This letter was written by Wyckliffe Jerome Averill [who signed his name Jerome W. Averill] of Onondaga County, New York. Jerome was the son of Lyman Reed Averill (1801-1875) and Hannah Smith (1804-1887). Jerome’s father was a brick manufacturer and the proprietor of a “Boarding House & Temperance House” in Van Buren, New York in 1850. In October 1861, Jerome listed his residence as Baldwinsville when he enlisted as a private in Battery B, 1st New York Artillery. Jerome died of typhoid fever at the Chesapeake General Hospital at Fortress Monroe in Virginia on 5 May 1862.
Battery B, First Regiment New York Light Artillery, known as Pettit’s Battery, was raised at Baldwinsville and composed chiefly of Onondaga county men. It was mustered into the State service at Baldwinsville, August 24, 1861, and into the service of the United States at Elmira, August 31, 1866. On its arrival in Washington it was the first battery to be fully mounted, and remained in camp in the vicinity of Washington till the spring of 1862.
Jerome wrote the letter to his sister, most likely Marion Hannah Averill (1846-1901) though he did have at least two older sisters. No envelope accompanies the letter to confirm her identity.
November 12, 1861
I have just been getting some envelopes franked and having a little spare time, I will drop a few lines. We arrived here the night of the 31st of October about 8 o’clock when we went to the Soldier’s Rest — the name of the building where all soldiers stay until they camp out. We eat our supper about 9 and laid down to rest. We laid down our blankets and spread our overcoats over us. I slept sound until 5 the next morning and the bugle sounded for roll call.
We eat breakfast about 7 and I went up to the Capitol. You will see it on the first page. A man could not go through it in one day. It covers 3½ acres of ground and is 300 feet high. I first went to the top and it took me one half hour at the least and the pillars are covered with names so of course I must put mine on. We could see Arlington Heights and down the Potomac about 5 miles.
We had a little trouble about getting wood on account of the Rebels blocking up the river but we don’t have any trouble now. We heard some glorious news this morning. ¹ The Federals have taken two forts and have got ten miles of railroad in their possession and are now marching on to take Charleston and Beauregard has left the Potomac and gone to Charleston. There were splendid fireworks here from 7 last night until 2 this morning.
There are about 430 in our company and about 75 horses. We will draw some more horses this week. Our payroll came last night and we will get paid next week. The report is we have had marching orders and will march in 3 weeks across the river into a fort.
There was an awful fire here on the night of the 3rd. The City Hospital and several dwellings were burned. There were 2 man and two women burned. ²
Our rations are 1 loaf of bread, one lb. of beef, one quarter pound of rice, one ounce of sugar, 3 pints of coffee to a man a day. We have more bread than we can eat so we trade it to milk peddlers for milk to put in our coffee.
The New York City Regiment came in last night. They brought a five gun battery which shot 250 balls a minute by means of a crank. They are brass pieces and shoot ounce balls.³
There are about 950 men in our regiment and pretty solid boys. Some of them are at the hospital with the measles but will soon be well. I am as sound as any brick. The doctor of our regiment soon cured my finger so I have the use of [it] but I must dry up for I have got to tell you how to direct in order to have a letter come.
Direct as follows:
J. W. Averill, Care of Col. G. D. Bailey [Guilford Dudley Bailey], Co. B
J. M. Terry, Washington D.C.
— J. W. A.
¹ Jerome is referring to the news of the capture of of three forts at Port Royal, Hilton Head, and Bay Point and the federal occupation of Beaufort, South Carolina. The railroad near Beaufort with a large amount of stores was also captured.
² Newspaper account (Daily National Intelligencer) referred to the hospital as the Washington Asylum which housed fifty-five patients at the time — mostly sick and wounded soldiers. The fire was attributed to a defective flue from the furnace in the cellar.
³ This was probably a steam gun similar to that described in this 1861 news article: