This letter was written by Corporal Henry D. Lewis (1841-1937) of Co H, 15th Connecticut Infantry. Henry enlisted in August 1862 and was mustered out of the company in June 1865. He was the son of Lucien Franklin Lewis (1804-1882) and Susan Hitchcock (1814-1875) of Orange, New Haven, Connecticut. He wrote the letter to his cousin, Charles D. Lewis of Middletown Point, New Jersey.
The brigade commander Gen. Edward Harland is mentioned in the letter as is the regimental Lieut-Col. Samuel Tolles and several others.
According to the regimental history, “toward the end of September rumors were prevalent concerning a change of base, and as if in confirmation, a regiment in the vicinity would now and then be suddenly detailed for special service. On the 20th of the month, Col. Upham received orders to detach companies D, I, E, H, K under command of Lieut-Col. Tolles, and proceed to South Mills, North Carolina, with instructions to guard the canal. The battalion got under way at 4 p.m. and, marching about eight miles, bivouacked for the night. The next morning they were under arms again at 4 o’clock, and at 1 p.m. reached their destination. Guard lines were set and all precautions taken befitting the occupation of a new place. On the 23rd, Col. Tolles with a scouting party of cavalry captured a blockade runner alleged to have had $15,000 in his possession. The time was occupied between guard, picket and fatigue duty, and but little occurred to vary the monotony for some weeks. On October 11, the five companies of the 15th which had remained at Portsmouth, together with the balance of the 8th Connecticut, were ordered to join the force at South Mills without delay.”
Enclosed within the envelope was a handwritten poem titled The Burial of Moses. It was signed by Cousin Sarah and is in a different handwriting from the letter. This is a copy of a popular poem of the day first published in the 1850’s and written by an English woman, Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, known for her authorship of hymns and religious themed poems. It is difficult to say if this copied poem was original to the cover or was added later.
Camp near Portsmouth
October 10, 1863
Dear Cousin Charlie,
Yours of date 3 September came safe, was carefully perused, & should have been answered before this time but sickness & cares have prevented. I was sick when I received it & suffered from an attack of billiousness or general derangement of the stomach. For two weeks I was seriously threatened with a fever, had no appetite & for a few days I grew poor very fast. I got down so low that it was difficult to write a letter & I did not even write home as often as customary. For the past two weeks I have been gaining & my weight is now 134 lbs.
I am sole occupant of my tent now & have been for a week or more. About three weeks ago (it will be three weeks tomorrow night) five companies from the regiment went down into North Carolina to a place called South Mills as an outpost picket. There were to remain at first only two days & then be relieved by other regiments in the brigade. Lieutenant-colonel [Samuel] Tolles & the other officers liked it so well that Gen. Harland gave them the privilege to stay ten days longer & today rations have gone down to them for another ten days. The day that they went away the five companies — D, I, H, E & K — were paid off & they took along the greenbacks with them. They can buy off the inhabitants down there almost anything they want at a very reasonable price. Sweet potatoes a dollar per bushel, common ditto for one half that price, chickens, turkeys, bear meat (for you know that they have plenty in Dismal Swamp), pigs & such like are cooked up in shape for the boys for a reasonable price & they enjoy it.
Lieut. [Joseph C.] Allen came up after they had been there about ten days & said that he had spent about $100 since he went down so you can judge how the “Commish” lay in to gratify the wants of the belly. I was sick at the time I was left behind as all the sick remained. Frank Marvin was in the tent with me but he has been sent to the General Hospital at Portsmouth & now I live by myself & all the bread & cheese I get I lay upon the shelf.
I am in command (how are you command) of all those remaining in camp of the company & about all I do is to give orders. I don’t have but very little to occupy my time — only I see to drawing rations & take the sick (that is march them; or we call them dead beats on the government) up to the Surgeon every morning. That is about the amount of my duties. Of course if any get unruly, they get shoved into the guard house. I would not have you understand that I do it, but far from it.
I feel as gay as a rag with molasses into it this afternoon & perhaps it is because I have been here living a little better than common today. I had some “bully” (as the soldiers say) pancakes for breakfast of my own making & cooking, sweet potatoes & pumpkin pie for dinner, & I guess I shall have as good for supper. We have a Brigade Guard Mounting daily at five o’clock & a band in attendance for we have had for nearly four weeks a brigade band. We have some pretty good music. We have had or are enjoying splendid weather just such as I would like to enjoy in Old Orange for about 30 days. We have had only one or two frosty mornings & those were slight. I hope to hear from you before long & tell me what kind of a time you are having — especially with the young ladies. I suppose that you can visit New York quite often as the fare is only ten cents. I guess I’ll come up & ride up to the city of Goshen with you. Yours very truly, — H. D. Lewis