This letter was written by Sgt. William W. Thomson (1838-1872) of Co. K, 11th Rhode Island Infantry. Also serving in the company with him and mentioned in this letter was his younger brother, Pvt. Orlando P. Thomson (1844-1917). Co. K and Co. C of the 11th Rhode Island Infantry were — at the time of this letter — detached from the regiment serving as “an interior guard” at Camp Distribution not far from Alexandria. While serving in this capacity, they were fondly referred to by others in the regiment as the “lost sheep.”
William and Orlando Thomson were the sons of John Thomson (b. 1822) and Lydia Barrows (b. 1822) of Providence, Rhode Island. John and Lydia were married in 1837 at Attleboro, Bristol county, Massachusetts. Their daughter, Lydia (1846-1916), is also mentioned in this letter.
Both William & Orland had previously served in Co. A, 10th Rhode Island Infantry. Their brother John Barrows Thomson (1841-1874) — also mentioned in this letter — served in Battery A, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery.
Camp of Distribution near Alexandria, Va.
March 10th 1863
Your welcome [letter] was received last Friday evening and right glad we were to hear from you and to look upon the face of our sister once more. It is a good picture of her, tho’ some parts of it is rather dark. I was going to have her get her picture taken when I got paid off again. I would have sent home the money before this but did not know when we should get paid again, tho’ I am in hopes it will be soon as we only received one months pay and a few days the last time.
I have spent more than I expected to during the past two months. While I am speaking about money, I will just say we live mostly on bread and butter with coffee for drink. I suppose you would like to know how we live and I believe I have not told you before, so will now. As a mess we live very well. We buy a couple of pounds of butter in Alexandria every little while and as I have just said, live on bread and butter. We toast our bread by leaning it up against the stove. I furnish whatever extras we have and have a settling up every once in awhile. Besides the mess, I have the mouths or rather the stomachs of the whole company to look after. I draw the rations and tell the cooks what to cook. We draw a great deal of pork which the boys do not like. I draw rice, beans, coffee, sugar, pork about twice a week, salt horse the same, and fresh meat the same, and fresh bread every day. The bread is very good tho’ not so good as that baked in Washington, or home made bread. What we draw is baked in Alexandria. it goes first rate toasted. I have sold coffee and soap, and besides, I have the money the cooks get for the slush so that I have quite a company fund. I pay the cooks a dollar a week apiece. They have all they can do now as we have from 50 to 60 prisoners to feed every other day. I buy milk for the coffee quite often which makes it go good, I tell you. I also buy liver for the company once in awhile. I can buy livers at the slaughter house near Alexandria for a quarter apiece. It takes five or six for a company. You better believe it is good. Our cooks cook their victuals well. I find onions and pepper for soups and we draw potatoes from the Commissary sometimes. I buy meal and raisins and we have a hasty pudding with sauce to eat on it. We also have nice sauce for our rice made of sugar & nutmegs. Once in a while we have a nice meat stew.
There! You will know now what we have to eat for soldiers. We are living first rate. There is not another company in the regiment that lives better if so well as we do. So you see I am considerable of a caterer or some other kind of an animal. I don’t know exactly how to spell that word.
If we shall have to leave these diggings and go to the front, we shan’t live quite so well. It will probably be pork and hard tack. Now I hardly ever touch a piece of pork. But I have written quite a string about rations but I thought you would like to know how we live. I only wish [you] could be with us when we have had some of our good dinners.
We have the queerest weather out here. It rains or snows most every day. Once in a while we will have a pleasant day and the mud will nearly dry up. Then it will rain or snow again and the mud will be thick enough.
I went into Alexandria yesterday afternoon to purchase stores. It is a dirty old city with plenty of secesh in it. The Marshall House is not a very promising looking building and I believe it is the principle hotel in the place. Before the war broke out, considerable business must have been done there.
I have sent home an ornamental roll of the company. A man came round and got subscribers for them. They came at a dollar apiece tho’ I had mine free. I made out the roll for him and went round to the tents with him. I don’t think much of them any way. They will do to hang up in one’s bedroom or sitting room. You ought to get it by the time you receive this letter.
I told you in my last that we were expecting to move back to the regiment, but we have not yet gone and I hope we won’t for the present.
We did not receive Mag’s letter with the stamps. It must have gone to the Twelfth Regiment. We both have written to them since we have been here and I think I wrote last. Neither Sarah Pollard or Joe have answered my letters yet. I think it is about time if they ever intend to. I received a letter from Mrs. James Bucklin the other day — also from Uncle Brainard.
I am glad to hear that [my] Lydia has found the Savior precious to her soul. I hardly know what to say in regard to it, but I feel that our dear mother’s prayers in her behalf have been answered and mine too. I wish that [my brothers] John and Orlando could say the same. I think Orlando does think considerable of those things. He reads his bible a great deal and his life is consistent with it. I fear sometimes I am not as faithful as I ought to be. It is my prayer that we may each so live and act that we may meet our dear mother in that better land and I feel to praise God that our dear sister has found the pearly of great price.
That Hattie Hall that was baptized at the Friendship Street Church is the one Orland is acquainted with. I guess she is a fine girl. I am glad there is so much interest in the churches. I would like to know how our church gets along. I have not heard from it in a long time. God grant that many may be brought to Christ at this time.
We do not have any meetings here, tho’ I have been thinking of getting the boys here to have one. Our duties are such that every day is about alike — Sundays and all. We are either on guard or just off Sundays so that the day is pretty well broken up. Last Sunday seemed more like one than I have seen in a long time. If we had any kind of a chaplain, he would be over here once in a while, but one has not been here to see us since we have been here and it is now over a month since we were detached from the regiment. Mr. [John Binney] Gould is not liked very well in the regiment.¹
I suppose you have or will have seen Mrs. James before this reaches you. I was very glad to see her.
Capt. [William Augustus] Mowry went into Washington yesterday to try and get a furlough. His folks are sick and some of their affairs are in a bad shape, but I don’t know yet whether he has got it — hope he has. But I must close. Orlando will write before long. I guess the press does not get much of his writing. Speaking about my hurrying up or I will be left behind, I guess I can find plenty of girls when it comes to my turn.
Accept much love from us both for yourself and Lydia — also Uncle and Aunt — and remember me to all inquiring friends.
From your nephew. Affectionately, — W. W. Thomson
Co. K, 11th Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers
Washington D. C.
¹ Rev. John Binney Gould (1824-1908) graduated from Methodist-affiliated Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut in 1846. John Gould was married to Caroline Elizabeth Denison (b. 1825) of Mystic, Connecticut, in April 1847. He served a number of Methodist churches in New England, including Marlboro (CT); Marshfield (MA); Quincy (MA); East Weymouth (MA); Edgartown (MA); New Bedford (MA); New London (CT); Norwich (CT); Fall River (MA); Chestnut Street in Providence (RI); and Bangor (ME). During the American Civil War, he served as chaplain of the 11th Rhode Island Infantry during the Civil War. See — 1862: John Binney Gould to Barton