Twenty-one year old Austin T. Smith enlisted as a Corporal in Company K of the Fourth Michigan Infantry on June 20, 1861. On March 8, 1863 Austin died of disease in camp near Falmouth, Virginia.
The following letters were found within Austin’s pension application file kept in the National Archives in Washington D.C.
Dear Father, Camp Union August the 15th, 1861
I seat myself this morning for the purpose of writing you a short letter saying to you that I am well and sincerely hope that they may find you the same. I wrote to Mary yesterday and told her that I was not well and told her that I would write again today and let her know whether I was well or not. Tell her today that I am well and feel like a colt. I have not written to you in almost a week but it is not because I have not thought of you but it is because I have not heard a word from you this summer and by the way of the other letters and I should like to see a letter from you in your own handwriting. It does me good to hear from home. We are, as I suppose you have heard, moved over into Virginia. It is not the same place that we crossed before, but the country is much more beautiful. We have plenty of peaches and green corn, and potatoes, and plenty of tomatoes, to them that want them, and lots of watermelons. So you see that we live just as we are assigned to. We received $4 of our pay the other day and I tell you that it comes good for we can buy some little thing that is pleasing to the taste that does not belong to our rations. And putting it with our rations, we can make out some good meals. And in two weeks from today we expect to get the rest of our pay, that is two months wages. And the Colonel says that we are certain of it. But I never expect to get it from the state and I am going to see if I can make out a receipt and send it to you and let you pay your taxes with [it]. And if I can do that, you know that it will be as good to you as money. And then if I get my money in two weeks there will be about twenty six dollars of it, and I should like to send you twenty of it. And I am afraid that it will not be safe to send it in a letter, but if you will write and tell me what your advice is, I will do as you think best. I don’t want my money, or at least, I can spare twenty dollars, and I want you to have it. It is expected that there will be a battle somewhere about here in a few days. They are fixing for it as fast as possible. You know that I wrote to you some time ago that it was expected that we should come home in a short time, but I guess that it is not so. I think that we are in for three years but I can’t help that. I enlisted for three years and I am willing to stay my time out. I think that my country demands my help and all other help that they can. For I tell you that we have an enemy to contend with. They are strong and understand themselves. And the North is strong and they understand themselves. And in my opinion, we are going to have a serious time. But we are not afraid of them. There is hundreds and thousands of men that will stand by the old flag till death shall tear them from it and I am proud to say that I am one of them. I can tell you dear Father, that I never knew the necessity of a free government till I entered into the present campaign. And here, it can be fully appreciated by everyone, and I presume that it may be felt as far north as our own homes. But I can but hope that it may never be so, but Father, be as contented as possible. The time will soon pass away and then we shall meet again in peace with the thought that we have not lived for naught. I have no more to write.
Austin My love to all, write soon.
Dear Father, D.C. Camp Union Fort Woodbury Sept. 7th, 1861
Having a few leisure moments this morning, I can think of no way of occupying them than to converse with you a few moments, although with the pen yet. Dear Father, I hope and believe that the time is not far distant when we shall have the privilege of talking with each other face to face, as we have heretofore. I slept last night with my pantaloons off, which is the first time since I was to home, and I can tell you that it was comfortable indeed. It is a pleasant morning and the sun shines so pleasant that I almost wish myself at home to work but you know that a contented mind is a continual feast, and so I content myself. I have not had a homesick day but once and that was when we was up on Mansfield Camp and the reason was that we did not have enough to eat and our food that we had was not wholesome. But that day has gone off and plenty once more reigns in our camp. At present we have the best kind of bread and beef, and fresh pork, and tea and coffee, and plenty of it. We have been to work building a fort which is now finished and we are now at work on a breastwork which, after being completed, will be about three miles in length. But we are not alone in this job. We have got to build about a hundred rods of it, and we shall have our part of it completed by next Sunday, if we have good luck. The report that you hear about Washington being surrounded with rebel troops is false. There is not a rebel within eight miles of Washington, neither has there been since we came here. And I don’t think that there will be right away! And now, Dear Father, I am sorry that such a feeling prevails in the north. I know that the administration is not as it should be but we shall have to submit to it, and the time will soon come when the American people will have another chance to express their views in regard to politics. We should throw ourselves into a body and go for the Union and nothing else. But Father, you are too old a man for me to advise. It is Sunday today, yet a man would not know it by the actions of soldiers for we have to work just the same and today we are going to receive our pay from the State and I will enclose some for you. For I suppose that you need it and would be glad to get more, but I will send you all that I can spare. There is nothing going on in regard to the war of any importance. But I know not how soon there will be, as we stand as minutemen and are liable to march at any moment. I hope that you have had some good luck getting your hay and hope that you will have good luck in getting rid of your cattle and wheat. And I hope that the time will soon come when we shall once more be together and peace and harmony shall be restored to our land. Now Father, I have written considerable and have got but little more to write. I would like to have you send me a paper once a week, for we are where we do not get any news to read, only what is sent to us by our friends. And now Dear father, do not make yourself uneasy about me for I am perfectly contented. Keep up good courage and I think that things will be all right yet. This is all. I will send you 5 dollars enclosed in this letter and more when I get my money from the United States. Please write soon and tell me whether you get it or not.
Dear Father and Mother, Camp Union Sept. 14th, 1861
Your latter came to me today and now I seat myself for the purpose of answering it. I was happy to hear that you [are both] well and enjoying yourselves. And I am glad that I am able to say the same with regards to myself. I have just come in from picket and have had considerable of a time with the enemy. They opened their artillery on us yesterday afternoon killing one of our men and wounding one private, but not seriously.. The ball lodged in his neck. They drove us back about two miles and burned about 4 or 5 houses, and they shot one horse from in under a man but not hitting him or injuring him in any shape. But I can tell you that I saw the horrors of war exhibited on a small scale, as the shells bursted quite close to my head and rifle, and musket balls whistling by our heads in good earnest. But I don’t suppose that it was anything to what I shall have to see one of these days. But I guess that I can stand it. For it seems like fun to hear the balls whistle by our heads. But you have heard enough about picketing and fighting I guess. You wanted to know whether I had received Fathers letters or not. All that I have heard from him till today is that little letter that he mailed in Howell and I can say that I was thankful for that. And I have received a paper from you. The paper was dated August the 21st. But the letter I never got.
Sept. the 16th
Dear Parents, while writing to you I was called away on picket and that has taken two days . But I now seat myself to finish it and am so sleepy that I can hardly see a line that I write. Now [the] day before yesterday I received a paper but have not had time to read it. For I have been out on picket [for] a week and now I have got over a dozen letters to write and but little time to answer them yet. I will be short and do my best. I have not received my pay from the government but expect to soon. Now Father, I want you to write and tell me whether you received that 5 dollars that I sent you. If so, I will send you some more when I get it from the government. Tell Martha that it is almost impossible for me to send her a present as I can’t get downtown to get anything and our sutler sells nothing, only what is strictly necessary. But I will try and see what I can do one of these days. Tell Samuel that he must be a good boy and help Father work now. Dear parents, I can think of nothing more to write so I must bring my letter to a close.
Yours truly, Austin Smith
My love to all. Write soon.
Dear Father and Mother, Fort Woodbury Sept. 22, 1861
In answer to a letter written which I received from you, I can say that I am well and enjoying myself. I have just been over to the Fifth Michigan [Infantry] Regiment where I met Henry Goodrich and William and Merrill Herrington and they are all doing well. And as far as our own boys are concerned, they are all well with the exception of Alanson. And he, as you have been informed before this time, is in the hospital. We heard from him yesterday and he was on the gain. And the reason that you have not heard from him before was because it was his request that we should keep it to ourselves, as he thought that he should be smart again in a few days. But after this, if any of us is sick or wounded, you shall know it as soon as a letter can get from here [to] there. And I am sorry that I have not done it heretofore, but I have not, and you must excuse me for not doing so. Now Father, I have just received twenty dollars of my pay from the government and I think that I shall send $15 of it home and I don’t know whether it is best to send it by mail or send it by Calvin Wilcox, as he is coming home tomorrow. And I think that it will get to you quicker and more surer than to send it by mail. And I guess that I will send it by him and if I don’t, I will send it in my next letter. There is not much excitement here about the war, that is, as far as we are concerned. But regiments are continually coming across the river and also in Washington. We have heard something about the battle of Lexington but have not had the exact returns. I did not get the last paper that you sent at the time you did your letter. I should like to have a letter, I mean a paper, every week and every day now. I have not received a letter, except yours and one from John Lockwood, in almost a week. I think that Uncle Isaac will get sick of his bargain, that is buying Sam’s horses, if they run away with him a few times more. And I think he made a foolish bargain when he bought them. You said that you had sold the head [of] cattle and was going to get ninety dollars for them. Now I should like to know when you are going to get it and how your other cattle looks, and how your corn looks, and whether your oats was worth anything or not, and whether you are going to sell any more of your cattle or not. If you can, and can get a good price for them, you can get along with your debts. I thought that I would try and send home $100 a year and maybe I can send more. But I shall send home that if I live and that will leave me about $50 to play on and money is quite acceptable sometimes. At least I find it so here.
Sept. 23rd, 1861
I continue my letter this morning and I have concluded to send my money by Calvin Wilcox. I suppose that you know who Calvin Wilcox is. It is old Col. Wilcox’s son over across the Cedar and you can go over there and get it. Deloss Haviland is going to send his in the same way, and it will be in a letter and directed in your care. Now, please write as soon as possible and let mew know whether the money came safe or not.
This is from Austin Smith, my love to all. Write soon.
Dear Father, Camp Winfield Scott May 7, 1862
I again seat my self to pen a few lines to you. You will pardon me for not writing to you before but I have been waiting to hear from you. But I have waited in vain. I have not heard from you in two weeks and it has been about that length of time since I have written to you, and fearing that you would get uneasy about me, I though that I would write a few lines. And you will be almost surprised to learn that we are in the same campground where we was when I last wrote to you. But, although we are in the same place yet, we are much farther from the enemy. For as I suppose that you have heard long before this time that they have evacuated their stronghold. But they are pursued by our troops. Yesterday there was a pretty heavy battle fought but we drove them from their fortifications entirely. But I have not heard the exact result of the battle. The report is here in camp that our loss in killed and wounded is six hundred, but that is nothing but a camp story. I hope that is not any heavier. We was called out last night to reinforce our army but orders came again that we was not wanted, so we went back to our tents again and laid down, glad enough of the chance, for it rained like everything. There has been a great many wounded carried by here in the ambulances and some of them looked pretty hard. I am glad that I am not one of that number.
But Dear Father, you may never concern yourself about our going into a battle. For I think that the campaign is about wound up, and even if it is not, our brigade will not have any fighting to do. For the whole army has gone in pursuit of the rebels, [everybody] but our brigade. We are in General Porter’s Division, and he is appointed Governor of the Peninsula, and he has chosen us for his reserve. So, I think that we have gone about as far as we ever shall go, but it is beautiful [here]. This is a beautiful [area] and I don’t suppose that we shall have anything to do. It is quite warm down here in the daytime, but cool nights. The peaches are as big as chippy bird eggs and [the] little apples look fine. I hope that you will have a good fruit country season. For I think that I shall be home to eat some of them. Within I enclose $15 hoping that you will receive it in due time. Now Father, when you write again, I want you to send me some postage stamps. For they can’t be got around here for love nor money, and I have not but few left. I am well. Hope these few lines will find you the same.
Yours truly from your affectionate son, Austin Smith
Write soon. Direct as before.