1863: Joseph H. Prime to Lemuel P. Foss

The grave of Capt. Joseph H. Prime
The grave of Capt. Joseph H. Prime

This letter was written by Joseph H. Prime (1841-1911), a native of Dover, Strafford County, New Hampshire. He was the son of Joseph Prime and Mahala Vickery. During the Civil War he served as corporal in Co. F, 13th New Hampshire Infantry (September 1862 to October 1863), and as 1st lieutenant and captain in G and F companies, 7th Regiment Infantry, United States Colored Troops (November 1863 to May 1865). When this letter was written in October 1863, Prime was in Washington D.C. waiting to take his examination as an officer, hoping to receive an appointment as an officer of colored troops.

A collection of papers (Joseph H. Prime Papers, 1858-1881) are housed in the University of Notre Dame’s Rare Books and Specials Collections. The majority of the 126 letters in the collection were written by Prime to his wife, Hannah (Snell) Prime (1841-1920), in Barnstead, Belknap County, New Hampshire. Twenty-four of these letters date from his time with the 13th New Hampshire; 80 date from his subsequent service with the 7th USCT. The latter regiment spent the winter of 1863-64 in camp at Benedict, Maryland, before being shipped south for service around Jacksonville, Florida (March to July 1864); Hilton Head, South Carolina (July 1864); and Jacksonville again (July to August 1864). They were then attached to the all-black 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, X Corps, Army of the James, campaigning around Petersburg. Prime was wounded in the shoulder at Chaffin’s Farm (29 September 1864), and spent most of the next six months in various Virginia hospitals, due to the wound and a subsequent case of rheumatism. On 16 March 1865, Captain Prime was appointed provost marshall of the division (now 2nd Division, XXV Corps), in which capacity he served for the duration of his service. The epistolary accounts of Prime’s war are supplemented by several diaries, with entries of varying length running from the beginning of 1864 to 1866. The collection also includes more than 20 records, mostly relating to Prime’s service in the USCT and to his pension (MSN/CW 1012-1 to MSN/CW 1012-154).

Prime wrote the letter to his Strafford County friend, Lemuel P. Foss who served with him in the 13th New Hampshire. After hearing of Prime’s commission as an officer of colored troops, Lemuel’s brother wrote, “suppose Joe [Joseph H. Prime Co. G, 7th USCT] is in Baltimore with his “niggers”…He will get some better pay than he would if he were in the ranks…I would like to see the “Nigger baiter” (as he choses to call himself in one of his lectures to me) drilling a squad of his “black devils.” Well, I hope he will make a good Lieut. and think he will. [Frank Foss to Lemuel P. Foss, dated 18 November 1863].

A history of the 13th New Hampshire stated that “Joseph H. Prime of [Co.] F is a large man. The largest army shoes to be had are too short for him and on this raid [through Virginia] he has been obliged to go barefoot the most of the march; the result is that his feet are very sore, and on this night march his feet are bleeding, ad his ankles swollen, rendering him unable to proceed. Rising to mach after one halt he is unable to stand, and Lieut. Young, in command of the rear-guard tonight, lifts him by main strength upon his shoulders, carries him to the teams and puts him on one of the wagons. The wagon is crowded, and in order to make room for Prime, Lieut. Young pulls out of the wagon a man — so called — who had no business on the wagon at all, and who wears a Major’s uniform. The lifting of Prime, the tussle with the Major, who was merely tired or lazy, the march, the labor in keeping up stragglers and caring for the rear-guard, and the severe cold taken in the morning’s bivouac at Ayletts while sleeping on the bare ground without cover, brought on a disability from which Lieut. Young has never recovered, and was the cause of his final resignation of the service. Prime declared on this occasion, that as soon as he returned to camp he would apply for promotion to an official position in a regiment of colored troops. This he did, and received a commission as Captain in the 25th U.S. Colored Infantry, Nov. 4, 1863.”

Readers may also be interested in the letters by Charles William Hobbs of Co. I, 13th New Hampshire Infantry.


No. 116 Capitol Street
Washington D.C.
Monday P.M. October 5th 1863

Dear Lem,

Another week in Washington. I went down to No. 439 14th Street this A.M. expecting to be examined and got the same answer as before — that perhaps I should be examined this week and perhaps next week — and be that as it may, I am coming back one week from next Wednesday and you will see me then, if I live and have my health, for I am not going to stay here any longer after that whether I am examined or not for I have got sick and tired of staying  here. I am not half so well contented as I am down there in the company.

CDV of Isabella (
CDV of Isabella (“Belle”) Boyd — a “perfect beauty” according to Joseph Prime of the 13th New Hampshire.

There is nothing going on here except I meet a Provost Guard or see some citizens brought up to the old Capitol Prison to take the Oath of Allegiance for perhaps get an occasional glance at Miss Bella Boyd, the Rebel Female Spy that is confined in Carroll Prison. ¹ By the way, she is a perfect beauty. She holds a commission as a major in the Rebel army and a smarter looking woman I never saw.

By the way, please tell Capt. [Gustavus A.] Forbush the reason why I cannot come home so soon as I expected. I wrote to him the other day and told him probably I should probably be at home day after tomorrow (Wednesday) and as I cannot come till after I am examined, please tell him the cause of the delay. There is about thirty to be examined before I can get an examination so you see I stand a poor chance to get examined this week and if there are any commissioned officers to be examined, they are examined as soon as they come so there may be half a dozen of them come to be examined before me beside the enlisted men that come before me.

Well I should like very well to have some more money and if you will send me some, I will pay you as soon as I can get it from home after I get back. I have not got money more than enough to pay my fare back after paying my board here for what I have staid here already. It cost me seven dollars to get up here — half a dollar from Norfolk to Fort Monroe, five dollars from Fort Monroe to Baltimore, and one dollar and a half from Baltimore to Washington — and I tried to get a pass to come down today and back again next Monday but they would not give it to me because they said they wanted me to stay here. Well I don’t mind to stay here in Washington all winter although it begins to look some like it at present. Well probably you will get this about Wednesday and I shall look for an answer Friday or Saturday whether you send me any money or not.

If you write, direct to No. 116 East Capitol Street, care of John Lenheardt, and it will be brought down here as soon as it comes for the ___ post brings all the letters that have the street and No. on them.

Well, there is no news. Nothing going on here and I am tired of staying here in this city. The 153rd N. Y. Vols. is just going by. They have just got through Battalion Drill and it is now four o’clock so I must finish this and carry it down to the Post Office on the corner of 7th and F Streets.

Give my love to all the boys and remain yours truly, — Joseph H. P.

My compliments to Ed and tell him I should think he might have written before this time to Joe.

I have got plenty of ink. If I had not, I should not have put so much on this envelope. — Joe

¹ Boyd was captured following the Battle of Gettysburg and was sent to the Carroll Prison in Washington D. C. where she remained until her banishment to the South in December 1863. Earlier in the war, when Belle and her mother were insulted by a Union officer who demanded that she remove a Rebel flag from their home in Martinsburg, Virginia, 17 year-old Belle shot and killed the officer.

Belle Boys shooting an officer who insulted her mother in Martinsville, Va.
Belle Boys shooting an officer who insulted her mother in Martinsville, Va.

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