These three letters were written by William Rockwell Clough (1844-1920), the son of John Chesley Clough (1812-1890)—a shoemaker—and Lydia Jones Treddick Frederick (1820-18xx) of Alton, Belknap county, New Hampshire. At age 17, William was mustered into Co. G, 50th Massachusetts Volunteers as a private on 19 September 1862. He mustered out on 24 August 1863.
An obituary notice published in The Granite Monthly for William says that “he was born in Manchester, N. H., ‘but spent his boyhood in Alton, the birthplace of his father. He was educated in the schools of Alton, Franklin Academy in Dover and the East-man Business College in Pough-keepsie, N. Y. As an expert accountant, he was employed by the U. S. Internal Revenue service in Boston. In the Civil War he was commissioned a first lieutenant. [Note: William was not an officer; he remained a private in the 50th Mass. Vols. and served in no other regiment during the war.]
In early manhood he began his career as an inventor of such articles as miniature corkscrews, paper clips, and the machinery for their manufacture. In 1875 he established this business in Newark, N. J., then ten years later he transferred the factory to Alton. He received high awards at international expositions at Philadelphia, Paris, Chicago and St. Louis and he had extensive interests in England, France, Italy and Germany where he traveled widely. In his home town he served on the school board and was justice of the District Court. Three terms in the State Legislature, 1897, 1899 and 1917 gave him state wide prominence. He was a 32nd degree Mason, Knight Templar and Shriner, member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery of Boston and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.”
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Camp N. P. Banks
Union [Race] Course
Long Island, New York
November 24th 1862
As I have just got settled down in my new encampment at the Union race course, Long Island, N. Y., I feel that I am duty-bound to write you a letter. I am now encamped about 8 miles from N. Y. City. There are 6 regiments here—the 41st, 50th, 52nd, and 42nd Massachusetts Regiments and the 15th New Hampshire and the 161st New York and 2 or 3 batteries making in all about 8,000 men. Then there are 2 or 3 more encampments on the Island all of which are under Banks and have marching orders and will go as soon as they can get ready but I don’t know where. The 16th New Hampshire is expected here soon and several other regiments.
We started from Camp Stanton Wednesday the 19th day of November. At 10 o’clock A. M. and reached Boston and Maine Depot at 2 o’clock P. M. We marched over to the Worcester and Old Colony Depot with all our equipments and knapsack and musket and in full uniform and says the Herald, “the 50th marched through Boston on Wednesday in full uniform presenting a fine appearance.”
We went to Norwich in the cars and got there at 10 o’clock at night. We then took the steamer City of Boston and reached New York at 10 the next day. We then marched up through Broadway to the City Hall Park Barracks where we had some breakfast (we took 2 days rations with us). We had a chance to see the Great Eastern at anchor in the [Long Island] Sound. She is very large but homely. [We also saw] the Astor House very near the park where we stopped and Greeley’s Printing Office and many others. We left the park in the afternoon and marched to the Franklin Street Barracks where we stayed till we left for Long Island.
The barracks are in a very large hall. It will quarter 2,000 men. Wednesday morning after I ate my breakfast—feeling anxious to see some of New York [City, and] as there was a guard—[I] got out from the cellar through the potato window where many others got out. I did not get back until after 12 o’clock at night. Therefore, I had quite an opportunity to see some of city. I went up into the steeple of Trinity Church—the largest one in New York and I think as large a one as in the U. S. It is the most beautiful affair I ever beheld. I went to the harbor and saw swamps of vessels.
Saturday in the forenoon we marched to the ferry and were ferried to Brookline, Long Island and from there we marched to our encampment about 8 miles. When we got there we pitched our tents. It is a very cold place where [we] are. There is one thing [I] forgot to mention—that is, it rained most all the time on our trip and it was very muddy in the streets. You must excuse this penmanship as I am in the woods writing on a piece of board on my knee.
My respect to all friends. I left my valise with Charles Coffin and a few things in it. Write soon and direct to W. R. Clough, Co. G, 50th Regt. Mass. Vols., Camp N. P. Banks, Union Course, L. I., N. Y. in care of Capt. [George W.] Edwards.
Letters coming to any place after we have left will be forwarded to us. One of our company got drunk in New York and fell into the dock and was drowned. Farewell.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Camp N. P. Banks,
Long Island, New York
December 11th 1862
I received your letter last Sunday and was very happy to hear from you. I have got a slight cold (about the first one I have had since I enlisted) and therefore am not very well. It is very cold here on Long Island and then there is about 3 inches of snow on the ground. Four of our companies went to New York a fortnight ago expecting to leave here for the South but on some account were delated and are still there at the Park Barracks.
Undoubtedly you have heard of the disturbance made on Long Island by the Massachusetts troops. It is in the [Boston] Journal of Tuesday morning, the 9th of December (Boston paper) and it is just about as near as they get things. I will try and give you a correct account of the matter.
In order that you may understand it better, I will give you a little history of our living prior to the disturbance. A certain man contracted with the government to furnish all the troops on the Union course with rations for so much a man (I believe 21 cents a day). Well it was with him as with most contractors with the government, he wished to skin all of it that he could but in cheating the government, he was taking it right out of us daily. So when it was found out among the boys that the cooks were becoming careless and things were going on most anyway at the cook house, they began to make complaints but to no use. So last Saturday, the weather being very cold, and everything combined tending to raise the ire of the boys, they concluded to take the matter into their own hands and settle it. Therefore, about one o’clock it was seen that there was a row at the cook house commenced by the 53rd Regt. Massachusetts. Soon, however, the confusion became general. The boys rushed into the cook house and took everything they could get—cheese, coffee, sugar, candles, meat and everything else there was. A sutler who had his goods stored in the building and they shared the same fate of the rest. The building was cleaned out from stem to stern. There was a boiler full of soup turned out which was maggoty and there was an old rusty candlestick in it. People here think we did not do it too soon.
Sunday [Saturday?] night was so cold the men could not sleep warm and some could hardly sleep at all so Sunday, without regard to orders, we broke camp and went to New York [City]. The officers, however, raised no objection and many of them went to New York also. I went over to Brookline Sunday night and heard Mr. Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. He is a very powerful man in the pulpit.
Yesterday as the cold had abated some, we all returned to camp but we may not stay here a week. Banks has gone with the rest of his expedition. It is stated in the Journal that the men had nothing to eat for 24 hours when they left camp Sunday. That was false. We had something to eat—such as it was. We had good living at the city.
With an aching back, I begin another sheet.
There occurred another disturbance at the encampment about two miles from here at East New York. We were gone entirely aside from the one here. I see that the Journal has got the two confounded.
There is a place where liquor is sold there and a man went in and got a pint of it (as the barkeeper says) and then refused to pay for but a half pint as he said that was all he had put into his canteen. The man ordered him out and as he refused to go and made quite a disturbance and the barkeeper shot at him, causing a wound which shortly caused his death, and his companions returned to camp and informed the officers of it and they forthwith proceeded to the house with a squad of men with fixed bayonets and quietly removed the things from the house and burned it to the ground, and in the row there was another soldier wounded. There, I have given you a correct account of the matter.
I have seen Jason McIntire and Louis Collins and quite a number of Alton and Gilmanton men who are in the 15th New Hampshire Regiment.
You may think that I am sick of my bargain but I am not. Although I cannot say that I admire the life of a soldier, nor did I expect to when I enlisted, [but] knowing what I do now, I would enlist again were I free to do so. Although I have [will have only] served 9 months, I think I shall have then done my duty towards my country. I have been sick, yet on the contrary I have been healthy more so than I ever was before. I weigh now 155 lbs. without my overcoat or equipments.
We have not been paid off yet and it is a wonder if we are for some time. I saw James Wright at Haverhill before I came from Camp Stanton. He said that Grandmother said I had not written her a letter as I promised. I did write one to her and Grandsire soon after I went back from my furlough.
Give my love to my friends. Remember me to the folks over to Cottage Hill. Write soon and direct to Co. G, 50th Mass. Volunteers, N. Y. City, or elsewhere. Farewell, — William R. Clough, your affectionate son.
P. S. I will give more distinct directions.
Wm. R. Clough
Co. G, 50th Regt. Mass. Vols.
Banks Expedition, N. Y. City or elsewhere
Care of Capt. [George W.] Edwards
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Baton Rouge [Louisiana]
April 18th 1863
I received a letter from you the 13th and a paper shortly before and was happy to receive them. I have been sick for a week and not able to write. I received a good letter from Olive Lewis and one from Helen Stockbridge the other day and was happy to hear from them. Olive said she received a letter from you the day before she wrote me. I am better than I was considerable. It is very sickly here now. We have a funeral most every day. It is becoming very hot here. It is expected that we start for home some time in May. I hope so for this is a very unhealthy climate. I should have gone in with Lieut. Wallace to tent if I had not been sick and shall now probably soon to do his chores &c. I shall be excused from all guard duty. Lieut. is sick now.
We have not been paid off yet nor do we expect to till we get home. Those poor fellows of us who die will never see a cent. Those of us who live will get it in a bunch.
There is fears of an attack on this place but my opinion is that the rebels will not dare to, although we have no great force here, but the place is strongly fortified. There is no prospect of our leaving here till we start for home. Corn is over a foot high and potatoes the same proportion. Everything looks green and lovely but it is too warm for Northern soldiers. Eben Bickford writes me that [my brother] Oscar has been converted. If so, I am glad to hear it. He says he heard that there was quite a revival in that vicinity.
I, being unwell, cannot write much now. Give respects to all. I feel very bad to think that the Copperheads whipped in our town this year. Let the Copperheads go to war and then see who will beat. Farewell from your son, — Wm. R. Clough
Write soon. You can not write but once more I think.