These letters were written by John R. Pollock, Jr. (1834-1893) — a first generation American — the son of Irish-born parents, John Pollock (1800-1875) and Elizabeth (“Betsey”) Cameron (1798-1881). The Pollock’s resided in Pompey, Onondaga county, New York, where they were early settlers — possibly as early as the 1820’s. A history of Onondaga by Dwight H. Bruce published in 1896 states that John and Elizabeth came from Londonderry, Ireland, where John had been employed as a linen weaver. The Pollock children — all born in New York State — included: Margaret (1830-1908) — she married Jonathan Hodges (1830-1907), Thomas (1832-1859), John (b. 1834), Catharine (1836-1909) — she married Moses T. Robinson, Samuel Pollock (1838-1840), Henry Pollock (1842-1846), and Joseph Cutler (1844-1933). All are buried in the Hill Top Cemetery in the Town of Pompey.
John, Jr. enlisted at age 28 on 30 August 1862 at Pompey to serve three years in Co. E, 149th New York Volunteer Infantry. He was mustered in as a corporal on 18 September 1862. We learn from John’s letter that he became ill not long after going into the field with his regiment and spent several months in the hospital at Harpers Ferry and in Washington D. C. before rejoining his regiment prior to May 1863. He was again absent in a hospital, in June 1864, and at the muster-out of his company.
Addressed to Mr. Cutler J. Pollock, Fabius, Onondaga county, New York
Frederick City, [Maryland]
October 1, 1862
I now take an opportunity to write and let you know what we are a doing. We have changed our camp since I last wrote you. We left Arlington Heights Monday at 4 o’clock for Washington, then took the cars for Frederick City. We expected to have stayed at Arlington and drilled but I am glad we left for we were stationed right among a lot of stumps. We should of had to grubbed them up for a drill ground and that was some work. We are in [Brig. Gen. Silas] Casey’s Brigade and Paul’s Division. I don’t know what we are here for but I suppose to reinforce McClellan.
Washington is full of soldiers waiting to be transported. The streets were full of them waiting for the cars. Everything in the shape of cars is on the road. Part of our men rode on platform cars. I got a seat on board the officer’s car under cover. I calculate to look out for number one. A good many of our company had to stay behind [as they] could not get cars that night but they have come up now. We are encamped on the ground the Rebels occupied three weeks ago.
You better believe it is hot weather down here. [It is] about like our August weather at home — a good thing for us as we had to leave our tents behind and our knapsacks have nothing but overcoats and blankets with us in light marching order. We are about twenty miles from Harpers Ferry so you see we are pretty close to the rebels. They say Old Jackson is crossing over into Maryland again and suppose we are here to meet them. But I think we will make rather a poor show. I guess there will be some tall running for we don’t know any more about drill than so many sheep. There are four regiments in our division. They are rushing the troops here as fast as they can. There is one regiment coming in now. The cars don’t stop — only long enough to let the troops get off, turn round, and go back for another load. When we left Washington, there were 10 regiments waiting for a chance to go. We happened to be lucky enough to get aboard.
We can see some of the rebel’s works here. There is one bridge close by. We crossed it when we came here. It was an iron bridge and [a] very nice one. We have got it up again. We have got two sick men (Peter Goodrich ¹ and Dave Hollenbeck ²). They had fits. They were subject to them. All the rest are well and in good spirits.
We are about 18 miles from the Pennsylvania line. We are in the best looking country I have seen. The land we are encamped on belongs to a Union Major in our army but they are most sesesh around here. The city is full of wounded soldiers. Every church is turned into a hospital and every hotel is full. They were wounded in the last battle here [Antietam]. There are some five or six thousand in the general hospital besides (you must excuse me if I get it mixed up for there is so much going on that you can hardly think what you are a doing. I hardly know what I want to write, there is so much to write. I could fill a dozen sheets if I had time but I will write you a few of the particulars and let the rest go. I will write as often as I can and let you know what we are a doing. I don’t know how long we shall stay here but I guess we shall stay and drill. We have not drilled much yet but we have been moving so much. We have to sleep out on the ground but we [have] lots of company. The fields are covered with troops. We have not had any rain since we have been here but lots of dust. [You] have to wash your face before you can tell who you are. The boys felt bad to leave their knapsacks behind. I don’t know whether we shall see them again or not. We left a guard over them. I should hate to leave them as all our change of clothes were in them but I think we will be ordered to Washington soon again, If we don’t, our baggage will come on to us. I hope so.
The boys find some faults about the living but they are doing better now. We have plenty of bread, meat, coffee, and I can live without any trouble. Some of the boys buy their living but I eat what I get and feel as well for it. I wish you were down here to see them. It is a handsome sight — nothing but camps in sight. We are camped about half a mile from the city, I guess. I can’t write anymore at present but I will write soon again. I will write once a week if I can.
When you write, direct your letters to Washington, Company E, 149th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry in Care of Captain [Ira B.] Seymour.
No more at present. Goodbye. Your brother, — John R. Pollock
¹ Peter Goodrich enlisted at the age of 23 on 28 August 1862 at Pompey. He was mustered in as a private on 18 September and discharged 10 days later.
² David Hollenbeck enlisted at the age of 23 in 25 August 1862 at Syracuse. He mustered in as a private on 18 September and was discharged ten days later.
Harpers Ferry [Virginia]
December 28, 1862
Well, Cut, I have got a letter from you at last. It went to the regiment and then was sent here. It was rather late news but then it was better than not any. I wrote to you two weeks ago and I have not had an answer to it yet but I suppose there is one on the way for me.
We are a going to leave here tomorrow. I suppose we are a going to Annapolis Junction. They have had orders to move all the sick from here and all the inhabitants are ordered to leave. The Rebels sent in a flag of truce and gave them so long a time to move out. They have got to leave by tomorrow night but then there are a good many that can’t go at all — they are so sick they can’t be moved. Some will be sent to their regiments. They have their choice — to either go to their regiments or go to a convalescent camp. I shan’t go to my regiment yet awhile. They are at Fairfax Station.
I had a letter from Jim last Wednesday and he said he thought they would fall back to guard Washington. They had better come back and guard this place. They was never going to leave this place unguarded again but they have left this place with only a few men to guard it but they will try, I suppose. They have got some big batteries on the hills [and] there will be some hot work here before this place is taken again. I don’t know where the rebels are coming from. They have moved all the military stores from here so it shows there is something in it.
I don’t care how soon we leave here for I have got sick of this place. You can’t see anything but rocks and mountains. We are on an island ¹ in the Shenandoah river. It was a handsome place once but it looks rather hard now. It used to be owned by one man and was valued at 2,000,000 dollars. There was a [flour & plaster] mill that cost 100,000 dollars and a handsome factory and shops of all kinds and two blocks of dwelling houses. They use the [cotton] factory for a hospital. ² The [flour] mill was burnt down. It was a splendid building and the best in the country.
If the rebs come in here now, they won’t get much plunder but they can destroy some property. There is a new bridge building over the Rappahannock river. It is a chain bridge and is a nice one. It is not finished yet but is nearly done.
You said I did not say how I was getting along. Well, I can tell you I don’t gain very fast but then I don’t find any fault so far. I didn’t expect to get strong in a day nor a week, and if I get up this winter, I shall do well, I think, for I had got run down pretty low and rather thin.
Since I have been writing, we have got the news that we can’t go to Annapolis for they have no room for us there so I don’t know but we may stay here and run the risk of being taken prisoners. I don’t care which they do. You spoke of sending a box to me. I haven’t seen anything of it yet. I suppose it is to Baltimore. If you send the receipt, I can get it from there. I must close for this time. Write when you get this and direct to Harpers Ferry, [Slocum’s] 12th Army Corps Hospital in care of Doctor Nims.
— J. R. Pollock
¹ Pollock is referring to Virginius Island that became the sole property of Abraham Herr in 1855. The island’s industries were devastated by the Civil War — the mill burnt by Confederates in 1862. The buildings that were not destroyed during the war were used by the Union army “as barracks and stables, workshops, corrals; for hospital, storage, and other purposes.” See: “A Nineteenth-Century Mill Village: Virginius Island, 1800-60.”
² The cotton factory was a four-story brick structure built in 1848. It was fitted with gas lights, heated by steam pipes, and equipped with the latest cotton machinery. During the Civil War, the building served as a Union hospital.
Harpers Ferry [Virginia]
Sunday, January 4, 1863
I received your letter yesterday and was glad to hear from you and know that you had not forgotten me. I didn’t know as you was going to write to me but I have got one at last and I am satisfied. You wanted me to write how I am. I am getting along first rate so far. There is nothing the matter of me at present. We all have the diarrhea more or less, but not the kind I had in camp. It [is] caused by the victuals we have to eat — bread and fresh boiled beef. There is not much change down here but I am not going to starve while my money lasts but I am getting rather short. I have got six dollars left yet and that will last me some time yet.
We were mustered for pay last Friday but whether we shall get any pay or not, we have not had any yet. The men are getting rather sick of fighting without pay but if we don’t get any, I shall send home when I get out. We expect to leave here soon. Where we shall go, I can’t tell, but probably to Alexandria. But I don’t think I shall stay there long for it is rather a hard place. They have to stay in tents and no fire and not half enough to eat at that. I had rather go to my regiment for we get enough to eat there. But I had rather stay where we are for we have got a good place [with] plenty to eat and an appetite to eat. I begin [to] fat up some now. There was a good chance for it for I was rather thin.
You thought I did not write as bad as I was. I didn’t make it any better than it was for I was about as sick as anybody wanted to be. There was a week that I did not know much that was going on. I thought there wasn’t any use in alarming you more than was necessary but Jim [Morrison] ¹ done all the writing [and} I did not know what he did write. He wrote what he had a mind to for I did not know what was going on. Jim took good care of me when I was sick but i think I shall get along now. My health is very good — good as could be expected. It will take some time for me to get as well as I was when I was taken sick but then I think that I shall get well as ever. But I don’t think I shall get well as quick here as I would at home for we don’t have the chance here that we should at home. But you can’t get there so you have to make the best of it.
We were examined for discharges but it was the biggest sham that I ever saw. [It] didn’t amount to much. Some will get their discharge but I ain’t one of the lucky ones. But I am satisfied so far. Give me health and I can stand it for I never have been homesick since I have been down here. But I am getting rather lonesome here. There is nothing going on here. You can’t see neither way — [there are] mountains on both sides. The river runs on both sides of us. We are on an island in the Shenandoah. It is a pleasant place to live for them that likes it. The island belonged to one man and was a good property — [worth] two millions of dollars of money. He had a [cotton] factory [and] they use it for a hospital now. It is [a] large building four stories high and they have got it full of sick [soldiers] — between four and five hundred men in it — and some that are very sick too. There have been a good many died — some two or three a day, if not more. But we ain’t in that building. We are in a dwelling house and have a good room and nobody to bother us. But if we have to leave here, we probably shan’t get as good quarters as there are [here]. I for one would rather stay here than go away. But then we ain’t our own masters here. We have got to move when we are told to.
They talk of paying us off next Tuesday but then you can’t tell anything about it but the boys are getting rather mad for most of them are out of money and it [is] hard living without money here. I don’t spend much — only for butter. That is worth 37 cents a pound, but I can’t eat bread without butter for I don’t each much meat. It don’t agree with me. We make tea. Dan had some sent to him and Jim Morrison and I kept his. I can’t drink the tea they make here but we get first rate bread and I can live on that. We have fresh soup for dinner every day made of rice, cabbage, onions, turnip, and sometimes carrots and potatoes. It is first rate [and] would suit you first rate. We get some molasses for supper once in a while.
I don’t know much more to write. I write so often that I don’t get any news — only to let you know how I am getting along. I will write once or twice a week to some of you, So I will close for this time for I want to write a few lines to Kate for I can’t [think] of enough to fill one letter so I will close for the present. But remain your son, — J. R. Pollock
I thought I could not find enough of news to fill another sheet so I will write you a few lines this time and wait awhile for the next chance till I get more news. You gave me a good long letter and I will do the same. You spoke of sending a box to me. I have written twice for you to send it along and gave the directions but the letters have not gone through. I have been expecting it for a long time but I did not hear from you and I did not know whether you had sent it or not. But it appears you have not sent it and I am glad of it for I should have lost it for it would have went to the regiment and I should never have got it, so you needn’t send any till I write for it for I should like some butter and my boots but I don’t know where I shall be in a week. Some of us have got to go to our regiments tomorrow. I don’t know who they are. The doctors is coming round today to pick them out. Well, I shall have to bid you goodbye for this time.
Your brother, — J. R. Pollock
¹ James A. Morrison enlisted at the age of 22 on 29 August 1862 at Pompey to serve three years in Co. E, 149th New York Infantry. He mustered out with he company on 12 June 1865.
Lincoln General Hospital ¹
Washington [D. C.]
March 8, 1863
I will now try and write you an answer to your kind letter which I received yesterday. I didn’t know but you had forgotten to write to me but I suppose you don’t have a great deal of news to write so I will excuse you and let it go. It is about the same with me. We don’t get a great deal of news here at present. There is not much going on at present but I suppose there will be soon. But the mud will have to dry some yet and there is not much signs of it yet. It rains most of the time and the mud is about as deep as it can be and sticks like so much paste. The soils here is nothing but this red clay. [It] won’t raise white beans. The grass won’t even grow. But it is a pleasant place here and healthy — at least I think so for I never was better in my life than I am now and I hope to remain so for I think I have had my share of sickness since I have been here — at least all I want to have for it ain’t no fun to be sick away from home and friends. But I got along first rate and no fault to find.
By the way, I have changed places since I last wrote you and am in with Jim [Morrison] ² now in Ward Fourteen. He has been detailed and I am going to be this week and I have had the promise of Ward Master in about a month. The one that is in here now is going to leave then and I shall take his place if nothing happens to me. But I am satisfied now as I am and will be likely to stay here some time and maybe all summer. We have got a splendid ward and in good order. [We] don’t have any wounds to dress here and that is a good thing. It ain’t half the work it was in the other place and we can be together all the time. I am getting so fat my clothes won’t hardly fit me so you see I am doing well and contented. I have not been homesick since I came here.
I don’t see the reason that money [I sent you] has not got along. It had ought to of been there long ago and if it don’t come before long, you had better got to the city and see about it. It was co-signed to the Onondaga Co. Savings Bank, I believe, but if it don’t come, go to Mayor Andrews. He is the man done the business and he can tell you what to do. But maybe it will without. I didn’t get my pay for some time after the regiment was paid off and it would not get along as quick as the rest but it has had to be there. We have been mustered for pay here and will be paid soon. There is four months pay due me now but I don’t know as I shall get it all this time. Uncle Sam is getting so he can’t pay more than two months at a time and I think he had better shut up shop for awhile and make some more greenbacks. They are getting behind par when it takes $175 in them to buy $100 in gold in this place so I think we are about as hard up as the South.
Old Abe wants to make another emancipation bill and he won’t be nowhere for the army are down on him for the one he passed. It don’t take here and the quicker he recalls it, the better, I think, for fighting for niggers is about played out here. They don’t think enough of them to fight and lose their life nor they won’t much longer. I have seen all I want of them and I don’t think I shall fight much to free them. They had better make it a war for the Union and then the men will be better satisfied.
Well, I guess this will do for the present so I will close. Write soon.
From your brother, — J. R. Pollock
¹ Opened in December 1862, Lincoln General was the largest of the military hospitals in the area built by the Army to take care of the Civil War casualties. It was located on Capitol Hill, 15 blocks east of the Capitol building. The hospital complex included 20 pavilions, arranged in two lines forming a V, and 25 tent wards, which provided altogether a bed capacity of 2,575. The kitchen and dining rooms were connected to the pavilions by means of a covered pathway.
² James A. Morrison enlisted at the age of 22 on 29 August 1862 at Pompey to serve three years in Co. E, 149th New York Infantry. He mustered out with he company on 12 June 1865.