This letter was written by 19 year-old Nathaniel (“Nathan”) Batchelder, Jr. (1843-1864) who enlisted 1 August 1862 as a private in Co. A, 11th Vermont Infantry. Nathan was taken prisoner on 23 June 1864 during the fighting at Weldon Railroad. The National Park Service data base lists Nathaniel Batchelder, Jr., 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery, as being confined at Andersonville Prison after his capture and later moved to a prison in Millen, Georgia where he died on 27 October 1864.
Nathan was the son of Nathaniel Batchelder (1803-1891) and Jean Stewart Nelson (1810-1892) of Ryegate, Caledonia county, Vermont. In the letter, Nathan mentions his brother Corp. James N. Batchelder (1841-1863) of Co. F, 15th Vermont Regiment who died on 13 April 1863 in the regimental hospital near Union Mills, Virginia. His pension record indicates his death was due to typhoid fever. James enlisted for 9 months service in late October 1862.
Nathaniel Bachelder, Jr. was mustered into the 11th Vermont Infantry but the name of the regiment was changed to 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery on 10 December 1862 while on duty in Washington D. C. The regiment was assigned to garrison duty within the defences of Washington, occupying Forts Slocum, Totten, and Stevens. It remained at Washington until May 12, 1864, when it moved, 1,500 strong, to join the Army of the Potomac. Although nominally a heavy artillery regiment, it served as infantry, the only difference being in its larger organization; it had 12 companies of 150 men each, with a captain and four lieutenants for each company, forming three battalions with a major for each. The regiment arrived at the front on May 15th, when it was assigned to the Vermont Brigade, and two days later it went into action near Spotsylvania. On June 1st, Major Fleming’s Battalion was engaged in the storming of Cold Harbor, with a loss of 13 killed and 107 wounded. In the affair at the Weldon Railroad, June 23d, the regiment lost 9 killed, 36 wounded, and 257 captured or missing, the captured men belonging to Fleming’s Battalion. It was next engaged in Sheridan’s campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, where Lieutenant Colonel Chamberlin fell mortally wounded in the fight at Charlestown. At the Opequon, the regiment lost 8 killed, 85 wounded, and 6 missing; and at Cedar Creek, 13 killed, 74 wounded, and 20 missing. Returning to Petersburg, it was engaged in the final and victorious assault, with a loss of 5 killed and 45 wounded.
For more letters by members of the 11th Vermont (1st Vermont Heavy Artillery), see — 1863: William Joseph Cheney to Mr. & Mrs. Benjamin Kenfield and 1863-64: Alonzo F. Smith to Cousins
Fort Totten, D. C.
December 21, 1862
Dear Sister and Brother,
How do you do? I am well and hope you are the same. This is Sabbath day. It is all the [only] time we can get to write any of any consequence. We have to work all the time week days and most of the Sabbath.
We are expecting the Gov. of Vermont here every moment and we had to sweep the whole works this morning and pile the major’s wood pile over. That is the remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy. The Major [George Ephraim Chamberlin (1838-1864) ¹] would keep us to work nights if he could. It seems as though he could not get work enough for us to do. He worked us all day Thanksgiving day. Someone heard that the Col. [James M. Warner] was mad about it. We have a nice Colonel. If we did not think so much of him at Brattleboro, but he has made that all up since we come out here. Our major is a brave, gallant officer. He has got his mother out here to stay with him but it will not do to say much about one officer. If they hear it, it would go hard with us. But this is a place where it will not do to tell truth at all times.
I had a letter from [brother] James last Friday. He is about one mile from Fairfax Court House. He was well and in good spirits. He said they was about three miles from Bull Run Battlefield. He said it was a hard-looking place. He said he was on picket one day at the ford where the battle commenced. He said there was a lot of masked batteries there and rifle pits there. He said they [15th Vermont Infantry] had got some “A” tents now. They had little fly tents that two can put up on their guns. The “A” tents are big enough for five or six and will tie uptight.
We have got into our barracks now. We have got comfortable quarters now to live in. We have got two large stoves in it and some of the boys keep a fire a going all night. We are having cold weather here now. It is pretty frosty nights but I do not think we shall have four or five feet of snow and drifts 10 feet deep and six months of it neither. We have not had much rain yet. It is nice weather for fighting now and they have had a hard battle down to Fredericksburg and I guess we got whipped too by the looks of things. I expected when we heard we had took Fredericksburg that we would lick them good, but I am afraid it is inclined the other way. But I am in hopes when [Franz] Siegel gets there and some reinforcements that there will be some things done. I hope they get it settled up some way before next spring some way or the other if it can be done without fighting and losing so many lives. I hope this will do it that way and if not, fight it out as soon as possible and be done with it as soon as possible.
There was one of our boys died last week [on 15 December]. It was Austin Wheeler of Peacham. His body was sent home. He was sick two or three weeks and they thought a day before he died he was getting better. But he died very sudden at last. There was a stoppage in a blood vessel between his heart and lungs.
We have pretty good times. Steve and Tom and Sam ² lay [in] one bunk. I want you to send me a dollar’s worth of postage stamps as soon as you can and I will send you a dollar as soon as we are paid off. I expect that we shall get paid off in January some time and then we will get 4 months pay then. There will be preaching at the Soldier’s Home tonight but I do not know as I shall go. I do not like to see a minister dress as the Episcopalians do. I was over to the meeting house a few Sabbaths ago. The minister was dressed in white till he got ready to preach and then he went out and put on a black dress. When he prayed, the people would say over same things too he read of his prayer and they had book to read with him. The house ³ was built in the year 1719 and rebuilt in the year 1790. It is the oldest house I was ever in.
Write soon and send me some stamps. — N. Batchelder
It is after dark and I am writing by candle light. We get a half a candle a night for six men so you see that we do not have much candle to write by. I bought four over to the sutlers the other night. The way we trade with sutler, we get an order from the Capt. and take it to the sutler and he will give you two ($2.00) worth of tickets and he will get it when we are paid off. We are not allowed to take up more than $2.00 a month.
Sam Brock had a letter from Betsy and she said tell Will Aiken that someone heard John Calder ask Mary Harriman if he might come up and see her some night. I wonder who he [will] try next. Will Aiken is corresponding with Mary Harriman and we bother Will some. It beats all. We know all that is going on at home. So goodbye from Nat Batchelder
¹ It seems that Nathan was not the only member of the 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery that had a problem with Major George E. Chamberlin. In a letter by William Joseph Cheney of Co. D written from the hospital at Fort Slocum, he told some friends that the Major had ordered 150 men out of the fort to work all night but he was overruled by the Colonel. Cheney called Major Chamberlin a “very nervous man” and indicated that the boys in the regiment took great delight in seeing the Major’s anxiety.
² These three members of Co. A were probably Stephen P. Carter, Thomas Gilkerson, and Samuel Brock — all of Barnet, Vermont. The William (“Will”) A. Aiken mentioned in the post script was also from Barnet.
³ Nathaniel implies that this ancient church was located near the Soldier’s Home. If so, perhaps he was referring to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish. This church was built in 1775 and incorporated parts of an older church that dated to 1719. It was remodeled in 1853.