These letters were written by Xenophon Demosthenes (“X.D.”) Tingley (1845-1933) and his older brother Hartford “Byron” Tingley (1841-1929) of Company I, 11th Rhode Island Infantry. They were the sons of Hartford Jenks Tingley (1814-1894) and Selina West (1815-1907) of Providence, Rhode Island. Both X. D. and Byron enlisted in October 1862 and mustered out in July 1863, the 11th Rhode Island being only a 9-months unit. Hartford served as a private; Xeno served as a private/band member. The letters written from Camp Metcalf were written by X.D.; the ones from near Suffolk were written by Byron.
After the war, X. D. attended Brown University. Following graduation in 1868, he pursued a career in education, holding jobs in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; Charlestown, West Virginia; San Francisco, California; Napa, California; Oakland, California; Central Falls, Rhode Island; and Gloucester, Massachusetts.
The following is a description of the band of the 11th Rhode Island:
At [Camp Metcalf], our music took on some variety. The buglers, who were appointed when the order came for the regiment to drill as skirmishers, took part on several occasions with pleasing effect on dress-parade. We still enjoyed our drum band with Mr. Dunbar as leader, and fife-major Ornam L. Patt, of Central Falls, well known among the musicians of Providence, who was the instructor of the band from the beginning. The leader of the buglers was Mr. Robert Seiler, a gentleman who served his time in the military service of Prussia, and thrice enlisted in the service of our own country. But there was a desire for something still better, and it was decided to organize a brass band. Col. Rogers headed the subscription list, followed by the field and line officers, and a long list of men; in two weeks the amount required, nearly four hundred dollars, was obtained, and early in February, the band began their practice. [History of the Eleventh Regiment, page 95]
Camp Metcalf [near Fort Richardson in Virginia]
February 8th 1863
Dear Sister Sophia,
Another week has passed although it seems as if it had only just begun. You cannot imagine how fast the time goes but the week has left its traces. In it, two corporals from our company have been put into the ranks and two privates put up to fill their places. There is no disgrace in their reduction as the fault lies with someone else but our Lieut. was scared lest he should lose his straps and advised them to resign.
Our company is about “played out.” Our officers are about worthless. Captain has been sick for the last month, the Lieut.’s are huffy and obstinate. Our men are all dissatisfied. All this don’t affect me any as I am in the band. Our officers have nothing to do with me. Our new Colonel [Horatio Rogers] has just left today to take command of the 2nd Rhode Island [Infantry] and this leaves Blinky ¹ again in command. Since we were paid off, they have frequent fights. Last night they had one and they had a company called out to stop it. Our new Colonel and one Captain was knocked down in the mud. This has brought on stricter rules although I have a pass by which I can go off any time I like.
I play on a 2nd Bb Cornet — the same as the one I have at home, only the bell goes over the shoulder. We are going to build us a band room this week. We can play some quick tunes now pretty well.
We have got our bed-sacks, and filled. They make a first-rate bed. Byron and I occupy one tier of bunks. We keep the bed-sack in one and the shelter tent in the other. They are each wide enough for two, so we turn in together and thus get double blankets during the cold nights. We have two stoves and keep them both going in the cold weather. We can cook on one of them. Everything is in good shape.
I received a letter last night from Inez containing Bethia’s [carte-de-] visite. Also one from you having several proofs. The book of which you spoke has arrived in tonight’s mail in good shape. I can fancy how you went home from school in the mud but that is only a sample of what we have had for the last three weeks.
Those calls that Mr. Stone copied for me were for the battery but these are for skirmishers. Therefore, we do not use them. I am glad you can get along so well with Lonny. I have not yet changed my decision for a college course when I return. It is stronger if anything. I have not yet indulged in any evil habits. Bye.
¹ There is no officer by the name of Blinky (or Blinkey) who served in the 11th Rhode Island Regiment so my assumption is that it was a nickname applied to Lt.-Col. J. Talbot Pitman who would naturally assume command of the regiment in the absence of the colonel. Perhaps Pitman had a penchant for blinking excessively.
Camp Metcalf [Virginia]
March 12th 1863
Dear Sister Sophia,
It seems to me a long time since I last wrote and somewhat longer since I received any letters from home until last night. I had concluded that either yours or my letters had been miscarried. I received yours last night, also one from mother, or (more properly) a written pamphlet as it was several sheets sewed together.
March 13th 6½ a.m. We passed a pretty cold night last night. We had several snow squalls yesterday but the weather is clear and pleasant this morning.
Our band played at the Col.’s last night till nearly nine o’clock. The Col. had a lot of company. Major Potter, the pay-master, was there & Col. Rogers’ wife among the rest. By appearances, it looks to me as if the band would make a failure after all at the rate they carry sail now. The leader (with one other member) went to Washington the other day and came back so drunk that he could hardly talk straight. I am satisfied that the whole crew is unfit company for a decent person. Card playing is carried on to some extent. You can judge whether you want me to be in such a crowd or not. It is true that several of them are first-rate musicians, and by remaining with them I learn considerable in music.
The ground is pretty well trodden now and very little mud left. Blinkey has battalion drill nearly every afternoon. There is a curious case in our company (somnambulism I suppose). One of the boys talks in his sleep and walks about. They can shake him but it is very difficult to wake him. The other day while in one of his spells, the Col., Major, and most of the staff officers came in and he talked to them like a father. He thought he was captain of a ship and the officers were his passengers so he put Blinkey on the double quick for using the men so rough while in the 11th. ¹
My name might have been put down as musician on that paper that Byron sent home though I rank only as private. It seems the Pecks were not desirous of speaking with you the other day. Just let them slide. We are as good as they.
From your brother, — X. D. Tingley
¹ The identity of the soldier is not revealed in this letter (or in the regimental history) but a description under the heading “Awake and Asleep” appears in the regimental history in which this soldier’s sleep walks are chronicled. It reads, in part: “The most noteworthy of all was a grand levee held one afternoon, where were present…the captain of the company, and other officers and men, invited by one of the mess, the tent being filled. The young sleep began his addresses to those who were introduced to hium, and to who, he gave his opinion as to their characters in no measured terms. He called them by their nicknames, if they had any, told them their faults, and lectured them for their conduct to the men, as he viewed it. Imaginging himself on the deck of a vessel, a favorite way with him while in this state, he put the different parties through such punishment as he thought they deserved…” [History of the Eleventh Regiment, page 110]
March 26th 1863
Dear Sister Sophia,
We still remain at the old camp near the Convalescent [Camp]; other regiments that were near us have left for Ft. Monroe and I suppose some of our boys think our turn will come soon, but I don’t much expect it — particularly since we have seen the quality of our new Colonel [George Earl Church]. From what I have seen and heard, I should judge him a very peaceable man who would injure no one if they would take care not to injure him. He has been with us nearly a week and has not been out at any of the drills or parades. But we will know him better after we have had some experience with him.
But if it should happen that our regiment should go to the front, or some other point nearer the rebs, you can be assured that I am ready to go. They have made a change in the performance of guard duty. Formerly half a company stood one day and the other half the next day. Now one company stands a day and rests the next day. It does not make it any easier for the men, however.
Night before last, the leader of the 1st Connecticut Band played with us at dress parade. He has been a musician for the last twenty years. It is his business altogether. The Adjutant was high in his praises for him.¹
We are now in the habit of playing a piece in front of Col.’s after dress parade. The Col. requested us to the first time and we have since kept it up. It attracts considerable attention.
I received your letter last night; also one from Grandma and one from Willie Houghton. My letters have been rather scarce for the last two weeks until last night. I was glad to receive Andrews [carte-de-] visite. I will keep it awhile before sending it back. Be careful how you send compliments into the army, but I will say that I am glad if I gave satisfaction while attending Mr. DeWitt’s school.
So the pussy enjoyed the chickens and then enjoyed the consequences. Inez was quite fortunate in having a sleigh ride. Where did they go?
The Convalescent Camp is formed of soldiers who have been to the hospital and are recovering. They are not able to go to their regiments but do not need medical attention. Therefore, they have no nurses.
Excuse me from filling this [sheet] as I have got to go over to the band room. Remember me to all my friends. From your brother, — X. D. Tingley
¹ This may have been John P. King (1822-18xx), a native of England, who was a music teacher in Hartford, Connecticut, before the Civil War. He served as the band leader of the 1st Connecticut Infantry and was wounded in the First Battle of Bull Run, after which he was honorably discharged. He later served in the Sixth Connecticut Regiment. After the war, he organized a band of professional musicians in Hartford called King’s Star Quadrille Band” to furnish music at balls, public assembles, private parties, &c. King was an accomplished cornet player. His wife, Roxanna King, died suddenly on the 4th of July 1863.
April 11th 1863
Dear Sister Sophia,
I received your last (No. 44) of April 5th two or three days ago. My last to you mentioned something relative to our band not of the most pleasant kind. Our leader continued firm in his decision until he had seen us march before the regiment two or three times when he again began to play with us, without saying which way he had decided to go. He has played with us since then without any trouble until today when one of the boys commenced a row, and carried it to a high pitch when it was quelled by the influence of Mr. Smith, the bass player who generally acts as moderator in the disturbances.
Day before yesterday we had no practicing as several of the band-members (five in number) went to Washington. Two of them came back towards night — our leader and one other. The others got drunk, got their passes prolonged until the next day when they came back in style, in a four-horse coach. After they left the coach, it was with difficulty that they got to their quarters when they turned in to sleep it off. It has made a general trouble with the band. Slurs are thrown out by the regiment that the band is composed of such members that they can’t get payed off without going on a spree. For all this, our cymbal player got a pass today provided he would get back in time for dress parade. It is now 9 o’clock p.m. and we haven’t seen him yet. I suppose he has got into a scrape for drunkenness.
Our Drum-Major [William L. Dunbar] also went in yesterday and has not been on duty since. I saw him today coming down the hill from the fort [Fort Richardson] when he would swag about three feet each side of the path. This was when I was going up to the fort with one of the boys to see them practice target shooting with [10-inch siege] mortars. We could see the shell from the time it left the mortar until it struck when it would burst. We then started for camp. Passing a sutler’s, he called for two glasses of cider but for some reason he only took one. I called for some apples but he wouldn’t let me pay for them and paid for them himself. He is a pretty smart fellow though he will imbibe some, yet he knows enough not to get drunk. He has served in the British army in India and had not been here a fortnight when he enlisted. This is a pretty long string relative to the band but it is the only news we have.
When we went through Boston Commons, I did not notice any squirrels in the trees. We went through in a hurry. You have probably been to that singing school by this time now. I should like to know where it is. We now play thirty-one pieces in the band besides several new ones — among them is the (Love not [knot?]) Maybe you know it. Remember us (as usual) to any inquiring friend.
From your brother, — X. D. Tingley
A Virginia daffodil and petrified wood from the Potomac. — XDT
Camp near Suffolk, Va.
May 1st 1863
Dear Sister Sophia,
I received yours of the 26th April and will now answer it. The ring that I made you will have made quite a journey by the time you receive it. I mended it a few days ago & I thought I would make one for Sarah Olney and send them both together so yesterday morning I began it and finished it this morning just before I commenced the answer to your letter.
Don’t flatter yourself on my killing mustache.
Yesterday night we heard that our forces were a going to plant a battery on the other side of the [Nansemond] River and that our regiment was a going to support it. But about dark, the report was changed a little. Our company was called into line about eight o’clock and marched down where we expected to see the battery that we were to support. When we got there, we saw a lot of men tearing up the rest of the bridge and carrying the boards away. We enquired the reason why they were doing so. They said that the General here had got wind that Longstreet was a going to cross the river that night. Our men were stationed along the banks of the river, the farthest of the outpost of the picket guard. At about ten o’clock at night we could hear hammering and cutting of trees and every once in awhile we could hear the Rebel officers giving their commands. The fort [South Quay Battery] above where we were stationed began to play over our heads up into the woods where the sounds came from and after awhile, the cutting and hammering ceased entirely. Only one half of the companies stood at a time, so after standing until half past one o’clock, we were relieved by the other half of the company. We marched back of the fort where we tumbled into our blankets for the night, but were in readiness if the other relief picket was attacked.
William McKay and myself tumbled in together so as to keep as warm as possible. There was no attack that night and we slept soundly until morning when we were joined by the other boys. We then took up our march for the camp and arrived there in a very short time where we found a hot breakfast awaiting us consisting of hot coffee, hot potatoes, and boiled bacon & hard bread. I should of liked to of had the battery go across the river for if the Rebs were about to be too strong for us, there is four forts that could turn their guns on them at any moment. And if they should try to take the place, they would be most unmercifully peppered with shot and shell.
There has been a flag of truce sent into the town three times since we arrived here. Orders also for the women and children to leave the city as they are a going to shell it. But not a woman or child is allowed to leave. Some of the officers in the Rebel army have wives & children in the city and it is supposed that some of these are about us. That is the reason they don’t shell us — for fear of killing their own families.
Yesterday morning a contraband came in from the Rebs. He came down to the same bridge that was torn up at night. They took him over in a boat. He said that one of our shells hit and burst in one of their campfires where a lot were sitting, killing a number of privates & wounding some of the officers. There was not much to say in answer to your letter so I have just let you know I have received it.
Let me know when you get the letter & rings. From Brother, — Byron [Tingley]
Camp near Suffolk, Virginia
May 11, 1863
Dear Sister Sophia,
I have just received a royal old letter from you — just the kind I like (I am glad that you have taken it into consideration & returned to your father’s house). Those flowers that I sent, I don’t know whether they are swamp cheese blossoms or not. I think they are though the bush resembles it much. Keep mum about those Valentines.
I am sorry that Lydia’s ring was broken but it was nothing to feel badly about. I will undeceive you about our regiment as soon as possible. We are still encamped here near Suffolk but we don’t know when we shall leave. We have not seen Richmond yet, but it is rumored here that it is taken but it is not confirmed. Our regiment is liked about here very much. That is the reason that they keep us here. There is but six regiments left here now to hold Suffolk. The rest have gone towards Richmond. We were expecting to go as much as could be. We had everything prepared to not be surprised at a sudden order to march. But our regiment happened to be one of the lucky ones to be kept here. General [Alfred] Terry was over here the other day to inspect the quarters & ground around the camp to see that they were kept clean & free from filth. When he came to our street — Co. I’s — the Colonel asked him if he did not want to go into the quarters in that street. “No, I guess not,” said he, “the cleanliness of the street shows that their quarters are kept clean.” And such is the case for at times the ground about the camp looks like a well-swept floor. I suppose the good order & regularity of the camp was one reason that we were kept here.
Yesterday I sent a letter to Henry Smith. I expect an answer in a few days. I will let you and the folks know when I get an answer from him. I did not think that I should be so near him. It is about 37 miles from where we are now encamped, I judge from our rate of traveling. It is 22 miles from Norfolk to Suffolk. Coming from Fortress Monroe to Norfolk, we were one hour & ½ — the boat making 10 miles an hour. I heard that all of the wounded or disabled soldiers were to be sent to their homes. I think it would be the best thing that could be done for there is nothing like home to a sick man or a wounded one.
This piece of silk came off the inside of a carriage that was captured on the other side of the river. The lining inside was of silk. All round the edge was a silk fringe but that was stripped off in a hurry after they got on this side of the river. They shot a pig and brought that over in the carriage. Quite an honor for piggy to ride in silk, but not being alive he could not appreciate the honor as well as some of the live hogs that had rode in it before.
Friday, May 15th
I took quite a tramp today. I went over to where the 4th Rhode Island Volunteers had their camp but they had gone about 8 miles between here & Norfolk so I did not see Edgar after all. But I saw where a great many regiments had been encamped and about a mile from the camp we came across a contraband village well laid out with streets like those about our camp. At a short distance from the other buildings, I noticed a larger one & going up to it found it was a large school of Contraband children. I suppose the building is used for both a school & a meeting house. The man’s name is Bowen that was with me. He is a relation of Ann Osborn. After getting tired of travel, we returned to camp.
Amen, — Byron
I was going to put this letter in the next night after writing it but in the morning we were ordered into line & marched off so suddenly that I had no time to get anyone to put it in the mail for me. But we are now back at Suffolk again in our old camp so I can send it tonight, which is May 27th, making nearly a fortnight that we have been from camp.
I received a letter with some pens in it sometime ago but forgot to mention it. I received a letter while away from camp in a tiny envelope. In it you spoke of a Magazine. The letter, dated the 17th, the next night or the second night after I received the Magazine with the fishline inside of it.
In one of our camping grounds, there was a large pond or lake with cypress trees growing out of the water. It was the most splendid sight I ever saw. I took a dug-out canoe that was there and paddled out about half a mile and then looked about me for awhile. I picked some of the leaves of the cypress but lost all but one leaf which I send. The large flower is a Magnolia. There are trees a hundred feet high covered with blossoms which is milk white but this has turned yellow in pressing. After rowing about all I wanted to, I went up to the camp, got a fish line that I had in my haversack & went back to the water and in two or three hours I had all the fish I wanted. I fried some for supper & in the morning I made a good lot of chowder. Hen helped me eat it & he thought it was about right.
It is rumored that we are to leave Suffolk and join Hooker. You can read the adventures we had in our Reconnoissance in the Journal I write to Mother.
From, brother Byron