1863: Charles S. F. Robinson to Ann E. (Boardman) Robinson

This letter was written by Charles S. Frederick Robinson (1830-1921)—a brick mason from Rocky Hill, Hartford county, Connecticut. Charles wrote the letter while serving as a corporal in Co. F, 16th Connecticut Infantry. Charles enlisted on 11 August 1862 and was among those of his regiment captured at Plymouth, North Carolina,  on 20 April 1864. He was paroled on 28 February 1865 and discharged on 12 June 1865.

Readers will recall the 16th Connecticut has the “hard luck regiment.” They participated in only one major battle of the war—the battle of Antietam on 17 September 1862. “It had been just three weeks since the men had mustered into service, yet they found themselves rushed to the front as part of George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac’s efforts to halt Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland. After a day of carnage and confusion, the Confederates withdrew, but it was in many ways a pyrrhic victory for the Union. For the 16th Connecticut, Antietam was a debacle: Called into action late in the fight, its members were woefully untrained in how to fire their rifles, let alone ready to understand orders barked in the chaos of battle. More than a quarter of the men were wounded, and many others broke and ran from the field.

“The unit never recovered its strength or reputation. For more than a year, they moved from place to place, doing mostly monotonous garrison duty, making the men in the ranks feel like, as one member described, “a wondering body of nomads.” By January 1864, they were stationed in Plymouth, North Carolina, a place that struck them as the edge of the world. “It’s a kind of barbarian place, here,” one soldier wrote his brother, “about 9 miles from nowhere, as the boys say.” On April 20, after a three-day siege, Confederates captured the entire regiment, some 400 men. Kellogg recorded in his diary that day that “we threw up the white rag and gave up to them.”

“Gave up, indeed. The 16th Connecticut soon went to the notorious Andersonville prison in Georgia. First opened in February 1864, by May it housed more than 12,000 prisoners, crammed into an open-air stockade. Men died at alarmingly high rates due to malnutrition, disease and exposure—29 percent of the prisoners overall, and about a quarter of the men of the 16th Connecticut. Conditions were so miserable that some members of the 16th took an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy to gain relief from their grueling captivity. Forbes reflected in his prison diary: “It would be the source of unspeakable happiness to me to return to our army and again fight beneath our glorious banner.” Kellogg later wrote that he and his comrades did not wish to be “free from all participation in strife”; instead they preferred the “sulphurous smoke of the cannon, in the fiercely contested battle, for there,” Kellogg explained, “at least would be glorious action.” [Quoted from: The Union Army Regiment that survived Andersonville by Lesley J. Gordon, 2018]

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TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Mrs. Ann E. Robinson, Rocky Hill, Connecticut
Postmarked Norfolk, Va.

Camp Tenant near Portsmouth, Va.
August 10th 1863

Dearest wife,

I take this time to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope these few lines will find you all the same. It is hot here now—hot enough to roast niggers. The mercury was up to 105 in the shade yesterday and in the sun 132 almost, or as hot as it used to be in those dry houses at Meriden.

I should have wrote yesterday but I was on guard Saturday and came off yesterday morning at eight and I had slept none so I felt pretty well tired out. The mosquitoes would not let anyone sleep and the gnats are thick as hairs. Little things—they look like a little speck but they can bite. I am glad we no not have any of them at home. It is almost impossible to keep from melting. Our camp is near a grove of large pines or I don’t know what we should do.

I come on guard once in three days now. Two of the corporals are sick and about half of the men—part of the men—have gone out on picket today. It is the first time we have done any picket duty since we left Suffolk but when we was gone on our raid. We have to go now because the troops that were there have gone to Charleston [South Carolina] for that place has got to fall if it has not now according to the accounts. The attack on Fort Sumter was commenced Saturday and before this time, it must be a heap of ruins for they claim it will not take but one hour and a half to batter down its walls when they once commenced. It pity them for it must be awful hot down there.

The rebs say that by the fall of Charleston, they shall lose all hopes for the Confederacy. Jeff Davis has now issued a proclamation calling upon all officers and soldiers that are now absent from their regiment to immediately join them and all that join in the next twenty days shall be pardoned for all desertions or other crimes. He says the number is fearfully large and if they would return, it would make their number equal to ours. But I will send it as it is so you can see what he says and some other extracts from southern papers.

Jeff says all we want is to enslave them, to pillage and to destroy the people. He has a great regard to the truth for we have never destroyed any property but what was necessary, but have rather protected it to our own disadvantage for when we were on our last raid, when the men were all tired out, they had to go and guard Rebs’ houses for which they would all have been killed if they dared to. At one house there was three men from the 11th went to guard a widow’s house. She went away after dark and told the Rebs and at twelve at night, a lot of men came and took them prisoners. We never took anything. Could not. We were guarded too close to leave camp long enough.

I have waited to hear from you thinking that I should get a letter today but it has not come. Is it so hot you can’t write? The mercury is up to 105 today. If it is as hot there, I don’t blame you but if you don’t answer all of my letters, I shan’t love you half so well. Do you think I will? I was a going to write two a week to you and I thought I should get two from you. I want one every day if I could get it—don’t you? But write as often as you can, won’t you Sally, for I want to hear from you—to hear how that bright little fellow gets along. I suppose he can’t walk yet, can he? Can he talk yet? I suppose he don’t have anyone to love him, does he? I wish I could see the dear little fellow but I hope it won’t be long before I shall see him and my Sally again. There is no chance of our leaving this place this fall, I think. I must now close. Write again soon, won’t you?

From your [soldier] boy, — C. S. Robinson

Goodnight.

August 11th. Good morning Sally. On guard today again. A fine morning. Another hot day. Kiss the baby for me and imagine I send you a load too. Write as often as you can and God bless you and baby is the prayer of your boy.

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