Letters of  Private Herman D. Smith

Herman D. Smith, age 20, enlisted September 19, 1861, at Cortland, NY, to serve three years; mustered in as private, Co. A, 76th NY Volunteer Infantry, October 4, 1861; promoted corporal prior to February, 1863; killed in action, July 1, 1863, at Gettysburg, Pa. Deposition states that Herman kept a diary which his mother had after the war.

Sylvia M. and Darius C. Smith were Herman's parents and lived in Tully, New York.

Jan 23 / 62 
Rikers Island

Dear parents

we recd yours to Day and was glad to hear that you were well we recd our pay to day from the time we were sworn in, October 4th up to the first of January and we send 45 Dollars Home by Express the only safe way to send it $20 comes from me 10 of which will pay the Doc do as you see fit with the rest 

we are on an Island 8 miles E.N.E. of N.Y City we dig clams an Bake them and when we want Oysters we go Down when the tide is out and knock them off the rocks.

we dont know when we shall leave here or where we shall go but expect to join an expedition on the Ocean we are in Long Island Sound now but I must close, write as soon as you receive the money direct it to N.Y. and they will forward we are both well my throat is entirely well. I have a slight cold.

Yours truly H.D. Smith

Rikers Island 
Jan 29th

Dear Parents 

Ere this reaches you we shall be on our way to Washington, we start to morrow at ten A.M. go to N.Y. By Steamboat and from there by R.R. We sent $45 to you by Capt Fox to Cortland and from there by mail. we started it last friday, but have not heard Whether it reached you or not. 

I am glad we are going off this Island for the water is not fit to drink here. Brackish and more or less salt we can not buy anything here with out paying exorbitant prices apples sell quickly at 5 ct a piece, Pies we cant get at any price, the hotel Keeper baked about a 100 the other day and the Boys made a rush and took them all away from him the most of them paid him afterward, so he did not loose any thing. if a Pedlar come on the Ground he can get any price he is a mind to ask for his wares. 

Money is no object, a Boot Seller came here and sold a cheap Article for 4.50 per pair the Col arrested him and he Paid back 1.25 on a pair rather than take them back. 

Write soon and tell all the news at Tully we are well as usual and do not suffer for anything now that we have money. There are lots of nice shells here I wish I could send some to Allie and Agnes If you answer this direct to N.Y. and write please forward on the Envelope 

Give my love to Allie and all the rest 
Your aff Son H.D.Smith

March 21st /62
Guard House Fort DeRussy

Dear Father

Yours of the 18th is a hand. We were glad to hear from you but sorry your health is so poor 

We are well except he is complaining of the Rheumatism a little nothing serious however It is quite healthy here One old fellow said the folks around here lived so long they were ashamed to die. 

There is no news in Particular Col Green is in close confinement at Fort Totten yet Lieut Col Shaul is in command Our First Lieut has resigned and has gone home Capt Grower is well again. I am on Guard to day. 

There is some fuss made about Rations by the Boys who think they do not draw their full Rations but I guess it wont amount to much There is no doubt but some of the Officers make a Spec out of our Rations but I think it is impossible to tell where the fault is and so I think it is best to keep quiet I have enough to eat some way or other. I always manage to get what I need 

The Frieght was a good deal cheapr than we expected on that box When we get our pay we will send the Frieght charges home. If we need any more Extras we will let you know. We dont hear anything about pay yet. I hope we will get it before long on your account We dont need it at present. Postage costs us nothing and there is no Sutler at this Fort so we would have no chance to spend it if we had it. I heard they had an Exhibition at Tully lately I should think from the circular that it must have been a good one. But I must close Tell all of our Folks to write and Give my love to all 

From your afft- Son H. D. Smith to D.C. Smith

March 26th 
Fort DeRussy

Dear Parents 

I received a letter from you last night and though some what tired to night I thought I would answer it. There is not much news here at present. We are well and do not suffer much for anything. 

We have had our U.S. Uniform over 3 weeks and we can draw any thing we want by paying for it if reports are true some of the Boys have nearly drawn their 42 Dollars worth already if they overdraw it come out of their pay but I guess I shant over draw. If Reports are true (though I dont know anything about it) they charge enormous prices for our clothing I believe it was 23 or 28 dollars for the first suit But we shall have enough whatever it costs. 

The Boys are receiving Boxes like everything now a days. Hoyer tents with us and he got a letter to night stating that they had started a 100 pounds to him he shared with us and we shall with him There will be plenty of Maple sugar in it we expect and we can make all the molasses we want Hec has wrote for a Box so I think we shall be pretty well supplied They are ploughing down here now for spring crops the weather is fine mel and severe both on yesterday 

I have Drilled all day to day the Guard have 20 minutes after being relieved to get ready for Drill in One of our Corporals had his stripes taken off because he said they might get their shanty tore down id they did not give us enough to eat We got 14 oz of sugar a week Plenty of Pork and Bread enough as a general thing We have lots of Grease which we fry out of the Pork. But we cant get much for it we trade a guart of a quart of milk when we can get the chance 

How do you make Fried cakes? Tell me in the next letter and may be I will get some flour and make some What appears to be the matter of Father Do you have the neccesaries for life or are you suffering for enough to eat and wear tell me all about it in your next I hope we may get our pay soon and then we can send you some They have not Stopped our mail and I guess they will not on this side of the Potomac, if they do you must keep a stout heart and trust in Him who Doeth all things well. It is nearly Roll Call so I must close Give my love to Allie Agnes and James an keep a large Portion for your self and Father

Good night from your affectionate Son Herman

Agnes I thank you for the Burlesque (I had a scheme) you sent me it was quite a get up.

Mrs D.C. Smith Egypt Onondaga N.Y.

To Father

PS about the payment I shall send you the money that I may have to spare and you can apply it for that purpose as far as it will go. I would like to have you act for me that is get the Deed in my name and if any thing should befall me that is if I should died or get killed I wish it distinctly understood that Mother shall have it.

Your afft. Son H. D. Smith

On Picket at the 2nd Battle Field of Fredericksburg 
Friday May 1st /63

Dear Parents

Your letter acknowledging the receipt of $50.00 reached us yesterday 

We left camp at noon last tuesday marched till dark in the rain slept till midnight then went down to the river bank and laid on our arms while the 2nd and 6th Wis Regt crossed in boats and drove he Rebs out of their rifle pits which was the most brilliant skirmish I ever saw they captured nearly a whole regiment of Grey backs (the 6th Lousyana) and lost less than a dozen men, we then threw the Pontoons across, receiving perhaps a half dozen shots from the enemy Battery we then crossed and came up in full sight of them at a distance of less then 3/4 of a mile, and within short range of their heavy guns we threw out pickets and then built fires cooked and ate our dinners while they stood looking on and then as it commenced raining and was nearly night we struck our tents unrolled our blankets and prepared to make ourselves comfortable 

I guess the General thought that was going most too far, for he ordered us to take down our tents again and repack our knapsacks we were not molested though I cannot tell why, till the next day at 3 PM We were formed and were told that we were to charge on them, but just as we had got already and had scared them sufficiently (we could see them running to and fro strengthing their pickets &ct,&ct) an order came for a working party and about half of the troops commenced tearing down the rebels barns, and in an incredible short place of time every timber was strung along the line and shovels busy flying soon covered them so as to form quite formidable fortification 

all this times the Rebs were silent though in full view with plenty of Artillery bearing on us. We had got about half finished, when they appeared to comprehend what we were at and didn't they make the shell and shot fly then, but we had got too much the start and it was useless they could not budge us, though they killed a few men on both sides of the river, we were lucky and lost no men although some had narrow escapes and one guns was cut in two which was in the stack and a knapsack was struck and the contents sent flying. 

We were detailed on Picket this morning are to stay on 24 hours we are where we can see all the Johnny Rebs and are only about 50 rods from their Pickets but as yet there has been no picket firing. part of our Army has crossed above and are trying to flank them I hear the cannonading now yesterday Hooker issued an order, saying we sure successful on the right and that the Rebs must either come out of their fortifications to fight us or beat an inglorious retreat 

We are both well and was glad to hear Father was gaining We shall write often and should any accident befall either of us you will soon be apprised of it and remember if we fall in the coming conflict we fall in a just cause and our last thoughts will be of home, our Country and God, but we are hoping that we will come through all right. I do not think they have run the Bullet for me yet, but I must close write soon,

Your affec Son H. D. Smith

PS May 2nd Heavy cannonading, 76th all right

Jan 22nd /63
Bivouac near Falmouth

Dear Parents 

We again on the march and never have we marched in a greater state of doubt and uncertainty than for the last two days Doubtful when we put our feet down whether we could lift them up again and uncertain if we could whether the shoes would come too or stick in the mud it has rained all the time since we started and consequently the mud has already become fabulously deep 

Many of the Boys have deserted since the march commenced 4 from our own Company vis E Johnson, G.B. Hill and Corporals R.and S. Marsh They were all Brave good hearted fellows and not afraid of fighting, but the usage a man gets in the 76th drove them to desperation. We choose the other alternative in preference to deserting and you will never be pained by hearing that we have deserted 

I think that 1/2 of the able men in the Regt have left since we got our pay yesterday there were only 88 men in the ranks So you see you must not expect any very Big thing from the 76th in the coming Struggle. We mailed a hundred Dollars to you but have not yet heard whether you have got it or not. 

A Proclamation from Gen Burnside was read to us yesterday to the effect that we were once more to meet the Enemy and were to strike a death blow at the rebels Gen Doubleday has ben placed in command of the Penn Reserve and our Division is now in charge of Gen Wadsworth consequently you must substitute Gen Wadsworths Division for Doubledays Division in directing I do not know when I can mail this but am going to have it ready have written in a hurry and with a poor few so excuse poor writing

from Your loving Son Herm

P.S. I have cut a slip from a paper and enclosed which strikes me as being true, the writer evidently had been among the soldiers


Jan 24 /63
Camp near Pratts Point, Va.

Dear Folks 

Well as Ive had no chance to mail this I may as well add a line or two I reckon The army of the Potomac has took the back track and have regained their Old Quarters The retrograde movement we suppose was on account of the mud, which was so deep from long continued rain that it was impossible to more either trains or Artillery 

We marched 20 miles yesterday which considering the mud which was doing pretty well We found our old Shanty some what demolished and so went in to another the former occupant having deserted. We are both (letter ends at this point)

Please send me stamps I cant buy them here.

Camp of the 76th NY Vols 
Opposite Fredericsburg, Va. 
June 5th 1863

My Dear Parents 

With great pleasure I take up the pen to inform you that the proper authorities have at last consented to acknowledge the forgery on them checks and to give us duplicates they (the duplicates) will be sent to the assignee sot the Col informs us, so we will have no more truble about it purhaps you have already received them, We sent you $30.00 by Express also I sent a photograph of ours Old and much loved Brigade commander taken, as you will perceive by the uniform when he was Brigadear General he is now Major General I sent the package by Ed Bowdish to the Express Office I was owing 6 1/2 Dollars and Jake 5 1/2 so we could not share any more this time. I hope you have got the $96.00 and recd the Payment, or if not, you will be in such condition that you can spend this thirty till we send some more and then make it for I hate to have it run so long, besides I want to get it paid up and off our hands and then you will have a permanent home and I can commence laying of something for a Rainy day. 

We are well and Jake is making his spending money peddling lemonade. I saw James Vail the other day he did not look much the worse for his Richmond tour. 

We were waked up yesterday at Two o'clock AM and ordered to pack ready for the march at 4 Am we struck tents and fell in stacked arms etc. and waited in reading till about ten o'clock when the order came to put up our tents so we havent gone yet Some say the alarm Was on account of a Body of the enemy crossing and attempting to do some big thing they say that we captured those that crossed but it s only a rumour so of course we can form no correct idea of the this 

We have Drill of the Brigade occasionally and go for that purpose on the Fredricksburg Plantations in sight of the Rebels and also in range of their Artillery but they do not offer to disturb the drill though we often heard the Boys wish they would open on us when the drill was getting lengthy so we would not have to stood. Three men, are to be shot to day for desertion they belong to the 146th NY now near Stonemans Switch. Give love to Allen Agnes and James and please write soon.

Your affectionate Son H. D. Smith

Tell Agnes to be very careful of that photograph of Doubleday and keep it safe till I return for it is one of my clearest pictures

By some mistake I did not recieve any allotment checks this time or we should have send $32 dollars home it only was 26 dollars all in Bills, the rest an allotment.

- These letters were transcribed by B. Conrad Bush, 1940 Reading Road, West Falls, NY, 14170; e-mail Bushresear@aol.com; from original letters found at the National Archive, Washington, DC.

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- Last Updated November 15, 2008