1863: Peter Wilder Freeman, Jr. to George Frederick Child

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Sgt. Peter Wilder Freeman

This letter was written by Peter Wilder Freeman, Jr. (1844-1863) who was mustered in as a sergeant to serve nine months in Co. I, 45th Massachusetts on 7 October 1862. He wrote the letter from Fort Macon — a small fortress located on a spit of land commanding the entrance to Beaufort Harbor in North Carolina. The 45th Massachusetts was garrisoned there for four months in the spring of 1863. While there, they were trained to use the heavy artillery of the fort — heavy columbiads and thirty-two pounders. A picket post was located two miles from the fort where the guard took up quarters in an old wooden building with a bunk for the guard not on post to sleep on.

A passport issued to Peter, Jr. in 1860 when he was 17 gave his stature as 5’10” tall, with blue eyes, a high forehead and straight nose.

When Peter returned to Boston with his comrades of the 45th Massachusetts in June 1863, he was apparently stricken with dysentery for several days and then contracted typhoid fever from which he died two weeks later on 3 July 1863 — just days before his regiment was mustered out.

Peter was the well-heeled son of Peter Wilder Freeman, Sr. (1810-1869) and Frances Anne Dorr (1810-1888) who made their home on prestigious Chestnut Street — one block north of the Boston Common. Peter, Sr. was an 1825 graduate of Norwich University. He was employed by the Boston Insurance Company for 39 years, serving as its president for the last 17 years.

Peter wrote the letter to his friend, George Frederick Child (1844-1933) who apparently was employed in 1862 by Emmons, Danforth & Scudder — wholesale grocers — on State Street in Boston. George was the son of Daniel Franklin Child (1803-1876) and Mary Davis Guild (1807-1861) who lived at the corner of Washington and Brookline streets, opposite Blackstone Square. George’s father was a founder of the Boston Machine Works — one of the first companies to build stationary steam engines. By 1870, George has joined his father in the business.

Freeman
Peter’s parents: Peter Wilder Freeman, Sr. & Frances A. (Dorr) Freeman

TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Mr. George F. Child, Care Emmons. Danforth & Scudder, Boston, Mass.
Postmarked Beaufort, North Carolina

Fort Macon, North Carolina
February 7, 1863

Dear Friend,

I was pleased to receive your letter of the 27th ult. and to find that you had not forgotten your friend of the old E. H. School; I have heard from Charles Smith and quite a number of friends since I left Boston. I am now second sergeant in I Company, 45th [Massachusetts] Infantry and after going through several battles ¹ and a great deal of hardship, we have finally dropped down here in Fort Macon. It is a pleasant little place and we are quite comfortable — that is, comparatively. All the boys are growing fat but you should see them drill, salute on guard, &c. I tell you, things are done up in the real military style here. As you say, one can appreciate better the comforts of a good home when he is enduring hardships and fatigue. But you know that there are other things to be considered, for besides the satisfaction of knowing that I have done my duty, I have greatly benefitted my health. I now weigh 163 lbs.

A large expedition sailed from here about a week ago under the command of Gen. Foster. There was some 30 or 40 steamers and about the same number of schooners with one large ship. I hope they are going to Charleston for I would rather see that place laid in ashes than any other I know of. I believe the 44th [Massachusetts] is not going or at least has not gone on the Grand Expedition, but on a small one to Plymouth which is now held by our forces.

Frank Shapleigh ² was down here not long ago to bring some prisoners from Newbern where the regiment is now doing provost duty. I don’t see him at all, of course, so cannot give your message to him now. Sundays we generally get passes to go up the beach beyond our picket guards. There is a fine beach of some 8 or 10 miles in length in which are many beautiful shells such as you can find on a northern beach. The day after coming off guard, one can get a pass over to Beaufort for the whole day. The next day he has to take four men and patrol the island for 3 or 4 miles from the fort — the last is rather dangerous if the Rebels should take it in their heads to capture the patrol.

So our time of enlistment slowly goes on. We drill both in heavy infantry and with muskets. Our equipments are kept well blacked and polished; our brasses bright. We wear white gloves and in fact might be called model soldiers for 9 months men.

I like to think of our old High School life once in awhile. We used to have good times there, did we not, old boy? I would like to see some of our school fellows now. I am on guard today and you may imagine me seated at the desk in the guard room surrounded by the sleeping forms of my guard — time almost eleven P. M.  On guard is a great time for writing letters on account of the conveniences for it. The sergeant commands the guard and of course has all the conveniences at his command.

What do you do for amusement this winter? I suppose there are plenty of young ladies on hand, are there not? Have you had any sleighing or skating this winter? Are you still with your Father or what business have you taken up? I hear that business is very good in Boston. Stocks are rising, I see — especially factory stocks, which for the last 10 years have been below par. Then wages are good, I suppose, on account of the scarcity of workmen. I don’t know what I shall do when I get home but something will turn up, I guess. Don’t stop writing to me but remember me to all enquiring friends.

From your friend, — P. W. Freeman, Jr., Sgt. Co. I, 45th M. V. M.


¹ A reference to the Goldsboro Expedition.

² Probably Francis (“Frank”) Henry Shapleigh (b. 1842), the son of John Henry Shapleigh — a grocer — (1816-1873) and Harriet Newell Powers (b. 1822) of Boston. Frank served in Co. A of the 45th Massachusetts Infantry. He studied art at the old Lowell Institute drawing school after high school before enlisting and became an artist of some renown after the war. 

 

 

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