1861: Rufus Robbins to Henry Howard Robbins

Pvt. Rufus Robbins, Jr.

These two letters were written by Pvt. Rufus Robbins (1828-1863) of Co. K, 7th Massachusetts Infantry. One letter has an original stamped cover free-franked by US Congressman James Buffington from Massachusetts.

Rufus was the son of Rufus Robbins (1804-1877) and Alice Soule (1809-1885). He wrote one letter to his father and one to his younger brother, Henry Howard Robbins (1830-1903). Like so many other soldiers, Rufus fell victim to chronic diarrhea during the war. He died on 7 January 1863 in the General Hospital of West Philadelphia.

The letters of Rufus Robbins, Jr. have been previously published in a book entitled, Through Ordinary Eyes (Praeger Publishers, 2000). These two letters were published in that volume. A synopsis of the book follows:

Born in 1828, Rufus Robbins lived with his family in South Abington, Massachusetts. His family was involved in the cobbler, or shoemaking, industry. Family members cared for their small farms and worked at making shoes and boots. The company the Robbins worked for had contracts to make boots for the Union Army. The family discussed this work in their letters, which shows what some people were doing on the home front in supporting the war effort.

Robbins’ letters are articulate in their eyewitness view on Army life, which was usually mundane. The letters cover the period June 1861 to December 26, 1862. The soldiers, as Robbins showed, tried to inject excitement into their lives when they could with games and exploring the area they were in. He also delineated the boring but necessary duties of a soldier, like drilling, more drilling, marching and such. He also discusses what guard duty was like and how dangerous it could be. Robbins and his regiment were involved in the Peninsular Campaign with participation in the battles of Fair Oaks (May 31, 1862) and Nine Mile Road (June 25, 1862). He heard and wrote about battles which he was near but was not personally involved in.

Robbins writes to his family of attending religious camp meetings and revivals. The Robbins were Universalists, and Rufus used various occasions to promote his religion without pushing it on others; he would discuss religion with anyone who wanted to. Religious feelings and conversions occurred on both sides of the war. There were those, though, who had no religious feelings, and the war had no effect on them to become religious. Some on both sides became criminals.

Photographs of Robbins and of his family are featured, as well as illustrations from period newspapers and magazines about various war scenes. Maps are included as is a timeline of Robbins service in the Army. There are endnotes for each chapter and an index at the end of the book. Ella Jane Bruen and Brian M. Fitzgibbons provide an introduction that sets the scene for the Robbins family and their time period.

Ella Jane Bruen teaches at Sacred Heart High School and Intermediate School at Kingston, Massachusetts. Brian M. Fitzgibbons has been a Civil War re-enactor with the Massachusetts Twelfth Regiment of Volunteers and is the translator of the book 101 Reykjavik (2003).


Taunton [Massachusetts]
Thursday, July 11 [1861]

Dear Father,

We are not to leave camp today as we expected yesterday for some reason. The regiment was not in readiness to move but according to orders read last night at dress parade, we shall be on the move tomorrow sometime in the course of the day. We have not drilled so much as usual for the last 2 or 3 days but have spent most of the time in getting ready to leave. The teams arrived here yesterday morning. There are now on the ground 15 waggons and 64 horses — each company is entitled to 1 – 4 horse team and the regiment to 2 hospital teams, so called. These are not here yet but will be soon with a few more horses.

The men are all anxious to be on the move. We have got all our equipment now. When I first got them all on I felt as though I was in a strange harness. The first thing to put on is the cartridge box with the strap over the left shoulder and the box a little behind the right side. Next a belt to which is attached a cap box and bayonet sheath. The latter hangs a little behind the left side, the cap box on the right in front. Next goes on the knapsack, then haversack to hold the bread and meat, then canteen. They are all easily carried but the knapsack and that is not bad unless you load it too heavily. I believe I have sent home everything now that I shall not need excepting my blue jacket. If it was not for the heft, I should not care much to keep it. One is enough to take care of.

My government clothes are all that I have got now except trousers and I think they will be sufficient until I get more. I have got my washing all done. Have got 3 pairs clean stockings in my knapsack and clean shirt and drawers. My health is good and I don’t have to work very hard. I wish I could share some of my leisure time with you. I am not homesick nor discontented. I am willing to stay [away] from you and do my duty as long as my services are required but it will be a happy day when I can return to you again. I hope to hear from you again as soon as I make my place of destination known to you.

It is now about 7 o’clock. I have just come off dress parade. We are to go tomorrow. I feel sure the cooks will be at work all night to cook rations for four days. I am one of the advance guard. We — the advance guard — will probably leave the ground at ½ past 10 tomorrow morning to take possession of the cars which are to carry us as the order read tonight. There are six detailed from each company. Frank Hutchins[on], T. Sherman, E.W. Bane, Willard Brown, Joshua Winslow, corporal. I shall write again soon. — Rufus

Addressed to Mr. Henry H. Robbins, South Abington, Mass; postmarked Washington D.C. on 26 July 1861


Camp Old Colony
Washington D. C.
July 16 [1861]

Brother Henry,

I do not think you are more anxious to hear from me than I am to write you. I want to tell you of all that I have seen but I do not suppose I can one half. We left Taunton enroute for Washington about one p.m.  I will try to give you the names of some of the places which we passed through which are as follows: Mansfield, Attleboro, Pautucket, Providence, Greenwich, Wickford, Kingston, Westerly, Stonington (Conn.), Mystic and Groton. Went aboard the boat about 6 p.m.  We had a very pleasant night and enjoyed the trip very much. Went to bed about 10 o’clock, arose next morning about ½ past 3, and now commenced a sight more beautiful than I can express. We passed in full view of Jersey City, Brooklyn, and several beautiful islands. Had a pretty good view of New York until we arrived at the wharf and then such a forest of masts as I had never imagined prevented my seeing much more of it.

We got into New York Saturday morning about 6 o’clock, stopped there about 5 hours, [but] were not permitted to go ashore. Saw Mr. Mears but couldn’t speak with him. Left New York about 11 a.m. in the boat Kill von Kull ¹ for Elizabethport, New Jersey. Left there about 2 p.m., came through Westfield, Plainfield, Bound Brook, Somerville, Lebanon, Clinton, High Bridge, and Hampton. There are all town in New Jersey. Arrived at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania about 3 o’clock Sunday morning. Stopped there about 4 hours. Did not see much of the place as it rained quite hard. Left there at 7 a.m. through York and Glen Rock [and] reached Baltimore about 3 p.m.

Our company [Co. K] and Fall River Company [Co. A] were ordered to load our guns just before we arrived at Baltimore but we had no occasion to use them. It was very quiet there. [We] marched through the city and took cars for Washington. Passed the Relay House. It is not remarkable for size or beauty. It is about 10 miles out of Baltimore. Arrived at Washington about 8 a.m.  Slept in the Capitol and next morning took an early leave for the campground so I have not seen anything of the city yet but the Capitol. We are encamped within a quarter of a mile of Georgetown. I went there yesterday afternoon [and] saw the Potomac River.

I must close now. Just know where I am. My health is good. I shall write again soon and tell you how to direct your letters. I have time to tell you now.

R. Robbins, Camp Old Colony, Washington D.C., 7th Reg. Mass. V., Co. K, Capt. [Franklin P.] Harlow

Write as soon as you can. — Rufus

¹ The Kill von Kull was a side wheeler owned by the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey. She was built at Green Point, Long Island, in 1858.

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