1861: Caleb C. E. Mortimer to Mary Manning (Percill) Mortimer

martin's
“Martin’s Battery” (3rd Mass LA)

This letter was written by Lt. Caleb C. E. Mortimer (1835-1862) of the 3rd Massachusetts Light Artillery (a.k.a., “Martin’s Battery). He wrote the letter to his wife, Mary Manning (Percill) Mortimer (1831-1864), who was in Boston with their two children, Ella (age 14) and Edward (age 9). In the 1860 City Directory, the residence of the Mortimer family was given as 338 Bunker Hill (the same as his father’s). Prior to his enlistment, Caleb was employed as an “Expressman” in Boston, his residence being in the 11th Ward. It appears that prior to the Civil War, Caleb had served as an officer in a state militia artillery unit so he had some prior experience as an artillerist. Before enlisting with the 3rd Mass L. A., Mortimer served three months in Cook’s Battery in the spring of 1861.

The 3rd Massachusetts Artillery (“Martin’s Battery”) participated in the Peninsula campaign and was severely tested in the fighting at Gaines Mill on 27 June 1862, losing one of its guns. An article appearing in the Boston Evening Transcript on 5 July 1862 states that,”Griffin’s and Martin’s batteries likewise did splendid service in checking the advance of the enemy, pouring canister into their ranks with terrible effect. Probably the greatest carnage of this bloody day was produced by the incessant discharges of double-shotted canister from the brass Napoleons of Marin’s Battery. He had taken up a position in the hollow between two small hills. The enemy advanced from the opposite side in solid column on the double-quick, with arms at right shoulder shift, not being able to see the battery until they reached the crest of the hill, within one hundred yards of it, when Martin opened on them, sweeping them from the field like chaff in the wind. Twice again they formed and advanced, their officers behaving splendidly, but it was useless, Martin’s fierce leaden rain being too terrible to withstand. The advance of the fresh troops having checked the enemy, and night coming on, the conflict ceased, and both parties quietly lay in their arms.” Most likely, the confederate troops referenced in this article were those in Gregg’s Brigade of A. P. Hill’s Light Division.

The official military record for Lt. Mortimer states that he was “Shot in action near Gaines Mill June 27th 1862 and died June 28, 1862 at Savage Station.” A notice of his death erroneously assigning him to the 5th Massachusetts Battery appeared in the 10 July 1862 issue of the Boston Evening Transcript; it stated that Lt. Caleb Mortimer belonged to Charleston and “leaves a wife and child.” A more complete notice appeared in the Boston Traveler on the same date: “First Lieutenant Caleb C. Mortimer of Charlestown, of Martin’s Battery, was killed in one of the battles before Richmond last week. Capt. Martin, from whom this information is derived, states that three others were wounded.

Caleb’s wife Mary Mortimer died of consumption just short of two years after her husband’s death. They had one surviving child, Edward, who was raised by his grandfather.

[Note: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History holds 22 war-date letters by Lt. Mortimer, Collection #: GLC01898]

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The victorious Confederates captured many cannons and two regiments of infantry in the fighting at Gaines Mill on 27 June 1862, but nightfall prevented another attack that might have destroyed Porter’s command. Sykes’ regulars covered the retreat of Union troops over four fragile bridges spanning the Chickahominy River.

TRANSCRIPTION

Washington D. C.
Camp Duncan
October 13, 1861

Dear Wife,

Here we are at last in the great Capitol of the United States and encamped on Capitol Hill on the edge of the city. Last night there came an order just as we got our camp pitched to be ready to march at a moments notice, there being a prospect of the big fight coming off across the [Potomac] river. The order came from General McClellan and unprepared as we were, we got ready to start. But word came that the rebels had retreated and we unharnessed our horses and quieted down for the night.

Our horses fared hard on the passage out here and some of them look like shadows. They have not had up to the time I write, a spear of hay since we left New York and they have suffered. They have had a harder time a great deal than the men. One horse had his leg broken in the cars and we had to kill him. Another has since died from exposure and some more of them are sick.

We shall probably leave here the last of next week for the other side of the Potomac. We are encamped now at the side of Capt. Porter’s 1st Massachusetts Battery. ¹ They are preparing to leave here on Monday and we shall probably follow next week. Our being attached to a regiment turns out to be all humbug. When we get out here, army officers laugh at the idea and we shall be attached to an artillery regiment. And if we were prepared, we should have an opportunity now to go into the advance. But our time will come soon. Our men got out here all safe and none of them are sick.

There was four men fell overboard from the boat on the passage from New York [City] to Amboy and two were drowned. ² They both belonged to the regiment but I could not learn their names. I think the worst gauntlet that the soldiers have to run is coming through New York and Philadelphia—especially the latter place where they are all friends and it seems as though they could not do enough for the soldiers. It looks well and feels well at the time, but still it is not the thing. It demoralizes the whole command—officers and men—and the sooner they get through it the better for all concerned.

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We had a great time in New York in the way of a parade. The first night we got in here [New York] ahead of the regiment, the officers were quartered in the Fifth Avenue Hotel and the men in a hall further uptown. The next morning the regiment arrived and together with the Battery formed in front of the Fifth Avenue Hotel [on Madison Square] about one o’clock and were presented with a flag. The presenting speech was made by James T[opham] Brady, Esq., and the flag was received by Col. [Henry] Wilson. After the ceremony the regiment marched through the City passing down Broadway. The streets through which we passed was thronged with people and we were enthusiastically received. At about five o’clock, the men partook of a collation [light meal] at the Park and then marched down to the pier and put our traps aboard the boat for Amboy and left about eight o’clock.

We arrived in Philadelphia about seven o’clock the next morning and took breakfast and laid around waiting for cars until about three o’clock in the afternoon when we got aboard the cars again and started for Baltimore. Here was another long passage again and we did not get started from Baltimore until about half past nine the next morning and we laid along the road all day and got to Washington about twelve o’clock at night.

I don’t think of anything more of interest to write this time but I shall write again soon and let you know what turns up. Give my love to Father, Mother, and the children, and to all enquiring friends.

From your affectionate husband, — Caleb


¹ A notice appearing in Boston’s American Traveller on 5 October 1861 states that Caleb C. E. Mortimer had declined a commission as 2nd Lt. in Capt. Porter’s Light Artillery (No. 1).

² The two infantrymen were George Furness and Edward F. Davidson of Co. B, 22nd Massachusetts Infantry. Alden Burrill of the Second Sharpshooters fell overboard while disembarking at Perth Amboy but was rescued.

 

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