Three page letter written by Abel Piper to his parents. Abel Piper was the brother of Alanson R. Piper and would be first soldier from the Fourth Michigan Infantry killed in action at New Bridge, Virginia on May 24, 1862, less than two weeks after writing this letter.
The following letters are courtesy of the National Archives.
Fort Woodbury, Va.
September 8, 1861
I now sit down to endeavor to answer yours of the fourth. I was glad to hear from you and to hear you are all well but I am under the weather. But never mind, I think I shall be all right in a few days if nothing happens. You must not fret about me for I can take care of No. 1 yet awhile.
We gout our State pay yesterday. It was $12.45 cts. and we expect to get 24 dollars more this week so if you want some, just let us know and we will send it to you. So do not go without anything you need for we can send it to you.
[Alanson Piper finishes letter]
Abe commenced this but could not finish it so I will do it. I am as well and tough as ever and have not been sick a day since we left Adrian. When you write, tell us how much that cheese cost to send it here. It did not cost us anything here.
We have got our fort almost done and will finish in a few days. We are also building breastworks about ½ mile long from our fort to another. I suppose you have heard of General Butler’s Expedition down south but I will write the truth. He took 2 forts, 30 pieces of cannon, and 730 prisoners — some of them their most distinguished officers. There was 9 killed and wounded but not a man on his side was injured. I don’t think there will be an attack made very soon this way but the longer they wait to attack us, the worse will be for them. If they ever do attack us here, the Michigan 4th is considered the best regiment in the service for they don’t scare worth anything and Colonel Woodbury says if he was to pick a company out of his regiment to fight, he would take Co. B for they don’t care for nothing.
Tell Mulford Wilder that Abe thanks him for that dollar very much he gave you to send. Abe says if that cheese didn’t cost too much to get it here, he will send some money to you to buy him some so he can sell them here at 20 cts. a pound. What does it cost for a pound in Adrian? It is 20 cts. here.
Please write soon. I was on guard last night and am sleepy today so can’ write. From your sons, — A. R. & A. M. D. P.
Fort Woodbury, Va.
Sept. 22, 1861
I received your letters last night when I returned from picket guard and we was glad to hear from you and to hear that you was all well and we are both well at the present. I have got well but rather weak. Bit I am gaining as fast as can be expected. My nerves are getting steady so I can write very well. So I will commence early this morning for I have a great deal of it to do today.
Mother, we will send 20 dollars home. That is ten apiece and you can use what you want to and when we get paid again the first of November, we will send some more to you. Use all you want if it takes the whole of it for we shall keep enough to last us until we get our pay again/ We will send some of the U. S. bills to you and you can take it to the brakers office and if they will not pay the gold on it or such money as you can use without discount, send it back and I will send you the gold myself. We have 20 dollars in gold and some silver besides this bills and we can get the gold here for them in Washington and we calculate to go to the city tomorrow and get our daguerreotypes taken to send to you. And I want you and father to have yours taken and send them to me. Tell father it will not hurt him a bit and it will be a great accommodation to me to get them for I shall stay until peace is proclaimed if nothing happens.
I saw the sharpshooters from Adrian and I see Thomas Gordon and some other ones that I knew from that part of the world. We had warm times out on picket now, you can bet. Lant had the privilege of shooting at them twice and I guess he physicked them for he did not shoot more than 20 rods at one of them and the other about 15 rods. So I guess he stirred them up from the bottom. I know that if Abe himself had been there, they would had the headache or the belly ache for we have got good guns now and I am just the boy that can shoot for you know that I am used to shooting.
Well, mother, I must bring this to a close for I have got to write some other letters so I will send ten dollars in this letter and Lant is going to send ten in another letter. So I will close by asking you to write soon. So I remain your true son. So goodbye for this time. — Abel M. D. Piper
Mother, I will try and take as good care of you as I can by sending you money.
Camp Minor, Va.
November 9, 1861
I received your letter last Wednesday night and glad I was to hear from you once more and also to hear that you was all well. And now I take the present opportunity in writing an answer to it to let you know that I am well at the present time and I hope this may find you the same. I don’t know but you will think I have forgotten you but that is not the case. But I have been trying to get Lant to write to you but he is getting some like myself for we are getting too lazy. But in fact we have to drill every day so that we hardly get a chance to write unless we write in the evening and it is in the evening now. So you can’t expect a very long one.
Well mother, I want you to write to me and let me know if you want some more money for we shall get our pay again pretty soon and then if you want some money, write as soon as you get this and we will send you some.
There is not much news down here just now. Well, as I am rather tired, I guess I must bring this to a close. One thing more I like to forgot — as far as that butter, I think we had not better try to do anything about it for we do not know how long we shall be here and when we move again, I do not know where we shall go to for we have got a new commander and we may be ordered to Richmond within a week. So you see it is not best to try to do anything with it. So you must keep up good courage and we will do our part of the fighting when we get the chance.
So remember this is from your affectionate son. So goodbye for this time. — [Abel Piper]
In this 3 page letter, Abel mentions an incident that occurred on November 23, 1861. While out on guard duty, Private James Murphy, of Co. D, shot Private Lewis Ritter, also of Co. D, in the hip. Private Murphy was found to be drunk at the time and was arrested along with Sergeant William Limbarker of Co. F. Limbarker was accused of providing and encouraging Murphy to drink with him. Murphy was court-martialed but Limbarker was eventually acquitted of the charges against him. Ritter survived the wound and returned back to the regiment a few months later.
Camp Minor, Va.
November 29, 1861
I sit down this evening to write you a few lines to let you know that we are all well at the present and I hope this letter will find you all the same. I have no news to write — only to say that we have got our pay and I will send you five dollars this time and when we write again, we will send you you some more and you can buy what you want. You must use it to [buy] clothes for yourself and the children so as to make yourself as comfortable for the winter if you can with what we send to you for we shall keep enough for our own use. So you need not fear or borrow any trouble about us for we will take care of ourselves. We are both tougher now than we was when we left Adrian and I am heavier than I ever was in my life.
Well mother, I have written all day and I am tired so you must excuse me this time for I can’t write much tonight.
There was two sentinels standing on guard and one of them shot the other and he is dead. They was both out of one company in our regiment but they was both drunk — or rather intoxicated — and the other one is under guard.
Write often and I will do the same. This is from your son, — A. M. D. Piper
So goodbye for this time.
Camp near Yorktown
April 17, 
I sit down this morning to write a few lines to tell you the war is commenced — heavy cannonading all day yesterday and some last night and this morning. As soon as [it became] light, they began again. Our loss yesterday was a good deal. We had seven men killed by one of the rebels shells but we dismounted a lot of the rebel guns and we have taken one of their big forts now and then we will have another before night. The fort that was taken yesterday had 67 [17?] guns in it. Heavy firing all day today. Our loss yesterday killed and wounded is about 500 but more must fall yet before this battle is over.
April 18th. Last night there was a sharp fight take place in general in Smith’s Division. Our loss was not much but the rebels’ [loss] was pretty heavy. I went out on picket guard and the rebels threw some shells pretty close to us but did us no harm.
April 19th. Last night Capt. Wood of Co. C was shot by one of his own men. This morning I had some fun while on post. As soon as daylight, we commenced shooting at each other. I got some close calls and I done my best to fetch some of them down. We exchanged several shots at each other but I did not get hurt.
April 20th/ Everything is all quiet today but some rainy.
April 21st. It is wet and rainy this morning.
April 22nd. Last night our gunboats threw some shells but to no account. Everything is pretty quiet today. There is some cannonading this afternoon.
April 30th. Well mother, I will try and finish this letter. You must excuse me for not writing before this time has come that we have something else to do besides write. I am well at the present and I hope this will find you the same. We have to work now days. We are throwing up breastworks now. We was out working yesterday within half a mile of the rebels big fort and we had some fun dodging the big shells for they did no harm — only to kill one man and wound another. And while we was working on our breastworks, there was a big shell struck the embankment and covered two men up so they was not to be seen. BUt so soon as it bursted, they hopped up a laughing. And another man had his shovel handle cut in two by a shell while he had it in his hand but [was] unhurt.
Our captain has got well again. There is some tall firing today. We have three one hundred pound guns close to us and they are practicing today.
Well mother, I will send you ten dollars and I want you to send me a lot of postage stamps for they are scarce here. You must not expect to hear from us every week for it is impossible for us to write a great deal now. Let nothing trouble you about us for we will get along all right if the rebels let us alone which I guess they will. Well, I will bring this to a close hoping to hear from you soon. So goodbye for this time.
From your son, — A. M. D. Piper
West Point, Va.
May 12th 1862
It is with pleasure that I seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know that we are both well and as tough as bears and enjoying ourselves right up to the handle and I hope this will find you the same. We are not at Yorktown now but we are up the [York] river 30 miles towards Richmond and we expect to visit that place before many days as it is only about 35 miles up there which we can go it in two days and we expect to start soon — perhaps before night as we have been ready to march for two days past but the order has not come to start yet. But we expect it soon and one thing sure, we do not care how soon for we have smelt burnt powder and it makes us anxious to get up there if they will stand and fight. We all like the smell of burnt powder and we like to hear the bomb shells whistle. It is fun for us to hear them. It is true, we run some danger. But what of that –we expect to go in some danger. How can we fight without? We have God for our protector and if we put our trust in him, all is well with us no matter where we die. If we hold out faithful, we shall meet above, never more to part. And you can rest assured that I am trying to live a Christian life. But this is a hard place for it. A man has got to take abuse of all kinds. I get out of patience sometimes but I am soon over it for it in enough to make anybody out of patience to be abused the way we get it here. But then I get along very well.
This morning our orderly sergeant got mad and reported me to the captain but he did not pay any attention to it and then I went and reported the orderly for he will sit up half the night and gamble and in the morning he will abuse the men just because he feels a little out of humor and I will not put up with it. If this don’t stop it, I will report him to the colonel. Then I am sure it will be stopped.
Mother, I received your letter yesterday which I was very glad to get but you did not say as you got the money that I sent you. If you got it, I want you to let me know. I sent you ten dollars and you can use it for anything you want to. It begins to thaw some down here about now. It is very nice weather — only it is pretty warm, But wait until July and then it will thaw some. Keep up good courage and don’t worry about us for we are all right and doing well. So I will close hoping to hear from you soon.
From your affectionate son to his parents. So goodbye for this time. — A. M. D. Piper