This letter was written by Lyman Uriah Lee (1836-1915) who enlisted as corporal in Co. F, 5th Massachusetts Infantry in September 1862. He mustered out after 9 month service as a commissary sergeant in July 1863. In December 1863, Lee enlisted as an orderly in Company M of the 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery Regiment, and he mustered out as a 2nd lieutenant in 1865. His brother, Leonard Worchester Lee (1846-1864) was killed on 18 June 1864 before Petersburg while serving as a private in Co. H, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery.
Lyman Uriah Lee (also known as “Uriah,” “Uri,” and “Ri”) was born in 1837, the eldest child of Lyman Lee (1812-1881) and Elizabeth Maria Miner (1814-1887) of Foxcroft, Piscataquis County, Maine. He married Laura Adelaide Comings (1844-1900) of New Hampshire in 1866, and they had at least one daughter, Tyra Huntress Lee (1867-1892).
Uri wrote the letter to his brother Chauncey Cleveland Lee (1843-1921) who served as a corporal in the 14th Maine Infantry for six months, mustering out in June 1862. The envelope bears the address of his mother, Mrs. Lyman Lee.
Note: Most of Uriah’s letters and three of his diaries are housed at the University of Michigan under the heading, “Uriah Lee Family Collection.”
Camp at Newbern, North Carolina
November 18th 1862
Dear Brother Chan.,
I have a short time this morning before company drill & I will employ my time in writing to you. We [are] having the “gay old times” here drilling six hours in a day, eating hearty & sleeping soundly. Singing to fill up the time unoccupied by anything else. We have the most good singers in our regiment of any on the ground. We have already got the title of the “Singing Regiment,” by the old regiments. While we were on that long march ¹ that you have probably got the account of before now, in the letter I sent to Mother last week, at every halt we sung, and on the march we sung. In the evenings we sung & the N. Y. Cavalry would want to ride up by “that singing regiment” — the Massachusetts 5th.
We have been drilling for a brigade inspection of arms & equipments by Gen. Foster which is to come off tomorrow. We are not permanently brigaded yet. On the march before we were in Foster’s 3rd Brigade under Acting Brigadier General [Francis Lowell] Lee, Colonel of the 43rd [44th] Regiment.
Yesterday I went outside of the lines on commissary business. Newbern is fast improving since so many Yankee troops have come in. Many of the stores are being filled up with all sorts of goods but awful prices. We can get apples that are worth one dollar a barrel in Massachusetts for three cents each here. Matches are two bunches for 5 cents. Butter 40 cents per pound, milk 20 cents a quart. Sweet potatoes are cheap [at] 50 cents a bushel.
One thing Mother wrote I like & that is she said you would some of you write often & I am going to do so as long as I am in camp when I can send often. When out on picket or on marches, of course, I cannot get or send mail matter regularly. Now we get mails twice a week. I received an Observer Sunday morning and as it was a rainy day, it was a great treat to have something to read, besides having news about home affairs. Weston gets frequent letters from home & from Enfield. I read all of his letters and he reads mine by agreement. I have had one from S. Reading and one from Boston & one from home since I got here. I was glad to hear my fixings arrived safely. I delivered them to the messenger at the Depot & asked him in particular if it would go safely without being marked by a card, but he said anything once in their hands could not get out. I paid him a dollar & if it had cost 63 cents more, it would not have been very steep.
And you are really going into my school, are you? Well all you have got to do is to begin firm, & follow your hand right through, but I shall claim Ella Pratt for mine, just as much as if I was there. After you get up there, I would like to have all of the scholars write to me with you. Have any of the boys there enlisted? I set out to write to Jo. & Wash & John Henry to come to Medford and join our company, but we made a raise nearer home.
We came pretty near losing our place here while we were on our expedition. The rebels drove our pickets all in and skirmished around considerable [and] killed two pickets. The little force left here, had to stand out in line of battle for two days (or in readiness for line) but this place [is] so strongly fortified that a small force would defend it against great odds. The 42nd, 45th, & 47th Massachusetts arrived here day before yesterday so now there is an awful force here. What they intend to do, I do not know. I wish they would march us down & tell us to fix Charleston [S. C.] as we did Williamston & Hamilton & then set fire to it. I believe if we took a good supply of artillery we could do it.
I was appointed by a unanimous vote of the company to act as Commissary Sergeant for the company. They chose me so as to have an honest man. So you see how they recon me. I am afraid if we are ordered to forage much more, I shall learn to steal so well that I shall learn to be dishonest. They call for drill!
Evening. We have been through with our inspection again and now I will write a little more. We have drawn our overcoats tonight. Till now we have been without them. And we have not needed them since we left [Camp Lander at] Wenham. It is warm enough to go without any fire. I admire the climate, only the dew is so heavy now nights that when we camp out of doors we are wet every morning. I have nothing particular to write. You know how monotonous camp life is when there’s nothing particularly exciting going on. I enjoy myself first rate because my health is so good. And again, we have good officers which is a fine thing in a company, I suppose you know.
I wish I was near enough to make a thanksgiving visit. However, I suppose you will think of me eating “Hard Tack” while you are picking turkey & bones. If we can get off on picket where the country is not already pillages, I will have a goose I’ll bet. Perhaps I cannot cook it so well.
I got a piece of cake from Medford sent by one of the Orthodox Choir this week. Some of our boys who were left behind arrived bringing papers, boxes, &c.
The Charlestown boys are serenading with their songs so splendidly. The sergeants & corporals occupy one tent by ourselves and have plenty of room — 12 of us occupying the room of 16. We expect to go into barracks if we winter here & I guess we shall at any rate make it our headquarters for us.
You must write often some of you & sometimes I will write to me & sometime another. Give my love to all the folks. Tell Natt I have not heard from him yet. Who is Nathan going to have? Give my best respects to Lizzie Wingate. Roll Call! & I must close. Tell all the folks to write. I like the family letters & an Observer is welcome. Don’t let my colt stand in a stall this winter but give him a pen where he can turn round & not be hitched. Tell Leon I could confiscate any quantity of splendid hounds & if I can take one home, I will carry him a pretty dog. We shot & stuck with bayonet every ugly dog on the march. Most of them are very good-natured & pretty, Expecting to hear soon, I sign myself, your brother, — Uriah
[P. S.] I suppose Louise is too busy to write. I wish I could send her as many things as I could have taken on our route through the country. I could furnish one room but they will not allow anything sent away. We took hundreds of horses & asses. Took one Rebel Cavalry Captain & some prisoners in uniform who were paroled in Fort Warren, Boston. They were first at Roanoke. They all say the poor folks are all forced into the army and be glad to get out of it. But still they think the Yankees are awful & would mob and kill them all. They are awful ignorant.
¹ The “long march” Uri refers to was made between 2 and 13 November 1862 as part of the “Goldsboro Expedition.” During that expedition, the regiment marched 180 miles and participated in the battles of Kinston, Whitehall, and Goldsboro.