1862-63: Richard Harding Weld to Anna T. Reynolds

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Capt. Richard Harding Weld, Co. K, 44th Mass Infantry

These letters were written by Richard (“Dick”) Harding Weld (1835-1908), the son Aaron Davis Weld (1805-1889) and Abbie Harding (1807-1871) of West Roxbury, Norfolk county, Massachusetts. Richard enlisted as private on 26 May 1862 in the Boston Infantry Cadets and mustered out on 2 Jul 1862 at Fort Warren, Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. He then enlisted in the 44th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant in Co. K on 12 September 1862. He was promoted to Captain of the company on 15 Jan 1863 and mustered out 18 Jun 1863 at Readville, Massachusetts.

Richard married Laura Townsend Winsor on July 3, 1866 in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. When he died in 1908, his obituary notice in the Boston Journal called him “one of Boston’s most prominent citizens and connected with many business enterprises. He was 75 years of age and a graduate of Harvard University,” Class of 1856. Among the business with whom he was connected were Aaron Weld’s Sons, merchandise brokers, the Ludlow Manufacturing Association, and also the Sweetwater Fruit Company. His estate was valued at $220,000 at the time of his death.

Dick wrote the letters to Anna T. Reynolds, his sister-in-law. His sister Cordelia was married to Anna’s brother, Frank W. Reynolds. Anna was 22 or 23 years old at the time; she never married. The “Frank” mentioned in these letters was Frank Reynolds (Anna’s brother) who served with Dick in the same company. Frank was discharged due to poor health on December 28, 1862 and returned home to Massachusetts.


Newbern [North Carolina]
Saturday, November 15, 1862

Dear Annie,

I got your letter this morning and was quite delighted that you should remember me so soon. I am lying on my back and have therefore a little time to answer your letter immediately. Fred [T. Brown] is making out pay rolls so that we can get some money.

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Birdseye sketch of tent

[referring to sketch] This is supposed to be the inside of our tent. A is Frank and Fred’s bed which they have built. B is my little bed on which I am lying now and writing. C is the table where Fred is writing. D is the stove and E is the wash stand. Here is where we live or rather have just commenced to live. It is a new tent 9 feet square. Our old tent which we had at Readville is behind this where we have our meals and keep all our provisions and traps that we are not using. Our man William [Negro servant] has done splendidly and is all that we could expect of him. His only fault is that he is a bit slow but you can’t expect everything.

The 45th [Mass.] Regiment got here last night and our regiment took care of them. [John] Frank Emmons and Alpheus [H.] Hardy slept in Frank and Fred’s bed, and Fred went into the barracks to sleep. I have seen almost all the officers. They have almost all been in to call on me and it seemed very jolly to see them all again. They are going into Emery’s Brigade and will be about 3 miles from us on the other side of the river so that we shall hardly ever see any of them unless we meet by chance in the city. I tell you, we rather astonished them by our tales of marches and battles, which of course we made as glowing as possible. I was perfectly astonished with what indifference I stood there when the firing was going on on the evening of the skirmish. I had a perfectly resigned feeling if I was going to be hit, it was alright. It didn’t seem to trouble me at all.

I suppose you would like to know how we passed our evenings and nights. As Frank didn’t have much experience in that respect, I will give you a description. We had two other darkies with us which we got at Washington, and as soon as we reached our camping ground for the night—which by the way was invariably in a cornfield, we sent them for corn shucks to sleep on, one for wood and one for water and potatoes of which latter there was always an abundance. We—Fred and myself—then built our house which we did in the following way. Drive two sticks into the ground about 6 feet apart and three feet high, put a stick on top for a ridgepole, then slant several pieces from this ridgepole to the ground and cover the whole with India rubber blankets and it makes a very nice tent like the letter (inverted V) open at both ends. You fill the bottom up with corn husks and build a large fire at one end and our habitation is complete. An addition of fir boughs at the head of the tent is an improvement though not a necessity. Once we were near an old saw mill and had a regular board tent. Our men always build our house for us; if we commenced to do it ourselves some of them would come up and insist on doing it for us.

The men in the meantime used to collect husks and wood, make their beds, build three or four large fires and make their supper. We would then lie down in our tent with our feet to the fire while William boiled the water, made the tea, cooked the potatoes (they are not as good as the ones we get North, probably because this part of North Carolina is so poor) cooked the chicken or duck or goose, some of which our darkies always succeeded in procuring during the day’s march. We then had our supper and lay down to a sound sleep. Our evenings always paid us for our day’s march—they were so perfectly jolly. If we hadn’t had quite so much marching to do, the expedition ¹ would have been all I could have wished.

I have got to help Fred on his pay rolls so must close. With love to all, your affectionate friend, — Dick

¹ The expedition Dick is referring to took place from 2 to 12 November 1862 during which time there was a skirmish at Rawls’s Mills, six miles south of Williamston. For a half hour, Maj. Gen. John Foster’s troops (including the 44th Mass) skirmished with Col. Harry Burgwyn’s Confederate troops. The Confederates retreated but burned a bridge preventing a Union pursuit.  It was the first action the 44th Massachusetts had seen in the war.

This letter describes Gen. John G. Foster’s expedition from New Bern to Kinston and Goldsboro, North Carolina and back which took place between 11 to 20 December 1862 during which time there were three engagements at Kinston (14 Dec.), Whitehall (16 Dec.) and Goldsboro Bridge (17 Dec.).


Newbern [North Carolina]
December 24, [1862]

Dear Annie,

I should have answered your kind note before if I had not gone off on the expedition so you must take the will for the deed. Adams Express has arrived and the Christmas boxes are coming up by the cartloads. The whole camp is in a state of excitement looking out for boxes. I have been most agreeably surprised by receiving a large box of pickled lambs tongues which I had no idea was on the way. It wasn’t long before I was pitching into them, to use a homely expression. They are perfectly delicious. Would Torsy call that an extravagant expression?

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A page from Harper’s Weekly depicting scenes from the three battlegrounds at Kinston, Whitehall, and the Goldsboro Bridge

Well, Annie, we have seen still more of a soldier’s life and are getting to be quite old soldiers. I will give you a slight sketch of our proceedings. We packed up everything we possessed in boxes and left camp Thursday, Dec. 11th at 7 o’clock. The fog was so thick you could cut it. I could not see the head of my company when I was at the rear of it. Marched that day about 14 miles. We came out of some thick woods just as we reached our campground and the sight was most beautiful. Hundreds and hundreds of camp fires in long rows lighted up the scene and forms of the men dimly seen in the smoke gave a most wild and grand effect. The column is so long that the head of it gets into camp two or three hours before we do who are in the Third Brigade and there is one brigade that gets into camp still later. Next day [we] marched about 15 miles.

We have another way of sleeping now which is an improvement. We build our fires and just before we go to bed, we move them back about 8 feet, rake away the coals, and sleep on the hot ground. It is luxurious—especially when the weather is way below freezing. Saturday we did not march far as our advance was skirmishing and fighting with the enemy’s skirmishers. Sunday we had the fight at Kinston and though we did not fire again, we were where the balls were pretty thick and had to march through all the wounded and dying. They were as cheerful as if they were on a pleasure excursion, telling us to go in and whip the devils and not minding their own wounds in the slightest.

The enemy broke and ran just as we got onto the field, retreating across the Neuse river and setting fire to the bridge which they had previously tarred. Our troops were too quick for them, however. We saved the bridge and took about 400 prisoners. We crossed over the river and slept that night in Kinston, which is a very pretty village. It is hardly large enough to call it anything else.

Monday we had a long march of 17 miles and were pretty well tired out. My feet were wet through all day and in fact for most of the ten days I hardly ever had dry feet in the daytime. Tuesday was the fight at Whitehall. We were drawn up on one side of the river behind a fence and the enemy were in the woods on the other side in the trees and out of sight so that we could only fire at random, without certainty of hitting them. They were mostly sharpshooters and it was wonderful that there were not more killed. We lost 21 killed and wounded in the regiment. I lost one man killed. The enemy soon discovered our Colors and the bullets flew around and over our heads in a most unpleasant proximity. [Capt.] George Lombard [of Co. C] and myself, being the nearest officers to the Colors, were particularly favored. We stayed there about two hours and it gave our men an excellent opportunity to use their guns and get used to firing which they had never done before. We marched a few miles further that night and halted.

The next day went to the Neuse river bridge which we burnt and tore up the railroad & this cut off the communication with the South for the present. Started on our return at ½ past 5 o’clock. We heard firing again in our rear and orders came to countermarch. You can not imagine the perfect feeling of despondency which came over all of us, tired as we were, at the thought of having to march all the way back again and perhaps have another fight. We marched back about 2 miles and then were drawn up by division in the woods at some crossroads. I almost wish we could have had a fight then. We were so cold and tired and mad that we should have fought like tigers. We stayed there about ½ an hour and once more resumed our homeward way and reached the campground of the previous night about 11 o’clock. The next three days we marched back about 65 miles and reached Newbern perfectly used up. I hope I should never see such marching again.

I walked side of John Mulliker all the time. He was pretty well tired out but stood it out splendidly. We have all got pretty rested now and fixed up again. I was sorry to hear that you have been sick and confined to the bed. I hope you will all be well when you receive this and keep so. I went down to see [your brother] Frank again last night. He improves very slowly. I shall advise him to get a furlough and if he can’t do that, to resign and go home. I think it will be the best thing for him though I don’t know whether he will do it. It will be pretty miserable for me all alone if Frank goes and Fred leaves too, but I shall resign myself to it and let things take their course. Give my love to all friends with lots for yourself. Wishing you a pleasant Christmas tomorrow, I remain your friend as ever affectionately, — Dick

You will probably go to Lynn before I do so I send your tickets.

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A flask carried by Lt. Richard Harding Weld with his name engraved on the cover.

Stationery letterhead, “New England Guards, Co. K, 44th Regt. Mass. Volunteers”


Newbern [North Carolina]
January 27, 1863

Dear Annie,

I sent word that I would write you after our next expedition and give you an account of it but if you wait until then, I am afraid you will get tired. Isn’t it mean that we are cooped up here at Newbern while the Great Expedition is on the briny deep on its southward journey? We were all blue enough and mad enough to bite board nails, I tell you. When we left Boston, we thought it would be very pleasant to do games for 9 months, but you can’t conceive how impatient men and officers get after being in camp some time to be doing something. It was all very pleasant at Readville while we had you all to come and see us but out here, it gets very slow and it makes the men as cheerful and happy as you please to hear that they are to go off on a fight.

Well, I expected to have a stock of news but unfortunately my reservoir has given out and the force pump has been taken away so I must get along the best way I can. I told Lizzie who I was hitting in regard to blue letters [that] I didn’t mean you at all. I have written all about Mrs. Noyes in back letters so there is nothing more to say. Tell Frank to find out what that coffin cost that Mrs. N went out or what I ought to get for it. She wishes to sell it if we could use it, but I should like o know what such things cost. Tell Frank also that there must be some claim agent for the collection of soldier’s pay. It is my impression that it requires a journey to Washington or else to employ an agent. The next time the Paymaster comes here, I will find out but I think he can find out there somehow.

The idea of dancing—how could you know my feelings so, Annie, by mentioning such a subject? I suspect that the Marching Cotillion will be the fashionable dance when we get back as we shall have unwisely forgotten all the other dances. However, I will try not to forget the gallop, for my “cousin.” The other night they had a ball in Co. E barracks—a master and fancy ball combined. Some of the men made very handsome ladies. The dresses were got up capitally considering the means at hand. Shelter tents were the chief material and being of a party color (white), they made a very pretty show. Some three or four were really artistic in their performance, putting on the airs and ways of female loveliness to perfection and causing shouts of laughter. All the officers were there as lookers on, from Colonel down and quite a number from other regiments. One female of color was a feature of the occasion and he acted his part capitally. Then men’s dresses were good also—clowns and Spanish Hidalgos being prominent. The whole affair went off in the best spirits and was a perfect success. One of the 10th Connecticut officers said they had to come over to our regiment to see any life. Some of the ladies wore very pretty headdresses and one had very luxuriant flowing hair made of long grey moss of the country.

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We are now waiting as anxiously for news as you are. We have a rumor today that Burnsides has turned the right of the enemy and that one of the forts near Wilmington has been taken by the gunboats. I hope they will both prove true and that we may have a little success to change this monotony.

Goodbye for the present, Annie dear. Give best love to all the family.

Your affectionate friend, — Dick


Newbern [North Carolina]
February 13 [1863]

Dear Annie,

I received your nice long letter when we got back from Plymouth. We are not much more fortunate than you in getting the mail regularly. Your letter was three weeks on the way.

I just finished “Orley Farm” [by Anthony Trollope] and if you have not read it, I advise you to. It is very interesting and the interest is kept up through the whole book. The only fault is that it is too long. There is enough plot in it for two good novels. Solid reading is out of the question except tactics, and that won’t do for all the time. Something light has to be resorted to to counteract it.

It is reported here today that Wilson has introduced a Bill to keep us out here for two years. Is it so? And if so, how does it strike you all? Instead of four months more, it will be nineteen months more—some difference I must confess. I suppose it will meet with hearty approval at home as it will save some of the lazy and indifferent ones from any fear of a new draft, but won’t there be some growling out here. I believe it will make a general row (a new general) in the army if they try it on 19 months. I shudder at the thought.  We should all be perfectly demoralized by that time. I shall get sick right off and have to resign. Frank will have to go again as Colonel and I as Lt. Colonel and then we can ride, get a good Major to do all the work, and have a good time by ourselves, have all the families out here, and settle down to it. Well, if they keep us, we shall have to stay, that is all.

If the ladies continue to come down here, Newbern will be quite a civilized place. There are quite a number here now. The only unmarried one I know is Miss Messenger from Roxbury who elevates herself to the 44th and 45th [Mass]. I must go downtown and call on the 45th officers now they are so near. I guess Dix wishes he was with them now that they are settled in the city.

How I should like to have seen you and Cordie dressed up in the new style. It must have been very imposing and overcoming and quite tiptoppy. I understand that butterflies are all the rage. It must make a party appear quite summerish. What will happen next I wonder. I suppose the old-fashioned style of our grandmothers will come back when a lady’s headdress was six feet hight and hairdressers had to have stepladders to arrange it.

The boxes haven’t come yet. I think the they must be at the bottom of the sea. I can imagine some great lobster putting his claw into that pot of ginger and devouring it (the ginger, not the claw). How I envy the old fellow. I hope however that they may turn up all right.

So the house at Lynn is gone, is it? How you will miss it and how I shall miss it too. I have passed a good many pleasant hours there. Well this life is full of changes and one must get used to them. There isn’t much consolation in that, is there Annie? That puts me in mind (a la Lincoln) of our talked of change. There is some chance of our being send down to Charleston to reinforce the expedition, so we may see a naval engagement after all.

If you get so learned—as there seems a fair chance for you to be if you go on as you have commenced—I shall be afraid to talk with you when I get home. Do you expect to find out what the sun is made of before the 9 months are over? If you do, please post me up. With how much more interest you must look on a mosquito now than formerly. You will even let him bite you feeling what an influence he has on the fate of world. It may be an inducement to carry on the war of extermination more vigorously, knowing that the more you kill of them, the meaner you will be to the heavenly bodies. Be sure, however, that you let them drop to the ground after you have killed them, or you will lose all the effect.

It is eleven o’clock and I must say goodnight, sweet dreams, and pleasant dreams. Love to all the family. Believe me your old friend, — Dick


Washington [North Carolina]
March 28, 1963

Dear Annie,

It is a regular southern thunderstorm and hurricane, and I am expecting every minute to be buried under the ruins of my tent. In anticipation of that sad event, I hasten to answer your last kind letter. I got is just as we left Newbern to come up to this hole. Our arrival here was very opportune. The Rebs had made all their arrangements (we have since learned) to attack the place that Monday night. They heard of our arrival and put it off till Thursday. It stormed so hard that it was impossible to move artillery and we have heard nothing from them. It is still doubtful whether they are still at Greenville waiting to attack us, or have been ordered away. We shall know in time, however. It was a combined movement all through North Carolina. The Rebs appeared before Plymouth and demanded its surrender. Major [Walter G.] Bartholomew of the 27th Mass., who is there with two companies, retreated to the protection of the gunboats, and while the Rebs were waiting for his answer, the 25th Mass. appeared in the river to reinforce him, and he didn’t see the surrender. That Saturday while we were looking on at the fight over the river, 20,000 of the Rebs were approaching Newbern by the Trent road.

(Scene from high life, the cap of my tent blew off, and I found myself in danger of being drowned. If you had been here just now you would have seen me shinnying up the tent pole to replace it. It must have been a very comical sight to have seen me up there. Pity there wasn’t somebody here to enjoy it. I haven’t exerted myself so much for some time.)

Well, to resume. Those 20,000 men put one very much in mind of the “King of France,” who “with 20,000 ,en marched up a hill and then marched down again.” The Rebs found we were too strong for them and marched back again so they haven’t done much yet in North Carolina. So much for war.

I must tell you a funny accident that happened to me the other day. A steamer got in from Newbern with some things for us so I went on board with John Parkinson. We were walking through the steamer among boxes & barrels, John just behind me. The first thing John saw, he didn’t see me anywhere, and the first thing I knew I was going down, down, down. I struck once and then kept on. I thought of all the horrible accidents that I had ever heard of or read of and expected to be broken in pieces. Suddenly I was greeted by an infernal yell and a light shone in my face. I thought I had gone way through in the regions below. It took me a minute or two to recover my ideas, and then I found that the yell didn’t proceed from the evil one, but from a nigger woman whom I had fallen onto, and the place was the cook shop (military) galley (nautical) kitchen (civilized). I struck first on the steps about half way down and then finished my descent. I frightened the poor nigger woman most to death but didn’t hurt her any, and still more remarkable, didn’t hurt myself any. I thought John would have killed himself laughing when he found I wasn’t hurt. It gave me a good shaking up and for a few minutes rather disturbed the serenity of my mind.

In Alice’s letter she says that Gran Johnson is engaged to a lady from New Hampshire. I guess it is Miss Wilson who is a great friend of the Horace’s in New York. She was at Washington with them when I was there a year ago. She is a perfect beauty—sister to that handsome Wilson that was in college about 58 or 9. This is all guess work and was suggested by Fred. I see John Chop everyday and have dined with him twice. If he knew I was writing, he would send his remembrances so you can take them from me.

We shall be glad to get back to Newbern again to comfortable quarters. Isn’t it queer, our old barrack of Newbern are our ideas of comfort and home? We go back there with just the same feeling that a tired traveller does to his quiet home and his own bed and room. Tell Lizzie from me that it is getting so warm out here that I shall be obliged soon to shave all my whisker off for sanitary reasons.

Well goodbye, Annie. Give my love to all the family and write again soon. I suppose your next letter will be dated Longwood. It will seem very good to see you all out there. Goodbye. Ever your loving, — Dick


Newbern [North Carolina]
May 14, 1863

Dear Annie,

I got your welcome note from Philadelphia and am glad you are having such a nice trip. Just wait four weeks will you and perhaps we will accompany you home. Oh the heat we have here, all dressed up in flannels as we are, and this is cold compared to what it will be later in the season. If I had to stay here all summer, there wouldn’t be anything left of me but bones by the end of the season. I wish you could look in upon us in our city life. I can hardly realize that we are soldiers and defending our country so gallantly. We breakfast in the morning from 7 to 8 and then pass the day as pleasantly as possible reading, writing, calling, looking after company affairs, playing billiards perhaps, and sleeping, till 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Dining at 2 o’clock.

We have a short company drill and dress parade from 5 to 6 and the duties of the day are over. In the evening we read or drop into our neighbors and play cards. It isn’t very warlike, it it? The other night I went to a concert with Mrs. Webster. It was the most natural and homelike occasion I have seen. It was got up by Dr. Morony for the amusement of the invalid in the hospital and was held in the large dining room of the hospital. The performers were from several of the regiments. Our band took part and played capitally Major Sturgis sand the Army Hymn. I had never heard it before and wasn’t a bit wiser after he had got through as it was impossible to distinguish a word. Our Operatic troupe have got up a new opera and only wait for General Foster to give them some place to have it in. It will be good, I guess. They had two or three pretty good hits on the detailed men in it.

Col. Lee has issued an order that the detailed men who do not join their companies before the 20th of this month will not be allowed to march through Boston with the regiment but will be used as a baggage guard as they will be out of drill that they would spoil the looks of the regiment. I am glad he has done this, but I wouldn’t have given them the privilege of joining their companies again.

We have some very pleasant neighbors now, having moved our quarters up into a more civilized part of the town. Mrs. Webster is on one side, Mrs. Stackpole just opposite, Mrs. Holbrook on the other side, though we don’t see much of her, and Mrs. Harris only a short distance off, so it is nearly quite civilized. Mrs. Amory & Mrs. Parkinson are invalids so we don’t see as much of them. I have completely astonished the Colonel by the elegance of my appearance. He can hardly keep from speaking of it everything he sees me. I don’t much wonder at it for with my old torn, ragged pants, dirty shoes, old coat, no collar, dirty cap and shaggy beard, I must have presented a rather sorry spectacle. And when I appeared before him one day with a new suit of clothes, new cap bugle, and with my chin shaved, he could hardly realize that it was the same person.

I came near losing our cook William the other day. He had imbibed rather freely one day so much so that he was entirely overcome. The next day he came to me for some money still under the influence of the bowl which cheers and does inebriate. I wouldn’t give him any and told him that he didn’t spend his money in the right way. He got indignant and said that he would leave me then and I might pay him what I owed him. I told him very well if he wanted to go, he could, and began to count out his money. I don’t think he expected that I would take him up so quickly and he finally confessed his misdoing—that he hadn’t done as he ought to have done, and that he wanted to go back with the regiment and see it march through the city and then come out here again. He felt quite badly and burst into tears. He promised that he wouldn’t drink anymore and I guess will keep his word. It is queer what a pride even the servants feel in the regiment. They all want to go back and march through the city with it.

Well, I must close this and say goodbye. Ever your friend, — Dick

Love to all the family.


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