1863: Francis Henry Woods to Caroline Matilda Woods

These three letters were written by Francis (“Frank”) Henry Woods (1837-1899) to his parents and sister, Caroline Matilda Woods (b. 1840). Frank was the son of Jason Woods (1806-1863) and Eliza Matilda Watson (1807-1883) of Worcester, Massachusetts. Frank married Caroline E. Evarts (1836-1923) at Brooklyn in 1866. From the third letter we learn that Frank’s sister and mother were visiting his grandfather, Samuel Watson (1782-1873), who was a retired manufacturer of woolen cloth in Cherry Valley, Leicester, Massachusetts.

Frank Woods enlisted in September 1862 at Brooklyn to serve three years in Co. C, 139th New York Infantry. When these letters was written, Frank appears to be convalescing at Fortress Monroe and Williamsburg, Virginia, expecting to be transferred into the Invalid Corps. This apparently did not happen, however, for he was subsequently wounded in the Second Battle of Fair Oaks [See Fair Oaks & Darbytown Road] on 27 October 1864 and was discharged for disability in May 1865.

Frank’s third letter conveys an interesting account of the murder the Provost Marshal at Williamsburg—shot by a member of his own regiment while in a drunken rage. There is an interesting twist to the end of this story, however. According to the 7 March 1864 issue of the Manufacturers’ and Farmers’ Journal, though Pvt. William J. Boyle was convicted of the murder of his superior officer and sentenced to be shot, President Lincoln commuted his sentence to imprisonment for life at hard labor. Subsequently, while at Williamsburg, Pvt. Thomas L. Abraham of Co. G, 139th New York, allowed Boyle to escape and desert to the enemy. Supposedly, “it was through this wretch that the rebels in Richmond were apprised of the movement of Gen. Butler” to release the captives at Libby and Belle Isle and were thwarted in their efforts. For allowing Boyle to escape, Pvt. Abraham was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be shot with musketry at Yorktown on 7 March 1864—a measure that the President approved.


Addressed to Jason Woods, Esq., Worcester, Mass.

Camp Hamilton
Fortress Monroe
January 21 [1863]

Dear Friends at Home,

I received the Congregation lists yesterday safe for which please accept my thanks. I am enjoying myself here finely and the winter weather here is simply what our early fall is. Viz: warm with an occasional day that is rainy and sometimes a quite cool day gives us a change. The birds sing all the time and the sun is very nice and makes one think of those that are North in our homes shivering with the cold besides giving us a strong inclination to like the climate much better than the one we left behind us. We have awakened a few mornings and found the ground froze quite hard but in one or two hours the warm southern sun arose and not only thawed the ground but also dried the mud. There would not be the slightest difficulty here in prosecuting the war this winter weather and fear I shall have the war fever every winter after I get home so that I may enjoy more of this healthy January weather.

Since writing my last the reason of my not finishing that letter that night occurred to me. Immediately after supper that night my friend Smith that is with me in the cook house and who was once a drinker went out and after awhile came in with a corporal apparently drunk and interrupted me so I could not write. He fell on me and staggered badly but was kept from falling by a sober attendant who also came in with him. Soon, however, he went out and soon returned, this time held up by the Commissary Sergeant who told me not to let him go out again that night to get any more liquor. He raved and laid down and got up and fought for about two hours, the sergeant and his sober friend and myself trying to keep him quiet. They said the corporal had received a few bottles of choice wines from home which they drank too much of. The best part of this is that he was not drunk at all but he is the best mimic ever I have seen. It seems that he and the corporal and the friend thought they would have a little fun on New Years Eve so they went up to the Commissary’s Quarters and he pitched right [in] is tent full length and made the sergeant think he was drunk for awhile and then they all came down to “sell: me and with their efforts combined, they did so most effectively for the space of two hours.

I received a nice letter from Aunt Marianne this afternoon in which she speaks of having a very nice visit at our house and I hope to answer it soon. I have also received another from Aunt Harriet since I wrote you last. I will send you a few slips which were sent me by my friend Carrie Evarts. My health is very good and hope this will find you all enjoying as good as mine. Hope you and Carrie will not work too hard sewing, Will write again when I receive a letter from you. Please write soon. Your affectionate son & brother, — F. H. Woods


Camp Hamilton
Fortress Monroe
January 23, 1863

Dear Friends at Home,

I received a letter yesterday and the Journal. I thought as you were thinking about sending a box I would write again today. If you put on my address, if it is sent by express from Baltimore, it will come direct to camp as there is a wagon that brings up the boxes everyday. If she has it come by freight all the way, she will only put on her address with the destination Fortress Monroe in which case I ought to know when it started and how long she would be likely to stop at Baltimore. If sent by Adams Express from Baltimore, you will put on her address to that place and give her mine to put in in the place of hers when she sends from Baltimore. The reason of this would be to prevent any controversy about whose it is. It would perhaps be best to put the address on cards and tack on well. In Baltimore, the expressman will put on the address if handed to him. If she stops in Baltimore more than one day, she had better send by express as things would spoil. It will come perfectly safe by express from Baltimore. How long will she stop here? I should not see her unless she came to camp or else staid here some day or two and I knew when she came. I shall not be disappointed if I do not receive it at all but it would be nice to get hold of a nice piece of mince pie.

You need not send anything I can get here such as butter, bread, crackers, sugar, tea, coffee, molasses, and cheese. But you pies, cake dough, buts, &c. according to you good judgement would be very acceptable. I should like a little pepper to eat with my beef and beans and pork.

I am very glad that Dr. Sweetser has not forgotten me and I hope soon to hear him preach and soon know that his prayer is answered in my safe return. I have a great deal of good reading and shall send Carrie some of the papers that Carrie Evarts send me which I think contains some very good pieces besides the stories. I forgot to say that Old Point is all the same as Fortress Monroe. I am sorry Father’s face continues to swell so but hope he will not suffer more than it is necessary from the effects of the tumor and think he will not as he has a good appetite.

Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain as ever your son & brother, — F. H. Woods


Addressed to Mrs. Eliza M. Woods, Cherry Valley, Leicester, Massachusetts
Care of Samuel Watson
Postmarked Old Point Comfort, Va.

Camp near Williamsburg, [Va.]
October 15, 1863

My Dear Sister,

Yours of the 10th was received last night and I hasten to answer it that you may receive it before you leave Northampton. Mother’s letter has been read and answered. I did send some money but I suppose it did not reach Worcester before you left as I did not send until the 27th and think it may be in Worcester if Mother has not already got it. Did Minerva say anything about writing to me? Have not received a letter from Cornelia yet but received one from Lois which I intend to answer today if possible. Did Fannie go to Northampton with you? I think you will have a nice time and hope you will stay away from home long enough to get rested as there is no necessity for being in haste to get home. I am glad you like Emma so well and trust Ed has got a good wife.

The regiment has been building winter quarters but I have not done anything yet as I still expect to go away to the Invalid Corps. The Surgeon has returned and I suppose we shall know e’re long when we shall go if we go at all. It has been so long since I was examined that it seems as thought I might not go but I would like to know one way or the other soon.

I hope Mother will not be attending company all the time she is away but get a chance to rest as she must need it. Mrs. Wallace seems to be sorely afflicted and I am sorry that L. is so sick.

We do not have services in camp now as we have no place where we can hold services but we have a log chapel in process of construction and suppose those that are here this winter will have good sermons & enjoy many a winter evening in the rude structure. The chaplain has been home on a sick furlough and is now much improved in health and hope he will be able to do a great deal of good.

Our Provost Marshal [Lt. William Wilkins Disosway ¹] was shot yesterday by one of the guard [Pvt. William Boyle ²]. It seems the guard had been arrested and imprisoned for some offense and upon being released he went to his camp and got some liquor and then up to the town to the Provo’s Office and told him that he had been imprisoned and that he had something to do about it and at the same time presented a pistol. When the Marshal said, “are you aware that pistol is cocked?” he answered that he was. What the Marshal jumped to take the pistol away from him, the guard fired—the ball entering the mouth and passed out the back of his head, killing him almost instantly. The Provost Marshal was a captain in the 1st New York Mounted Rifles and about 20 years of age—much beloved by all his men and had been promoted from the ranks. He had just resumed his duties after being home on a furlough. The Provost Guard was sent to the fort followed by two men with pistols cocked and with orders to fire if he attempted to escape.

I hope I shall have a cleaner sheet next time when I write and be able to write better. I received a letter from Aunt Harriet yesterday and a picture of Henry which was taken from an Ambrotype. Tell Fannie I shall not long be a stranger to her after the war closes as I intend to make a visit all around after I have got through this fighting business and shall see her then but should like to hear from her but she must not wait for me to write first. Perhaps I will send her a Waberly.

Give my regards to all where you go. Aunts, Uncles & Cousins. Write again soon to your affectionate brother, — Frank

¹ The regimental roster shows that Lt. William Wilkins Disosway (1838-1863) “died on 13 October 1863 of gunshot wounds received while in the line of duty.” William enlisted on 19 July 1861 at Lincoln, New York, and was mustered into Co. B, First Cavalry to serve three years. He made his way up through the ranks and was commissioned 1st Lt. of Co. M on 20 December 1862.

² Private William Boyle of the 1st New York Mounted Rifles committed the murder of Lt. Disosway. Newspaper accounts of the murder indicate that “Private Boyle” was taken to Fortress Monroe shortly afterward where he was “closely confined.” The most complete account of the murder appears in the 26 November 1863 issue of the Sacramento Daily Union:




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