Timeless Advice from the Front

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.

Yours truly from your affectionate brother,
Mr. Jerry Smith

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