These two letters were written by Thomas Porter, Jr. (1835-1913), a non-commissioned officer of the 37th Massachusetts. Porter enlisted in 1862 as the Quartermaster Sergeant of the regiment. Porter held that position until January 1863 when he was replaced by John F. Banks, though he remained a clerk in that department.
Porter was the son of Thomas Porter (b. 1798) and his second wife, Roxanna Stephenson (1799-1859) of Chesterfield, Massachusetts. He married Harriet Sophia Robinson (1829-1925). Their first child, Ernest, was born in 1861 before Porter enlisted. They did not have another child until 1866 after Porter was mustered out of the service.
Following the Battle of Gettysburg in which they participated, the 37th Massachusetts was sent to New York City to aid in the suppression of the draft riots. They were quartered at Fort Hamilton which was located on the Long Island Shore at the entrance to New York Harbor. They arrived there in early August and stayed until 17 October when they were sent back into Virginia.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to Mrs. H. S. Porter, Chesterfield, Massachusetts
Soldiers Letter, Frank C. Morse, Chaplain.
South Mountain, Maryland
Saturday, July 11th 1863
Once more we have stopped to take a little sleep and rest and I improve the time by writing you a few lines. Last night I received two letters from you which were quite a blessing for I have had no letters except these for a long time before. The last one was dated June 30. There are certainly three letters on the road to you before this. You must not be alarmed if you do not hear regularly now for mail bags are uncertain property now. They may go North and they may go to Richmond.
We have had some hard times since I wrote to you last Sunday from Westminster and we are now about 40 miles from that place — 10 miles west of Frederick City — at the foot of South Mountain. Last Monday morning we had orders to leave Westminster and we were permitted to go about two miles and the order was countermanded. About 10 P. M. I spread out my blanket and had just lain down for the night when we were again ordered to move. It was cloudy and dark as Egypt but still we worked all night and made seven miles before sunrise. We went all day Tuesday over muddy roads and when darkness again overtook us, we were 13 miles from Frederick City — the place of our destination. We had one mile of mud to pass over and then a good turnpike the rest of the way.
We arrived near Frederick City about sunrise, Wednesday morning — sleepy, wet & weary. Here we rested awhile and got about 2 hours sleep. At 6 P. M. we were again on the move. The storm had ceased and all was pleasant but the mud. Just as the morning sun was sending up its grey streaks in the East, we halted at Middletown near South Mountain. I laid down with my face to the west, and slept an hour when we were again aroused. We loitered there till after noon when we went about three miles further to the east side of South Mountain. You see that for three nights we had only three hours sleep. Thursday and Friday nights we slept undisturbed and I feel as well as ever — and my disposition to go on is as good as ever.
The regiments went by a different route and are now about two miles from us the other side of the mountain near Boonesborough. The road from Frederick City here is the same we passed over when we went from Camp Chase to Downsville. I feel much more at home than when we were here before. It was a very warm and pleasant day yesterday but today it is again cloudy.
There was some skirmishing yesterday and many expect a great battle near the Old Antietam [battle]field today or tomorrow. I do not really think there will be another great fight near here for I think Lee will succeed in getting the rest of his army across the Potomac with the exception of his rear guard.
Nothing gave me more pleasure than old rum sucking Hooker’s leaving the army. He evidently intended to stay in his old quarters near Falmouth and make his army work building bowers for him to drink whiskey in. Thanks to Gen. Lee for breaking up his selfish plans.
There is no doubt but that Lee’s army has been badly beaten. I do not think the newspaper reports are exaggerated in many cases.
It was true that 20 were wounded in the 37th and two were killed. None of the Chesterfield boys were hurt and they were all well Thursday morning. God grant that they may be spared a little longer and we all return together as we came out. I am so far from the regiment that I do not get many rations but I succeed in getting enough to eat. I have used up some money in the scrape and shall have to [use] considerable more. But that I do not care so much for if my health and life are spared. All the letters that go anywhere go to the regiments and we with the wagon trains have to wait till we can get them from there.
Vicksburg is really taken — there is no mistake this time. I sincerely hope we can so cripple Lee’s army that Richmond must fall — and if that is the case, the days of war are numbered and our return will be speedy, if at all.
The idea of my staying three years is absurd at the rate the war is going on now. All the rebels will be killed or taken within one year. I am pleased the draft is to be enforced. I do not think any drafted men will have to fight but I want the Southerners and traitors at home to know that we are in earnest and that the blood already spilled shall not be in vain.
I expect that Gen. Lee will hurry back to Virginia and that next week will see us the other side of the Potomac. It is a little amusing to read the rebel hopes of Lee and his army of invasion and not a little startling to think what would have been the result had we not followed him. The rebel soldiers were told at the Battle of Gettysburg that they had nothing but Pennsylvania Militia to fight and would need only two or three rounds of ammunition. That is the reason why they charged so recklessly. The prisoners were greatly surprised when they discovered the badges of the Army of the Potomac and wanted to know “how in hell we got there.”
[unsigned; missing last page perhaps]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Fort Hamilton, New York Harbor
Sunday, August 9th 1863
My Dear Wife,
Your very welcome letter of the 6th was received yesterday and it seems good to get news so fresh from home. I wrote to you Friday but I will write a line today in answer to yours.
I am so thankful that you are all well that I try to forget all smaller evils and be happy in the possession of what I already have to cheer me. But still I have longings to be at home — one more stronger than when I was in Virginia.
I am doomed to disappointment in this respect for I do not think my enlisted men will be permitted to go home at present. A few officers have gone in cases of sickness at home. I do not think we shall go from here at present for some of our men are drilling upon the guns of the fort and this would not be done if they did not intend to keep us here awhile. Though it will not be possible for me to go home, there is one consolation. You will find no more trouble in coming to me than you would if you were here in any other business. The way for you to come will be first to New York City, from there across the ferry to Brooklyn, and from the Brooklyn side of the ferry, horse cars run direct to within 20 rods of our camp.
I think I can get a pass to go to New York City and spend the day but they will allow no one to stay overnight. I think the best way for you to manage, if you have to come alone, will be to go to some hotel in New York City nearest the depot and the next morning I will get away as early as I can and meet you there or if you had rather come through to where I am, I will tell you the best way to come. You will probably come to the New York and New Haven Depot, but as all will be confusion there, all you will have to do will be to keep cool and go to the horse cars for Fulton Ferry. They will be near the depot and there will be many to take the same cars. The hack men will be plenty but you must not mind them — take the horse cars by all means if you wish to go anywhere in a city. The fare is but a few cents and you will be treated respectfully.
At Fulton Ferry you cannot help going right for the crowd go all one way. At Brooklyn, all you will have to do will be to take the cars for Fort Hamilton. All the horse cars are marked where they go to so there is no danger of making mistakes in that way. I do not know which way you will prefer. I would meet you at New York when you arrive but it would be late in the day and I want a whole day in the city with you when you come. Write to me and let me know which way you prefer. If you could get a chance to come with someone that is used to traveling, I should like it. Will not Eben or some of our friends come as soon as the merry of haying is over.
I am anxious to have you come and then if there is a chance for me to come home afterwards, I can improve it just the same for I want very much to see you all together. If it were not for that, I should rather not come home till the war is over.
We can hear the Sabbath bells today for the first time for a long time, but they are nothing to us now. When shall we become free and human again? God only knows. I hope before long. I do not wonder at all that you are excited these days. I have felt more lonesome and homesick since I came here than I ever did in Virginia. I am so near freedom and still cannot possess it.
Give my love to all at home and accept from your affectionate husband, — Thomas
It is very pleasant and warm today and there are many sailboats upon the harbor — enjoying the cool breeze that relieves the heat of the day. Many of the soldiers have been visited by their friends already. Many started as soon as they heard of our coming for they thought we should be off again soon. But there is no danger of our being off at present. Some think we shall winter here but that is uncertain. The worst feature of our staying here is the airs the officers put on. Many of them are as large as life and ought to be put in a frame. But there is no use in fretting, I suppose. This life will soon play out and with it all the favoritism and tyranny of earth. I am hopeful and cheerful in the thought that they cannot control my soul and that the day is coming when honesty and love will rule — not for a day but for all coming time.
Yours with love, — Thomas