These two letters might best be subtitled, “Don’t get me started.” They were written by a highly opinionated, 33 year-old private named Seth Williams Hotchkiss (1829-1864)—the son of Alvin Hotchkiss (1788-1863) and his second wife, Mary P. Roberts (1798-1854) of Hartford county, Connecticut.
Seth enlisted as on 5 September 1861 in Co. A, 7th Connecticut Volunteers. He served with the regiment until 7 August 1864 when he died of typhoid fever at Fortress Monroe and was buried in the Hampton National Cemetery (Plot D, 2219).
Both Seth and his younger brother, Frederick W. Hotchkiss (1830-1887) learned the blacksmith trade from Hial Woodruff of Southington, CT, to whom they were apprenticed as young men (they were enumerated in the Woodruff household in 1850).
The first letter was addressed to his nephew, John “Willard” Parsons (1843-1887), the son of John Brainerd Parsons (1810-1887) and Sophia Hotchkiss (1815-1880) of New Britain, Hartford county, Connecticut. Sophia was Seth’s half-sister—a daughter of his father’s first wife. In the 1860 Census, Willard was enumerated in his parent’s household as a “musician.” A military record for Willard indicates that he enlisted in Co. G, 6th Connecticut Vols. on 4 September 1861 and mustered out ten days later. Perhaps he did not have his mother’s consent. Later in the war he enlisted as a private in Co. F, 14th Connecticut Vols.
The second (partial, undated, and unsigned) letter was most likely written to his brother Frederick with whom he corresponded regularly during the war. It was probably penned not long after the Second Battle of Bull Run—possibly early September 1862.
Fort Pulaski, Georgia
May 7, 1862
Hon Willard Parsons Esqr.
Yours of April 8th came safe to hand last night and I hasten to reply concerning what you said in your letter about your affairs. Let me say a few words to you on the subject. In the first place, I am older than you and have seen a little more of this world perhaps and ought to be able to give you some advise on the subject you speak of and you must not be angry towards me for telling you what I think for your benefit. And I think if you will hear to me, you will see the time when you will be glad of it. I have no doubt of your courage to carry you through, but there is something to look after more than that. In the first place, if you go now, you go in the worst time that you can possibly for the climate here is different than at home. We are in one sense [ac]climated to it where on the other hand, you are not. Again, we have accustomed ourselves to long and fatiguing marches where a new recruit could not hold out. He would give out before the rest were the least tired.
Again, you have no idea what you would have to go through. Many times [we] go without half enough to eat. When on the march, when you lay down to sleep, you have not got your Mother’s feather bed to lay on. All you get is the ground and all wet at that perhaps. Rain or shine, the soldier is all the same. In the worst weather, the soldier has the most to do. Months [pass] when you would not take your clothes off—only to change them. [We] have to be constantly at the watch, and it is worse now than ever for we have to keep a keen eye all the time. Small parties [are] lurking about all the time. A man ain’t safe no where. Again, what fighting we have to do down this way will be on the Islands and on the mainland, marching and wading & swimming creeks, and all kinds of ways to accomplish our aim. You have not the least idea what you would have to go through—and at this season of the year, you could not stand it down here. Of course you would have to begin at the beginning and come up to the rest and you would wish yourself home again.
Willie, you know that as yet no Connecticut Regt. has stood the climate as well as we have and lost as few men, and done one half the work that we have. The 6th [Connecticut] have done nothing as yet, you know, yet the papers claim that they assisted about fortifying to take this fort. Now they have never been nearer than 9 miles of this fort or the batteries that took it. It is claimed that they went down to Florida with the Brigade, but they did not a man go with them, nor with the expedition that did go. They started, but the regiment were sent back to Hilton Head because there were not hardly well men enough to take care of the sick. At this time, they are on Daufuskie Island—about 8 miles from us. William Burritt ¹ and a few others were over here yesterday.
Our regiment are very busy drilling and cleaning up the fort and I tell you, it makes the lather come on them for all they have been here for the last six months. As for myself, I don’t have any drill or fatigue duty or guard Duty at all. Since I have been in the fort, [I] ain’t out in the sun any more than I am a mind to be—or out nights any. [I] go and come where and when I please. All I have to do is to keep the guns in repair and see to the arms generally. [I] see that the arms are in order when the men go on duty, and if any are lost or broken, keep an account of them and see that the men have more, &c., which makes rather too easy times for me. I go hunting with the officers and fish &c. and live like a fighting cock, besides get more pay.
One thing more, Willie, and I have done. In all probability, some of the regiments will be sent home this summer and if they are, the 6th [Connecticut] certainly won’t go. They will have to stay awhile yet—perhaps a long time. It is most likely that this large army will be reduced this summer by sending a few regiments home from each state. Connecticut will draw her share and it will be the regiments that have done more and are the most expense to the state.
The 7th [Connecticut]—when it left New Haven—had 553 married men while no other regiment had over 375 married. Aside from that, the 7th has been constantly in advance since we left for the South and have done more work than all the rest. The 4th & 5th have done more marching than we have, but if any 2 regiments are called home this summer, it will be the 5th & 7th sure. And I have every reason to believe that we shall be home this summer. Still, we may not. As for myself, it don’t make much difference as I am at home anywhere. But you are young and will be sorry if you ever go now. You are better off at home and you had better hear to me and stay. You don’t know what it is and I hope you never will. Again, it will almost kill your Mother and for her sake, don’t leave her by any means without her consent. If you do, mark my words, you will see the day you will be sorry for her sake.
If you had seen what I have seen since I have been in the service, it would sicken you. I have seen mens legs shot off and arms, men killed, and I tell you, it looks savage. And when a man can keep out of it, he is the best off. So far I have got along without a mark, but can’t tell how soon my turn will come. I have to run my own risk. In an action, a raw recruit is in ten times more danger than an old hand at it, and still you would have to do your part and might think you was safe as the rest when you was the most exposed. It is a big trade to be a soldier.
Willie, you may think I don’t know, but I have seen it. It ain’t like going to general training in reality. I assure you. Now stay at home as I tell you & be contented. Love to father and all the rest. I had a letter from Ann last night. She has another boy. Good God. When you write, I want you to write plainer. Can’t read it. Goodbye. Direct as before.
— S.W. Hotchkiss
There is a Balloon assension this afternoon going to see what they are doing in Savannah. ²
¹ 2d Lt. William Burritt (1830-1912) served in Co. G, 6th Connecticut Volunteers.
² “On April 19 , General Benham issued instructions [to John B. Starkweather] for the balloon to be taken to Fort Pulaski for observations of Savannah and the river. A ground crew was detailed from the 7th Connecticut Infantry, of which six men were assigned to Starkweather for the duration of the duty in the Department. The balloon was inflated and placed on board the steamer Mayflower, which steamed up the Savannah River to within three miles of the city. A number of observations of the city and its surrounding approaches were taken, and the number of Confederate gunboats and armed river steamers was noted. An engineer officer, Lieutenant P. H. O’Rorke, accompanied Starkweather in the ascensions.” [Source: Military Ballooning During the Civil War by F. Stansbury Haydon, p. 383]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
[partial letter, possibly early September 1862]
…that the boats got disabled. Well, that is the way that he took the whole Rebel Army prisoners and now he has called for 300,000 troops to come down and see the prisoners. Poor fellows. Well, every paper you take up, the first thing you see is McClellan on the move close upon Old Jackson till, by God, I am disgusted. A few days ago we got the news that Pope had beaten Jackson or that the Rebels had asked permission to bury their dead. That, according to the rules of war, decides the field ours and no more. It’s no victory nor no defeat. One party draws off his men, leaving the field to his opponent, and out of Mercy to his wounded, and respect to his dead, he asks permission to bury the dead. Perhaps the next day hostilities are again opened on the same field. Perhaps in the night one party retreats under cover of night. Such defeats as those or victories will never end this war in my day, nor yours.
Well, report comes from Fortress Monroe today that they have had another battle and that McDowell is killed and Pope retreating and Old Stonewall just after him. How will that go? Another Victory, of course—good. I hope every battle will turn out just as this is reported & I don’t care a damn how quick if our government is so damned hard run for officers as some they hold up for high office don’t care how quick the South gains their day and the whole thing goes to hell. I am not a Secesh by saying what I have, but how in heaven’s name can a man have courage to fight under such circumstances? Such damn cutthroat officers & speculators! Why they are in my estimation ten times bigger traitors than Jeff Davis ever dare be. A man can see it in every regiment that ever took the field, more or less. You at the North don’t know anything nor never will till you experience it. Talk about patriotism. A man take charge of an army, a division, a brigade, a regiment, a company, [and] what does he do it for? Only for big pay. That is patriotism?
I admit there are instances where patriotism prompts men to do it, but let me tell you they are Almighty scarce. The time was when we had them in close quarters and Davis trembled for fear. But that day is past. Something besides fighting must suffice or no Union & I think that is past. And what has done it is damn speculation. Officers that are pledged to defend the government against traitors when they are worse than traitors. Yes, robbers robbing the government and robbing the whole North & South of all.
Here, I will give you a little instance of it. Here at this place is a fort that can in 5 hours sink any fleet that any Nation dare bring into the harbor—a fort that is almost impregnable, mounts more guns than either Pulaski, Sumter, or Fortress Monroe, and ammunition to match. Now hark, in the harbor is a line of battleship fully mounted—a first-class Frigate-of-War mounting 56 guns, 13 first-class gunboats doing nothing. Now this is good management? I swear every one except one will steam up day & night. That costs something. Well now, these are not wanted here. Why not take 4 or 5 of these boats and go up the Savannah River and play into the batteries along up? They can take them because our guns are longer range than the Rebels. In two days, three of these boats would be in Savannah. [And] if it is too hot for them, they have a safe harbor at the mouth of the river—Old Pulaski will protect them all this time. The troops that are idle can be on the move at some other point. When the Rebels see the danger of Savannah [falling], they will concentrate. [Then] let the balance of these vessels—which will be 10 or 11—go into the harbor of Charleston. Seven of the 11 would pass Sumter and go in and burn Charleston in 24-hour’s time. We don’t want the city. Burn it. Keep it away from them. If there is no city there, we have not got to furnish a large force to defend it. We can use our troops for fighting—not defending property that belongs to them. That burnt, all communication with Savannah is cut off. Besides, we have the railroad at our disposal [and] there are many other places around that we might take [and] perhaps lose a boat. [But] ain’t that better than to lose 10,000 men—then not get it? But the God damn generals must have them in the harbor to salute some damn English vessel, or salute some other damn general, or to carry some general & his whore to Beaufort.