1863: Lyman Jones Smith to Cornelia E. Smith

Lyman Jones Smith (courtesy of Michael Gray)

This letter was written by Lyman Jones Smith, Jr. (1842-1864), the son of Lyman J. Smith, Sr. (1798-1870) and Julia Bissell (1801-1876) of Litchfield, Connecticut. He wrote the letter to his sister, Cornelia Elizabeth Smith (1845-1929) while serving as a private in Co. A, 19th Connecticut Infantry (that was later designated the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery). Lyman was killed on 1 June 1864 in the Battle of Cold Harbor. He was shot in the head and killed instantly. He was buried on the field where his body remained until it could be retrieved a year later.

Lyman’s cousin, Lewis Bissell, served with him in the same company but survived the fight at Cold Harbor. When he wrote home to his parents, he described the battle as “a storm of leaden rain that poured into us…It was terrible, but not so terrible as the cries of the wounded.” He added, “Poor Lyman Smith lies dead on the enemies works…Break the news to Lyman’s mother and father.” Knowing his cousin had been cut down and left on the field, Lewis went to retrieve Lyman’s knapsack that had been dropped behind the lines when the regiment readied itself for battle. He had hoped to send some of Lyman’s personal effects home to his mother, but found that some troops had already rummaged through it and stolen anything of value. All that remained was Lyman’s bible which he sent home to the family.

Lewis Bissell wrote several articles after the war to preserve the history of his regiment. One article appearing in a Syracuse (New York) paper where Bissell resided mentions several encounters with President Lincoln. In one of the encounters, when Bissell was standing guard over the ruins of a powder magazine where 17 soldiers had been killed in an accidental explosion in 1863 at a fort near Washington, Lincoln stopped and saluted Bissell. “For the first time I could understand why a country had elected him as its president, ” he wrote. [see Frederick man caretaker of Civil War history, Frederick News-Post]

In this letter, Lyman refers to “Ed” a couple of times. This would have been his older brother, Edward Beecher Smith, who was a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. G, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery. Ed served from 23 May 1861 to 26 October 1863.

[For more information about Lyman Smith, readers are referred to an article entitled, “Mother to Cold Harbor Casualty: ‘Look to Jesus, my dear son,'” written and published by John Banks on his Civil War Blog, May 18, 2015. See also—1863: Lyman Jones Smith, Jr. to Julia (Bissell Smith) on Spared & Shared 13]

Letter 1

Camp near Fort Worth
February 8 [1863]

Dear Nealie,

I received your letter with photograph and am very much obliged to you. It is perfect. I have never seen anyone beat Judd yet taking pictures. They are all talking and making so much noise this evening that I can hardly think of anything to write. We have had “inspection” as usual today. We have got so we don’t mind it much now but at first it was hard. 

I was sent up to headquarters last week as a clerk and might if I had stayed had a good place, but he is very particular and had sent back one or two and wanted me to stay a week and then if I suited, I would stay. But I thought I would rather not stay at all than take the chance of being sent back. Ed said I was a fool and perhaps I was, but I hated to leave the company, I would rather not go as Charley Adams has for a good deal. It is awful lonesome and the guard duty is about the same. He is an orderly up there.

There are lots of rumors here that we are going to garrison Fort McHenry. There was a piece in the Baltimore Clipper that three companies of the 19th or 1st Connecticut were coming there. Ed’s company is going to leave Fort Worth and I believe two companies of the 1st are going to the front or somewhere. I haven’t seen Ed for two or three days so I don’t know much about it.

Two discharges were brought from Washington tonight but whether they were accepted or not, I don’t know. I believe they were Nelson Barnes’ and Beebe S. Hall’s but I am not sure. I suppose you heard all sorts of stories about Col. Kellogg—how he abuses us and all that but you know some will be abused if you treat them ever so well. If a vote was taken whether Col. [Elisha] Kellogg should stay or go, I am sure he would stay. I hope Col. [Leverette W.] Wessells will come back soon. If you see him, remember me to him. I don’t believe you will learn to skate this winter. I hope I shall be home to teach you next winter. I am contented to stay here if it is doing any good but I “don’t see it.”

Tell them all to write. Affectionately your brother, — Lyme

Letter 2

Fort Worth
April 12 [1863]

Dear Mother,

I am under the necessity of writing what you will call bad news. Our regiment is ordered to the front. The order was read on dress parade this evening. You can give the governor the credit of sending us there as I suppose he was at the furlough business. If Col. Kellogg had been here we all think we should have stayed and he left on that account. Now we go without any efficient officers. If Kellogg was here to take command, we should feel a great deal more safe, and like going a great deal better. But to go with no officers is too bad.

Charley Deming is sick and the Major is unwell. Capt. Bissell is in command now. Col. Wessells says he is going with us but he is not well enough. The regiment almost to a man love Col. Kellogg and have perfect confidence in him. It was difficulty with the officers and the furlough business that made him leave but he may be back again. I hope so.

Ed was down here today. His resignation has not been accepted. He said if it had been he would have gone with us. I wish it had been. I can’t write much tonight. There is no news here. The furlough men have returned.

I had a letter from [sister] Nealie a few days ago and will answer it before long.

They have thrown us and the 34th Massachusetts out of Bob Tyler’s Brigade and we don’t know who we are under now. Tyler has gone to Washington to try to get us back. If he succeeds, we shall stay. I don’t know where we are going—perhaps to Charleston or Falmouth, but who knows.

If you want to use any money, take mine. It is just as well as to save it and I think you will need it. Give my love to all the folks. Write soon. Affectionately your son, — Lyman

Letter 3

Lyman’s letter to his sister Cornelia dated 1 November 1863

Fort Worth, Va.
November 1, 1863

Dear Sister Nealie,

Your letter of October 26th was received. I have also received the box. Everything came all right though the box came very near coming to pieces. The pies were very nice. The doughnuts were very good and are nearly all gone now. The loaf of cake I have not cut, yet it looks good. The butter cheese &c. were all in good condition.

Tell Charley I am much obliged to him for the walnuts. They taste quite natural. I am pretty well off for blankets now and don’t think I shall sleep cold this winter. You can bet that pillow felt good to my head last night for my head has ached so much for the past four or five weeks that it is fairly sore.

Ed is probably at home or will be there before this letter reaches you. He was here on Friday and said he was going to start for home the next day. Tell him to write to me.

You have probably seen the promotion of E. S. Kellogg stuck in at the bottom of the Litchfield Enquirer. If it had been Maj. Cook, I suppose it would have been at the top of the column in large letters but Lie. Wessells, Ed Peck, and others did not make their plans work. There was a paper sent from here that had a little something to do with it—a paper signed by nearly every private in the regiment to have Col. Kellogg promoted. It was sent to the Governor and very soon Kellogg received his commission.

I remember Louise Smith, I believe. I have just got a letter from Lizzie and one from Julius Deming. Lizzie said she had written home so you will know all the news from her if you get any. I didn’t.

Butter here is 40 cents per lb., and eggs 40 cents per dozen. Apples two for 5 cents, chestnuts 10 cents a tumbler full &c.—everything just double it is with you.

There is no news here. They drummed a soldier out of camp a few days ago—a deserter—who afterwards got into a hospital in New York and got his discharge. After they found out they could not keep him, they drummed him out. No credit to the regiment.

Well we are going to have an inspection this afternoon and must get ready for it. Remember me to all. Affectionately your brother, — Lyme

Letter 4

Lyman’s letter to his sister Cornelia, dated 31 January 1864 and postmarked at Alexandria, Va.

Fort Worth, Va.
January 31st, 1864

Dear Nealie,

As we have just got through inspection, I believe I will answer your letter. We have had company inspection. It takes some time now to inspect a company. we had one hundred and nine men out today. We have one hundred and forty-seven enlisted men. Co. E and C are also full. The rest will be filled as soon as they come. “Green” isn’t the word to call them and some of them never will know anything. Several have deserted. I don’t that that any of them have been caught. Some of hem are good fellows. A good many of the boys have traded muskets with them. They get from $5 to $10 to boot but I still keep my old one. I would not take a new one and work it up for $10.

We have got twenty men to a tent. If they ever get the barracks done, we shall have more room. I wish you would all stop dinging at me about a furlough. I may get one and may not. There are those that want to go more than I do—or pretend they do—and have spoken to the Captain. I am not going to beg for one. Col. says all the “old” men shall go home as soon as the new ones get drilled and can do guard duty and I think we shall if we do not [get] more, or get marching orders. One of our men started for home this morning.

It rained last night and is cloudy today. Looks as if it would rain again. For the past ten days we have had the most pleasant weather. It was like <ay at home. The birds were singing and it was so warm that some of the recruits were around barefoot.

I had a letter from Nettie a few days ago and one from Julia, or she wrote a little in Charlie’s. There is nothing new here. Remember me to the girls. Love to all. Affectionately your brother, — Lyme

P. S. Tell [brother] Ed to write. What is he about now?

Letter 5

The following letter was written jointly by Lyman’s mother, Julia (Bissell) Smith and his sister, Mary Smith. It was written on 25 May 1864 just days before Lyman was killed in the Battle of Cold Harbor on 1 June 1864.

The envelope conveying the letter of 25 May 1864 to Lyman. It was redirected back to the family suggesting that the letter never reached him before he was killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor on 1 June 1864.

Litchfield [Connecticut]
May 25th 1864

My precious Lyman,

Your letter from Fredericksburg containing twenty dollars came last evening. We had received one from you a day or two before from Ft. Craig with ten dollars in it—all of which we will keep for you safely.

Dear child, you are now in reality in the midst of war and you don’t know what anxious hearts gather around our table three times a day now [and] how fervently your sisters and myself pray to God for your safe keeping. Let your aspirations also go forth and mingle with ours before the mercy seat of Christ.

We are not heard for our much speaking and you can lift up your heart even amidst the din and carnage of battle, and the ear of Jesus is always open to our faintest cry, and we never call upon Him in vain. He is able to keep you if you ask Him for He has said that He has “all power in Heaven and on Earth.”

We shall wait with great anxiety to hear from you. Write just as often as you can, if it not more than a line or two. Don’t let a week pass if it is possible for you to write. We are all well. I will make this letter short that I may get it into the Office this morning. I pray for you without ceasing, my dear Lyman. Pray for yourself and your loving–Mother

[in another hand]

Wednesday morning. My dear Lyman, I have only time for a few words this morning. Our anxiety for your safety is doubled now that you are at the front and we can only wait from day to day and hope for the best. May God guard you safely through it all and bring you to trust in Him instead of your own strength. These dreadful battles cast their gloom on us all—there is hardly a family but is sobered and saddened.

Edward Wadhams’ 1 was shot through the heart a week from last Monday and left behind the rebel entrenchments at Fort Darling. It is feared that his body will never be found. Mrs. Luman Wadhams is with Mrs. Wadhams for the present. I shall call on her as soon as possible.

Pa and [your brother] Ed are very busy with their farming. Pa is bushing peas today and Ed planting corn. I wish you were safely home. Write if only a word every time you can have a chance to mail a letter. We shall write to you often, although you may not get the letter.

May God bless and keep you in safety, my dear brother. Your loving sister, — Mary

[Your sister] Nealie send love and will write in a day or two.

1 Edward Wadhams was serving as the 1st Sergeant of Co. E, 8th Connecticut Infantry, when he was killed at Fort Darling on 16 May 1864. See: The Wadham Brothers.

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