Henry A. Barry diary  1863
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Albert Davis papers consist of 97 letters written by Civil War soldier Albert Davis of the 15th Massachusetts Regiment, Co. G, 3 letters written by his friends and family, one allotment receipt, his military discharge papers, and a photo of Albert Davis.

Albert Davis wrote letters while stationed with the Union army in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, between August 1861 and June 1864. Of the letters, Davis sent 83 to his widowed mother and 14 to his teenage sister, Angeline, both living in Upton, Massachusetts. The collection also holds one letter from Albert's mother to his sister (June 30, 1864), a letter from R. W. Ellis to Angeline Leland Davis (March 5, 1864), and a letter from W. I. Scandlin to Albert Davis (July 2, 1874).

Albert's letters document his participation as a soldier in the 15th Massachusetts Regiment from the beginning of the regiment’s formation in July 1861, until its dissolution after the battle of Petersburg (June 22, 1864), when all but eight men and one officer were killed or captured. In the early letters, Davis described his initial training near Worcester, Massachusetts. At first, he enjoyed soldiering, and sent home souvenirs: a piece of wood from the Harper's Ferry Bridge (October 6, 1861), and a piece of cotton from the breastworks at Yorktown (May 24, 1862). He wrote of snowballing a barge while on picket duty (January 4, 1862), and of picking wild blackberries during the fighting at Malvern Hills (August 2, 1862). Upon seeing the Monitor anchored among other boats at Hampton, Virginia, he wrote "it dont look as though it could take a Canal boat" (April 2, 1862). Many of his letters mentioned food, either what he was eating or what he would like to receive from home (cheese, tea, molasses, catsup, preserves, baked goods, chocolate, and checkerberry extract). On August 2, 1862, he sent a recipe for pudding made from hardtack. By December 1863, his feelings about soldiering had changed and he became determined not to reenlist. He was irritated by the "bounty men" who fought for money rather than patriotism (March 9, 1863; August 6, 1863). He witnessed several military executions (September 4, 1863; April 26, 1864). Davis also described his six months spent in hospitals and convalescent camps, and his part in the battles of Antietam, Cold Harbor, Gettysburg, and Bristoe Station.

His letters describing the Battle of Gettysburg are of particular interest not just for their accounts of the battle (July 4, 17, and 27, 1863), but also for his corrections of inaccuracies in the newspaper coverage of the battle (August 13 and 21, 1863). On May 14, 1864, Davis wrote from "mud hole near Spotsylvania Court House" and stated that the battle was "the hardest fight of the War." A few weeks later, on June 6, 1864, he wrote from the battlefield at Cold Harbor that "we are about sick of making Charges [--] we are not successful in one half of them and the loss on the retreat is great...there is some wounded men that are a lying between the lines that have laid there for three days and have not had a bit of care perhaps not a drop of water."

Davis occasionally used Union stationary that included printed color images:

  • October 22, 1861
  • October 29, 1861
  • November 6, 1861
  • November 16, 1861
  • November 17, 1861
  • November 26, 1861
  • May 6, 1862
  • November 2, [1862]
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