1862: John Thomas Dunn to Jeremiah Duggan

This letter was written by John T. Dunn who I believe was the same John Thomas Dunn (1838-1907) who served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dunn was born in Tipperary, Ireland; immigrated to the United States with his father, who settled in New Jersey in 1845; completed elementary studies at home; engaged in business in 1862; kept a hotel in Patterson, New Jersey in 1870; elected a member of the board of aldermen of Elizabeth in 1878; member of the State house of assembly 1879-1882 and speaker of the house in 1882; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1882 and commenced practice in Elizabeth, N.J.; again elected a member of the city council; elected as a Democrat to the Fifty-third Congress (March 4, 1893-March 3, 1895); unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1894 to the Fifty-fourth Congress; resumed the practice of law; died in Elizabeth, N.J., February 22, 1907; interment in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Newark, N.J.

John wrote the letter to his Irish friend, Jeremiah D. Duggan (1842-1873) of Jewett City, Connecticut.


Washington [D. C.]
April 11th [1862]

Friend Jeremiah,

I received your welcome letter last evening and was very glad to hear from you. The reason I did not receive it before was that  I had been down the [Potomac] River with a boat load of goods for a sutler and did not get back as soon as I anticipated, having been detained because of the forward movement of that division of the Army of the Potomac. I am sorry to hear of your Father’s death and be sure I sympathize with you in his disease.

It seems that friend Maurice McDonald ¹ did not find the village of Acrefield as pleasant as Jewett City. Ask him for me if while there. I wish you to tell him that I should like to see him here in Washington and besides, I think it would be to his advantage pecuniarily to take a tour out this way. I think the same of yourself. If you wish to leave Jewett City, you cannot go anywhere to find better wages than this place. Men are getting $25 per month and found, or a dollar and a quarter a day and find themselves. The work is not so hard but that anything claiming the name of man might do it. If you or Maurice think that such would suit you, you can come on and I will do what I can for you. You need not fear wanting anyway. I do not think you could be without a good job more than a week at all events.

Maurice, I think, would do very well to bring his wife with him. In your next letter you will please to let me know how the Rieley family are making and who is keeping the Ashland Place now.

You say that I could send you as many incidents that would be of interest to you situated as I am right here where the blood of the Nation’s heart pulsates, but it is not now as easy for me to sit down and daub over a sheet as it used to be. Things have changed with me considerable. Besides, I am somewhat in the situation of the man that was looking for the town after he got into it and could not see it for the houses, living as I have lately been in the midst of camps and stirring scenes, and the multiplicity of them, what seems to me as nothing would probably be interesting to you. But I will tell that I have soldiered two days when our army advanced on the rebels at Shipping Point and Dumfries, Virginia. Got sight of the rebels once and had the satisfaction of being among a party that made them run. Now that is one incident of my stay here. ² I will [tell] you more if you come to this place. Write soon.

Yours &c., — John T. Dunn

¹ The 1860 US Census shows Maurice McDonald as a 26 year-old Irish immigrant residing in Griswold, New London, Connecticut (Jewett City Post Office). At the time, he was employed as a confectioner.

² Confederate artillery units abandoned their batteries along the Potomac River in Northern Virginia in March 1862, just prior to McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. The guns at Shipping Point and at Dumfries were among those abandoned.


Harpers Ferry
November 15th 1862

Mr. Jeremiah Duggan
Dear Sir,

I have written three or four letters toy in the course of the last four months and got no answer to any of them. It would afford me a good deal of pleasure to hear from you and the folks around the city. Is Maurice McDonald in the city? If he is, I would like to hear from him. I saw Dr. Soule out here about two weeks ago and had quite a good time with him. I stopped with him over night and put my horse up and next day we rode out to Bailey’s Crossroads [in Fairfax County, Virginia]. I had many a good laugh at the manner in which he told me some of your patriotic overseers in Slater’s Mill [at Jewett City] tried to evade the draft. George Burdick’s deafness must have been a sure affliction to himself and the good people of Jewett City generally. ¹

Let me know what has become of the Riely family and if Lawrence Ryand or McClellans James in Norwich ever listed. I inquired of the Doctor about yourself, Terry Riely and all of the boys generally, but he could give me no definite information. I did not like to ask him about any of the girls but you must not infer from that that I have forgotten them — no indeed. There are many good and worthy girls in the city and I am often very sorry that I was such a graceless wretch while I lived among you. And to make a fair acknowledgement, I believe this is more real merit and unaffected innocence among the Jewett girls that it has been my lot to find in any place since or before I left it. I believe I either heard or dreamed that John Riely was married. Let me know if such is the fact and to who. John was to me a common expression “a gay and festive cuss.” What has become of Mary Beaumon of Hanover. Is Mary Bernugham married yet? — I mean the Baltic singer.

Poor Kate Donigan. I feel sometimes when I am alone and thinking of the folks ub the city and amongst others of Kate as if there was a solitary drop of water struggling to pass off from corner of my eye. For really Kate Donigan was a most deserving girl. I never thought that any change could ever come over me to ever make me half so serious as I sometimes am. Fortune has favored me with many a sunny hour and many an hour of gloom since this war began sometimes being lavish of her favors casting money in my path almost without an effort of my own and at times I almost fancied myself rich. And again, I have been very near an empty very often too, but somehow or other I cannot easily forget the Jewett City folks however fortune favors for or against me and I would not if I could.

Is Mrs. Fenton in the city or did she ever hear from John? What has become of Mrs. Forest and family, and Mrs. McCarthy and family? Is Kate Ryan in the city? If she [is], give her my best respects and her brother James also. Let me know who of the city boys [en]listed and if any got killed. I am told that Fred How has [en] listed. I guess he will find it a good deal harder work than blacksmithing. I do not want to see any of the boys that I thought anything of [en] list for it would be about as good for to die at once as spend his three years in purgatory as soldier for the same length of time. A soldier is treated worse than a good dog. In fact I did not have any idea that human nature could stand one half of what a soldier has to undergo. Let no more nor any other consideration ever induce you to ever join the Army. By the way, I had a good night with Capt. Tom Maguire ² of Norwich not long ago. He is promoted to Major and is commandant of Fort Ellsworth near Alexandria.

Probably you will wonder when you find that I have been up in this old Virginia town [Harpers Ferry]. In fact, I almost wonder myself. It is a curious place. Imagine a triangle with houses built on or rather sloped up against the mountain that fills the center of the angle with the water rushing over the rocky bottom of the Potomac at one side and the Shenandoah rushing by the doors at the other, and you have about as good an idea of Harpers Ferry as you can get without seeing it. It is a dreary looking hole. All the government buildings and many of the private houses burned down — nothing but the walls standing. I came here this winter and I put all the ready I had into it in goods expecting to turn it very soon into cash. But I am sadly disappointed. The most of the troops have moved away and here I am with a good many goods and hardly know what to do with them. If I had succeeded in selling the goods, I would have lived to the advantage. I had hoped that I would have taken a trip down to the city this winter. As it is, I cannot say when I shall go now. But with God’s help, I think I shall go to Jewett City yet before I die. If I do not die very soon. Give my respects to your family. No more at present but I remain yours, — John T. Dunn

Harpers Ferry in 1862
Harpers Ferry in 1862

¹ George W. Burdick (1831-1873) resided in Jewett City, CT in 1862. He was later superintendent of the Greenwoods Co. Cotton Mills Company in New Hartford, CT.

² Thomas Maguire was the captain of the Jackson Guards from Norwich, CT. They were originally assigned to the 5th New York Infantry but were later attached to the First Regiment Heavy Artillery of New York. 

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