1863: Absalom D. Fort to Friend

This letter was written by 34 year-old Absalom D. Fort [Abesolm Forte] (1829-1915) who enlisted as a private at Boonville in Co. I, 117th New York Infantry on 15 August 1862. The 117th NY Regiment was sometimes called the “4th Oneida Regiment.” He mustered out of the service at Raleigh, North Carolina, on 8 June 1865.

“Abe” was the son of John and Elizabeth Fort of Herkimer county, New York. At the time of the 1850 US Census, he was employed as a “boatman” and residing in Boonville, Oneida county, New York. He was married in 1855 to Margaret Seals (1837-1920) with whom he had at least seven children.

“Abe” speaks several times of another soldier in his company named “Melzar.” This was most likely 40 year-old “Melzar Drake” (carried on roster as “Mesar”). Drake was killed in action on 29 September 1864 at Laurel Hill Church, Virginia.

TRANSCRIPTION

Headquarters 2nd Battalion, 117th Reg. New York State Vols.
Camp Morris near Fort Ripley
January 1863

Dear Friend,

There is nothing very important going on here. Our regiment is divided into two divisions. Five companies are here near Fort Ripley and 5 companies have gone to Fort Baker, two or three miles the other side of Washington. The Lieutenant-Colonel takes command of this Battalion. We have easy times down here. We have to work six hours a day. I don’t do as much work in six hours as I could do in two so you can guess how hard we have to work. I earn my money easier than I could chopping cordwood. We get 13 dollars a month, [plus] our board and clothing which is as good as 25 dollars a month. That is more than I could earn at home. Besides, Uncle Sam pays us off in greenbacks. He paid us a few the other day and promised to pay us more in a few days. I happen to have 50 dollars in greenbacks. I would like to work for Uncle Sam three years if I could go home once in awhile and see my family. I am a going to try and get a furlough to come home before long. They say they can’t give furloughs until we have been in the service 6 months. It will be 6 months the middle of next month. I never see time pass away so fast in my life as it does here. It don’t seem as though I had been away from home almost six months.

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Headstone of Abesolm Forte, Ci, 117th Reg. N. Y. V.

They are doing nothing down here towards fighting and I think there will be no more fighting this winter for the reason that the rainy weather will soon set in and then it will be impossible to do anything. I wish this war was over but it don’t seem as though it would be the way they manage. I hope there will be no dishonorable settlement. If this war is not settled before spring, you may make up your mind there will be another call for more men. We can’t whip the rebels with what men there is in the field now. We want 500,000 more men. I hope they never will settle till they are whipped. I hope they will draft some of the rich men and bring them down here and make them fight so they will know what a nice thing it is to be a soldier. I don’t find any fault as far as I am concerned for I have had a good time so far. I hope if they do draft, they will not allow them to hire a substitute. The only way to end this war is get men enough and then go ahead. There are men enough in the Northern states to do it and if they won’t come, I say draft them. Just give the rebels to understand that we are enough for them.

I have no news of any importance to write. I presume you get the news before we do. We have the news brought into camp every day. Melzar wants to come home the worst kind. He says he don’t care what becomes of the government if he was [only] out of this scrape. He is not quite as patriotic as he was when he first enlisted. It makes us sick to hear him talk. He don’t like soldiering at all. He says he had rather be up there chopping cordwood than to be here.

I shall have to bring this lengthy letter to a close.  It being a rainy day and having nothing else to do, I thought I would employ my time in writing to you and knowing whether you wanted to read it or not. Read it till you get tired and let the rest go for I have not written anything very interesting. Please to write as often as convenient for we fellers down here like to hear from home often. Write everything you think would be interesting to us.

— A. D. Fort


[Note: The following transcription was done by “The Excelsior Brigade” who offered the letter for sale on their website.]

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO

Folly Island, SC
January 21, 1864

Friend Chandler,

I received your letter last evening and take the first opportunity of answering it. I am glad to hear from you and to know that you have not forgotten us. My health is very good at present. We got your box last Monday morning and we are a thousand times obliged to you, hoping we may be able to do as much for you. We will send you the money to pay the freight as soon as we get our pay. I have not been paid in over 8 months and if they don’t pay soon I shall have to wait ten months pay coming. So you see I have quite a sum due me. You said if your health was good you would like to take the 600 dollars’ bounty. If you knew as much about soldiering as I do you would not enlist for 6000 six thousand dollars.

Perhaps you think we don’t have anything to do. I wish you could try it for a week. How would you like to go out on inspection with a knapsack on your back, your gun cartridge box and belt with forty rounds of cartridges, your haversack and canteen and march about a mile and stand four hours in the ranks without taking off a thing and stand with your gun to a shoulder arms most of the time and pass in review and then march back to camp through the sand over your shoes. As we did yesterday and as soon as we got back, some of us had to stand guard all the rest of the day and night. I will tell you what we have to do. We have to stand guard every other day or go out as reserve picket every night. Besides, we have company drill and battle on drill every day. We have inspection two or three times a week, when we have to take our knapsack with all our clothes. And our gun and accoutrements have got to be clean. Besides we have to get up an hour before daylight and go out and stack our guns. It is not very pleasant to go out nights and stay out in the cold all night and if it rains ever so hard, you have got to stand it. If you should try get out the storm, perhaps you would be sent to the guard house for it. If I should tell you all about soldiering it would take me a week to write it.

If you want long letters all you have got to do is answer mine. You may think it strange that we have cold weather here. We have all kinds of weather. Some days it is quite cold, others it as warm as Summer. To[day] it seems like spring and tonight it will be cold enough to freeze. I have seen ice 2 inches thick. I have seen colder weather here than I ever expected to. Who would have thought that I would ever be in South Carolina? They are not doing much here toward taking Charleston. They fire a gun occasionally to the Rebs. Rebels know that we have not forgotten them. You need not look for the surrender of Charleston this winter. They can’t take it without losing a great many men. I sometimes think this war will end in about six months but I think now that it will last another year. I don’t expect to get home before next January.

Friend Chandler, when I get a writing I don’t know when to stop. I would like to have you follow my example and write good long letters. We feel more contented when we hear from home and know what is a going on at home. They are not doing much here in the way of fighting this winter. I don’t expect that [we] will do much till spring. They can’t never take Charleston from this side. It is the opinion of everybody here that they will have to send an army in the rear of Charleston and cut off their supplies and besiege the city and stave them out. If we had an army in the rear, we could starve them out in less than three months. One thing is certain, they can’t get out this way. We got too strong a force for that. You supposed that we were hunting Rebs. All the hunting or fighting we have ever done is to hunt lice or fleas. I would like to see a soldier that can keep them off in camp. They are so thick that it is not safe to lay down a garment for fear of their carrying it off. We have to hunt them every day or they would eat us up. I change my clothes every week and have them washed, but I can’t keep them off my clothes as long as I tent with men that are covered with them. I don’t tent with Melzar now. We got separated when the regiment came down here. I don’t want you to think from what I written that the men don’t keep clean. As we have inspection every Sunday and they have strict orders to keep clean. If you were to see the boys perform you would not think that they had come down here to fight, but had come to have a good time as they are a having. They don’t seem to care anything for the Rebels. I believe they would fight like tigers if they were called on. They have never refused to go to any place that they were called on yet. When this regiment first came here they were put to work right in front of the Rebel batteries where the shells flew as thick as hail. Melzar could tell you something about it as he was there.

Melzar and I would rather be up there chopping than to be here. You say help is scarce. I wish we were there to work for you. Chopping is hard work, but I had rather work hard than to work for Uncle Sam. He is good pay but I don’t like to work for him. He pays whether we work or not. But I am tired of working for him. I have not done ten days work in six months and he owes me over a hundred dollars. I heard tonight that we were a going to be paid before many days. I hope they will as I want to send some money home.

The President is going to put a million of men in the field. I hope he will for they fooled along long enough and if the people north want this war ended, let them come down now and give us a boost. If they have any feelings for a poor soldier, they would come and help take Richmond and set our men free that are starving to death. I would be willing to start tomorrow with a force large enough to take Richmond. No more this time.

Yours with respect, — Absalom Fort

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