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    Description

    George G. Thwing, 30th Massachusetts Infantry, Archive of Letters and Journal. A group of approximately 40 letters and a journal belonging to Private George Thwing of "Butler's Brigade". Written during his enlistment, the letters date from April/May 5, 1861 to December 13, 1862, and are addressed to his father and sister Eliza. Letters are of varying size and length. Prior to the war, Thwing had worked as a clerk, but enlisted as a private on December 5, 1861. He was soon mustered into Company E, which was led by General Butler. The regiment was sent into Louisiana, where they occupied New Orleans and fought in the Battle of Baton Rouge. Sadly, Thwing died just before Christmas 1862 of disease. Despite only serving one year in the military, as a former clerk, Thwing had a talent for language and description, and his writing is greatly enjoyable. The archive also includes Thwing's handwritten journal, entitled "Memorandum of Butlers Expedition on the Mississippi River!!" There are an additional 40-50 letters from Eliza and George's father to George, as well as a number of other letters addressed to Eliza. There is also a sketch of Thwing, drawn by a fellow soldier that he included in a letter to Eliza.

    For a period of time, the 30th Massachusetts was stationed at Fort Monroe, which Thwing drew a plan of in the back of his journal. He wrote to his sister about the regiment's harrowing experience on the island, described in a letter dated January 26, 1862, "Last Friday was a very stormy and windy day...the whole regiment were ordered out with all their equipments on...The road to the fortress was entirely covered with the rolling and heaving sea. The sea looked terrific, it rolled mountains high. I could see ships tossing to and fro with their flags half-masted as a signal of distress and I pitied them. / We were in a dreadful state. The entire regiment we in line, all the tents having been taken down in a hurry, you had better believe. I was a little frightened myself...The sea was up to our knees, the sea having swamped the whole island. The regiment marched about a mile where the land was higher, it being a large cluster of woods, covered partly with mounds where the remains of those soldiers departed from life were buried. When we arrived there, we pitched our tents, but we did not get any supper. We, having had not a mouthful of food since morning, not even a mouthful of water, we had to lie down that night without any food, wet to the skin, without any dry clothing to put on, everything being wet through. Such is a soldiers life, dear Eliza."

    A month later, Thwing had moved to Ship Island and wrote in his journal on February 22, 1862, about the Union victory at the Battle of Fort Donelson: "The Union Forces in Kentucky gained a great victory. The number of men on the Union side was 150,000. The Federals captured 10,000 men besides two paymasters, besides the fort called Fort Donelson. They also captured the stronghold of the enemy in Kentucky, called Columbus. It was a great victory on our side. To-day Gen. Phelps had all the troops on the island out into line and a salute of thirteen guns and twenty one guns afterwards was fired from the fort. It was a regular holiday on the island."

    In April 1862, while aboard the ship Matanzas, en route to New Orleans, Thwing witnessed the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, which would prove decisive for control of New Orleans. On April 19, 1862, he reported in his journal: "After casting anchor about five miles from the fort, the men could see Porter's Mortar Fleet bombarding Fort Jackson. A part of the fleet was lying at anchor close by. About dark a gun-boat came down the river alongside of the Matanzas and gave the news to Gen (the Saxon being side of us at the time). The news was that Com. Porter's fleet consisted of thirty vessels, frigates, sloops-of-war, and gun-boats. At about 9 o'clock in the evening a large fire could be distinctly seen back of the trees and underwood in the direction of the fort burning brighter and brighter as the darkness increased. It burned five or six hours before it went down any. A boat came alongside this morning from one of the gun-boats and reported that the fort was set on fire inside by the shells of the mortar fleet. It is very hard getting food of any sort on board of the steamer. Early this morning the fleet commenced firing again. To-day I saw a large number of crockadiles [sic] on the banks of the river..." The next day he wrote: "The large fire I wrote of yesterday proved to be a large Rebel raft covered with pitch pine and fiery combustables. This was set fire and sent by the Rebels at Fort Jackson down the river. They intend to set the fleet on fire, if possible, but the swift as luck would have it, took it ashore amongst the mud and bushes where it stayed for one while..."

    In May, Thwing gives his thoughts on New Orleans and recounts a story of a slave whose family was taken from him, in his journal entry of May 1, 1862: "...The plantations are very beautiful on both sides of the river. Negro wenches jumping up and down, waving their dress, and trying to cheer...A colored man 80 years age without hardly any clothing on, came down to the boat and he told a pitiful story. His story was that he had been a slave for nearly fifty-one years, that he had had since he had been in bondage five or six masters, that his family, a wife and four children, had been taken from his arms and sold under the hammer which was thirteen years ago, and every since that he did not care what become of himself. I could tell more of what he said, but that is enough..."

    On July 17, 1862, he wrote to his father about another incident with a slave owner and two slaves, describing: "...Two negroes were shot here on a plantation by their master. The master was arrested by Gen. Butler's order. He gave for an excuse that both negroes showed a rebellious spirit and refused to do any duty and he shot them both on that account. The Gen. sent him to Fort Jackson for a number of years. A great many rich planters in this city have had all of their cotton, sugar, molasses, taken from them. Col. Dudly offered to buy it of them and pay them in gold or U.S. Treasury notes. They said they would not disgrace themselves by selling to the Yankee cutthroats. So all of their cotton &c was seized by Col. Dudley's orders and carted down to the levee to be taken North..." However, in the same letter, it is clear that Thwing's health troubles were already beginning to set in. He begins the letter with describing having issues with his legs, writing: "my health is excellent, so is my appetite, but my lameness still sticks to my limbs; so days I am quite smart and hardly feel any lameness at all, other days I am as stiff as a poker; to-day one of my ankles, and one of my knees is all puffed up, it pains me as bad as though it were a sprain; the regiment having gone up to Vicksburg about seven weeks ago there is no surgeon here. I have not done anything for my lameness, for two months, and I have had it since the first of May..."

    In his journal entry dated August 5, 1862, Thwing describes the Battle of Baton Rouge in bloody detail: "This morning at 5 o'clk the Rebels under Gens. Breckenridge & Lovell with a force of 8,000 men attacked the federal troops. One camp (14 Maine) they took entirely by surprise and had fired two volleys into them before they had formed a line of battle. At five o'clk the fight on both sides raged furiously. Gen. Williams was killed at the commencement of the battle. We had about 4,000 men on our side. The Mass. 6th Battery lost 3 guns, but they were captured by a gallant charge of the Indiana boys. William Norris was wounded in the thigh. Lieut. Gardner in the thigh. I saw the surgeon extract the ball. Gen. Breckenridge had his arm shot off and was taken prisoner. Capt. Kelly of the famous Zouaves was killed. I saw crowds and crowds that were wounded. At the beginning of the engagement reinforcements were sent after at New Orleans. Lieut. [William Howe] How's body has been recovered. This evening the enemy came in with a flag of truce to bury their dead. Col. Dudley said that he was proud of his regiment, that they acted bravely. He also said that if it had not been Capt. Nim's Battery, our side would have lost the day. The battery fired the fastest of any battery on the field and raked the Rebel ranks down by hundreds..." He continued the following day, on the 6th: "Last evening the Rebels retreated out of sight, but we do not know how many miles. To-day our side expect reinforcements from New Orleans. Our forces slept on the battlefield all night so as to be in readiness for the Rebels in case of an attack. A great many prisoners were taken of the Rebels. The gun-boats played the duce with the Rebels. There is five gun-boats here and they were continually firing over the city shelling the woods every half hour and also the day before. Col. Dudley said last evening that Breckenridge was not taken prisoner. We expect another battle to-day."

    A few days later, Thwing wrote further details of the battle in a letter to his father, dated August 10, 1862: "I am now at the Marine Hospital, N.O. All of the sick and wounded were sent down the river from Baton Rouge. The battle of Baton Rouge was a terrible battle. The Union forces were terribly cut up, but not half as bad as the Rebel forces. The Rebels had between eight and nine thousand on their side while we did not had more than four thousand men, yet we vanquished them after five hours hard fighting. I was very near being killed myself while going out with the sick officers of the garrison. The garrison was the place our forces were going to retreat to in case they were driven back. The garrison is about five minutes walk to the place where the battle occurred...Our brave Gen. Williams was killed while rallying the 21st Indiana. The 30th stood their ground like veterans. The gun-boat gave pepper and salt to the Rebels. The Rebel ram was burned while coming down the river to help the Rebels by the gun-boat Essex...Lieut. Gardner of our company was mortally wounded so was three or four privates. There was about twenty-five killed and wounded in the 30th reg. in the battle..."

    The next phase of Thwing's letters show him slowly deteriorating in the hospital, ravaged by rheumatism and diarrhea that would ultimately kill him at the age of 22. On September 6, 1862, he wrote his father, "I am still at the hospital. I have been examined by the Medical Board twice and they said laughingly that I was playing off. I have made up my mind to leave the hospital to-morrow morning and limp up to the regiment which is quartered about four miles from the hospital. The doctor of my ward told me that my leg was in a very bad condition and it would hardly be probable that I eve would get the full use of it...The medical board consists of three surgeons. The head one is named Doctor Brown and he is the one that said that I was playing off. He belongs to New Orleans and was here before the Union troops took possession of the city. He is a regular secession rascal and an ugly man and tyrant. He has charge of this hospital...The colored folks here, and there is any quantity of them, there being crowds of them with the different regiments here, are a great deal better treated than the soldiers are. We do not get more than half what we are allowed by the government. The quartermasters pocket the balance. All of the officers here think of nothing but swindling the government and it is a happy day for any man to be discharged..."

    On September 24, 1862, he wrote to his father that he was not improving, in part: "For the last three of four days I have been very sick. Instead of getting better I am (so the doctor says) getting worse. It is called by the doctor 'Chronic Diarrhea.' Nothing comes from me but slime and blood. I can tell you that I suffer. I have eaten nothing now for two days, the doctor tells me that if I am not very careful I may be carried off with it, on account of the climate. The water we have to drink here is worse than the river water, it is Bayou water it is used by the men for three purposes, washing clothes, bathing, and drink. A soldiers life is awful to contemplate..." He continues in a letter to his sister on October 4, 1862: "I am very sick. It is with the greatest effort that I wrote this letter. Since the 22nd of last month (my birthday) I have been failing very fast. The doctor has done me more hurt than good. Last night I fainted away while coming back to my tent from the necessary, I had to be brought back to my tent. My complaint is the Chronic Diarrea, Rheumatism, and I have had the fever...I am as weak as a kitten."

    In a tragic letter, dated December 13, 1862, one week before Thwing died, he wrote to his father that he hopes to get better under the new care of nurses. Halfway through the first page, the writing was taken over by one of his nurses. It reads in part: "My complaint has changed from D___ to Dysentery, which the Doctor has no medicine for. It has reduced me to a mere skeleton...There is at last, and to my great pleasure, ladies visiting the hospital. I hope now we will get well under their kindness. I expect to be removed to one of the ladies houses, she having taken a fancy, imagining me to look somewhat like a deceased brother of hers. I have at last been removed to a home and have sent for a Southern doctor. Sunday the 7th Dec he arrived and has given me a new treatment entirely, I hope soon to be well and strong again..." Thwing was not to recover, with the unfortunate news on the back of the letter, written by his nurse, that he was indeed dying. She writes on verso: "This letter has been written to satisfy your brother George. Poor fellow. He thinks he is getting better, but the physician gave him up yesterday as mortification has taken place. He imagines himself much better, but he is quietly passing away, before this perhaps leaves the city, he will have entered into the pleasure of joy where pain is felt no more. His mind dwells upon his mother and you continually. He seems to think of nothing else, although upon talking to him of death, he said he felt prepared..." The archive contains a beautifully penned letter, dated December 25, 1862, by the woman of a house where Thwing was convalescing during his last two weeks.

    Condition: The letters are in very good condition, with both the letters and journal showing legible penmanship. Usual mail folds. A few letters are partial letters. Varying degrees of toning and minor foxing. A few areas of separations or tears where paper was weakened by folds. The covers of the journal are very worn, and the binding is fragile. Some pages starting to detach.


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    May, 2019
    14th Tuesday
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