|Unit History Project|
The Civil War Letters Of
Editor's Note: This is the final surviving letter in the Charles Hayden collection to his sister Laura. How many others may have been written to her, if any, is unknown. Why they ended on this date can only be addressed by conjecture. Was her husband Jerry, uncomfortable with Charles? Were subsequent letters destroyed? Did he or she just not write any longer? Among the last thoughts we read is that although Charles hasn’t heard from Laura in a “great while” he doesn’t think it’s her “fault”.
History of the American Civil War is more than - who - killed - who - where! The real toll reached to the emotional, economic, moral, political and spiritual heart of the country. Aside from the final reality of a Northern victory the cultural devastation left in the wake of conflict was an unprecedented horror. Over 625,000 (Six hundred twenty five thousand) Americans were lost. A percentage comparison to today’s population would relate to a loss of five million men. A calamity of that magnitude is difficult to imagine.
This last letter begs many other unanswerable questions. It would have arrived in Big Brook, Oneida County, New York shortly before Christmas. Yet, there is no mention of the observance which seems very odd for such a devote Christian. Instead, Charles writes about being taken back out to Bedlows Island for embarkation on the steamship “America” for a trip up the Potomac to yet another camp destination. Events on the trip contrasted his own idealism and morality against those of draftees (recruits) who drank, played cards and gambled. He ends this last letter with the same plea to Laura for a quick return answer.
It would be unfair to leave readers wondering about Charles Hayden’s fate. In addition to his letters Charles kept at least two diaries, one of which has survived. Fortunately, the surviving diary begins days after his last surviving letter to his sister. As a result we almost have a day by day account of his duties and actions up to May of 1964. Remarkably, he does not return home to Big Brook at the conclusion of his military term. Rather, he reenlists at the grade of corporal on January 4th, 1864 for a second term of service and is re-mustered into “K” company, his original unit. He is given light camp duty while regaining full strength. But, by May of 1864, General U.S. Grant has taken over full command of all Union armies. He begins the “Overland Campaign” which will see northern soldiers lay siege to Petersburg, Virginia by the end of the year. Grant’s campaign was the bloodiest affair of the American Civil War. The opening of the campaign was called the “Battle of the Wilderness” and Boonville’s regiment found itself fully involved. Unfortunately, during that engagement Charles was shot through the body, lingering for a few days in agony until passing on May 15th, 1864. It has been recorded that he was cared for by a nurse who spoke and comforted him as best as possible. At the age of 25 years the wagon maker from Big Brook, Oneida County, New York had given his all to a Cause in which he believed.
I take this first opportunity to write a few lines to you. I arrived here yesterday. I wrote you last from Bedlows Island. I left there last Thursday night in the United States Transit America. We were pretty well crowded in the vessel, the sea was calm and we had a pleasant sail to fortress Monroe. We ware out of sight of land all day Friday. We arrived at fortress Monroe Saturday Morning at day light. Here part of our numbers left us for Newburn, N.C.. Left fortress Monroe in the afternoon and steamed up the bay and anchored sometime in the night. In the morning when I got up the wind blew a gale and we were drifting a shore with both anchors down. The captain ordered the anchors to be raised but they had got foul of each other and could not be raised. Then he ordered steam on and the engines ware strong enough to drag the anchors we lost one anchor and raised the other. The wind went down and the rain ceased the sun came out and we had a pleasant sail up the bay and the Potomac River all day Sunday. We passed the tomb of Washington Mount Vernon Washington’s old home. We arrived at Alexandria Sunday night got off the boat Monday morning – There was a great deal of gambling and sharing drinking on board. I see one poor boy that had lost ninety seven dollars gambling - so he said. There were several recruits that had received large bounties on board – Two or three hundred runaway soldiers and a hard looking set they were they looked like rebel prisoners - I heard that there was some fifteen hundred of us on board in all but it did not seem to me that there ware (were) so many – we have a large camp here. It makes a village two or three times as large as Taburg. The mail should run here from Alexandria about three or four miles distant. We have soft bread here and I think live better than at Bedlows Island. I cannot tell how long or how short I shall stay here but I want you to write as soon as you get this for I have not heard from you in a great while but I do not think it your fault.
Direct Camp Convalesc(e)nt
Dear Sister I want to hear from you get along striving to survive the lord and you striving with all your mind and heart to god take up your cross before the world write all about your self and how you get along –
Write if you have sent that bill to Henry Hill – you will have to write three or four sheets to answer all my letters.
Don’t fail to write soon as you get this.
New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military History