Twenty eight year old James K. Spence enlisted as a Private in Company E of the Fourth Michigan Infantry on June 20, 1861, for three years of service. He mustered into Federal service on the same day. At the expiration of his term of service on June 28, 1864, James mustered out in Detroit, Michigan.
Washington D. C.
July 10th ,1861
Mr. J. P. Cook
Being at leisure this afternoon I thought I would address you a few lines informing you as near as possible of our whereabouts and condition. We arrived in Washington on the morning of the second of July, between one and two o’clock in the morning, and marched up into the city to a vacant building and quartered, going to sleep on the floor with our knapsacks for pillows. In the morning, we were sparingly served with crackers and cheese for breakfast. In the afternoon, we were marched to the Arsenal to exchange our guns. To one like your humble servant, it was quite a surprise. I had thought I had seen the different muscles of war. There must have been at least 800 pieces of artillery there ranging from the great Columbiad to the six pound rifle cannon. After exchanging our arms we returned to our quarters receiving but a scanty supper and then went to bed on the floor. On the morning of the third we were aroused from our slumbers about 5 o’clock and after breakfast, started for camp on the Heights. They are about two miles northwest of the Capitol. In the evening, after we had had our tents pitched, (and with ) supper over, I thought I would take a stroll through the camp. From our camp I can count 17 others. The New York 15th is in camp on the west side of our camp and is composed entirely of Germans. The morning of the fourth was whirled in by the firing of guns and ringing of bells. The most of our company went into the city but I, being unwell, was obliged to remain in camp.
I see by various paragraphs in the papers which are intended to mislead a great many, and that is in regard to our condition. In the first place, provisions have been short ever since we left Adrian. I can not account for it unless the quartermaster does not attend to his business. I have went for twenty four hours on one meal, and that was three sea biscuits (and) a small piece of pork, (and that) without coffee. What is the cause and with whom it lies, I cannot tell. There were some here to visit us belonging to the Michigan Second (Infantry) and they say that they cannot use all of the provisions they receive and so ( it is) with many others who have been to see us. But within a day or two back we have received better fare with the promise of that improving. I paid a visit to the New York (regiment) a few days ago and I tell you as well, they are all well off and what (the) government won’t furnish, they furnish for themselves. They have a regular lager beer saloon, drinking beer and wine in place of water.
There was a funeral (that) passed by us on Sunday. It was one from the N. Y. 17th . And on Monday we had one in our regiment, a young man belonging to Company C from Sturgis, named Parsons1, was buried.
Please give my compliments to Mr. Barber and to Judge Waldron. With these few lines for the present, I will close. (I) remain as ever yours,
James K. Spence
Please write as soon as convenient as (I) am anxious to hear from home.
Direct: Jas. K Spence Washington D.C. Co. E 4th Regt. Mich. Infantry
1 Private Alexus B. Parsons, Co. C, Fourth Michigan Infantry died of disease on July 7, 1861. Some records indicate that he was not young as described here by Private Spence, but actually 43 years old. His correct age is under investigation.