1863: William H. Dearborn to James W. Dockendorf

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One of the survivors of the 21st Maine; Charlie Crowell served in Co. D, made two assaults on Port Hudson and came out unscathed. He later served in the 2nd Maine Cavalry. Image courtesy of Joseph Maghe.

This letter was written by William H. Dearborn (1841-1863) of Windsor, Kennebec county, Maine. William enlisted on 1 October 1862 as a private in Co. E, 21st Maine Volunteers—a nine month’s regiment. He died of illness on 8 May 1863 at Baton Rouge, Louisiana and was buried in the National Cemetery there.

William was on board the steamer Onward from New York City to New Orleans. The regiment saw duty around Baton Rouge until May when they participated in the advance on Port Hudson but by this time, William Dearborn—like so many others in his regiment—fell ill and died. One officer and 144 enlisted men died of disease during the short duration of their service.

TRANSCRIPTION

Camp Banks
March 22, 1863

Friend James,

Perhaps you think I have forgotten you but I have not although I have not answered your letter for a long time. When I received your letter, we were expecting to leave New York soon after we arrived here. I could get no postage stamps and letters would go by getting one of the field officers to sign their name to the letter. I wrote home for some stamps and received them last night and thought I would write you a few lines today.

We left New York the ninth of January and landed at Carrollton [Louisiana], nine miles above New Orleans. We stopped there one night and the next night at nine o’clock we were ordered to be ready to strike tents in fifteen minutes. At twelve o’clock we were on board the steamship Laurel Hill the next day at sunset. The next morning we landed [at Baton Rouge] and marched back about a mile and a half from the river and camped in a very pretty place. We made a short excursion up the river eleven miles. Was gone nine days and came back night before last. We had a splendid time. Killed any amount of hogs, pigs, and cattle, and found plenty of sweet potatoes to go with them and plenty of sugar and molasses. We have had plenty of that ever since we have been here.

We packed up our extra clothing and sent it down town and carried shelter tents with us on our march. We have received our clothing and wedge tents since we came back so I suppose we shall be likely to stay here awhile. It is pleasant here and the weather is about as warm as summer in Maine.

It is considerable sickly here. We have lost three out of our company by death—Laforest Dunton ¹ from Windsor; the other two were from Woolwich.

I have no news to write and so I will close. I do not know as you can read this for I have written it in a hurry in a poor place so you must [excuse] all blunders. Yours in love, purity, & fidelity.

— Wm. J. Dearborn

[to] James W. Dockendorf

P. S. Write soon as you receive this. Direct your letter to New Orleans, La.


¹ LaForest Dunton (1844-1863) died on 26 February 1863 at the regimental hospital in Baton Rouge. He enlisted on 1 October 1862 as a private in Co. E, 21st Maine Volunteers. 

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