New Year's Day 1863

By David Corbin

On the evening of January 1, 1863 eighteen year old Israel David Damon of the 43rd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Company F entered his tent and warmed his hands over his small wood burning tin stove. By the dim light of a bees wax candle he reached into his haversack and removed a slip of writing paper and a small lead pencil. From inside his tent, Private Damon could hear the murmur of voices with an occasional interjection of laughter as his fellow comrades sat around campfires, sharing stories and Christmas gifts from home. Further distant he could hear the strains of fife and voices in song. The smell of wood smoke and tobacco wafted in from the chilly night as the young soldier sat down at a makeshift desk of discarded cracker boxes.

The 43rd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was formed in Boston during the summer of 1862. Company F was made up of men and boys who enlisted from such towns as Scituate, South Scituate, Cohasset, Hingham, Marshfield, Duxbury, Hanover, Kingston, Weymouth, and Old Abington. Those that enlisted did so for a nine month term.

The 43rd Massachusetts arrived in New Bern, North Carolina in September of 1862. The city of New Bern had fallen to Union forces commanded by Major General Ambrose Burnside on March 14, 1862. Following its capture, the city was garrisoned by Union troops. To guard against Confederate guerilla attacks, additional Union forces were encamped outside the city along the Neuse River. When the 43rd arrived they marched outside the city to what would be their home for the next nine months, Camp Rogers. It was here at Camp Rogers that Private Damon wrote the following letter that long ago New Year's evening.

Throughout the letter we can sense young Damon's homesickness as he inquires about family and the weather back home in Scituate. Concerns over money, food packages, and letters sent from home are typical of military men throughout history. Also interesting is his mentioning of the serious wounding of his older cousin William R. Damon at the Battle of Fredericksburg only weeks earlier. The letter also mentions the health of fellow soldier and Scituate neighbor Warren Sherman who enlisted with Damon in the 43rd Massachusetts the previous summer. In his conclusion he mentions Company F Commander Captain Charles Soule of Scituate who, in 1887, would become Commander of the George W. Perry Post 31 Grand Army of the Republic at our Grand Army Hall. Now let's go back to a New Year's evening 1863. 

Dear Mother I wish you a happy new year and all the folks around there. I received your letter yesterday of the 23rd and was glad to hear from you and to know you and all the folks were well. I was glad to get that money for I have been rather short of money but it is Pay Day today so we shall soon have money again.

The St. Louis has not arrived yet. We have heard that she lost her sails and had to put into New York to get new ones. I guess the pies will not be good for much but the butter and cheese will be good and that is what we most need and it takes a good deal of money to get it out here. Butter is 40 cents a pound and cheese 25 cents.

I have not seen any snow since I left Boston. It has frozen a few times but not very thick. I suppose it is pretty cold up there. Have you had much sleighing there this winter? They say you have had two days of as cold weather as has been known there for some time.

I suppose they had a pretty hard battle at Fredericksburg. I suppose you have heard by this time how bad William was wounded.

Have they drafted in Scituate this time or did they buy some more men from other towns? Does Augusta go to school now or is it too cold weather? I wrote a little letter to her last time I wrote. I suppose you have got it by this time. Tell Augusta to write when you do because I like to have a letter from my little sister once in a while. They say they are going to start another expedition from here soon toward Wilmington, but as they have sent three or four companies of our regiment on picket I don't think we shall have to go. They are going to send one company to Beaufort but I don't know which one will go.

They are gong to bring 20 or 30 thousand more troops here so when they start again they will have a pretty large force. If they go to Wilmington they will go in transports and it won't be so hard as it was marching to Goldsboro. I suppose it will be some time before they have another battle on the Potomac.

I shall send home 20 dollars by Adams Express. I suppose it will go to the Town Treasurer first, then he will bring it to you. I can't spend those 24 cent postage stamps out here so I will send them back as I suppose you can spend them around home. We are all well here but Warren, he is rather slim but I think he is getting better. I can't think of anything more to write now so I must bid you goodnight, from your affectionate son Davis

PS I have let Capt. Soule have what money we are going to send home and he is going to put it in a package and send it by Adams Express to his wife and she will pay it to you when she gets it. I sent 20 dollars and have Capt. Soule's receipt for it so I think you will get it straight enough. From your affectionate son. D. Damon