Ezra Parmalee Prentice (b. 1838) was the son of Nathaniel Sartell Prentice (1800-1857) of Alstead, New Hampshire, and his wife Sarah Walker (b. 1805) who married in 1823. Nathaniel died of typhoid fever in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1857 [he is buried in Allouez, Brown county, Wisconsin]. In the 1850 US Census, Nathaniel and his wife Sarah were enumerated in Canton, St. Lawrence county, New York, where Nathaniel labored as a farmer. Presumably Nathaniel relocated to Wisconsin in the late 1850s to farm as well.
Twenty-two year-old Ezra was working as a “hatter” in his uncle’s hat manufacturing business in Brooklyn, New York, when he enlisted on 23 August 1862 as a private (later a wagoner) in Co. G, 84th New York Infantry. While with the 84th New York, Ezra participated in the fighting at South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Mine Run. Then, after nearly two years service, he re-enlisted and transferred on 2 June 1864 as a veteran to Co. K, 5th New York Veteran Infantry. He appears to have been detached from the ranks off and on in his last year, serving as an orderly for the Corps surgeon.
The 5th New York Veterans were placed on garrison duty in Alexandria, Virginia, in the winter of 1863-64 but joined the Army of the Potomac and were part of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, V Corps during the Overland Campaign. In late August 1864, the 5th Corps was positioned on the Weldon & Petersburg Railroad though the 5th Corps Hospital— located in the Williams’ House on the Jerusalem Plank Road—was actually closer to the 2nd Corps who bore the brunt of A. P. Hill’s charging Confederates. The Williams’ House served as the field hospital for the wounded from the Ream’s Station action.
From the muster roll abstracts we learn that Ezra had blue eyes, light hair, and a light complexion. He stood 5 feet 6 inches tall.
[Note: This letter is from the collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]
Camp near Ream’s Station
September 11, 1864
Dear Cousin Ida,
I received the box that you was kind enough to send me last night. It came all right and I got no [very little?] out, it being opened. They always open the boxes to see if there is any whiskey or anything to drink in them & if there is, they take that and all the rest. There is many an officer wearing boots that was sent to some private and no one knows of there was some in his box or not. It did not make any difference if there was anything in it that they wanted. There is no honor out here—only among the thieves and they have lost about all that they had.
I wish that you could have seen this place three weeks ago today and see it now. Then the mud and water was about six inches deep and the shot & shell were being thrown right in this spot from four ways and it was a very hot place to stand. But we did not stand—we all lay in the mud like so many pigs in a warm day and let the shot go over us; that is, the ones that did not fall short, and them that did made someone’s blood run. But when the Rebs came out of the woods then it was one rush. ¹ And if anyone had wanted to go over to the woods after the charge, they could have gone without stepping on the ground for a mile if they would step from one body to the other for they fell in all ways & shape. In some spaces when our men went to bury them, there was three & four in a pile, one atop of the other. We had to bury them for their own men fell back and did not show their self since. Them that lay on the field was not all dead but the most of them died before they was got off in an hour or so after the charge and the smoke had gone. You could see the Turkey Buzzard flying over the field—some near out of sight & some as near as they dare come. It is an awful sight to see one that near—saw it—would hardly believe that them birds will peck a man’s eye out before he is dead if he is wounded so that he can not fight them. That has been done this summer. And if a man gets wounded and crawls off in the woods to die, when they find him, he is most always so that no one would know who he was.
I am out of the ranks again. I am orderly for Dr. at the [5th] Corps Headquarters [Hospital]. That last fight was enough for me and I am bound to keep out of the rest if I can. I have got a horse to ride here. We march and ride around when I have to go and have got a little tent all to myself so I am well fixed for the present if there is no more turn overs or breakup in the regiment, but you may direct your letters the same as before. I go to the camp every day and I will get them there. You must give my love to all the folks at home and thank those that had a hand in the box and accept thanks for your trouble. I will try to read the little book as you wished but it is hard to say at night where I will be in the morning.
— E. P. Prentice
¹ Prentice is referring to the Second Battle of Ream’s Station that was fought during the Siege of Petersburg on 25 August 1864.