This unusual letter was written by Pvt. Gabriel Strang who enlisted on 25 September 1861 at the age of 33 in Co. L, 1st Massachusetts Cavalry and mustered out three years later to be transferred into Co. L, 4th Massachusetts Cavalry. He remained with that company until he was killed in action on 6 April 1865 in the Battle of High Bridge, Virginia. He was buried at the Poplar Grove National Cemetery.
According to the regimental history, Gabriel joined the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry with three brothers—Jessie (age 37), Cyrus (age 23), and Joel (age 21). Only Jessie and Cyrus survived the war.
Gabriel wrote the letter to Albert Pratt (1834-18xx) who married Julia A. Adams (1839-1868) in 1856. Gabriel lived in Franklin county, Massachusetts.
Camp of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry
January 15, 1865
I am about to sit down to answer your last two letters—No. 39 & 38. What do you think of my new styled writing paper? You must not think this is a commission or a list of deserters of your command. Well Albert, I got short of paper and there are always a large pile of blanks knocking around so I had the cheek to send you a part of one. I must say that I have been neglectful in writing but I never was kept so busy at work as I have for the last fortnight. I am on daily duty a standing detail. I have got a squad of 4 men and I am under the Quartermaster. We are building houses and stables or anything that comes in our way. We have just finished the Doctor’s house and tomorrow we will go on something else. I do not hurt myself working, you better believe. I have got 4 large strong men and they do not need much bossing.
We had an inspection this forenoon as it is Sunday. Oh such a muddy time I never did see and it is just like walking in tar. When we go in our tents, we cannot hardly raise our feet for the weight of mud that is on them. For the past 3 mornings it has been froze solid so it was quite pleasant but noon would overtake it, then bad as ever. The roads are dreadful. Teams often get stuck—even 6 mule teams with empty wagons.
The boys are beginning to have furlough now—only 2 from each company for 20 days. I hope I will be one of them before the winter is out. Was down to Dutch Gap last Sunday to take a ride and it is a sight worth seeing. It is a mile from and seven in sight of camp. They fired 11 shell in the gap while I and my chum was there. We hitched our horses behind the earthworks for protection and went int to the Gap and every shell that came we could hear it coming so to give us time to cover ourselves. The shell would burst 20 or 30 feet over our heads. O Massa, how de durt would fly.
Dane has been down to Jones Landing on horseback. He got back a few minutes ago. Well it is getting dark and I must light up the coop. Several has come in here and pass remarks about my paper. One asked me if I am making out the pay rolls and others wanting their discharge paper made out.
I made up my mind that I will send you a Commission in that company that you are in at home if you will accept of it. I have got to draw to a close to commence on the other side. So good luck to you till another time. From your friend, — Gabriel Strang
You wanted to know what a bomb proof was. They are built when the men are under heavy fire in the ground in banks to protect the shell from hurting them.
We are not in any Corps now. We are at the Headquarters of the Army of the James. It was General Butler but now General [Edward] Ord. We got 2 companies at the headquarters of the 25th and two more at the 24th, 3 here and one Yorktown, 2 in Florida, 2 at Hilton Head.
Camp at Pratt’s Farm, January 15th 1865 Permission is hereby granted to Private A. S. Pratt to leave camp for one day to proceed to Boston and return this day by order of Gabriel Strang