These letters were written by Private Charles W. Phelps to his brother, Jay Edward Phelps. Charles enlisted in Company D of the Fourth Michigan Infantry on May 16th, 1861 in Ann Arbor, Michigan . He was killed in action on July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and is buried in the National Cemetery there.
The transcripts of the letters are provided through the courtesy of his descendant, Jeff Phelps. Photocopies of the original letters are unavailable at this time due to their fragile condition.
Dear Brother, Pontiac, May 23, 1861
I seat myself to write you this morning not having much to do. I have joined the Pontiac Light Guards for 3 years but yesterday they disbanded, or discharged for the present but subject to a call any time. But I guess I shall go to Detroit and join the Second (Michigan Infantry) Regiment. The company I joined was with the Fifth (Michigan Infantry) Regiment. Are you going to learn a tinner’s trade? Is there any chance for me to get in a tin shop as you know of? If I don’t go off in this army I will come out that way. I can’t get in here there is only three tin shops in town and they are all full. Uncle thought that I could get a place to learn a carpenters trade but I don’t care about learning it. Have you heard anything from Brunswick yet? I have not. Your letter went to Brunswick and then came here. I have not fully made up my mind what to do yet. I’ll be damned if I will stay here anyway. I don’t know where I shall be when you write but you can direct your letter to Pontiac. I am going to Pontiac this afternoon and see what I can do, if there is any soldiers going to Detroit. I shall go anyway. And if the regiment is not filled – I shall go. Yesterday noon they wanted 100 more to make it but there was about a dozen (that) went from here yesterday and (the) Second Regiment is gone to Washington. So there is not much danger, who care anyway. Have you written to Wm. Root yet? If not, you write him and tell him that the green silk shawl was Aunt Jane’s. She let Mother take it to wear and it is one she has had a great many years and wants him to get it for her. It cost ten dollars in the first place and a little cotton one that had little dots that she would like too. I don’t know as it was sold. I asked her about her other things, what she wanted to have done with them. She never said what she wanted done with them, so I don’t know and I don’t care. I expect corn is up in your section. There is lots that have not got there ground plowed yet. It has been very cold along back. Yesterday and day before were the best days we have had. Give my love to Aunt Betsy and Buel and a share for yourself.
Charles W. Phelps, Pontiac
Dear Brother, Harrisburg, (Pennsylvania) June 28, 1861
I seat, or lay rather to answer your letter after so long a time since you heard from me. I have been all over. I enlisted in the 4th (Michigan Infantry) Regiment two weeks ago tomorrow. I went to Adrian and drilled until last Tuesday when we started for here. We started at 10 o’clock and went to Toledo and thence to Cleveland and from there to Dunkirk, and then to Elmira, where we was received by the 2nd (Infantry) regiment of New York and took supper at their quarters and started that night for Harrisburg. We was 3 days and 2 nights coming through. We have been on parade this morning and now fixing for starting for Washington. We are going to start tomorrow morning for there and we are going through Baltimore and we may be attacked. We are getting as lazy as the deuce. (We) go out and drill a while, then come in and lay down a spell. We are all in tents now. Yesterday I was out to the city. (I) went all over, the Capitol buildings, and the reservoir, and in fact, all over the city. (I was) gone all day and had all the cherries I wanted. Wheat is ripe enough to cut and a great many are having. At noon, I have just been to dinner. We had bean soup, rice, and some beef and pea broth. We are going to street drilling this afternoon so I cannot write much at present. so you will excuse me. If you write to Mr. Root or any others, tell them where I am. Give my love to Aunt Betsy and Buel.
PS. If you write, direct in care of (Captain) John Randolph, Company D, 4th Regiment Michigan Infantry, and to Washington, District of Columbia.
Dear Brother, Washington D.C. Camp Mansfield July 26, 1861
I take this opportunity to write you in answer to your letter and have been waiting to get our pay so I could get my likeness taken as to send it to you. We expect some pay very soon now and when we do I will get it taken and send it to you. You probably see the account in the papers about the 4th regiment being cut all to pieces in the battle but we were not in it at all. We were about six miles from it at Fairfax Station and (at Fairfax) Court House. A part of the regiment were at both places. I was at the station, about three miles from the court house guarding the railroad and the station until last Sunday, when we went to the court house and two companies were ordered to go down towards the station about a mile and let none pass, except the wounded. But the road got so full of wagons and men (that) we had to charge bayonets on our own men to keep men back. It was done to get scattered regiments together. It was hard (to do), but we had to do it and after a while (we) let them all pass. We went back to the court house and laid down on the ground and went to sleep. This was all done in the night. (We) slept about two hours when we got orders to march as we all expected, to Bull Run, but instead of that we were marched back to Alexandria. We started about 2 o’clock in the night and marched about twenty two miles in five hours (and) stayed at Alexandria until the next morning when we came to Washington, and are in camp at our old place. But I don’t know how long we shall stay here. What does your northern friends say about the retreat?
General McDowell had no orders to commence the battle when he did. Wednesday was the day ordered by General Scott, but General McDowell wanting the honor himself, done as he did. But he is under arrest in Washington now. But the loss is not so great after all. It is estimated to be about five hundred instead of five thousand. When the soldiers came along we would ask them how they came on. One of Ellsworth’s Zouaves said “Pretty well, we came out second best”. When the poor fellow was wounded in the arm, the ball was in it. They are good pluck and fought like tigers, but the regulars run. We will get our new uniform and pay before we leave here again. Our regiment stands A number 1 here. They cheered us when we marched through the city the other day when we came, and said it was the only regiment that came in together. Some run and threw away their arms at the station when there was not half the danger there as where we were. When general Scott makes another break he will clean them all out.
I have been very well along back, but I don’t feel very well today. When you write tell me who are you to work for and what you are doing. I got a letter from Lewis Gilchrist the other night. They are all well. Write as soon as you get this for I don’t know how long we shall be here. Direct your letter as before. Give my love to Aunt Betsy and Buel, and all your friends. I have not heard from Mr. Root yet but I wrote to him quite a while ago, nor from uncle’s folks either. Write soon.
Yours, C. W. Phelps, High Private
Dear Brother, Camp Union August 23, 1861
I received your letter in due time and was glad to hear from you and that you and that you are doing well, and (going) to work in a saw mill, but you don’t get as much a month as I do. Into three dollars we get thirteen dollars now, but we have not received but 10 days pay yet, 4 dollars and 3 cents. We will get some more pretty soon now as we are entitled to 2 months pay from the United States and a months pay from the State. We get our pay every two months. The first of September is the regular pay day (and) then I will get my likeness taken and send it to you and (I) would have before if i could have gotten it taken. We have moved back from where we were in camp about three quarters of a mile and are building a fort in some six companies from our regiment, besides a number from the __New York regiment and a lot of paddies. They are building forts all around here. About a half mile to the left of us, the 9th Massachusetts (Infantry) are building one (and) have got it most (built). And to the right about the same distance, the Decalb (regiment) are building one and are about the same distance all along the Potomac. Right back behind of us is a large Fort Calkins, where they have got a number of old 64 -pounders, besides a lot of howitzers and barbette guns. We will stand them a pretty good hand at it . Our pickets were fired on by the rebels yesterday afternoon and returned fire, killing 2 of the secesh devils. I was on picket (the) day before yesterday. Had a good time I tell you. We have all the corn, potatoes, (and) milk (that we want) when we are on picket. All the citizens have to get a pass from (Generals) Sherman, Scott, McClellan, Mansfield, or McDowell. And they have to stop and show it to every picket along the road, which is pretty often. It must gall some of them to have to have a pass to go off from their farm. This war is going to be the ruin of Virginia for a great many years. There is nothing planted but a little corn and potatoes. A great many have left their plantations all together.
I got a letter from Henry Cunningham last night and was glad to hear from him. Give my love to Buel and Aunt Betsy, also the rest of your friends. Send me a paper once in a while when you have one handy. Remember me to all the folks in Brunswick when you go there. Excuse my writing. If you can read it you will do better than I can. Write as soon as you get this for I want to hear from you.
Yours in haste, Charles W. Phelps
Dear Brother, Camp Union September 14, 1861
I received your letter last night and was glad to hear that you was having such a good time, but perhaps you think I don’t have a good time too. Last night our pickets were driven in about a mile and the secesh burnt a number of houses and barns. They made a splendid light. We were all called out in battalion order. Under there was eight regiments, two batteries of artillery, and one cavalry company, and (we) were behind a breastwork which runs from our fort (Fort Woodbury, named after our Colonel) to the fort north of us. We would have given them a pretty warm reception if they would have come down. They were like a pack of Injuns. The woods was full of them. We have whipped them every time when they would come out in an open field fight if there is not more than five to one. Ten of our men drove forty of the secesh. The 9th Massachusetts (Infantry) had three wounded yesterday. They had quite a skirmish yesterday, I tell you. I forgot to tell you the rest about our being called out last night. We had our supper fetched to us then were marched down to our tents (and) got our blankets and overcoats. We have a large rubber blanket to spread on the ground, and a large woolen one to put over you, and a good overcoat. We got our things and were marched back to where we stacked our guns, spread our blankets, laid down, and went back to sleep as if nothing had happened you would think. Pretty hard indeed, but I don’t mind it at all. We sleep on the ground or have pine boughs, being healthier than straw. We sometimes have boards when we can get them. I sleep just as well as you do in a soft bed. Nothing like getting used to it.
I have not heard anything from the judge since I left Ohio. I got (a) letter from Hen Cunningham a few days ago but nothing particular. I have not got my pay yet. I don’t understand why we don’t get. It was due the first and as soon as I get it I will send you some (money) and my likeness, whether I hear from you before or not. But I want you should write soon and tell me the particulars and what you are doing. I got your paper with the letter. Send me some more and I will send you some if I can get some. Write soon and (tell me) what you are doing. Direct your mail to Washington D.C. in care of Company D 4th Regiment Michigan Infantry just as you did before. Washington is our post office. We have regular mail carriers. My love to Aunt Betsy and Buel, and the rest of your friends, ladies in particular. Yours, in love, C. W. Phelps , high private
Dear Brother, Camp Woodbury September 24, 1861
I seat myself to comply with your wish. I should have sent that money before. I got it last week but so many are sending it I thought I would wait a little, for the mails are robbed some times where so much is sent. I send you a five dollar Treasury note which you can get changed at any bank brokers or exchange office. I got a five changed at our sutlers (tent) and he gave me the gold on it just as good as the gold anywhere. I got twenty three dollars and seventy three cents. I lent one of my tent mates $5. We didn’t get our pay, not till after this month, which we ought to have got (on) the first.
Keep this until I send for it, which will I probably shant. Next time I may send you some more. I better let you keep it than keep it here and spend for something to eat or drink. After I send this to you I will have one five like the one I send you, two twenty shilling gold pieces, one gold dollar, and eight two shilling gold pieces. So you see, I have got plenty of money.
I was on picket last Friday on one of the outer parts. In the day time we in were (within) a 100 rods of their pickets. We got (to) shooting. We were on one side of a large clearing in the woods and they on the other side in the woods. They would fire at us and we at them. We would step out and fire and they would. At night they skulked down through the woods and throwed stones at us to get us to make noise, to find out where our post was, and then fire at us. But they couldn’t fool us on that. They have played that too many times. You at the north are so afraid that something will hurt us (that) you don’t know what to do. I wouldn’t change places with you. It is fun to be on picket.
A scouting party was sent out when I was and killed two secesh. Write as soon as you get this and let me know about it. Give my love to all folks. Excuse my handwriting for I am in a hurry because we are going to move our tents a little.
Yours in love, C. W. Phelps high private Company D Direct your letter as you have.
Dear Brother, Minor’s Farm Oct. 5, 1861
I received your letter last night, the 4th. I had begun to think(that) you had not got that money. Did you have any trouble in getting it changed? We will get some more pay the first of next month. We will get twenty six dollars and in all I will have between 30 and 35 dollars. I think I shall buy a Colt revolver. I can get a good one for $15 and they come (in) handy (for) anyone in our position. We are on the forward move somewhere to Manassas or Richmond. We will send some of them to kingdom come. Last Saturday we got orders to move. We marched about 4 miles where we camped about 9 o’clock (and) throwed out our pickets, I, being one of them. There were about 20 on the reserve and about midnight we heard someone coming. Pretty soon 3 regiments came along. One, a California regiment, was ahead (and) got about to us, (when) they turned off on another road into the woods. (They) got about 30 rods and they said “secesh cavalry” (and) charged on them and then commenced firing right into their own men and at us. (they then ) throwed (down) there muskets (and) run like the devil. Then (They) came around and said the Michigan 4th fired first. We told them (that) they were damn liars for we belonged to that regiment. They killed 8 or 10 and wounded about 20. You have seen in the papers before now probably. You wanted to know if if I corresponded with William Root. I wrote one letter and received no answer, so I haven’t written (him) any more. What kind of trade are you going to learn? About taking care of my money, if I don’t buy a revolver, I will send you 10 or 15 dollars next month if nothing happens. Where we be at that time I can’t tell. We are about 6 miles from Washington at no town. We are in the woods about as much as anywhere. For dinner we are having this noon, boiled beans and pork, and bread, oysters, pies, cakes, cukes, cheese, sausage, everything good when you buy it. We live good and I tell you to pass away time we have reveille at sunrise, roll call ten minutes after, and after that, breakfast. Then company drill from 9 until 11, then dinner at 12, and then from 3 until 5 battalion drill. Sometimes we have to drill and sometimes we don’t. We drilled about an hour this forenoon.
About Pontiac, I never have received any letter from uncle or aunt or written. I enlisted on my own hook. They didn’t know anything about it nor won’t by me. Does Buel keep the post office now? Give my love to Aunt Betsy and Buel.
What is your work in the mill and what kind is it you are to work. I think you had better go to Brunswick and see to our things. By doing so, it may save more than it costs. But you know how you are situated best. Write soon as you get this and let me know (how) you are getting along. I haven’t had letters from Brunswick in quite awhile.
Yours in love, Charles W. Phelps Company D 4th Regiment Michigan Infantry
Writing this, I am sitting on my knapsack with the box cover on my lap for a table for all this. (I) like it first rate, so goodbye camp.
Dear Brother, Minor’s Hill Oct. 24, 1861
I take my pen to answer your letter. I was very glad to hear from you and that you were doing well. I think you are doing as well at firing as you would to learn a trade. How large (of) a mill are you in? How many days do you run?
It has been very cold and wet here along back. They say (that) it rains here most of the time during the winter season. If it does, it will be pretty rough on us. We have good tents, though they are rather cold. But they won’t wet through and i don’t know whether we will go to winter quarters or not. We may be tramping round all winter, but i hope not. You wanted me to get my likeness but I can not as I am 10 miles from Washington and it is a thing almost impossible. So you will have to wait until i have a chance. there is nothing of importance going on now. One of our men was shot through the knuckles on picket the other night by a secesh spy. he had to have his two middle fingers taken off, which will probably spoil his hand. Give my love to Aunt Betsy and Buel. Have you heard anything from Brunswick lately? Write soon.
Yours in love, C. W. Phelps
Dear Brother, Minor’s Hill Nov. 17, 1861
I take my pen to answer your welcome letter which I received last night. I had been looking for a letter from you for 3 or 4 nights and I was very glad to hear from you. I should have got a sheet of fools cap but the sutler that we have has sold out to another man and i guess he is a good deal better qualified for the business. I am glad to hear (that) you are getting along so well. It must be a pretty busy mill and employ a good many hands, does it not? If you don’t have plenty of use for both of your watches, you had better send me the $10 one to take care of a spell. I left my own at _______ with the rest of my things. There is one of our sergeants (who) got a hunter case watch that is valued at $30 and he has put it up at 50 cents a chance, and 60 chances. Some have taken 5 and 6 chances. I invested a half a dollar on it. I threw dice (for the) first time. I never had any luck in such things. But I thought I would try it for the first time and if I am the lucky one I won’t need yours. I haven’t got me a revolver yet, haven’t fully made up my mind yet. As to the grub, we got beef steak and boiled beef, pork, bacon, beans, good bread, beef bean and rice soup. (We) have to buy our own butter if we have it. I got a half a pound at the sutlers yesterday, the best I have had in Virginia. We had some butter strong enough to do housework with without any joking. Butter is from 25 to 30 cents a pound here. Eggs 30 cents a dozen. Raw cookies 37 1/2 cents a dozen. they are so high from the scarcity of them. We can get fresh oysters for 40 cents a quart. A pint makes me two good meals. I will tell you how we cook them. (We) put what oysters we want in tin cup then put in what butter, pepper, and salt you want, break in three or four crackers, or as many as you want. Then fill it up with water, set it on some coals and let them just boil and they are ready for eating and are as good as you get at home or at a social. I think the way we live here, (well) we are living as well as you do. I haven’t weighed myself in a good while, don’t have to. Nothing puts flesh on him in the army as meat does. I haven’t been to Washington since we crossed the Potomac. We have to have a pass from the Brigadier General to go across the river, so I haven’t had a chance to have my likeness taken. But (I) will the first opportunity (I get). I got a letter from Lewis Gilchrist a short time ago. Nothing particular, only Jimmy and Belinda Billings were married. It is hard to get a furlough now without a man’s family is sick or something of the kind, and it costs like the devil too. There is some prospect of our leaving here before a great while. I should like to come and see you first rate. We may go off with some of those expeditions that are being fitted out. We may go south to South Carolina and we may go somewhere else, nobody knows. We are considered as good a regiment as there is around and I think there is more fighting south this winter than around here, that’s what I think. McClellan is a long headed and a smart man, I can tell you that, and know what he is about, see the late victory in Kentucky, 400 killed, and two thousand and 15 taken prisoner. You want to know what I have seen since I have been here, well I haven’t (seen) anything much but the country and a good many soldiers, nothing but soldiers. And things look as if it would take about 20 years to get Virginia in a state of civilization and cultivation. the fences we have used to cook our rations with (the) woods chopped down so. They will have to build wire fences after this (with) nothing to make rails of. Give my love to Aunt Betsy and Buel. Write soon as you get this and excuse me for not writing more.
Yours in love, Charles W. Phelps
They had better wait and pay us for three months while they was about it. We get 26 dollars this time. I expect we get our pay every two months but they have so many to pay (that) they can’t pay them all the first of the month.
I haven’t heard anything from Alfred Cunningham this good while. I got one from Henry but he said nothing about them. Mr. Cunningham has moved to Lafayette. I received your papers, the Herald, but have not got the rest. You say you are to work on a farm this summer. If you have got a good place, do well so as to keep it. When you hear from me again you may expect it will be from Richmond, Va.
Farmers here have planted their corn and I have seen some up so you could see rows across the field. I have just been down to the river tonight and had a good bath and feel much better. We have just had roll call and now I will finish this. When the mail goes out I do not know. I have had a paper ready to send you for two days now and have not sent it yet, but think I shall when I do this. I wrote to Edwin (Phelps) a few days ago. It is reported that our cavalry has Richmond and leave Virginia and go down into the cotton states. They will never make much of a stand where our gunboats can get at them. I would much rather fight them here than to chase them all over. Being under so much of the time at Yorktown, I think I could go into a fight now as cool as I could eat my breakfast. It’s nothing when you get used to it. Write as soon as you get this and give me all the news. Direct your letters as plain as possible.
Direct C.W. Phelps
Fortress Monroe, Va. Company D 4th Regt. Mich. Infantry
General Porter’s Division
Accept this from your brother, C.W. Phelps
Dear Brother, Minor’s Farm Dec. 2, 1861
I received your letter last night and was glad to hear from you and that you are getting along so well running engines. It is so damn cold I can’t right. I wish (we) would go into winter quarters or go south some where where it is warmer. We are in nothing but tents with no fire, makes things rather cool. You can imagine that if we stay here much longer we will buy a stove or build a log shanty and make a fireplace. We don’t have any snow but there is a cold wind all the time and around the ground froze some last night. We can keep pretty warm nights as far as that it is concerned, but my fingers are all thumbs or will be pretty soon. So you can’t expect a very long letter from me this time.
We just came back from picket yesterday, been on (it) for two days. We went out yesterday and were put on a reserve in an old log house. (We) had a bully old time that day (with) three fireplaces in it, 2 below, and one upstairs. So we had fire enough so that night we raised the very devil all night until two o’clock when were ordered out where the pickets were stationed. (They were) expecting an attack on our pickets so they kept us there till morning. So we never slept a wink all night and Sunday morning, nothing would do. Only we must stand on a post for two hours on and four off, and (so) we did not get much sleep Sunday night (either).
I slept well last night, so well I didn’t get up till about nine o’clock this morning. But it is nothing for a soldier to be two nights a running through. When (he) gets used to it (it) makes him feel rather tough next day though.
I see Albert Root had not enlisted yet. I must write to him I guess, and to Henry Stebbins. I haven’t heard anything from them since I left. I don’t know but I shall go and try to get my likeness taken up to Smith’s Division, about three miles from here. I got so used to tramping 6 or 8 miles every day. Give my love to Buel and Aunt Betsy and the rest of your friends. Write (as) soon as you receive this.
Yours in love, C.W. Phelps Company D 4th Regt. Michigan
I have filled out one more sheet thinking I would like to write a few more lines, commenced another. If you should go to Brunswick remember me to all my old friends. I wrote a letter to Alert Root but have received no answer yet. And I wrote a letter to William Root 4 months ago, but I guess he didn’t get it for I have received no answer. Have you heard anything from Aunt Jane. I haven’t written (to her) since I left and don’t think I shall. We were to be mustered today but didn’t. It is merely to answer to your name when the Brigadier General calls it. It is to find out who is here and who ain’t. We expect to get our pay about the first. I think I shall lend a fellow in my tent 5 or 10 dollars. If I don’t, I will send you some. I calculate to save more than I have. There is considerable gambling done in the regiment, but I am clear of that now. About three months ago I made about 15 dollars in a week at it, then gave it up. (I) haven’t played any poker since, no do I intend to for I don’t like to play well enough. So you need not worry on that account. What railroad do you think of going on finally? I suppose we have got a string band in the regiment so we have plenty of all kinds of music and have a dance every once in awhile. We have got a splendid band. They have all got German silver instruments. They are from Cleveland and the tenor drummer can’t be beat, and besides (that, we have) a band of martial music and six buglers so we have music most all (of) the time. Write as soon as you get this for I want to hear from you. You will excuse my handwriting and I must close wishing you a Happy New Year.
Charles W. Phelps Company D 4 Regiment Mich. Infantry Washington D.C. We are in Virginia, Fairfax County, but our mail all comes to Washington where our PM gets it.
Dear Brother, Minors Hill Dec. 2, 1861 (actually January 2, 1862)
I received your letter (written) on the 15th, the twenty sixth of this month and was glad to hear from you again. I received another from Henry and Mrs. Cunningham (on) the 27th. They said (that) they got a letter from Alf Cunningham and they were up at camp Gilbert, Kentucky. And that they were to leave the next morning at 3 o’clock for Bowling Green. I wrote a letter to Alf about a week ago but I don’t know as he will get it.
There has been considerable talk about camp of our going to Kentucky but I don’t think we will go. But we may for all that. You can’t tell anything about it though. There seems to be a forward move somewhere, but according to the papers, they are giving the rebels hell in Kentucky and Missouri. They ain’t no danger of our being attacked here. They are a little troublesome on the upper Potomac. And a foraging party went out from McCall’s Division a week or so ago and were attacked by the rebels, but they cleaned them out without much trouble, killing some over a hundred. You had probably seen the account of it in the papers. You wanted to know if I was at the Grand Review (that) we had. I was and it was quite a sight, I can tell you. Only about 70,000 soldiers, that’s all. I wish you could have been here to see it.
Our whole Division was reviewed last week by (General) McClellan, and (we) had a sham battle after it. There was 3 brigades of infantry, 1 regiment of cavalry, and 3 companies of artillery. There was a large number of civilians present besides officers and soldiers also. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, he is a white livered looking man, but is a tough old cuss. General McClellan is a young, but fine looking fellow, and has got an eye that he can look right through a fellow with.
We have fine weather here now. The ground’s froze and it’s pretty cool nights, but no snow yet. I suppose that you have (been) sleighing by this time. I suppose you spend your Hollow days at Brunswick. We had a Christmas dinner given by the captains and lieutenants to the company and a 1/2 barrel of beer. We had stuffed chicken. potatoes, boiled onions, (and) beef steak. Our regiment goes on picket tomorrow so we have got some picket tents, two oil cloth large (enough) for three. I was on guard yesterday and last night. Write soon. Give my love to Aunt Betsy and Buel.
Yours in love, C.W. Phelps Company D
PS A couple of the boys got a fighting today. One, a quarrelsome fellow, went to choking a little fellow. The other went to stop him when he pitched into him, but got the worst of it and is in the guardhouse now. Write soon without fail. C.W.P. Company D
Dear Brother, Minors Hill Jan. 29 1861 (1862)
I received your letter in due time but have neglected to answer until now for the want of some postage stamps. We received our pay yesterday for November and December. Our pay rolls were not right so we have just got it. I am going to lend some for I can get one dollar interest for five in two months and get an order on the pay master from the person I lend it to. So all I have got to do is present it to the paymaster and get it. You can double on your money in less than a year.
Our regiment was on picket last Thursday and Friday. We had a pretty hard time. It was quite windy besides rain and sleet. But I got along very well because I have got a large rubber blanket lined with slate colored cotton flannel. I paid $2.75 for it. We had 4 reliefs. Each relief stands 2 hours with 2 on a post. So we were on 2 hours and off 6 hours. And our service was at a large barn so we had a good place when we were off. Got in from picket Saturday noon. Sunday morning I didn’t get up to roll call so i was put on camp guard and are (on) it today. If you are not to roll call in the morning you go on guard that’s all. I am on guard, go on at one o’clock, off at three, and have nothing to do tomorrow. Soldiering is pretty easy but you have some privation to endure. I got a letter from Alf Cunningham the other day. He is well. He said they were in 16 miles from Mammoth Cave. There has been a good deal said about our leaving and have sent all our extra clothing to Washington. We have got some new guns. They are the Springfield Rifle musket. They are a splendid shooting gun I tell you. How is all the folks at Brunswick? I got a letter from H. Cunningham a spell ago. I will send you a paper with this letter. Write soon as you can. You are (at) Mulberry Corners instead of Chester. I shall direct my (letter) as before though. Give my love to all of your friends and Buel and Aunt Betsy.
Yours in love, Charles W. Phelps Company D 4th regiment Excuse my poor writing.
PS I should think Stebbins had fools enough without any more.
Dear Brother, Minors Hill Feb 8th, ’61 (1862)
I take this opportunity for to send my picture to you, it being the first time I have had the opportunity to get it taken. I sent you a letter about 3 days ago but thought I would write again before receiving an answer and a paper. If it don’t suit you I will get it taken over sometime. It is a good picture considering how the original looks. But it is (a) rather bad day to take it. (It) is too dark. We are not doing much now. It is so muddy, it is about three inches deep. It rained quite hard yesterday. I think I shall go to Alexandria tomorrow. The captain said he would give me a pass to go there. You have (to have) a pass counter-signed by the Colonel.
This is some of our paper with the number of Regiment and our Colonel’s name on it. We have got one of the best liked Colonels in the service I tell you. He makes a splendid appearance on a horse and rides a nice one too, none better looking. I don’t know anything more now. Write soon and let me know how you are getting along. My love to all.
Yours as ever, Charles W. Phelps Company D 4th
PS Send me some papers occasionally and I will try to do the same.
C.W.P. Company D 4th Regiment Infantry Michigan Volunteers Col. D. A. Woodbury
Dear Brother, Minors Hill Feb. 8, 1862
I received your letter last evening and was very glad to hear from you. I also received one from Frank Draper and your papers. I was very glad to hear from Pontiac. He says Uncle (Elnathan Phelps) came very near getting killed last harvest. He had a load of grain on and going up a hill the evener broke and jerked him off (the wagon) onto his head and was picked up for dead. But (he) is quite well now. He said he was down to Eds and took my letter with him. Mary wanted (that) I should write to her (and) that she had not forgotten me if the rest had. Frank says Bill Carr is married. I should like to see Bill. (He) is a good fellow if he is a hard case.
Our cooks have yet orders to cook one days rations tonight and we are going to go out to Vienna tomorrow. We expected to go today but the order was countermanded. I got two letters from Brunswick, one from Lew Gilchrist and one from Henry Cunningham. Nothing of importance going (on) there. E. Strong and F. Root were there on furlough, but we are going back this week. There is but very little sickness here now. I haven’t been in a hospital since I have been in the army. I never was healthier as I know of. I don’t think we will get any pay in two months yet because the western troops haven’t had any for 4 months. You wanted to know if I wanted any postage stamps. As I have had a good deal of writing to do lately, you may send me some, suit yourself as to the number. Are you running an engine or firing or what? Write as soon as you get this. Write all the news. My love to Aunt Betsy and Buel, yourself included.
Yours, C.W. Phelps Company D
Dear Brother, Minors Hill Feb 21, ’61 (1862)
I received your letter of the 3rd and have written three letters and have received only one. I sent one and in two or three days wrote another and sent my likeness in the same, and in not hearing anything concluded to write again and send you General McClellan’s Dream. Perhaps though, you have seen it. If not, you now do.
(The) day before yesterday I sent you one of Frank Leslie’s papers and some cannon powder. You have not heard of the late victories probably as quickly as I did. They can’t stand many more such blows and in today’s paper they they are leaving Manassas and Centreville. Our regiment, (along) with others, went out on a scouting party last week. We went out as far as Vienna, the first time I have been there. We went out on the railroad track which runs from Alexandria to Leesburg, in some places outside of our picket lines. They have shoved the ties, track and all, down embankments for rods. And in another place (they) have taken the ties and burnt them and heating the rails and bending them into cable chains around trees and all other shapes. On one tree where they had wound a couple, (there) was cut “7th Louisiana Regt. Oct 15 1861). The road was then torn up for about 1 1/2 , a mile and a half, and how much further I don’t know. And when we came back, (we) met an engine with some workmen just outside of our picket lines. We came in and pretty soon they were being flanked by some dammed rebels and had to run in full steam. And the rebels it is reported, tore up all the track they had put on, but I guess this is not so. We are at our old camp yet and when we will move I do not know. I think I shall go to Alexandria tomorrow if I can. There (are) 18 large vessels lying there which ran the rebel blockade at the mouth of the Potomac the other night. Their blockade don’t do much good. It don’t hurt us much and keeps a force there. When we get ready we will clean them out, so that is all the good it will do them. I hope you will write as soon as you get this. As (there is) nothing of importance more, I will close. When you write tell me where you are and what you are doing and who you are to work for and whether I direct my letter right. Excuse the poor writing. Give me all the news you know of.
Yours in love, Charles W. Phelps Company D 4th Regt.
PS I don’t think I can send that Dream of McClellans, it being to much to send in here, but will soon. Excuse poor writing for I have written this in 10 minutes. To Jay E. Phelps
Dear Brother, Minors Hill Feb. 26, 1862
I received your letter on the 18th and was glad to hear from you and that you was well. I am enjoying very good health at present and have lots of fun. I got promoted today (but am) not feeling very well. I did not go out to dress parade and battalion drill. So when the company came in, about a dozen of us were ordered out on knapsack drill. After awhile they succeeded in getting out five. One being rather tonguey got on a barrel before we got out, and falling off two or three times got it over his head with a hole cut in the top and one to guard him and myself. And the other two went out with a corporal to drill us. After a few awkward motions, the damn fool told us to rally at this. One started it (on) a dead run down into the brush and wood. After running pretty hard I caught it with him and he stopped on turning (it) around. He was drilling the one left so we went back. The 1st Lieutenant came out and reprimanded us pretty severely. When the 2nd Lieutenant came out(he) sent the Corporal to his quarters (and then) drilled us a short time and walked us off a little way and stood myself and one of the others on a couple of stumps. With the other to guard us, (he) told us to stay there until he came back and no talking. Pretty soon (he) went to shooting at mark close by and (then) throwing our knapsacks down when he came back. And (then he) took us into the company and stood us on a couple of barrels, one with the head (broke) in and the other (one) without, mine having a head in. He said (that) if I break it in I would have to stand on the chimney. Pretty soon, out goes the head. This making him a little pouty, (he) told me I should stand there as long again. But as it commenced raining, we were told we might go to our tents until it stopped. Being 9 o’clock pm and ordered to march tomorrow, I guess we will have to go along. You perhaps think this is rather rough but they don’t make much out of us. This is the first time but one that I have been punished since I enlisted, and that was the last night (that) we were in Harrisburg when we were coming here. Enough of this nonsense.
The officers of the Brigade presented the Brigadier general with a splendid flag yesterday, then some of our officers got drunk as damn fools. Perfect disgrace to the regiment, such as the Lieutenant Colonel and the captains of company D and C. We are ordered to get things ready to march tomorrow. Direct your letter as before though. Write soon. Give my love to Aunt Betsy and Buel, also a good share to yourself. When I want stamps I will send to you for them. I have some at present, so goodbye. Excuse haste, (but) it is bedtime, past taps.
Yours in haste, C.W. Phelps Company D
Dear Brother, Camp near Hampton Mar. 31, 1862
I received your letter of the 14th in due time but have neglected to answer it until now. We are in camp now about 4 miles from Fortress Monroe. We went out to Fairfax from our old camp, stayed there about 3 or 4 days, and were ordered to Alexandria. We stayed there about a week, and then Friday (the) 21st, we embarked on the steamboat Daniel Webster for Fortress Monroe, where we arrived Sunday afternoon. We started Saturday morning along about noon (when) we passed Mount Vernon where Washington lived and died. I saw the old tomb where he was buried. First he was taken up and buried in another tomb, but it being out of sight I could not see it. It is a splendid place I tell you. I also saw some of the batteries along (shore) and (at) Aquia Creek. There were a couple of gunboats (that) went past there with us for fear the secesh might run down a battery and throw a few shells. But we did not see them when we got to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. We saw plenty of porpoise. They would jump up in the water. They are some 8 to 10 feet long with a sort of horn on their back and (there were) ducks enough to hatch, hell , a mile. And about that time (we) arrived at Fortress Monroe. It is a splendid work and mounts some over 300 guns and covers 80 acres. There were a couple of Man Of War (ships) lying there with some other vessels. Also the Monitor, or cheese box, that drove the Merrimack off. Everything is under(water) except a round box, and that can be lowered And if a ball hits it, it whirls around on a small deck of iron, which they can’t hurt much, if they do hit it. We landed and marched about two miles where we camped (for) 2 days, and then moved a couple of miles farther.
Last Friday night we went out to Big Bethel, about 15 miles, but the rebs left about one hour before we got there. They had a number of small fortifications, but they didn’t amount to much. We could not go any farther without building a bridge across a small river (so) we went back to camp. I was not very well that day and I was glad to see camp I tell you, for I was awful tired. We must expect some hard marches now. Direct your letters to Washington as before, and they (are) sent from there (to) here. We haven’t got any money yet, but we expect some soon. They owe us 3 months pay tomorrow. I am sorry I haven’t got it for you but will send you some as soon as I get it. Write soon.
Yours in haste, C. W. Phelps Company D
Dear Brother, Camp near Yorktown April 12, 1862
I have not heard anything from home. I wrote you last but having a little leisure time, I will let you know how and where I am and how I am getting along. We arrived in sight of the rebel works a week ago today. The first introduction we had was a shell (that) came over our heads and struck about 40 rods from us, but did not burst. We were an advanced regiment. We stopped when another shell came over and burst but without any injury. This Griffin’s Battery (regulars) of the 4th Rhode Island Battery, went ahead into a field in plain sight of the fort and commenced to throw shells over there pretty lively. We went under cover in the woods to the right of the batteries. For about two hours the shells flew pretty fast on both sides, but not more than one half of their shells burst. We were within a mile and a quarter from them all the time and our sharpshooters got up where they could reach them, and kept some of their guns silent for awhile. All that were hurt was one of the 4th Rhode Island Battery, ( he) had his leg hit by a piece of shell and had to have it taken off and (then) he died. Out of our regiment only one was hurt, but I guess he will get well, he belonged to Company C, and one killed and two wounded in the sixty second Pennsylvania regiment. That night we went on picket but had no trouble. Sunday there was no firing except the sharpshooters which kept very busy. Monday not much firing going on. Today we moved to the right and a little back and camped in a large peach orchard where we are now. Yorktown is well fortified and I think they are going to cut off their supplies and starve them out. But perhaps they will bombard them. Deserters are coming over every night and say there is 4 Irish regiments there that are under arrest because they will not fight. Our regiment was just as cool while they were throwing shells at us as (if) they were on drill. A shell burst close to our company and the finest pieces struck all around us but nobody was hurt. When the boys began to hustle, Guard House Captain Griffin of the battery came up to the Colonel and wanted to know what kind of damn new men he had got. When a shell came over (we) were after the pieces before it struck almost. Our regiment is on picket today.
How is Brunswick now? I haven’t heard from there in a good while. Direct your letter the same as before but instead of Washington, direct (it) to Fortress Monroe. Write soon. My love to all.
Yours, C.W. Phelps Co. D 4th Regt. Michigan Infantry Fortress Monroe, Porter’s Division
Dear Brother, Camp Winfield Scott April 17, ’62
I received your letter of the 6th in due time. I was very glad to hear from you. I wrote a letter 3 or 4 days ago but not having much to do today thought I would answer your last (letter). We are in camp where we were when I wrote you last. There was a pretty hard battle yesterday on the left of the army here yesterday, or so (they) reported. They were firing all day and some was going on last night. But what it amounted to I haven’t heard. There is all sorts of stories afloat about it in camp but nothing official. The rebels have just been firing at a couple of small boats which came up loaded with things for pontoon bridges but did not hit them. Some would strike in the water and throw up 20 feet high. I wish you were here a short time and see how things are going on. It might make some of your home and apron string guards hair stand on end. But we have got so use to it (that) we don’t mind it much, and they throw things around most damn careless.. No respect to persons at all. But we will show them how it is done when we get our siege guns and mortars here and planted. And you get a map of Virginia and you see Yorktown. We are in the river and below the town on that point of land. We are on the extreme right. I believe we have got the best position of any I think. The hardest fighting will be on the left I guess, but we will have enough of it probably.
You not hearing anything from me as soon as you expected, (I guess) you thought I was up the spout. I am going to live as long as I can see the one only. Else you need (not) fear anything on my account. As to that watch, I can not say as I want one. A watch here is not of much use and you are in danger of having it stolen or lose it. It is awful warm here today. The sweat just rolls off from me while I am writing. Peach trees were all in blossom here two weeks ago. I wish you would send me some papers to read. We don’t get any here at all. I haven’t seen the official account of the battle at Corinth, Miss. yet. So you see, we don’t get much reading matter. Write soon and tell me all the news. How is Aunt Betsy and Buel? My best respects to them.
Yours in love, C. W. Phelps
PS Direct C.W. PHelps Fortress Monroe Company D 4th Regt. Mich. Inf. Porter’s Division
Tell rosy cheeks to give you a kiss for me now and then, C.W. P.
About you getting married, you can act your own pleasure about that. We don’t see a white girl here (but) once a month, nothing but niggers.
Dear Brother, White House Landing May 17, ’62
I take this opportunity to answer your letter of April 26th which I received the 13th of this month. I have not written before because we have been busy at work and marching since the evacuation of Yorktown. We have been on the march most of the time. The morning of the evacuation of Yorktown we were going out to work on the parallels. And while we were going out the last shell came over before they left. And when we got were we were going to work (the distance of our works from theirs was not over 3/4 of a mile over a cleared level piece of ground) in a short time we see the stars and stripes waving over (Fort Magruder). We throwed down our shovels and pickaxes and watched them. And while the 22 Mass. (Infantry) regiment was going over there while passing near a large tree about half way there, and one of them struck something attached or stepped on one of those torpedoes which you have heard of, which exploded wounding 5 or 6 pretty bad.
We (are) now returning to camp and in the afternoon went out between our forts and theirs (and) stayed out a short time, when we returned to camp where we remained 3 or 4 days. When about 2 o’clock of the 7th we marched as far as Yorktown (only 2 miles) and laid there until after noon, when we embarked for West Point 30 miles above. During the day I had a chance to go through the Fort and batteries around. There were a good many heavy guns left, besides light artillery, by the rebels. I saw only 2 large rifled guns, 32 pounders that were burst. The rest were Columbiads, 64 pounders mostly, and a number of ship howitzers. They were all loaded and spiked. All of the guns though are of an inferior quality, all smooth bores. I also saw one mortar. Their works at Yorktown are very strong and if they had made a stand there (they) would have given us a pretty good one. In the afternoon we embarked for West Point, 30 miles distant, where we arrived in a short time. We landed the next morning and camped near where the 31st and 32nd New York Inf. had their skirmish the day before. They had about 200 killed and wounded. I see where our men were burying them but did not go near. They buried 18 in one grave. The rebels run and left their dead on the field, or rather in the woods. Our men buried them right where they were killed.
Our men caught a nigger cutting the throats of some of our wounded that were in the swamp. They took and hung him up to the first tree they came to. Some of the men of our regiment saw him hanging. When we got there we stayed at West Point until the 15th when we went to Cumberland, 15 miles on the Pamunkey River. We stayed there until yesterday when we came here, 4 miles from there. It is very muddy. The roads were very messy yesterday. A good many wagons got stalled. Today it is very pleasant and quite hot. We will leave again in a day or two and perhaps sooner. We are within 23 (miles) of Richmond and will probably be there in a few days.
*Charles ended this letter without closing or signing it.
Dear Brother, Gaines Mills May 30, 1862
I, having not much to do today as yet, I take this opportunity to write you a few lines to let you know where I am and that I am well. Although I have written once before since I have heard from you last, since I wrote you last we have been on the move most of the time. We are about 15 miles from where I wrote you last. The 24th of this month our regiment had quite a skirmish with the 4th and 5th Louisiana regiments at New Bridge. We went out on a scout and had skirmishers out along a piece of woods when they were fired on by their (the rebels) pickets. At this we were drawn up in line and three companies, ours one of them, was ordered forward. At this we started double quick and coming to the woods found quite a river to wade. It was raining at the same time quite hard. Into it we went, and it was so deep (that) we had to hold our cartridge boxes up and some had to swim to get across. And beyond this was a mill race about 3 feet deep and the water was knee deep in this. And right on the bank was a fence which made a good breast work. At this we commenced firing on them . At this (point) the regiment all came across and opened up on them. We kept up a fire for about half an hour when the rebels run like the devil. We had one killed and 7 wounded, two of them mortally. We took 40 prisoners, seventeen of them were wounded and how many we killed I do not know. Coming (back) to camp we met General McClellan and staff who complimented us highly.
Last Tuesday our division went 18 miles to Hanover Court House where we had quite a battle. Our regiment did not get into it but were on reserve. When our advance went there they found a regiment drawn up in line of battle which (then) opened fire on them. But our men drove them back and we were following them up when we were attacked in the rear. At this, three batteries passed us which delayed us so that when we got up our men were driving them back. How many we lost I do not know but it was pretty heavy because they were in the woods and our men had to drive them out. The rebels lost a great many too. I see 25 dead in one place, most shot through the head. Wednesday we had to bury the dead and take care of the wounded. Thursday we started about 4 o’clock. We started for here where we arrived Friday morning about 2 o’clock. We are about 8 miles (from) Richmond. Our captain has got a rebel flag. We took between 2 or 3000 prisoners at the last battle. They were North Carolina troops. Write soon. Direct as before. I am enjoying good health at present. My love to all.
Yours in love, Charles W. Phelps
You will find a secesh postage stamp in this letter. I got it at Hanover. Excuse (the) bad spelling and poor writing. CWP
Dear Brother, Gaines Mills, Va. June 5th, 1862
We received our pay today for March and April. Enclosed you will find twenty dollars which I want you to take care of for me, but use it if you want to. I hope it may reach you but it may not for a good deal that has been sent before has not gone through straight. If you get it alright let me know immediately. I may send you some more in a short time but you need not look for it much. Write soon.
Yours respectfully, Chas. W. Phelps
Dear Brother, Gaines Mills June 14, 1862
I take this opportunity this evening to write to you a few lines to let you know how I am getting along. It is very warm here now and I think we are going to have some rain. Our regiment is on picket and I just came off guard from a mans house by the name of Dr. Gaines, a regular old secesh. So I am in camp tonight. I have just finished supper. I had a good fat hen which I cramped last night when I was on guard, and some Hardees, or hard tack, and fresh beef, and some cakes and cheese, and am now enjoying a good cup of lemonade. I wish you were here to get some. Our pioneers were out chopping where our regiment had their fight at New Bridge today and found ten or twelve dead bodies, rebels, which we killed that had not been found before. So we must have killed, wounded, and took prisoners over 200. It is one of the cutest things that has been done since the war commenced. One of our sergeants belonging to company K went over to the rebel pickets today and had a long talk with them and exchanged newspapers with them and returned. One asked what regiment he belonged to. He told them the regiment that they had skirmished with a few days before, the Michigan Fourth, and one said there is some G-D D-M bully boys in your regiment and that no one should molest him while he stayed there. Have you got that money (that) I sent you a few days ago? If so, let me know right away. Give my love to all the folks. Write soon.
From your brother, C.W.Phelps
My compliments to the lady you mentioned in your last and hope we may be better acquainted at some future time.
Dear Brother, Harrison’s Landing, Va. July 3, 1862
I have written one letter since I got here but thought I would again to let you know that I am alive and well as usual. We are in camp where we were when I wrote you last. We have received blankets, shirts, socks. Since we came here we lost all of our things in battle. So they are furnished again but do not cost us anything. In my knapsack were your likeness with two other, my housewife (sewing kit) with a lot of pins, needles, thread, a new toothbrush and comb, a portfolio with a lot of stamped envelopes and paper,and one or two letters. All these little things Uncle Sam does not furnish. It is useless for me to say anything about what has passed during the last few weeks. I see General (Charles) Griffin gets considerable praise during the last battle (that) we had. He is the best in the country around here , besides (being) a good infantry commander. He was put in command of our brigade just before we left Gaines Mills on this last retreat. He don’t fear the devil. He would ride along side the lines between us and the rebels and find out just how they were. General McClellan rode through our brigade last night. he looks hearty as a buck. The rebels think they are going to starve us out now but I guess they won’t find it quite so easy (a) matter, although they fire into our transports most every day when they are coming up the river.
I received two letters from Pontiac a couple of days ago. One from Aunt Jane and one from Eds wife. They seemed to feel very anxious about me. Aunt (Jane) said that Mr. Ingram and Aunt Martha (Ingram) were there and that James Ingram was in (General) Hooker’s Division. It is the first that I knew (of) it. They are about two miles from here. I guess I must go over there sometime and see him. It is quite warm here at present and there is some sickness but not as much as there will be in about a month. I stand it first rate and I guess I shall get through all right. You wanted to know what I (had) done with all my wages. If you would come here a short time you would soon see (that) a person cannot live on hard bread and his rations all the time. And things don’t cost nothing here. A loaf of bread only costs a quarter, butter 30 cents, cheese 50 cents, and a small can of fruit $1.00. But such things as fruit or preserves I do not buy. Small ginger cakes (are) 10 for 25 cents and everything is proportioned. One man in our company that was killed had more than a hundred dollars that he had saved which the rebels probably got. So what good was it to him. When you write, I wish you could send me five dollars for all the money (that) I have got is a quarter. Enclosed you will find a ten dollar Confederate note. Next pay day I will send it back which will be in about a month and some more with that. Direct as before.
Yours in love, C. Phelps
Let me know where to direct in you next (letter). I have forgotten.
Dear Brother, Harrison’s Landing July 4, 1862
I take this opportunity to write you a few lines to let you know that I am alive and well yet. We are near (the) James River. We have been fighting every other day for more than a week. (on) the 26th we had a battle at Mechanicsville, the 27th at Gaines Mills, the 1st we had a battle near City Point, fighting day time and marching nights. And the secesh they say are falling back. It is awful muddy here . At the battle of Gaines Mills (we) lost all of our knapsacks and everything. All I have got is what I have on but we have some (things) pretty soon again. I think our regiment is cut up pretty badly. Our company lost 8 killed, 10 wounded, and one missing and in the brigade there is not more than a good regiment. The last fight they had been shelling a good deal and we were under a hill when we heard them coming out of the woods and hollering like the devil. At this we moved to the top of the hill and when they came in good shot, we let it in and broke them up. Before we had fired a half dozen rounds. Then another regiment took their places and opened on us but (we) held our ground and they soon broke. They could not keep their colors up so they stuck them in the ground. As fast as they would pick them up they would come down. This regiment run and another came up and another with them, and we held them, mowing them down like wheat. Our battery let the canister in to them on our right awfully. We fired 60 rounds away when we were reinforced and then we fell back in good order. General (George B.) McClellan and (General Fitz John) Porter say that if we had not held our ground until reinforced, then the whole army would have been cut to pieces, for we would have been flanked entirely.
Things have taken a different turn now I think. The rebels opened on us with a battery yesterday and our cavalry surrounded and took it. We (have not) heard anything from them since. I am well but we had a hard time for a week I can tell you. I lost the last letter you wrote and where to direct (this one). I don’t exactly know but I guess you will get it direct as before. We lost our Colonel in our last battle. He was killed. Our Lieutenant Colonel is sick and now our captain is in command of the regiment. Write soon.
Yours in love, Charles W. Phelps
I don’t know as you can read it or not, but you must make out what you can of it.
Dear Brother, Harrison’s Landing Aug. 9, 1862
I take this opportunity to write you a few line to let you know that I am well and hope you are the same. I have written three times and have received only one letter from you since I have been here. I have been waiting to get my likeness taken but have not succeeded in getting it done yet. We are in camp near the river yet with nothing to do, only one hours drill from 8 until 9 in the morning and dress parade about sundown. So we have a good time but how long we will stay here I do not know. We are liable to leave any time. As things look now, the government is not going to play war any longer. And if they can’t get volunteers or if they will not volunteer under the present inducements, I say draft them and not fool (around) any longer. The South is getting a larger army in the field than we have and are just finding it out(That’s) only my opinion of it. Do you think under this new call you will have to come? If so, what do you think of going into? Or don’t you calculate on coming?
The new Merrimack has not come down yet and I do not think she will get down here without some trouble. For the (Monitor) and a number of others are up the river to receive her whenever she deems it safe to come out.
One night last week we had some (fireworks) here. The rebels opened on us from the opposite side of the river with three or four batteries from different (positions). The shells flew around here pretty thick for about three quarters of an hour. One shell struck within a rod of where I was standing and throwed dirt all over me and into the tents. It grazed one man’s back, (him being) the only one that was hurt in the regiment. But as soon as our siege guns and gunboats opened (on them), they skedaddled. And the next day we went across the river (and) took two prisoners, and any amount of geese, turkeys, chickens, pigs and such things (that suffer when we find them. You can bet on that. I have not heard from Pontiac in a long time. I received a letter from H. Cunningham the other day (the one from Alf) that you sent me. Have you heard anything from Brunswick lately? According to Alf’s letter, they have had quite a nice time there Bucking cutting throats. I want you to write as soon as you receive this without fail. I must close fro company drill. My love to Aunt Betsy and Buel and others.
Yours in love, C.W. Phelps Direct as before.
Dear Brother, Minor Hill, Va. Sept. 5, ’62
I take this first opportunity to write you a few lines that I should have had since we left Harrison’s Landing. We left there the 14th of August and went to the Chickahominy, about 25 miles. The first day and part of the night, (we) crossed the river (and) was on picket that day (and left at dark for Williamsburg, 15 miles. (We) arrived there at midnight (and were) awful tired. (we) left for Yorktown, 12 miles, (and) arrived there at noon and camped until the next morning, when we left for Hampton, 22 miles. (we) arrived there at dark (and) camped until morning. Then (we) went to Newport News, 6 miles, and embarked for Aquia Creek, arriving there the next day. (We) landed and went to Brooks Station, 7 miles (and) halfway to Fredericksburg (and) camped until morning, and (then) went to Fredericksburg, arriving there at noon. Our regiment was the only one that had to march Aquia creek to Fredericksburg. We had to guard a wagon train. All the rest went up on the cars. If you had been there you would have heard some tall swearing i can tell you, for it was very warm. We arrived at Fredericksburg about noon, (and) stayed until about 10 o’clock that night when we started going about 2 miles. From that time until daylight (we went) to Falmouth, stopping there long enough to get breakfast, when we started for Ellis Ford on the Rappahannock River, 20 miles. Here we camped three days. When we left for Mannassas Junction, 20 miles, (we) camped there that night. The next day our men had a battle. We were on the front all day. The rebs throwed a few shells, wounding five but not out of our regiment. We were on picket that night. The next morning all the rest had left so we were rear guard and went to Centreville and were near where they had that last battle. But (we) were not in it, but the rear of our division were and got cut up bad. We had a good many killed and wounded. McDowell got in the same place and got his men cut up the same way he did before at bull Run. I am very glad we did not get in it for it seems to me it was a badly conducted thing. We stayed at Centreville the next day until 2 o’clock that night (when) we started for Fairfax. (We) arrived there at 11 o’clock and got our breakfast, for we had had nothing before. (We) ate our breakfast and started for (the) Chain Bridge on the Potomac, where we arrived at 10 o’clock that night. (We had eaten) only one meal in 30 hours and marched 25 miles in the (mean)time. (The) next morning we came here to Old Minors Hill. Being tired I did not write yesterday. I received your letter of the 19th yesterday, the first mail that we have had since we left Harrison’s Landing. I received that money, also our pay (at) about the same time and have got 13 dollars now. But (I) have used a good deal on this march, mostly for eatables. Write soon (and) excuse (the) poor handwriting. You can study this out nights and Sundays when you have nothing else to do.
Yours in haste, C.W. Phelps
Direct to Washington D.C. Company D 4th Regt. Michigan Infantry
Dear Brother, Camp near Sharpsburg, Md. Sunday Oct. 26, 1862
I have neglected to answer your letter of the 7th until the present time. I am quite well and hope this will find you the same. We are having a cold rain which is rather disagreeable but it’s time to expect it. A lot of rebel cavalry just showed themselves across the Potomac but 2 or 3 shells from Griffin’s Battery made them skedaddle beautifully. I see you have some notion of enlisting or did I think. As you are out of it and (in) no danger of being drafted you better keep out. What do you think of my going into the navy? If I can get my bounty and (a) furlough for sixty days and my four months pay, which the government owes me for the 1st of November, I may go. There is a good many leaving the regiment and going into the regulars. 13 went from Company K into Griffin’s Battery, three of my company have gone into the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, and more are going. But I think I shall stay where I be if I do not go into the navy.
I have just received a letter from Aunt Jane and one from Ed’s wife. Uncle and Aunt are very anxious to hear from me and if I am sick or wounded. (they) offer to send me money and do everything they can for me, very kind. Mary (Ed’s wife) doesn’t know what she will do if Edwin is drafted. Just the men that ought to be, make them come or pay some poor fellow a nice little $500 or $1000 to come in their places. I received a letter from Lewis Gilchrist a short time ago He says Brunswick is the damnedest dry hole ever. (There) was nothing going on whatsoever, but he goes down to Abbeville about once a week (and) plays euchre and gets a little old hat, you know, which makes it a little pleasanter. Dr. Herrick’s wife has a boy, you undoubtedly know it though. Hope to hear from you soon. Accept this for the present.
Yours, C.W, Phelps
PS Direct to Washington D.C. Company D 4th Mich. Infantry… not in care of Captain Randolph, or anyone. Send me a few postage stamps.
Dear Brother, Camp near Falmouth Dec. 2, 1862
I take this opportunity to answer your letter which I received in due time but have not had an opportunity of writing before because I haven’t had the material all the time. We are in camp at present pretty near Fredericksburg, but the rebels hold the place. I don’t know whether we are a going to try to cross here. There is a large army here. We are under General hooker now. Colonel (Jonathan) Childs of our regiment has resigned and gone home. Lieutenant Colonel (George) Lumbard is in command now and will be Colonel I think. We are having very good weather at present, rather cool though. I suppose you are having pretty wintry weather.
How are you off for money? We have not had any pay for five months and probably (will) not get any until after six months, which is after the 1st of January, $78. I do not know as we will go into winter quarters this winter or not. I wish we would though. This war will never be settled by fighting and they might as well settle it in some way as ever. I am not going to worry myself about it either way. I suppose you are enjoying yourself first rate. How is Brunswick and (the) folks? What regiment is all the drafted coming in? As you are out of the army, take my advice and not get in it. These fellows that have enlisted lately because they could get 200 or 300 dollars catch hell I tell you. I wish you would send me an Ohio paper occasionally. I have not had a chance to answer Aunt Jane ‘s letter which I received a good while ago, also (the) one from Ed’s wife, Frank Draper ,and L. Gilchrist. Be sure and send your likeness. Give my best respects to all.
PS Direct to Co D 4th Mi. Infantry 1st Division 5th Corps Direct plain.
(Charles did not sign and close this letter)
Dear Brother, Camp near Falmouth, Va. Dec. 20, 1862
Thinking (that) you must feel uneasy about my welfare on account of the late battle, I take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know that I am alright. We have had a hard battle here. A great many killed and wounded in our regiment. We had 9 killed and 26 wounded. Our company had one killed and one wounded. Our company lost the least of any in the regiment. The rebels have got a very strong fortification here. When we went in we were under a heavy fire of both musketry and artillery. This was a little after noon on Saturday. The firing was kept up until after dark. We picketed that night and as soon as daylight came skirmishing commenced. We were protected by a little rise of ground. If we laid down we had to lay flat all day until dark. When we were relieved we went back to the city and stayed that night, (on) the next day, Monday. And early Tuesday morning (we) came back across the river and came to our old camp where we are at present. What we do next I do not know. We have raided our tent up from the ground with logs and have a fireplace in it. We are quite comfortable if they will let us stay here. But I suppose they will make another move somewhere. I should not be surprised if they were recognized. They ought to have their independence for they have worked hard enough for it.
Our leading men are the biggest rascals we have. They don’t care a damn as long as they can get a big name and their pockets are lined. I am not going to worry myself about the thing. (The Union) may go to hell if I get out alright, and that is the general feeling among the men. I hope the army will go into winter quarters and take another summer for it. But there is not much site for it as I see. I found a nice opera glass on the battlefield, also a nice razor and some other things. So I am much ahead. I must commence shaving now.
How is all the Brunswick folks? I suppose you have been there or are there now. How does our place look and is there anyone living in the house? Give me all (of) the particulars. How is William Root? I have not heard from them since I have been in the army. I have not heard anything from Pontiac in quite a while. I wrote a letter to Aunt Jane the other day. When you write, if you have not sent your likeness and some postage stamps, if you (would) please (do so). For I have not had any pay in nearly six months and will not until the middle of next month, if then. Give me your address when you write. My respects to all. Write soon.
Accept this from your brother, C.W. Phelps
Dear Brother, Camp near Falmouth, Va. Jan. 17th, 1863
I received your letter of the 9th last eve and was very glad to hear from you. What has been the matter with your foot? I do not remember anything about it. I am sorry (to hear that) you have been laid up so long. Where are you making your home at now and what are you doing, or going to do? We have had very fine weather along back and (it’s) quite warm, but it is a little colder today. I see (that) you have been to Brunswick. Did William Root say anything about me? I have written two or three letters to him but have received no answer. Give my compliments to Jane Ward when you write. Perhaps I will write to them, I will see. I should think Mary and Crazy Sue would be getting married or don’t they take very well? Who is fool enough to marry Mary Van Comstock? Albert Root better look out as Mary will fleece him. I am inclined to think Albert is a little damn cracked, don’t you? I am sorry to say that I have not received your likeness yet for some reason or another, and only two papers, the NY Tribune and Dollar Tiles. I may get the likeness yet. If I do not, I want you to send it again without fail. That opera glass was a small one and I gave it to a friend of mine or I would (have) sent it to you. We have not received our pay yet, but hope to soon. For I am totally slapped. Writing material is quite high and pretty scarce.
I received a letter from Aunt Jane the other day. She inquired for you. They got started for Ohio this fall but something happened (and) they did not go. Perhaps you will hear from them sometime. Aunt Jane writes very kind letters to me and is very anxious about my welfare. In my next (letter) I will tell them where to direct (their letters) to you. And if you get a letter from them, answer it in (the) best style (that) you can.. We have got marching orders. Where we are going, I do not know. When you write let me know where you are living and what you are doing without fail. Be very particular in directing your letters about the company and regiment and direct as before. Write soon.
Yours in love, Chas. W. Phelps
PS I have been promoted to 1st Corporal- so much for good conduct.
Dear Brother, Camp near Falmouth, Va. Feb. 22, 1863
I received your letter in due time. There was a detail from each regiment in the brigade for fatigue duty the next day and I was (in) one. We went about 8 miles from camp and have been building bridges and corduroy roads to a ford above us on the Rappahannock (River). And (we) just returned yesterday, so I have been unable to answer yours until now. It snowed quite hard all night and has not stopped yet, and (so) the roads are very muddy. I received a letter from B. Butler yesterday, the first one I have received, also one from a Michigan friend of mine which is in the 5th Michigan Cavalry. I have quite a number of correspondents, both out and in the army. I have not received your likeness so I want you to send me another one as soon as possible. In my present position, when I go out on guard I have to get out the men and post them. And I do not have any extra duty to do as before, only when (I’m) sent in charge of a squad of men. And (I) am allowed more privileges and upheld more by my officers which are Captain J. F. Hall, 1st Lieut. E. H. Gilbert, (and) 2nd Lieut. H. G. Hill.
I am glad ( to hear) that your foot is getting well. Be careful with it so that you are not laid up any longer with it. Part of the army as left here I believe. What move they intend to make I do not know. Perhaps though they are going on to the Peninsula again. I see an account in the papers that Edgarton’s Battery ( First Ohio Battery E) were taken at Murfreesboro, but it did not say what state or anything else that they belonged to. When you write to A. Cunningham again, give my best respects to him and my address, and (let him know) that I would like to hear from him and some of the Brunswick boys. I received a letter from U. H. Wilson. He says that Brunswick is a stale place (with) nothing going on at all. Buel says (that) you are a wild boy. Remember it depends on your own good conduct for your own welfare in your present position. As I have nothing more of importance to write I will close. Write soon.
Respectfully yours, C.W. Phelps
Dear Brother, Camp near Falmouth, Va. March 16, 1863
I received your letter last night and was very glad to hear from you once more. I am very well at present and enjoying myself first rate with nothing of any importance to do. We live better now than we ever have before in the army. We have potatoes, onions, beans, salt ed and fresh meat, bread, coffee, tea, sugar, and various other articles that goes to make up a soldiers fare, (all) furnished in abundance. So we have nothing to find fault in at the time. What was your object in going to Iowa. You had better stay where you are at present I think. And you had better wait a while longer before you think of taking a wife , and I guess that the though has never come before (in) your mind, before or since. Have you heard anything from Brunswick lately? And have you heard anything from Aunt Jane yet? I have not heard anything from Pontiac in a long time but expect to every mail. How does the conscripts of Brunswick like soldiering and where are they? There is some going to be sent to the regiment I believe. I should like to be one. I have got 14 months longer, (as of) today, to serve (the) U. S. and I mean to make enough out of it to pay (for) a year (of) schooling for me, providing I get out alright. (it’s) very uncertain you see. Where is that likeness you were (supposed) to send me? (I) hope you will not forget it next time> (give) my best respects to Aunt Betsy and Buel. I am glad to hear Aunt Betsy is getting better. No more at present. Write often and soon.
Accept this from your brother, Corporal Charles W. Phelps Co. D 4th Regt. Mich. Infantry
Direct as usual.
Dear Brother, Camp near Falmouth, Va. May 5th, 1863
I received your letter in due time and was very glad to hear from you. We broke up camp (on) the 17th (of) April and crossed the Rappahannock (River) above Fredericksburg . kept on and came to the Rapidan (River), and got possession of this side of the river before the rebs got there. We had to ford the Rapidan, which was about three feet deep and have been on the move all this time. Our Division came very near being cut off from the rest of the Corps. We were thrown out as skirmishers in the woods. This was at night, and we marched so most all (of) the night. (We) made out to come out all straight in the morning, and get our position laid. (There was) still part of the day (left) when we throwed up a breastwork (and) laid behind it one night. Then (we) move on the right side of the line, where we are at present. The rebs just came out so I had to quit and fall in. We are on one side of a piece of woods and they are on the other. (The) day before yesterday our company was sent (out) as skirmishers. We came right on them and one ordered our captain to surrender. He told them he could not see it and jumped behind a tree, when three of them fired and hit one of our men so (bad) that he died in a short (time). Then we fell back.
Yesterday our regiment was ordered to go through the woods to see if they had much of a force there. We got right up to their line when they opened on us with artillery and musketry. Christ how the canister fell into us. I (have) had balls fly around me much thicker. I put a big tree between me and them mighty quick. We found out (that) they had not gone so we fell back (to) where we came from. Our regiment lost 31 killed, wounded, and missing. Company D did not lose a man. We were very fortunate. I do not know how long this condition will last. I hope not very much longer. I guess things are working very favorably for us so far. You probably know as much by the papers as I do not know. What is going only right where I am. We have about sixty pieces of artillery massed in sight where (they) now sit. They will get hell if they come out here. We have taken a great many prisoners so far and (I) am in hopes to get out all right. I received your photograph. It looks like the old boy. I think it is a good one. My likeness was taken in a tent with a canvas background. I do not know whether I will have a chance to send this out today or not. Direct as before. Write soon. I have been about 10 minutes writing this so you must excuse it.
Yours truly, C.W. Phelps
Dear Brother, Falmouth, Va. May 23, 1863
I received yours of the 19th today and was glad to hear from you. We just came in off from picket this morning. We had been out (for) three days. I had a good time, on duty only six hours out (of) the time. It is very warm at present, and dusty. I suppose you’re having plenty of hot weather. Everything is green here (but there is) very little farming going on. If a man puts in a crop he is not sure of getting anything. When one army is not on it the other (one) may be. The letters I wrote you (last) was when I was on the battlefield. I did not send it until I got back here and I had more time to write another.
We were next to the last regiment across the river. When we came back it had been raining very hard and the mud was about knee deep. From the ford (to here) is about ten miles and it was every man for himself. I was (covered) in mud all over. We were the worst looking seeds you ever saw. We came back in to our old camp where we are now. We have left this camp three times and I have come back (from) 1 Battle of Fredericksburg 2 Burnside Stuck in the Mud 3 Chancellorsville. The last name consists of what was a large brick tavern, a barn, a nigger shanty, and (a) privy). That is all the burgs and villages here amount to. Our Corps is detailed now to guard the railroad between the Aquia Creek and here. When we go at it I do not know one regiment out of the brigade. (As) it is now though, our Colonel is H. H. Jeffords, our brigade commander is Colonel Sweitzer, (our) Division Commander (is) General griffin, (and our) Corps Commander (is) General Meade. We are in the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Army Corps.
I received a letter from Alf Cunningham and one from Ed Phelps today. Uncle and Aunt Jane have been east this spring. Mr. Inghams folks are well. Henry Ingham is in this army somewhere. Alf Cunningham is well (and) said he got your photograph. I suppose you sent one to Aunt Jane. You will not lose anything by it and I presume they would be glad to have it. T sent them my likeness a few days ago. One consolation (is that) I am on my last year now, one year from the 16th of this month. The time will soon pass I hope. I don’t think we will see more than on battle if that, no knowing though more. We have ovens at our Brigade Commissaries most all winter baking bread. They were sent away when we left here and have come back again. That looks like staying here. My best respects to Aunt Betsy and Buel. I am glad to see that you intend (on) setting an example before the rising generation. Just keep on so. It is almost dark and I must close. Write soon.
From a soldier and brother, Chas. W. Phelps
Dear Brother, Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock River June 10, 1863
I received your letter of June 1st in due time and was very glad to hear from you. We are guarding Kelly’s Ford at present. We came here (on) the 27th of last month. It is 25 miles above Fredericksburg. Yesterday we were on picket and about five thousand of our cavalry, and horse artillery, and some infantry crossed here yesterday morning. And some crossed up above and had a pretty heavy cavalry fight, hand to fist part of the time. They captured quite a large number of rebels, among them were some wounded with sabre cuts about the head and neck. How we came out I have not learned. But this morning I heard our cavalry had come back on this side of the river again and their pickets are now just in front on the other side of the river, where they were before. They left in short notice when our men crossed yesterday though. (The) day before yesterday a sergeant in my company went across and had a talk with them and one came over and Lieut. Gilbert, commanding our company, gave him a drink of whiskey. We were in swimming together (and) exchanged papers, and that is the way it goes. One day on good terms and the next a pitched battle.
The chaplain of the regiment started to go to Falmouth the other day, when about 11 miles from here, three guerillas came out of the woods and ordered him to surrender, each with a pistol pointed at him. He asked who to, (and) they said Mosby’s rebel cavalry. He told them (that) he could not see it and wheeled his horse and started to run, when they all fired , each shot taking effect but not dangerously wounding him and he succeeded in getting away and is doing well I believe. Jay, who is Sarah M. Daggett? Tell her I do not remember the many hours that she speaks about but that she has the kindest regards of a soldier and I hope that we may realize the enjoyment of the part soon, if not before, and (I) would be happy to correspond at present if she wishes. Do as you wish about writing to Aunt Jane. My best respects to Aunt Betsy and Buel. 4th of July will be rather dull around here without (the possibility that) we manage to get up a small row with the Confeds, which is not very profitable though. You say (that) they talk of drafting again. Remember the game foot of yours. If there is a sight of your having to go send me some postage stamps if you can get them when you write. For I have but one and can get none here. I will enclose some money for it.. Write soon.
Accept this from your brother, C.W. Phelps
J. E. Phelps, Camp near Warrenton, Va. August 1, 1863
I received your request and it is with sad feelings that I have to write of your brother’s demise. He was killed in the battle of July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg. The Company mourns his loss as well as all that knew him. He was a brave man and one that will be missed when the time of action comes as well as in the camp. He was buried as well as circumstances would allow us to do and his grave is marked with a head board so that his friends could find his remains if the wished to remove him. If there is any information wanted in regard to his personal matters, it will be given with pleasure.
E. H. Gilbert Lieut. Commanding Company D
Sir, Camp near Beverly Ford, Va. August 16, 1863
I received your request of Aug. 11th and in answer I would advise you to write to Dr. (Joseph W.) Tunnicliff (at) N. 656 Sixth Street, Michigan State Military Agent, Washington D.C. , and he will give you all the necessary information in regard to your brothers personal effects.. I don’t think there would be any trouble as the final statements of all deceased soldiers have been sent to the Adjutant General. I can give you the amount due him. First there is two months and two days pay, amounting to about $27. And (then there’s) a bounty of one hundred dollars. If he had any effects about his person they were lost for his body was not recovered until the day after the battle. If you wish to remove his remains, you will not find any trouble in finding them. (They) penciled his name on a board which was put at the head of his grave, which is near the left of the battlefield. (On) the day which your brother was killed, (he) was Corporal of the Color Guard and was killed defending the same and the 4th Michigan could not boast of a braver or better soldier than Corporal Charles W. Phelps.
Respectfully yours, E. H. Gilbert Commanding Company D 4th Michigan Volunteers