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    "I had a bullet through my haversack here. The bullets flew everywhere. I expected to be hit"

    [Civil War]. Union 1st Lieutenant Charles E. Reed, 148th Regiment, Co. "G", New York Volunteers, Archive of Letters and Diaries, consisting of three Civil War-dated diaries and over 150 letters, all dating between September 1862 and July 1865. Charles Reed, an educated man with an observant eye, diligently recorded in his letters and daily diary entries information about his numerous battles, troop movements, playing baseball, colored troops, his promotions, and much more, mostly from Virginia. He was an outspoken Republican with an interest in politics, who also writes of paying visits to Helen Pitts, an abolitionist and suffragist who later married former slave Frederick Douglass. Letters in this archive are written by Reed, save for a few (less than ten) written by his sister Caroline and brother Samuel. The numerous letters, along with the daily diary entries, allow for a rare and full picture from this New York volunteer's perspective about his three-year long participation in the Civil War. This fascinating archive is one of the most well preserved and organized we have seen. Every letter and diary entry has been transcribed and is chronologically organized in four binders. The letters bear the expected soiling, age toning, and folds. The diaries also bear expected wear and soiling.

    Charles Reed (1839-1917) left his farm in Richmond, New York, and mustered into the Union Army on September 14, 1862, as a private. He was promoted to corporal on September 21, 1862, prior to leaving for Virginia. In 1864, he was selected for the 2nd Division Sharpshooters, but months later, upon the urging of the men in his former company, he returned to Co. "G" and was given command, although his official rank at that time remained corporal (all the company officers had either died, were wounded, or had been transferred). Promotions followed: to sergeant November 1, 1864, to orderly sergeant on November 12, 1864, and to first lieutenant on December 14, 1864. He was mustered out on June 22, 1865, with his regiment at Richmond, Virginia, and returned home to New York.

    The 148th New York Infantry Volunteers mustered into service on September 14, 1862, for three years at Geneva, New York. The regiment's first assignment was as part of the Department of Virginia on garrison duty at Suffolk, Norfolk, and Yorktown, Virginia, but were attached to the Army of the James in early 1864. They suffered heavy losses, beginning in May 1864 when they took part in the campaign against Petersburg and Richmond, participating in battles at Swift Creek, Proctor's Creek, Drewry's Bluff, Bermuda Hundred, and Cold Harbor. They then marched to Petersburg and took part in the first bloody assault on the works. More engagements in late 1864 brought more losses (Fort Harrison, Fair Oaks, and the Appomattox campaign, and the final assault on Petersburg). The regiment gained a well-earned reputation for courage and gallantry and mustered out on June 22, 1865 at Richmond.

    This archive is organized into four binders.

    Binder 1
    The letters in this binder date between September 26, 1862, and May 23, 1863, and discuss the regiment's earliest movements (from Washington to Portsmouth, Virginia), runaway slaves, ironclads, and war news and rumors. In his first letter, the soldier writes about his train ride to Washington, D.C. After he arrived, he "went to the White House" but "did not see Old Abe." Soon the regiment was in Portsmouth, where, he writes on December 28, 1862, the boys "played ball" (there are several references to playing baseball in these letters). The New York native also wrote home many observations about the freedmen he came into contact with: "Down on Craney's Island [only a few miles from Portsmouth] where there are so many blacks, there are from 3 to 5 deaths daily they suffer a great deal" (December 14, 1862); "There was quite an excitement in Norfolk yesterday. 3,000 niggers met on the Fairground, they wanted to know whether they were going to be free. . . . [The officers] expect trouble from the niggers or from the secesh" (January 2, 1863); "I went over to Norfolk and there was a large steamer load of negroes going to Washington to enlist. All large, able bodied fellows. I suppose there were nearly a thousand on board. When they started one of them proposed, threw cheers for the President's Proclamation and the guns threw hearty ones, etc. The secesh looked rather down in the mouth. One woman said 'That was a pretty sight for a Southerner.' I thought or only think of a million dollars worth of property starting to leave them" (May 23 1863).

    The diary in this binder (3.5" x 6", leather) contains entries from September 10, 1862, through February 5, 1863, and begins, like the letters, as Reed is mustered into service. Throughout the three diaries, Reed writes of furloughs, dress parades, regimental movements, observations of his environment, and daily activities, such as meals, health, and weather. Two days after Christmas, he writes in this diary, "This morning the boys marked out a place to play baseball." The diary exhibits some weakness at the binding, but all pages are still bound.

    Binder 2
    The letters in this binder date between June 1, 1863, and May 31, 1864, and include content about searching for Rebel guerillas, colored troops, seeing General Ulysses S. Grant, "stand[ing] by old Abe" for a second term, gory details of seeing the dead and wounded, and battle details from the Bermuda Hundred Campaign of May 1864.

    In May 1864, Reed's regiment participated in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign. On the 11th, he informs his sister that his regiment had boarded a transport down the James River as part of a large fleet that included the "Rebel ram Atlanta we took from the Rebs last year." They disembarked at Bermuda, Virginia, and immediately prepared for battle. Reed's next two letters contain details of the engagements. On May 17, 1864, from "Camp of the 148th N.Y. Vols. near Petersburg" he writes, "The firing was hot but one of our Regts. flanked them and charged when they skedaddled. They were not more than 30 rods ahead of us but the brush was so thick you could not see 4 rods. Their bullets flew pretty thick I noticed. I laid very close to the ground. We moved down to the right then, did not get so close again. We had one killed and a number wounded. . . . [W]e drove the Rebs. in their fortifications, held them there till yesterday morning. They must have received reinforcements for they came out then and whipped us nicely. I think they must have attacked our whole line at once, driving the flanks. We were about in the center. They came down on us once. We lay in the edge of woods. The underbrush was thick and we lay behind it. Had telegraph wire strung along for them to get tangled in. They got pretty close before they fired, let them have two volleys then they retired double quick." In his May 22 letter, Reed draws a small "diagram" of the position of his regiment, which was "in the front nearly the whole five days." Each of these letters (May 11, 17, and 22) contain very good battle content.

    Reed became acquainted with Helen Pitts, the future wife of Frederick Douglass, who taught "the little contrabands" (May 4, 1863). (Pitts and Frederick Douglass married in 1884.) In a letter dated June 1, 1863, he writes about having "dinner with [Helen and] the contraband teachers. . . . She thinks some of leaving Norfolk and going out on one of these confiscated farms that are worked by niggers and teach them." From Norfolk, Virginia, on July 12, 1863, Reed reports details about the murder of a lieutenant of a colored company by a citizen: "A citizen, Dr. Wright, shot a Lieut. of a colored Company as he was marching his men through the street. As he was coming up with his Company this Dr. Wright stepped out of a store door, drew his pistol and held it behind his back and when the Lieut. came opposite, fired two shots, the first going in near the corner of the eye and coming out the opposite corner of his mouth, and the other going through his shoulder and body. He seized the Dr. and backed him in the store and got hold of his revolver and fell dead. The Dr. instead of being killed on the spot was arrested and examined and I understand is to have his trial (Court Martial) tomorrow. I don't think there is any danger of his getting clear and I hope before the week is over of having the privilege of seeing him swinging by the neck. . . . I was one of the squad that marched him to jail last night. . . . It makes the secesh awfully mad to see the niggers soldiers. They fairly grate their teeth."

    Entries in the diary (3.5" x 5.75", leather) date from January 1, 1863, through December 31, 1863, and discuss capturing 1,700 bottles of whiskey, military inspections, new conscripts, Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and garrison guard duty.

    Binder 3
    The letters in this binder date between June 5, 1864, and December 26, 1864, and include content about the scourge of lice, seeing General Grant (on September 9, Reed "had the pleasure of saluting Gen. Grant and having the salute returned"), receiving his sharpshooter rifle, and the presidential election of 1864. Letters in this binder also contain very good battle content from the Siege of Petersburg.

    In letters dated in June 1864 from "the Field," Reed records his participation closer to the Petersburg siege. On the 5th he writes while "in the rifle pits in front of the Rebs. They too are in pits
    about 200 yards in front. Their bullets are whistling over our heads quite lively. . . . Once in a while one on our side is hit, one fellow just below was shot through the head this a.m
    ." On June 20 he states that "We had a very severe fight on Saturday. I don't know how many the Regt's lost. Co. 'G' went in with only 32, had 2 killed and wounded and yesterday had another wounded slightly. Making 10 in all out of the Co. . . . Our Brigade advanced next to the River Appomattox. Before this we had taken their Forts which had command of the ground, all they had left was rifle pits. We charged their first line. . . . In a couple of hours we got ready for another charge. We had to go across an open field, forming in under cover of 2 houses. The command forward was given. Our Co. had to go between the houses. Here they were met by a perfect shower of bullets. They faltered a moment and then went ahead. I had a bullet through my haversack here. The bullets flew everywhere. I expected to be hit but felt cool throughout the whole." On July 3, 1864, he informed his brother Samuel that he was now a sharpshooter: "You see I am in new business. A Company of 100 men has been formed in this Division for Sharp Shooters. There are details of fourteen different Regts." As he explained in his July 9 letter, "Sharp Shooters with a target gun are privileged class in the army. They are allowed to choose their own positions wherever they choose." His letters throughout July, August, September, and October are from his time as a sharpshooter. But on November 4, 1864, he records that his regiment "wanted me to come back and take command of the Company," which he did (letter dated November 27, 1864). On July 31 "Near Petersburg," Reed writes about colored troops "behaving badly" on the battlefield: "A little later in the morning the niggers made a charge. They behaved very badly. They not only retreated, but was a regular stampede. It took a number of Regiments to stop the panic stricken pots. By this act we lost one line we held which we gained in the morning. I heard more cursing and swearing about the 'niggers' by white soldiers than I want to hear again. If white troops had gone in the place of them I believe we would have gained the line. I think it must have been partly the fault of the nigger officers as I heard they behaved badly." On October 3 Reed writes that during the Battle of Chaffin's Farm, "the Rebels having received reinforcements made two desperate assaults but were repulsed with great loss. You ought to see the dead Rebels in front to our lines, they are piled right up. They are worse than ours were at Cold Harbor and Petersburg."

    Entries in the diary (3.5" x 5", leather) date from January 1, 1864, through December 31, 1864, and contain many of the details from his letters. Reed's entries from May 3 through May 27 gives a daily account of the regiment's movements and battle engagements, many similar to his letters written during May 1864 found in binder 2. On May 17 he records gruesome details about a visit to a hospital: "Went to hospital. The sight was awful. Limbs that had been amputated were laying around. Men were wounded in every conceivable manner. Capt. is severely wounded. Part of the bone has been taken out of his arm."

    Binder 4
    The letters in this binder date between January 1, 1865, and July 19, 1865, and include content about his promotion to first lieutenant. Events happened quickly during the early months of 1865 and Reed's letters reflect the speed of the final events of the war. He writes on April 2, 1865, from "inside a Rebel Fort we have just captured, writing on a Rebel sheet of paper. . . . A number of wounded Rebels are lying around. The Army has achieved a great success today than they ever did before I think. This morning the 6th Corps before daylight made a charge, broke the Rebels lines and doubled them up. I don't know how many prisoners we have taken, a good many though. I saw 1600 in one squad. I suppose we have captured 5 or 6,000." Finally on April 9, he informs his brother that "Lee has surrendered his whole Army. When the news came the men gave a cheer and fired their guns in the air. We are on the left of Lee's Army." On the 27th he wrote that he had heard of Lincoln's assassination: "We heard of the assassination before we left Appomattox C.H. Of course everyone felt badly. All wondering what we were to do now. No one then seemed to have much confidence in Andrew Johnson." In this letter, he also accuses General William Sherman of being "drunk or crazy" for giving General Joseph Johnston such light terms for his surrender. By early May, Reed was at Richmond, struck by the destruction of the city ("I had no idea that so much was destroyed [May 3, 1865]").

    The following military documents are also included in binder 4 of this archive: Reed's military appointment to sergeant of Co. "G" (dated November 2, 1864); Reed's appointment as 1st sergeant (dated December 2, 1864); Reed's appointment to 1st lieutenant (dated January 31, 1865); Reed's discharge document (dated March 1, 1865, so that he could be promoted to 1st lieutenant); a volunteer enlistment document of Nelson Haley aged fifteen, a "factory boy," to serve as drummer (February 14, 1864); many military records kept by the 148th N.Y.V.; near twenty military records from Co. "G" (such as "List of Stores Received from . . . 148th NYV"; "Muster and Pay Rolls"; muster rolls); and three Treasury Department documents with post-war dates (1867-1892) regarding the settlement of Reed's military accounts. Also included are newspaper articles about Helen Pitts Douglass; a map cut from Harper's Weekly of the "Battlefields Around Richmond" on which Reed has annotated and marked "where we lay"; an article about "The Widow of General Geo. Custer"; and a reprint of the first account of the Custer Massacre from the Bismarck Tribune.


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    Auction Dates
    April, 2015
    9th Thursday
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