John M. Chandler (1842-18xx) was born in Ohio but he enlisted on 21 August 1861 in Co. H, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry and was discharged on surgeon’s certificate on 26 June 1862. There are four letters in this collection that were written by Pvt. Chandler while serving in the 2nd Rhode Island though none were written while he was with the regiment. A fifth letter was written after he was discharged from the service and working in a jewelers shop in Providence.
On the 4th of April the regiment marched out of Camp A. W. Smith, where a few days had been very agreeably spent, and, at 7 o’clock in the evening, went into bivouac, in a thick pine wood, fourteen miles from the starting point. The next day and night were destined to be the most fatiguing which the troops had experienced since Bull Run. They marched to Young’s Mills, were overtaken by a thunder storm, amid which they pushed on to Warwick Court House — the name of which was more imposing than the place itself — and, almost immediately afterwards, were sent back a half mile or more into a forest where the Second was employed in skirmishing duty for a considerable part of the afternoon. Relieved by the 10th Massachusetts, the regiment returned to Warwick, filled canteens, was sent forward with two guns of a Pennsylvania battery, as skirmishers, and was finally detailed for picket duty through the night. [The Second Rhode Island Regiment — page 73-74]
Young’s Mills, [Virginia]
April 27, 1862
As I have not yet received an answer to my last two letters and thinking you would be anxious about me, I thought I would write a few lines to let you know where I now am. When I last wrote, I was in the hospital at Warwick Court House and I was quite sick for a week or two but was getting better when the regiment moved farther on toward the enemy’s works. I was not able to march then and was sent back to the hospital at Young’s Mills near the James River. I expected to return to the regiment in a day or two after I became a little better, but as soon as I was well enough to do duty, they set me at work here and gave me charge of a ward. I have nine men to care for. I give them their medicine and draw their rations &c. for them. I should much rather be with my company but as I am here and cannot get away, I must content myself the best I can. There are about 200 sick here with Typhoid Fever and some wounded. I have two sick with Typhoid Fever and one wounded man, one with the consumption, and one with rheumatism. The rest were taken sick by being exposed to rainy weather &c.
The Rebels fired five shells at the hospital from one of the gunboats last week. They exploded about 100 yards from us but did not do any damage. I have been within gunshot of the Rebels fortifications at Yorktown. They are very strongly fortified there but Gen. McClellan is at work with his army planting heavy 150 lb. guns and will probably commence shelling them soon. It is supposed that the siege at Yorktown will be the hardest battle there has been fought yet.
I can hear cannonading in the direction of their works now, but they are firing every day at our pioneers and we hear so much of it that we do not think but little of it. I received a letter from Ellen a few days since with her miniature in it and she looked very healthy. I have not felt so well as I do now in a long time and I think that it did me good to be sick. Edgar said that Charles Fairchild had been sick. I am sorry for him for I know how much care there is taken of a sick soldier. There are from two to three die here every day. This place is not a regular hospital. It has only been used as such since the army moved. The buildings are old quarters used by the Rebels and were evacuated about a month ago and they did not have time to burn them as they did other places that we have passed.
I was over the battleground of Great Bethel where the Union men were defeated about a year ago. I have a “secesh” canteen and several other things that I picked up in the camps the Rebels left in their hurry to get away. There is a wounded prisoner in the next ward to me. He was shot by our pickets. I think he will lose his arm.
There is a considerable news that I could write but perhaps it wold not interest you and I will close by sending my love to you all.
From your son, — J. M. Chandler
Address: John M. Chandler, Co. H, 2nd Regt. Rhode Island Volunteers, Camp Winfield Scott, Fourth Corps, Parma, Virginia
May 12th, 1862
I have not heard from my last two letters but as I have not been with the company any for the past month, I suppose there are letters there for me now. But I do not know where the regiment are stationed at present but I think somewhere near Richmond.
I arrived at Yorktown the 8th, [four days] after the evacuation. I came with the wagon trains. There were about 800 sick soldiers with us and are now in [a] hospital deserted by the Rebels. Yorktown is quite a romantic city and I never saw a city so well fortified. There is a complete wall of breastworks for miles around the city. The York River is full of our steamboats and schooners transferring troops to West Point. (I suppose you all know that the war is about over.)
I have a lot of little relics that I have picked up about the Rebels works at Yorktown. The Rebels have planted shells about their fortifications and the city in such a way that they explode by stepping on them. There has been 5 men killed by them. One exploded last night and injured a man a considerable. ¹
I am yet in the hospital department and I do not know how long it will be before I shall join my company again.
We received intelligence tonight that the Merrimac had been blown up by the Rebels but there has been no news of the kind in the papers but I hope it may be true for it is the only thing that is dreaded by our troops.
The forced marches and exposure that the troops of the Army of the Potomac have been exposed to since this advance has been made, [has made] a great many of them sick. The hospitals are now full of soldiers sick with typhoid fever. And to give you a little idea of it, I will tell you how many there are here. Since the evacuation of Yorktown, they have established a hospital or Depot for the sick and there are now about 1200 here — the most of them with Typhoid Fever (14 died last night). Transports are taking them away every day and I think the place will soon be evacuated. I take medicine every day to prevent my taking it.
The regiment has been in an engagement since they left Warwick but they did not lose any men. I suppose there are quite a number of letters in the company for me but I cannot get them until I get to someplace where they can be sent to me. There is no regular mail stops here. I have in my possession the Town Clerk’s Book of Yorktown and if I could get it home, I would send it. I shall keep it until I return to the regiment and if I cannot send it away, I shall have to lose it.
You must write and address your letters as usual. I am in hopes I will get somewhere before long where there is a mail stops. Hoping this will find you all well, I will close.
From your affectionate son, — J. N. Chandler
Address: J. M. Chandler, Co. H, 2nd Regt. R.I. Vols., Couch’s Division, Fourth Corps D. Army Camp Winfield Scott, Virginia
In care of Prof. Sweet
¹ In his diary, Robert Knox Sneden wrote that, “The enemy had planted live shells with fuse attached in the main road leading into the [Rebel] works, and in houses, and buried them in the parapets and other places. Several large mines had been constructed in the ditches and ravines outside the parapets, in case our troops should assault… One man picked up a jack knife [with] a string attached to it, which exploded a torpedo and blew him to fragments. Barrels half full of corn meal or potatoes in the houses had strings and levers attached which exploded a torpedo if moved. Our sapper engineers after two hours’ work had safely unearthed many of these cowardly missiles.” [Eye of the Storm, pages 59-60]
Cooper Shop Hospital ¹
June 6, 1862
I received the package containing the $10.00 and was very much pleased to hear from you. I suppose you were all well as you did not mention anything about it. I have not been able to get out to use any of the money yet. I guess the first money you sent me is lost. I have made every endeavor to find it but cannot. I guess it never reached Philadelphia. About all the letters that come here are directed to the Cooper Shop Hospital but it is better to put the street on.
I do not get able to be out any yet. I can only sit up a little while at once. I am so weak that I can scarcely walk across the room. I think that the Dr. has cured my liver. He has stopped giving me any medicine. It is the pills that I have taken that makes me so weak. I am in hopes I shall be able to come home in two or three weeks and I shall try to get my discharge. Dr. [Andrew] Nebinger is the man that dresses the rounds and does the prescribing for the sick. He is the best doctor in Philadelphia and does it all voluntarily.
I suppose business is as dull as usual. How did the camp business operate? I never heard you say.
It is such hard work for me to write that I had better close by sending my kind regards to you all. Your nephew, — J. M. Chandler
¹ William M. Cooper, a merchant, was the first to decide that his storefront on Otsego Street in Philadelphia should aid Union troops passing through his city. The Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon opened on May 26, 1861. The Cooper Shop Saloon added a second floor hospital in October 1861. Dr. Andrew Nebinger, Jr. received the appointment as the surgeon-in-charge. He agreed to work as a volunteer and did not receive a salary for his service to the wounded soldiers. Admired by many who came into contact with him, Nebinger’s surgical skills received praise from fellow doctors such as C.E. Hill who described the surgeon as one of the finest men he had ever met, saying, “his kindness to the sick, and his untiring zeal for their comfort, proves him to be a philanthropist of the first order…” Others described Nebinger as an expert doctor who possessed great administrative ability and devoted patriotism, which gained him respect among the soldiers and their families. [Journal Divided]
South Street [U. S. Army] Hospital ¹
Thursday, June 26, 1862
I received your letter yesterday and was glad to hear that you were well. I should have received it before as I have understood that it came the day I left the Cooper Shop [Hospital] which was Tuesday the 24th. I am now in the South Street U. S. Hospital. I am in the 2d Ward, bed No. 115. The most that are here are wounded men — wounded at the Battle of Fair Oaks. I like [it] here very well, but it is not just like the Cooper Shop Volunteer [Hospital]. I have been examined by the head surgeon and my discharge papers were made out and forwarded to Dr. [William S.] King (the medical director) for his approval and expected to get them last night and be on my way home this week. But they came back last night with a note not to discharge me until after pay day which would be sometime after the 1st of July as the pay rolls were all made out and it would disarrange them to discharge anybody now.
You spoke in your letter of the order from the Secretary of War ordering all sick and wounded to report to Gen. Wool. The order means only those that are at home on furloughs. There is a provost guard here in the city arresting all soldiers without passes and our surgeon was telling us that they found a great many men in the city with a commissioned officer’s clothes on that has no commission at all and a great many soldiers that never was sworn into service or belong to any regiment.
I had quite a nice present left at the Cooper Shop for me yesterday. It was two fine shirts, two pair drawers, 2 pair stockings, an undershirt, 2 collars &c. They were left there by a young lady but I do not know who she is.
I am getting very much better. I do not take any medicine now. I was very much mistaken in my disease. I always thought I had the liver complaint and never thought of asking the doctor what it was as I thought I knew myself. But the surgeon here tells me that I had a very dangerous disease. Dr. [Andrew] Nebringer gave me a certificate to carry to Dr. [William Biddle] Atkinson stating my disease and as it was in Latin, I did not understand what it meant but was informed that I had the inflammation in the covering of the abdomen. And as I had been so long without medical treatment, I was in a very bad state, and he tells me that by being careful of myself for a little while, I will be as well as ever. I was in hopes that I should be at home to spend the 4th [of July] in Rhode Island but I guess I will not get away so soon.
Hoping this will find you all well and with my best regards, I will close. Yours respectfully, — J. M. Chandler
P. S. Direct your letters as usual to the Cooper Shop Hospital in care of Mrs. [Abigail] Horner and I shall get them.
¹ The South Street Hospital was located at Twenty-fourth and South streets. From its reputation for amputations it was often called by the soldiers the “stump hospital.” The surgeon in charge was Harry C. Hart, who was succeeded in 1864 by Surgeon Henry James. The assistant surgeons were F. F. Maury, E. A. Koerper and A. B. Stonelake.
Providence [Rhode Island]
March 7, 1863
I received your letter a few days since and was very much pleased as well as surprised to hear from you as it had been so long since you had written I had almost given up ever hearing from you again. I have changed my boarding place since I last wrote you and am now boarding at “Williard Hotel” but I shall not stop here but a short time as I have engaged another room in a boarding house near the shop. The reason why I left Uncle John’s was because he did not have room enough to accommodate me as I had the only spare room he has now. It costs a considerable [amount] to live now. I pay $4.00 per week.
There is very good sleighing in the city now but it will not last long. There is not much news of any account now but the whole talk is about the draft and the war.
I have enclosed one of my “visites” but I do not think it is a very good one. I had a dozen taken. When I had I had it taken, I had a very heavy over coat on and I do not like them as well on that account. The other one is my old roommate, Lieut. John G. Beveridge of the 2nd Rhode Island. He has been to Providence on a short furlough but is now with the regiment.
Business is quite good for this time of the year. You spoke of all kind of clothing being very high in Ohio. I guess that prices are about the same here. Cotton cloth — the poorest kind — is 60 cents a yard, butter 37 cents per pound, flour $12.00 per barrel, and everything about in that proportion. Although everything is so high and times are so hard people seem to try to enjoy themselves. There is dances about every night. “Theatres” Concerts and other places of amusement open every evening.
I was at a grand party a few nights since. It was given by one of the richest merchants in the city by the name of Cunningham. ¹ The refreshments cost $500.00. He has just moved into a new house and he gave what is called here a “House Warming.”
I was very sorry to hear of the death of my old friend Henry Hayden. It is hard enough to die at home, but to die away from friends and home is still more painful. And sometimes when I think of going home to make you a visit, it seems to me that I shall miss about all of my old friends — so many have gone to the war and many have moved away, while some brave [ones have] been laid in their narrow graves. Hayden was a fine young man and will long be remembered by all his friends. ²
Please write soon and oblige your son, — J. M. Chandler
¹ This was most likely Benjamin P. Cunningham who opened one of the first big furniture installment houses in Providence [Cunningham’s Emporium on Broad Street]. In the 1870 Census, his real estate was valued at $30,000 — a sizable figure in those days.
² Possibly Henry Samuel Hayden (1842-1863) of Co. A, 42nd Ohio Infantry — the son of Hiram Kingsley Hayden (1815-1893) and Emeline Briggs (1808-1879) of Sharon, Medina County, Ohio. Henry died on 25 January 1863 from wounds received during the Battle of Arkansas Post.