|THE CIVIL WAR LETTERS OF GEORGE W. COLLINS, Part 2|
Co. C. 121st NY Volunteers
Yours of the 10th came to hand to night and I now seat myself in my shantie to answer it. I could not think what was the reason you did not write and had begun to think I had received my last letter from you. I am sorry you could not send your Mother's photograph and also yours.
Since I wrote last we have been doing various things, marching considerable and fighting a little. Several times we have been very near getting into a fight but have escaped every time but once and that was at Rappahannock Station when we had good luck and did not lose many men.
Our Regt and the 5th Maine were ordered to charge on the rifle pits and when the word is go, there must be no hanging back so we went, every moment expecting a volley but were happily disappointed. The two regiments numbered about 500 men and we took prisoners, about 1500 men and officers and 7 Battle Flags, our Regt having taken 3 Col, 2 Maj, 7 Cap, 27 Lieut, 651 men and two flags with a loss of four killed and twenty three wounded.
If they had poured a volley into us as they might, we should have been almost exterminated and the only wonder to me is they did not, but for fear they might do so another time I would rather be excused from performing in any such show again but expect they will not excuse me.
We followed them up the next day as far as Brandy Station where we stayed until Nov 26th when we started on a voyage of discovery into the wilderness, not the Wilderness where the Children of Isreal traveled so long but one equally as bad and I don't know but worse. There was a difference between the Manna that fell for them and that what came to us. Theirs would not keep over night except Saturday night, whilst ours would keep to the end of this world for aught I knew. That is if the worms in them did not carry them off before. I have an idea that these wormy hard tacks would be first-rate to carry off on a fishing excursion; one might use the worms for bait and have the bread left just the same. So you see one would always have both kinds with them ready for use.
We crossed the Rapidan just in time to support the 3rd Corps which had got into a fight before they knew what they were about. We got up close enough to have the bullets whiz around us pretty good and then it was dark and the fight ended. In the morning there was no Rebs so we had to (go) and find (them) which we did and left them in the same place. Monday Nov 30th was the day fixed for the assault and we started at one in the morning to take up our position. It was the coldest morning I think we have had and it was all we could do to keep from freezing. The Ball was expected to be opened by our artillery at 8 in the morning which was going to bang away awhile and then we would have to go in. Before that time we unslung knapsacks and piled them up taking nothing with us except what was necessary. At 8 the Artillery opened and for awhile the firing was pretty brisk and then it stopped and all was still the rest of the day. No one can imagine what we suffered that day from the cold not daring to make a fire with nothing to eat but dry hard tack and when we drank we had to break the ice in our canteens; at dark we went back to camp where we stayed until the next night at dark when we started for the River which we reached at daylight having marched 11 miles in 12 hours. The next day we came back to our old camp where I hope we shall stay until Spring. It has rained now for 24 hours and if it keeps on we shall have to stay on account of the mud for the bottom has fallen out of the roads. On the 13th we were reviewed by the Russian Admiral and his suite. The Admiral is what we call a "Bully" looking old chap but some of his officers looked rather green. They were dressed in black velvet with shoes and white stockings on and did not appear to be very much at home on horseback. They put me in mind of the story of the sailor who insisted on riding on the quarterdeck of his mule, as it was the first craft he had ever commanded. They acted as if they were trying to get there themselves.
It was rather late when the Review came off and when Gen Sedgewick rode down the line (which in a Corps Review is about 1/2 mile long and 4 of them and two ranks in each line) he went pretty fast; the Admiral who is a good rider kept up with him but the others kept falling behind until they got back with the Cavalry Escort and there they were bobbing up and down gripping the reins with one hand and holding on to the saddle for dear life with the other and trying to take their caps off to salute at the same time; their pants had worked up most to their knees and to say the least of it they looked funny and I don't believe there was many straight faces in the ranks.
Then Tip is going to (en)list is he? Well you tell him to come here and I will try and initiate him into the mysteries of right shoulder tote arms and from 2 ranks to 4 ranks right smart get as the Rebs say but I guess I shall never see Tip in Va at least I don't want to see any one that does not want to come but expect a good many will have to come this winter. There is nothing I need now as I know of but a shirt as I lost one of mine in the wilderness and shall have to wait probably until Uncle Sam deals out clothing to his children again. I should like it first rate to have Henry come and visit me this winter if possible. No one can have an idea of what the Army is until they have seen it. I would try and show him as much of the elephant as possible. There, my G?? Fools Cap is almost used up and to little purpose. Remember me kindly to all your folks and also to Uncle Elisha's. Write soon George If you will send me your Photograph I will agree not to lose it nor let any of the boys see it unless they ask me. What do you say?
Your letter enclosing a Photograph of yourself is rec'd and accepted. My thanks for the same. It seemed almost like home to see you down here. You look as natural as a basket of chips as we used to tell about. We are having some pretty cold weather and have just got the first snow of the season. The 5th it snowed all day very hard. We have some 3 or 4 inches of snow now, enough to make very good sleighing if we only had the sleighs; but Uncle Sam dont furnish those for his children. Nothing but army wagons. To make it as bad as possible for us we are under marching orders to move at a moments notice with 8 days rations. When we are to go to the Gent with Herm and Tail and Gen Meade only knows. We are in hopes that this storm has knocked the thing in the head until warm weather. Half the men would be sick and die to take them out in the field at this season of the year with the ground in the condition it is. Only think of men having to camp out when there is snow on the ground as it is now. It makes the cold chills run over me to think of it. The move is not imperative for had it been we should have went when the order came but it is probably some ran tam Scout or other.
I have been quite unwell for awhile back with the Fever Plague but am better now. The other day I was transferred and made first sergeant of Co A, the hardest Co in the Regt. They were pretty loose generally and in the habit of doing pretty much as they pleased. I can assure you my position is not an enviable one to be put into a strange Co where they all look on you as rather an extra piece of furniture. To be sure I get more pay but they might have taken their $20.00 per month and kept it for aught I cared had I been left in my old Co. But here they give an order and one must obey or take the consequences; there is no help for him. Quite a number have reenlisted out of this brig. And gone home on 30 day furloughs. I believe the 2nd Division of this Corps have nearly all reenlisted. The papers say that enlisting is going on rapidly in the North. I hope it is so; for the men must be had and one Volunteer is worth two conscripts; darn them I say. If they will give us the 300,000 I think we can give a pretty good account of Jeff Davis by the 4th of July 1864. We are all heartily sick of the war and want it ended as soon as possible for this fighting is pesky, risky business - make the best of it.
I had a letter from Eddy last night. Himself and the rest of the Russia folks were well as usual. He is getting so he writes a very good letter for a boy. The Guerrillas are pretty thick around here. Last night we had to strengthen the picket line with 50 men from the Regt. They have made us not trouble as yet but are liable to any night.
Give my love to your family and Uncle Elisha's also accept the same for yourself.
Yours for the Country
G W Collins
Miss Eunice Earl Clinton
Letter #8A Red Cross
Your letter came to hand in due time and was read with much pleasure. It found me in good health and in our old camp rumors about moving to the contrary. There could never be finer weather than we have had for 3 or 4 weeks past; it seemed almost like Spring.
We would go out to drill without our coats and sweat pretty good at that. As it regards drills we have not much to complain of this winter, but Guard Picket and extra duty are pretty tough. I do not complain for myself as I don't have any of it to do, but it makes the men grumble pretty bad sometimes. But soldiers are always grumbling about something so that is nothing new. I had a letter from Edwin to night; all well as usual.
I should like to accept your invitation to make you a visit with Reuben's folks but shall have to be excused as I have another engagement which I suppose I shall have to fill. Cant you sell me a ticket for the Festival? That is a pretty question to ask; first say you are sent around to sell them and then try to sell them by lottery. You cant sell me any on those terms. Do by me as you do by them and then I will talk with you. We have had quite a number of visitors this winter and among them a few Ladies. Their friends were probably glad to see them; but I cant say that I think it is just the place for a Lady to visit the camp of a soldier in the field. But everyone to their notion as the old woman said when she kissed the cow.
What do the people think of the Presidents last call? Do they begin to think he is going to have them all down here before long? It looks so, don't it? But that is just what is wanted, the more men the less fighting and that is what one brave soldier don't like. Fanny's Father is making me a visit now; he will stay a week. How I wish Henry or Tip would come down while we are in winter quarters.
Tell your Mother I thank her very much for her photograph and that it looks just like her. Give my love to all your people and also to Uncle Elisha's family.
Please write soon and oblige
Your cousin GW Collins
Can you read this? I never tried to read one after it got cold.
Your letter dated Feb 28th and post marked March 8th came to hand last night. For a while past my letters have been like Angels visits, few and far between and I had almost begun to think I was forgotten.
We are having very fine weather now, as it has been nearly all the time since the first of January. There has been very little rain this winter compared with last but we expect it this month for March is the same the country through. Last week it rained two whole days as it can rain only in Va; one day there was two heavy thundershowers. But taken all together we have had pretty good times this winter having had to dig out only once and that during the last raid of Kilpatrick. That was a tough tramp. We left camp at 8 AM in light marching order with 4 days ration and marched 16 miles the first day. Such a sore footed lot you never saw, feet blistered sore and lame we were glad to stop; the feet of some men blistered so bad the skin came off with their stockings. There is the fun of a soldiers life. The next day we went 6 miles to Robinsons River and waited for Gen Custers Cavalry to pass us and do their part of the work. They passed us on Sunday and went to Charlottesville. Monday night it began to rain and continued without intermission until Tuesday afternoon when it turned to snow. Wernt we in a nice pickle now? Not a tent with us or anything to make shelter of? But rails were plenty give a soldier plenty of them and he will get along after a fashion. During the snow storm the Cavalry came back covered with mud, man and horse. The next morning at 8 we started for camp distant 25 miles which we reached about 7 PM almost tired out. The country in the vicinity of Madison Court House (where we went) has not been run over with troops like other portions of the State (the inhabitants said we were the first Infantry they had seen during the war) and looks as if people might live if they would work but there as everywhere else things show the effect of Slave labor. Flour is worth $225 Reb money or $16 Green Backs per barrel and everything else in proportion. I suppose our part of the raid was only a sort of sideshow of the main expedition.
Gen Grant has been on a visit to this Army and in all probability the ground is staked out for the Spring Campaign which will commence as soon as the ground is fit for the movements of the Army. The women were all ordered out of the Army the other day which it was thought indicated a speedy move, but Gen Patrick has concluded to let them stay until after a Ball which is to be held at HdQrs 6th Army Corps. The Army is to be reorganized that is consolidated into 3 Corps. This Corps still retains its No as Gen Sedgewick is Senior Gen in the Army. We are all anxious for the campaign to open and all dread it too, for life in the winter quarters is far preferable to an active Campaign. I dont do enough here to pay for the salt in my soup. I think your wish that the war will end before Old Abes time is out will be gratified for since it is decided that soldiers can vote I have an idea his time will not be out until the 4th of March 1869.
If there was no more Copperheadism at home than in the Army there would not be enough to trouble Gov much. Perhaps when the Army is disbanded some men will have to hunt their holes and some Editors write different or lose their offices for soldiers are a pretty lawless sort and the education they get here does not tend to make them any better. When it is instilled into ones mind every day for years that might is right he is apt to carry that idea home with him. When this war is ended a hard sort of men will be turned loose in the Country for I tell you soldiers are not all Saints by a long mark.
If I had or could get a Photograph of myself I would with pleasure but that is a hard matter in the Army but intend to have some pictures taken shortly and will send you one if you wish. I shall send you the Photographs of the Generals in this Division and the Corps Commanders as soon as I can get them.
Maybe I wouldnt like to be there and help the boys sugar off this spring. I think I could eat my share. Why didnt you send me an invitation to_______?(sic) Thought I wouldn't come come if you did didn't you? Well guess I shouldnt. Had a letter from Eddy last week also one from Edwin. All well around there. Had a letter from Esther Vincent short time since, containing a detail of her troubles - neednt say anything about it though.
There goes the drum for roll call and I must bring this lot of nonsense to a close. Remember me kindly to your Father, Mother and the rest of the family also to _____ (sic); tell all I hope to see them again and have many a good talk over the war.
Please write soon and oblige
Your Cousin George W Collins
"The two blanks in the letter may have referred to Eunice's wedding and her husband to be. She was married on March 22nd and we thought the reason we found no letters after this one might have been due to that fact. We searched the New York State 1865 census, Russia, and could not find George. Then on a hunch, we looked at the page of "Deaths of Officers and Enlisted Men which have occurred...since April 1861 in the First District of Russia, County of Herkimer..." It was with great sadness that we read the name, George W. Collins, 35, W, died May 10, 64 Spotsylvania Court House, Va....burial place unknown. I know I felt as if we really knew him by then."
" The application for survivor's benefits had George's son Edward's birth as 22 Sep 1851 and the pension ended 21 Sep 1967. Parents George and Fanny were married 16 Nov 1850. Edward Collins' step-grandmother, Ann Eliza Hubbard, was named guardian on 1 June 1865 and pension was $8/mo. retroactive to 10 May 1864. The first payment was 2 Aug 1865. Actual place of death for George was said to be Battle of Wilderness, 10 May."
"Since then we have found a tombstone at Gravesville which is inscribed, George W. Collins, and his wife, Fanny Hubbard. He, though, was most likely one of the 4000 plus men who was eventully buried on the battlefield at Spotsylvania. Gen Sedgewick also died there as did a brother-in-law of Fanny's half sister Emma, Sgt. Edward P. Johnson, also of Russia. "
Deaths of Officers and Enlisted Men which have occurred...since April 1861 in the First District of Russia, County of Herkimer
The columns in order are:
Name, Age, Civil condition, citizen or alien upon enlistment- only aliens noted on this list with A, Date of entering service, Reg't., Original rank, Reg't at death, rank at death if different from enlistment data , date and place of death, and burial.
[Other items in the list include Volunteered or drafted (all on this list were volunteers), Cause of death- POW?, Killed in battle, wounds, accident, accidental wounds, sickness, unknown, Dependant parents or children, body sent to friends for burial.]
Abel A. Rust , 33, S, 12/6/61, 9th NY Art., Pvt, 2nd NY Art., Sgt, 6/17/64 Petersburgh, bd Russia
George C. Stone, 32, M, 8/22/62, 117th NY Inf., Pvt., 9/29/64 Heldon R. Row, bd on the battlefield
Edward P. Johnson, 25, S, 8/25/62, 121st NY T Sgt., 5/10/64 Spotsylvania Court House, VA, Bd unk.
[Note: Edward's brother, Herman, was married to Fanny Hubbard's half sister, Emma Hubbard (also buried in Gravesville)]
Rolon Halladay, 15, S, 9/5/64, 1st NY Art, Pvt, 2 /26/65 Gen Hosp. Alexandria, VA, bd near Alex, V
George Stanclift, 25, S, 5/15/61, 26th NY ?, Pvt, 12/14/63, Fredericksburg, bd on battlefield
David Theabold, 23, M, A, 10/22/61, 97th NY, Pvt., 6/23/64 City Point, bd City Point
George W. Collins, 35, W, 8/23/62, Co C 121st, Sgt, 5/10/64 Spotsylvania Court House, VA, Bd unk
Edgar A. Jones, 28, M 8/9/62, 121st NY, Pvt, Sgt at death, 9/26/64 Winchester, Opequan???
Isaac Bassett, 24, S, 8/9/62, 121st NY, Pvt, 4/5/65 Battle of Sailor River, bd on the battlefield
Julius Furgerson, 20, S, 8/22/62, 117th NY Inf., Pvt., 7/3/63 Gettysburg, Nim????
Willie M. Smart, S, C or A not checked, 19, 12/4/61, 81st Rgt Pvt, 6/3/64 Cole Harbor, bd Unknown
Eben J. Prindle, 24, M, 8/6/62, 121st NY, Pvt.,10/23/62 of sickness at Bakerville, MD, bd Russia
William Burberry, 25, M, A, 11/61, 97th NY, Pvt, (blank) killed in battle, bd unknown
Morris Newman, 20, S, 8/62, Co B 1st US33, 12/24/62, Camp near ???, sickness, bd Russia
Ephraim Pulman, 15, S, 10/61, Co B 97th NY Pvt, KIA Fredericksburg, bd battlefield
Harrison Fralick, 26, S, 8/62, Co B 1st US33t, Pvt, died while POW
Sidney S. McNeal, 26, S, 8/8/62, Co B 1st US33, Pvt, ?/19/64 Gen Hosp Alexandria, VA, bd near Alex, VA
Continue on to Part 3, the genealogy of George W. Collins and his cousin Eunice Poole Earle, notes about references in each letter, and map and photographs of Spotsylvania.
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