Though this letter is signed only by the initials “B. F. M.”, I’m convinced it was written by Benjamin Franklin Mead (1829-1899), the son of Benjamin Vinton Mead (1801-1877) and Rachel Sampson) of Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Benjamin was 31 years old, unmarried, and working as a caulker in East Boston when he enlisted in May 1861 as a corporal in Co. C, 1st Massachusetts Volunteers. After three years of service, Benjamin proudly claimed that he had been “in seventeen battles and with with no injury.”
Benjamin probably wrote the letter to Lucy Jane Mead (b. 1827), his unmarried and only surviving sister at the time the letter was written, although it’s possible that he wrote it to Mary Baxter (Chubbuck) Mead, his sister-in-law and the wife of his older brother, Peter Bicknell Mead (1825-1881). The David T. Chubbuck mentioned in Benjamin’s letter was Mary’s brother.
The 1st Massachusetts Regiment initially saw service as part of Joe Hooker’s Brigade, performing duties on the Potomac river above Washington D. C. and building Fort Lincoln. They moved to Budd’s Ferry were they remained until McClellan launched his Peninsula Campaign at which time Hooker was promoted to Division Commander in the 3rd Corps and Cuvier Grover was assigned to take his place. The regiment saw a little action at Yorktown on April 6th and suffered heavily in the fight at Williamsburg on May 5th and at Fair Oaks on June 25th. They would go on to participate heavily in the Seven Days Battles and fight with Gen. Pope’s army at Second Manassas in the weeks to come.
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent. The header image is a Union encampment near Fair Oaks in 1862.]
Camp near Fair Oaks, Va.
June 12, 1862
I received your letter of the first & was very glad to hear from you. We are here before Richmond about six miles from it. When we shall see it, I don’t know. I think there will be a hard fight before it falls but it must come down for Little Mac is bound to win.
The weather is very changeable out here. First rain & then sunshine & it is sure to rain when we have anything to do & so we have a plenty of wet.
There is a great many of the men sick in our regiment but not dangerous—only played out with fatigue. I myself have not been very well but I am better now. You ask me to send some flowers in a letter. They are scarce out here. There are a few around somewhere but I can’t find them. But if a small pine tree will do, I can get one very easy for there is plenty all around me.
As I write, the place where I am sitting is the scene of the Battle of Fair Oaks. It was a hard fight. If it was not for the fallen timber, I suppose I could count a hundred graves of the Rebels that our men have buried.
Jackey is sick down at the White House [on the Pamunky River] about twelve miles from here. I think that he will come home. Capt. [George H.] Smith [of Co. B] is trying to get him a furlough & I think he will. Don’t tell his mother that he is sick for it will fret her to death. I think that he is more homesick than anything else.
I suppose that you know that we have a new Brigadier General. His name is Grover. ¹ He is a Maine man, I believe. Perhaps Mr. Bills knows him. Our first lieut. [William Henry Lawrence] ² that was is his Asst. Adj. General. He ranks as Capt. so he has got up a peg & he deserves it for he is a smart fellow.
David Chubbuck ³ is a little ways from us but I have not had a chance to see him but hope that I shall. But I am getting short of news. You must enjoy yourself as well as possible & hope for a speedy peace.
Tell Mother that I was very glad to hear from her & hope I shall often. You must not get anxious about me if you do not hear from me very often for it is not out here as it is at home. But you must write if I do not. But I will try to let you know where I am as often as I can.
And now you must take good care of Mother & Father & yourself & remember me your ever loving brother, — B. F. M.
P. S. Remember me to all my friends & give my love to all the folks & kiss all the little ones for me. Much love to Mother & Father. We have been paid & you will get money soon.
¹ Cuvier Grover (1828-1885) was born in Bethel, Maine. He graduated from the US Military Academy in 1850 and was stationed in the western frontier until the Civil War when he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers. Prior to the Seven Days Battles, Grover was appointed commander of the 1st Brigade of Joseph Hooker’s Second Division in Samuel Heintzelman’s 3rd Corps. Grover’s brigade consisted of the 1st, 11th, and 16th Massachusetts, the 2nd New Hampshire, and the 26th Pennsylvania.
² William Henry Lawrence, the son of Henry and Martha Lawrence, was a 26-year-old Clerk from East Boston, MA when he was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of the 1st Massachusetts Infantry on May 23, 1861. In November 1862 he was promoted to the rank of Major and assigned as an Aide-de-Camp with the U.S. Volunteers. On March 12, 1866 he was breveted in quick succession as a Lt. Colonel, Colonel, and Brigadier General for distinguished service at Lookout Mountain Tennessee, to date from March 13, 1865. He was mustered out of military service on July 10, 1866.
³ David Thomas Chubbuck (1832-1866) enlisted as a private in Co. K, of the 19th Massachusetts Infantry. He rose in rank to 1st Lieutenant of Co. D and was often in command of the company in the captain’s absence. He was wounded and taken prisoner at the Battle of Gettysburg. He survived the war but died in 1866. He was from Quincy, Norfolk county, Massachusetts.