1863-64: James W. Dockendorf to Family

These letters were written by James W. Dockendorf [or Dockendorff]  (1842-1875), the son of Thomas Dockendorf of Windsor, Kennebec, Maine.

James first served in Co. G of the 19th Maine Infantry from August 1862 until he was discharged in March 1863. The first letter was written while serving in the 19th Maine. Unfortunately I do not have a scan of this letter; only an early 20th Century typed transcript that was passed along with other letters written during the Civil War by James and his brother William. I have retyped it here for its historical value, however.

A year after his discharge from the 19th Maine, James reenlisted in the 1st Maine Cavalry. A few months after James joined the 1st Maine Cavalry, Co. G, seven of the companies were transferred into the 1st D. C. Cavalry and assigned to the several companies of this regiment by Special Order No. 17 of the War Department (1864). James served in Co. I of the D. C. Cavalry. He enlisted as a “veteran” and was given the rank of corporal. In December 1864, he was promoted to sergeant and in June 1865, he was promoted to quartermaster sergeant.

After the war, James resided in Boston where he resumed his occupation as a mariner. He was married in August 1871 to Ella M. Loomis (1848-19xx).



Camp [19th Maine Regt.]
near Falmouth, Virginia
January 25, 1863

Dear Mother,

Having received a letter from you yesterday, I take the first opportunity to answer it. I was very glad to hear that you were all well but think I shall have to give you a scolding for worrying so much about me. One would think by the tone of your letter that you thought me lying at the point of death while I am well and hearty and fat as a hog. So I just want you to stop troubling yourself so much about me and again you write as though you thought that I could get my discharge by just asking for it. But they don’t discharge any but dead man and fools and I have not been sick enough to die yet.

Two of our Windsor boys left the company this morning for Washington with their [discharge] papers. They were Benjamin Moody and Augustus Stuart [Stewart?]. They have got the rheumatism.  Stuart might as well be at home as anywhere for he is good for nothing anywhere. I expect he will tell awful stories about us for he crowded himself into our tent when we had not hardly room enough to breath in and would stay. We did not want to drive him out so we put up with him but he is the most disagreeable, overbearing fellow in the company.

I want father to go and see Ben Moody and get a book which I sent by him to you. It is one that was given to me the night before I left Bath. I sent one to [sister] Estelle the first of this month.

Our move against the enemy did not amount to much. The whole army except our corps moved up river six or eight miles and were going to cross [the Rappahannock river] but recent rains made it so muddy that our artillery all got stuck in the mud so they had to back out and go back to their quarters and the rebs are having fun enough over our failure. They even came down to the river and asked our pickets which were down by the river why they did not cross over the day before as they agreed to and offered to come over and help our men put the pontoon bridges across. They said if we wanted any whiskey or tobacco, to come over and they would give it to us and be friendly with us. Or, if we wanted to fight, they could butcher us as fast as we came over and they have been saucy enough to put up a board with the words, “BURNSIDE ARMY STUCK IN THE MUD” painted on it.

And only day before yesterday their pickets and ours stacked their arms and they crossed over on a dam and shook hands and had a long talk together. They say that they do not have any hard feelings towards us, but as we fight them, they shall us. I think if they would put the officers out of the way, the men would soon settle the war. But with the men at the helm that we have now, I fear it never will be settled until the people take it in hand, which they had ought to do soon.

I have not heard from [brother] William since I wrote to Father. I don’t think you need to find fault about my not writing for his is only four letters that I have wrote home in less than two weeks. I write whenever I can get the chance. We expect to be paid off tomorrow or next day but don’t know for certain as we shall. If we are, I shall let you know right away. I must write to Estelle again so I shall have to bid you goodbye. With much love to all, I close, remaining your affectionate son, — James W. Dockendorf

P. S. Tell all hands to write and write yourself as soon as possible. — J. W. D.

[No scanned images of this letter are available, as stated in introduction. I don’t know where the original letter is located.]


Camp Baker
Washington D. C.
March 6th 1864

Dear Father,

As my regiment have all got to be examined over again in consequence of so many being taken who were not fit for the service, I have got to have my discharge papers to show how I was discharged before. Please send them to me as soon as possible. I have not time to write more now. With love to all, I close in haste.

— James W. Dockendorf

P. S. My health is as good as when I left.

Letter of 6 March 1864


Camp 1st Maine Cavalry
March 13th [1864]

Darling Sister,

Your letter of March 3rd was received yesterday and I will try and answer it this evening. We have just come in from picket. We had a very pleasant time on picket and nothing to trouble us although the line of the Brigade that joined us on the left was attacked several times but they don’t trouble the First Maine [Cavalry] very often if they know it.

I am very glad to hear that you have got moved and like so well. I hope you will all do well. If Father wants any help this summer, he may keep William at home with him. My health is good now and I am getting along finely and begin to hate the South worse than ever and still I want them to have just what belongs to them and no more. So I will drop that subject for tonight and try and think of something else.

I wrote to Father a few weeks ago to get me a pair of boots made for winter but if he has not ordered them yet, he had better wait until he hears from me again. I may alter my mind in regard to them. I think such a pair as I spoke of will cost too much and I shall probably want my overcoat by and bye so I will wait and see how things turn out.

I don’t know as we are ever going to be paid off but I hope we shall soon. If they [don’t] do something about it, I shall call for my discharge I guess, or something else.

I must close soon but by the way, I saw Uncle Charles last week. He is well. He is here to City Point now. Please write as often as you can and give my love to Father and the girls and remember yourself. Remaining your affectionate son [brother], I will bid you goodnight. — James W. Dockendorf

P. S. Direct to 1st Maine Cavalry, Co. G, Washington D. C. for the present.

We have a very good prospect of having something to do that will liven us up a little very soon and when we start, something will have to come. I suppose that William is enjoying himself finely this week but he must not feel too good yet. He had better take it easy at first.

I am getting pretty tired tonight and I am only going to write a few lines more for if I keep on much longer, I shall go to sleep over it for I did not get but little sleep on picket.

Tell William the boys all send their regards to him as well as myself. I must close now. Give my love to Father, Mother, Will and Susan, remembering yourself. I will write again the first opportunity. Write as often as you can. Goodbye from your affectionate brother, — James



Camp Baker
Washington D. C.
April 6th 1864

Dear Sister [Estelle L. Dockendorf],

As I have been writing to Susan tonight, I thought I would write a few lines to you too. I suppose you have been scolding a long time because I have not answered your letter before but I shall have to acknowledge that I have been rather tardy. But I will try and do better next time. I don’t know as I can think of anything that will be very interesting to you and cannot write much any rate, but you must excuse me this time.

I suppose you are enjoying yourself nicely this Spring—at least I hope you are. I would like to look in and see you this morning and what you are doing. It is about eight o’clock. Perhaps it is bed time with you but we have a roll call at half past eight a taps are at nine when the lights have to be out.

Tintype of 19 year-old Alphonso Pierce wearing the uniform of the 1st D. C. Cavalry; he was taken prisoner at Sycamore Church, Va. on 16 Sept. 1864 and died in Salisbury Prison in Nov. 1864.

We have to turn out at half past five and the roll is called reveille and have breakfast about seven or half past, go on drill at 9 a.m., and are recalled at half past three. Dress parade at three [for ] forty-five minutes, guard mounting at a quarter past four, retreat at sundown when the roll is called, tattoo at half past eight, another roll call, taps at nine, besides many other things that we have to attend to for which the bugle sounds for everything is done at the sounding of the bugle. Therefore, [there are] two buglers to every company. And we have got a cornet band so we get a plenty of music all the time.

I guess I shall have to close soon for I have been writing all the evening and am getting rather tired. Please write as often and I will write as often as I can. Alphonso Pierce has been writing home tonight and has got done and says I have written long enough and I guess that he means to make me stop by the way he is training so I will draw to a close by bidding you goodnight.

I remain your affectionate brother, — James

[to] Estelle L. Dockendorf, Windsor, Maine



Jordan’s Station, Va.
September 17th 1864

Mr. Pierce
Dear Sir,

It is with feelings of deep regret that I seat myself to write to you to inform you that Alphonso is a prisoner. He was taken yesterday morning with twelve more of his company and a large portion of the regiment but how many we do not know yet. I will give you the particulars as near as I can.

Yesterday morning about daylight they were attacked by a large force of rebels who broke through their line, surrounding and capturing nearly all who did not fly at the first alarm. Our boys saved the most of our horses for they happened to be to the rear with a guard who got them off. Alphonso was on picket and had just been into camp with a horse which he left and started to go to his post on foot. The pickets were all dismounted and the rebels charged on them so suddenly that they were completely surprised and some of them took into the woods and got away safe but most of those that stood their ground were either killed or taken prisoner. Alphonso was not killed for his body would have been found if he had been. There was but one of the company killed and there is thirteen more missing. I know that Alphonso did no take to the woods or if he did, it was not until it was too late for he would never yield an inch until he was obliged to. He is a brave soldier and was always to be found at his post.

Alphonso Pierce—he “has done his duty without flinching.” (JWD)

It is hard for me to be obliged to convey the sad news but still harder—much harder—for you to hear them. I miss him and mourn his loss as a friend and you mourn him as a son and yet he may be safe. There is hopes that they will be overtaken and recaptured. The rebels came in after a heard of cattle—about 3500 head—that our folks were grazing near the picket lines and they got the most of them. If he is not recaptured, he will probably be paroled or exchanged before long so is not lost for good and he will be clear of any more fighting this fall. He has been in everything that the regiment has so far and has done his duty without flinching. It seems to me almost like losing a brother—we have been together so long and have lived the same as one. What belonged to one, the other shared, and we have yet to learn what it is to disagree with each other.

I have given you the particulars as near as I can get them. If I can learn anything more. I will write again. I [illegible] being in camp sick or probably I should have shared the same fate. I have just this minute heard that there has one or two of the boys got in. I hope Alphonso will turn up too. If he does, you shall know immediately. Meanwhile, I will close remaining yours &c.

— James W. Dockendorf



Headquarters Cav. Depot
near City Point, Virginia
November 25, 1864

My darling Sister [Estelle],

Your very welcome letter of the 19th has just been received. I am very glad to hear from you for it is quite a treat now-a-days to get a letter from home. I hope Father has got a chance to move. I wish you would tell me what place he has got.

A gem tintype of young woman believed to be Estelle Dockendorf (ca 1864). The image with the Dockendorf collection of letters.

I saw Fred Wright and Homer Baxton and Charles and Crowell Barker today. Charlie Chapman was sick and had gone to the hospital but they said he was not very sick. The rest of the boys are well. I am going to my regiment tomorrow or next day.

Lieut. Russell has fussed until he got Gen. Gregg to send an order for me to report to the company but I don’t blame him much. After all, he has not got but two or three non-commissioned officers in the company and I am needed there, so I shall go. And if he don’t do what is right by me, I shall turn on him. I have got the advantage of him slightly and he knows it, so he won’t try to fool me much.

I don’t like to leave my station here but I think it will be better for me in a long run. I don’t like to leave Lieut. Blanchard for he is one of the finest men in the service.

[Brother] William is going to stay, I think. At any rate, I want him to, and shall do all that I can to have him stay. He is well and as fat as a pig. By the way, I am very glad that my watch fitted so nicely but who has taken a shine to Mother and given her a watch? I will send her a key if I can find one that I think will suit her. She may send me my shirts and stockings as soon as she has a mind to. She can send them just as I have my letters directed when I am with the regiment. Direct to Company G, 1st Maine Cavalry, Washington D. C.

You can direct my letters to the regiment in future as I shall probably be there by the time this reaches you. I believe you are the best one of the whole lot to write. I fear Susan is trying to forget me. She used to be real good to write but she don’t seem to write much lately. I could write home two or three times per week if I could get answers to what I do write. Write as often as you can and let me know how you get moved and tell me all about it. Give my love to Father and Mother and Susan and keep a share for yourself. Write as soon as you can and write all the news as you told me to direct to Pittston but you did not know what part. But perhaps Pittston will be enough. I did not know but West Pittston would be proper but I will try this one. At any rate, I have not time to write more tonight so I shall have to close bidding you good night.

I remain your affectionate brother, — J. W. Dockendorf

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