These two letters were written by 1st Sgt. Charles Robert Avery (1836-1864) of Co. K, 36th Massachusetts Infantry. He was among the 17 enlisted men in the 36th Massachusetts who were killed during the Battle of Cold Harbor on 1 June 1864 or died of their wounds later. Charles was shot in the arm, removed to a hospital where his arm was amputated, but died of complications in Washington D. C. not long afterwards. He was buried in Arlington Cemetery (Section 13, Site 5680).
Charles was the son of Simeon Peter Avery (1813-1876) and Ann Mariah Snyder (1812-1851). He was married to Eloise Maria Chandler (b. 1838) in July 1858 and was residing in Holyoke, Massachusetts, at the time of his enlistment.
The first letter was written on the eve of the Battle of Fredericksburg. The second (partial) letter was written in Eastern Tennessee about New Year’s Day 1864.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Opposite Fredericksburg, Va.
December 5th 1862
Yours of November 22nd was received today just as I was cooking some beef steak, frying some beans & bread, & boiling coffee so my hands were full & nasty as you will perceive by the marks on the paper. I was right glad to hear from you. I had three letters from Elvise at the same time in one of which was a letter from my brother John.
We have been camped here for more than a fortnight & done nothing but cook, eat, drill, & sleep. Fredericksburg has not been shelled yet. When will it be? If the Rebs contest the ground, it will be sharp work for the Army of the Potomac to get over to them so as to have any sight at all as they are up on a hill & have their own chosen position. But then if Burnside undertakes to make an advance, I think that it will be a perfect success.
You get more news in one day than I do in one week. How does the President’s message take in Springfield? I think that goes ahead of the [Emancipation] Proclamation in one sense. It is a trying thing that will work on both sides alike. If it does not, I shall be much mistaken. If that is what Burnside is is waiting for before he advances, we most likely shall not see Richmond this winter which I was in hopes to do. I hear by the Baltimore Clipper that the Reb’s military authorities will contest every step of ground even if the civil [authorities] should surrender to us the city of Fredericksburg.
You wonder if I have enough to support nature during marches, camp life &c. Yes, you would think so if you was here. I have never been hungry though sometimes I would like a change of diet. We have all of bread, a lb. of beef or pork or bacon every day, & a plenty of coffee & sugar with beans 3 or 4 times a week. The beans are boiled for us & we cook them to suit ourselves afterwards. The beef is cut up so that we have half of it in steak; then the remainder is boiled for us. The coffee we make ourselves or exchange it for corn meal, tobacco, &c. Sugar the same. There is no chance for the boys to get fresh pork around here though once in a while a rabbit is run down which gets up quite an excitement in order to catch the animal.
We have heavy frosts out here but they do not affect me & we have warm days to match. It has rained for 2 hours now so we have a prospect of more mud seeing that we did not have any when we first camped here. If we can stand this climate, what can’t we do when we get home. I expect to be at home next summer though I may slip up on my calculations. If you can make it in your way to write again soon, you will gratify me very much as one of my tent mates says.
This ink is fighting ink & is made from gunpowder & vinegar. That’s the way we have to get along out here when we can’t do any better. I will write a little note to Hattie to make her feel repaid for writing to me. Hoping to hear from you soon, I will say goodbye from your son, — Charles R. Avery
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
[About 1 January 1864]
One of the Rebs says quit that you d__d Yankee. Crop says turkey’s quit but I ain’t a turkey. By this time Crop was loaded & let him have [it] again. This time he started away & didn’t lay quiet but soon after Crop got fired at from three directions so he had to keep close to the tree till the Flag of Truce was out & he was relieved from that post & dug him a pit where he could be more sure of his aim. But all this time he was not 100 yards apart — rather close, ain’t it? But it isn’t very often that the lines are so close as that.
Well two weeks ago the 9th Corps was nearly ready to leave Tennessee but the 23rd Corps got scared & thought Longstreet was advancing, so we were ordered to march to the front [December 15th, 1863]. Got there in the night & the next morning started back for camp without hearing a musket fired. It made us feel rather ugly toward the 23rd Corps. I believe that the worst punishment that you could inflict on a 9th Corps man would be to put him in some infantry regiment in the 23rd Corps.
You may think it strange but we have no confidence in the infantry of the 23rd Corps. Woolford’s troops can fight as well as any other mounted troops & have done it & have got a good name. Woolford is not fighting for shoulder straps but for his country. Such men as he is worth having & we have them in the 9th Corps.
We are getting 1 lb. of meat, ½ lb. of flour or corn meal per day, & nearly half rations of coffee & sugar. I exchange my sugar for coffee so that I have coffee enough by not making it very strong.
You may think that we are going somewhere by my writing that we was nearly ready to leave East Tennessee. So we are & I suppose that you know that the 9th Corps is to be recruited to 50,000. Capt. [James B.] Smith told me that he heard that Gen’l. [Edward] Ferrero was to take his command to Staten Island but we won’t know where we are going to for certain till we get to our destination. Capt. Smith is on Special Duty so I have to drill the company &c. &c. Capt. called me to his tent the other night to talk over matters & things. Says keep my eye peeled & keep the company straight & be prompt & I shall have something better if I suit the Major well enough to give me a recommendation. Maybe it will come as unexpected as my appointment to 1st Sergeant.
Well, I guess that Eloise would not care if I did not get the shoulder straps if I would come home. I don’t have any fears but that I shall get home all right when my time is out & I may get sick of war by that time. I certainly shall if they keep us here much longer doing nothing but drilling &c. The Amnesty Proclamation is doing big things [in] Knoxville — it is cleaning out the Rebels & sending them into the Reb lines. Lots of women & children are making tracks for Kentucky & other states north. A great dodge was played out at the front about the Amnesty Proclamation. Our forces charged on the Rebs, drove them back, then scattered a lot of the copies [of the Amnesty Proclamation], then fell back to their old position. The result of it is we have a good many deserters from their lines.
I shall have to close now & make out 3 months returns of clothing, camp & garrison equipage. I am in the best of health & hope that this will find you enjoying the same great blessing. Give my respects to Thomas.
Please write soon & oblige your son, — Charles R. Avery