1861: Frank Rhodes to Friend Jimmy

This letter was written by Pvt. Frank Rhodes (1834-Bef1894) who enlisted in Boston at the age of 27 in Co. D, 13th Massachusetts Infantry, on 29 July 1861 for three years service. He was taken prisoner at the Battle of 2nd Bull Run on 30 August 1862 and paroled almost four months later. The book, “Three Years in the Army” by Charles E. Davis (pg. 449) states that Frank Rhodes was born in New York City and was a printer at the time of his enlistment.


Sharpsburg [Maryland]
August 9th 1861

Friend Jimmy,

According to promise, I write you a few lines. I left New York on Saturday afternoon for Philadelphia, from there to Baltimore which place I reached on Sunday morning. I stayed in Baltimore until Monday morning. I traveled all over the place and was treated very well. I seen the old battle ground of the 19th of April [see Baltimore Riot of 1861] and I think the citizens are more loyal than the folks in Boston as far as taking care of the soldiers is concerned.

I left Baltimore for Harpers Ferry and got there at 1 o’clock Monday afternoon but we found that the regiment had orders to march back to Sharpsburg (between Harpers and Hagerstown), so I had to walk 17 miles. The first pop I walked from 1 till 9 o’clock. Then I had to go to bed without my supper and breakfast the next morning. They blow so much about the 13th Regiment we do not get half enough to eat. We have not had no coffee, team no sugar for 3 days — nothing but ham and biscuit and damn little at that. It’s rough, I can tell you, Jimmy.

Let me get anywhere near home, [then] see me leave damn quick. There is only four companies of us in camp. The other six are out on picket guard about five miles down on the Potomac River. They have got about 50 of the rebels surrounded and they expect to have a brush in a day or two. The first one that I saw was Bill Pfaff. ¹ He only got in camp an hour before we did. They started from Harpers Ferry 10 o’clock in the morning.

Col. Samuel H. Leonard, 13th Mass.

The regiment is down on Col. [Samuel H.] Leonard ² like hell and if the men are not treated better, there will be war in the camp and that very soon. I shut down on doing duty until they give me my uniform and equipments and find me quarters to sleep in. ³ I have slept on the ground every night without any blankets, nor will they not give me my so I told them I would do no more duty until they did and I have not — nor won’t, by God. All that I have got under the Heavens is just what I left Boston in when I see[n] you last and I have had not a thing since so you can imagine in what a situation I am in. But they have got me here and here I must stay.

The first two days they had me on fatigue duty carrying wood and water and building shit houses — and damn fatiguing it was too. Anybody that tells you the men are treated well, you can tell them they lie like hell and do not believe any of the letters you read in the newspapers about it.

You can buy things cheap here if you only had the money. Eggs [are] 12 cents a dozen boiled, chicken 25 cents, washing 50 cents, a dozen hot biscuits buttered 1 cent. But what’s the use in talking — there is no money in the regiment nor likely to be for the next three months to come. The pay roll was made out wrong and it has to be made out again and the men are to be sworn in again and if they are, they will not get 100 men to stay.

Jimmy, find out where Lizzie is, if you can, and send me word for she told me she would not stay in the city if i went away. And if you will send me 1 dollar, I will be much obliged to you as I am dead broke. And send me some papers. You can mail them every day and they will come right to me as there is a mail leaves the camp every day and one comes. I will write you a better letter next time.

You [can] direct your letters to Frank Rhodes, Co. D, 13th Massachusetts Volunteers, General Banks’ Division. Give my respects to Eliza and the children, Andy and Jake, and all enquiring friends.

— Frank Rhodes, Co. D, 13th Regt. M. V.

P. S. They will not take paper money here. Send me some stamps.

¹ William Pfaff ; age, 22; blacksmith; mustered in as sergt., Co. A, July 16, ’61; mustered out, Jan. 28, ’63; died, Dec. 2, ’86.

² Samuel H. Leonard; age, 36; born, Bolton; expressman; mustered in as col., July l6, ’61; mustered out as col. Aug. 1, ’64; by reason of his seniority in rank he acted as brigade commander, at different times, for a period of nearly two years; was in command of the brigade picket for the advance guard of the Army of the Potomac the winter of ’63-64; was wounded at Gettysburg; residence. West Newton, Mass.

³ The regiment did not receive their State-issued hats and uniform coats until late August 1861. When received, the men found their coats were “much too heavy” to be worn in the late summer heat. Besides, most of the coats were made too large in the front. Neither were the hats “useful nor ornamental. They were made of black felt, high-crowned, with a wide rim turned up on one side, and fastened to the crown by a brass shield representing an eagle with extended wings, apparently screaming with holy horror at so base an employment. On the front of the crown was a brass bugle containing the figure 13.” Since the hats were entirely too large to fit the majority of the men, they began to disappear by early October 1861. [Source: Three Years in the Army]



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