This letter was written by Amos Downing (1839-1880) who enlisted at the age of 22 in Co. F, 6th Maine Infantry on 15 July 1861. He was discharged for disability on 30 June 1862.
Amos wrote the letter to his brother, Philip Downing (1832-18xx) of Portland. Prior to the Civil War, Amos and his older brother worked as stone cutters in Portland. They were born in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, the sons of Moses and Modeste Downing. Philip’s naturalization record indicates that he arrived in Portsmouth in 1855. Philip was married to an Irish girl named Catherine before the Civil War. Amos married Margaret E. Gallagher on 2 July 1863 in Portland and by 1870 he resided in Boston where he worked as stonecutter until his death in 1880.
A search on the internet reveals that many of Downing’s Civil War letters survive and are in public or private collections.
September 1st 1861
It’s again that I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well at present and hoping that these few lines will find you and family the same. Yours came to hand Friday 30th. I was very glad to hear from you that you are all well and Fanny and Mrs. Downing has made up friends in war time. If I had thought that she would behave herself, she could do well here. She could board in a private house at one dollar and fifty cents per week. She could make about three dollars per week by washing for the regiment. We have four Maine girls here and they like the place very much. It won’t cost more than twelve dollars to come here. If she wants to come, let her write and I will get her a ticket to come and direction where to find me. We are camp[ed] about three miles from Georgetown.
The weather is very cool here now and pleasant. I don’t hear of any movement lately — no more than great preparation for an attack [from] the rebels as the rebels is starving and will have to give up or make an attack in a few days. Their army is destitute of clothing and shoes. All the prisoners we have taken is almost naked and they are glad to get something to eat. We are turned out most every night and fall in line of battle — some in trenches — others in batteries and on the bridge.
Friday night there was an alarm that the Rebels was coming and fifty men was set to work cutting down the bridge. ¹ They cut about thirty feet of the railing so they can drop the one end down in the water and with our batteries we will give them a hot reception. Our regiment was about 1,000 when we left Portland and now they will number about 850. What [has be]come of them — I suppose that I have a reason to know where they are. If the papers give any account of us not losing men, it is false for we are losing some every day. Friday night two [men of the] 33rd New York was shot through the hand while on picket guard in Virginia. The same day, three more of New York’s men was shot — one ball pass[ed] through the head of one and [he] died yesterday. The others is expected to live. It was done by our men trying their rifle cannons with grape and canister.
The Rebels we surprise[d] at Lewinsville the other day is about 7,000 strong. We came off well that same day. We had 16 men guarding some hay and 25 rebel cavalry came to drive them away but our men fired on them, killing one, and they brought his body and horse in our camp. The others run. ²
We are going to be paid off Monday for 2 months pay. We expect to receive 35 dollars. I will send you the greatest part by express. You can use it if you need it. If not, I want you to put it in the Savings Bank so it will draw interest and if I get kill[ed], I request you to look out and get that hundred dollars which I am entitled to. When the remaining regiment is mustered out, you can get it.
My best respects to you all. Write soon. I remain your affectionate brother, — Amos Downing
P. S. Just as I had this finished, I received yours [of the] 30th and Miss Campbell[‘s]. I have not time to answer hers as I got to go on picket guard. The 5th Maine is in Fort Ellsworth. It’s the 2nd Maine that mutinies — not the 5th.
Great victory on our side. Gen. Butler took Fort Hatteras and Fort Charles with 1,000 stand [of] arms, 32 cannon, 730 privates, 9 or ten Commodore and Colonel late of the Navy. Gen. Butler is here now, When I get off picket, I will write the whole account.
¹ This was undoubtedly the Chain Bridge over the Potomac river. This bridge was guarded by a brigade composed of the 33rd New York, the 3rd Vermont, and the 6th Maine under Col. (later Gen.) William F. Smith. Their campground was called “Camp Lyon” and was sited less than a half mile from the Chain Bridge near the Georgetown reservoir.
² I believe the incident to which Dowling refers occurred on 23 August 1861 near Lewinsville. The 6th Maine Infantry were guarding the Chain Bridge over the Potomac at the time.