These letters were written by Charles E. French (1841-1914), a musician in the regimental band of the 9th Maine Infantry. Charles was the son of Joseph French and Abigail Palmer of Athens, Somerset County, Maine. He was residing in Anson, Maine, at the time of his enlistment.
After his discharge from the service, Charles journeyed to Yreka, California, to seek his fortune in gold. He returned east four years later and accepted a job as assistant assessor in the Internal Revenue Department. He then joined a boot and shoe manufacturing firm before returning to California in 1871 to become the general manager for Irvine, Flint & Co. He spent the remainder of his days in California promoting the development of Santa Ana.
Charles was married to Emma L. Waugh (1843-1940) in November 1868.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Steamship Coatzacoalcos off Fortress Monroe
October 27, 1861
Not getting started yet, will write another short letter for the same reason that I have written so many before — to wit: with the hope of getting an answer.
It is now Sunday evening, nine o’clock, and we have not yet got started on our journey, but it is generally understood that we shall sail tomorrow. The order was read Saturday for sailing but owing to the bad state of the weather, we did not sail. The order read that we should be likely to land under the fire of an opposing enemy and our brigade is the first to land, but all connected with the hospital and all ineffective men will remain on board the transports. I suppose that will include the band as they are without arms of war yet they may be detailed to take the wounded off the field as that is an order of Gen. McClellan — that, “Bands shall drill with the ambulance two hours each day.” But we have had to drill only once as the Brigade Surgeon said there was no necessity of so intelligent company of men as our band to go through with the drill more than once as we could readily understand our duty. We shall probably be round if there is an engagement. Where we are going, we cannot tell but one thing is evident — that some place will receive a severe blow when we strike.
Our Brigade (3d) went ashore last Friday and had a drill and practiced going ashore in surf boats. I did not go, being detailed to remain on the boat to assist in superintending the cleaning of the steamer &c. While the surgeons & regiment were ashore, one of the men of Co. D died of typhoid fever. Several have had the fever — or rather have it now — but all such were sent ashore yesterday. The fellow who died Friday was from Skowhegan. His name was [Joseph] Kimball. ¹ Poor fellow — his sufferings are over. About twenty-five of the regiment have the measles. Otherwise they are quite healthy. I came aboard a week ago this morning and have been quite well all of the time with the exception of a slight headache which is quite prevalent with those who are unaccustomed to the sea. I have not been sea sick any as yet.
I received a letter from Ed. Collins yesterday and but it learn that several of the worthy citizens of Anson had gone to the wars. Among the number, Cal. Getchell (Tailor). ² Well send along the boys for they are needed. They will find it a hard life but their country calls for them. Today the wind has blown all day and tonight it blows almost a gale. As I write, the ship rocks violently. Will write more in the morning if I have time. In haste.
¹ Joseph Kimball (1844-1861) was the 17 year-old son of David and Delia Kimball of Skowhegan, Somerset County, Maine. Joseph was the oldest of four children in the Kimball household.
² Calvin Getchell (1842-1862) was the 19 year-old son of Calvin Lumber Getchell (1794-1861) and Elizabeth G. Campbell (1802-1872) of Anson, Somerset County, Maine. Calvin enlisted in the 16th Maine Infantry and survived the carnage at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862 only to die on the second day of the Battle of Fredericksburg three months later.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Port Royal, South Carolina
January 9th 1862
I have not written to you for some time for the reason that I have been waiting for the mail from N. Y. which was several days behind time, but it has arrived and I will endeavor to write a letter this time long enough to make up for my seeming neglect. As I write this pleasant evening, the first thing which enters my mind is the great difference between the climate here and at the North. Today I have been down on the sea shore and had a good bathe in the surf as the tide was just coming in. The weather here is mild so that during the middle of the day, it is quite comfortable without a coat on. But at night we need overcoats which we have very good ones. Of course you are having a great deal of snow on the ground, but I have not seen any this winter and I think it doubtful if I see any before another winter unless I should happen to go North. This is a much better place to winter than at or near Washington for there it is cold but here we are enjoying most pleasant weather.
I visited our old camping ground today and while there noticed that corn and oats had spring up several inches high from the seed which had been spilled there in feeding horses so you can judge what the climate is in South Carolina. The negroes say that planters begin their spring work here about the first of February.
In relation to the progress of the war, I can say but little for we have to depend on newspapers for news and undoubtedly you are as well posted as we are here. Our troops in this vicinity are making some advancement but most of the fighting done here is by the Navy. Our forces are advanced several miles beyond Beaufort. A part of our Brigade occupies Tybee Island which is about fifteen miles from here near Fort Pulaski. There has been quite a skirmish up to Port Royal ferry and we were called together by the “long roll” and we expected to have to go up and have a hand in the fight but the order came for us to return to our quarters which was accordingly done.
Rev. Mr. [Temple] Cutler ¹ of Skowhegan, our Chaplain, arrived by the last steamer and has entered upon his duties. He boards with us and I think he will be liked by the members of the regiment. The condition of the regiment is good and the health of the men is growing better under our improved Hospital arrangements. They are about to construct a new Hospital 400 feet square. It is to be situated by the sea shore and when completed will be of great service to the regiments stationed on this Island.
We have lately received a new uniform, underclothes, blankets, &c. We are well supplied with all that is necessary to make us comfortable. I received a letter from Martha a few days ago in which she wished to know whether there is anything that I needed which they could send, but I am happy to say there is nothing I wish to have sent me for I now have more clothing that I have room for. To give you a slight idea of my stock of [clothing] on hand, I will give you a list of a few articles. Two suits of outside clothing such as coats, pants, caps, &c., two good blankets, 2 pairs shoes, ten pairs stockings, five pair drawers, five heavy grey woolen shirts, two white woolen shirts, three cotton shirts, besides many other articles of clothing too numerous to mention.
Tonight it is warm enough to sleep with one blanket and with our tent doors open. Our living is tip top most of the time. We have apple sauce, doughnuts, & such like nearly every meal. We get a good many extras by selling our surplus of rations. We have a tip top cook and under present arrangements it is very comfortable indeed. This living by the sea agrees with me very well thus far. My usual weight at home was about 145 lbs. but now it is about 170 lbs. There is ten of us that stop in this tent and I am the heaviest one in the “crowd.”
The duties of a Regimental Band is exceedingly light. I should not like to be a private and have to stand guard night or day, rain or shine, as the exposure would be severe. If it rains, we can remain in our tents and keep dry. In five days from now, it will be four months since we first began our camp life and I am pleased to say I think it much pleasanter than I anticipated. But had [we] remained on the Potomac, I might not have found it so agreeable. This place is growing amazingly and doubtless this will be quite a city before a great while. Wharves are being built and houses have been put up. And in fact this is getting to be quite a lively place.
A balloon has been brought here and a aeronaut from Washington will make ascensions in a day or two to see the strength of the enemy and their positions. ²
I have not written home for several weeks but intend to do so by this mail. Do you get any letters from Frank? If he writes to me, I wish you would forward it.
There is quite a number of our band boys sick. Most of them have slight colds but none of them are very sick. Papers are very acceptable at all times and so long as I receive such constant attention, I shall endeavor to write often. Guess you will want me to be more particular about making so many mistakes in my letters, but the fact is I do not have time to rewrite my hastily written letters, and I do not expect anyone to see them but you so it does not make so much difference. I want you to burn my letters as soon as you read them for I know how apt you are to let letters lie about on the table and people are just as apt to peruse them. But I [have] written enough for this time.
My address is 9th Maine Regimental Band, Port Royal, S. C.
Yours in haste, — C. E. French
¹ Rev. Temple Cutler was an 1835 graduate of Marietta College. He then attended Andover Theological Seminary before becoming a clergyman in Skowhegan, Maine.
² The aeronaut was John Starkweather of Boston who brought the balloon Washington to Port Royal on McClellan’s orders just prior to the Peninsula Campaign. He returned home in June after the balloon was damaged by winds.
“The first of the Aeronautic Corps’ balloons to be deployed outside of Washington, D.C., went to Hilton Head, S.C., to support Union troops intent on blockading the Confederate port of Savannah, Georgia. Union forces seized Hilton Head and Beaufort, S.C., in mid-November 1861, and on November 24, assistant aeronaut John Starkweather and the balloon Washington were loaded onto the G.W.P. Custis, bound for Fortress Monroe. From there they eventually moved onward to Hilton Head, arriving on January 3, 1862. Unfortunately, Starkweather then cooled his heels for four months, ignored by the Union commander, who had not requested his services.
A change in commanding generals in April quickly resulted in the Union seizure of Fort Pulaski, which dominated the mouth of the Savannah River and effectively shut down the port of Savannah, 10 miles up river. Shortly thereafter the new commander, Brig. Gen. Henry W. Benham, called for Starkweather’s services and in early May the aeronaut moved his balloon to Fort Pulaski, tasked to observe Confederate activity in and around the city.” [Naval Aeronautics in the Civil War…]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Port Royal, South Carolina
January 27th 1862
Supposing you might be anxious to know how I was progressing, I avail myself of a few moments today to write a short letter. I am very happy to state that I am now quite well and still improving. I have not been much sick at all but thought it better to go to the hospital than to remain in camp. Four members of our regiment have died within the past two weeks. The others that are sick in hospital, I think, are fast improving and I think the regiment is or will soon be in very good condition.
Our brigade sailed from here (excepting our regiment) yesterday. What their object is in leaving here, I know not but it is presumed that Savannah is to be their destination. The reason we are left behind, I know not, but they find that the Maine troops are superior to any others to labor and there is a great deal to do here yet. But then again, our regiment does not drill so well as most of the other regiments in the brigade for the reason they have been kept at work all the time, therefore giving but little time for drill. It is said that the little fleet which has just sailed from here under command of Gen. H. G. Wright is to join Gen. Burnside’s Expedition which is reported as being just outside the bar. It is regretted that our regiment could not have gone with them for it does not speak very well for regiment to be left in the rear. I doubt not, however, we shall join our brigade as soon as they make a landing. I understood Gen. Wright remarked that we should either join them in a few days or they should return to Port Royal.
The fleet sailed in the direction of Tybee Island. There is at present but six regiments on this island. To wit: Gen. [Egbert L.] Viele’s brigade — 5 R. I. regiments & 9th Maine. We for the present are attached to Gen. Viele’s brigade.
The weather has been cold and rainy the past week but now it is more pleasant, yet pretty cold for this climate. We have had no snow yet and doubt if we do have any this winter. We have had no mail for ten days and when it does arrive, we expect to get a large share. In my last, I stated there had been a case of small pox. it is now two weeks since they removed the fellow that had it and there has been no signs of it yet having been contracted by anyone. The fellow that had it is fast recovering, I understand. I think there is no danger of its spreading in the regiment as the fellow that had it was removed as soon as they discovered what disease he had.
I regret to see the war progressing so slowly and I fear delays are dangerous in this matter. Why McClellan does not make an advance, I cannot comprehend. I see by the some of the sensation papers that Gen. [Thomas West] Sherman is censured for not making advances. There is a great deal of labor to perform and when Sherman landed on the shores of South Carolina, he did not have over fourteen thousand men fit for duty. What do they expect him to do with such a small force? If they expect him to advance and make a Bull Run disaster, they’ll find themselves greatly mistaken. He has already captured more places than he can hold unless reinforcements are sent him. If this expedition that has just been sent out does not prove successful, it must be the fault of citizens who know nothing about warfare. But we hope to have a good account of the expedition. May we soon join them. See next sheet [missing].
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Port Royal, South Carolina
February 22d 1862
My Dear Parents,
It has been some time since I wrote you, but I trust you will excuse me this time if I am more prompt in future. Our regiment left here about three weeks ago and the last news we had from them, they were encamped on a small island down in the coast of Georgia about thirty miles from here. There was six of us of the band that were unable to go with the regiment when it left but one of them has got well and joined the regiment and another has gone to “that home from which no traveler ever returns.” This is a sad time for us, it being the first death that has occurred in our band and how forcibly it reminds us of the uncertainty of life and how necessary it is that we should be prepared for our final destiny. How family do we see the power of God. The young man who has so suddenly passed away was the one I spoke of in my last letter as having obtained a furlough, but his health failed so fast he made application for and received his discharge, but not until he was so sick that he could not go home. And last Thursday night, Feb. 20th, he passed away. His name was Frank G. Walker of Skowhegan. ¹ His age is about 25 years. He was a very estimable, upright young man of good morals & beloved by all who knew him. His loss will be deeply felt both by his friends here and at home. It must be very sad news to his parents and only sister, he being an only son. His remains will be sent home if a steamer leaves within a short time. Otherwise, he will have to be interred here on the island. He has been unwell for some time and has not been able to do duty since he had the fever nearly three months ago. Poor fellow — his sufferings are at an end and I doubt not his spirit dwells with God in Heaven. How true it is that “in the midst of life, we are in death.” We are place on earth but for a little while preparatory to an everlasting life in “fairer worlds on high.” I acknowledge that I am at times “rough and sinful” but yet I trust in the God of love for a safe return to you again. At times the way looks dark and rough, yet it is always darkest just before day. During the great gale which we experienced on our passage out, it seemed as if we must soon be cast into eternity, but the power of God saved us. ² You may think I am rather despondent, but not so. I have learned to trust to God and find “He doeth all things well.”
We received a mail today by which I received a large number of papers from Anson and a letter from Frank Potter. We are very anxious to get letters from home. A regiment came in yesterday from the North and today another (the Massachusetts 28th) came in. Today we have had quite a celebration in honor of the “birthday of Washington.” Flags decorated the ships in the harbor and salutes were fired from the war vessels and from the fort and the heavy sounds of the cannon reminded us of the bombardment of this place.
The weather of late has been rather rough and stormy, yet we have had no snow as yet and I doubt if we do have any as it is so near spring. It is about as warm here as it is in October in Maine. The rest of us boys are getting along nicely with the exception of D. M. Parker of Skowhegan who has a sort of bilious fever, but he is improving, I think.
The reason I did not go with the regiment was for this reason — I did not think it prudent for me to march five miles and then lie upon the ground for it would be different fare than we had been accustomed to and as our tents had floors to them, we should stand a pretty good chance of taking cold. And as I had been unwell for several weeks, I thought it best to remain behind and it was fortunate, I think, for in a day or two after I was taken down with a sort of lung fever. But I soon began to get better for we have a good surgeon in charge of the sick & we can see that they improve very fast. Our surgeon went with the regiment and Dr. Bell of the regular army took the charge of the hospital. He seems to be an excellent physician. There was about fifty of our regiment left behind sick, but there is only two or three but what are well enough to be up round. Our hospital is well supplied with sheets, quilts, pillows, and many other needful articles received from the “Woman’s Sanitary Commission.”
One of our band boys is acting as “Hospital Steward” and I fare first rate. We have plenty of good gruel, good soft bread, butter, apple sauce, and altogether we get along quite well for the chances. I probably shall remain here till our regiment gets settled and then I shall join them. I intend to take good care of my health if I possibly can for I have nothing else to do just now. This is not like working out for if a man thinks himself unable to do duty, he is of course excused, and if a person is not able to do duty at all, his pay goes on just the same. We were paid off up to the first of January a few days since. I think of sending some money home if we don’t have some prospect of going home pretty soon as I don’t care to have a great amount by me as we have not much use for money here, although some of the soldiers manage to spend all or nearly all they earn at the “Sutlers” but I don’t trde much with them — only get stationary & such like.
I was glad to hear by Martha’s last letter that Mother’s health is better. I wish I could hear from you oftener and hope Father will write as often as convenient but I know how he is situated and that it is not convenient for him to write as often as I do and I mean to write often as you will wish to hear from me. I have not heard from Frank for a long time. I wonder he does not write me for I have written to him several times since I have been in the army. I told him to write me and direct to Anson, and Martha would forward it to me, but I have not yet received any and if I did not pretty soon, I shall write him and give him a good scolding for his negligence.
We hear good accounts from Gen. Burnside’s Expedition and I hope soon to hear of advance of the Army of the Potomac. If this war is not closed up by the first of May, I think England & France will resort to “intervention” and make peace between the contending parties. I think the North has had sufficient time to quell this rebellion and after their boasting they do not seem to push the matter along as they might and if something is not done soon, we may hope to see other nations interfere and stop the effusion of blood and make peace. I am no coward, I hope. We are willing & eager to fight, but not to see this war prolonged and ruin brought upon the country. But I presume it is all for the best. Therefore, I will say no more on the subject at present. I will close, but if anything of importance occurs, I will write more before I seal this up as the mail don’t leave for several days. Direct to me, 9th Maine Regimental Band, Port Royal, South Carolina.
Sincerely your son, — Charles E. French
Mr. & Mrs. Joseph French
¹ Frank G. Walker (1835-1862) was the son of Oliver and Phoebe Walker of Skowhegan, Somerset County, Maine. Before his enlistment in the 9th Maine Regimental Band, Frank worked with his father as a house carpenter. Frank’s only sister, 19 year-old Flora E. Wilson, was a music teacher.
² Charles is referring to the voyage from Fortress Monroe to Hilton Head, South Carolina, in which the fleet encountered a fearful gale which swamped the boat carrying the 9th Maine Infantry. As much as four feet of water was in the hold and the men of the 9th Maine were called upon to man the pumps to keep the vessel afloat.