life in camp. Smith writes that the "4th of July was so rainy here that the Reg.'s could not appear in parade at noon and night, while the 'Star Spangled Banner' and 'Hail Columbia' was to be played..." in which Smith had prepared to perform. Smith is a Musician now, so he has been spared the discomfort of guard duty during the heat and the rain, though not the boredom of inaction in camp. He reassures Addie about his health, reiterating, "The blood I spit on the Isl. was caused by the sand that I had eaten and drank. It came from my stomach, and was only what I spit out in three or four times. I guess my lungs are well enough now, as I have got over the horid colds I caught..." Smith mentions election day, but does not mention much about politics, focusing instead on Addie's "election cake" and how much of it he would eat if he was there. The main problem for Smith, in this letter, is the numerous untrustworthy peddlers selling junk at exorbitant rates and giving phony currency in change. Perhaps inspired by these experiences, Smith also has some strong language about the locals: "The people here are a mixed set, from most every nation in the world, but those called Creoles, are the most numerous, ignorant, and degraded...The people have not much good principals [sic] are much inferior to the Northerners in interlectual [sic] cultivation." Camp Parapet: August 5, 1862. pp. Folded, with envelope. Curiously, Smith wrote this letter on stationery featuring an engraved view of the port of New Orleans, produced by Louis Schwarz, New Orleans publisher and bookseller. Prussian-born Schwarz (1819-1893) emigrated to New Orleans and by the 1850s had a monopoly on German-language literature. By the time of Smith's letter, Schwarz had helped form the mostly-German Hansa Guards Battalion, which was absorbed into the 4th Regiment, European Brigade of the Louisiana Militia, detailed to defend New Orleans. Schwarz was made captain of Co. "B." Upon the Union victory, Gen. Butler used the European Brigade briefly as a police force, but then dissolved them in May, 1862. For some reason, in this letter, Smith addresses Addie as "Addia," both in the letter and on the envelope. He begins with pleasantries about home, but then shifts to discussing the draft, apparently in response to Addie: "I do not care if they do have to draft, I hope they will and not be so long getting the Reg.'s ready waiting for them to enlist." He continues, putting a brave face on things: "I presume there are many young men now in N. Hamp. with long faces, fearing they may be drafted. I should like to see them, and I guess I would plague them, I would laugh at them any way. The worst part is thinking about it, soldiers will feel quite at home when they have been in the army six months or a year [Smith has been in about ten months]. Some get homesick and it wears and worries them most to death, some pine away and get discharged on that account, but there are not many such." Smith also reports that there have been Confederate guerrilla attacks and that they have located weapons concealed in houses in Carrollton. Units were dispatched from his regiment to assist in securing the area. Once again, his role as a Musician proves to be an advantage: "...if I was not a fifer probably I should had to have gone." Camp Parapet: August 15, 1862. pp. With envelope. This letter is chiefly camp news, with Smith in apparently good spirits. Things are quiet, however: "We soldiers are getting to be quite lazy. Particularly I am, as I am a musician they cannot detail me to do work which is called policing. I have no guard duty to do so I am not up nights, and exposed to the rain, and heat daytimes. The musicians have to do what the major says, but he very seldom has any thing for us to do out of the regular course of duty." Aside from some rambunctious officers, the rest of Smith's update is quite peaceful, as he and his comrades spend their days catching up on letters to friends and families, baking beans, and hoping for more music to sing. Camp Parapet: September 8, 1862. pp. With envelope. Another quiet letter, although there are rumblings of potential combat. Even so, Smith muses about Addie traveling down to visit him, although he's not quite sure how that could be arranged. He returns to the topic of the draft, and how those avoiding the draft make it sound worse than it is: "I think folks are apt to be more scart [sic] than hurt. But this war is an awful occurrence. I sincerely hope it will soon end, in order to have it, we must have the men. Sisters must be willing to part with their brothers, fathers and mothers with their sons, and none try to restrain those whose duty it is to go." Smith closes with several unsettling items, including news that "there are quite a large force of guerrillas very near us, on the south side of the river.....A few Regs. have been sent after them. I do not think we shall stop here all winter, but by three or four weeks we shall be on the march after the rebels. The government have neglected to furnish the musicians with swords as the 'Army Regulations' require, so I bought me a revolver to protect myself by." Thibodaux, Camp Stevens, La.: December 10, 1862. pp. With envelope. Smith wrote this letter approximately ten days before he died. He begins by apologizing profusely for the substantial delay since his last letter; it had been over two months. Smith's regiment has relocated to Thibodaux (about 70 miles from New Orleans), after fighting in the Battle at Georgia Landing. Smith is definitely sick at this point: "The march was very hard for me and camping out I caught a very bad cold. At the time of the battle I was most sick, but the excitement kept me along very well." Smith describes how he assisted in the hospital all night, attending to Union as well as Confederate soldiers. He is less sanguine about combat now that he has seen it: "War is awful, if anyone don't think so let them be in a battle and try it, to have shells exploding about you, and grape and canister shot and bullets whistleing about your head, makes any one feel most indescribable." From Smith's account, he seems to have contracted several of the numerous diseases that plagued soldiers on both sides. In fact, two out of three deaths during the Civil War were caused by disease. Every soldier had dysentery at some point, and many suffered from one or more of any number of other ailments. He writes, "I have the fever and ague some so do most all." "Ague" was malaria and afflicted about 20 percent of troops. Smith would have first developed a high fever along with the "shakes," followed by debilitating weakness that would leave him bedridden for days or even weeks. The symptoms would gradually subside and he could return to duty, but the fever periodically returned and the process was repeated. Smith writes that he was sick again during their stop in Tigersville, and then notes that "There is a good deal of shaking among the soldiers, the shakes this season I have been told by the people are very bad among all." He closes the letter hoping "I can write often now...I have several letters to answer perhaps they will think I am very sick or dead. Changes take place in the army so any one cannot be always prompt in writing." A final page of text in a different hand (Addie's?) is added after Smith's letter. The ink is faint and the hand is difficult to read, but it is dated December 27 from West Wilton (N.H.) and starts by explaining that Smith's mother had been by to see how his health was, suggesting that his friends and family did not know yet that he had died. A detailed and intimate account from a soldier in the early days of the Civil War, with significant content on life at Ship Island, and the early days of the Union occupation of Louisiana. Andrea Mehrländer, THE GERMANS OF CHARLESTON, RICHMOND AND NEW ORLEANS DURING THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD, 1850-1870 (Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2011). REGISTERS OF DEATHS OF VOLUNTEERS, 1861-1865. RECORDS OF THE ADJUTANT GENERAL'S OFFICE, 1780-1917. Record Group 94. ARC ID: 656639. National Archives. Washington, D.C.