1861-63: Charles Robinson Johnson to Nellie

These letters were written by Capt. Charles Robinson Johnson (1836-1863) of Co. F, 16th Massachusetts Volunteers from Camp Hamilton near Fortress Monroe in Virginia. Charles was a 25 year-old Boston merchant when he received his commission in July 1861. He was wounded at Chancellorsville on 3 May 1863 and again on 2 July 1863 at Gettysburg.

“Exactly where Capt. Charles Robinson Johnson received his wounds at Gettysburg remains a mystery. But the circumstances are all too well known. His regiment, the 16th Massachusetts Infantry, was part of Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles’ ill-timed advance of his Third Corps on the afternoon of July 2. The 16th was positioned along the Emmitsburg Road with other exposed federals when the Confederate onslaught struck.

“At some point during the chaos and confusion, Johnson was wounded in the head and knocked out. He regained consciousness moments later, and found himself in a precarious position between dueling batteries firing grape and canister. As he raised himself to get away, a bullet struck him in the thigh, and he again fell to the ground. He tied a handkerchief around the wound and began to limp away from the scene, when he encountered a passing artilleryman. Johnson asked if he could be laid on the limber of the cannon, but the anxious gunner refused. Still trapped in the line of fire, Johnson successfully waved off other Union artillerymen who had targeted his position.

154373644_eebae7aa-d90c-48ba-8da9-fbf493fadd36“Johnson limped three-quarters of a mile to the rear, and passed an agonizing night on damp, dew-covered ground without care. He was discovered the next morning and carried to a makeshift field hospital, where his wounds were dressed. He spent the next three days lying on a straw spread over ankle deep mud, subsisting on hard tack and bathing his wounds in a current of water that streamed near the fly tent he occupied.

“He made it out of the hospital, and, on July 10, arrived home in Boston to his wife, Nellie, and son. Johnson had three good days before his condition suddenly turned worse. He succumbed to his wounds after four days of intense suffering. He was 27.” [Faces of Gettysburg]

The letters were addressed to Charles’ wife, Ellen (“Nellie”) Shepard Albree (1838-1906)—the mother of his young boy, Charles Berkley (“Berk”) Johnson (1859-1925) who is mentioned occasionally in the letters.

These letters may have been previously published in their entirely in a book published in 2015 under the title, “If I am alive next Summer’: The Civil War Letters of Captain Charles Robinson Johnson of the 16th Massachusetts Infantry,” edited by Albert C. Eisenberg and Michael Hammerson. ISBN-13: 9780788456497


Camp Hamilton, Va.
November 4, [1861]

Dear Nellie,

I received a letter from you and one from Edmund yesterday; also a bundle of papers and one of paper (writing) and a book of drafts from father. Tell father not to send any more writing paper as I have much as I can conveniently take care of. The government furnishes paper to the officers for business purpose; it would not so to have too many things on hand for is we should get orders to march, I could not carry them with me. Tell father I sent him a duplicate draft No. 36 which was filled out wrong in the margin. I copied it from my book which has on one page the person sending on the other the person to whom the draft is payable. Have father thank Steven for those envelopes he printed and sent me. Tell him they will last me a good six months.

Tell your mother I have her letter laid one side and shall reply sometime.

There are a large number of rumors about. Those in relation to the Naval Expedition are bad; rumor says the fleet landed its forces at Ball Bluff or someplace 25 miles this side of Charleston, S. Carolina. You will hear of it by the newspapers before this reaches you if it be true.

Tell Edmund I know nothing about a tent being purchased or about to be for the chaplain. The preaching is done in the open and maybe they mean to purchase a large tent to hold services in. Tell Edmund not to feel slighted if I don’t answer his letter immediately as I shall not find so much time now. I must read some. I shall be happy to receive Berk’s daguerreotype. This letter is written in a hurry. Don’t criticize it much.

From yours affectionately, — Charles


Camp Hamilton
November 17, 1861

Dear Nellie,

In looking to see if I had many letters to answer of yours, I was surprised to find a letter from me directed to you which I supposed sent. I think I may have put in one of your old letters and sent it back by mistake. I endeavor to be particular to be correct and cannot see how the mistake was made. The only letter I have received from Mother lately is dated October 27 and I will make time to write both mothers. I received a letter from Austin and one from Mr. Toule and letters of Nov. 12th & 14th from you.

My company was detailed for scouting the other day and we went out with seventy men about seven miles from the pickets but saw nothing of the enemy. We went to Phillips farm on the mouth of the Harrison’s Creek. We could look down back river into the Chesapeake from a point of land near it. I will send you a map roughly drawn of the route I took. I expect to go with my company on picket tomorrow and I shall  have to bid farewell to sleep that night as no one is permitted to sleep nights on picket duty.

They say we have Slidell & Mason at the fort. I have strong reasons to believe it true. A company from the 20th [New York] Regiment were out scouting yesterday and it was rumored that they discovered a large force of 2,000 men marching as they supposed on Newport News at present. We have received no orders or heard any firing in that direction so I conclude they have altered their course.

Last day and night have been quite cold but my company have in each tent a brick furnace, most of which work well, keeping their tents warm through the night. Mice are getting to be quite thick and troublesome. They completely—I almost thought so—spoiled my best coat eating two great holes in the back. One of the holes was three inches long by two wide but a tailor in my company succeeded in getting cloth enough inside of my coat to piece it and it will not show much now.

I have sent by C___ Charley May’s servant some stockings which need mending, two shirts, and some towels which I do not want. Give my regards to all. Tell mother I have not forgotten her but she don’t write as often as she thinks. Received from her today a Watchman directed by Austin, I should think; also a Journal from you. Hope you can make this out. I remain yours, — Charles

I have received a letter and a bundle of paper. The keg of pickles have arrived and are dealt to the men every day.


Camp Hamilton
November 24, 1861

Dear Nellie,

We are enjoying a delightful day—weather mild. There has been within the last week a great addition to our numbers and troops are continually arriving. We shall have in a fortnight a large army if reports are true. We don’t know whether they are intended for a naval expedition or to make an approach from here which if we do, we shall have the support of the Navy. Four gunboats night before last shelled a Virginia regiment lately encamped causing them to evacuate.

Your pudding is appreciated by everybody that tastes of it and we shall soon make way with it. I have sent to father $200 to your credit. Have father pay for my vest out of it. You tell Mr. Toule that his pipe was accidentally broke to pieces. One side was quite thin. Lieut. [Payson E.] Tucker sent me a wooden pipe and since I have received it, I have become quite a smoker and find it a great companion. I wish you would buy me a small meerschaum pipe and cover it with buckskin. Ask Steven Winchester about it if you want any information. I can buy the pipe here but thought it would please you to buy one for me. You can get Steven to buy one for you, limiting him as to the price which should not be over five dollars. You may consider it my Christmas present.

Found a flag in the bottom of the firkin that mother sent me. Don’t know whether she sent it or [if it] was placed there by somebody here as we did not see it until today. It has only seven stars which won’t do. None of the bottles broke in mother’s firkin. There were two broken plates which was all that were damaged. The firkin was five days coming. Owing to press of business, it did not arrive until Thanksgiving morning but we had a good dinner late in the afternoon.

There may and I think probable be some disposition of our regiment in a week or two where we may see active service. I have really no reason for thinking so except the increase of our force in this locality. We should object to go under the command of General Butler. General [J. K. F.] Mansfield who has had command of this post has given up his command to Colonel Max Weber. Where he is ordered to, I don’t know. ¹ Give my regards to all. Hope Berk is well.

I am yours affectionately, — Charles

Wednesday. Sarah Maria Butler was not expected to live last night through. Very little hope of her recovery.

¹ Gen. Mansfield was ordered to Newport News to relieve Brig. Gen. J. W. Phelps.


Camp Hamilton, Va.
January 9, 1862

Dear Nellie,

I have received your letter of January 5th; also one from Austin. Nothing occurring here. Rumors of all sort have been circulating but I believe have no foundation. Charley may & may not have his comfortable home here and pay you strangers a visit though I should consider it as making myself very comfortable to be obliged to sleep between brick walls leaving out the danger of sleeping so high above the ground. What strange notions civilians have that to be happy and comfortable they must have a brick house and sleep up in the third story. There is nothing like a well arranged tent. If you don’t like the locality, why you can change your position without any trouble. If Lynn is fashionable when I return home, instead of hiring a house and pay a large price, hire a small piece of ground, pitch my tent, and enjoy myself. And I shall be able in that way to own a house at all the fashionable watering places as long as they continue so.

You can’t help seeing that I am hard up for something to write. Tell Austin I am much obliged to him for his letter and ask him to write often.

There has been a drawing of Camp Hamilton by one of our regiment went to be put into one of the pictorial [newspapers] and I was obliged to agree to take 20 copies to secure its being engraved. Shall send the copies to you. Give my regards to all inquiring friends.

From yours affectionately, — Charlie

P. S. Tell mother that there are about twenty officers at my mess. Send out a book on artillery by Major Anderson at some convenient time.  Charley Mayo has been detailed as signal officer and will be stationed at the fort.


January 16, 1862

Dear Nellie,

It is getting late and you must be satisfied with a short letter. I have been very busy the last week or two as there is a great deal of work to be done at the end of every quarter. We have been visited with a rain, sleet, and snow storm of several days duration covering the ground with three inches snow. The roads through the woods are in a frightful condition and must grow worse unless we have very cold weather. What do you think of mud a four in depth? We have it here and will have it deeper in spring.

We are building a gymnasium for the men of the regiment for their health and amusement during the rainy season. I am afraid that I shall have to say no to your wish as I have not any accommodations. We shall have wet and bad weather for moving about during the next two or three months. You will have learnt before this reaches you that Charley will not be home. It will be a great disappointment to Hattie. Hoping this will find you all well.

I remain yours affectionately, — Charles

Give my regards to all. I go on picket tomorrow morning. Weather now clear & moonlight. Nellie, you can send back by Corporal Harrington a pair of thick long-legged boots. You can find the necessary size by looking at any of my old boots.


Camp Hamilton, Va.
January 22, 1862

Dear Nellie,

I have received your letters of the 17th and 19th. There has nothing happened since I last wrote and news—I mean local news—is scarce. Charlie Mayo is very comfortably located at the fort and like his new place very much. His duties are not so arduous as they were when he was attached to the company. I have now as usual only one lieutenant.

The news from Kentucky is very cheering. I received from home a large box containing sack from Mrs. Glidden and some gingerbread from Mrs. Leeds. Also peanuts, cake, gelatin, and two bottles currant wine which has not improved any. The weather is and will be unpleasant for the next two months. The roads are in a horrible condition. You must excuse the shortness of the letter as nothing has transpired since I last wrote worth noting.

The troops on the Constitution are at present encamped on the beach to air themselves. There seems to be some doubts as to their destination.

Give my regards to all. Remember me to Callie and Fred.

From your affectionate, — Charles


Camp Hamilton, Va.
January 26, 1862

Dear Nellie,

I have received your letter of January 22nd. Today is the first pleasant day we have had for a long time, the weather not very cold and the roads are improving. The mail or rather the steamboat, has not arrived so we have not had either papers or letters. I think that there is no danger of our regiment seeing active service—certainly not till spring. There has been since I last wrote not a rumor, no news, everything is perfectly tranquil except the wind which has been lately very violent.

We have had no news from Burnside’s Expedition and wait patiently for it. Give my regards to all.

Yours affectionately, — Charles



Camp Hamilton, Va.
March 25, 1862

Dear Nellie,

I received today your letter of March 22nd. I am sorry to disappoint father but I may stay here. The reasons are against our moving. All the regiments arriving are brigaded and unless we form a brigade of the regiments here, we shall probably remain for some time at least. You need not be surprised to hear that General McClellan has arrived at Fort Monroe. I don’t know nor can I conjecture the number of troops arrived or to come but they are here in large numbers and are continually coming. I saw sixteen large river steamboats entering Hampton Roads together. It was a magnificent sight.

I go on picket tomorrow and if the weather is pleasant, I shall enjoy it. I saw yesterday War Frothingham who staid at the bowling alley Lexington. He is now corporal in the Massachusetts 22nd.

We have now here the Mass. 9th, 18th, and 22nd, and expect the first, eleventh, and thirteenth, making including our regiment seven from Massachusetts. Dr. Bozwells rode over from Newport News Sunday call to see me. Enquires always particularly after Callie. Lt. Tucker will write his mother to let you have one of his new daguerreotypes.

I commenced messing together yesterday. I mean Lt. Rogers, Tucker, and myself. Have our meals together. You are to direct your letters here until you get notice to do otherwise. Give my regards to all.

Yours affectionately, — Charles


Suffolk, [Virginia]
Wednesday, [May] 21st, 1862

Dear Nellie,

I am now on picket duty at a very picturesque spot about a mile from Suffolk. The station is at a mill by which runs a road leading south to Blackwater and north by a branch to north to Richmond. I received today with great pleasure two letters from you and about eight papers from father, all of which were perused with interest. I perceived by the tone of your letter that you imagine I am about used up, which is anything but the truth, as at this moment I never was better in health and spirits then now.

Since I last wrote to you nothing has happened to write about. The vegetation and the trees look finely and in the woods you are surprised at the variety of flowers—especially on bushes. We are enjoying delightful weather now, rather warm, but endurable.

I am ordered to go to Norfolk on the General Court Martial which will give me a chance to see the country. I do not know as I want anything that can be sent me and on the whole, I am very comfortable. Ham [and] eggs without butter has been my bill of fare eery meal since I have been here.

May 23rd. The Court Martial which I was on assembled again at Norfolk at which place I am now making some additions to this letter. I came from Suffolk in a handcar in a driving rain, having six men divide into two reliefs for power. On my arrival I found that the court had adjourned and I return again in an hour. I am trying to write this with a poor pen. Give my regards to all.

Yours affectionately, — Charles


Camp near Alexandria
October 29, 1862

Dear Nellie,

There is but little to write about and I do not feel like writing. Consequently, you will receive a short letter. In case I had no objection to your paying me a visit what would you have to pay Lottie while you were with me—say you were with me a month either with or without Berk. If we should stay here through the winter, I might be willing you should pay me a visit but you would be obliged to undergo a great deal of inconvenience more than you can imagine. For twenty-five dollars, I imagine I can prepare a place where you would be warm, equal in. size to two wall tents. This is only what I think of it now. I may change my mind when the time comes.

Quartermaster Copeland would have his wife here perhaps at the same time. I bought a few boards today to floor my tent. I hope soon to know whether we shall stay or not. Three weeks will decide the question.

The men are being worked very hard now. I anticipate a much harder winter than last. We are doing a full regiment’s duty with 300 men. Lend me ten dollars without waiting for Lt. Tucker. My expenses are not much but I have been obliged to buy so many little things that my money goes. If the woolen blanket has not been sent, send with it three pair merino wool socks—those I bought in Washington are about useless now.

I send you a bullet taken from the last Bull Run Battlefield.

We had a storm the other day lasting through night which blew my tent down. Today is very pleasant. Let me know bout your decision as soon as possible in regard to coming. Give my regards to all.

Yours affectionately, — Charles


Camp near Falmouth, Virginia
March 5, 1863

Dear Nellie,

I received your letter of February 27th and was surprised to learn that you had been a week without hearing from me. Some letters must have been miscarried. I would like to take tea with you, Capt. Dallas & Lt. Tucker, but it will be impossible while the war lasts, I am afraid. Don’t forget to send me a photograph of yourself and Bert. Won’t it do as well as coming home? Tell father to write what. they are doing to meet the present high price of tallow here and the small profit which must be the result of shipping to England and tallow oil, it being quite dull here.

I have given up looking for that box. So has Mr. Hills for his barrel that was sent him. We have nearly completed a corduroy road to Belle Plains. It passes through our camp. It is not as well made as might be, but it may answer the purpose for which it was made.

I wrote a letter to Lt. Tucker yesterday. I send my pencil point in his letter. It should have gone by the last. There is nothing transpiring—nothing that appears like a move. We have drills today and nothing comes harder to me than to be obliged to drill my company. The men take but little interest. We have had some genuine March weather, squall accompanied with rain and snow lasting perhaps 20 minutes, then it would be pleasant again.

Mrs. Richardson and Mrs. Banks are still here. I imagine they will soon return with Major Richardson. There is nothing to write about. Excuse the shortness of my letter. A private of my company, James Carnes, could not obtain his discharge has now gone home on furlough of 10 days. I am afraid he will not arrive home he was so reduced by diarrhea. He lives in Cottage Place, Tremont Street, Roxbury.

Give my regards to all, — Charles


Camp near Falmouth, Va.
March 16, 1863

Dear Nellie,

I have received your letters of Feb. 12th, March 8th & 15th. The one dated Feb. 12th was stamped March 3rd at Boston P. O.

Sergt. [John P.] King, now Orderly Sergeant of my company, left this morning for home. Also Capt. Roche & Lt. Hills. Sergt. King says he will bring out to me any small bundle. Perhaps you had better send the boots by him and tobacco by Mr. Hills. The boots want to be of the best make as I have found by experience that a good boot (of good material) wears a great deal longer than a cheap one—enough longer to more than pay the difference in price. I don’t want anything but a plain top and do not wish it more than ordinary height. The top of the boot not to be sewed on to the foot, the front of the foot & top being of the same leather. Do not want double uppers if you can get single.

Sergt. Kind proposes to be married whist in Boston. He is to be married at the old brick church near your Aunt Fremont’s and on the same street. He is to marry a miss Fanny March who lives on Snow Hill Street, No. 23. She has no father living and lives with her mother, a Mrs. Childs. Rev. Mr. Algers marries them but I can’t tell on what day the deed will be done. You had better buy a small present—say $5 or thereabouts—and send it to him from me. You had better have my buggy put in good condition and sold.

We returned from picket yesterday having the good luck to have pleasant weather. Before we arrived at camp it commenced raining which turned into hail and before the night was over we had several storms with hail and thunder.

We can obtain plenty of baker’s bread. The 1st Mass. has a bakery and our brigade bakery commenced operation last Saturday. 1/15 of the line officers, 1/3 of the field officers & surgeons, ½ of the regimental staff can go home at a time. You can perceive that my chance is small. There is no branch of the service that an officer of the rank of captain has so few favors as in infantry.

There is a little snow on the ground but it will soon disappear. Give my regards to all.

Yours affectionately, — Charles


Camp near Falmouth, Va.
March 26, 1863

Dear Nellie,

I will write you a few hurried lines. Indications seem to point to an early move. Officers are to have an opportunity to send all baggage over twenty lbs. for storage. There is also a rumor that they will stop granting leaves of absence after the 1st of April which will prevent my coming. Lt. Hills & Sergt, King have arrived. Mr. Hills is very desirous of the war ending. Sgt. King was married after he obtained the boots from father. He was prevented from marrying on his arrival on account of shortness of funds. The person with whom he kept his accounts had gone to Portland. He brought me out a fine cap with bugle and cord knot on it made by his wife. The boots will do very well in they do not shrink. They were at first a little low in the instep, going on rather hard but they are very comfortable and the second time trying went on very easy. That tobacco of father’s is mild but don’t send father for tobacco unless he will smoke it first on trial. If Brewer sold it for tobacco & a prime article, he fibbed.

I have received your letter of March 19. I am wondering where my pencil point is. Give my regards to all.

Yours respectfully, — Charles



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