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    "I think they will want little Mac yet to lead us on to Richmond for wee have a Longstreet to go through, two Hills to go over, a Stonewall to knock down, & ...wee may turn to Leeward."

    Union Soldier's Archive, Consisting of over Sixty Letters Written by Private George W. Fernald of the 82nd Regiment, Co. "C", Army of the Potomac. Fernald was wounded at Gettysburg. This archive, which also contains a piece of his felt Hardee hat fragmentized by a bullet at the First Battle of Bull Run, dates from July 9, 1861, through December 17, 1864. Each letter is written to his cousin, George H. Fernald of New York City, and is in its transmittal envelope. Many of the letters and envelopes are on patriotic stationery. The archive contains exceptional battle descriptions. Of special interest is this soldier's evolving views on the roll of blacks in the military, as seen through his letters.

    Private Fernald (demoted from "Sargeantry" in late 1862 because he "stopped at Sisters while I was sick") writes the third letter of the archive three days after the Battle of Bull Run, where his hat was "shot to pieces": "I was in that battle at Bulls Run but thank god I did not get wounded. Although I got hat all shot to pieces and I will send you a small piece of it for you to keep to remember the 21 of July by for it was a bloody battle fought on that day. I am at sisters now. our regt is encamped [?] of the city. You must not think that wee was whipped for wee got three of there masked batterys but our amunition gave out and so wee had to retreat. i should think there was about 1500 or 2000 killed and wounded but the enemy lost more than wee did." Included with the letter is a 2" x 3" irregular piece of Fernald's black felt Hardee hat.

    Eight months after the defeat, General McClellan led the Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula Campaign. Through Fernald's letters (he wrote an average of one every twelve days during the ill-fated campaign), battle details and troop movements are revealed from a soldier's perspective. His regiment left Georgetown, D.C., (where they had "encamped back of the Capitol") sometime after March 26. While "On picket near Yorktown" on April 25, he was nearly "taken prisoner" during a skirmish. On a battlefield at "New Kent . . . about two miles above Westpoint . . . about thirty miles from Richmond," Fernald reports that "the enemy act like savages for they bayonet our wounded & there were several found with there throats cut from eare to eare & some of the Boys say they had a Brigade of Niggroes wich fired on our Boys." From "Cumberland Farms Va." on May 26, he writes that "Our advance drove the Enemy across the Chickahomany on the night of the 18th." From Seven Pines on June 2: "We have just had another bloody Battle within seven miles of Richmond. . . . wee had about one hours hard fighting & drove the enemy back, but had to sleep on our arms on the Battlefield with the dead & wounded wich you know was not verry pleasant. . . . it makes me sick to see the Battlefield for it is covered with the dead & wounded & the dead are begining to Bloat & Smell bad, but I hope the dead will soon be buired & the wounded cared for. The enemy retreated last night to Richmond. . . . I think the loss in our Regt. is about fifty." From "Fair Oaks Va." on June 19: "I don't think it will be long before the Ball will open in earnest. . . . The enemy shells our Camp every once in a while but they don't do Much damage. they killed one man & wounded three in the Minnasota Regt." Even though the campaign failed, Fernald, with complete confidence in General McClellan, writes on July 4, "Our army has retreated to the James River. . . . I think that McClellan has got theme just where he wants theme."

    In another six months, he was again on the battlefield, this time at Fredericksburg. Following the battle, he wrote, "we remained [opposite Fredericksburg] until near dark waiting for the Pontoon Bridge. . . . the Enemy's Sharpshooters . . . picked our men off as fast as they went out to work on the Bridge. . . . wee had some street fighting. . . . there was hard fighting all day Saturday." In a letter written one month later, he ruminates, "you say that Fredericksburgh Battle is the Bloodiest Battle that has been fought in some time but it is not half as bloody as it might have been if it had not of been that God & providence was on our side for the Rebels could have Slaughtered every one of us."

    After the Battle of Chancellorsville, he writes on May 27, 1863, "it was a hard & bloody Battly & nothing gained by it, although Joe Hooker says he gained his object. . . . wee have pretty good news heare from the Mississippi river that Vicksburgh has been captured. . . . Genl. Stonewall Jackson was killed in the late fight across the river which make the rebels feel verry bad."

    Fernald recounts that he had fought in twelve major battles before his final battle at Gettysburg. Seven days after the battle, he finally notifies his cousin, "I was not killed . . . but was wounded. I was shot in the right breast & the ball came out of my back, but the Doctor says with careful nursing I will come out all right." He was taken from a field hospital by his aunt and uncle to their home in Baltimore to convalesce. Three weeks after the battle, he noted that "the Hospitals in the City are full of wounded of both armys, the People of Baltimore are doing a great deal for the wounded both hear & at Gettysburgh Pa. there are wounded arriving hear all the time." Fernald spent the next few months with his aunt and uncle, announcing on November 8, 1863, that he had been "pronounced unfit for active service." Though his days on the battlefield were over, he was soon attached to the Pay Department, under which he served throughout the rest of the war.

    It is interesting to see how this soldier matured throughout these defining four years. Not only do his letters become more thoughtful (and grammatically more correct), but his feelings toward black people, particularly those who later served in the U.S. military, evolved. In a bitter letter written on January 16, 1863, Fernald wrote that he didn't "feel in verry good spirits . . . since the Presidents Proclaimation, has come in force, I feel still worse for I feel as if wee were fighting for the cursed Niggers, instead of the Union wich wee came out for & if things dont take a change soon, I shall leave the army for I won't fight to free Niggers for that is not in the Constitution. . . . I think at the presant time the Rebels are nearer right than wee are & I glory in there spunck for holding out against such odds." Nine months later, he writes, "there is a Niger Regt. going to parade hear to day, do you have any of them in New York. I hope not for I am opposed to Niger Soldiers." But as the war began to wind down and victory seemed likely, the soldier changed his mind, insisting in late 1864 that "Negro[s] . . . make good Soldiers": "I suppose you have heard that Sherman has invaded Savana. also that his march from Atlanta to Savana was poorly resisted by the Rebels. he lost only about 1000 men on the whole march. he has an army of about 6000 men. they lived on the fat of the land on their march through the confedercy. he captured about about 60000 head of cattle . . . about 20000 Negros which the most of them will make good Soldiers. the most of our troops in this Dept. are Negro & they make good Soldiers when officered by competent Officers."

    Throughout his numerous letters, Private Fernald freely offers his opinions on the draft, complaints about drunken officers, and his preference for General McClellan over his replacements ("little Mac . . . is our man, & only him"). In addition, Fernald also supplies details on practical matters that were important to Civil War soldiers, such as the loneliness, the presence of sickness in the camp, the formidable physical conditions, and the constant fear of the enemy. Despite the hardships, he believed that he was fighting in a just war, "I want to see this Rebellion put down & I think fighting is the only way to put it down." Though some letters contain light stains and soiling (all envelopes are lightly soiled as expected), this archive is in fine condition and worthy of full research.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2009
    12th Saturday
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