1862: John Gurnsy Vanderzee to Maria Becker

CDV of Tattered 44th NY Regt. Flag 

This letter was written by John Gurnsy Vanderzee  (1827-1884) who enlisted as a private in Co. F, 44th New York Infantry, and was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in Co. A, in January 1862. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in Co. G in May 1862, and promoted once again to Captain of Co. G in August 1862. He mustered out with company in July 1863 at New York city. The regiment originally wore an americanized zouave uniform which consisted of a dark blue zouave jacket with red piping on the cuffs, dark blue trousers with a red stripe, a red zouave shirt, a dark blue forage cap, and a pair of leather gaiters. The jacket had buttons down the front of it which was not part of the original French zouave uniform.

John G. Vanderzee was the son of John Becker Vanderzee (1798-1880) and Elizabeth Rowe (1798-18xx) of Bethlehem township, Albany county, New York. He married Elizabeth Briggs in September 1864.


Camp Butterfield
February 22, 1862

Army Note No. 3

Having promised to write a note from camp to my acquaintance [at] Chippenhook occasionally, I find some spare moments today. Being the anniversary of Washington, the soldiers in the army of the Potomac are making a gala day of it. By an order issued from headquarters, all drilling is suspended. Although in the midst of a sea of mud, all is happy about camp.

This is styled the “Sunny South” or “Dixie” proper, but never in all my days have I seen such as season of rain as has visited this country during the last six weeks. It has rained full 7/8th of the time. But methinks I hear you say that don’t interest us—viz: you must tell us something about scenes in camp life and soldiers duties. Well, to relate a few thoughts, I will record an outline description of a recent reconnoissance made by our regiment and a few others.

To begin at the notice is the bet commencement—viz: one week ago last night after most of the soldiers had “rapped” their blanket around themselves for the night, the long roll called them to arms. The men turned out and received orders to be ready at four A. M. next morning with two days rations of salt been and hard crackers and the usual “forty rounds” of death warrants to feed the rebels. So there followed a general running through camp most of the night to get the mentioned “articles.”

The men had but little and many not any sleep that night, all being anxious to be ready at the appointed hour. At the mentioned hour—4 a.m.—the bugle sounded us into line of battle before our encampment and full nine hundred of this regiment “fell in” line. Not a soul save the Colonel knew where or whither we were going. The line of march commenced & started in direction of the Rebels lines. We were soon joined by other regiments of infantry troops and two of Mounted Riflemen Regiments, and one regiment of cavalry making a party of full six thousand soldiers. The roads were muddy and the march was urged to be fast. The men walked off and soon we reached the outpost of our own pickets and there made a halt of some twenty minutes.

Again the command sounded along the line, “forward march” and we began to go towards the Rebel lines. We marched some four hours through a strange country and over the ground where the Rebels had until recently been encamped in large forces but had fallen back. At near 11 A. M., we halted at a village called Freedom Hill some thirteen miles from our camp and found that place deserted. There was only one family remaining out of some fifty houses. We remained about one hour and then started for Vienna—some four miles to the westerly where it was reported there were some three thousand Rebels encamped. From Vienna to Centreville it is seven miles where the Rebels have some twenty thousand troops and the road is direct, so to cut off their retreat, we were carried through wood and byways some six miles—that is, our regiment and two of the Mounted Riflemen—to prevent them from falling back to Centreville.

Pvt. Henry M. Galpin of Co. B was most likely among the members of the 44th New York on the February 1862 march described in this letter. Photo courtesy of Adam Ochs Fleischer who posted it on Civil War Faces in 2016. 

After we had started two hours on our journey “to outflank” them—to use a military term—the remaining body of our forces was to march down direct from Freedom Hill to Vienna and give them battle while we cut off their retreat. But the birds we went after had left on Tuesday before for Centreville and our labor was not any prize. Centerville is a small place like New Salem along the line of railroad. There was one negro left behind to guard some few things not taken off yet. He was much frightened and told all about their leaving &c. The Rebels had destroyed most of the property. They had used the buildings for barracks and there was not a house that had a whole door or window therein. Not finding the game we went after, Gen. Morell commanding the troops that day ordered us to move towards home at camp.

We started about three and reached home again near eight P. M. having marched thirty-six miles through the mud. I never met with such a trip in all my life. We had to wade through swamps and across creeks and come near loosing several horses that mired into a swamp. It was a hard day’s work for us as we had not drilled any in some six weeks—and to walk that duration in one day through the mud with all our harness on of military traps.

The soldiers are anxious to get into a fight on the Potomac. They have been idle long enough. While the men are doing some work at fighting in the West and at Roanoke Island, we are willing to share the labor with them.

The daughter of the regiment, Miss [A. Lora] Hudson is now quite sick at the Army Hospital with camp fever and has been so some ten days. I have not see her yet as she is off some distance from camp.

I visited the City of Washington the first of last week a few days and found a number of Albany men there on business and had a good time. I must close. Write to me if you have any news and I will favor you with any news connected with the army as far as I have any experience therewith. I fear I have written more than what may find anyone willing to receive it. Being only my third note from the camp, I hope it will not offend my reader if it should meet that fate outside of your hands.

Remember my humble wishes to all around Chippenhook without regard to age or size if they enquire about such a man as I. Tell M. Jane [that] David is a good soldier and intends to return home. To Mr. Veeder’s girls and Mary Soop, mention my name & oblige.

I received your note of 18th December date and answer it tonight although it some time after. If you answer this note, direct to 44th Regt. New York Vols., Washington D. C.

Yours &c. — J. G. Vanderzee, Private in the Army

To Maria Becker, Bethlehem

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