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    "I was Detailed yesterday to shoot a Deserter and I shot him"

    Union Sergeant Miles L. Smith (10th Connecticut Infantry) Archive, consisting of twenty-six Civil War-dated letters, all dated between February 20, 1862, and July 25, 1865. As his regiment marched, camped, and fought along the coasts of Virginia and North and South Carolina, Sergeant Smith recorded details of his service in the Union Army in letters to his parents, wife, and brother Herman (who also served in the army). His regiment-the Connecticut 10th Infantry-was active throughout the war and into its final days as they blocked General Lee's escape from Virginia. They were present when Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. This archive has been well cared for and is neatly organized chronologically in a binder. The usual toning, light soiling, and folds exist.

    Hailing from New Haven, Connecticut, Miles enlisted in September 1861 as a private and was mustered into the Connecticut 10th Infantry, Co. "K". He writes his first letter on February 20, 1862, as his regiment served in General Ambrose Burnside's North Carolina Expedition. Private Smith describes in gruesome detail in that letter his experience during the Battle of Roanoke Island (February 7-8, 1862), just off the North Carolina mainland: "We have had one Battle and took Roanoke Island and 3 thousand Prisoners and one hundred rebel officers and [Virginia] Governor [Henry A.] Wise Son killed him and took over 30 pieces of canon. . . . What a looking set the rebels are all kinds of dress toe pant and coats and old black hats they look just like states prisoners. . . . I tell you it was hard to see the men that was shot some with both legs off and arms shot off and balls through the head and the balls was just as thick as hailstones flying all a round our Colonel was Shot dead and our Captain wounded in the head shot off part of his ear." Later in 1862 he notes the importance of his weapon: "I think my gun is the best friend I have in the field of battle" (September 17, 1862).

    In his December 7, 1862, letter, Smith writes about eating Thanksgiving dinner as a soldier, though he "should have liked to been there [Connecticut] to enjoyed the Thanksgiving dinner with you and to eat some turkey and pudding and chicking pie and mince pie." This is noteworthy since President Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official federal holiday in 1863.

    As the war neared its end, Smith noted in his December 7, 1864, letter written near Richmond that "Deserters come in every Day they say their army is completely Demoralized I hope it is so. . . . We had new guns to day they are the Springfield [Model 1861]." He surmises on January 1, 1865 that "there will be peace before long it look like it now for Sherman is closing the work he has taken Savanah I don't think the war will last long." Six days later he writes that "Sherman is in the rear of Charleston and of course he will take it for he is a smart general and when Charleston is taken Richmond is gone."

    On March 12, 1865, "Before Richmond," he informs his family that he has witnessed and participated in numerous executions of deserters: "Most every day we have to go to see someone shot or hung. I was Detailed yesterday to shoot a Deserter and I shot him to that is the way we scare them down here. I have helped and seen 15 shot and 2 hung. It is hard at first but we are use to it and don't mind any more about it than shooting a bird. The subs in our regt Desert most every day."

    As a Connecticut Yankee, Smith saw new sights and had new experiences in the South. He writes about many of these, particularly on topics such as tobacco, cotton ("you don't know how funny the cotton looks when it is a growing. . . . I have seen fields of it as large as from our house down to the ferry [September 17, 1862]"), and pine trees. He also describes abandoned plantations that his company found (see letters dated April 12, 1863, and May 19, 1863). In the April letter written from Seabrook Island, South Carolina, Smith writes of how his company arrived on the island and found an abandoned planation, where they stayed for the night. In that letter, he also describes how the Rebels shot one soldier in the leg and the doctors "had to amputate his leg. I saw the Doctor take it of[f] we have a chance to see of that in the army." In the May letter, Smith describes in more detail an abandoned planation house where they "found no one there all had left nice chairs and . . . tables and carpets and it was a splendid place . . . and a large glass house full of flowers."

    Sergeant Smtih mustered out in August 1865 as a first sergeant. Most letters are accompanied by their postmarked and stamped envelopes. Several letters are written on colorful Union letterhead.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2014
    8th-9th Wednesday-Thursday
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