This letter was written by 22 year-old Franklin (“Frank”) Pierce Sawyer (1839-1898) of Alton, New Hampshire — a “3rd class” musician in the 5th New Hampshire Infantry. The letter was written from Camp California, so named because the Division commander — Gen. Edwin V. (“Bull”) Sumner — had recent service there. It was approximately eleven miles (by horse) from Washington D. C. in Fairfax county, Virginia. At the time, there were three brigades in Sumner’s Division commanded by Oliver O. Howard, Thomas F. Meagher, and William H. French.
Frank enlisted in the 5th New Hampshire Regiment on 26 October 1861. His term of service was cut short by the War Department’s decision, as a cost-saving measure, to terminate the custom of maintaining regimental bands. As such, he was mustered out of the service with twenty other band members on 8 August 1862 at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia.
In his letter Frank mentions that he and other members of the 5th New Hampshire band went to Gen. Sumner’s quarters to play while the officers of the regiment serenaded. Sumner had just returned to the regiment after convalescing two months for internal injuries sustained from a fall from his horse. Newspaper accounts differ on the accident but it appears his horse stumbled and fell on top of the general. When he returned to the regiment, Sumner is known to have made his headquarters in a house rather than a Sibley tent. Whether it was the house of the “Widow Scott” (as mentioned by Frank in this letter) is uncertain; she may have simply been a Union sympathizer whose property was being guarded against “midnight foraging” by Union troops.
Frank P. Sawyer was the son of Daniel Sawyer (1801-1869) — a farmer — and Tamson Walker (1806-1874). His older brother, to whom this letter was addressed, was Alonzo H. Sawyer (1827-1885). Frank was married in 1876 to Jennie M. Farnham (1843-1890) of Bristol, New Hampshire. In 1880, she and Frank resided in Linn, Massachusetts, where Frank worked in the shoe manufacturing industry.
Fairfax county, Virginia
February 16, 1862
Your letter was duly received and I was glad to hear from you again. The news here are scarcer than ever for the past week. I have just been reading a letter from Ralph Carlton. I guess he is a little homesick. Do you get any letters from him?
Last night we received the news of the victories in western Virginia and Kentucky. There was any quantity of cheering with the soldiers.
Yesterday it snowed pretty much all day and this morning it is pretty cold. There is about 4 inches of snow on the ground.
Yesterday 5 of the band boys including myself went out on a foraging expedition towards Fairfax Court House — near enough to hear the Rebs practicing with artillery.
Gen. Sumner has got well and returned to his command last Friday and that night our band and the officers of this regiment went over and serenaded him and when we came back, we serenaded Gen. Howard.
One of the privates in Co. D was accidentally shot last week with a revolver while guarding Widow Scott’s house. He [his body] was sent home to Dover where he leaves a wife and two children. ¹
I forgot to say that while we were at Gen. Sumner’s quarters, we came in contact with a band from New York, part of which belong to Dodworth’s Band ² of New York City and I tell you, there was some awful howling to see which could play the best.
But I can’t think of anything more to write so I will close. Write soon.
Yours respectfully, — Frank P. Sawyer
¹ A careful examination of the regimental roster reveals that the guard was 28 year-old John Merrill, Jr. of Dover, New Hampshire. He was “wounded accidentally; died wounds” on 12 February 1862 “near Alexandria, Va.”
² The Dodworth Band’s longest attachment was with the 71st Regiment Band of New York, in which both Harvey and his younger brother Thomas served during the Civil War. For a time, the Dodworth Band was without peer in New York City.