These three Civil War letters were written by Cpl. Columbus Huntly (1824-1864) of the 92nd New York Infantry — also variously known as the “Second St. Lawrence County Regiment,” the “New York Excelsior Rifle Legion,” the “Excelsior Rifle Blues,” and the “Potsdam Regiment.” The regiment was organized at Potsdam, New York, and mustered in January 1862. They then left the state for Washington, D.C., on 5 March 1862 and participated in many battles such as the Battle of Williamsburg, the Battle of Fort Anderson, the Battle of Fair Oaks, the Battle of Cold Harbor, and the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm.
All three letters were written from Fort Anderson near New Bern, North Carolina, to his wife Elenor Huntly. The three envelopes that accompany the letters do not match the dates of the letters suggesting that they came from a much larger collection of Huntly letters and, indeed, there are thirteen letters housed in the St. Lawrence University written by Huntly during the same timeframe as these three letters. The university’s letters were purchased from Charles Appfelbaum in April, 2003.
Columbus Huntly [surname sometimes spelled Huntley] was the son of Rev. Joseph Warren Huntley (1800-1882) and Deborah Bullis (1801-1870). Columbus was married to Eleanor Watson (1833-1881) in December 1849 and together they had at least seven children: Charles Henry (1850), John Myron (1852), Vilona (1854), Julian Burton (1857), George Warren (1858), and Lewis (1859) and Ellen (1861). In the 1850 Census, Columbus and his wife were enumerated in East Pierrepont, St. Lawrence Co., New York, where Columbus earned a living by farming.
Columbus was 32 years old when he enlisted in November 1861 at Potsdam, New York. He mustered into Company F (later transferred to Co. H), 92nd New York Infantry, served two years, and then re-enlisted in December 1863. He was promoted to a sergeant in June 1864 but then was killed instantly in action on 29 September 1864 at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, (New Market Heights Campaign) Virginia. He was among the men of the 92nd New York who joined in the assault on the Confederate stronghold Fort Harrison, “marching across 1,400 yards of open killing ground, the land having been cleared of any trees in order to provide the defenders an unobstructed field of fire.” [Source: Fort Harrison & the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm by Douglas Crenshaw.]
He was buried on the battlefield.
Columbus had a much younger brother, Warren Huntley (1848-1864) who also served in the 92nd New York Infantry. He was among the new recruits — possibly a conscript — who were mustered into the regiment in September 1864, and were taken to Washington D. C. to await transport to North Carolina. Tragically, while in Washington, he was killed by the accidental discharge of a pistol in the hands of one of his comrades on 15 September 1864. His remains were sent home to Pierrepont for burial.
A synopsis of the St. Lawrence University letters in the Columbus Huntly correspondence (Mss Coll. 138) follows:
1 March 1863: New Berne, NC. Letter to Mr. Abner Owen from Columbus Huntly. This letter discusses camp life in North Carolina and the payments that he has sent home to Potsdam.
19 April 1863: Fort Anderson, New Berne, NC. Letter to Elenor Huntly from Columbus Huntly. Discusses camp life and home life with his wife.
20 April 1863: New Berne, NC. Letter to Mr. Abner Owen from Columbus Huntly. Writes about the two months of back pay that he will be sending express to his wife. He says that he thinks the war will be over soon, based on what the rebel prisoners are saying.
13 December 1863: New Berne, NC. Letter to Elenor Huntly from Columbus Huntly. Discusses his financial earnings and that he has decided to enlist again in the army to get the state bounty.
28 January 1864: Fort Anderson, New Berne, NC. Letter to Elenor Huntly from Columbus Huntly. Discusses the money he will receive because he reenlisted that he will now send to his wife and how many rebels are disserting in the area surrounding Fort Anderson, NC.
13 February 1864: New Berne, NC. Letter to Elenor Huntly from Columbus Huntly. This letter discusses the fact that Columbus will not be coming home before the middle of March because the draft was pushed back. The letter also talks about financial situations at home and about how many soldiers are engaging in immoral acts, but Columbus is not.
11 March 1864: New Berne, NC. Letter to Elenor Huntly from Columbus Huntly. This letter discusses the fact that there are no rebels around the fort at the time, even though they were still expecting a fight. Columbus thinks that he will be coming home in two weeks if everything remains quiet.
14 March 1864: New Berne, NC. Letter to Elenor Huntly from Columbus Huntly. Discusses the fact that the rebels had of yet not attacked the fort. Columbus says that he will not be able to come home for another 2 or 3 weeks.
2 April 1864: New Berne, NC. Letter to Elenor Huntly from Columbus Huntly. Discusses how Columbus will not be home until at least May. The letter also talks about Elenor buying a house so that they do not have to move west after the war.
4 April 1864: New Berne, NC. Letter to Elenor Huntly from Columbus Huntly. Discusses how Columbus will not leave the army until he receives his final payments. He still hopes to be home by May.
10 April 1864: New Berne, NC. Letter to Elenor Huntly from Columbus Huntly. Discusses how Columbus wants Mr. Abner Owen to collect his town bounty for him, and that he will be home in May. He also discusses how camp life is quiet now and that they get plenty to eat, although he says food is expensive.
18 June 1864: Bermuda Hundred, VA Letter to Mr. Abner Owen from Columbus Huntly. Discusses a battle that took place at Cold Harbor near Richmond, VA. They won the battle but lost 14 men and 79 were wounded. He also talks about how his unit is about to attack a city that is heavily armed with rebels.
3 July 1864: Petersburg, VA. Letter to Elenor Huntly from Columbus Huntly. Describes how he will not be able to leave for home until the 12th or 13th of July. He says that he will be spending a night in Albany during his trip home. In this letter he says that he will not write again until he is on his way home.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Fort Anderson near New Bern [North Carolina]
March the 27th 1863
My Dear Wife,
I received your kind letter today and was glad to hear that you’re getting better & was glad to hear that our children are all well. I am as tough as a knot & as hearty as a buck.
Ruben and Henry is well. ¹ I want you to write as often as you can & I will do the same. I want to hear from you as often as I can. I have enough to eat & I hope you do too.
Tell Uncle Preston to write me a letter. Tell Miss Booth to write a letter to Annapolis, Maryland, and I think Alford ² will get it.
I wish the war was over for I want to see you & the children very much. I don’t believe the war can last much longer for the rebels will starve out before long.
Write and tell me if I have sent money enough to pay your way in the world. I expect to get some more before long. I am glad that Mr. [Abner] Owen ³ is so good to help my family. He won’t lose anything by it.
I don’t think of anything more to write so goodbye. This from your husband, — Columbus Huntly
¹ Ruben and Henry Baker were members of the same company as Columbus Huntly. Ruben was 40 years old when he enlisted in February 1862. He was wounded in action at Cold Harbor on 1 June 1864 and discharged for disability in September 1864. Henry enlisted at age 18 in February 1862 and later transferred to Co. G, 96th New York Infantry.
² This may have been Alford Woods who was a member of Co B, 92nd New York Infantry. It is possible Alford was in a hospital at Annapolis, Maryland.
³ Abner Owen (b. 1806) and his wife Betsey (b. 1810), natives of Vermont, lived near the Huntly family in Pierrepont. Abner’s son, Abner J. Owen, Jr. (b. 1839) lived in the vicinity as well with his wife Marabeth.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
New Bern [North Carolina]
August 1st 1863
I take this opportunity to let you know that I am well & enjoying good health & I hope this will find you & the children well. I don’t know when I can come home. General [John Gray] Foster is on the p___aly now so we can’t get a furlough signed. ¹ We hain’t got our pay yet. We expect it soon.
We are a having good times here now days. The weather is cool & wet. I am drilling now days on our cannon. The gun that I work on weighs 1,256 pounds. We have got 5 heavy seige guns on our post. Then thousand rebs could not take us now. We expect to stay here till our times are out.
We have got 285 men here. Our regiment is a going to be filled up with conscripts.
I want you to write to me as soon as you get this. Tell Mr. [Abner] Owen to write to me. No more at present.
This from your husband & friend, — Columbus Huntly
to Elenor Huntly
¹ I can’t decipher the missing word in this sentence. At the time, Major-General Foster had just returned from leading an expedition to Winston, North Carolina, where they took possession of the bridge over the creek on the road to Weldon. He may have been at Fort Monroe on the “peninsula” which may be the missing word.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
New Bern, North Carolina
April 16th 1864
I take this opportunity to let you know that I am well & I hope this may find you the same. I wrote to you one week ago & I wrote to have you send me my discharge [papers] & if you did not get that letter, I want you to send my discharge as soon as you get this for I shall come home as soon as I get it. I have got to have my discharge to get my state bounty at Albany.
Write as soon as you get this. All the folks are well here. Everything is quiet here. The mail is ready to go now so I must close for this time.
This from your best friend, — Columbus Huntly
to Elenor Huntly