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    Description

    William E. Barton, Michigan 8th Infantry, Archive of Letters with Tintype. A group of 21 war-dated letters, from December 1, 1861 to circa August 18, 1862. Barton enlisted at the age of 19 as a private on August 15, 1861. He was mustered into Company H of the Michigan 8th Infantry one month later. Tragically, Barton was wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862 and died a few weeks later from his wounds. However, during his year of service he participated in numerous important battles and skirmishes. His letters include descriptions of the Battles of Secessionville, and Port Royal Ferry, several skirmishes, as well as the death of his brother James Barton, who served in the same company. The letters range from approximately 5" x 8" to 7.75" x 9.75" in size, and there are numerous spelling and grammar errors.

    The first letter in the archive is dated December 1, 1861, and Barton writes of the capture of Tybee Island. During the attack, Barton made a gruesome discovery, likely in the lighthouse on the island. It reads in part: "...Our knavy [sic] made an atact [sic] a fort called Philasci [Pulaski] on the twenty 7 and 8. We took the fort after 2 days struggle. We lost our gunboat that was sunk and badly maimed. The killed and wounded could not be numbered on either side. Since we took this fort they found a pit in the ground 25 dead bodies in that the rebels had buried they had not got time to get them away. They are about making an atact on a large place called Savannah. It is called the largest and strongest fort that is known in the southern army. The news came a few days ago that there was 3 thousand rebels that had laid down their arms and gave themselves up as prisoners of war and would never take up arms against the north again. We are to work on the fort and most of the time now we are building a large fort here. There is a great many sick in this regiment we loose from 1 to 2 men a day and have for some time the sea breeze does not agree with a great many. But it agrees me and James first rate..."

    Soon after the raid on Tybee Island, Barton segues into descriptions of the Battle of Port Royal Ferry. In a letter written on January 4, 1862, he talks about the number of wounded and dead after the battle. It reads in part: "...we had a battle on Coosaw River. We landed we had about four thousand men under the fire of our gunboats. The rebels was thrown back 4 times one member [of] our regiment had orders to march up before the enemy. The enemy was in the woods. We drove them from the river shore and we landed the Michigan 8th, the 50 Pennsylvania, 79 New York and the hundred Pennsylvania the New York 26th New Hampshire. There was no other regiment engaged in the fight but the Michigan 8 we took a fort and 1 eighteen pound gun. Our regiment marched up before the rebels when they opened fire on us we bagan to fire on them the fight lasted nearly two hours and the rebels retreated about two miles back into the woods. The gunboats threw shells into the woods and killed a great many. We could not tell how many we killed. Out of our regiment we lost only one man and 6 wounded but most fatal our Major [Amasa B. Watson] was wounded in the fight a negro that came from the main land and said that we killed nearly 5 hundred rebels. The rebels came in the night with the flag of truce and wanted 10 hours to carry off their dead. Our General gave them one hour. They carried off the dead by cartloads we feel well since the battle that we come off as we did and hope to have another. The bullets whistled by our ears like hailstones in a hailstorm. Our regiment has the praise for their braveness and coolness in the hour of battle. They fought like men I had no more fears than nothing in the world. I was not half as scared as I was the first deer I ever shot at the rebels. General Butler took Savanah the same day that we atacted them here we did not [do it] to hold it we only done it to draw their attention from Savanah there was a general atact all over the army."

    By the spring of 1862, Barton had seen his fair share of battle and loss. It was around this time that his brother James was killed, and he wrote to his parents following the Battle of Fort Pulaski. Dated April 26, 1862, it reads: "I now seat myself this evening with pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I am alive and of like manner of the same. I wrote to you a few days about James being killed. Well I saw him when he fell upon the battlefield he has fallen in good cause. He fought brave he faced the enemy like a man. A nobler heart never beat beneath any man either on the battlefield or anywhere else... "

    On June 21, 1862 from James Island, Barton describes the Battle of Secessionville, where the 8th Michigan lost over 175 in killed, wounded and missing: "...I will tell you about the fight that we had last Monday morning at daylight. General [Henry] Benham now has command of all the troops that we have on this island. We was ordered to storm a fort called fort Ripley. Preparations was made the time set. When the atact was made on Monday morning as soon as day break our regiment was formed at to [sic] oclock in the morning...our company & Co. G [or C] was the skirmishers and as we came in to where the rebels had their pickets they fired many ranks & wounded three of them slightly...we surrounded them and took them prisoners there was 6 of the rebels. We [illegible] nearer to the fort near enough to see the rebels to look them in the face before they fired at us soon they opened on us with three pieces of artillery...and one regiment of infantry...searched the fort and mounted the brestworks...the balls was flying...I never saw such a sight before in all my days I never want to see the same again. Our regiment was all cut to pieces we did not get help soon enough to take the fort I was able to retreat. The fort cant be taken by a charge it has got to be shelled and our men is making preparations for an atact. I think they will be ready to open on them about next Monday morning. There was 24 killed wounded and missing from our company & out of the regiment 200 & 10 killed wounded and missing. 73 of that number is missing our loss in all is 600 and 74...Our major has gone home he started day before yesterday. The lieut colonel Frank Graves is [illegible], our officers is all most all them killed. There is only three captains left it seems so lonesome. The wounded has gone to Hilton Head to the hospital...Well I think our regiment stands a very good chance to be discharged yet now it is good for nothing if the officers are all gone. The men are mostly killed so the Colonel is left all to himself. He could get the regiment home if he shall try."

    The regiment was involved in a number of skirmishes throughout May-June 1862, which Barton reports on. One such skirmish that took place near Charleston is described in his May 31, 1862 letter, in which he writes: "...The enemy was stationed all along the ditch on both sides of the road and as fast as one man would come on site they would fire at us. That after a short time the 79 [New York] one company of them came up on the left and fired on them they did not stand long then. They broke & ran for the woods. As soon as they began to retreat our men came up on double quick. Laid down the bridge then crossed the infantry then the cavalry & sent them after the enemy by that time they had got reinforcements that could over power our force that we had that day. Our troops was so fatigued with the extremely hot weather I never was so nearly worn as I was then. The sweat fairly ran off the ends of my fingers...We took 1 rebel prisoner that was wounded in the shoulder. He said they had five hundred had sent to Charleston for reinforcement...The sun was so extremely hot that our men was about overcame. They did not feel like fighting when we got there. Long about noon we started back to the ferry that was about 16 miles. We had to march back that night the rebels was following us up all the time...we marched as fast as we could under the circumstances we was very much done and we suffered for water very much. The water is very poor and not plenty".

    In what may have been his last letter, undated except for the day 17 and year 1862, Barton writes from Culpepper, Virginia of a skirmish likely leading up to the Second Battle of Bull Run. Barton was fatally wounded at this battle and would die a little over two weeks later on September 16, 1862. This letter reads in part: "...there was a fight a week ago yesterday...the rebels loss was greater than ours. The enemy was driven about three miles the fight lasted until dark. By the next day Jackson had fallen back about 6 miles...if the rebels stand in a fight at Richmond it will be a bloody one... "

    The archive includes additional letters documenting the engagements in which the 8th Michigan were involved. Barton was incredibly proud of his regiment and claims it was frequently called out for its discipline and bravery. His regiment lost nearly half of its men by the end of the war. In his June 18, 1862 letter, he writes that he had his likeness taken and sent it home, which is likely the same tintype included in this lot. The archive also includes three letters written from William's father to him during the war, as well as a group of 19th century documents (several deeds, letters and business documents) and numerous photographs of the extended Barton family, originating from Grand Rapids, Michigan, which are housed in an album.

    Condition: The letters have the usual mail folds and varying degrees of toning, soiling, wear, and foxing. Minimal amounts of paper loss or chipping at edges. The photograph album has separated in completely from the binding. The photos themselves, as well as the tin type are in good condition.


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    May, 2019
    14th Tuesday
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