1863: George W. Willey to Friend Clem

Willey’s Headstone in S. Woodbury Cemetery, Washington county, Vermont—“Comrades we won the Victory” 

This letter was written by George W. Willey, (1840-1871) a private in Co. I, 11th Vermont (a. k. a. 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery. George’s military records give his residence as Sharon, Vermont though he was born in New Hampshire. He enlisted in late July 1862 and mustered in on 1 September 1862. This letter was written from Fort Stevens, one of the many fortresses constructed near Washington D. C. to defend the capitol.

In the spring of 1864, Grant pulled the heavy artillery regiments from the Washington forts and used them as infantrymen in his Overland Campaign. Not long after George was promoted to corporal, he was wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864. He spent the next few months in a hospital recovering from his wound but mustered out with the regiment in June 1865.


Fort Stevens
May 1, 1863

Now that I have the opportunity, I will improve it in writing you a few lines in return for those I received of you the 29th of April.

I had begun to think you had forgotten that I was in the land and was never going to write again but it appears you wrote in season but forgot to send it.

Yours found me well or was well soon. I had been rather unwell for a few days previous. Cold &c.

The boys from that way are all in running order, I guess, if they would go the right way. I never was heavier. Weigh 188 lbs.

We have had any gods amount of picket duty to do but now it is only half as much. The 143rd P. V. marched this morning for somewhere. We have to drill some now & do some fatigue work in the bargain.

The measles & mumps abound in abundance. I have had the latter easy.

The sutler furnishes us with all the rich meals we need & furthermore, he furnishes tickets to buy with. All some of the boys have to do is to let him have what money they get payday which comes when it happens.

Just say to Brig. Gen. Rives and Lieut. Col. Heath & Quartermaster Richard that a line from them would be very acceptable. They know where I am & so do I—doing military duty in the Army of the Lord. Fret not the gizzard & let not thy little guts trouble thee. You will find this passage in the 2.i.i. Chapter of one i John. Don’t let Sarah get hold of this, by God.

Yours muchly, — George W. Willie

There is not the first devilish bit of news in camp.

Now I am guarding against hot weather differently [that] I have been & got my hair cut close to the pate.

Well Clem, I must draw this scroll to a close for it is at a late hour of the evening and the nights are shortening.

Beans for breakfast, I am using all the best faculties I am maser of a cooking. Do not like it any too well.

Write again as I like very much to hear from friends at home or from Woodbury. You cannot imagine how close the time for the mail to come is watched.

Good evening, — G. W. Willey


There was a man in Co. C shot off one of his thumbs last night and night before there was a man in our company when on picket shot at a man trying to cross his beat & commenced to reload his gun [when it] went off & the rammer, ball & all went through his right hand. A short time ago I was out on picket & there was a man got a ball shot through his left arm from Co. E, fell down & his gun went off.

Oh Clem, what a pleasant evening—the moon shines bright. It is warm and the whippoorwill is singing her solemn colly colly songs. The peach trees are in full bloom. The grass is green. Trees are leafing out. Frogs croaking, toads purring, all trying to comfort & sheer the soldier.

Clem, it is May Day eve & my mind is rather unsettled now as it is wandering back to past days when I was enjoying life but did not realize or in fact, know it.

Jack Dudley was taken yesterday with the Diphtheria. He is comfortable tonight—not dangerous as yet.

Lon has been down to Rock Creek to work today. He says he saw a man planting corn. They are rather late about their spring work here as it has been a very cold, late spring. But things are as forward now here as they were up thee last year the first of June. Cattle get a better living.

There are plenty of niggers here. I never saw such quadrupeds. They are always hungry or drunk. If you have nothing you can spare them when they come around the cook house, they will gnaw the hoops off from the swill barrel. It makes no odds what you give them, they are always glad to get it.

What is Ezra thinking of to get married right in the spring of the year for just as it coming on hot weather? Foolish boy! Besides, I’m afraid he will be sick and then again such thrilling affairs are—or should be—done away with while all of us can have a shake together. Give my respects to all enquiring friends—gals and all.

Tell Ezra to write devilish quick. I have wrote to him once.

This is the style we fight:  “Fall in Co. I. Right Dress, Front. Attention to Roll Call. Right Face, Break Ranks. March”

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