These seven letters were written by Varnum Valentine Vaughan (1826-1885), the son Dr. Hubbard Vaughan (1787-1833) and Azubah Shaw (1788-1837) of Prescott, Hampshire county, Massachusetts. Varnum married Lavonia King (1826-Aft1896).
Varnum was a 36 year-old farmer from Salem, MA, when he enlisted on 13 September 1862 as a 2d Lieutenant in Co. E, 53rd Massachusetts for nine months service. He mustered out at Camp Stevens, Groton, MA on 2 September 1863. From these letters we learn that Lt. Vaughan was on detached service at Carrollton, Louisiana, instead of with the regiment during the spring of 1863.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
February 7, 1863
My Dear Wife and Daughter
With pleasure I take my pen in hand to write a few lines this evening as I am all alone and none to disturb my thoughts. I received your letter dated January 18th yesterday and you can guess my thoughts and feelings perhaps. Rest assured it gave me much pleasure in perusing it. I find it rather lonesome here away from the regiment and wish myself back with them again sometimes. I rather expect to go back to it soon but do not know certain what my duty will be. However, I will make the best of it wherever I am placed. The week that is just closing has flown swiftly by and I cannot realize how short time is with us and if I can only be prepared to meet whatever awaits me in future I shall be contented. I find much to draw the mind from things of a spiritual nature. In fact, everything connected with war goes to demoralize the man and many who manage the affairs of a nation calculate to fill their own pockets. Oh that men would be honest and do unto others as they would that others should unto them.
There are many thousand men and soldiers stationed around here and many at Baton Rouge and more are coming all the time, or nearly so. So you can see regiments on the move. Some leaving here for other parts and some coming from other places here.
Niggers, niggers, oh what droves of niggers. Poor, despised race. What will become of them is more than I can comprehend.
Everything is very high here and you cannot buy a cents worth of anything whatever. They will not take less than a bit (for anything sold) which is five cents. Oranges two or three and apples the same for five cents. I paid five cents apiece for apples on the boat when coming here. You cannot imagine how good fruit tasted to us after being seasick.
Well my chum has come in and I will have to put by my writing and wait till some future time to finish it when I can be alone. I cannot help my mind from flying away over the broad field hat separates us and looking in upon you now and then and various are the pictures it draws as it lingers around home. None of them will attempt to draw on this paper tonight but will leave my pen and go to rest after asking Almighty God to keep and preserve us to meet again.
February 8th — It is a pleasant day. Seems like May and does me good to get out into the sun. And if I could only be at home to go to church with you, how happy I should be. We find pem leaf growing in any quantity. It is green and looks very pretty. I will get a small piece and send to you. There are lots of fig trees here are loaded with fruit every year. They are very good to eat as soon as ripe. Oranges, sweet lemons, and various other fruits grows here (but no apples) however.
Well I cannot think of any news to write now so I will lay my pen and paper by again and fill up this sheet. No doubt I will find something to write about before the mail will go out again as there is none that runs regular. It may be some time before this will go from here.
February 9th — Once more I take my pen to write a few lines. I received another letter dated January 24th from you today. Was glad to hear you were well and if I can get letters as often, it won’t seem so bad after all to be so far from home.
Well I must tell you about the Parapet. It was thrown up by the rebels under the direction of Beauregard. The dug a ditch about twenty feet wide and the dirt they piled up on one side nearly square. It is made zigzag like Virginia fence and is seven miles long. Runs from the river to Lake Ponchartrain and the rebels thought Burnside was coming to New Orleans from this way and was prepared to give him a cool reception. But when they saw him coming up the river, they were much amazed and those that saw it say the rebels were frantic with fear and the way they left things here goes to show how much they were disappointed.
There are many dying around us. Funerals most every day and as I stood and saw a procession go by today, my heart was sad and I could not help shedding a tear. I thought possibly I should be one that would be buried in this land of rebellion away from home and friends. But such thoughts never will do for a soldier and I must not give away to them. However, I will put my trust in one that’s mighty to save & try to be reconciled to HIs will concerning me whether comes life or death. I do believe that I enjoy some of the spirit which was in Christ Jesus and strive daily to come unto Him in such a manner that I may receive more of His grace.
We have one in our company, E[merson] E. Bissell of Royalston who has the dysentery and it is thought he will not survive. I want you to write often. Tell me all about everybody. Let me know just how you are getting along and I want to know if you keep Charley fat or not. I want to hear from Uncle Sam, Uncle Eber, and all. Don’t forget any of them. If you cannot remember all at once, you may at twice. I should like to have you look in upon us about meal time and see our table eating and above all our cook. You would smile to see her take the wash in. But she is so black I suppose she does not know the difference and I have concluded that I will eat my peck of dirt before I get home again. My appetite is very good and if I can get rid of my cold and cough, I will be in shape to stand pretty rough usage.
I should likes to have been there when the draft was made just to have seen the squirming, although it would have hurt my feelings to see anyone go off to the war against their will. Here I am at the bottom of my sheet. Have not written much to interest you and will close by asking the blessing of Almighty God to rest upon you and keep us all to meet again. (Julia you must write)
From your dear husband, — V. V. Vaughan
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
March 3d 1863
With pleasure I seat myself to write you a few lines this morning hoping they will find you all well. I received a letter from you yesterday dated February 16th. It found me well and you can judge of the pleasure it gave me to peruse it. And if my letters only went to you as direct as yours come, I should feel better. But it seems that you do not get them still. I think you will get a few one of these days for I have written 2 per week at least.
I am sorry to hear of the sickness and death of Haskins’ boy and hope that you may be rewarded for your kindness to them and if you are sick, I believe the good God will raise up friends to take care of you. You must be careful and not expose yourself so as to get sick and don’t work yourself to death either.
I saw Mr. Barns yesterday. He is looking tough and hearty. He is the same Barns and I believe a first rate man. He sends his best respects to you and Julia. I saw Mark Thompson too. He is fat as a bear. And finally, all the boys—or nearly all—are looking well that have been here a year.
I think Sam Hoyt’s story about the hawks and crows is rather a tough one and I don’t believe that any man—officer or private—has gone hungry since coming to this department. Still Sam might have seen something that no other man has that I have talked with and today there is plenty pork beef & flour to last a long time & before men will eat hawks & crows, they will go out & kill a beef & there is a good many about here.
I live just as well as I like, can get anything I please. Still I take up with soldiers fare most of the time.
Out time is half gone for which we are to serve the United States and I expect to get some money to send to you this week. You must pay such debts as you think best and use for your comfort all you want. Don’t borrow any trouble about me anyway for I fare first rate and my health is improving. This is a lovely morning. The birds are singing sweetly and all nature is smiling upon us.
Well I must close by wishing you all peace and prosperity.
Yours from your ever devoted husband, — V. V. Vaughan
I got a letter from Florelle yesterday and shall answer it soon.
(a copper picked up at Key West and a picayune I found here; lay them up for keepsakes)
March 17, 1863
My Dear Wife,
After waiting a long time I have received another letter from you. It was dated February 21st & 22d & had I been with the regiment should have got it some time ago. But the regiment was gone to Baton Rouge & so the letters went there & were sent back again so I have them and have perused them with pleasure. It found me well although I do not feel so tough as I do at home on account of the warm weather no doubt. I have been troubled with dyspepsia some but Doctor Pierce’s pills remove that difficulty immediately. I have got pretty much rid of my cough which was occasioned by catarrh. I think my lungs have not been affected at all. I am getting off the notion of being homesick and have settled down here thinking perhaps they will forget me and let me stay my time out here. And to tell the truth, I think I am full as well off as I should be storming Port Hudson or Vicksburg.
You say you would like to look in and see how I am situated. You may. I live in a very pretty house in the southwest corner. It is about six rods from the river, and the highway runs between. There is a piazza in front which is to the south & towards the river. It is very pleasant to sit here and see the steamboats pass up and down the river. For furniture we have one bedstead (and bed) which is old style and at least ten feet high, posts six inches square, and is covered over the top with a sort of meeting house or something. I don’t know what to call it. The bedstead is made of black walnut and cost $100 dollars at least. We have a camp bedstead also on which I sleep, two writing desks, table, stand, five large armed chairs, & a looking glass. There is but one man with me now besides the nigger and I am going to send him off. We have to pay ten dollars a month rent but I had rather pay my share than sleep on the ground or in a tent.
For food we get about what we have a mind to buy. We have tea, coffee, bread, beans, rice, potatoes, ham, eggs, fish—salt & fresh, oysters, & most anything but fresh beef, pies & cakes. Pies & cakes we can get but they are not my kind. I have not tasted of pie more than three times since I left New York & shall not again until I get back & if I could get hold of some of your pies, well the thoughts make my mouth water so I will drop the subject.
You need not borrow any trouble about my money for when I get short, all I have to do is to say so and some friend will furnish me with more. But I shall receive my pay monthly as long as I am detailed from the regiment & shall send home by express a little for change.
I expected to hear that uncle was no more so was not surprised to hear of his death. I am sorry to learn that canker rash is prevailing to such an extent. Hope it will not prive fatal. I should like to see some of the cousins that are in that vicinity. Should like to know if Elisha is going back to Minn. for I have thought quite strong of going there before I return home. I am glad you are keeping your creatures looking well & I hope that I may reach home some time to relieve you of your cares and anxiety. Charley must have a good pasture next summer so that he will keep growing. You had better hire Rice’s pasture, I guess, or Winter’s adjoining ours. I think we have plenty of hay so you will get along some way.
It is just five months today to an hour since we were sworn into the United States service & the time seems long now to the end of the nine months, but quite short to look back to the beginning. Well, I have no news to write & will rest awhile. Perhaps may find something to write about.
Well, I have been out to see them shoot their large guns & they know their balls pretty well. they are practicing so that they can give the rebels a cool reception if they come in here. Well news I have none & will close this scroll by wishing you health & prosperity, hoping the good Lord will suffer us to meet & spend many days in each others society.
Yours as ever, — V. V. Vaughn
18th — no news this morning. Am feeling first rate. Yours &c. — V. V. Vaughn
March 29, 1863
Once more I take the pen to write you a few lines hoping they will find you all well & enjoying yourself as well as you could in other circumstances, or if I was at home. I have spent the day in reading or nearly all day & wishing to do something else though I could scribble a few lines to you with as much pleasure as anything that I could do. Yesterday was a very warm day & last was showery thunder & lightning all night, & the rain—how it poured down. We have a great many thunder showers. Today is cloudy & this evening is quite cool so that I have built a fire.
I heard yesterday that Governor Andrew was going to have all his nine months men at home the first of June. What have you heard about it? Well that is the time they should be there. But the news was too good to believe. Still I should like to have it prove true. Perhaps it would give a chance to re-enlist. I am getting used to staying from my company & do not feel so lonesome as I did when I first left. It is eight weeks today since I left them.
Those that were sick are getting better & many have followed the regiment up the river. There was another mail steamer arrived last night & I shall expect a letter or two from you. The last I got without its going to the regiment, a surgeon of the 4th Massachusetts took it from the office at New Orleans and sent it to me for which favor I was much pleased. He is a man I never saw but had done him some favors in getting off his men up the river & when he saw my name he remembered it & so took the trouble to send it to me.
The General Hospital here is going to be broken up as soon as the men get so they can be moved & then my camp will be given up, I expect. I think it quite likely I may remain here three or four weeks longer.
Ashel M. Russell remains here in the hospital but I have not seen him for some time but I shall go & see him soon. Well, I don’t think of anything more so will close by asking the all mighty God to protect & preserve us to meet again.
Yours with much love to all, — V. V. Vaughan
30th March — I am well this morning. It is very cold. You may direct my letters the same you have done for I think that I shall not remain here much longer. Yours with love, — V. V. Vaughan
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
April 1, 1863
My dear family,
Again I take the pen to scribble a few lines to you hoping they will find you all well. I am enjoying pretty good health, I think, for this country. Since boarding where I now do, I have been better than I was before & I think it owing to my living. I have been to the hospitals today—Marine and Charity. They are both large establishments & well conducted. Some of our boys are there but are getting better.
As for news, I do not get much. I hear today that Emory’s Brigade is going to Texas and our regiment is in that brigade so I suppose they will go to. I think I should like the trip myself. Capt. Fay is sick with the measles & Lieut. Brown, he is not able to do duty so they say they want me there but I cannot go until I get orders to do so. There has been two men killed from one company here. One was shot through the head accidentally & the other from the bursting of a shell which was thrown at a target. They were Zouaves from New York, both within a week.
I should like to drop in & see you tonight & talk over matters. I think I could find enough to fill two or three sheets like this, but what to write I hardly know. I have written over and over until I suppose you will say I should think you had better write some news. Well I wish I could find something to write about but I cannot.
They have cleared out all the sick from the hospital here & when I get these old Pilgrims off home, I shall not have anything to do. They are old men and all the time fretting about something so that I shall be very glad to get them homeward bound.
They have a kind of plum called the Chinese Plum which is ripe now & is very good. All kinds of garden sauce is nearly grown—roses and flowers of all descriptions are in bloom—and if we could have cool weather, I should like the country pretty well. It has been cold for a few days past. Day before yesterday was the coldest day I have seen in this place & last Saturday was the warmest. So you see that we have sudden changes of weather here as well as in Massachusetts.
I suppose you have got your money before this time & feel pretty rich, don’t you? I want you to write how you get along with your business & everything. Just spin a long yarn & tell everything you want to say. I think you can make up some long letters between you. Well as I am tired and my sheet nearly full, will close.
From your husband and father, — V. V. Vaughan
Write often. Shall I send home more money?
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
April 19th 1863
My Dear Family,
Still I am permitted to address you by scribbling a few lines. I am enjoying very good health and hope this will find you blessed with the same comforts. There has nothing new or interesting transpired since I wrote you last, but I wanted to do something so I thought I would scribble a line to you thinking it would please you to hear from me [even] if I had no news to tell you.
We have had no rain to speak of since the last of March till today and now it pours right down. The cisterns were getting pretty near empty and the water tasted rather old but this will fill them to the brim again. Do you think you could use rainwater to drink? I rather guess you would make some faces if you were obliged to come to it and who would blame you (I would not). We have some very heavy thunder today and the lightening so close that I could hear it hiss but I do not know as it struck anywhere.
General Banks is doing pretty good business this last week & if he keeps on, will redeem the good opinion which some of his friends had nigh lost. In the expedition they have captured 15,000 rebels, several gunboats, and a large amount of horses, cattle, and mules, beside sugar, cotton, and other things too numerous to mention. I am thinking I should like to be with them for a while at least and no doubt I shall go somewhere before long as I do not have anything scarcely to do here. I have been very anxious the last week. I get tired doing nothing.
I suppose you are having real spring weather now but we get it hot enough for July or August. The nights, however, are quite cool which seems good after bearing the hot sun through the day. You spoke in your last letter or some other one as though you thought I heard from Hubbard often. But I have not received one word from him since arriving here. I suppose he does not find time to write. Still I should think he would show more respect to his own brother. I think he has forgotten the golden rule. I have written him two or three times & shall write again if nothing happens.
Well the rain pours down & I must get wet or go without my dinner which I can’t think of doing—especially on Sunday for we have something extra Sundays. And when I get back, I will tell you what I had to eat.
Just returned from dinner. We had sweet potatoes, baked pork, rice pudding, blackberry pie, wheat bread, and a tumbler of milk—a pretty good dinner for this country. Well we have three months longer to serve, I suppose, and some would have it four & a half. But I can’t see it just in that light. I want peace to be declared before our time of service expires and then we will not have to think about war anymore but can settle down at home to spend the remainder of our days in peace and quiet.
We have a little excitement now and then but nothing amounts to much. The picket guard have shot two men the last week. They were running guard. And a negro was shot while stealing cabbages. And just now the police arrested an Irish man for beating his wife. The poor fellow kicked, squirmed, & howled terrible but he had to go to the calaboose.
Well, I don’t believe I can find anything more to write so I will close hoping this will find you enjoying good health and contented minds. Yours as ever, — V. V. Vaughan
My respects to all enquiring friends.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN
April 26, 1863
My Dear Family,
It is with feelings of gratitude to an Almighty God for the privilege I enjoy of addressing a few lines to you this morning hoping they will find you in the enjoyment of good health and spirits. My health is very good with exception of catarrh (and rheumatism in my jaw). The weather is getting very war indeed and how to endure it I don’t know. It seems as though we should melt in the heat of the sun now. But July and August I suppose is much warmer as one can imagine. And then the mosquitoes and flies! You don’t know anything about how thick they are. I would not live here if I could have the whole of Louisiana and the niggers to boot. As I sit here this morning with doors and windows wide open, it seems as though I should suffocate. And another month is nearly gone and I am looking forward to the time when—if life and health is spared—I shall be at home again. But who can tell what the future will disclose. Many of our boys are sick. Some have fallen in battle and others will no doubt go the same way. And as I think of the future, my heart gorws sad. Hope almost dies within my breast of ever reaching home again.
I expect to be released from this place soon and suppose I shall go to the regiment sometime but they are some two hundred miles from here now & they will not furnish transportation to them so I shall not expect to be with them yet for awhile. They have had a hard time. Our regiment had lost up to the 18th, 4 men killed and 8 wounded. Many were sick & no doubt will suffer much. I suppose the expedition is doing a pretty good business and is driving the rebels at every point on their route. And should they cut off the supplies from Port Hudson and Vicksburg, those places will soon be in our possession. The restoration of our country and establishment of the government—also the destruction of slavery—would be great achievements. But O what a cost. Is there any who sympathize with rebellion that realize these things? It appears to me that if there were no sympathizers outside rebel lines with their cause, they would soon give up the cause and return to their former allegiance.
Well, I suppose as you hear tidings from our regiment you will be anxious for our welfare. But don’t worry for our safety. Put your whole trust in that being who is able to keep us from all harm and whatever trials He calls you to pass through, He has promised to comfort if you only come to Him by faith.
I suppose the Governor of Massachusetts would like to keep us here until he gets more troops to take our places or perhaps someone who are afraid of the draft would like o stay to the close of the war. And for those reasons try to make out our time from the date of Colonel’s oath, which was 3d of December. Keeping us here till 3d of September. But I can’t think that the government will recognize us as enlisted men (but as drafted) and will hold us only nine months from the time we took the oath. And that in due season. So we will try to be patient. Hoping ere long to meet you all safe and well. Yours truly, from — V. V. Vaughan
P. S. Twenty minutes past three. Have just received a letter from you dated the 11th. One from Kinkley’s wife dated 10th and one from E. H. Shaw dated the 5th. So I have something to do to answer them.