1861: Richard Martin to Friend

This letter was written by Richard Martin (1836-1864) of Co. I, 51st Pennsylvania Infantry. According to his military record, Richard enlisted as a private but rose to the rank of sergeant. He was wounded at Camden, NC when he was hit by a solid shot on April 19, 1862. Recovering from that wound, he succumbed to disease at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, on 2 January 1863. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia next to his parents, however, and his death date on his burial record indicates a date of death of 27 January 1864 however, so there is an error in the records somewhere.

Richard mentions a brother in the service and he tells us he was from the vicinity of “King of Prussia” which was in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania. This reference convinced me that Richard was the 25 year-old son of English emigrant Richard Martin, Sr. (1793-1871) and Hannah Moore (1806-1879) who were enumerated in Upper Merion, Montgomery county, PA in 1860. Richard Martin, Sr. emigrated to the United States in 1825 and started a woolen mill in Upper Merion township. Richard’s younger brother, William Martin (b. 1839), enlisted in August 1861 in Co. E, 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry. According to the regimental history of the 11th PA Cavalry, they were ordered to Fortress Monroe via Annapolis on 17 November 1861.

Richard wrote the letter to an unidentified friend back in Montgomery county. He penned the letter from the encampment of the 51st Pennsylvania near Annapolis. We learn from the regimental history that “upon its arrival in Annapolis, it was first quartered in the buildings of the College, and subsequently went into camp on the old French burying ground.” It remained there until December when it was moved two miles from the city where it drilled in preparation for Burnside’s Expedition that set sail from Annapolis on 6 January 1862.

The 51st Pennsylvania assault Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam Creek, 17 September 1862


Camp Burnside
Annapolis, [Maryland]
November 21, 1861

In due course of mail, I received your very entertaining letter which caused quite an excitement in our tent. Myself and mess are all well at present. The whole company are enjoying good health with the exception of five or six and they—as the Irishman said—are enjoying very bad health.

We left Harrisburg on last Saturday. We packed our duds and three days rations and struck our tents before 11 o’clock. The most of the boys slung on their knapsacks expecting to march every minute. Some of them stood three or four hours shivering in the cold. They said they wanted to get used to them, We left camp about 4 o’clock. They marched us down to the railroad and put us in boxes which I suppose have been at sometime second class hog cars, open at both ends and top. We moved off at about the speed of a man of eighty years on crutches, Some of the boys wanted to get off and walk as they were in a hurry but the officers would not let them for fear they would get too far ahead and get lost. But whenever we came to a full stop, some of the boys would get out to fill their canteens with water. The water along the route had a very peculiar taste. The more they drank of it, the more they wanted. Some of them got quite excited—so much so that two officers began to smell a mice.

Nothing of importance happened until we came to a stop alongside of a cornfield when the boys, feeling cold, made a grand relish for the fodder and filled the cars and what they could not get in, they made a fire of to warm themselves by. After that, we laid down and tried to sleep. As for myself, I took it out in trying [but] it was too damn cold to sleep. When we stopped again, some of the boys went out on a foraging expedition. They came across a house where there was a dog chained at the gate to watch. The first thing they stole was the dog. And then they took a small wash tub, 4 or 5 frying pans, and two pots of preserved tomatoes.

We arrived in Baltimore about 8 o’clock on Sunday morning. Staid there till dark and left for Annapolis in good cars and arrived here about 12 o’clock. Annapolis is [a] nice town with plenty of oysters and niggers in it but we cannot get out of camp without a pass from the Colonel so we have to pay dear for everything. The pies we get for six cents are too small to make a man hungry.

Our Dutchman has not made his appearance since you were in camp. The King of Prussia boys send their best respects to you and all other acquaintances. Brother Bill’s regiment came here yesterday. I saw him last night. He is well and Clem Carr, ¹ Bob Davis ² all well. Paper’s gone [so] I’ll have to quit. Write again when you feel like it.

Yours respectfully, — Richard Martin

¹ Pvt. Morton Clem Carr (1830-1906) deserted from Co. I, 51st Pennsylvania, on 24 August 1862 at Sulphur Springs. He was from Chester county, Pennsylvania

² John Robert (“Bob”) Davis was promoted from corporal to 1st Sergeant of Co. I, 51st Pennsylvania in May 1865.


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