On the Ohio River
April 2, 1863
My dear father & mother,
It is now quite a while since I have written to you but no doubt you know the reason. I’ll give a brief detail of my adventures since my last letter was written.
On Sunday, March 22nd, our brigade had orders to move. It was a most beautiful day and just one year from the fight between the Monitor and Merrimac and the time that the “Congress” was burnt and the “Cumberland” sunk. Their wrecks are still visible.
A number of men from each company was detailed to stay behind to load and attend the baggage. Of course I was one of the number. We loaded the boat and after the regiments went aboard, came back to camp. The boats sailed that night.
The next morning we marched to Hampton—a small town about seven miles from Newport News and one and half from Fortress Monroe. The town was once a pretty place but is now nothing but a heap of ashes and brick, it having been sacked and burn by Gen. Magruder a year or more ago. We immediately set to work loading schooners and barges with wagons, ambulances, &c. &c. As fast as the schooners were loaded, they sailed and with them parties of our detail. The squad that I was in did not start until Wednesday morning.
We had a fine sail up the Chesapeake Bay and Patapsco river, passing by Fortress Monroe where we had a good view of the works. The position of the Union and Lincoln guns &c. &c. (there were two British and one French frigates of war stationed there) past Fort Wool (Rip Raps), Fort McHenry, and a number of others in process of building until we reached Baltimore. Here we had to unload the schooners and load the cars and Saturday afternoon we started. We were packed in baggage cars, thirty-seven in a car—rather thick, wasn’t it? I kept awake that night intent upon viewing the scenes that were made so familiar to me last fall. (By the way, we crossed the Potomac river into Virginia October 26th and recrossed back into Maryland March 26th, just five month [later]—rather singular.) We passed Frederick’s City, Point of Rocks, Berlin, Knoxville, Weverton, Pleasant Valley, Sandy Hook, Loudon, Maryland, and Bolivar Heights, and Harpers Ferry. All these places looked familiar to me and little did I think when I left them that I should ever see them again.
At Cumberland, Va., we stopped to get coffee—also at Grafton, and Monday night we reached Parkersburg. It was a tiresome ride, I assure you, through a rough, cold, and mountainous country. We passed through 26 tunnels. The longest one was a mile and a quarter from one end to the other. Parkersburg is a city of six thousand inhabitants situated on a point made by the junction of the little Kanawha and Ohio rivers. It is rather a pretty place. Every other house is a tavern. A large fire occurred the first night we were in the place and for the assistance we gave we received a bully good supper. We were rather short of rations and so I, in company with two others, concluded to see what cheek would do. We would go to a house and if the man happened to be a little inclined to be secesh, we would have a touch of the same complaint. This would please him and as it would always happen to be near meal time, he invites us to take a bite with the family. We would comply with his request and after a social chat—which was occasionally stopped for a sip of nice wine, brandy, or whiskey—we would go back to our work.
We took supper with a Union man the last day and he invited us to come up in the evening and hear some music. He had two very fine daughters and on the whole, we concluded to go although we acted so awkward at the table that I scarcely dared to. Well we went and heard some splendid playing on the piano and some most excellent singing in which I joined as best I could. And after spending a pleasant evening and being urged by the old man to call again before we left the place, we left. The next day, April 1st, we had finished our work, having unloaded the cars and loaded the barges and [while] preparations being made to go aboard the steamer which was to tow down the barges, we three were not forgetful of the old man’s request and so gave him a call. He loaded our haversacks with niceties and gave each of us a bottle of prime old Port wine and wished us “God Speed.”
The steamers that sail on these rivers are of a kind I never before saw—great high concerns with a monstrous wheel in the stern. The pictures that I used to see in the geography of them are very correct. The river is not very wide but the current is mighty strong. We are now opposite the town of Ironton, Ohio, and Caneck, Kentucky, and are bound for Cincinnati. Where we shall go from there or where or when we shall catch the regiment is more than I can tell. For my part, I shouldn’t care if we were only paid off so that I could buy something.
The weather begins to grow warmer as we go south and if it don’t get too hot, I shall be glad. I am in good condition and have just been “doing my washing.” Have washed both shirts, a pair of socks, and my handkerchief.
It’s just 7 months ago today since we left Worcester and since I last saw you. It don’t seem so long to me. I heartily believe that I shall see you ere five months go past. Hoping this will find you all well, I remain with much love for all.
Yours truly, — Charley
P. S. Enclosed you will find a crystal which was the last thing I found on the James river. Please save it for it would make a nice stone for a ring. — C. H. Howe
I have no chance to get your letters and if you don’t hear from me again for some time, don’t be anxious. I will write as often as convenient. — Charley
Next Letter: 17 April 1863