I believe the initials of the author of this letter are “H. W.” From the letterhead we know he served in the 44th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. There were six soldiers on the muster roll of the 44th Massachusetts. They were:
Harvey Wilmot, Co. C (father died 1858)
Henry C. Whittier, Co. A (b. 1844)
Henry F. Whitney, Co. G (father died in 1854)
Horace B. Wetherell, Co. B (orphan)
Henry W. Webster, Co. H (lived w/ mother; no father in 1860 Census)
Henry E. Warner, Co. A (father died in 1851)
The content of the letter and the fact that he wrote to his parents without mentioning a wife suggests that the soldier was young. His handwriting suggests he had only a common school education and that he did not write for a living. In other words, he was clearly not a clerk.
Of these six, the best candidate seems to be Henry C. Whittier, born @ 1844 in Farmington, Maine, but who moved with his parents to Cambridge, Massachusetts, prior to 1855. In the 1860 Census, both his parents were still living. In fact, they appear to be residing in Boston as late as 1880. They were True G. Whittier (b. 1804) and Lucy Bowker (b. 1810). After the war, Henry eventually moved to Iowa where he took up farming.
The letter gives a great first hand account of the Battle of Kinston in December 1862 by a member of the 44th Massachusetts while on the “Goldsboro Expedition.” There is a beautiful patriotic engraving of Gen. John Ellis Wool on the letterhead.
Camp of the 44th Mass. Vols.
December 22, 1862
Since my last we have been on expedition and had a very bad fight with the Rebs. We marched 160 miles with a force of 15 thousand to the Rebel entrenchments at Kinston. We went in support of the 10th Conn. Vols. We advanced through canister, shot, and shells and the blistery volleys which tore the tops off the trees. Sgt. [William] Howe of Co. H was wounded in the head. It was sickening to hear the cries of the wounded as they begged for water. Dead bodies were heaped in piles with dead horses, broken muskets and wagons scattered about. I saw one Rebel with both his arms blowed off. He stumbled about the field slowly bleeding to death.
Our regiment was cut up pretty bad losing about 200 killed and wounded. Late in the fight two Rebel sharpshooters were popping at us from the cover of a tree. The Colonel [Francis E. Lee] ordered Belger’s Battery [Battery F, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery] and the big gun cut the tree in half and the Rebs fell to the ground like ripe apples. We took many prisoners most of whom were starving and full of lice. I can not spend anymore time describing my adventure. Tell Mother I will write a nice long letter later this week. Meanwhile I remain your devoted son, — H. W.
Direct as before as your letters follow us.
This paper was sent to me by cousin James. He sends regards to all at home.