These letters were written by Henry Fieldsend (1836-1862)—a shear maker from England—who enlisted on 15 September 1861 in Co. I, 5th Connecticut Infantry. He received a severe wound in the thigh at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on 9 August 1862 and died on 18 August after having had his leg amputated. Though Henry had only become a naturalized citizen of the United States on 28 September 1860, less than two years later he would lay down his life fighting for the Stars & Stripes. Sadly, the regimental history compiled by Edwin E. Marvin miss-spelled his name. He was identified on the company roster and as one of the mortally wounded in the fight at Cedar Mountain as “Henry Frieldson.”
In 1872, ten years after Henry’s death, his sister Harriet Jenkinsen (1823-1888) of West Cornwall, Litchfield county, Connecticut, applied for a pension claiming that she was Henry’s brother and that she had been dependent upon him for her support—she being crippled in both legs and one of her arms. At the time of the 1870 US Census, she was residing in the household of English emigrant Joseph Wallinson and his family of West Cornwall. Wallinson was a shear-maker and most likely the master craftsman who was teaching Henry the trade. Harriet’s genealogical records indicate that she was the daughter of William Fieldsend (and wife “Jane”) of Wath Upon Dearne, York, England.
Readers are referred to John Banks’ Civil War Blog entry of Monday, August 8, 2016, entitled, “Wounded at Cedar Mountain, officer ‘sleeps on the enemy’s soil'”
Transcription Letter One
Camp near Harrisonburg, [Virginia]
April 23rd 1862
Dear Friend Mary Ann,
I expect you will begin to feel uneasy as to our whereabouts. Well this day week we had orders to cook one day’s rations and be ready to march at a moment’s notice so on Thursday morning the 17th we was called out about 3 o’clock and started on our march about 5. We was in the rear until we reached Mount Jackson where we expected a battle but no; they was going to make a stand about 3 miles from there as they was planting some cannon on a hill [Rude’s Hill]. So Gen. Williams’ Brigade took the lead but as usual they took good care to leave again though we walked across a large plain of plowed land & swamps with a large hill in front of us where we expected every minute to see them open onto us. But we reached it without seeing a man. Then we had a good view for a long ways in advance but they had gone out of sight so we kept on marching till we reached a place called New Market and as darkness had set in, we halted for the night, building some fires, making the best of it we could, and though we was in the open air and close to the enemy, I never slept better in my life than I did that night. But no wonder, for the day was a hot one and we made a long march. We went some 21 miles so you can judge we was pretty well tired.
Friday morning when we woke up, we could see Ashby’s Cavalry in the woods a little ways from our camp but of course we had pickets stationed all night between them and our regiment so they dare not come any farther down. About 8 o’clock we started after them again, taking up by the woods with two pieces of artillery with us and a few shells soon started them in the run again. The day was hot indeed but we felt it more with being on the hills and having to keep up with the cannon though we made but a short march—only four miles. But to pay for it, Co. I was detailed for picket so we had to be up all night. But thought the picket was near ear other, they did not trouble us at all so the night passed comfortably away. I was on the farthest post so I had 3 more men with me.
Saturday morning [19 April], 5 of the cavalry came in sight of us and fired a small bridge but they was too far off for us to prevent but it was not of much consequence anyhow. But I must tell you the first day we marched we knew we should come to a very large bridge which we expected they would have burnt. But our cavalry—the 1st Vermont—rushed right along and got there just as they had got it started in time to kill two of them and capture one lieutenant besides putting out the fire. If they had succeeded in burning this, they would have had a great advantage of us for they could have planted their batteries and give us Jesse with shell besides hindering us two or three weeks in building a new one. But thank God, they was disappointed for once though they succeed pretty well in this business so far. You would not believe [it] unless you could see the ruins.
After being relieved from picket on Saturday morning, we had the remainder of the day to rest. Also on Sunday and I was thankful for it as both days was very wet indeed.
Monday morning [April 21st], our regiment was called out to support some cavalry that had got as far as a place called Big Springs [Lacey’s Springs] but after marching about two miles through the mud, we was sent back to camp supposing they would not want us but in the afternoon about two o’clock, they sent for us again so we had to start and it poured down with rain. And after marching to the Springs about 6 miles, we was all pretty well soaked through. At night some of the boys was quartered in a large barn but three companies—I, G, [&] D was in a large grist mill where we thought we could rest very well for the night. But about 12 o’clock there was a call for Co. I & B to turn out. The cavalry pickets got a little scared. They thought they could see a rebel camp about two miles out so they thought it would be a good time to go and try to capture them and we was willing to try it. But pshaw! when we got there, there was not anything. Then you had better believe we was mad. To think we had to leave our rest for nothing. But we went back and rested till about nine. Then we had to start again and reached this place driving a few of them. I say a few for I don’t think there is a great many left. I reckon Old Jackson is on his way to Richmond as fas as he can go but left enough back to trouble us. It must be so or else he would have made a stand before now.
We are only 28 miles from Staunton. This is a place we understand the Yankees could never come into but I reckon we shall be in before Saturday night, if please God. The other regiments catched up with us last night. We expected a little brush yesterday afternoon as they they was some drawn up in line of battle but they left again. A company of cavalry dashed into the town swinging their sabres and yelling but they met with no resistance at all. They captured a few prisoners but this occurs every day.
This is the fourth letter I have commenced to write since we left our camp near Edinburg and I have had to stop every time. Today I am on guard over some ammunition so I cannot write all I wish but I will write again in a few days if God spared me. Remember me to all. Ever your friend and well wisher, — Henry Fieldsend.
Robert & James are both well.
Transcription Letter Two
Sunday eve, April 27, 1862
Dear friend Mary Ann,
I wrote you a letter last Wednesday after making several attempts before that which I hope you have received for I gave you a description of our proceedings from Woodstock and I know if you get it, you will excuse me for not writing before. I did but I tried my best several times and when I got about a page wrote, it would be, “Come boys, fall in quick!” I have felt mad enough to throw both pen and paper away but then it would do no good for me. Have got to take it as it comes and I can tell you it comes pretty rough and I thought so when I could not finish a letter home. But we don’t know the moment we are to be called out night or day.
Yesterday afternoon I worked hard fixing up tents in good shape thinking we would have a good night’s rest. Then at night, we had to pull them down and sleep out again. But after all, we don’t mind it half as much as you would think we should for we don’t care much about the tents anyway for it don’t take us long to fix up a house with rails. Last Friday night, Robert [Cochran], Arthur Gregory and I fixed the nicest little place you ever see and built a good fire at front of it and made ourselves some good coffee. And after we had got it boiled ready for drinking, I says, “Robert, do you know what I am wishing?” He says, “No, why?” Says I, “I wish the old woman could see us now. I wonder what she would think?” I guess we talked two hours about you and talked myself to sleep. And then I dreamed about you all night long. I was at home and what talking we did have. I never felt so happy in my life. And when I woke up, I felt lost and looked round in all directions. I could not convince myself.
It is now roll call so I have to stop without finishing for I shall have a chance to post in the morning. Excuse looks for I have wrote it at two-forty. May God ever bless you, hoping the war will soon be over. Ever your true friend and well wisher, — Henry
P. S. Write soon. I will write you a letter on the first chance & don’t forget Ellen & Mattie. Good night & God bless you.
for Mary Ann
Monday morning in haste. I am on guard again today. Don’t let anyone see this. I am ashamed to send it, it looks so. God bless you all.
Transcription Letter Three
April 30th 1862
I received yours of the 10th yesterday and take the first opportunity to answer it though I have nothing of interest to write about. I posted a short note to your Mother last Sunday after finishing our march and we have been kept pretty still since—that is, as regards marching. And I think two or three days rest from the roads will do us good and I think we all look & feel better for it. Everything keeps quiet with the exception of scouting and picketing and as a matter of course, we must attend to that or else they might come some night and surprise us with a little visit though I don’t think that Jackson will ever fight while there is any chance for his to retreat.
But I tell you, there is some strong secesh up in this Valley. I cannot find a good Union man amongst them all for only talk a little while to them and it is easy to tell where their hearts are. But then I reckon they have all got friends along with Jackson for he pressed everything into the service that was of any use—both of man & beast, wagons too. An old man told me yesterday that they took his boys, wagons, and horses right along and I can believe him. And for all this I know he would like the rebels to succeed though he did not say so plain out but he said he would give one third of his property to have it settled. I told him it would not be long before it was settled for we had got them so we could soon give them all they had called for. I asked him what made Jackson burn all the bridges up after he crossed. He reckoned to detard our progress. But I cannot tell all the talk for I was talking as much as two hours. He acknowledged that Jackson went through here pretty quick for the Yankees was after him.
Yesterday there was thirty-four guns fired out here for the taking of New Orleans. There was quite a time in the town. The rebels took all the church bells out to melt over for cannon. The old man thought that was wrong to do it and I should think it was too. The first time they fire them, they ought to burst and kill Old Jeff.
Today we have had muster roll and a strict inspection of equipments. I hope we shall not have to commence the month by marching for if we do, I expect we shall have to keep it up but tomorrow will tell. I hope we shall get back by July as near as it is. How time passes away. It will soon be eight months since I left West Cornwall but I hope it will not be 8 more before I get back. Tell my sister I will write to her in a day or two. Robert and all of us are well, thank God for it. Ever your friend, — Henry Fieldsend
[In a different hand, docketed in margin]
I got this the day we got the news about William be taking prisoner
Transcription Letter Four
May 14th 1862
Respected friend M. A.,
Last Saturday I received a letter from you dated 4th and I wrote one to you the same date telling you about the little skirmish we had on the Peaked Mountain. I also posted one on the 7th from New Market. I must tell you that last Friday 3 regiments were ordered to cross the mountain [through Swift’s Gap] and go into the other valley [Luray Valley] as we expected a fight but to our agreeable surprise, we lay there from Friday night till Saturday without any trouble when we returned back to New Market, reaching our old camp about 11 P.M. I forgot he name of the valley but it is betwixt the Shenandoah Mountain and the Blue Ridge. The distance we travelled was eleven miles and of all the roads ever I see for crooks & turns up and down, it beat all. But Rob wrote a letter from there so I shall not say any more about it.
Last Monday [May 12th] morning, we left New Market and marched back to our old camp ground at Woodstock. We started at 4 o’clock; distance 18 miles. Rested all night and started again early Tuesday morning, coming near Strasburg where we now are. I reckon the valley is free from Union soldiers for I think that Shields and his men have all crossed the mountain and what we have fell back here for is more than I can tell. But I know it has been rather tough marching what from the heat and dust. I never see the like. We could scarcely see each other, we carried so much of the sacred soil on our faces & coats. But there is plenty of soap and water round here and after having a good wash and sitting under a good shade, we soon get rested for the evenings are pleasant and the meadows and grain fields look splendid and the fruit trees denotes a good bearing. I see the currant trees is full of berries or rather the flowers which will be berries in a few weeks. I hope we shall not be called out of here for a few days for a little rest would do us good as we have not had much of late.
I must tell you that the mountains opposite New Market was on fire all the time we was there and I suppose it is now. I see by the papers that it could be seen for 30 miles and I think I never beheld a more beautiful sight than it was in the night time. But we had to come through one place in the woods when we was crossing back Saturday night that was pretty warm. But the boys enjoyed it first rate, yelling all the way and singing Old Jeff songs. I reckon Shields’ men wondered what was to pay fo they was all turned out of their tents when we passed the camp grounds and it was a beautiful night—moonlight and the bands playing—so the march did not feel so sad after considering the roads.
I hear that Shields has got across the mountain, found Old Jackson, and cut him up pretty bad, driving him into the mountain. I hope it is true though I have not heard particulars but I know that if Shields found where he was, Jackson would either have to fight or run and he would want to have a larger force than what Shields has to whip him for I can tell you that Gen. Shields is a rough-looking man but an able general and one that goes in for fighting. I suppose you know that he is an Irishman. If our generals were all as ambitious as he is, the war would soon be over for there is no back out to him. He would fight till he had a man left before he would flinch. But I think this war must soon be over.
The report is that Col. Ashby is a prisoner. I hope this is true for I would rather him captured than a dozen Jacksons. A prisoner from Jackson tells us that in the skirmish on the mountain, they had 10 men killed and three badly wounded. That is doing pretty well. I don’t think we shall see Bill anymore till the war is over. I expect that his old Mother will feel bad. It is better than if he had got killed.
You must excuse looks for my pen is bad. I should have wrote before this but I have not had time. It is just a week today since I posted one to you. Remember me to all. Tell your Mother I will write to her in a few days is all is well. We are having a nice shower. If it was not for that, I should send you a few flowers to look at for there is some pretty ones round here. Believe me ever your friend and well wisher, — Henry Fieldsend