1862: John E. Brown to Parents

I believe this letter was written by John E. Brown (1838-18xx) who enlisted at Johnstown (Fulton Co.) as a sergeant in Co. C, 32nd New York Infantry, was promoted to First Sergeant in July 1862, was commissioned a 2d Lieutenant of Co. F in December 1862, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant of Co. F in May 1863. He was mustered out of the service in June 1863. [Note: the signature looks to be “John S. B.” but I could not find any member of Company C with those initials who served as the orderly. John E. Brown’s rank as a 1st Sergeant (or Orderly Sgt) and his subsequent commission as an officer in the regiment leads me to conclude the letter was authored by him.]

The first page of the letter has a comment scribbled in the upper right-hand margin that reads: “Left by Hon. Mr. Burr.” Burr was a state representative for Fulton county in 1861-62 and I assume he conveyed the request for a commission to the Governor.

In 1880, John kept a saloon in Northville, Fulton County, New York. He wasn’t married.

In his letter, John describes the Battle of Gaines’ Mill in which his regiment was engaged on 27 June 1862.  The brigade in this action was under command of Col. Matheson of the Thirty-second New York, and the division under Gen. Newton. The part taken by the regiment is stated in the official report of Col. Matheson, July 5th, as follows:

“The Thirty-second, Eighteenth and Thirty-first New York, and the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, were ordered to cross the Chickahominy to the support of Porter’s division, who was keeping in check an advance of the enemy upon his lines. The regiment arrived upon the field of battle about, four o’clock P. M. At this time orders were received to so place the Thirty-second and Eighteenth regiments upon the field as in my discretion I deemed best, when they immediately went to relievo the Massachusetts regiments, who were occupying a position upon an eminence, in front of a belt of woods which protected the enemy’s front line in that locality. This position the Thirty-second and Eighteenth retained against the assaults of superior forces until I was compelled to send my Adjutant to report our situation, as well as the want of ammunition. In the meantime, I ordered Lieutenant Colonel Pinto to bring up the Thirty-first regiment, who were lying in a deep cut to the left of our position. Ordering Lieutenant Colonel Pinto to take charge of the Thirty-second and Eighteenth regiments, I instantly, led the Thirty-first forward to meet the enemy, who appeared in large force on our right flank. This position was held until sufficient time had elapsed for the Thirty-second and Eighteenth, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Pinto, to change their position, when I ordered the Major of the Thirty-first (the Colonel being wounded) to retire, keeping up the fire until he reached a position behind the fence, lying along the road or deep cut. Orders were then given for the Thirty-second and Eighteenth to retire into the woods skirting, our left, which position they held until the enemy appeared in such force upon our left as compelled us to retire, which they all did in good order, and formed in line of battle on the brow of the hill across the road leading to Woodbury’s Bridge, where we remained until 10 o’clock A. M., of the 28th, when orders were received to return across the Chickahominy. Both officers and men behaved nobly during the entire action. The loss sustained in killed, wounded and missing was fifty-eight.”


City Point, Virginia
July 4th 1862
Headquarters 32nd Reg. N. Y. V.

My Dear Parents,

I received yours of the 30th this morning and was very glad to hear from you and that you are well. I am well as usual.

We are now on the banks of the James River. We were engaged in a heavy battle on the Chickahominy last Friday, June 27th. Our regiment were on the left wing and received the heaviest fire for nearly three hours. The enemy were three times our number and finally we were obliged to fall back. I tell you, it is a grand as well as an awful sight — bullets flying in every direction — cannon balls tearing up the earth — and shells bursting over our heads. The greatest wonder to us that no more get hurt. There was seven shot in our company — none of them are dead yet. There was only two that you know — David Call ¹ and Corp’l. Charles Lesslie ² from Benson. They are both on their way home.

About those men of Capt. Shaw’s. Get them if money will buy them. If he gets another position, secure them without fail. If you cannot get them, go to Albany immediately. Get Mr. Rathbone to go to the Gov. [and] tell him there is a vacancy in our company — Co. C, 32nd Regt. N. Y. S. V. — of a 2nd Lieutenancy occasioned by the resignation of Lt. H. H. Oley ³ and I think you can get the position for me without any trouble. I would rather you would get those men of Capt. Shaw but if you cannot, please attend to this other immediately. Tell the Gov. I am acting orderly of the company now. Attend to it right away.

Write often. Your son, — John E. B.

¹ David A. Call enlisted at age 23 on 7 May 1861 at Johnstown to serve two years. He mustered in as a private in Co. C and mustered out with the company on 9 June 1863 at New York City.

² Charles H. Lesslie enlisted at age 31 on 7 May 1861 at Johnstown to serve two years in Co. C. He was promoted to corporal in December 1861, and was wounded and captured on 27 June 1862 during the Battle of Gaines Mills. After being paroled, he was discharged for disability on 7 October 1862 at Fort Monroe.

³ Horace H. Oley enlisted at age 22 at New Dorp to serve two years in the 32nd New York Infantry. He was a sergeant-major in Co. E before accepting a commission as 2d Lieutenant in Co. C in October 1861. He resigned his commission on 12 June 1862.


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