Timeless Advice from the Front

A soldier writes to his brother about war


| March / April 2006


Cindy Pardy, second cousin of Utne librarian Chris Dodge, recently turned up this letter, which was written by her great-great-grandfather Jeremiah Burpee Smithand sent to his younger brother Ingraham. Born in Canada in 1840, Smith came to Worcester, New York, in 1850, enlisted in the New York Infantry in 1861, and served until the end of the Civil War, surviving the 1st Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, the Siege of Vicksburg, and the Battle of South Mountain. After General Lee's surrender at Appomattox in 1865, Smith returned to Worcester, where he ran a hops farm until a few years before his death in 1917.

Against his brother's advice, Ingraham enlisted in the Union army, serving nearly three years. He also returned after the war to the Worcester area, where he married, fathered five children, and lived until his death in 1918. We have chosen to reprint the letter unaltered. -- The Editors

Newbern, North Carolina
51st Regiment Company I
NYSV Camp Potter
June the 18th, 1862

This afternoon
Dear Brother,

I thought that I would write to you and let you know that I am well and also in pretty good health. I received your letter and I was glad to hear from you but I am sorry to hear that you think about enlisting in this war. If you take my advice, you hadn't best to, because you can't stand it as I wrote before. You ain't built for a soldier. If I was out of it, you wouldn't catch me enlisting again. I tell you, although, I have got a pretty good birth. It was my good luck. If it hadn't been for the doctor, I wouldn't a got where I be, that's certain. As long as I stay here, I will do well enough, I guess. It is very sickly down here and very hot. And it is a bad time to enlist. Take new recruits, they have to drill them pretty hard. It ain't like working on a farm. If you take my advice, you would stay where you are. I know that's a dogs life to work out, but I would be willing to hire out to work on a farm again and be contented. You will find it out so if you should enlist. A fellow don't think much about it when they are to home, but when they get down here, they begin to come to their senses. You come to live on rancid suet and hard crackers and coffee. You would wish you was to home more than once. I guess now you take my advice and stay where you are. I am telling you for your own good. Take the wood cord and work according to your strength. That's the only way to get along. How many there is that wishes themselves to home, out of this. If a fellow gets sick and a bad cold, it is the ruination of them prettimuch. We still remain here and I can't tell you how long we will for my part. We may not move again until we move to our homes. And we may move pretty soon. We can't tell everything about it. They think that we will get home the last of September. I hope that we may have the good luck as to after they get Richmond. It will be soon peace among them. Old McClellan is giving them fits. That will be the last blow. He is working slow but shall there have been heavy fighting there. I'm waiting patiently to hear that it is taken. The report has been that it was taken but it contradicted knowing. You shall stick as long as you can. And don't think of enlisting.

I must close my letter. You write as soon as you can and I will answer your letters punctually. I was glad to hear that Uncle has found money. I didn't expect to hear from it again. Give my respects to all endearing friends, to Uncle's folks. Tell them that I am well. Tell them to write to me, will you? So I must bid you good afternoon, Ingraham.