17 July 1862

Camp on James River near Harrison’s Landing
July 17th 1862

Dear Brother,

I again sit down to write you a few lines and I must confess that I have been longer in writing to you this time than ever before. The reason for not writing to you sooner is that we have been quite busy fixing up our new camp and in making things as comfortable around us as circumstances will allow for it appears to be the general opinion that we will remain her for some time.

The Monitor & the Galena cover the Army of the Potomac’s retreat at Harrison’s Landing

We are now encamped on the banks of the James River — and a very pleasant place it is. It is about half a mile from Harrison’s Landing where all the provisions for the troops are landed. There are several gunboats lying near the shore among which may be seen the old Monitor, the Galena, and several others. The river is almost covered with transports and other small steamers which are continually coming in and going out and gives the place a very stirring appearance. We go down to the river and bathe every day which I think adds much to the health of the troops, for without cleanliness it is impossible to prevent disease, and I believe there are hundreds of instances where sickness is brought on because some are too lazy and indolent to keep themselves clean and will go without using water for weeks except what little they use for drinks. And I honestly believe that if someone did not take pity on them and bring it to them, there are some who would die rather than get it for themselves. I never saw as much laziness in my life as I have since I came into the army. They become idle drones who eat up all the honey but don’t do any work. If there is any work to be done, they will play up sick and thus get rid of doing their duty and swell the list of sick to thousands when in realty there are but a few hundreds. It is in this way that so many get their discharge if they can only get a United States Surgeon to report them as unfit for military duty — it is all that is necessary. They can [then] go home with an honorable discharge while others  who have not their pockets as well filled with money, or perhaps have not as many influential friends, are kept lingering for months in the hospitals and finally die for want of that care which might have been bestowed on them by a loving mother or sister had they been sent home at the proper time. Thus it is that men of high position will sell their honor for a few dollars and rob the poor soldier of his honest earnings.

It is unnecessary for me to say anything about the change of position in the great Army of the Potomac for you are acquainted with all the circumstances connected with it better than I could tell you. It is sufficient for me to say that we were not in any of the engagements [of the Seven Days Battles]. We were sent back near the Chickahominy [river] shortly after the fight commenced on the right to guard some of the bridges and were moved from one place to another until we finally got here without having a sight at the rebels at all.

I must agree with you that this is indeed a singular war. There is something mysterious about it — something that has not yet been fathomed. There will be some strange revelations before this war is over which will show some of our leading men the dangerous position the government is now in and will arouse them to more activity in putting down this unnatural rebellion. I think the late change of position in this army must show them the necessity of at least having half the number of men in the battlefield that the rebels have in order to make a victory in some degree sure and save the expense of having to fight the same ground over again, for it is very evident that had McClellan had sufficient reinforcements, the late movement would have been an advance instead of a retreat and we might now have been in Richmond instead of being twenty miles from it. But we need not speak of what might have been done. The call for three hundred thousand troops must be attended to and it is certainly the duty of every lover of his country to do all in their power to induce young and able bodied men to enlist in this noble cause and help to hold up the glorious old Stars and Stripes and sustain the government. Let these young Nero’s who are fiddling and fooling away their time by attending Fourth of July celebrations and ballroom dances enlist and help to put down this rebellion and then when peace is once more restored and the old Stars and Stripes are once more in triumph over every state in the Union, let us return to our peaceful homes and have a National Celebration in which everyone can take part, and one in which the heart of the nation can rejoice.

Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan — “I have yet confidence in McClellan.” — HSM

There is one thing sure — and that is that the reinforcements must be had and certainly there is great inducements held out for men to enlist as I see that Gov. [Edwin D.] Morgan offers a bounty of fifty dollars from the State to all who will enlist besides the bounty which the government gives. And besides, it is not likely that those who enlist now will ever see a battle unless the war continues much longer than is now expected for the new troops will be left in places which are now held by the old ones and they will be sent here to reinforce McClellan while the new troops will be left at such places as Washington, Baltimore, &c. So I think now is the time to enlist. It is true, there are some things that look rather dark at present, but I believe that if the reinforcements are sent on in two months. that before the snows of another winter, the last battle will have been fought. I have yet confidence in McClellan. There may be something wrong in him, but I can’t see it.

But what is this? I see the State Militia are going to be called out. How is it with the Bovina Company? Are you ready to take to the field? Is the gallant Twenty-seventh Regiment ready for action? If not, it is high time that you were out recruiting.

But I must close as my sheet is full. Write soon and give me all the particulars about it.

— H. S. Murray


11 May 1862

In Camp near West Point, on way to Richmond
Sunday Morning, May 11th 1862

Dear Brother,

I now sit down to write you a few lines to let you know how we are all getting along on our way to Richmond. In my last letter which I wrote to you last Tuesday, I told you that we were then encamped on the battleground [at Williamsburg] of last Monday. We remained there until Friday morning when we again started on the march and this time it is, “On to Richmond” in reality. It is no longer the feeble dry of a few aspiring politicians and newspaper editors, but it is now the order of the Commander in Chief of the great Army of the Potomac and, with him at its head, we are now moving slowly but surely to the city of Richmond — and, in a few days, we will be in possession of that great Capitol of the Southern Confederacy which so long has been the boasted stronghold of the rebels, but which must soon fall before the onward march of this great army. And then, when the old Stars and Stripes are again floating in triumph over that rebellious city, we may consider this rebellion as nearly at any end for with Yorktown and Richmond in the hands of the government, it will be impossible for them to make a stand anywhere in Virginia.

It is said that the rebels are going to make a stand some twelve miles from Richmond and that they are now throwing up fortifications and making every preparation for a desperate battle. But very likely it will turn out like Yorktown — when our forces are ready to make an attack, they will evacuate for I think from the appearance of their forts in front of Yorktown that if they could not make a stand in such forts, it will be impossible for them to build stronger forts before this army reaches there.

We passed through Williamsburg on our way here. It is a small village and everything in it gave evidence of a hasty retreat. In the streets were to be seen wagons, forges, and ammunition chests having stuck in the mud and were set on fire or cut to pieces to prevent them falling into our hands. Horses and mules were lying on the road dead as we came along this side of Williamsburg, and as we came along, we met several who had deserted from them and they say that rebel soldiers are getting disheartened and are almost in a state of mutiny.

I got a letter from you last Tuesday dated May 2d. I was happy to hear from you all. I got one this morning from William Elliott.

We are now encamped in a wheat field and will not move until tomorrow morning. I have seen hundreds of acres of wheat as we came along and we can’t find room enough to encamp unless we go into a wheat field. It looks rather bad to see so much fine grain destroyed but it belongs to secesh so of course it must go. Every house we come to there is a white rag stuck out as a protection and no one is alarmed to take anything that belongs to them, but our boys will not pass by corn without helping themselves for they must have feed for the horses.

But I must close. It is a warm and pleasant day and the roads are getting very dusty but McClellan is here and he will not let his army march on Sunday as he does not consider it necessary. No more at present. The boys are all well. Bob White is strong and hearty as usual. I am in good health. Write soon. — H. S. Murray

26 April 1862

Camp near Warwick, Va.
Saturday, April 26th 1862

Dear Brother,

I received your letter of April 13th in due season although we do not get mail here very regular. We left Newport some time ago as you no doubt know ‘ere this, and are now drawing near the enemy as we are now within some six or eight miles of Yorktown and we can hear firing every day from the forts which are being built — some within three miles of here.

We were ordered out the other day to go and shell rebel fortifications that they were building about two miles from here. We started and got about a mile when we got news that the rebels had left so we had to return to camp without having a chance to get a shot at them.

There has been four rebel prisoners captured here yesterday. They were supposed to be spies. They were examined and their clothes searched and some papers found, sewed in their overcoats. What the papers were, I have not heard, but they are now confined in a log cabin a short way from our camp. They are rather suspicious-looking characters and I think if they are a specimen of the rebels, they are a degraded-looking race of men. They were dressed in uniform the same as our troops. In their knapsacks were found some clothes which were stained with blood (which they could not give a very strict account of). They are to be sent to McClellan’s headquarters for further examination.

Everything around here has the appearance of a rapid preparation for the coming battle which will soon take place at Yorktown. There is roads being made and fortifications being thrown up in almost every direction from here, and there is troops coming in around here by the thousands. Sickles’ Brigade is now stationed some five miles from here. Some of our company have been to see [Capt. Robert T.] Johnson’s company but I have not had an opportunity to go yet. I have heard from John [M.] Gordon. He is well. I intend to go and see him as soon as possible.

You spoke in your last of having asked me some things in your letters which I have not answered. I am of the same opinion with you. I do not think I get all your letters as I do not receive on an average one letter a week from you and I do not think you get all mine as I write at least once a week to you. I think I have answered all that you have asked me but if there is anything that you want to know, I want you to write and I assure you. I will answer whatever you may ask me — cheerfully.

The weather is quite wet here at present and it makes it very disagreeable for us. It has been a very backward season here. The trees are just beginning to leaf out but there is not the least appearance of cultivation. Everything is in a state of ruin. There is scarcely a house to be seen as they have all been burned or town down by the rebels as they retreated before our troops when they made their advance toward Yorktown. It is fine land around here. There is a good deal of pine and oak timber and not so swampy as some places we have been.

The boys are all well. Bob White and myself are in our usual good health — thank God for it. Hoping this will find you all enjoying the same blessing, I remain yours, &c. — H. S. Murray