1862: John Clarkson Jay, Jr. to Mother

These twelve letters were written by John Clarkson Jay, Jr. (1844-1923), the son of John Clarkson Jay (1808-1891) and Laura Prime (1812-1887) of Rye, Westchester, New York. The letters were written in June 1862 while John, Jr. served a three month term as a private in the 71st New York State Militia.

Laura (Prime) Jay

Most of these letters were written to Jay’s mother — Laura (Prime) Jay; one was written to his father. A dutiful son, Jay wrote home just about every other day and the letters give a wonderful picture of life at “Camp Martin” which was located in “front of Fort Gains” in what today is the Tenleytown section of Washington D. C.  The Letters are full of information describing daily routines, speculation as to the probable movement of the regiment (as well as the likely mustering in and out of same) and conditions in the camp itself. It is also interesting to note the perspective from which Private Jay views his service which would conclude after 3 months when the regiment would be mustered out. It appears that later in the Civil War, Jay enlisted as a surgeon and served in New Orleans.

After the war, John became a physician and married Harriet, daughter of General Vinton.

The Jay Home in Rye, New York, where John C. Jay, Jr. grew up


Camp near Tennallytown
71st Regiment, New York State Militia, Co. F

Dear Mother,

After staying two days in the halls of the Capitol, we received orders this morning to march for this place, 8 miles distant from the Capitol, about 3 miles north of Georgetown, and 3 or 4 miles from the Potomac. It is not across the Potomac. They could not have picked out a hotter day. Several of our men gave out on the march & were picked up by the baggage wagons. We had of knapsacks & all our equipments on, which weight a great deal. I stood it. We rested three times on our way here. I did not take my knapsack off from the time we left the Capitol until we arrived at the camp. In all, we marched ten miles as we went two miles out of our way. We had nothing to eat from breakfast at six o’clock a.m. until half past 4 this afternoon.

After we arrived here & had chosen a field, we had to put up our tents which took a great while. We have Sibley’s tents — 12 or 13 men to a tent. They gave us a ration this afternoon at about 5 o’clock. I never relished anything more. Talk about coffee without milk. I can drink as much of it as they will give. Write often & direct as follows:

J. C. Jay, Jr., 71st Reg. N.Y.S.M., Co. F, Washington D.C.

All letters go to Washington & thence they are sent to the respective regiments. Mr. Wiley, the chaplain, had service & gave us a sermon on the steps of the Capitol yesterday morning. We have not yet been mustered in but we have been accepted by the War Department for 3 months unless sooner discharged.

The only thing about this camp which is objectionable is that there is no place for bathing. We are getting but nary good springs. Very much burnt on our necks & faces. Bill & Ned [Prime] are well We are situated on a very fine sloping ground. We are right under the guns of Fort Gain[e]s — 4 guns. We have several large forts in sight.

I cannot write better as I have nothing to write on except my cartridge box. With love to all. I remain your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.

Monday Evening, June 2d 1862

Mrs. Jay, Mamaroneck

Sibley Tent


Camp Martin near Tennallytown, [Tenleytown] D. C.

Dear Mother,

I received your letter the day before yesterday. It was very short. We have had very wet weather since we have gone into camp. Nothing but continued rain. Insides of tents are all mud. We have no boards or anything to lay on but our blankets and knapsacks. We have no overcoats.

I have been on guard duty. Tour turn comes around once in ten or twelve days. You are on duty 24 hours. There are three reliefs. You are on guard two hours & then lay in guard tent for 6 hours, then two hours on guard & then 4 hours in guard tent & so on. I went on guard duty Wednesday evening at 8 o’clock a.m.  I was put on the second relief so I was posted at 10 o’clock a.m. & remained on my post until twelve, raining hard all the time. Was relieved at 12 o’clock & rested four hours. Went on at 4 p.m., stayed on two hours, & then rested 4. Went on again at ten p.m. & stayed on until midnight, raining all the time. Then went back to guard tent & spent 4 hours with 30 men in it with no place to lay down & went on duty again at 4 o’clock a.m. until 6 a.m. & went back to my tent at 8 o’clock Thursday morning. It would not be so bad if it had not rained. But it rained steady all the time. I was soaked & had had no sleep. However, I slept well last night & am very well today.

While on duty I had my blanket over my shoulders. During the night you have your musket loaded while on guard & the countersign is given you. In consequence of the rain, our drills in a great degree have been dispensed with. We are in Gen. [Samuel D.] Sturges‘ Brigade. His headquarters are at Tennallytown. Our rations as yet are very poor. For breakfast as yet we have nothing but a piece of dry bread & a cup of coffee. As yet we have not had a piece of fresh meat. We are not yet mustered into the U.S. service.

Today it does not rain but is cloudy. Lenox Smith — a member of my class in college — came on yesterday as a recruit & joined my company. Direct your letters to Washington naming the regiment & be careful to put N.Y.S.M., Co. F.

Ned Prime has been promoted to Color Sergeant. Tell Fred Prime to write to me if you see him. With love to all. I remain your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.

Friday, June 6th 1862
Tent No. 3, Co. F


Fort Gaines
Camp Martin
Sunday, June 8th 1862

Dear Mother,

I received a letter from you last evening. Yesterday & today have been fine but last evening we had a very heavy shower. We are now drilled pretty hard. Four drills a day. The reveille sounds at 5 o’clock a.m. & in five minutes you have to be in your place in the ranks to answer at roll call. You are then dismissed & half past five the company falls in for drill which last until quarter of six. Breakfast at 6. Another drill at 10 a.m. for two hours. Another at 3 o’clock for an hour and a half. And a Dress Parade of the whole regiment at 6 p.m. which last about half an hour. We have dinner at 12½ & supper at 6½ p.m.

There is a report in camp today that we leave here next Wednesday for Fortress Monroe but I cannot find out whether there is any truth in it or not. A number of the 22nd Regiment N.Y.S.M. (Richard’s regiment) came into our camp today & said that their regiment expected to go to Fort Monroe tomorrow. But I believe that had not yet had any orders. The 22nd has not yet been mustered in nor have we. The Seventh are at Federal Hill, Baltimore. I forgot to state above that the 22nd are stationed at Baltimore.

Yesterday the heat here was terrible, but today there is a fine breeze. Today all company drills are dispensed with. This morning at 9 o’clock the whole regiment was inspected by the Lieut. Colonel. He inspected each man’s musket and every tent. We have to keep our musket very bright.

You have not yet sent me one of my carte de visite. This evening we have a dress parade as on every other day. I would like you to send me on as soon as possible  an India rubber blanket or sheet. Do not get it too heavy. Tell Father we saw what I want in the armory in New York. Send it by express and even if we should move before you send it, the Express company will forward it to the regiment wherever we may be. Our drum corps came on yesterday with 20 recruits.

Having nothing more to say & with love to all, I remain your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.

Sunday afternoon 5 o’clock


Tent No. 3, Co. F, 71st Reg. N.Y. S. M.
Tuesday, June 10th [1862]
Camp near Tennallytown in front of Fort Gaines

Dear Mother,

I received a letter from Alice the day before yesterday. Today the rain is pouring down steady. The inside of the tent is very wet & we are looking forward to a very uncomfortable night. I am very glad I am not on guard today. The fort alongside of us is not a very large affair. It mounts four 32-pounders. It is an earthwork. It commands a very excellent position. The garrison consists of two companies of the 59th New York. They practice the guns every morning & fire over our heads. They do not fire balls, however. But before we came they practiced with balls at targets. Our camp, or the spot on which we are encamped was the winter quarters of the 55th New York (The French Regiment).

One of the 32-pounders at Fort Gaines (a.k.a. Fort Totten)

I am writing on my cartridge box & sitting on my knapsack while the rest in the tent are firing things at each for something to pass time. The inmates of this tent are: Will Prime, Dow, Mally, Gov. Morris, Lenox Smith, English, Jack Morris, Merenus Willet, Parkin, Wisner, and myself. And I forgot our little nigger. We have hired a little fellow for four dollars a month. He washes up our dishes & runs errands etc. etc. We feed him from our rations & he sleeps with us in the tent. His name is John Brown but we have named him Tickler.

I hear nothing more of our going to Fortress Monroe. Willet’s uncle is on Wadsworth’s staff & Willet dined with the General a day or two ago at Georgetown. The General told Willet that we would be mustered into the service in a day or two. We have not yet received our overcoats. The nights here are very cold. It becomes cold the moment the sun goes down. The cooking for each company is done by 3 men detailed from each company. Each company has its own kitchen. Bobby Hoyt is one of our cooks. I have received a letter from Fred Prime.

With much love to all, I remain your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.

Do not forget to send an India rubber blanket as soon as possible if you have not already sent it.


June 12th [1862] Thursday Morning
Camp Martin, Tent No. 3
Co. F, 71st Reg. N.Y.S.M.

Dear Mother,

The day before yesterday I received a letter from Peter & yesterday one from you & also one from Sarah. You seem to be afraid of my health, but I was never better. The regiment will probably be mustered into the U.S. service in two weeks or sooner. The orders to make out the muster rolls have arrived. Every member under 21 years of age must have a written permission from his parents. I should like to have one sent. I am afraid, however, that they will refuse to muster me in as I am under eighteen. They say they will not take any under that age.

I wish you would send me some postage stamps. We get the mail here at 7 o’clock in the evening & the New York newspapers.

There is some dissatisfaction, I am sorry to say, in the regiment. A great many will refuse to swear in. Some 20 or 30 have already deserted — only one, however, from our company.

The health of the camp is very good. We have a little stove now in our tent & in the evenings we kindle a little fire. I have not yet been outside the camp since we came here. It is very difficult to get a pass. The size of the camp is about ¾ the size of our town. The weather yesterday & today is fine. From one part of our camp a small part of the Potomac may be seen.

We are very much afraid our captain will leave us. He has a government situation in New York & if he is absent much longer, he will lose it. If he goes, this company will be the same as done for. I will not serve under every man. Our first lieutenant is not good for anything. He has no presence of mind — Eugene Thom is his name from 11th Street. If our captain resigns & we are sworn in, the government has a right to appoint any man they like to take his command. The government have opened all the letters which the officers of this regiment have written home to their families. Our captain wrote five home to his wife. Of these, only one reached its destination.

Our captain was in our tent last evening & told us about the Baltimore affair. Our Colonel was met in the street by an aid of Gen. [John adams] Dix who commanded him & march his regiment to Harpers Ferry & said it was the orders of Gen. Dix. Our Colonel refused to obey saying he had had orders from the War Department at Washington to take his regiment direct to Washington. Thereupon Gen. Dix provided transportation for the regiment Washington.

We have dismissed our little nigger. He was too lazy.

With much love to all, I remain your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.


Saturday, June 14th [1862]
Camp Martin 8 a.m.

Dear Mother,

I received a letter from Father containing the Express receipt the day before yesterday. I have just received the package this minute, all right, with many thanks.

We have just had breakfast & it was the best breakfast I have tasted since I have been here. It consisted of bread, bacon, & coffee.

We were reviewed the day before yesterday in the afternoon by Major Gen. Thomas. We are to be reviewed tomorrow by Gen. [Samuel D.] Sturgis. The muster rolls have been made out. Today is going to be a very hot day, I go on guard duty again either tomorrow or Monday.

Yesterday I & some others got a pass & went over to the Chain Bridge on the Potomac. We went in swimming in the canal. We then went & saw Forts Franklin, Ripley, & Alexandria on this side of the Potomac.

The overcoats have arrived but they refuse to distribute them until we are sworn in. I received a letter from Alice yesterday evening. We are very comfortably situated now. We all wear government shoes & they are by far the most comfortable. But since the mail closes at 9 a.m., I must bid you goodbye.

From your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.

Chain Bridge over Potomac River


Camp Martin, June 15th [1862]
Sunday afternoon

Dear Mother,

I have just received a letter from you. I received one from Nina yesterday dated Morrisania & also one from Richard Ray at Baltimore. I am on guard duty today. I went on at 8 o’clock this morning & will come off tomorrow morning at 8. Half of my post duty is over. I shall go on this evening at 8 o’clock & stay until 10. I go on again at 2 o’clock tomorrow morning & come off at four. I am at the guard tent now. I have received the India rubber blanket & think I shall have need for it tonight as it looks very much like rain. We will probably be sworn in on Tuesday or Wednesday. We are to be reviewed tomorrow by the Brigade General (Sturgis). Yesterday was a very hot day. I am very well. You asked me in your letter to name the occupants of my tent. They are the following — E. Dow, Bill Ruise, myself, W. Moli, L. Smith, G. Morris, English, Parkin, M. Willet, Wisner, John Morris.

I have named them as we lay in the tent beginning at the right hand of the door as you enter. We all lay with our feet to the middle. Last night we had a very heavy shower. I would like you to send me some postage stamps. If we only had a band, we would be very comfortable. We have sent after boards for the floor of our tent some time ago, but we have not succeeded in obtaining any yet. We know nothing whatever of the movements of the regiment. Rumors of every kind are circulated through the camp & have been ever since we encamped here. But I must bid you goodbye for the present. Your affectionate son, — John

Monday morning, 7½ o’clock.

I shall be relieved from guard in half an hour. I came off my last post duty at 4 o’clock this morning. Last night was a beautiful night, fortunately for me, but very cold. I had my blanket wrap around me but had to walk very briskly on my post to keep warm. I am writing on a drum head.

Your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.

Guard Tent


Camp Martin near Tennallytown, D. C.
June 17th Tuesday 1862

Dear Father,

I have just received your letter & certificate. For both of which I thank you very much. But I do not think I shall have any need for the latter. Our 2nd Lieutenant told us today when he was in our tent that he thought we would be home in two weeks, but that he knew nothing certain.

We still continue to drill very hard every day. The number of the guard has been increased from 40 to 60 so that my turn for guard duty will come around about once a week. I never was in better health than I am now. I have not had the slightest inclination to a sore throat although I have slept until a few days ago with but one thickness of blanket between me & the ground, & one thickness over me. Now I sleep with the India rubber blanket double under me. We have all got India rubber blankets now — that is, all in this tent.

For rations today we had viz: breakfast — bread, coffee, small place of fresh beef; dinner — beef soup, bread, supper, bread, bacon, coffee; although for supper we generally have nothing [but] bread and coffee. We have fresh meat twice a week. Other days, salt junk. As for drills, take today for instance. We turned out to roll call at 5 a.m. We fell in for company drill at 5:30 & drilled without muskets until 6:30 when we were marched to the woods where each man took up a log or as much wood as he could carry & marched home to the kitchen. In this way we supply the kitchen with fuel. 7 o’clock breakfast or “peas on a trenchard.” 9 o’clock company drill again for two hours. Dinner or (Roast Beef) at one. Company drill again at 3 for two hours. Battalion drill (whole regiment) at 6 o’clock for an hour & a half. Supper at a quarter before eight; tattoo (which means go to your tents) at 9 P.M. & taps (lights out) at 9:30. This will end today. I have now just eaten my supper & relished it.

While engaged in battalion drill this evening, Secretary [Edward] Stanton drove up & had a long interview with our colonel. We know not what was the subject of their conversation.

The secessionists around here display signals at night from their houses & some of us will probably be detailed to guard their houses. Our colonel praised us on drill this evening on our proficiency.

Tell Alice I have received her letter, with the cutting of newspaper & also my carte de visite. My India rubber blanket suits me very well. I thank you for sending it. Ned & Willy Prime are very well. With much love to all, I remain your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.

Tuesday evening, 8½ o’clock.

I have omitted to mention the water we drink is spring water & is excellent & agrees with me.


Thursday Afternoon
June 19th 1862
Camp Martin 71st Regt., N.Y.S.M.

Dear Mother,

Today here very hot. My duty today is to cut wood for the kitchen fire & keep the kitchen supplied with water. I am excused from drills. Two men are detailed every day from the company for this duty.

Everyone in this company was marched up to the surgeon today to see if they ought to be vaccinated. He said I must. I thought you would prefer that I should be vaccinated with vaccine matter from a respectable source. I asked the surgeon if I might send home for the article. He said certainly. I wish you would send me some immediately on the receipt of this letter.

There is no news here. With much love to all I remain your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.

I would like some postage stamps.


Camp Martin
June 20th 1862
3 o’clock P.M.

Dear Mother,

I received your letter yesterday. I received the little piece of glycerine which you rent me in a letter some time ago. The letter was not injured by it. I shall try and go to church next Sunday. Last Sunday I was on guard duty. I do not think the regiment will go very soon although I do not think we will be sworn in. In two hours we are to be reviewed by President Lincoln, Secretary of State, & Secretary of War.

We have had orders to brush up & look well. I would be perfectly satisfied here if they would only serve out the overcoats. They are all here in camp & stored in the quartermaster department but from some red tape, the authorities will not allow them to be distributed. When you write, tell me how the damn gets along, and & how Peter likes his new horse. I have nothing more to say at present. I will try & add something more after the review this evening. I have omitted to mention that I have received the postage stamps.

Saturday morning, 7 a.m.

Last evening we were reviewed by President Lincoln, the Secretary of war, & several generals. It took two hours & was very tiresome. The news this morning is that we are under marching orders. I have no idea where is our destination. The weather this morning is fine. With much love to all, I remain your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.


June, Wednesday, 25th 1862
Camp Martin

Dear Mother,

I have just received a letter from Nina. We have not yet left this camp as we expected. Our Colonel is in New York at present on business connected with the regiment. It is just a month since we left New York. When the Colonel comes back, which he will do in two or three days, the regiment will probably be sworn in. He said that he did not think I could get in on account of my age. I have not yet been vaccinated because I believe they had no right to do it until we are sworn in.

I was on guard again last Monday. But lucky for me I was put in the “special” to guard a house that is uninhabited  to prevent the men from tearing it to pieces. The house is some distance from the camp. Three men are detailed every day to stay in the house 24 hours & relieve each other. One of them must always be awake. We made a good fire, had a candle, & spent the evening very pleasantly. It rained in torrents all the day & all the night but we did not get wet. The next morning we had a terrific shower which deluged the inside of our tent.

We have not suffered much as yet from the heat. But the drums call me to evening parade. With much love to all, I remain your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.


Camp Martin
Friday, June 27th 1862

Dear Mother,

I received a letter from you yesterday. If we leave here soon it will not be before the first part of next week. The Colonel will return from New York tomorrow when something decisive will be done. We have lost a good many men who have gone home on furloughs & have not returned. As yet the officers have no hold on a man if he once gets home as we are not yet sworn in, and until that is done they cannot be treated as deserters. Bill Prime was promoted yesterday from a private to a corporal.

If you can conveniently get a new catalogue of Charlier’s, I would like to have one sent me. The 25th (Commencement Day) passed by here & we never thought anything about college. The fact is we never know what day of the month it is, unless we are young to write letters when we find out by inquiring. By Charlier’s Catalogue. I mean his book containing the names of his present & former pupils with their professions. ¹

I would rather you would not send me a box of reading matter as we have as much as we can read here. A box of eatables would be far more acceptable. However, I do not want it yet. I cannot think of anything more that will interest you. Goodbye from your affectionate son, — John C. Jay, Jr.

Saturday morning, 6 A.M.

The day is fine. I am well & go on guard today.

¹ I believe Jay is speaking of the Charlier Institution operated by Professor Eli Chalier, a frenchman; this may have been the preparatory college that Jay attended. It opened its doors in 1855 and was located at 126 East 24th Street in NYC.


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