This letter was written by Asa Altus H. Jewel (1841-1910), the son of Asa B. Jewel (1782-1870) and Sarah W. (1798-1849) of Gansevoort, Saratoga county, New York. Jewell enlisted at the age of 21 on 8 September 1862 as a private in Co. E, 77th New York Infantry. He was promoted to full corporal on 31 July 1863 and to full sergeant on 28 January 1865. He mustered out of the regiment on 27 June 1865 at Washington D. C.
[Note: This letter is for sale on e-bay (September 2018) but I downloaded the posted images to preserve the history for those researching the 77th New York Infantry.]
Addressed to Mr. Asa B. Jewel, Esq., Gansevoort, Saratoga County, New York
In care of George E. Hunter
Stafford county, Virginia
Saturday, March the 21, 1863
Camp near White Oak Church
I now sit down to write you a few lines to let you know that I am enjoying good health and hope these few lines will find you enjoying the same blessing.
The weather is somewhat stormy at present. It commenced snowing yesterday morning and has kept it up ever since by spells. The sun has shone since it commenced but it does not take but a short time to make up a storm here in Virginia. The snow is about an inch deep now. I think that it will turn to rain before it gets through.
There is no news of importance here but a cavalry fight the 17th near Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock. I will send you a paper that will give you the account of it. It was west of us but we could hear the cannons that were fired.
We still continue to lie here where we have all winter. How long we may is yet to be told. I think that part of the Army will lay here to hold the position on the Rappahannock for they are building large forts up near Falmouth. Who may be the lucky men to stay here is yet to be told. I hope that it may be our Brigade for one. Two corps that belonged to the Potomac Army have been sent south—the Third and the Ninth. We belong to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division or Howe’s Division, Six[th] Corps or Sedgwick’s Corps.
I have not written many letters in your name but when I write, I mean it for all of you. When any of you write again, write to me what has been done with my old boots. I never have heard whether you had the heals knocked off so you could wear them or not. If you haven’t, I want you to and if you want money to use, get it off George that I left with him. I have got me a pair of boots that were made in Balston Spa. They were sent to one of the boys and they were too large for him so I bought them off him. They cost me eight dollars. I suppose that you think that is a large price to pay for a pair of boots but that is what the sutlers have for horsehide boots and the boots that I got us worth three pair of them. They are good, firm kid-lined, double-soled and tapped.
Elwood is sitting here by the side of me smoking his pipe. The boys in the regiment are generally well. The soldiers are generally in pretty good health at present. I expect to go on picket tomorrow morning again. Our picketing is mostly temporary. There is a cavalry picket between us and the river. Our picket is to keep the citizens and rebel spies from coming out and in, and to keep the soldiers from deserting. There is nothing of importance to write about so I will bring my letter to a close. We shall get our pay within a week, the general says. No more at present so goodbye.
This is from your son with well wishes, — A. A. H. Jewel
Altus Jewel of the 77th New York Infantry Archive. A little over 100 letters from Union soldier Altus H. Jewel to his sister, all war-dated and dated from October 21, 1862 to June 24, 1865. Jewel enlisted at the age of 21 in September 1862. He was soon mustered into Company E of the New York 77th Infantry, which participated in key battles such as Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, the Siege of Petersburg, and the final surrender at Appomattox. Jewel was twice promoted, first to Corporal in July 1863 and then to Sergeant in January 1865. Although he was wounded near Fredericksburg in May of 1863, Jewel survived the war and lived to have three children. He died in 1910 and was buried in Gansevoort Cemetery in Saratoga County.
Jewel had been in the Union army just three months and had already been in major battles including Fredericksburg. In a letter home to his family, Jewel describes the horrors that he witnessed, and it is clear that he is amazed to have made it out of the battle alive. Written in camp near Fredericksburg on December 17, 1862, in part: “At sundown the troops began to cross the bridge. We was ordered to cross first, but our general Vinton was not there at the time, so that another division crossed when it was dark…The next morning we returned to the river and crossed…They planted batteries on the hill and ordered us to support them…the rebs opened fire from all sides…We lay there twenty four hours with our equipage on, right on our faces. At dark the firing ceased and they let us build small fires and get something to eat. But we had to sleep with all our equipments, with exception of our knapsacks, with our guns by our sides with one eye open.
In the morning we had to relieve the line of battle in front of us…Colonel French let us stack arms and rest, but we had not lie there long when Gen. Vinton rode along in front and asked the colonel what the devil he was doing there. He said anyone should suppose that we had gone into winter quarters. We did not see the general again for he was wounded soon after with a musket ball in the stomach. It was reported that he could not live, but it has been reported different. The ball did not go straight through him but glanced around him. We then put on our equipments, took our guns and lay down…Soon the shelling began hot and heavy. The shells burst in every direction…the skirmishers began to fire…toward night the firing began heavy…the rebs…charge on our skirmishers. The skirmishers fell back and we expected to…charge on them, but the battery opened fire and the relief of the picket line fired a volley…they broke and run…one of the rebs that was taken prisoner said that when they made the charge that the two companies…fired on them killed eighty…they were boys from Maine …at dark we were allowed to build…fires to make coffee…at eleven o’clock we were aroused by the fire of the skirmishers…we lay down on our faces…the balls would pass over us…one of Co. I…a ball struck his knapsack…another hit him on the shoulder. The ball went through all of his clothes but did not break the skin. One of Co. H’s men were killed. The ball struck him in the temple. He struggled twice…After the firing ceased, we took off our knapsacks and lay down again. We were called up to get our rations so that we did not sleep much, but was well provided for. I slept considerable through the day regardless of the balls and shell. I knew that if I were killed while I was asleep that I would not know anything about it.
…I will now tell you what I think of the battle. I think that the rebs done a kindness by not firing on us for they could mowed us down like sheep. They had across fire on us with their batteries but I suppose that they were waiting for us to advance on them, but they got mistaken once…The army never was so much misused since the war commenced as it was this time. We were on the left of the line this time, near the center, so that we did not see the hardest of the fighting. The line must extend nearly fifteen miles and I don’t know but more the fighting was hard on the extreme right and left. I can’t tell how much our loss was. We hear from five to twelve thousand. I must tell you how much they think of a man here. There was a man in Co. D by the name of Palmer that has been complaining some time. The colonel ordered that he must be camped when we started. He stood it threw yesterday. I saw him come into camp. He was staggering and using his gun for a cain. After he had been in camp a while he lost the use of his limbs entirely and I guess his senses too. They buried him this morning.”
While many had flocked to enlist when the war started, the reality of battle and army life was too much for some men to cope with. Jewel writes about some deserters who had been recently caught in a letter to his sister dated March 10, 1863 from Stafford County, Virginia. He details the punishments inflicted: “The two deserters that they have caught from our Company have been court marshaled and sentenced. James Dorley the old recruit is to have one side of his head shaved and be drumed the length of the Regt. and back have a chain & ball attached to his leg, and be sent to the Ripraps or some other publick works, and to serve out the three years with one half of his pay stopped, and in the end to be dishonorably discharged. Michael McDade the new recruit that came down with us to be put to hard labor at the public works of the U.S.A. ten dollars of each months pay to be taken from him, to be kept on bread & water seven days in each month and at the expiration of the three years dishonorably discharged with the letter ‘D’ branded on his back. I have made up my mind to not desert, for I would not like to be branded. I don’t know but I could stand the rest, but I had rather be excused from that part of it. It has been reported here that there were to be thirty of the deserters shot, but I don’t know it to be a fact.”
Soon after this, while on the Chancellorsville Campaign, Jewel was wounded near Fredericksburg and was moved to Mount Pleasant Hospital in Washington. Writing from his hospital bed on May 15, 1863, Jewel assured his family that he was “doing as well as I can, hobbling around to see what I can see. My foot is about the same as it was when I wrote before. It does not swell much but keeps sore yet and pains me some. I can walk around on it very well by being careful how I step on it. I think that the bone is jambed [sic], if not broken, or it would have been well by this time.”
Jewel soon recovered, and rejoined his unit. He and his fellow soldiers would soon head north as the army chased General Lee into Pennsylvania. Writing from “Camp near Manchester” to his sister on July st, 1863, he described the march while the Battle of Gettysburg raged not far away. It reads, in part: “…we left Brisco [sic] Station last Friday night & marched back to Centreville. There we lay until morning & then started for the Potomac at Edward’s Ferry. The rebs followed us from the Potomac. We took a northern course toward Pennsylvania…we followed the Rebs…came through Westminster yesterday morning…the Rebs left the night before. We took an Orderly Sergeant that was drunk. We have been marching every day since we left Brisco [sic] Station…the people…in Maryland treat us with great respect. They will let us have the last mouthful they have…to eat. We marched about twenty five miles a day. The men are all tired out…we will go into Pennsylvania the next march for we are close to the line now.”
One of the problems that the armies faced was soldiers’ enlistment lengths. It had been assumed that the war would be a short affair, and after three years of service, many desired to return to their homes and family. Therefore, the army had to conceive of numerous different incentives to get their soldiers to sign on for longer periods of service, and sometimes these promises fell through. Writing from Brandy Station, Jewel writes just about this incident in an undated letter (Thursday the 24 – [March]) 1864, which explains the circumstances the men in his company are faced with:
“Well, I must tell you about the enlisting. Night before last about 9 o’clock the orders came that the men that come when I did could have a 35 days furlough, providing they would agree to reenlist when they had served their two years, & that they would receive the same bounty that those would now that has been in two years. They were to reenlisted if government wanted them. The mustering papers come for to enlist the old ones & the papers for the new ones to sign the guarantee. The Captain & Lieutenant worked all day on making out the papers & they had got all but three of the company. About 8 o’clock last night I went to the Captain’s tent & found the whole of them absent. Had gone so I put down my name & thought that I would have a pleasant time home for 35 days & perhaps all winter. I come back to my tent & in about fifteen minutes the order came that all men that had over 3 months to serve to make up two years could not enlist & old ones could not go as a Regiment & the papers were burned & our hopes blasted & now one of the Lieutenants of Co. A is appointed for a recruiting officer, but the old fellows backed out & they say they won’t enlist any way.”
By July of 1864, Jewel was stationed near Petersburg as the 77th NY was aiding with the siege of the city. While Petersburg was being shelled by hourly cannonade, the 77th set about destroying the railroads and neighboring buildings. He wrote on July 4, 1864, “Last Wednesday, the 28th, unexpectedly we got orders to march & in a few minutes was on the road to Reams Station, a station on the Weldon & Petersburg Rail Road, 10 miles below Petersburg…We pulled up the ties, made big fires of them, piled on the rails, heat them & twisted them up so that they could not be put down again. We must have destroyed some three miles of the road. This road runs to North Carolina & was a beneficial road to the rebs. We burned the station & other government buildings.” Although these raids are beneficial to winning the war, Jewel was aware of the immorality of it, saying to his sister, “What would you think to look out & see your cornfield being all trampled down by soldiers & driving rails down, piling others against them, and throwing up dirt against them to make breast works. And to see men go into your house and take off the last bit of anything to eat. Don’t you think that would look hard. And even break up your furniture, dishes, piano, tear up the wimmens [sic] dresses & bedding, etc. this is done on every march by our soldiers. It is hard, but some of them will do it.”
Ten days later, the 77th NY had moved on to Maryland, and Jewel recorded a rare account of the Battle of Fort Stevens, where President Lincoln was present to observe the fight. Writing on July 14, 1864,he describes the battle to his sister thusly:
“Soon after we got there I was detailed to guard a tavern, & a good think it was too. I was treated to all the beer, wine or any liquor that I wanted, cigars & had a good supper & breakfast. The next day about four o’clock our Brigade went out & were to take a lot of houses that the rebs held & were picking off our skirmisher line. We charged & took them without much loss. As soon as we started in double quick and began to cheer, the rebels run. Some of them left guns, knapsacks, etc. & they left kettles cooking on the fires. After we took the position we were to take we lay down & the Rebs tried to drive us out, but could not, slay them badly. During the night they left. There were none wounded or killed in my company.”
As the Confederate’s situation became more dire, their war tactics changed. By late 1864, the 77th NY was forced to deal with guerilla fighters, including Mosby and his Rangers. However, the Union army countered these ambushes by retribution against the locals. Jewel provides commentary on these events as he was moving through Virginia. In a letter dated October 5, 1864, he writes: “Our cavalry is scouting the country all the time picking up rebel prisoners, guerrillas & horses, cattle, sheep, & burning all of the hay, grain, government property, and everything that would benefit the rebel government and help us. There were 30 bushwhackers brought in yesterday. Sheridan says that he has a use for them for he had good hemp. They shot one of his Aids, & an orderly going out in from to the cavalry day before yesterday. And yesterday all of the buildings were burnt in the neighborhood. That is what the citizens get for bushwhacking. They can’t fool Sheridans time much.”
Altus Jewel’s war service ultimately came to an end with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. On April 9, 1865, as Robert E. Lee met with Ulysses S. Grant to discuss the terms of surrender, Jewel wrote to his sister about the events he witnessed: “We are following Lee & fighting him every day. We have captured 30,000 prisoners. Genl. Lee sent in a flag of truce to know how he could surrender to Genl. Grant yesterday. The Confederacy has given up now, surely…I don’t think of anything more you need not worry if you do not hear from me very often, for we are quite a distance from the rail road & still keep going on. But a few days more & the thing will be closed up.”
As the North celebrated, news of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the attempts to kill Johnson and Seward were soon to rock the nation. Four days after the attacks, details of the events in Washington were still unclear, leading to numerous rumors about what really occurred. On April 18, 1865, Jewel wrote, “We got the news of the death of Uncle Able & the assassination of Seward & his son day before yesterday. We have not heard any of the particulars of the affair. They have managed to put Old Abe out of the way, but I think that they have got a man to run the machine that will be harder than he was with them. There is all kinds of flying reports afloat, but they are so numerous that there is none of them to be relied on.” Thankfully, both Seward and his son Frederick survived the attack by Lewis Powell.
This is a rich archive full of excellent historical content. Along with the letters are numerous personal items belonging to Altus H. Jewel, including a Silver Cross Identification Badge; two tintypes of Altus Jewel (with one showing him wearing the silver badge) and a postwar photograph of Altus; Three Years in the 6th Corps by George T. Stevens (1866); Jewel’s two sergeant stripes; Six gold eagle buttons; Five medals: 26th reunion of the Veterans Association (1906) badge, Saratoga County Veteran Association (1904) badge, Army of the Potomac reunion (1887) badge, GAR medal, Gettysburg NY Monument dedication (1893) medal; along with various documents, discharge papers, etc. There is also a hand drawn map, 6″ x 3″, undated, of “Grants lines in front of Peatersburgh [sic] & the five rail Roads entering the town.” The map gives the positions of different Corps as well as the Colored Troops.
Condition: Letters range from very good to good, with usual mail folds and toning. Text written in pencil has faded somewhat, but is still legible. Book spine is worn, but binding and block are intact. The ribbon on a few of the medals and badges had become worn and torn in places, on others it remains intact. Buttons and sergeant stripes are in good condition. Tintypes and photographs are slightly faded with minor imperfections but are in very good condition.
Additional excerpts from the archive as follows:
Four pages, 4.5″ x 7.5″, “Camp near Bellplain Landing“, Virginia; January 10-13, 1863. In part: “you wanted me to keep out of bad company. That is impossible in this army.I see enough wickedness.to make me sick. It is all cursing and some bad language all the time.I made up my mind to feel myself above that.while we were out on picket there were a girl shot by her brother. She was 22 years old and he was 16th or 17th. There were a provost guard there guarding the man’s house and property.he let the boy take the gun and he shot her threw the bowels. Some said he done it accidentally. Some said.a purpose.she was shot in the forenoon and lived till knight [sic].”
Four pages, 5″ x 8″, “Camp near Bellplain Landing“, Virginia; January 4, 1863, in part: “.we had a new chaplain come to us.I don’t know whether it is an advantage to have a [illegible] in the army or not for while he is preaching.there is hundreds cursing him because they have to stand and hear him.he causes more to sin than he saves.”
Three pages, 5″ x 8″, “Camp near Waterloo“, Virginia; August 18, 1863, in part: “As the money did not go by express I thought that I would.send it.Sarah.wrote to me that you were going to get a substitute. I hope that may be the case. If the money gets through all right use it if you want to and need it.we got orders to be ready to march at a moments notice.Genl. Howe & staff came over. He took a view of the river and the ground around it. He ordered that there [the]must be timber slashed at the ford.a rifle pit dug at the right of the regiment & one piece of artillery positioned. The cavalry that were out in front.toward Culpeper came in last Saturday.our picket line is the front line now. Since.the cavalry had come back & we threw up rifle pits.have seen rebs every hour.”
Four pages, 5″ x 8″, “Camp near Waterloo“, Virginia; September 2, 1863, to his sister, in part: “There was a show.I did not go to see them perform. It was a free show. The performance was composed of climbing greased.poles with a 5 dollar green back on top.20 ft. high.there was two poles.they had foot races.besides a greased hog. The one that held it got five dollars. It was made up by officers. There was one major general & one brigadier at the show. Anyone could try the poles or catch the hog.an old man over fifty out-jumped the whole of them. The officers were most all drunk.I am bound to shoot every man that I can that is trying to break up this government.”
Three pages, 5.25″ x 6.25″, “Camp near Waterloo“, Virginia; September 8, 1863, in part: “.last Saturday we had a speech on the subject of war. Edward Fursom, the lawyer from Schuylerville was.on a visit & he gave a speech on the war & the feelings of the people of Saratoga Co. toward the soldiers of the 77th congratulating us for the gallant conduct in several fights. He spoke well.a captain of the 49th N. York.also gave a short speech. We had a nice stage erected for the occasion with the stars & stripes at the back. The stage was lighted with globes made of paper.candles in them of different colors.things on the front remain about the same as usual.the cavalry in front.were driven back.I am getting very fat.”
Four pages, 4″ x 7″, Warrenton, Virginia; October 29, 1863. Found in a rebel camp near Rappahannock Station by a member of the 77th Regiment, Company E N.Y.S.V. & written by Jewel; October 29, 1863: Our Stonewall Hero Brave – Dedicated to the Stonewall Brigade by Tip Smith
How sad the scene I stood & gazed
On the funeral train as it passed
All faces seemed with sorrow filled
At the bugle’s lonely blast
The cannon’s boom the rolling drum
As the bore him to his grave
Told all, in death he slept his last
Our hero Stonewall brave
Oh yes, each heart in sadness beat
For the bugle sweet and low
Told all who gazed upon the scene
No more he’d meet the foe
Rest on, rest on, our Jackson dear
No tears now thy cheek shall have
Thy slumbers ne’r shall be disturbed
Our hero Stonewall brave
How short the time since last I looked
At his bright & and sparkling eye
The gloomy thought then struck me not
That he so soon should die
In death sleep on disturb him not
For his country his life he gave
Oh yes how bright a star was he
Our hero Stonewall brave
Virginia up, the foe rebuke
And thrust him from our shore
Then peace & safety bless us all
With national love e’er more
Loved bearer of our battle flag
Let it never cease to wave
But think of him whilst in the charge
Our hero Stonewall brave
Eight pages, 4″ x 7″ and 5″ x 8″, “Camp near Brandy Station“, Virginia; December 6, 1863, in part: “.a week ago.we broke camp & went to the Rapidan & crossed.we struck the woods & for a week we lay in the woods. Friday the 3rd Corps got into a fight & we had to go out on double quick to support them. We found them in the woods where there could not get any artillery. Our men drove them but they lost heavy. There was two men in our Regt hit by stray shots. One had a finger took off & the other was hit on the hand, but did not break the skin.For the next three days.we were marching through the woods.Sunday.they established the line. Our division on the extreme right with the intentions of making a charge.the whole line was to charge but they found that there was a creek between the rebs & us.the ground was so muddy.we could not get through and the orders was counter manded. We were in line for the purpose & the signal gun was fired..Genl. Sedgwick put on a private’s coat & took a gun & went into the skirmish line to see what the rebels had. He done this.so that the rebel sharpshooters would not fire at him.he told Meade that he had a corps that could go where any Corps could, but he would lose half of them if we did charge.Wednesday morning our army began to recross the Rapidan.three Regts of us.got over the river about noon.the roads were bad & we would go a few rods & then wait for the troops to get out of the way.”