1863: James Schouler Cumston to Family

This letter was written by 2d Lt. James Schouler Cumston of Co. E, 44th Massachusetts. James was the son of William Cumston (1813-1870) and Janet McArthur Schouler (1819-1900) of Boston, Massachusetts. James’ sister, Mary (addressee of first letter), married Capt. Spencer W. Richardson (Co. E, 44th Mass.) in June 1864.

The 44th Massachusetts was attached to the 18th Corps, Department of North Carolina, and engaged in a handful of skirmishes and expeditions from Newberne during the spring of 1863. The 44th mustered out in June 1863 having suffered 11 battle casualties.

While in the service, it appears that Lt. Cumston suffered from rheumatism and on January 7, 1863, he was detailed as Chief of the Ambulance Corps of General Stevenson’s Brigade. It was during the time of this detail that Cumston wrote these two letters.

In February 1867, married Charlotte G. Greene, the daughter of Col. Charles Gordon Greene, the founder of the Boston Post.

An obituary states that: James S. Cumston, long identified with the piano trade in Boston, died in his home, 871 Beacon Street, after an illness of several years. Although so long an invalid, his death was sudden. He was born in Boston March 11, 1842. He attended the Boston public schools and after his graduation from the English High School entered the form of Hallett & Cumston, of which his father was then senior partner. During the Civil War he served as a lieutenant of Company E, Forty-fourth Massachusetts, but at its close resumed the piano business. [Boston Journal, 28 January 1913]

(l-r) 2d Lt. James S. Cumston, Capt. Spencer W. Richardson, & 1st Lt. James S. Newell of Co. E, 44th Massachusetts Volunteers


Newbern [North Carolina]
February 14, 1863

Dear Sister,

I received your letter & father’s yesterday and very happy to do so. The contents came safe and acceptable I can assure you as I was all out through the carelessness in losing my pocketbook. I was very much surprised yesterday to receive a visit from Henry. He was on crutches in very good spirits. Only think — he has been in this building only in a different ward five times to see a friend since I have been here and only knew that I was here by one of our boys telling him the day before that I resided in this establishment. It is rather funny that he should have found me instead of my finding him. I think he will use his foot again in two or three months. He wanted to be remembered to you and Mother and Father. He said he should like to hear from you.

We keep pretty equal in letters as I write once a week. I have just received a letter from Stope saying he has not received an answer to his last. I sent it the same mail I sent yours. He has had quite a hard time of it. And also Nellie writes and says she has not received but one letter from me when I have written three or four to her. Confound these Newbern mails. They are a regular Southern institution for a wonder. I received those papers Father sent. I forgot to mention it in his letter. The old Chronicle looked natural.

Oh it does look melancholy to see two young ladies in the state you mention. Hope the war will be over so that such a lamentable affair will not occur again.

Charlie seems to be rather fickle minded. I suppose he forgot that I wrote to him about two months ago. He is going to take a long voyage.

Our regiment went to Plymouth. They did not see any fighting. They had one hard march [and] were gone ten days. The boys say they had a fine time. Glad they came back without losing any men. They day after they came back, Dr. [Robert] Ware came down and saw me, felt my pulse, and said I was getting along finely. Kind in him, wasn’t it? The chaplain, captain, and lots of the boys have been here to see me so I have not been dull.

Since I have been here in the hospital, I have read O. C. Keen’s Papers. If you haven’t read it, get it and read. I am sorry to say that in too many cases it [is] too true. Ask Father to read it.

You must not have any anxiety about my health for that is tip top. It is only this confounded leg. I am in high spirits for I expect to join my company in a very short time where the time goes quicker than it does here.

Let me give you an illustration of what freedom does for the darkey. A Black fellow went up to a soldier the other day and said, “I am free now. Me just as good as you are.” The soldier didn’t see it [and] wondered if that was the man he left home for to fight as the soldiers are not quite sure whether they are fighting for the Negro or their country. I cannot help it but it looks rather like the first to me. I should have felt like using a shingle if I had been the soldier.

Nellie complains that she sees you very seldom [and] hopes the confounded sewing will be finished before long so that you can come in and see her. You will not be indignant if I put yours in Father’s envelope, will you, as they go in the same mail. Love to all. Tell Mother her son would like to hear from her. Write soon.

From your affectionate brother, Jy. Cm.

P. S. Remember me to Dr. Wm. Wilcox and family. I am glad you can persuade him so easily. Wonder if Aunt Mary received a letter I sent her some two months since. I sent it in care of Uncle Caleb. I shall send a letter to Stope and Willie in this mail. Please tell me if they get them. Yours, — Jim


Camp Stevenson
Newbern, [North Carolina]
April 17, 1863

Dear Parents & Sister,

As there is a mail closing for the North this evening, I supposed hearing from me would not be unwelcome. I have not heard from home for quite a long time — almost one month since I had my last letter — but suppose it is the fault of these confounded Newbern mails. But while writing the above, a mail has arrived and I am the happy possessor of three letters — Father’s & Em’s of the 9th and one from May. I am sorry that Em has been unwell and very glad that she has recovered. She must take care of herself and not work too hard as I do not want an invalid sister at home when I get there. I suppose Father’s other letter had been delayed as I had not received one for such a long time. I supposed he had not written. I will not judge again for I ought to know that these mails cannot be depended upon.

Gen. Foster is now in Newbern. The rebels have left Washington [North Carolina] and skedaddled. Gen. Foster is trying to bag them but I think he will be unsuccessful as they have got the start of them. It seems that they were not successful down to Charleston. The troops that left this department are all returning and the capture of Charleston is to be delayed. Gen. Hunter said that he did not have troops enough. By all accounts, it seems that our monitors would have battered down the forts as they had already a large hole in Fort Sumter. Those little monitors are splendid things. It seems the rebel shots had but little effect upon them with the exception of that one that sunk which you know was taken on experiment and will cost the government nothing.

I hear rumors of a peace proposed by the rebels. I hope if it is so that our government will make them unconditionally surrender.

I have just received a letter from Jack. He is well and happy. I should judge he is improving in writing very much. He send love to you.

Last Sunday I went down and saw Mr. Heald and asked about the barrel. He said that it had just come and he would send it up to camp. I am very glad to hear of Whit’s good fortune.

I think when I return I shall be perfectly satisfied with military life. Some other occupation will be much more satisfactory than this as I find that I am not anxious for the glories &c. of a soldier.

Remember me to Charlie and the rest of the family. Aunt Mary, I am sorry that she does not get better. Give her my love when you see her.

I have just heard from our regiment. Capt. [Spencer Welles] Richardson and three men wounded is all the loss. The death (reported) of Sergeant Edmands is not true. Gen. Foster complimented the regiment very highly.

I think Mr. Richardson very kind in the delivery of that letter. I sent to Stope some photographs which I wish you would put in the book.

Surgeon Robert Ware, 44th Massachusetts

I am very sorry to announce the death of Dr. [Robert] Ware by brain fever. He is much respected and his loss will be felt by all the regiment. I am much indebted to him for his kindness to me during my rheumatic attack. The death of such a man is really a loss to the government as he was not only a gentleman, but a very fine surgeon and officer. It is the first one we have lost by death in the regiment.

The other day I went down town and having a bad toothache, I saw an advertisement for the extraction of teeth by that method which relieves the pain very much in the extraction.

I am very sorry that I was unable to be with the boys up to Washington [North Carolina] but as I was unable to so I suppose I cannot fuss. I am glad they came out as they did. Sock is gay and happy. I think they have kept our regiment quite busy. Gen. Foster says that they have done more than any other none months regiment. But I must not brag of my own regiment. But my letter is getting long. I am well and enjoying myself. Love to all.

Your affectionate son & brother, — Jim


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