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    Archive of letters by a soldier who fell at Gettysburg, including his enlistment oath

    [Battle of Gettysburg]. Union First Sergeant Samuel W. Croft Archive of over thirty-five letters, one oath of enlistment, and other related documents. Samuel W. Croft was twenty-two years old when he enlisted as a private in the Union Army on June 1, 1861. According to his enlistment oath (offered in this lot), Croft was a carpenter by trade who "volunteered this 24th day of June, 1861, to serve as a Soldier in the army of the United States of America, for the period of three years" and "to accept such bounty, pay, rations and clothing as are, or may be, established by law for volunteers." He further swears that he will "bear true faith and allegiance to the United States . . . and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whomever." Thus began the military career of Samuel Croft, a career that would span two years, ending with his death at the Battle of Gettysburg.

    Exactly one week after enlisting, Croft, who was yet to muster in, found himself in Camp Scott on Staten Island, New York. In a letter to his sister (to whom the majority of these letters are addressed), dated June 23, 1861, he writes that "yesterday we were sworn into the US service for three years if not sooner discharged, but one man in the company refused to take the oath." That day he was mustered into Co. E, 70th New York Infantry, part of the famous Excelsior Brigade. Still in New York, Croft gives some news from Virginia in another letter to his sister, dated July 19, as written, "the news from Western Virginia is very good, but the rebles [sic] occupy Fairfax Court House . . . They are not retreating so precipitately without some motive, Manssa[s] junction, and Richmond are strongly fortified, and I believe will be the scene of some desperate fighting." His prediction came true as the first major battle of the war, First Manassas, took place there two days later.

    By late June, the regiment finally began their journey south and ended up in Maryland, a slave state that remained loyal to the Union, though that did not raise them above suspicion. Having entered the town of Charlotte Hall sometime around September 16, the men were ordered to perform a search of the church. Having been told by a slave that a small house near the church was hiding arms, they entered the house and found "six very small, US flags . . . two swords, 35 muskets, and 50 or 60 belts, they are marked US, but what is the reason that the white men all absent themselves, no one giving us a welcome not even in a look, they are secesh, the slaves say so . . . we intend to take the flags and arms, the people are to[o] cold and distant to be friends." Earlier in this same letter, Croft gives a very patriotic speech about being a soldier, saying, "I am well, hearty, strong, and doeing [sic] my country a little service, I did not come for money and good living, my heart beats high, and I am proud of being a soldier, when I look along the line of glistning [sic] bayonets with the glorious Stars and stripes floating over them, the fife and drum sending their soul stiring [sic] strain far over valley and hill, knowing that the bayonets are in loyal hands that will plunge them deep in the hearts of those who have disgraced and seek to trampel [sic] in dust, that flag which has protected them and us, their freedom and ours, I say again I am proud, and sanguine of success."

    By November, the men of the 70th had still not met the enemy in combat. Camped on the Maryland side of the Potomac, Croft writes on November 15 that "The river is about two miles wide, but on a calm day, we can hear them (the Rebels) working, very plain . . . Day before yesterday the wind blew very strong from the Virginia shore." A note was delivered to Gen. Daniel Sickles "inviting him (Sickles) to meet them with his Brigade, man to man and steel to steel, if he wished to see another Bull Run affair."

    In a letter dated January 18, 1862, Croft makes mention of the tensions with England after the so-called Trent affair two months earlier, following the capture of two Confederate diplomats - James Mason and John Slidell - who were bound for England and France aboard a British mail ship. He states, in part: "The affairs with England seems to be quietly settling down. Capt. Wilks took Mason & Slidell from a British ship, and when in a British channel, Capt. Wilks done wrong. But the Government sanctioned it . . . Thus we struted [sic] insolently into a war, and backed out without honor, for the first time in our history, the American Eagle has been made to cower before the British Lion."

    The regiment had their first real taste of combat at the Battle of Williamsburg [May 5, 1862] and, in a letter dated May 26, Croft laments the loss of their captain. They were active during the Battle of Fredericksburg and, writing from near the site of their defeat one week later, says: "The approaching hollidays [sic] will be gloomy to many thousands, more than they would have been, had this very foolish attack on the enemy at this point not have been made. Any man possessed of good sense and a good spy glass could have satisfied himself in a very short time that the enemies position was to[o] strong to be taken by storm. It cost many a brave fellow life, made many widow and orphans, & proved a disaster."

    The regiment next found themselves engaged at Chancellorsville, which he mentions briefly in a letter dated June 8 while musing on what direction Gen. Hooker plans to take the Army of the Potomac, stating: "You [his sister] will remember that while the battle of Chancellorsville was progressing, a body of our cavaly [sic] made a curent [sic] of the rebel army and captured prisoners, within the fortifications of Richmond, so that it is not an impossibility for Hooker to get in richmond &c." Less than one month later, on the second day of combat, Samuel Croft lost his life at the Battle of Gettysburg.

    Many of the letters are written on patriotic stationery, including one letter, dated January 4, 1862, written on "First Regiment, Excelsior Brigade" letterhead. The documents show the usual toning with some staining. Several letters show separation of the folds with repairs done using clear tape.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2015
    12th-13th Friday-Saturday
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