1862: Norman J. Ray to Hiram Melvin Ray

These letters were written by Norman J. Ray (1838-1863), of Lowell, Massachusetts. He enlisted on August 7, 1862 into Co. A, 33rd Mass. Vols. Norman wrote all of these letters to his brother Hiram Melvin (“Mell”) Ray (1834-1900), a carriage maker in Concord, New Hampshire, with whom he differed politically. Though he did not vote for Lincoln, recognizing perhaps that to do so would invite certain conflict, Norman did acknowledge the immorality of slavery and felt compelled to play his part in helping to “extirpate it,” once the war began. It appears from these letters that Norman was with the regiment through the battle of Chancellorsville, though detached with the supply wagons. He also saw some “lighter” duty than most others in his company by serving part-time as the company clerk. He was not immune, however, to the diseases that prevailed in the camps and he fell victim to typhoid fever and died in the summer of 1863.

Norman was the son of Nathaniel Ray (1810-1871) and Mary Locke (1815-1883) of Merrimack County, New Hampshire. Norman worked as an Expressman in Lowell, Massachusetts, before the war. He married Selura Adeline (“Addie”) Wilson Hinds (1842-1899), the daughter of Barzilla I. Hinds (1807-1878) and Selura Aldrich (1808-1890), on 17 June 1862 in Boston. Their baby, Edwin (“Eddie”) Norman Ray (1863-1938), was born on 5 January 1863 in Lowell while Norman was in the service. Norman never saw his child — except for a daguerreotype of the 3-month old infant — before his death from disease at Stanton Hospital in Washington D. C. Hospital on 16 June 1863. The baby would grow up to marry Caroline Thompson Faulkner (b. 1866). Norman’s wife re-married in 1866 to Charles T. Jenkins of Boston.

Besides Mell, Norman had a younger brother named Charles Oren Ray (1842-1910) who is mentioned from time to time in these letters. Oren was working as an unmarried  shoemaker in Hillsborough at the time of his draft registration in 1863.



Alexandria, Virginia
August 28th [1862]

Brother Melvin,

I received your letter of 24th inst. last night and today not being a very busy day, I will write you again as I may have more time now than I shall in a few days from now. We left Camp Casey, Arlington Heights, last Sunday A.M. with the intention of making short marches each day until we joined Gen. Sigel but when we arrived here, we had orders to camp here for 2 days. When they were up, it was countermanded for 3 days more. That is tomorrow morning but there is no signs of us moving tomorrow. We may stay here a year and we may go before tomorrow. Merle, it is hard telling when an army is going to move. They have so many orders.

It looks something like war around here. Regiments passing through here every day. Yesterday there was a lot of teams passed by here loaded with pontoon bridges. I do not know their destination but probably they were part of McClellan’s.

Day before yesterday there was a string of beef cattle went through here ¾ of a mile long. It looked as though they were going to feed somebody on beef. While here at Arlington Heights there was 1500 horses went by in one day — all for Gen. Pope. Hooker’s Brigade is encamped within 6 miles of us. There will be something done one of these days I should say by the looks of things that will turn this war either for or against us. If against us, we might as well go home this time and let them have their own way (the Rebels, I mean).

I will send to Washington about Orin’s letter as the Boss Waggoner of this regiment is [John M.] Hamilton that used to work for S. O. Co. Tell Addie is she is in Loudon when you receive this that I have written three letters to her — one a week ago last Monday (I think) and 2 since — all directed to Lowell as she did not tell me where to direct when she wrote me. Give my best love to her.

Alexandria being under Marshall Law, our company was detailed for Provost Guard. We go in squads of 20 men each. Arrest all private citizens that are out in the night. Stop all soldiers [and] either lock them up or send them to their headquarters under a guard. Go into all Rum holes, spill all of their rum &c. Last night we took one Colonel, 2 or 3 Captains, and some others all out of a house where they lodge single gentleman and their wives. The Provost Marshall gave them some advice and let them go. Probably shall not get them again.

The sun is quite warm here in the middle of the day, cool at nights. Slept 2 or 3 hours on the soft side of a brick sidewalk last night with our coat on and nothing but woolen blankets for a feather bed. Comfortable, I tell you. Used gun stock for a pillow. The ground is getting quite soft to lay on.

Tell Addie to write me if she does not get my letters and not wait. Grand place out here to make a fellow think of home. Tell Tirzah that I would like to see my “goodest sister” first rate. Tell Mother I am in the best of spirits. Don’t wait for me to write. I have written to Oren since I came out here. Hastily your brother, — Norman

I have no postage stamp. Send one when you write and charge them to your Uncle Dudley.



Addressed to Mr. Hiram M. Ray, Loudon, New Hampshire
Postmarked Washington D. C.

October 14 [1862]
Camp near Fairfax Court House

Brother Melvin,

I received your letter of Oct. 5th in due season. I had almost given up hearing from you again. Therefore, your letter was very welcome. I am well as usual. Can eat my rations as regular as any of them. I had a touch of the jaundice about a fortnight ago but have got all over it now. There was a week that I was rather poorly and for 3 days I did not eat two mouthfuls. I did not go to the Surgeons nor take any medicine. That was not the best way and I don’t think that I should do that way again. We had ten on our sick book this morning — two of them are quite sick and in the hospital tent. The rest are about their quarters.

Thomas Nast Cartoon

As you will see by the heading of my letter, we have moved from Alexandria last Saturday and Saturday night we slept on the ground with no tents and being rainy, we got slightly wet. Nothing but a taste of what is coming but then I guess this man good for it — for awhile at least. I’m not very particular about seeing much of the rough times. I want to be a fair weather soldier. We are now “Mit Sigel” as the paper say. He is a smart  man and I like him well but the rest of his Division is mostly German Dutch or some outlandish Nog Latin folks. We are now in General Stienwier’s (Steinwehr) (do not break your face when you pronounce it) Brigade but for some reason or other we cannot be brigaded with 12 companies but still can be joined to a Brigade — we not having got the guns (Sharps Rifles) that were promised us and some other little things that have not been just right has caused our Captain to try and get detached from the Regiment. Whether he will succeed or not, I cannot tell. He is now writing a letter to one of the men than is working for his at home as the business has to be done with the Governor of Massachusetts.

He wants to join the 41st Massachusetts Regiment that is now more ready to start. I have not been in the ranks for the last two weeks. Have been acting as Co. Clerk. Not much work, or would not be if the man that has been keeping the books had kept them straight. But as he did not, I have had to go all over his accounts and have not got them all straightened out yet. I live with the Captain & Lieutenants, therefore, live a little better than the rest of the Boys.

When we were in Alexandria, we lived on as good as I could buy in the market. No going to market here. Buy some things off the sutler such as butter — good for 33 cts, cheese, 18 to 20 cts. Things come high when you buy off sutlers. They are gorgers.

The country here is hard-looking. Old buildings and few of them what farms we see here you would not hardly take the gift of by the looks of them. It does not seem as though this country had been inhabited for the last ten years but the trouble is, it has been inhabited too much, for part of the time this place has been in the hands of the enemy and then in ours and when the armies go back and forth, they strip it of all there is. The Sesesh, the Union Army, and the Union Army, the Sesesh Army, empty buildings with the boards torn off and part of the time the buildings are torn down to get the boards for the soldiers to sleep on.

Yes, Mell, I would kind of like some of those peaches and apples (I can eat most anything out here). Shouldn’t care if I had a drink of cider but then I can’t go home this fall. Should like to though. Am glad that you are all well. Would like very much to drop in and see you some of these evening but as I cannot, you are Father, Mother, Brothers & Sisters. Will have to will for the deed. I often think of those left at home, Mel. Think that when I get home, I shall know how to appreciate home. Write often.

Love to all from your brother, — Norman




Thoroughfare Gap [Virginia]
November 11, [1862]

Bro. Melvin,

Yours of November 2nd was received last night. Glad to hear that all are well and that Oren is gaining so fast. Hope he soon will be well as ever. Should like very much to be on “Corn Hill” this fall and helped husk  corn but it is not to be so this year.

I think I have not written you since we were at Fairfax Court House. We left F. C. H. one week ago last Sunday morning with orders to go to Manassas Gap. The first day marched through Germantown and Centreville villages (and they are not much compared with New England villages) some 10 miles. Bivouacked in an orchard [where] the rail fence went like hotcakes. Tuned in or rather laid down on the ground to sleep. It was a beautiful moonlight night until about 12 o’clock when it clouded up and began to rain. Did not rain but little, however, before the wind blew round north and within an hour of the time of clouding up is blowing hard and was clear and cold as a fellow would want [who] is sleeping out doors.

The next day, marched about 15 miles across the celebrated Bull Run battle ground and over the bridge that the Rebels blew up. We saw several things laying around left there at the time of the battle [including] stones rounded up that the Rebels used in their cannons. The country looks as though destruction had swept over the country and I guess it has.

Gen. Adolph Von Steinwehr

[We passed through] Gainsville & Hay Market and encamped within 2 miles of Thoroughfare Gap. Done some foraging in the way of killing pigs and taking corn for the teams –it was all shocked up in the fields. [We just] back[ed] the teams up and load[ed it] in. {our] horses lived high. Staid there until Friday when we had orders to march to Warrenton. We started with the expectation of having a fight there but when we got about half way there, we got orders to halt as the enemy had left. We were then in New Baltimore. [We] had a snowstorm that day to march in but it cleared up in the P.M. [and was] cold (that was last Friday). Staid there until Sunday when the 33rd [Massachusetts Vols.] were ordered back to where we started from Friday and the rest of the brigade to this place. We went back to within 112 miles of the old camp into a piece of woods (with the intention of acting as body guard to Gen. Steinwehr and guarding [the] Manassas Railroad), got within the woods and got our tents pitched, and dinners eat[en] when orders were received to march to this place and here remain.

The 2nd Brigade in the 2nd Division & 11th Army Corps. The brigade is composed of 134th & 136th New York, 73rd Ohio, & 33rd Massachusetts, commanded by Col. Smith, Acting Brig. Gen. This gap has a small stream of water & a road running through it. It is the only place for some number of miles where artillery or baggage waggons can get through or over the mountain. There is some 59 pieces of artillery and a few regiments besides our brigade to hold it and we could hold it against half of the Rebel army. The rumor when we were ordered here was that Burnside had got in the rear of Longstreet and that he was driving him this way to get him to retreat this way if he would and then bag him in the Gap. But he has not come yet and probably will not.

I am well and tough as ever. Tell Oren I am rough on hard tack. Our regiment commenced today to give out whiskey rations twice a week. It is vittles & drink to some of them. Sometime before it is too cold, I want you to send a barrel of good eating apples to Addie at Lowell. Direct to Wm. E. Somes, Care of East Merrimack & Fayette Streets, Lowell.

Should have thought that Father & Mother would have gone to Boston but suppose the reason they did not was because they did not want to but I wish they had. Remember me to all. Will write again soon. From your bro., — Norman J. Ray




Camp near Stafford Court House, Va.
February 22nd 1863

Brother Melvin,

It is Sunday evening and I will write to you a few lines in reply to yours of the 15th which arrived here Friday night. I have forgotten whether I have written you since we have been here in camp or not. If not, you will see that we have been changing camps again. We are now some 10 miles from the other camp and in a very pleasant place when it is pleasant as we are on the south slope of a hill. The boys have got their cabins pretty much all done. Some of them have got floors made of small logs split and the tents fixed up tight so that they are comfortable. If they do not have all the conveniences of a first class hotel, while those sometimes designated as “shirks” are too lazy to fix up well and therefore in a snow storm like the present one are somewhat uncomfortable.

It commenced to snow last night and today now when it stopped we had as much as a foot of snow on the ground — decidedly the largest snows as any one time that we have had here this winter. It has not cleared up yet [and] is now partly snowing and hailing slowly. In two or three days, if the sun comes out warm, we shall have some going that would make your eyes stick out if it was in New Hampshire. This storm is rough enough for the boys on pocket. I had to go out for the first time Friday night. It took every man in the regiment and the boys say that we go on again tomorrow. Will not be quite as pleasant as the other night but let her come, I shall be ready.

Rather a queer winter you are having in the North with no more sleighing. A very good one for those that have not got much wood, but it must be very sickly with you. It has been inLowell among the children. Glad that your family are so well. I hope that little Genia is as bright as a button ‘ere this. Father wrote that he had sold the oxen. I should not think that you would want to buy any more steers. I would suppose that the two yokes that you have got could so the work well. Those that we bought in Thornton must be a pretty good pair by this time — three years old next spring, are they not? and the others fine? They must make a pretty good team if they have done well. And old Kate is worth her weight in gold.

You said that Uncle John was there and that he had got six loads more to haul. Loads of what, Mell? Shit or Sugar? How long has he been there and how long is he going to stay?

I did not think, Mell, that you could raise a boy quite as quick as you did this last one, and I know that you could not on “hard tack.” That boy of mine, Mell, is the best fellow you ever heard of. Does not have but a dry little crying to do, and is as good nights as he can be. Wakes up and eats his “grub” and then goes to sleep like a good fellow. I received a letter from Addie yesterday. She has gone to Boston again. She said that he went to sleep before she started and he did not wake up until she had got into the house in Boston. She said that she had to exhibit him in the Depot to all that know me or another and to Frank Green, the conductor, but he slept through it all like a good one.

Well Mell, you gave it to me a little hard in regard to being in the army. I think that it is a little rough for brother to brother and especially written on paper. You are alike a great many others in one respect. No wonder that men will not enlist if you all talk to them as you did to me. You call it a God forsaken cause. It is right or wrong to have slavery? to trade men — although with black skin — as you would a horse? If it is not right, will God forsake those that are trying to extirpate it? If you think so, I do not.

You want a change of policy, and a change of the party in power. I have no doubt [it] would settle this war. If James Buchanan had been hung instead of being made President, we should not have had this war, in my opinion. It seems that you stick to party yet. Those men you speak of that used to cry,”On to Richmond,” and now cry “Peace in three months,” have [not] done anything but stand back and cry over this and that. If they would take hold and so something or keep still, it would be a great benefit to the army.

You say that the Army of the Potomac has been under Fighting Joe [Hooker] 3 weeks and still you hear of Rebs in arms. Mell, I must say that I do not call that a very sensible speech for you to make. What do you expect a man to do in that time and at this time of the year. If you do not know why this army don’t move, I will tell you — because of the mud. It is an impossibility to move our batteries. You could not hitch horse enough to one piece to move it through this mud.

If the generals that have been in the command of this army had had the whole command, there would have been peace before this time. I wish that there would not a general take command of this army until he had the power to choose, make and break, his generals, and have the entire command without asking Congress or Lincoln whether he could do so and so, or not. They ought to have hung Gen. Porter when he was court martialed. He deserves it, as well as many others of his stamp.

Lookout Hooker
“Fighting Joe” Hooker on his white charger

I wish that Gen. Butler was Secretary of War and that we had more men like him to fill other positions. They ought to commence and hang half of the officers from 2d Lieutenants up. The miserable, drunken, good-for-nothing things — they are not men or half a man.

I had the pleasure of seeing Gen. Hooker last Monday. We were reviewed by him — a fine looking man, but older than I thought he was. His hair was most white. He rode his famous white horse. I did not vote for Lincoln or anyone else as I never carried a vote to the polls in my life.

This is quite a long letter and I guess that I will stop. Remember me to the folks at Loudon [?] when you see them. Also to Jane and Tirzah. Love to all. Write soon.

From your brother, — Norman




Camp near Stafford Court House
May 17th 1863

Brother Melvin,

Yours of May 10th has been received and this P. M. I thought I would write you a few lines in reply. You will see by the heading of the letter that we are back into our old camp again and probably what I can write about the Battle [of Chancellorsville] would be of little account and secondhand at that, for really I know but a little about it, not being in it for the Corps teams did not go with six miles of Fredericksburg and I, of course, was with them. I could hear all of the firing plainly and I tell you, Mell, it was treason staying there with those teams from Tuesday until the next week Thursday and hearing all the rumors that we did — part of the time that we were half way to Richmond and part that we were driven back this side of the Rappahannock. But we are, back to the old camp again and why we came back here is more than I can tell after reading the papers and all of the official reports. But the greatest trouble there seems to have been was that we were fighting on ground that we knew nothing about; therefore, were at a great disadvantage. Gen. Stoneman done great thing. His raid [see Stoneman’s 1863 Raid] was one of the smartest that has been made since the war began. That beats the Rebel Gen. [J.E.B.] Stuart in any of his certain. But here we are and we are just as likely to stay here 3 months as 3 days.

We keep 8 days rations on hand all of the time so you see we are ready for anything. Probably there is no doubt but what Stonewall Jackson is dead this time sure enough — one the less to contend with if he is. There is a good many of our two-year and nine-months men gone home from the Army of the Potomac so you see our numbers are growing smaller. We may hear of that draft before long.

We are having fine weather most of the time. Some days are what we used to call hot. We have a thunder shower every few days and they are showers too such as we read about. Was glad to hear that you were all well and that Mother’s health was so good. I have not heard from her or Father only by you or Oren for sometime. I am well as usual. I received a letter from Addie today. She and Eddie were both well as usual. The days that he was 4 months old he weighed 20 pounds. Is he not a fat one? I guess that he will soon catch up with Genie and he is as good as good can be, so Addie says.

I should think that you would have more than your hands full one of these days if you are not careful. It is hard and the poor little babe must have a home somewheres — no father or mother — poor little things. I pity them.

Sigel has not taken his old command yet but there is talk of it. We are still under the command of Gen. [Oliver O.] Howard. The papers say that the 11th Corps run and I suppose they did but thank heaven our brigade was doing guard duty at the time. Love to all. Write soon.

From your brother, — Norman

May 17th 1863

Dear Mary,

As you wrote me a few lines in Mell’s letter, I thought I would write a few to you in the same way. You said that you will write me a good long letter one of these days. Do so and I will answer it with pleasure. Yes, certainly I always enjoy myself in some way or other. We have a pretty good time out here although not quite as good as some would like.

How do you like working out and do you have to work very hard or not? Well then, how is the pay? big? How is Tirzah now-a-days? a good girl or not? If she is not, I shall have to give her a good whipping when I go home. I guess she is my “goodest sister” yet. What do you and Tirzah think of my baby by what you have heard? Eddie is awful good and Addie says he is fat as a pig. Weighed 20 lbs. when he was 4 months old. I have got his daguerreotype taken about a month ago. I should like to see him very much but guess that I shall not go home on a furlough as I should not want to come back again when once at home.

I wish that I might get some of those strawberries that you spoke of but guess that I shall be a little late for them this year. Write often and do not forget your brother, — Norman


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