1864: Edgar Nicholas Shelden to Rebecca Lowrey Hitchcock

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Edgar Nicholas Shelden in late 1870s

This letter was written by Edgar Nicholas Shelden (1842-1914) of Amenia, Dutchess county, New York. A short biographical sketch of Shelden appears in the regimental history:

Edgar N. Shelden was the son of Nicholas and Rachel Maria (Swift) Shelden. He “was born at Deposit, Delaware county, New York on 25 July 1842. The family removed to Dutchess county where he received his education in the public schools, and for a time attended the Friends’ School in the town of Washington in that county. Early in life he became an earner, for his father died, and at the age of sixteen Mr. Shelden went to work on a farm, continuing in that employment until he entered the army. He enlisted in Co. A of [the 150th New York Infantry] at Baltimore on 8 April 1863 and was soon made a corporal. Of war’s moving adventure and hair-breadth escapes “Our Nick” had his full share, through all of which he bore himself so well that he won the confidence of those under whom he served, and became known as one who could be relied on in all circumstances.

At the battle of Gettysburg his service was with the regiment during the battle, and after its close he was one of the detail which was placed in charge of Chaplain Vassar, charged with the duty of searching the field for our dead, and he says that the Chaplain is entitled to the greatest credit for his faithful service in that connection…

From this time his service continued with the regiment until the siege of Atlanta. On 20 July 1864, while the regiment was stationed near Peach Tree Creek, our pickets advanced and captured some of the enemy’s outposts. During this action Mr. Shelden was wounded by the bursting of a shell from one of the enemy’s siege guns, a piece of the shell striking him in the side and loosening several of his ribs. While he was being carried on a stretcher to the rear the bullets at one time came so thick that the men carrying him dropped the stretch to the ground. But he was finally removed to the rear where he was cared for by the surgeons of the regiment, and was eventually sent, with other wounded men, to the hospital at Chattanooga. He recovered from his wound and joined the regiment again, reaching it just in time to take part in the famous ‘March to the Sea.’ Not long after his return to the regiment, he was detailed to General Slocum’s headquarters where he was employed in carrying dispatches to the commandants of the various divisions of Sherman’s army.”

The letter was addressed to Rebecca Lowrey Hitchcock (1841-1901), the daughter of Homer Hitchcock (1805-1875) and Rebecca Maria Lowrey (1811-1842) of Wassaic, Dutchess county, New York. Rebecca married Ezra Reed Benton (1839-1900) in October 1865.

[Note: This letter is in the private collection of Richard Weiner]

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TRANSCRIPTION

Headquarters in the field near Atlanta, Georgia
July 25, 1864

Dear Friend,

Your letter of June 26th was received the 10th of this month and I can say I was happily disappointed for it was the first letter I had received from Amenia in a long time. Since I wrote last, we have passed through a great many hardships and some pretty hard fighting but we have driven the Rebs all the while and are now knocking at the doors of Atlanta.

We left Tullahoma the 27th of April for the front and arrived opposite Tunnel Hill the 15th of May where we heard considerable cannonading but our corps was not engaged until the 24th at Resaca. From all accounts I don’t believe the western generals meant to give Old Joe [Hooker] much of a chance if they could help it for they sent out some of our skirmishers and the Gen. of the 4th Corps sent them back so we had to content ourselves by staying in the rear and seeing the others fight. But about 4 o’clock, the Rebs thought they would turn the left so they massed their troops and charged the left of the 4th Corps and broke them and were driving them back like sheep. But just then Old Joe come galloping along and says, “Fall in Boys.” We began to think that something was up from all we could see so off we started at nearly a double quick for the left and arrived there just in time to save the 5th Indiana Battery as the Rebs were within a few rods of it.

We have had no trouble since in finding a place at the front line and our regiment has been in every fight of the Campaign. The 28th of May our Corps was ordered forward. It was the first real engagement we had been in since we left Gettysburg but if you could have heard the cheer the boys gave, it would [have] settled all doubts as to whether they would fight or no. Our regiment was formed on a little hill of gound to the left of the brigade when the colonel [Ketcham] ordered us to throw up some rails to protect us and we had them hardly done when we heard the Rebs coming. They come on through the woods and out into an open field when we were ordered to fire. It was too much for the poor Rebs. They broke and run in every direction, but they formed and charged twice more but met with the same success as before. When we were relieved, the Gen. told the colonel that the regiment done credit to the command as we repulsed a whole brigade of Rebs. ¹

That night some of the 2nd Division charged a Surrett of 4 guns and dug them out and drove the Rebs from it and about twelve o’clock that night the Rebs left and the next morning we followed them up but did not bring on any regular engagement until June thc 25th when our brigade was ordered in near Dallas where it was badly cut up. It is only about 1500 strong and we lost 486. We ran right onto one of their masked batteries when they gave us grape an[d] canister in large quantities, but we held our position until dark when they had put up breast works and as soon as we had our line all formed, Sherman sent one corps to the left and flanked them so they had to fall back or be taken prisoners and that is the way we have driven them from all the places.

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Col. John Ketcham, 150th New York Inf.

The 22nd of June we come on them again where they made one of the most desperate charges they have ever made on us. They came out in an open field in front of us in four lines when the artillery opened on them with grape and we fired at the same time and such a sight I never saw for it cut them all to pieces and you could see the wound[ed] crawling off through the bushes. But there was quite a deep ravine about 10 rods in front of us where they stayed until near morning carrying off all their dead and wounded so we did not know how many were killed but we picked up over 600 muskets in front of us. But our company met with a heavy loss — one that cannot be replaced to us. In the hardest of the fight while the Rebs were right in front of us waving their colors, Lt. [Henry A.] Gridley says, “Boys, fire at that color bearer,” and one of them did so and killed him. Lt. says, “You have killed him.” At that instant he [Gridley] was struck by a ball when [1st Sergeant] Bill Wattles caught him in his arms and laid him down. He only lived a few minutes after. He is missed by all who knew him — especially by his company for he was one of the best officers in the regiment — in battle, always cool and composed and unlike a great many other officers of the regiment. I am sorry to say that they can do better by getting drunk before going into a fight but few such officers as Lt. Gridley are in the army. I never heard him use a profane word while in the regiment and our colonel [Ketcham] is another just such man always trying to make the men under his command as comfortable as possible. I hope and pray he may be spared to us while we are in the army but God knows best for He doeth all things well. I always feel perfectly safe in battle for I feel I am in His hands and He doeth for the best.

I hope this war will soon be over and I may be spared to return home once more but few know what we suffer marching through the hot sun by day, building breastworks at night with but five hours to sleep some of the time and part of the time only half rations. But you don’t hear one word of complain for we are driving the Rebs all the while.

The 20th of this month they made a charge the whole length of our line but were repulsed every time with great slaughter and the next day they left their works and fell back to Atlanta for fear McPherson would get there first. And now we have a heavy line of works within 2 miles of the court house. Sherman sent in for surrender of it but the answer was not satisfactory for he commenced shelling it at once and last night we could see several fires that was caused by our shells. But they are throwing only about one tenth as many as they can and every night we put up a new line of works a little nearer to the Rebs and I hope we shall occupy it ourselves.

I was sorry to learn that Mr. Smith’s health was so poor. I hope he may soon recover. I was not aware that Charlie Ensign had returned home. Have you heard that John [G.] Borden has his discharge? ² We heard so but did not credit it. Speaking about Eugene Barlow, I remember him well. I staid in the same village with him winter before last. I thought him about such a fellow [as] Jessie. I would very much [like] to be at home this summer to spend the vacation with Joe. I think I could enjoy myself very much. I would very much like to see Mary Hitchcock for I imagine she is good natured and full of fun as ever. I have heard that Mary [W.] Swift was to be married in November and Lib at the same time and from all I can learn, Charlie Valentine ³ has the same fever but nothing serious as yet I guess. I think by the time the war is over there will be few young folks left in Amenia. Sarah wished to know how I spent the 4th [of July] — most of the time marching through the woods and picking up Rebs. Tell her I will try and answer her letter as soon as we get in Atlanta.

Wishing to be remembered to all your family and believe me as ever your friend, — N. Shelden

P. S. Tell your father that all the Rebs we see want to know who is for president. They all say they want McClellan to be elected but Old Abe suits the soldiers of this army and we will give him a large majority if they vote.


¹ This engagement was the Battle of Kolb’s Farm near Marietta, Georgia, on 22 June 1864. Union forces were led by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker and Confederate forces by Lt. Gen. John B. Hood.

² John G. Borden enlisted in September 1862 at the age of 18 in Co. A, 150th New York Infantry. He mustered in as a sergeant and was discharged on 22 April 1864 for promotion as 2d Lieutenant in the 47th New York Infantry.

³ Charles Augustus Valentine (b. 1841) was the son of Benjamin W. Valentine (b. 1810) and Amy Barlow Swift (1810-1867). He married Harriet Maria Coffin (1844-1876) in October 1865.

 

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