This letter was written during the US Civil War by Hiram A. Chambers of the 15th Regiment Massachusetts, Company C, out of Worcester. He wrote it home to his family. The letter was dated November 8, 1861, and offers additional details of Hiram’s experiences at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in Virginia. I was given permission to document these letters by my dear friend Jane Richardson. Hiram was Jane’s great-uncle.
Here is the full transcript of this letter. I’ll note I added punctuation and paragraphs to make it easier to read. Also note it has the “n-word” written out.
Headquarters 15th Regiment Company C
Camp Foster November 8th 1861
Yours of the third is at hand. I now set on my bed to answer it – at least commence to answer it. I see by your letter that you have seen our boy Tom as we call him. Don’t you think him a pretty smart Nigger. In the language the get off out here he IS a RIGHT SMART nigger. He praised me up pretty high, did he? Well he did think a great deal of me – if anything more so than of any of the rest of the company except Captain Bowman.
The Captain thought a great deal of him.
It would please you to hear the people talk out here and get off their right smart. Indeed 2 – don’t know sir and I reckon so. One will say – that looks like a right smart horse. Another – indeed I don’t know about that. Another – I reckon so.
No doubt Tom got off some of it, didn’t he. It’s hard getting ahead of his time when he gets acquainted with anybody.
I think there was some excitement in Clinton when the wounded of Balls Bluff accompanied by the galliant Scut Fuller. What a good man he is. It was hard for him to leave us, but he had to do it for his own benefit. But I think he will come out here again if his health will permit.
You say you did not learn much about the battle from them. Very likely you have before this time for I wrote you full account of that battle. Of all battles which this country has ever seen and which won the 15th a name ever to be remembered in the annals. Never hardly has a regiment been known to stand as General Stone’s personal (versus) Bull dogs (versus) Blue devils did. The last mentioned was given us by the rebels. They hollowed from the other side awhile ago and wanted to know who them Blue devils were. They said if we had a few more like them they would have been beaten alluding to the 15th.
Then you think at the North that it was a cursed affair, do you, that it was treachery or ignorance that was the curse of it. It was this – it was a blunder. We expected troops to cross at Edwards Ferry 3 miles below and attack them in the rear, but by some blunder or other they did not cross till the next day. And Renat (?) was too late.
You have a wrong idea of our head officers for they expected that their orders would be obeyed. You think when I pass through another such a battle as that it will be about time for me to come home. I am willing to come home as it is but that is an impossibility, I suppose, so I shall give up the hope of coming home for sometime yet.
You say God forbid that I shall ever see another Balls Bluff scrap. I answer Amen.
I cannot say that I had many letters from your part of the country lately so I do not know much about what is agoing on there and I sooner believe when I hear it from you for I do not think you would write anything untrue. I had a letter from Zadock the same night that I got yours. He told me that you copied the letter and sent it to him. I am very glad you did.
He said he had been a visiting all around to Sarah and his folks and they all wanted me to write to them. Now wouldn’t it be a nice job for me to write to them all and increase my present correspondence which I hardly find time to answer.
The days are so short when you take into consideration that we have to drill twice in the forenoon and 3 times in the afternoon, there being only an hour between the drills and it takes all this time to get rested. The first drill is an hour long with knapsacks on. We have got so we don’t mind carrying our trunks and goods at all. We shall make good fellows to carry hand organs or a pedler’s pack – don’t you think so.
They have sent a list from the rebels headquarters given an account of the officers that are prisoners. Amongst them is Captain Bowan and Captain Studly also Colonel Cogswell of the Faming (?) Regiment.
We are getting along nicely. Colonel Devens has gone home to raise recruits for our Regiment.
I do not think of any thing more to write. Give my respect to all inquiring friends and much love to you and yours.
From your loving Son