1862: Willard M. Selden to Mother

This letter was written by Willard M. Selden (1843-1862), the son of Rev. Joseph Willard Selden (1805-1863) and Almeda Wheeler (1817-1874) of Willing, Allegany county, New York. Willard enlisted as a corporal in Co. K, 85th New York Infantry in September 1861. In January 1862, he was transferred as a private to Co. H. The letter was written while the regiment was attached to Gen. Casey’s Division in the Army of the Potomac. They were still encamped at Meridian Hill in the district where they had been manning the defenses of Washington for two or three months and were itching to cross over into Virginia for a little action. Willard, would, in fact, be killed in the regiment’s first battle four weeks later at Seven Pines on 31 March 1862. Had he survived, it is likely that he would have been taken prisoner with many others of his regiment—including his brother Oscar—and sent to a confederate prison. Such is fate.

Selden family information reveals that Willard’s father enlisted in November 1861 (age 56!) as a private in the 104th New York. He died in January 1863 at Belle Plain, Virginia, leaving a wife and four children under 18. Three of his sons—including Willard—by an earlier marriage served as New York Volunteers. Willard and his brother Oscar Barzilla (b. 1845) served in the 85th. Willard was killed at Seven Pines and Oscar was taken prisoner and returned home a cripple after having been confined in Confederate prisons on two separate occasions. William Kincaid (b. 1835) was wounded at Gettysburg while serving in the 136th.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]

Seven Pines Battle
Union Burial Party at Seven Pines


Camp Warren [Meridian Hill, DC]
March 1st 1862

Dear Mother,

I received your letter last night that you are well and doing well. I am in fine health now. A man sold me a syrup for colds and it sure cured me and I’m well and tough as a bear. We have had a stretch of pleasant weather only it is rather cold and windy.

Mother, we had a great time here Thursday morning. When we got out on dress parade which is at 4 P. M., Co. H, Co. B, Co. C, and Co. F was ordered to get ready to march as soon  as they could so as soon as they could, we go our supper, struck our tents, and just as the shade of evening was falling over us, we was marched up in front of our Captain’s quarters and got 40 rounds of ball, put rags in our boxes, and then us four companies with knapsacks filled and canteens full of water and one days rations in our haversacks and rifle completed our outfit and then we was drawed up in line just as night had thrown his gentle folds around us. When our Lieutenant Colonel addressed us briefly as follows: Comrades and fellow soldiers, you are now to have your old camp by orders from headquarters. You have been chosen to represent the 85th and though some of you may never come back, your courage is undoubted. I hope you will do your duty to your regiment, your country, and your God. I will now leave you in the hands of the Major. We then gave three cheers for our regiment, three cheers for our Major, and then came the word forward, march, and the boys that was left [behind] gave us hearty cheers and wished us success and away we went and marched through the mud and mire sometimes almost to our knees in mud—splash—-splash—but we marched to within a mile of the Chain Bridge and then waited for an hour for orders and our orders was countermanded. We was 6 miles from our camp and we had to march back and with mud and all, it made [tough going.] When we got back and put up our tents and built a fire, it was about 3 in the morning and the way I slept till 9 the next morning, a king might envy us.

But I must close. From your affectionate son, — Willard M. Selden



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