1862: William Suydam to Sister

This highly entertaining letter was written by William Suydam (1825-1864) of Co. F, 9th New Jersey Volunteers. The regiment got its nickname, Jersey Muskrats, during the Battle of Roanoke Island when they successfully “sloshed through shoe sucking mud into waist deep water in ‘division’ formation”, giving the regiment a two company front flanking the enemy. The regiment was the last to leave the state in 1861 but the first to see battle.

William’s gravesite at Hampton National Cemetery—buried under the wrong surname

The 9th took part in the Burnside Expedition into North Carolina. The regiment remained in North Carolina with the occupation force until early 1864 when the first enlistment was up. In January 1864 the regiment went back to New Jersey where more than 50% of those whose three-year term was about to expire reenlisted. This allowed the regiment to add “Veteran” to the name, a mark of distinction for the men. Those who reenlisted for three more years were given a 30-day veteran furlough. The regiment then moved into Virginia leading to the Siege of Petersburg.

Suydam was wounded in the shoulder at Drewry’s Bluff on 16 May 1864 and died on 16 June 1864 at Fortress Monroe Hospital.

William was the son of Christopher Suydam (1799-18xx) and Jemima Blackwell (1804-18xx) of Hopewell, Mercer county, New Jersey. William’s father was a minister of the Old School Baptist Church in Hopewell. William’s brother, Sidney Blackwell Suydam (1833-1905), also served with him in the same company. Sidney survived the war and mustered out of the service in July 1865. William is buried at the Hampton National Cemetery under the name “William Surdam.”

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]



Havelock Station, North Carolina
July 13, 1862

Dear Sister,

Yours of the 22nd June come to hand 7 inst. and we were truly glad to hear from you and that you enjoyed your usual health. I take the first opportunity of answering it. It takes a long time for a letter to go or come now—about as long as it does to cross the Atlantic. We are yet in this nigger country. How long we will stay here, the Lord only knows. I did think sometime ago the war was nearly to a close but now it looks as though the day was quite distant. But I have not the least doubt but we shall conquer and in such a way that it won’t have to be done again. When McClellan gets reinforced and makes a dash at them, he will rub them out entirely. But I dread to hear it when I think how many valuable lives must be sacrificed to accomplish it. It is horrible to think how many brave boys have been slaughtered in front of Richmond already. If it were not for the Union men and our prisoners there, I’d like to see a charge of powder heavy enough put under the accursed city to blow it and all there is in it to pieces.

We have had no official report of the last battle. The last papers we have had was the 4th of July. By them we learn that McClellan has got his army just where he wants it and out of danger. The loss is said to be very great but it is to hoped not so great as represented. I see the Jersey boys were in tyhe midst as usual and were badly cut to pieces—the 4th Regiment having only 80 men left. I was well acquainted with several of the officers and men that were killed.

It makes my blood boil while I am writing when I think how it come about that so many of our noblest sons must be murdered to accommodate a few aspiring politicians. But a day of reckoning is coming when I hope they will get hemp.

We are yet guarding the railroad. We have got the bridges rebuilt and the road in good order and since the middle of June, the old iron horse has snorted through as though he was afraid of nobody—rebels in particular. For three or four weeks past, they have shown symptoms that they would like to get possession of the road and us too. Last Monday night week, our outside pickets were attacked and driven in. There was 8 or 10 shots fired but no one hurt on our side, it being so dark, and you could not see much further than the end of a gun. If the rascals were any of them hurt or killed, they were taken away.

The boys were out in less than no time expecting every minute the devils would rush out of the woods onto us as we expected the few that attacked the pickets were only reconnaissance. We waited until nearly daylight and as they did not show themselves, we laid down on our arms to rest but not many of us to sleep, expecting at daylight they would pitch in. But they did not come. We began to think they were only trying to scare us. But just after breakfast we see a darky coming on a mule as if Old Nick [the Devil] was after him, the mule making as big time as Flora Temple or Old Patchen, the dark’s eyes sticking out like saucers, saying the road and woods two or three miles back were full of rebels and marching on to us.

I tell you what, we were out in a hurry in line of battle in about as little time as it takes to write this. Shortly the road was lined with darkeys, mules, dogs, and wenches coming to us for protection. Some of them said there were a 1,000 men—some more, some less. Quite a fix for us seventy men—some of them sick [and] not able to be up. Every man looked well to his rifle as he well knew it all depended on them and the bayonet. There was a short counsel of war held when the captain sent 4 of the stoutest darks on a hand car to our regiment 8 mile below us for reinforcements. They got there in time to meet the up train when 2 companies jumped aboard and were up here in two hours from the time the alarm was given. Things began to look better. 1 company stayed here. Our boys and the other one started to meet the scoundrels. But [when] they found out the darks had got the start of them and we were ready for them, they concluded to get what plunder they could and get away.

There is a large plantation which the owner left after the Battle of Newbern, since occupied by his slaves—the same ones that gave us the alarm. They robbed the darks of everything they could carry. They carried off 6 darks, 6 mules, all the dark’s clothing, what money they had—some of them had $15, some $20, others more or less they had got for [selling] pices & cakes and for washing for us. They left the old decrepit darks that would be of no use to them but not until they stripped them of their clothes and left their dirty rags in place of them. They must be pretty hard up to take the clothes off old lousy niggers and put them right on. They had been gone about an hour when we got there. They had waded around through a swamp and round a lake where we had thought they could not get through. They left their horses on the other side and waded through mud nearly up to their necks. There were only 175 of them, Many of them had shotguns and old muskets. If they had come on that night, we would have given them a warm reception, but if we could have met them next day, we would have given particular thunder.

[Unsigned, rest of letter missing]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s