These letters were written by Wesley Winship (1842-1865), the son of Sylvester Tynell Winship (1812-1866) and Sarah G. Hayes (1816-1856) of Jasper, Steuben county, New York. Wesley enlisted on 31 December 1861 as a private in Co. G, 1st Regt. New York Volunteers and mustered out with the company on 25 May 1863. Wesley re-enlisted in Co. H, 161st New York Infantry in October 1864 and drowned on 9 January 1865 in the Mississippi river 25 miles below Vicksburg when the steamer John H. Dickey transporting the regiment accidentally collided with the steamer John Raine. Only three soldiers were drowned though there were multiple injuries.
Wesley’s enlistment record indicates that he stood 5 foot 6 inches tall, had light hair and blue eyes.
Wesley’s brothers included Nehemiah Willard Winship (1838-1863), a corporal in Co. K, 86th New York Infantry who died on 3 July 1863 of wounds received the previous day at Gettysburg; and also James Wilson Winship (1839-1896) who served in Co. I, 3rd Iowa Infantry from June 1861 to 14 October 1862.
After the Peninsula Campaign and the Second Battle of Bull Run, the 1st New York Infantry was on duty at Upton Hill until mid-October 1862 when they were ordered to march up the Potomac river to Leesburg and from there to Falmouth where they participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Mud March and the Chancellorsville Campaign before being mustered out of the service.
[Note: These letters are from the private collection of Walter Slonopas and are published here by express consent.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
September 5th, 1862
Dear Brother James,
It is with pleasure I seat myself to write a few words for your perusal. I am well as usual at present but have been somewhat under the weather for the past 7 weeks as I was taken prisoner and kept to Richmond 5 weeks. I about starved while there. The came away the 6th of August and exchanged so I had to come to the regiment for doing duty again. I was not there but a few days before we left the place and marched for 21 days [and] then took the boat. Was crowded on that 24 hours, then arrived at Alexandria, took the cars [and] was on them about 12 hours and arrived at Warrenton Junction. Then marched about 12 miles & stopped there, I believe, for 4 days when the rebs got in the rear of us, cut off our supplies, burned the railroad, tore up the track, and made us go back double quick time and fight all the way almost. We had a day’s fighting on the way at least or our regiment was in a fight that many days.
I was bare footed so it excused me from going into the bushwhacking & maybe saved my head by the means. The 86th [New York] Regiment is with us down here so they had to do a little fighting after staying down to Washington so long. I stayed with [brother] Nehemiah 2 nights & had a good time with the boys of his company. I don’t know where they are now but I suppose they are up about ¼ miles to the Chain Bridge. We are within about 3 miles of Washington now on the Potomac river.
I hear that you have got your discharge and gone home. I am glad of that and wish I had mine too for I am sick of soldiering now. We have run around all over Virginia a most and it has not amounted to anything—only to kill off our men and some of the gray backs & we are now about where we was a year ago and so be they in this part of the country.
Well James, it is bed time now and the drum is beating for roll call and I must quit so please excuse my short letter for this time and write as soon as you can get this. So goodbye for tonight.
Direct to Co. G, 1st Regiment N. Y. S. V., Washington D. C. or elsewhere in care of Col. Dykeman
Now write soon. Don’t wait an hour after you get this if you can write. This from your unworthy brother, — Wesley Winship
to James Winship
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Camp near Fredericksburg, Va.
December 24th 1862
Dear Brother James,
I am once more with pleasure seated in my little tent to write a line to you to let you know that I am usually well. Hope this will find you the same. After traveling for nearly one year in Virginia and Maryland, this afternoon finds me about 3 miles from Fredericksburg on the opposite side of the river. By going down to our pickets by the river, the Rebel pickets can plainly be seen on the other bank and drilling on the hill beyond.
James, you know what—soldiering is better than I can tell you. But I can tell you it’s not the life for me. The exposure is enough to destroy anyone. I am glad that you was lucky enough to get out of it as soon as you did. You saved perhaps your life by the means. To soldier the second winter as we do or as like to do this with nothing but the small shelter tent would be very apt to go pretty hard with one not used to it. But I expect if life is spared me to be free in the spring. Our time is out the 23rd of April next and then they may go to grass for all I care. I haven’t received any pay for 7 months and am therefore pretty hard up. But I trust in Providence for better days a coming.
I haven’t heard from any of our folks at home for a long time but am looking for a letter every mail. The 86th [New York] Regiment has been encamped only a short way from here ever since we arrived in this place but they moved today and we expect to go in a few days. Here goes some regiment now—they are moving a most all the time.
I received your letter while on Upton Hill but as we have been a going all the time since, I had no chance to write you. James, what are you doing for a living now-a-days? Don’t you feel lonesome since you got home? Is there plenty of work out there now? What for place would it be for Wes, do you suppose? Do you think he could get a living there or not? Now tell us your private opinion on that. If I get out of this alive in the spring, I will come out there [to Iowa]. You may think I am gassing about it, but I hain’t at all.
I have nothing of interest to tell now. Please write as soon as you get this and excuse this poor letter of mine.
Direct to your unworthy brother, Wes [Winship], Co. G, 1st Regt. N. Y. V., [Hiram G.] Berry’s Brigade, Camp near Fredericksburg, Va., or elsewhere.
Now don’t delay too long for I want to hear from you bad.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
In Camp Parole, Annapolis [Md]
February 18th 1863
Dear Brother [James],
It is with pleasure that I take up my pen to write a few words to you. I was taken prisoner shortly after my last to you so I was not in the regiment long enough to know whether you wrote to me or not. Therefore, I thought I would write again and see if I could get one here before I go away.
I was captured at Fredericksburg [on] December 16th after the battle and was sent to Richmond where I was for 3 weeks. Then was paroled and send here where I arrived on the 17th of January and am not exchanged yet nor don’t expect to be before April as there has just been and exchange made. There is not any exchanges made only every 2 months. I like a paroled life very well rather better for a change than the soldier—especially in bad weather like this—for we don’t have any picket duty to do here.
James, what do you think this war is a coming to anyway? Do you think this country will be any better if this fighting goes on for 2 years more than it is at present? For my part, I think it is about played out now without going any further with it at all. It has got so far now, in my estimation, that it is no more the Union and Constitution but the nigger we are a fighting for now—the black son-of-a-gun that our President worships. I hope the Lord the day will come when he can suck the nigger’s ass as much as he wants to, don’t you? Now tell the plain sentiments of your heart this once and let’s know your feelings in the matter. I think this war is a regular humbug & money making business and nothing more. But you know it is far from a speculation to the private. He isn’t thought half as much of in these parts as the old buck nigger.
Now James, I have nothing more to say this time. Only I want you to write as soon as you can and tell us all the news. What you are up to now-a-days and all. If I ever get free again, I am a going out there [to Iowa]. Won’t you look around there and see if you can find a girl for me? I want a little woman when I get done soldiering. Is there any danger of your getting one yet? Let me know if there is, won’t you?
Goodbye for the present. As ever, your brother, — Wes
To James W. Winship
Direct to Camp Parole, Annapolis, Md.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Canisteo [New York]
October 12, 1863
After running around and laboring so long, I feel it my duty as well as a great privilege to write a few lines for your perusal. I am in the enjoyment of good health at present. It has been a long time since I had a letter from you yet I do not blame you for not writing because you wrote last. But Jim, I have written one or two to you but laid them away and forgot to send them. But I will try and think to send this.
Well James, there has considerable happened since you left Old Steuben [county]. If you were to come back now, there would not anything seem like home to you. You spoke in your last to me of coming out this fall. I hope you have not given it up, have you? I want you to come out this fall sure, for we know not what another year may bring forth. If things go on the year to come as they have for a year past, we may all be under the sod before then. So James, do come out this fall & if you want to go back again, I will go with you if you think I will do as well there as here.
The folks are all well as far as I know. I saw Billy a week ago last Sunday. He is as tough as a bear. And Frank, I saw him a week before. He is tougher than White Oak lightning. Uncle Mote’s folks are all kicking, I believe. I have been at work in the creek for Uncle Billy Hayes and old Charley Tunis ever since I got done soldiering. I am at Old Charley’s now. I have 5 or 6 weeks to work for him yet for 16 dollars per month. We have lots of fun this fall. Lots of nice gals to run, you know.
I suppose you have heard from [brother] George & [sister] Delia since I have so I won’t say anything about them. I suppose they are well though. You know Benson Countryman. He has turned preacher. I heard him preach his second discourse yesterday. I was up to Uncle Billy’s to a prayer meeting last evening. I tell you, they had a loud one. They are a going to have a husking bee up to Elder Jake Schank’s next Wednesday night. It is a general invitation to all girls and boys. I expect we will have lots of fun up there. They say the old elder is a going to let us have a “Jenny hang the kettle on“—or at least we will have it, whether he lets us or not. Oh Jim, you know Mary Scunk. She is a clipper, you better bet.
Now James, come out this fall if you can & if not, please send me your face and I will get mine and send you. I must close so goodnight.
P. S. Write as soon as you get this [and] not do as I have. Direct to your brother, — Wesley Winship, North Jasper, Steuben county, New York