These three letters were written by Calvin Hopkins Cleaves (1844-1870), the son of Calvin H. Cleaves (1821-1860) and Ruth Ann Kenney (1824-1866) of Reading, Middlesex county, Massachusetts.
Calvin enlisted on 21 September 1861 in Co. F, 9th Maine Infantry. He survived the war—he mustered out of the regiment on 15 December 1864—but died unmarried six years later of typhoid fever while working as a clerk in Salem, Massachusetts.
Calvin wrote these letters to Georgianna (“Georgie”) Kenney (1844-1916), the daughter of Timothy Pickering Kenney (1809-1897) and Louisa Chapman (1810-1888) of Leominster, Worcester county, Massachusetts. Georgie was married to Dexter Butterfield (1842-1912) in December 1865. Dexter served in Co. H, 2nd Massachusetts Infantry from 1861 to 1864.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to Miss Georgie Kenny, North Leominster, Massachusetts
About two miles from Petersburg, Va.
May 8th 1864
Dear Cousin [Georgie],
We have bee pretty busy for a fortnight, I can tell you. If you wish, I’ll read you my diary. Please excuse me, I should have first said that I received your letter of April 29th last Wednesday while aboard a transport. Well, thus says history—
Monday, April 25th. Marched to Alexandria and went on board the steamer Matilda.
26th. Sailed down the Potomac, arrived at Fortress Monroe at eight o’clock p.m. And in a short time started for Gloucester Point opposite Yorktown.
27th. Arrived there during the night, think about three o’clock. On coming ashore we found the remainder of the regiment which we left in D. C. when we went home. I think we are about to march on Richmond for we’ve a large army here.
29th. The regiment drew shelter tents; a shelter is a piece of cloth about four feet and one half square, & each man carried his piece on a march. If three men button their pieces together, a tent can be formed—the bottom of which will be about 5 feet by 6 & about 5 feet high; the shape will be like that. [sketch] It will be 5 high as I said at first. Tis quite a small house for three men to live in together with their worldly possessions, arms, and equipments. But we say it’s all for the sake of country—& bounty, ha ha.
30th. Had our regular muster. By the way, it comes once in two months & all the troops on the Point were reviewed by General Ben Butler.
May 4th. The troops at this place went aboard transports. My regiment went aboard the steamer George Weems [and] started for Fortress Monroe and all arrived there during the night. At sunrise, the 5th, the fleet started up James river and landed during the night in the vicinity of what is called City Point.
The bugle has just sounded the assembly so goodbye for the present. Were only ordered into an open field. Orders have come to fall the woods in which we were encamped.
6th. This morning the different divisions were marching towards Petersburg. Our division marched in a round about way eight miles and halted for the night. Near sunset we heard artillery and musketry firing about two miles away and supposed it to be near Petersburg. Yesterday morning our Corps was put in motion and our skirmishers soon met those of the enemy and drove them back about a mile and a half—as far as the Petersburg Railroad. The rebs made several charges and though to drive the boys back but they found veterans who were used to the business and who were not to be drove, but who could drive rebels pretty handily.
Well, we drew the attention of the enemy while the Eighteenth Corps went around and burned the railroad bridge—this being the principal object of the advance in this direction—to cut off communications between N. C. and Richmond. Toward sunset, we withdrew to our position occupied in the morning. There were but three casualties in the 9th. I cannot estimate the total loss of the army. The day was exceedingly warm and many were sunstruck and many of the sickly ones dropped out by the way from their exhaustion. My ears being quite forward in growth when compared with the remainder of my person interposed themselves between the fierce rays of the sun and Mother Earth and got badly burned for their advancing proclivities.
Probably we shall march towards Richmond tomorrow. If you wish to know exactly where we are, please notice a small three cornered piece of ground formed by the James, another small river, and the Richmond and North Carolina Railroad. The bridge burned was across the small river ver near Petersburg you notice.
Please ask Cousin Ellen if she has received my letter. I wrote to het ar the same time I just wrote to you.
Now Georgia, if ’twas gallant, I’d be half a mind to get mad at you for insinuating that I was playing a trick on you about my photograph. Ha ha. But now don’t blame me for ’tis the fault of the artist if you have not got it yet. But I guess you have. Suppose I shall have to let you do as you have a mind to about sending that particular likeness of yourself. Girls will have their own way when they can—that’s a fact.
So, I’ll with draw my request but be sure and send me one of some kind. Oh yes, I’ll burn your letters. No fear but what I’ll do it. What do I care for them, umph. Ha ha. Now guess you are made. Well what did you doubt my word for when I said you should have my likeness? Now I begin to pity you so I’ll retract. I’m obliged to burn the letters I receive but you may imagine I am sorry to for I love to read them over occasionally. But I am liable to lose my knapsack as was the case yesterday when we went to battle and left them behind. And I know that my correspondents write letters to me and not to anyone who should find my portfolio containing them. So to do them justice, I’m obliged to burn them.
Tut, tut. If I cannot call my cousin’s fair, who on earth can? So now don’t dispute with me. Love to all and to yourself also and please accept this from your affectionate cousin, — Calvin H. Cleaves
To Miss Georgia Kenny
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
In the front trenches before Petersburg, Va.
July 25th 1864
I received yours of the 19th inst. yesterday & take the first opportunity to answer it.
Rained like sixty last night and I took some cold. When I got up this morning, I felt very still & chilly, but after having a hot breakfast (coffee & baked beans) & a good smoke, I feel as the Dutch man expresses it, “Much petter ish goot.” So I’ll try and answer your letter as well as I’m capable of.
The reb’s are throwing some shells but if they don’t depose their compliments in too close proximity with myself, I shall finish this in spite of their noise.
Yesterday they threw one very saucy shell which killed one man & wounded four—two of which belonged the 9th.
There is not much news to communicate at the present time but rather expect to see stirring times before I shall get an answer to this missive. Nay! ‘Tis about certain that something will soon be done here. If there is an advance made, the fight will be hard for the enemy is well entrenched. But there may be in use there the same policy that Grant used before Vicksburg—undermining forts. ‘Tis whispered around here that he is undermining two forts, but no one seems to know it in this regiment at least.
Our folks I think have the most artillery & mortars & they know how to use them pretty well for occasionally when the reb’s open fire on us, our battery’s concentrate their whole fire on the offensive guns and mortars and effectually “dry ’em up.”
Occasionally the boys on picket have some fun. They’ll agree not to fire & then jump out of their holes, swap coffee & tobacco & throw lumps of dirt at each other, get to talking about the war & sometimes get mad & have a fist fight. My love to all the folks and I remain your affectionate cousin—Calvin—who would like to see someone’s photograph a’for long.
Now that you’ve got mine, hope you’ll stop quarreling with me. Please excuse the large envelope for I’ve no other.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
General Hospital Point of Rocks, Va.
Dear Uncle & Aunt,
Halloo! excuse me just one minute, for one of the boys has just brought me a letter from Mother & I must see how she is getting along]. We Mother is quite smart; I expect the bracing air of that mountainous region is the best medicine she could have. Well I was thinking perhaps you might think I had ought to write you a letter. I had ought, that’s a fact, & I beg pardon for delaying it so long & will now try to make amends.
You’ve probably read an account of our defeat before Petersburg. ‘Twas a terrible slaughter—I never see the equal. And the rebs butchered the negroes just as fast as they could get their hands on them. And ’twas the negroes that caused the defeat. They made a regular stampede; they came back like a whirlwind & broke the ranks of the support all to pieces and before they could form again, the rebs were in possession [of] their works again & were loading and firing as fast as possible; & from each flank their artillery was pouring in a terrible raking fire and we lost as estimated by the papers 5,640 men—and that does not exceed it, I think.
At the beginning our boys were in the best of spirits and we had a vastly superior force & were confident of resting in Petersburg that night. But the negroes! the repulse! O, ’twas too bad. And my poor comrades were slaughtered for nothing. One of my tent mates was wounded on Morris Island in the foot & was in the hospital with me, and on the 30th he was wounded again in the same place. Poor fellow! ‘Twill about spoil his foot for ’twas not sound before it received another wound.
Well, Uncle Tim, how do your crops come on? If the weather has been as dry there as here, I fear that they will be rather small. In the state of Maine, potatoes are about a failure—so the folks write. Well, if you’ll now excuse me, I am your affectionate nephew, — Calvin H. Cleave & will write a line to George.
Dear Coz, I’m compelled to acknowledge the reception of your last letter; O dear! & I’m obliged to answer it; O dear! now you needn’t think I’m calling you dear cause I mean it for myself. You are a pretty good gal though, concluded ‘twould add to your peace of mind to send your photograph, didn’t you? Well I can but commend you for having foresight; tis quite a necessary element to possess is this world of calculation. By the way, guess I may as well thank you for it now as any other time; though ’twas very unmanly of you to keep me waiting for it so long. But I extend you pardon, so you need not have the pleasure of asking it. Now aint we good friends, Coz? Ain’t I a good feller to be so generous? Now I’m [an] awful lazy fellow and don’t want to go out behind a tree every time I look at a miniature; won’t it do just as well if I put my cap between it and everybody when I look at it? A sund stroke is the reason of my being in the hospital. I’ve never seen such intense heat as there was on the 31st of July. It nearly took my wind, but not quite.
Tell Etta that I’ve managed to pay interest for her peck of love for I scratched up a peck & a half to return. And tell her that I’ve obeyed her injunction to keep out the way of bullets & shells for I’ve got into the hospital—safe place this—ha. ha. Well now, love to the boys & I remain your affectionate cousin, — Calvin H. Cleaves
My address the same as usual. I’ve got nary stamp, Coz, so trashy as ’tis, you’ll have to pay for taking this letter or rather your father will have to. — Cal
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
U. S. General Hospital
September 27th 1864
Dear Cousin Georgia,
I received yours of August 24th last night; I had nearly dispaired of ever hearing from you again. The reason why I did not get your letter at an earlier date is that I moved from the Corps Hospital to this, and the boys did not know where to send my letters until I wrote to them, and I neglected to inform them of my whereabouts until a week ago.
Because I was daily expecting to go north, and I had them letters sent here, and I left before receiving them, I knew that I should never get them. But having learned something more definite about the time of my departure, I wrote and told the boys to forward my letters and last night I received nine. Big job on my hands & I want to detail you for my amanuensis! Will you accept the detail?
After I get these letters answered, probably I shall not have any more to answer while I’m in my Uncle Sammy’s service. Tell you why. Going to get my discharge soon. And everyone to when I write. Tell ’em not to write to me again. Reason—expect to leave this hospital this week for one farther North; situation not known and shall be continually changing hospitals till I’m discharged. And if letters should be sent to a hospital I had left, and they did not ascertain my whereabouts within a week, the letters would go to the dead letter office. Shouldn’t like that! So Coz, I’m going to tell you that you had better cease writing to me till I get home.
Humph! I don’t want your leather medal! Would not have it if I could! Got one better than that already. Uncle is very excusable of course; no doubt he has his hands full without writing. And of course Aunt is excused also; has any quantity of pies and pancakes to bake no doubt; would like to be there and punish some for her. Why, for the sake of consolation, could you not have said, marm’s baking custards and gingerbread; don’t you wish you had some?
Well Coz, I’ll now take my hat if you please and if you are inclined, I call this afternoon and let you darn up a sign of hard times in the sleeve of my blouse; and see if you can mend better’n I can. Love to all. And I’m your affectionate cousin Calvin.