1862-63: James Flynn to Cousin

28th
Richard Byrnes (1832-1864) was appointed command of the 28th Massachusetts when the regiment joined the Irish Brigade in October 1862.

This letter was written by Pvt. James Flynn of Worcester, Massachusetts. He enlisted in Co. H, 28th Massachusetts on 15 October 1861 and was mustered into the service by year’s end. He was wounded in the fighting at 2nd Bull Run and discharged for wounds on 23 May 1863.

In June 1863, following his discharge, James Flynn was enumerated in Ward 3 of Worcester; identified as a 20 year-old white, unmarried immigrant from Ireland—his occupation given as “Farmer’s Boy.”

During the 2nd Bull Run Battle in which Pvt. Flynn was wounded, the Irishmen of the 28th Massachusetts were placed in battle along the federal right flank where they came under heavy musket and artillery fire while providing battery support. They suffered 135 casualties on that day. A total of 99 men served in Co. H between December 13, 1861 and the end of 1864, when this company was discontinued. Of these, 18 enlisted men were killed or died of battle wounds, 4 were missing in action and unaccounted for, 5 enlisted men died by accident or disease, and 3 enlisted men died as prisoners, for a total loss of 30 men or approximately 30%. While other companies lost more men in sheer numbers, Co. H stands out as suffering the highest percentage loss of any of the other companies of the 28th Massachusetts.

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE

Hilton Head, South Carolina
February 24, 1862

My dear cousin,

I have at last arrived in Dixie—the very hotbed of rebellion in the “Palmetto State”—and you would be delighted with the climate. It is so warm and nice, green grass and trees and birds singing made quite a contrast with the cold and frosty weather of the North. I tell you what, we enjoy it hugely.

Well, to begin, we left old Castle Williams on Friday the 14th inst. and went on board the steamship Ericsson and there we were packed away in earnest. It was not the old Sound steamer Connecticut this time, no sir. Well, I cannot describe my feelings of that night. It was like the horrors. The place that we had to sleep and live in was about the size of  trunk and in that we had to put our knapsack, gun, and all our equipment—two men in each of them—and I tell you there was not much room left. So we had either to go up on deck or go to bed for the only place we had to stand down below was a foot and a half in with all along the bunks so that if anything happened, we could never get out. And the smell was enough to kill one—there being no air. I hated to go to bed at night and was glad when day came. Well, the vessel lay in New York that night and part of the next day. She then started but stopped at Staten Island, the fog being so thick she could not go. So she lay there the next night. Then the next day, off we went. We did not get out of sight of land all that day.

28th
Article appearing in the Irish American Weekly on 25 October 1862

The next day we were on the Atlantic, going it over the road two-forty. ¹ We could see nothing but sky and water. When we got off the coast of Virginia, we were in the gulf stream and the water was lukewarm and there was lots of porpoises hopping in the water most all the way. On Monday the ship began to roll and pitch and we began to heave up our rations. I tell you, such a sight I never saw and I was never so sick in my life and don’t want to be so anymore. In fact, I was sick all the passage and never want to be on [the] sea again. Every ship we saw, we used to say it was a Rebel gunboat come to take us all prisoners as we had no means of defense. So we sailed along without any trouble and Friday, the 21st, we arrived in Port Royal bay and the next day we went ashore and went to work pitching tents for the night. But we did not do much work, but went roaming all about the place to we what we could find.

Well, it is the [most] curious place that I ever saw. There is not one stone large or small in the place—beach or other place—and it is all fine sand like flour, and this paper on which I write is covered with it as you may see. The wind blows so hard that it blows it through the tent like ashes.

On Sunday morning we went in swimming in the salt water in the month of February and it is as hot here now in the daytime as it is in Massachusetts in June. There is lots of alligators and snakes here and wild hogs. There is 10 or 12 regiments here from every state—cavalry, artillery, and infantry. They had a great fight here when they took it and the place is full of balls and shells and bullets. There is lots of niggers here—men, women, and children.

We expect to be in a fight before long and we will have to drill 8 hours a day and go on picket and guard often enough so that we won’t have much time to ourselves. I cannot write half so much as I would if it did not blow so hard. One letter won’t hold it all. Jenny McDermott came with us. I will write again soon.

I send you a bit of Palmetto leaf inside.

¹ The expression “go two-forty” means to move very quickly. The phrase refers to a horse racing record of a mile completed in two minutes and 40 seconds.


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO

Alexandria, Va.
November 18, 1863

My dear cousin,

I received your very welcome letter which gave me great pleasure to hear from you and that all hands were well. I am in good health myself at present, if I could only get enough to eat. I am very sorry that I cannot be there to enjoy Thanksgiving with you but the condition of my wound will not allow me. But I think I will be with you at Christmas as the doctor told me he would get me a furlough as soon as my wound was fit to go. He said it wouldn’t so to let a man off with such a looking arm as man was.

You must excuse me if I don’t write you a very long letter this time as I am shut up here and can’t find much of any consequence to write anyhow. So give my love to all the folks and tell them that they may expect to see my ghost around there about Christmas.

From your affectionate cousin, — James Flynn

Formerly of Co. H, 28th Regt. Mass. Vols. but now of Queen Street Hospital, Alexandria, Va. ¹

¹ The Queen Street Hospital was located at the Bellhaven Female Institute at 603 Queen Street in Alexandria. It was “fully supplied with gas and water and thoroughly heated with flues” according to the Alexandria Gazette (1858). The hospital opened on 22 April 1862 and became part of the Third Division of Alexandria’s US General Hospitals on 20 September 1862. It closed in April 1865. A New Hampshire soldier, wrote that “narrow iron bedsteads covered with ticks of straw and blankets” lined the walls of the hospital.

 

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