These letters were written by Benjamin Clark Near (1815-1894), the son of Johannes Near (1764-1832) and Elizabeth Wormuth (1771-1872). Benjamin wrote the letters to his wife, Sophia Tremaine (1821-1894) who was at their home in Sandy Creek, Oswego county, New York.
Benjamin served in two different regiments during the Civil War. The first letter was written while he served as a musician (drummer) in Co. G, 24th New York Volunteers. He mustered in at the age of 46 with the regiment on 17 May 1861 but was discharged on 26 August 1861, having been judged by his surgeon to be physically incapable of withstanding the rigors of camp life. Induction records indicate he gave his age as 44 so as to be under the 45 year age limit for enlisted men. The letter was written from the Columbia Hospital in Washington D. C. just three weeks before he was discharged. I believe this is the only complete letter of the four in this collection.
The other three letters were written after Benjamin reenlisted in Co. H, 94th New York Volunteers—again to serve as a musician (drummer). This time he enlisted with his son, Benjamin (“Bennie”) W. Near (1844-1908) who served in Co. A. We know that Benjamin mustered in on 10 February 1862 but I have not yet found a date for his discharge. In entering the 94th, Benjamin was a substitute for Eli Crandall and presumably received an enlistment bonus.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Washington [D. C.]
August 8th 1861
My dear Sophia,
I suppose you are anxious to hear from me and know how I am getting along. I am quite weak you must know, of course, but I am gaining slowly. I do not get enough to eat to give me much strength. All that I have had to eat for the last three weeks has been 3 little slices of dry bread a day with a little coffee and I have got so sick of it that it fairly makes me sick when they bring it in my room. It does not taste like coffee without milk in it. Oh, if I could but get one dish of johnnycake and milk, it would give me some strength.
The doctor has kept a good bandage on my knee for two weeks. He put a brace on my foot which has helped my knee a good deal, I think it feels more strong than it did when it was not bandaged. I have very good care for this place, I think. I shall never like a hospital again if I am lucky enough to get out of this alive. I am afraid to stay in this hospital because there are so many dying in it every day. Last Sunday there were 4 coffins I saw go out of the gate, one after another. This is a hot month—perhaps the hottest month in the year. When a soldier dies, they lug them downstairs in a sheet that he dies on and carry him to the “dead house,” as they call it—a little flat, rough building perhaps 8 or 10 rods from the hospital—and lay him down on the floor till the coffin comes and they put him in it and then just at night, they take him off and bury him without any prayer or funeral. I tell you, it looks hard to me but no one seems to mind anything about it. I feel sometimes if I were dead and safely landed in heaven, that I should be happy. At other times, I would like to be at home with my little family. But I only pray to the Lord who is my helper and look for strength. And I have faith to believe that He will strengthen me and spare my life so that I may be brought safely home to my little family once more.
Our regiment have all been paid off last week but Theodore Holmes and myself. We are at the hospital in Washington. We have not got our pay yet. Neither has the Captain been here to see us since we have been sick, nor sent us any money. I saw Capt. [Andrew J.] Barney [of Co. K] day before yesterday and he told me that Capt. [William D.] Furguson [Co. G] had drawed my pay and he should thought that he would of come and seen us and given us our money. I don’t know what it means. There are many officers I find that don’t care for their men if they can get enough to eat themselves since I came to Washington only to misuse them. I think I have learned more than I ever knew before.
Capt. [Archable H.] Preston [of Co. F] has been here this forenoon. He came from the camp this morning. He has one sick man out of his company in the next room from me. He came in to see me. He told me that there was 50 or 60 of the regiment sick in their camp. He said that when he went back to the regiment, he would go and see Capt. Ferguson and make him come and see me. He thought it a shame that a captain would not care more for their men than that when they were sick.
I hear that they are fighting [in] Virginia today. There are hundreds of troops moving across the [Potomac] river everyday. I expect there will be a heavy battle fought at Bulls Run again in a few days. General [Winfield] Scott is laying the plan for a heavy battle soon. He calculates to burn the woods where the rebels are camped and surround the Bull Run and then give them a licking. The rebels are camped in the woods. They durst [dare not] come out in an open field for they would not be anything.
Direct your letter to me, Columbia College Hospital, Washington D. C., and then I shall get it. I have not had a letter from you since the one you wrote about Curanley’s death. I think I should like to read a letter from you now. Give my love to all. Remember me when it is well with you. Kiss the children for me. From your husband and friend, — B. C. Near
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
April 1st 1862
My dear absent wife,
I have seated myself this morning to answer your welcome letter which came to my hand yesterday afternoon. I shan’t try to tell you how glad I was for I think you know full well how I felt for you know that there is no one so dear to me as you and of course you must know that I am always happy to hear from you while so far away and separated as we are. Little did I think when I came home last fall that we should so soon again [be separated] but necessity and the call of my country has separated us again. But this one thing is true—if you and I ever meet again on earth, I don’t think we shall separate again until we die. I love my home. I love my family and fireside. There is nothing on earth so dear as home and my family. I think of you and and home constantly.
I mean to be prudent and saving and try to lay up something against a rainy day. I think if Benny and I have good luck and have our health, we will lay up something. It grieves me to think of Melissa—to think she would not hear [listen] to me. I want you to see her and Father Weaser and tell them that is she thinks she knows more than I do, and will not hear to the advise that I have given her, she never need expect any help from me nor any sympathy. I was in hopes that she would stay to her Grandpa’s and be contented. I am very sorry, It grieves me very much. I have to suffer too much while here to be annoyed in thinking about her.
Now I will try and tell you about sleeping as you wanted to know. I sleep on a hard floor with nothing under me but my bed tick without any straw in it and my coat under my head for a pillow so you can say it is not very soft nor a very easy bed to rest on. But I shan’t complain—it is soldier’s fare and I can stand it as well as the rest of my comrades.
I did not draw my uniform at Albany—not till we got to New York. I sold my coat and overcoat for 25 cents because I could not send them home. Those shoes I could not throw off at Sandy Creek Station because the cars did not stop so I have them with me now and my grey pants. I have been to Upton’s Hill and have seen about all of the boys of the 24th [New York] last week. I saw [George] Wash[ington] Weaver. He is tough and hearty. I see Richard [D.] Ehle—tell David—and he is well and likes it, he told me.
Capt. [William D.] Ferguson and I have been together all the morning. He was very glad to see me. He wants me to join his company again but you know that is useless. I could get the drum major’s staff if I would go but I am contented where I am. Sometimes we fare quite well and other times we fare pretty hard. Sometimes it is dry bread and other times bread and meat and coffee. I am well at present and enjoy myself quite well.
I went to the Methodist Church last Sabbath evening and heard an excellent discourse. I enjoyed the meeting first rate. I hope and pray that I may be a faithful Christian while I live, that I may reap a Christian’s reward in Heaven when I come to die. Tell the brethren and sisters to pray for me and [our son] Benny. I should like to be to our last Quarterly Meeting but it is impossible. But my prayers and best wishes shall be that it may be a profitable meeting. You all give my love and respects to Br. and Sister Tripp for I don’t know as I shall ever have the privilege of ever seeing them again upon the shores of time. But if not, tell them that I expect to meet them in that glorious world above where wars and contentions are never known, but where all will be peace and happiness forever and ever. I do believe that Brother Tripp will always remember me in his prayers. Tell Bro. Tripp I shall never forget him for his kindness to me.
[unsigned; ending missing]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
May 10th 1862
My dearest absent Sophia,
As this is a very pleasant morning and I have just come off guard mount, I thought that I would improve the few moments that I have to spare in writing to you to let you know that I am yet alive and have enjoyed good health—only now and then I have the headache. I have it today. It commenced yesterday towards night. It is worse today on account of being broke of my rest last night.
Last night my head ached quite hard so that I could not get to sleep till near 12 o’clock and was awakened by Capt. [Lansing] Snell [of Co. B]—he being the officer of the day. He came to my tent and called out at the top of his voice, “Major—Up! Up! and beat the long roll for the enemy is approaching.” And as I jumped up, I heard the signals firing from Fort Worth and Fort Ellsworth. This was about 1 o’clock last night. I strung up my drum and ran to the center and the beat the long roll for ½ an hour. However, after awhile, Charley Pierce ¹ came and the little land drummer that you saw at the harbor. I guess you would of laughed to of seen him run when the first company started on double quick for the fort. When we first saw them coming, he started and run around his tent and said, “Oh dear, what shall I do. That is the cavalry. Oh dear, oh dear.” I said to him, come back here and help finish the long roll. So he came back here and finished the roll and I gave the word, “Double quick, march!” and we started for the fort and marched up to the gate. It was closed. The sentry called out, “Officer of the guard!” and the officer of the guard came [and] opened the gate and I marched them in. Then I said to him, “Now you are safe. The rebels can’t take this fort.” “Well, I thought it was rebels,” said he. Then the fire signal was waved and the cannon were made ready for action and all was still for a long time. And then I beat the call for the colors and waited 10 minutes and then the fife major struck up The Girl I left Behind Me and we three drummers played it up to the handle. But the rebels did not come so all things are quiet today—but I never saw so scared a fellow as the band drummer was. It made me laugh quite hearty, but I pitied after all. But what are such soldiers good for? My motto is, “Victory or death for our cause is true.”
¹ Charles Pierce was 30 years old when he enlisted in January 1862 to serve three years as a musician in Co. B, 94th New York Infantry. He remained with the regiment throughout the war and mustered out on 18 July 1865.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
[Probably April 1863 near Falmouth, Va,]
…the second day we marched last week we took 3 old rebel prisoners. We expect to fight a big battle again within a few days again. We have a big force where we are and are ready at a moment’s warning. But I want to tell you that the rebels hain’t got the pluck they had at Bull Run to fight. They are deserting every day—laying down their arms.
The 24th and we are in one division one mile apart and we are ahead and they have been in the service one year. The rebels run as soon as we get a little too near them but we will drive them to their holes soon. Bill Thompson ¹ wants you to tell all that if Beauregard’s head gets within seven hundred yards of his rifle, that he will have his head.
We expect to move on to Richmond with the whole division and there we expect to have a little brush if the rebels feel disposed to stand to their post. Since we began to march, we had to ford the streams where the rebels burnt the bridges in their flight but we didn’t stop to build them again but went through after them. It looks bad in some places to see the damage that they have done to get out of our way. We have marched over dead bodies and horses lying on the ground.
I have not received any letter from you since I sent you 2 letters with 50 dollars in them. I want you to write whether you got the money and both letters all safe. Tell Miss Nash that John [Nash] ² is well and that there is two officers out looking after [John] Guernsey and Charley Demons and Oscar Willy [Oscar F. Williamson?]—Minerva Nease’s husband & Rob[ert] De Lapp. And if they find them, they will bring them back and they will be shot. I want you to be punctual and write as soon as you get this and don’t be afraid of time nor paper.
Have you seen Margret Ellis lately? Give my love to all enquiring friends, if any take the trouble to enquire after me. Give my love to father and Mary. Tell Mary to write me one good long letter. My love to father Weaser’s folks. Kiss the children for me. Kiss Ella twice for me. I must bid you goodbye for this time. Pray much for me, my dear wife.
From your husband, — B. C. Near
Direct your letters as follows: Benjamin C. Near, Co. H, 94th Regt, N.Y.S.V., Washington D. C., Care of Col. Root ³
It will then be forwarded to wherever I am.
¹ William Thompson of Sandy Creek was 44 years old when he enlisted in February 1862 to serve three years in Co. H, 94th New York Volunteers.
² John Nash was a private in Co. A, 105th New York Infantry and was not transferred into Co. H, 94th New York Volunteers until 10 March 1863, placing this letter after that date.
³ Col. Root was placed in command of the First Brigade on November 15, 1862. The 94th NYSV’s were placed in his brigade at that time.