These letters were written by Julius Marshall Swain (1836-1911) to his wife, Rosann J. Garcelon (1839-1920). The couple were married in February 1864 in Harpswell, Cumberland county, Maine. Lt. Swaim served as a 2d Lieutenant in Co. B, 39th Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War. At this late point in the war, Lt. Swain had been transferred to the U.S. Signal Corps and was the signal officer at Fort Powhatan on the James River.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Wilson’s Wharf, Virginia
July 18, 1864
My Dear Rosie,
I wrote to you on the 15th inst. in answer to yours of the 5th and on the following day was pleased and surprised to have yours of June 21st containing thirty stamps come safely to hand.
There is nothing that really requires an answer but mother’s request in reference to the coat of E. I do not wish her to retain it for me and if she can sell for anything, would advise her to do so. A citizen suit may be very acceptable to me but just now I have no use for it and have not sufficient transportation to carry it about. I think that coat is out of date at any rate and it will bring more now than ever again.
I have received two notes from James which were sent me by Albert Farnsworth of Boston and I enclose them to you. After reading, please send them to mother and the family. I wrote him a long letter of eight pages last night and sent him the Atlantic for June so you had better get another if you to keep your files complete. I told Jr. in as few words as possible of the relation existing between you & Dr. Garcelon and that I had never met any of them. Also that you did not care to give him an introduction to the Dr. but would to Kate and he might use it as an occasion for going to Oakland should he find himself in San Francisco. Please send me an introduction to Kate so that I can send it to him soon.
I am glad that that James has at last taken my advise and broken loose from his connection and ideas of making a fortune or living as a farmer. All he needs now is health and a little healthy society to cheer him up and put him on his feet once more.
I have just received a few lines from Joel enclosing Adams Express Cos. receipt for $60. I was provoked to see that they made Joel pay $2.00 for carriage on such a small amount but bleed, bleed in the order of the day.
I am pleased to see an order from Headquarters Signal Office under date of July 11 announcing the promotion of Baird to Sergeant and Mott to 1st Class Private for meritorious conduct in the field. They both deserve it. I applied for Mott’s promotion May 26 but never mentioned it to him and supposed no notice would be taken of it.
I enclose you Horatio’s grandiloquent effort of June 18 received only three days since. He puts it on hard but I guess my letter of April will be enough to pay him for several such. Evidently he feels sore over his advice being in the evening before me and the next morning somewhere else. He deserved it, yet it was rather sharp coming from me and I know it touched him in a tender spot/
You speak of my charging you to do so & so, and then taking your promises for granted. Now Rosie, that will not work and though I am too far from you now to use those little corrective measures which I found necessary to apply last Spring in order to keep you perfectly balanced, yet the time may come when I shall assert my authority as your 7/8 and then—–well! I will catch your pet mice and throw your dear cat out of of the window if you do not improve.
My shirts are shrinking so much that I shall soon need a magnifying glass to find the way into them but I stretch them from week to week and make them answer.
Joel has some good ready made shirts bought by Jane at the time she talked of making hi a pair and I wish I had some as good. Jane paid $7 per pair so Joel says. I wish you would look about at youyr leisure and either buy or make me a pair of good woolen shirts. The suppose the flannel can be shrunk before making up so that they will not grow small so rapidly. Perhaps you can buy a good pair cheaper than you can the flannel. After you get all through your own work—if that ever occurs to a woman—-it may be a good plan to make that pair of drawers for me which you have spoken of.
I have left off my under clothes now for the first time for several years but as I wear a flannel shirt, I have no fear of taking cold. I could not endure these drawers inn hot weather but shall put them on at once if ordered to the front.
Several new signal officers have reported for duty at Bermuda Hundred and I wish one could be sent to me so that I could take Sergeant Walker with me. I have almost nothing to do now and shall not likely be very busy till we change troop & commanding officers at this post and Powhattan.
We are now having a slow, delightful rain which is a blessing to man and beast. The crops in the South were suffering from the drouth.
I am glad to have you meet my friend. Please remember me kindly to Mr. Backup & Fenton.
How about the cards which mine Frau is to have printed? Explain about the plate. Will you have Mr. & Mrs. J. M. Swain plate with the “Mr. &” left off or what arrangement? I do not understand it if that is not the place.
I am ought not to feel so about Joel for he is well situated and extremely fortunate and instead of mourning his absence she should feel happy & thankful. I know that circumstances make it worse for her and you say under similar ones you should not be able to bear it. What have thousands done within three years and are you willing to acknowledge that you are more faint-hearted than them all? You have no idea of what you can endure and I hope you may never be put to a severe test.
I wish it was my good fortune now to be at home with you but with the country in arms, I should not be happy were I there, and no doubt it’s better as it is.
If in 1866 we are settled, I shall feel that we have done well but with the women devoid of loyalty and a large body of the men unwilling to go, I see no reason to expect so great a blessing. God help those who help themselves, but what man dare say we are prosecuting this war the zeal and energy of patriots and country loving men. It looks dark, I know, but my faith that one day all will be bright is still unshaken and I go on from day to day, impatient perhaps, but confident that the North will at last wake up to the work before them.
Please give my love to mother and the family. I hope you see her often for that will reconcile her to my absence. No one says a word about Lizzie. I need not ask you to write often. Very affectionately yours, — Julius
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
James River, Virginia
10th September 1864
My dear Rosie,
I have hardly complied with the promise I made you on Tuesday last but I think this may reach you as soon as you arrive. When we left you we went direct to the hospitals on the Appomattox where I passed rather a pleasant afternoon and evening with the Captain & Dr.s Baxter, Foxon & others. The next morning we took the “Howard” for this post and Charlie and myself wore away the afternoon and evening.
On Tuesday morning the Quartermaster decided to send the boat “Ella” to Fort Monroe, Norfolk, and as Charlie had never been there and was anxious to go, I got permission for him and myself to go along. Took my horse and Lathrop’s and when we reached the fort at 1 o’clock, rode around the place and tried to get our pay but did not succeed as they are not paying officers for the month of August.
From there we rode to camp and found that my chest containing desk and clothing had been left out in the sun & rain for the last four months and books, paper & clothing &c. was nicely moulded. Brought them all along with me where I can take better care of them. Learned there that Norton is ordered to General Couch and Clum has relieved him at Butler’s Headquarters. Good!
We then rode to the hospitals and from there to Hampton where we visited the old church and places of interest. Went to Norfolk in time to ride all over the city and over to Portsmouth to the Navy Yard, called on Walker &c. &c. I had a pass to go out to Tillinghast but it got quite dark before I had done up Norfolk & Portsmouth and was obliged to defer that part of the programme.
Was disappointed again in not getting my stove and fixtures but Walker promised fairly to have them sent to me. We went to the Candy Shop and got supper, then got shaved and hair cut and then to theatre where we saw Rory O’Moore very poorly played. We were somewhat pleased but on the whole thoroughly disgusted with the place as I have been twice before. Norfolk has been much improved since we left and it begins to look somewhat like a northern city. Too many “Darks” by far to be a light place and I think the colored population far exceeds the white. It seems so at least.
Charlie seemed much pleased with the trip as it was all new to him and I think our time was thoroughly “put in.” I find him strictly temperate, not in the least profane, and so far as I can judge of excellent disposition. He is peculiar and reminds me of his father in speech and every movement. I was the more surprised as I got the impression from you that he was or had been quite wild and could not agree with his mother-in-law. I am glad that he came on your account as well as my own as it gave me the first opportunity I have had to show my attention to one of your male friends and distant relatives. We returned last night and he will leave this P. M. on the “Howard.” His health is not as good as usual though he has a much better appetite than when on board the “DeMolay.” I had quite a vacation, in all six days.
General Marston has been confined to his room for several days but is out today. He is now in command of the troops on the James between Newport News and City Point and has four posts—Jamestown Island, Wilson’s Wharf, Powhattan, & Harrison’s Landing.
I was pained to hear from Charles of Mrs. A’s death and I am wondering what you will do and enxious to hear from you. If you have decided to go to Maine before late this fall, this may be the time for you to make the visit. Suit yourself and you know I shall be pleased. Those socks suit me exactly. They feel better than any I have worn for a year.
Since you left we have had warmer days and cool nights but it’s good weather if one takes good care of health. I have put on my under clothing as the nights felt quite chilly and I have to be up quite late evenings. The news of the fall of Mobile makes us all feel encouraged and I trust it may be fully confirmed. Charlie sends his love to you.
Please give my love to Mother and the children and don’t forget to write to your affectionate husband, — Julius
I write in haste. Please excuse style.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Addressed to Mrs. J. M. Swaim, Lewiston, Maine
Care of H. C. Garcelon
Postmarked Washington D. C.
November 19, 1864
My Dear Rosie,
Yours of the 14th inst. is at hand and the fact that you are all right and fast recovering has taken a load from my mind. I could but think it would be so yet I felt worried more than I would have acknowledged. The belief that you will soon be with me in health makes me more than usually happy and I shall look for your safe arrival and with some anxiety.
You say send next letter to Roxbury for you will leave Lewiston on 26 or 28th but if you should, I think this will reach you safely. Shall write to Roxbury however on Sunday or Monday. When you leave Lewiston, send me a short telegram something like this. I leave for Roxbury on 28th. Direct to Julius M. S., Signal C., Powhatan and no Lieutenant prefixed. If they require pay (which they will not) do not send it. Send telegram also when you start to come here and if possible I will meet you at Fortress Monroe. If I should not be there on your arrival and no word from me, go on board a City Point boat which leaves from 8 to 9 o’clock and come to City Point.
If you arrive there before the “Iolas”—which runs from there & Bermuda to this post—has left Bermuda Hundred, go there and take the “Iolas” but if it is as late as 3 or half past 2, get off at City Point. The “Iolas” leaves Bermuda at 3 stopping at City Point till 5 another leaves for this post where it arrives about 8. If I should not meet you at Fortress Monroe, send me telegram from there and I will go or send for you to City Point.
Do not bring coverlet, I have a good one and plenty of blankets. For gloves, I want a firm cashmere or something of that style. I have forgotten what I sent for but I suppose you know. I began to think that you would not come out so I sent to Chas. for a few little things to come in my box. Remember my knit mittens with one finger. 1 pair only.
I have not done anything about repair on my house but now I will go on with them at once and be ready for you by 5 December or as soon as you wish to come. Mrs. Gen. Carr ¹ arrived today and two ladies for Powhatan.
I think your way to come will be to take the evening train from Boston. Arrive at Jersey City next morning and that night be in Baltimore. Have your baggage checked through to Baltimore and my name marked on it plainly. I dislike much to have you come to New York alone but from there, after seated in cars, all os nice to Baltimore. If you should arrive in Baltimore in afternoon, go at once in carriage to Fortress Monroe boat and you will have no trouble about hotel. Should circumstances oblige you to go to hotel on your arrival at Old Point, got to Hygeia Hotel one mile from Old Point where you will be carried in street car or else go over to Norfolk on some boat, extra fare only 50 cents. I think you can find someone who will escort you to New York of no farther. Wait two or three days if necessary or even a week rather than come alone.
If you are lucky and come right through, it will take you but 36 hours from home to Fortress Monroe. I have tonight applied to Gen. Butler for pass for you and if I get it will send to Roxbury.
It’s very late and I am scratching this off fast. No matter, you can read it and it’s only my wife. Love to all. It seems as if I had forgotten something which I want you to bring. Have your trunk fixed O. K.
Affectionately yours, — Julius
P. S. Sign your telegram, — R. J. Swain
¹ Gen. Joseph Bradford Carr (1828-1895) commanded a division of African-American soldiers in the XVIII Corps in Gen. Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James.