1861: Charles J. Greene to Sister

pp2094This letter was written by Charles J. Greene (b. 1835), the son of Nathan and Roxanna Greene of Killingly, Connecticut. [Surname spelled variously as Green or Greene]. He wrote the letter to one of his four sisters with whom it appears he corresponded regularly.

Charles enlisted in August 1861 as First Sergeant of Company I, 7th Connecticut Volunteers. The regiment participated in the capture of Forts Beauregard and Walker in Port Royal Harbor in November 1861 and then were stationed at Hilton Head, South Carolina. On December 18, 1861, they moved to Tybee Island where they were put to work building batteries for the reduction of Fort Pulaski until April 10, 1862 (Cos. “B,” “G” and “I” on Dafuskie Island March 20 to April 11).

The letter is only signed “Charles” and was written to his “Dear Sister” who is not otherwise identified, but regiment movements and the author mentioning that his captain had resigned, compelling him to perform duties normally assigned to a lieutenant, provided sufficient clues for me to identify the author. Company I’s captain, Charles Burton of Killingly, resigned on 18 November 1861. He was not replaced until March 1862, the same time that Charles Greene was promoted from First Sergeant to 2d. Lieutenant. Charles was later (July 1863) promoted to 1st Lieutenant of Company F.

Charle’s impression of Tybee Island was like that of most soldiers who were encamped there — a “desolate, God-forsaken place, inhabited by raccoons, opossums, and fleas — the latter are by far the most numerous and bite like thunder.”


Tybee Island, Georgia
December 25, 1861

Dear Sister,

Yours of the 10th was duly received and I assure you that my letters cannot be more welcome to you than yours are to me. I should write home much oftener than I do were it not that my time is so much taken up with my business. Since our captain resigned, much of the business of the company has fallen upon me which leaves me but very little leisure. I have a good deal of writing to do for the company and a part of the time act as Lieutenant. You will probably see by the heading of this letter that I have left Hilton Head. I don’t know whether we shall go back there or not. Our regiment was ordered here to finish fortifying Tybee Island. What will be the next move, I have no means of knowing.

I suppose you would like to know what kind of a place this is. Well it is what I call a desolate, God-forsaken place, inhabited by raccoons, opossums, and fleas — the latter are by far the most numerous and bite like thunder. We are about twenty miles from Hilton Head. Our camp is two miles from Fort Pulaski but the nearest point of the island is not more than five hundred yards from that stronghold of the Rebels. For the first few days after we came here, the shot and shells from their battery were whistling over our heads continually. One day a large shell burst within a few feet of us while we were at work on the beach, but they seem to be more quiet for a day or two passed. I am in hopes we shall be permitted to pay them a visit before long, and then move on and take possession of Savannah which is only twenty miles distant. But of course we must wait for orders from the powers that be.

I don’t know how it will be about those contrabands. I have seen some fine specimens. One — a little girl about ten years old — wanted to go with me very much to the “Norf where de Yankee lib, and be massa’s little fisowte [?]” but as I could not take her along, I cut off a lock of her hair which you will find enclosed. She was a cute little creature — her face as black as her hair and she cried lustily because her Mother told her she could not go. I hope the gift will be acceptable until such time as I can fill the rest of your order.

My health continues good. I have gained ten pounds of flesh since I left home. Our living, while in Hilton Head, was better than it was before we went there. We got considerable fresh beef and sweet potatoes, and bought some sugar for which I paid 20¢ per pound, some butter at 75¢ per pound and cheese at 50¢, but now we have to come down again to salt pork, hard bread, and very poor coffee. In addition to this, our cook makes some flitters occasionally. I suppose you would like to know what the latter article is. Well, it is simply flap jacks made of flour, water and salt, and fried in pork grease, and I can tell you they are not bad.

Give my love to all the folks and tell them to remember me when they sit down to dinner on New Years Day. A Happy New Year to you all.

From your affectionate brother, — Charles

Map of Fort Pulaska in Savannah River and Tybee Island Batteries
Map of Fort Pulaska in Savannah River and Tybee Island Batteries
Harper's Magazine Illustrations
Harper’s Magazine Illustrations

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