This letter was written by Capt. Herschel Wright Pierce (1818-1891) of Co. A, 76th New York Volunteers. Herschel [or Hershel] was the son of Samuel A. Pierce (1790-1864) and Sally Maria Wright (1794-1833) of Dundee, Yates county, New. York. He was married to Mariet Pierce (1825-1893) and wrote the letter to his brother, Levi S. Pierce (1820-1898).
Pierce was working as an architect/builder and as the supervisor of the town when he answered his country’s call by raising a company and enlisting in the 76th New York Volunteers. He quickly rose in rank and by 20 December 1862, he was Captain of Co. A.
In this letter written on a frosty morning in early December 1862 from Aquia Landing, Virginia, Capt. Pierce informed his brother that he had rejoined his regiment after having been detached for nearly three and a half months on recruiting duty, causing him to miss the severe contest at South Mountain. He found the regiment ready to march on Fredericksburg where he predicted there would be a fight unless the Rebels retreated. He was correct in his prediction but the 76th would play only a minor role in the battle. Things would be much different a few months later at Gettysburg where Doubleday’s “fighting brigade” would demonstrate incredible bravery on McPherson’s Ridge in the first day’s fight. Pierce along with several other officers were cited “for distinguished bravery and coolness on the field” on that occasion.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent.]
Camp of the 76th New York Vols.
Aquia Creek, [Virginia]
December 8th 1862
I promised to write you and let you know my address. You will Lieut. H. W. Pierce, Co. A, 76th N. Y. Vols., Washington D. C. I came on to Washington on the day that I sent my money from New York City to you by Express.
Nothing unusual occurred. I reached Washington the next morning but I found that I could not obtain permission to visit my family in Virginia. I accordingly came on to this place and found the regiment a little sooner than I expected to. I supposed that they were at Brooks Station on the road to Fredericksburg about 5 miles from the place where we are now stationed.
I write to let you know that I am well and give you my address. I should like to have you write soon as I am anxious to know whether the money that I sent you has come to hand. I have had a letter from [my wife] Mariette since I came here which was sent to Cortland and remailed reaching me on the 5th inst. It was written on the 23rd of November. The folks were all well and Ralph had been to Gum Springs and purchased some sheep but had not got them home. They had killed hogs and had some 1200 lbs. of pork fatted on hops and in the woods. They fed no corn this fall to their pork.
Anyone wishing to address me will do it according to the directions given you. I have nothing new to write except that it is intensely cold here with about 2 inches snow on the ground and as we have no stoves, it is extremely uncomfortable in the tents. We build a fire in front of our tents and enjoy it afterwards as well as we can. My fingers are now almost stiff with the cold and I have to write on my knee which accounts in a great measure for these uncouth characters and cold as it is, I must write today as we march again tomorrow.
All manor of rumors are afloat and Heavy Rifled Siege Pieces are passing this point for the front at or near Fredericksburg. I suppose we shall be thrown to the front in Doubleday’s Division as it is well known that this brigade is a Fighting Brigade. Whether we shall fight at, or along the Rappahannock depends on the Rebs themselves. If they stand, there must be a fight. If they retreat, we shall follow them up.
I would like to have the folks at home write often and not wait for a letter from me. You can imagine how it would seem for you to take your writing material outdoors in the winter and sit down on a box or on the ground and commence and finish a letter. You would want to write very bad in order to do it. But this is exactly our case here. All the writing that we do is done in the cold and there is no help for it. I want Father and Eli to write as often as they can and I will write as opportunity presents itself. I must write to Mariette at least once a week and his may be all that I can find time and inclination to do.
Ben Carpenter is here. He has been in all the battles that the regiment has been engaged in except South Mountain. He was a little unwell and supposing there would be no fight that afternoon, he lagged behind but came up at the close. He assisted in burying the dead and he and [Lyman] Culver buried Charles E. Stamp. Ed Haviland is here and quite well. He thinks he shall outlive all of Capt. Powell’s company.
I have not time to write more and it is too cold to do so if I had time. Truly your brother, — H. W. Pierce
[to] L. S. Pierce