Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Woolsey family letters during the War for the Union

Harriet Roosevelt Woolsey to her sisters, Jane and Georgeanna.

Fishkill, Sunday.

My Dears: We came up here last Thursday, and you may imagine it was somewhat of a relief to get Mother away from the everlasting Fair business that, for the last few weeks, has completely run her off her feet. . . .

New York is really in a disgusting state of fashionable excitement; nothing is talked of, or thought of, or dreamed of, but the big Metropolitan Fair! Mrs. Parker has her thousand dollar tea-sets to dispose of; Kate Hunt, her two hundred dollar curtains; Mrs. Schermer-horn, her elegant watches; and Mrs. Sombodyelse, the beautiful jewelry sent from Rome for the Sanitary Commission. . . .

Mary, and Edward Potter have been very busy with their floral department, and Mary has made some “sweet” things, one very pretty garden hat, a pure white straw with wide white ribbon streamers and a bunch of large pansies painted on the end of each, exquisitely painted, and to bring in thirty dollars or more. . . .

All the committees are at swords’ points, of course; the Restaurant ladies wish flowers in their department, to which Mrs. George Betts, chairwoman of the Floral Committee, says “as sure as they do, I will have oysters on the shell in mine, and call them seaweeds.” . . .

Jane Eliza Newton Woolsey to her daughters, Jane and Georgy.

8 Brevoort Place, March 9, 1864.

My dear Girls: We are all sitting together at the round table, Abby looking over the old letters from Point Lookout, and reading an incident occasionally aloud; Carry composing an address on her Bloomingdale orphans for their May anniversary. It is too amusing to have Caroline Murray and all those old lady-managers deferring to our Carry on all subjects connected with the asylum. . . . Mary is very much engaged in her arrangements for the floral department at the Fair, and very much interested in it. All the ladies are agog for novelties. They will be charmed with an occasional communication from the Hospital at Fairfax! We are to have a daily paper too, which is to beat the “Drum Beat”—” The Fair Champion.” Do send in poetry and prose and as many incidents as you can; get your doctor and the soldiers to send me an article for it, or letters for the Post Office. Send whatever you have to me, that I may have the pleasure of handing it to the committee on literature! Abby says, “Georgy, may I write out the German soldier-boy’s dream, or any other extract from your old letters that is not too stale ?” I am sure you will say yes. Abby is getting quite warmed up about the Fair; it is difficult not to feel so when everybody else is full of excitement about it. She is making a beautiful silk flag, a dozen or two of the new style of tidy-covers of muslin or embroidery edged with lace, beside lots of other little matters. Mary’s idea of having garden hats of white straw, with broad ribbons, and their ends painted in flowers, is a pretty one, to be hung in her arbor of flowers. She is also painting a lot of little wooden articles. Every thing of hers is to be of the garden style. We find a use now for all our old flower baskets, rustic stands, etc., and a huge pile of them now stands ready to be carried to the flower department. My chair, the cover for which I was obliged to give up working, is under way, also three silk comfortables, all spandy new, none of your old gowns, lined with silk and beautifully quilted in scrolls and medallions by a Fish-kill woman, and trimmed with ribbon quillings; also one dozen ladies’ dressing-sacks of various styles; also, one India satin sofa cushion, one embroidered worsted do., four elegant toilette cushions, one doll’s complete street dress, (even to an embroidered pocket-handkerchief), one doll’s stuffed chair, and other articles “too tedious to mention,” are all under way. I dare say we shall all do our full part, both in making and purchasing.

Mrs. Chauncey has already sold her baby-house, Sarah Coit tells me, for five hundred dollars! Kate Hunt has received her Parisian purchases for the Fair, for which she expects to realize a very large amount; says she is furnishing things to the amount of a thousand dollars! Eliza is coming down to-morrow. . . .

Caroline Carson Woolsey to Jane Stuart Woolsey at Fairfax Hospital.

General Meade’s Camp,

Near Brandy Sta., Dec. 7th, ’63.

Dear Jane . .—The train which left at 11 yesterday morning brought me through all right last night, by dark. A telegram from General Williams, sent to the conductor and meeting me on the train, said, in reply to one from me, that the ambulance would meet me at Brandy Station. The conductor had had some difficulty in finding me on the long train, but at the railroad bridge I heard “Woolsey” yelled at the door instead of “Rappahannock Station,”—which proved successful. I find that no movement of importance is on foot, and winter quarters somewhere (not here) confidently looked for this time. I hear a great deal said in justification of General Meade’s retrograde movement. The War Department is entirely responsible for the failure of the last campaign,—having ordered it, but not allowing General Meade to attack in his own way. We might have had a great battle and carried the rebel position with very great loss, but nothing but the position would have been gained. The rebels behind their strong works could have been very little damaged and would have had only to fall back, if we had assaulted.

We are camped in the woods near John M. Botts’ house, and are in this way shielded from the winds. There is no news.

Harriet Roosevelt Woolsey to Jane and Georgeanna Woolsey.

New York, Dec. 2, ’63.

Dear Girls:—Charley’s rheumatism is better and yesterday he walked without his cane. When he gets on the doe-skins (the triumphs of art that Mother is now at work upon) and his india-rubber knee-cap, I think he will be all right. At any rate, well or not, I suppose it is better for him to go to Washington, for he worries, now that the army is moving and he not with it, and his leave expired. . . . He is pounding away at a new camp-bed he is making. . . . I consider him a fit subject for the hospital, and to be doctored accordingly. . . . Our Church Sewing Society for the army had its first regular meeting yesterday. Abby is treasurer, and Mother, having been put into the president’s chair, got out again, not liking the conspicuousness, and was immediately pounced upon for the purchasing committee.

Eliza Woolsey Howland writes:—Charley is doing up all his errands (very fatiguingly) and announces his intention of going back, leg or no leg. . . . We are waiting very anxiously now for every mail and the news from Grant and Burnside—and if Meade is also fighting, as last night’s Post thinks, it would seem that the great crisis has really come.

I go to cut out army shirts.

Point Lookout, Md., Oct. 7th, 1863.

Special Order No. 123:

The female nurses will be relieved from wards 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, is and 14, and they are strictly enjoined to abstain from any intercourse with the Prisoners of War.

A. Heger, U. S. A.


Circular, No. 17.

Point Lookout, Oct. 7, ’63.

Miss G. Woolsey: In accordance with instructions received from the Surgeon-General’s Office, dated October 7th, 1863, the discharge of the female nurses on the 5th inst. refers only to their discharge from the Hospital, not from the service at large. . . Enclosed please find certificates of pay.

By order of the Surgeon-in-Charge.

W. H. G., Assist. Surgeon.


A. Heger, Surgeon-in-Charge Hammond General Hospital: Sir:

I have the honor to enclose four duplicate certificates of pay, for myself and my sister, Miss Jane S. Woolsey. Will you be kind enough to make use of them for the benefit of the hospital fund?

G. M. Woolsey.


Point Lookout, Md., Oct. 7, 1863.

Madam: The transfer of the certificates of pay of yourself and sister to this Hospital is received, and in the name of those poor soldiers who shall enjoy the benefits of your gift, I tender you many thanks for it.

Very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

A. Heger.

Surgeon-General’s Office,
Washington, Sept. 26th.

Surgeon Heger, U. S. A. Sir: The Secretary of War has directed the transfer of seven hundred wounded prisoners from Chester, Pa., to Point Lookout General Hospital. . . .

Upon their arrival you will discharge the female nurses (both of Miss Dix’s and Mrs. Gibbons’ selection) reserving only one suitable person in low-diet kitchen and one in linen room. By order,

C. H. Crane, Surg. U. S. A.

Abby Howland Woolsey to H. Gilman.

Brattleboro, September 17.

I hope soon to hear of the girls’ arrival at Point Lookout. Georgy wrote us of her night at your house and how good you all were to her and to her soldiers too.

Mother is much interested in the hospital here and has been up several times; is interested in the worst way, that is, without the opportunity of doing anything. The wards are thrown open every afternoon from two to five, but visitors are few, and even the kind words she can take, and those of other ladies from this house, seem valued. The men said, “You are so different, ladies, from some that come here, who only walk through and stare at us as if we were wild beasts.” One man was almost convulsed at seeing Mother, and, with tears, would hardly let her hand go. “I knew you, ma’am, the minute you came in. You were at Gettysburg, and were the first one that dressed my arm.” And there the poor arm still lay, useless and swollen, and constant streams of cold water necessary to keep down inflammation.

The same wretched want marks this hospital as all others: the little attention paid to the food of the sick men. Typhoid patients are starving on pork slop, or eat smuggled sutler’s pies of the toughest sort, from a craving for food of some kind. Some of those alphabets for “spelling games” which Mother took up were a great amusement to them, and to-day in the book-store Mother saw one of the soldiers trying to buy some more. None were for sale, but Mother promised him some, and at the printing office ordered, for a very little trifle, a hundred alphabets, which she will give them. . . . We hear that Joe was drafted in Fishkill, and as colored! the “colonel ” before his name which the enrolling officer inserted, being so understood. He feels himself a thorough black Republican now. The villagers met him at the depot one day as he came up from New York and informed him he was drawn, and he had to make them a speech, telling them what an honor he should consider it, if he were well enough, to go, but he should find a substitute (which he has done, a “veteran “), etc., etc. They called out now and then, “That’s so! that’s right, we knew you would take a proper view of it!”

When the substitute was ready to leave for the front, he came to say goodbye, “a little the worse for wear,” and assured Joe with a beaming smile, “Kurnel, you’re a noble man, and I’ll exhonorate your name!”

Jane Stuart Woolsey to Joseph Howland

Point Lookout Hospital,

Eliza’s help and all her little nice things were, and are, invaluable to us. . . . Things promise pretty fair here in every respect. The surgeon in charge is civil and ready to support us in everything necessary. The post is a queer one, hospital, military encampment, Contraband camp, rebel camp, Roman Catholic element and divided jurisdiction of Mrs. Gibbons and Miss Dix. Quite a mixture. We shall be involved in no gossip or small quarrels, but do our work as we find occasion, without partiality and without hypocrisy. . . . John, our man servant, is a nuisance. He interferes right and left, upsets everybody in a mistaken idea to serve us, and volunteers his views on all subjects. He would be in the guardhouse in a week if he didn’t go home to-night. . . .

Abby Howland Woolsey to H. Gilman.

Brattleboro, September.

We have had our first letters from the girls at Point Lookout, and everything promises pleasantly. The only grievance is the chaplain, whose face is “as hard as a wooden chair,” and who looks as if he had fought through life, inch by inch. He is fanatically Episcopal, though his sermons were practical and good, and he has the melodeon (paid for by general subscription) picked up and carried off and locked in his own room after every Sunday service, that it may not be used at the Methodist prayer meetings which the men choose to have! Georgy says they have grand good singing, whether or no, without it. . . . There is a little of almost every phase of the war there, except the actual fighting. They have the prisoner’s camp, the New Hampshire brigade to guard it, with their splendid drill, dress parades, officers’ wives, hops, etc. There are the hospitals for each, the General Hospital, and lastly the large Contraband camp. Jane’s first letter was long and interesting, as she was much at leisure, but we do not expect to hear at great length hereafter. . . . Charley, always at Headquarters Army of the Potomac, writes us to-night that they have sent off two corps to West Tennessee, and that he thinks the ultimate use of the balance will be within the defences of Washington. Is not Rosecrans’ crushing defeat a sad blow? . . .

Eliza Woolsey Howland to Mother.

Fishkill., August 24.

We ought soon to hear from Charley, and if Mr. Hopkins’ rumor is true we may feel at ease about him for the present, for Meade won’t attempt a movement without the conscripts. Do you see that Charley himself is one, although in the service already? Let us know how he got down to camp after his furlough with all his traps, and send us all his letters. . . .