Henry Wells Magee enlisted as a Private in Company E of the Fourth Michigan Infantry on June 20, 1861, at Adrian, Michigan. He was born in 1840, presumably in Pennsylvania, and was approximately 20 years old at the time of his enlistment/ Henry was promoted to the rank of Sergeant on January 1, 1863 and served until he was mustered out of service on June 28, 1864, at Detroit, Michigan.
The following letter was written by Henry to his friend Ransom Dunn of Hillsdale, Michigan and is provided through the courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.
Camp Union Fairfax Co. Va.
Aug. 13 / 61
I see by the date of the last letter that it was written last Sunday. The Sunday of our first defeat at Bull Run. I wrote a couple of letters on that day but it was because I thought I ought to write answers to letters long received. My mind was not in condition for the business nor would yours have been had you been listening to the roar of artillery and knowing at that time that a battle was being fought. I tell you it made me itch all over to have to be penned up in the yard around Fairfax Court House when the contest was going on only 10 miles distant. We doubted not a victory. But there were some sorrowful maddened men when messengers announced the stampede of the army proved soon by the many dead and dying soldiers. Enough of that thing. We retreated in good order to Washington where we remained two weeks. Last Thursday our regiment crossed the river and we are now encamped opposite Georgetown about 3 miles from the river. This is the advance regiment of the brigade composing [of the] De Kalb, 9th Massachusetts, 14th New York, and 4th Michigan with Captain Ayers artillery and a company of cavalry, all under the command of Gen. Sherman, of what was once Capt. Sherman’s Battery. It is a good brigade and one likely to see fighting. There are a great many of our regiments across this side of the Potomac. Gen. McClellan is the man for this army of the Potomac. He visited us the other night, said we were in a dangerous position, if attacked we must stand our ground and he would be on hand with reinforcements. We have great confidence in his generalship. The Mich. 4th would stand hard. We sleep on our arms every night and have been called out several times by false alarms. Hear the regt. pickets firing and they are out in no time. We have fun at times and then we don’t. Last night it rained very hard, rose over our ditch and we had ½ foot of water for a floor to our tent instead of earth. Quite a prospect for a night to receive some of natures sweet gestures. We care little for the weather though the hot days trouble us considerable. Some days have seen excessively hot times. Hollinger1 is at the hospital sick with the fever, not dangerous. Stark2 is at Baltimore, seems healthy. I hope I may [get the] chance to meet with him before long. Williams and Coombs of Wisconsin regiments were over to see us yesterday. All in good health. My health is quite good. These are exciting times. Can’t tell what a day may bring forth especially a night. The Union must and shall be preserved. I am satisfied with my position. I would not be out of the army. We must fight. Write to me soon. Direct to Washington D.C.
H. W. Magee
1Private James Hollinger, also of Company E
2Jacob H. Stark of Company F Fifth Michigan Infantry, and a friend of Henry