DescriptionWilliam B. Arnold of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry Archive. An archive of approximately 100 letters, 9 GAR certificates, and Arnold's appointment and discharge papers, two tin types and two pins, along with Arnold's shell jacket, canteen, belt, and saber straps. The letters are addressed to members his family, and date from February 3 1864 to October 12, 1865. William B. Arnold enlisted as a Private, and he was mustered into Company H, 4th Massachusetts Cavalry in February 1864. He was soon promoted to Corporal and served in the Third Battalion as they were stationed at Newport News, City Point, Bermuda Hundred, and ultimately at the Headquarters of the 18th Army Corps. In April 1865, the 4th MA Cavalry took up the occupation of Richmond. At the end of the war, they saw the surrender of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. Arnold was mustered out of service on November 14, 1865 in Richmond. After the war, he served as GAR Post Commander #73.
Upon enlisting, Arnold was sent to Camp Readville in Massachusetts for training. He wrote to his sister once he reached the place, and included details of the enlistment process. The letter, dated February 8, 1864, reads in part:"...I was mustered in this afternoon with about 100 others. Now, if I don't like it I shall have to keep it. The mustering officer rejected about half a dozen out of the lot. Some he questioned very close. He didn't question me only to look at me and then pass on. I suppose he thought I looked too honest to enlist if I was under eighteen... " [Four pages bifolium, 5" x 8".]
With his training complete, Arnold left camp, and the 4th Massachusetts was stationed at Newport News in Virginia. The new cavalry recruits had just been assigned their horses, and Arnold was eager to boast of his new mount. In a letter to his mother, dated May 9, 1864, he writes in part: "...all of war that can be seen here is the transports going up and down the river loaded with stores and wounded. We can hear cannonading quite plain...our horses are cleaned twice a day and they begin to shine. We have had our horses assigned to us. I picked out a Bay Colt that weighs about 800. He is just like a cat can go can jump anything is just as clever as a kitten. You had ought to see the boys work on their horses. It may play out but soldiers are liable to think a great deal of a horse..." [Four pages bifolium, 5" x 8".]
After the cavalry relocated to City Point, Virginia, in an attempt to move on Petersburg, Arnold was involved in the Second Battle of Petersburg. He wrote home to his father on June 18, 1864, and described the experience of the battle. In part: "...on the 18th the Battalion was out scouting towards Petersburg. We drove in their pickets. Our platoon...was in advance under command of Lieut. Perley. We saw a squad of Rebs...he ordered us to charge on them. We let our horses out and after a chase of about a mile the Lieut., myself and another fellow caught up with two of them. They were well mounted, armed etc. We halted them and took their arms from them. One of them was an orderly Sergt. I got a nice revolver...which the Capt. took from me. We were chased into camp by Gen'l. Derring [Dearing] with 2000 Cav. One of Co. H was taken prisoner. One the 14th we went...about 15 miles to a rebel signal station opposite Harrison's Landing. One platoon of us went up to the house on a run and engaged two officers...one got away that owned the third horse. They were in a splendid house near the river where they could see everything...and still not...seen by our men on the gunboats. The Reb Capt. said that he did not care if he was taken as he had gained all the information he came there for." In this letter, Arnold also writes about the Colored Troops led by Edward W. Hinks, who succeeded in capturing a rebel cannon: "On the 15th we Co. E & H. started at one o'clock with all the troops at City Point towards Petersburg...we halted for Gen'l. Gilmore's tropes to pass...the 5th Mass. Cav. and about a half dozen of other Colored troops were thrown out ahead. At day light they came upon the Rebs. who had thrown up breastworks during the night. The 5th Cav. charged on them and took them and a twelve pound piece of artillery. They lost pretty heavy. Their Col. was wounded and Major and a Capt. killed. We were about 3/4 of a mile in their rear. After the fight was over we followed on up. They kept moving on and soon brought up near the first line of breastworks this side of Petersburg. Here they skirmished with them until about night and carried them. It was the colored troops that took them. We were kept guarding ammunition and supply trains until last night...all of Grant's troops are up toward Petersburg..." [Four pages bifolium, 4.75" x 7.75".]
A few weeks later Arnold, who was still near Petersburg, wrote of the Union's new mortar, which was nicknamed "The Dictator". The mortar had been made in Pittsburgh and had been mounted on a railroad flatcar to move between firing positions. In his July 11, 1864 letter, Arnold writes about the mortar as well as of England's small involvement in the war. In part: "...If you see Frank Leslie's papers of the 16th you will find just about the position we are in. It is the picture showing the earthworks near Genl. Smith's Head Quarters. Our camp is about half a mile in rear of that. Where we do picket is on the river banks to right in the picture and not far from Petersburg...The railroad is but a short distance from here. It is in running orders to City Point now. We have a mortar on a car with double trucks...it is a 13 inch and is a savage looking concern. She has not been tried yet but is almost ready. If it works well the shell will play in Petersburg...The [CSS] Alabama has finally met her deserved fate. It is too bad that [her commander, Capt. Raphael] Semmes got away. England has to stick her nose in anyway. Her commerce may at some future day suffer ten times as much as ours has from his pirates..." [Four pages bifolium, 4.75" x 8".]
Within the archive is also a rare eye-witness account of the James Squadron attack on Fort Harrison, which also included the CSS Merrimac II. Arnold had a prime view of the engagement, and wrote home of what he saw on October 1, 1864. His letter, dated October 23, 1864, reads in part: "...I was near the river and witnessed the fight between the Reb Ram and one of our shore batteries...I was about 200 yards outside and to the right of the Fort [Harrison] and in plain sight of the rams and I could not have chosen a better position for viewing the scene. There are or were four rams in the river just opposite to where we threw up the fort. our battery opened on the one farthest up the river and she immediately got up steam and went up out of range without firing a shot. Then they commenced on the one next furthest down the river and she immediately got into position and let go from a complex of her guns but could not bring them to bear on the fort and only succeeded in plowing up considerable ground. While she was doing all this our guns got the right elevation and spotted her almost every time...One went through her smoke stack and the others when they struck her kicked up considerable dust but most of them glanced from her. One struck her on the roof and went up in the air like a ball of fire over a hundred feet and then she came into the water. Where the shell struck in the water about her they made the water flying into the air a column of it higher than the fountain on the Common ever spouted. When the shell struck her it sounded the same as the bullets did I fired at mother's kettle. Well the Ram soon got sick of the work and started up the river...The other two done likewise after getting doned the same..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 6.5" x 8".]
William Arnold had another close escape from injury or worse as he survived the Battle of Second Fair Oaks. Grant had hoped to flank Lee's army, in an attempt to prevent Lee from reinforcing his troops at Hatcher's Run. Although the Union initially were met with success, they could not break through the Rebel entrenchments, and ultimately failed in their attack. Arnold and the 4th MA Cavalry had been the last to leave the area, and he wrote to his mother about the scenes he witnessed as the Union retreated. The letter dated October 30, 1864, reads in part: "...on the 27th we broke camp at 3 o'clock in the morning and started on the grand flank movement... We were in rear of the Corps driving up stragglers. You can imagine how agreeable it must be to be doing that duty. Well after marching on a roundabout road will along in the afternoon we reached the old battlefield of Fair Oaks and found the Johnnies pretty thick there. The plan was I believe to skirmish a little and take up their attention there so that Meade would not have the whole of Lee's army to contend with at Petersburg. Also to take the fort which we tried to take if there was a good opportunity. Everything looked lovely and so the attack was made on the Fort and the Rebs were all ready for us with grape and canister. The Cav. Div. charged and lost pretty much one Brigade . There was a ravine in front of the fort and when the men got into that for shelter the Rebs had them. Our boys took a number of guns but lost them again. After dark we commenced the retreat and after the whole column passed we took our old position in [the] rear. We moved back quite a distance and there the troops were halted to rest. It was raining all night and we were wet through. It was hard for the men on foot wallowing in the mud. In the morning we commenced moving again. It was hard slow work for us as were the last of everything and not a man was allowed to be left behind us...it was a rather expensive move. Nearly all the wounded were left behind. That was the roughest part of it. How Meade come out on the left I have not heard. We cant expect to win every time but our boys fought hard enough to gain something..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 5" x 8".]
Arnold also was witness to Abraham Lincoln's entrance into the captured Rebel capitol. He wrote about seeing the president on April 4, 1865, in part: "When this war broke out I did not expect to ever head a letter like this...I am glad we had the chance to first unfurl the Starts and Stripes over this city...Company 'H''s guidon was the first flag to float over Richmond after four years of fighting. There was not as much damage done by the fire as I thought last night. It seemed as though it would sweep every thing...when the arsenal blew up I got a hole burnt through my pants and my neck scorched a little...Johnson met Steph. Randall's wive's sister on the street this morning...President Lincoln arrived here this afternoon. You ought to have seen the negroes. Of all the howling and turning of summersaults you ever heard and saw. I have talked with a number of citizens. One was telling me that he used to be a rabid Sesech, but had got so now that he would like to see Lee's army whipped... everybody almost seem to be glad of our coming. They said they had been starved almost to death and their looks showed it...everybody curses the Reb Genl. Ewell. They say he never could win a battle [but that] he must go and burn a city filled with helpless women and children. What he destroyed did not harm our government much...we can manufacture all the ammunition we want and I don't think the tobacco and liquor they destroyed could have done much good. We are quartered in the Richmond Female Institute. It is a large building made to accommodate a number of...pupils. It is situated near the former residence of Jeff Davis...the rooms are all transferred into offices...today the Whig was published but it reads rather different from what it did a week ago. When we came into the city there were 3000 Johnnies in the other end burning commissary stores but after our appearance they skedaddled...now [that] Richmond is taken and we the ones to first enter it I don't care much what they do with us. It all seems like a dream to me. The 5th & 2nd Cav. are on the other side of the river...yesterday I might have got stuff of great value...but we were employed putting men at work on the burning buildings and had to let jewelry shops go with the rest. I got...a rubber coat, some spurs and a few trinkets ...some of them [the boys] got hold of stuff called Apple Jack and a drink of it will set them crazy. But I do not mean that all were soaked in liquor when I say they were in good spirits ...the end is approaching so fast...their greatest stronghold has fallen [that] will bring a fellows spirits up..."[Three pages of a bifolium, 8" x 12.5".] Tragically, Lincoln was shot just ten days later at Ford's Theatre.
The 4th Massachusetts Cavalry was at Appomattox Court House when Lee and his army finally surrendered. When Lee was free to leave, Arnold was one of the sixteen 4th Massachusetts cavalrymen who acted as Lee's escort. When the war came to a final close, Arnold revisited some of the battlefields and mused on the state of the country and further involvement in war. His letter from September 17, 1865, reads in part: "...I took a ride out to the breastworks. I send a small piece of board that I picked up directly over the 'Crater' where the mine exploded...many who visit there pick up pieces of human bones as trophies. The earth has washed away from many of the graves and left portions of the remains of soldiers protruding from the earth. All of the colored troops who were killed, when the mine exploded as you well know were buried in the 'Crater.' Tall weeds mark the line of trenches where men been buried. The stench in that portion of the line where battles were fought last spring is almost unbearable. The horrors of this war will long be remembered. Some people seem to be quite willing to fight England or France now. Now I am as willing to fight for my country as anybody in defense of her rights. If England or France do not do anything wrong just now does not seem to be the time to war with them...President Johnson (the papers say) intends to withdraw troops from the South...were it not for the quarrels that will arise between white and blacks it would do well enough, but the White consider themselves new and will not deal fairly with the Negroes unless obliged to..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 5" x 8".]
These letters provide a wonderful scope of Arnold's extensive, if brief, service in the Union army. Accompanying these letters are some of his personal affects, including his cavalry shell jacket. The jacket is actually non-regulation, and appears to be custom-made, constructed of indigo serge wool with yellow tape trim, a 12-button front (Scovills Extra back marks), 2" stand-up collar and two buttons on each functional cuff. The interior of the jacket is lined in rough tan wool with a single pocket, the lining with either a depot or inspector's stamp "P [illegible]". The jacket differs from the regulation style in that the collar has a single button and two as opposed to four rows of yellow lace piping and instead of belt-rest pads sewn to the lower back edge of the jacket, there are two wide-yellow trimmed flaps secured by brass-eagle buttons. Interestingly, there is a similar jacket pictured on page 108 of Echoes of Glory: Arms and Equipment of the Union (Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1991) that belonged Sgt. Charles Darling who served in "M" Company of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry. Whether this a coincidence or was peculiar to the regiment is unknown. This jacket has seen much service and exhibits many field repairs, the largest being a 2" x 1.5" repair on the left breast and the lining is rather tatty from use. Ten of the twelve front buttons remain and one or two of the remaining buttons look to have been replaced during Arnold's active service. Interestingly, Arnold actually wrote about his jacket in a July 8, 1865 letter to his brother, in which he explains the absence of his jacket's stripes. In part: "...a few nights ago I was jumped [in rank] and I went to the Capt. and asked to be reduced. He refused to do this and I tore off my stripes. [This is why his shell jacket does not have stripes.] There has been nothing in my conduct to warrant such treatment and he ought to be gentleman enough to reduce me at my own request after jumping me. Having no friends in the Regt and being of small stature and not of commanding appearance has not been in my favor...I hate to be used so almightily-mean by men who are my inferiors... " [Four pages of a bifolium, 4.5" x 7".]
Condition: Letters range from very good to good, with usual mail folds, toning and staining. Many of the letters have retained their original envelopes. The GAR certificates are lightly toned in place, else good. Arnold's belt is worn, but in good condition, while his saber straps have become separated in parts and are quite worn. As mentioned above, the shell jacket has numerous field repairs, and two buttons appear to have been replaced.
Four pages bifolium, 5.25" x 8.25", "Deep Bottom" ; September 14, 1864, to his father in part: ".Grant will soon swing round onto the Danville railroad and if he succeeds in taking it and holding it there will be no use for Lee to attempt holding Richmond as his supplies will be entirely cut off. The other day here the pickets were yelling at the top of their voices to each other. In the course of the conversation the Johnny yelled. "We have plenty to eat over here. We are going to open the blockade in the spring and then you can't starve us." One of our boys said they had better open the Weldon railroad first. The Johnny dried up.".
Four pages bifolium, 5" x 7.75", "Deep Bottom"; September 18, 1864, to his mother in part: ".Any man who will support the Platform of the Chicago Convention is anything but a loyal man. Some men of this camp who were in for McClellan as soon as they saw the Platform he was nominated on. Johnson just came to the tent.to see the Platforms. When he came out here he was a stout talking Republican but his views have changed some. His brag about getting out of the service before one year will be played out before many months. I should think he would be willing to keep 500 miles between himself and Abington from now till his time is up.".
Four pages bifolium, 5" x 8", "Camp of Detachment 4th Mass. Cav. Hd. Qrs. 25th A. C."; February 23, 1865, to his father, in part: ".a large number of prisoners have been exchanged.our men look like skeletons. Lieut. Doland of Co. F this regt and a number of men were exchanged. Deserters are constantly coming in. They say that the authorities at Richmond are drilling Negroes. We have a years start on them.Charleston is evacuated.the Confederacy is tumbling to pieces pretty fast. Sherman is a Brick. Deserters say that he is called the "Flying Major Genl." by the Rebs.".
Four pages bifolium, 5" x 8", "Camp of 4th Mass. Cavalry"; May 7, 1865, to his mother, in part: ".yesterday the 2nd & 5th Corps were passing on their way to Washington. Genl. Baxter's Brig. halted near by.I saw him for the first time. I like the looks of him. I saw some of the old 12th & 39th. I asked some of them if they remembered Capt. Arnold.I tell you they remember Moses.he said Genl. Baxter missed him. He thought almost as much of him.as of his own son.I suppose we will mustered out as soon as the "Army of the James" is.Jeff Davis will be caught before he reaches the Mississippi. $100,000 is quite an inducement to a friend of him. He will be met with a fate he desires if caught. G. N. Sanders has [?] been plotting for the assassination of our Pres. while engaged in Peace negotiations. What low rascally, murderous the Confederate leaders were. They are played out. I do not think it will take many cavalry to hunt down guerrillas. If they care to band through their own folks they can try it. That is their only field after the winding up of the rebellion. The state authors can take care of the Bushwhackers in their own state.".
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