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

War diary and letters of Stephen Minot Weld

Headquarters, 2d Brig. 2d Div. 9th A. C.
Near Alexandria, Va., June 15, 1865.

Dear Hannah, — . . Last night three of the men who have been committing these robberies around here were caught. Two of them proved to be Mosby’s men. It has not been safe to travel at night between Washington and Alexandria for some time. . . .


[While my memory still serves me, it is perhaps well to recall a few incidents of the end of the campaign. I remember we marched on to Burkesville Junction. While there we were given several hundred prisoners to guard. Late in the afternoon we heard news of Lee’s surrender. The Confederates who were prisoners refused to believe it. One officer, a lieutenant colonel, made quite a flowery speech to me. He said, “Sooner shall the sun cease to bury herself in the Occident than Robert E. Lee surrender.” Many of them however said they were glad of it, and that they were going to make the best of it.

We marched back to City Point by easy stages, and from there were sent by transports to Alexandria, Virginia, where we remained until we came home, some time in the end of June or beginning of July. Our life there was a quiet and pleasant one, though made somewhat uneasy by the fact that the men were expecting to be discharged and did not see the necessity of much discipline. While we were waiting there, the grand review was held in Washington. I remember we were marched over and camped for the night near the Capitol, and then marched up Pennsylvania Avenue and by the Treasury Building. My men appeared very well. They wore the tall felt hats which gave them the appearance of being larger than they really were. We had a very pretty camp two or three miles out from Alexandria. Some of the men who had a taste for gardening made quite a pretty little garden in front of headquarters. On one occasion at Alexandria we gave a big dinner, at which things were rather lively. I remember a colonel, a friend of mine, got pretty tired and went to sleep in my tent, and dropped his lighted cigar in a box of ammunition. Luckily it did not go off. The ammunition was kept under my camp-bed in case of trouble, but we never had to use it. Here we passed a quiet, pleasant time until we were sent home.

We landed at Readville, and were discharged as soon as we could be mustered out. This ended my campaign.

In justice to my regiment I feel that I ought to state here that in Regimental Losses in the Civil War, by Lieutenant Colonel Fox, three hundred regiments are mentioned as having done well enough to be called the “Fighting Regiments of the War.” The 56th Massachusetts was one of these.]

Headquarters 56th Mass. Vols.,
Near Alexandria, Va., June 1, 1865.

Dear Hannah, — I have received several letters from you lately, but have been so busy that I have had no chance to answer them. I am President of a Board for Examination of Officers in this brigade who desire to remain in service, and consequently have my hands full.

There was a review of the Second Army Corps day before yesterday, which I attended. I saw the Lorings there, but did not speak to them, as I did not know whether they would remember me. Also saw Miss Schenck, who told me that she had just come on from Boston, and had met you there. After the review was over there was a grand spread at Second Corps headquarters. Charlie Whittier is A. A. G. on the said staff, so I was an invited guest there. They had a long row of tent-flies stretched so as to make a tent over a hundred feet long. The sides were made of firs and green branches. Outside were hung two enormous American flags, while numerous regimental and state colors were planted in the ground all around the headquarters. Inside the tent were two rows of tables, and meat, bread, cake, strawberries and ice cream in profusion. Also punch of the kind called claret and rum, which I, of course, did not touch. I saw President Johnson and Secretary Stanton there. Also Generals Hancock, Meade, Humphreys, and numerous others. Saw most of Meade’s staff, and among them General Macy. When I got back to camp, I found George Weld. He was on his way back from Richmond. He spent the night with me, and went home the next day.

I am going to send out for Charlie Griswold’s remains in a day or two. I have received two or three letters from Mrs. G. who is very anxious to have them sent home.

I think that the men who are left from the 36th Massachusetts will be sent to my regiment. The 36th goes out of service as a regiment in a few days.

I have two hens in camp, who lay every morning under the head of my bed. They are quite tame and seem to enjoy camp life very much.

My garden in front of headquarters is the admiration of all the passers-by. It is really quite pretty and I feel quite proud of it. I manage to secure a new flower almost every day. To-day I got hold of a very fine fuchsia.

Young William when he was here offered to sell me his plantation down in South Carolina. I don’t like the idea of going down there to live; and unless there was a prospect of getting rich speedily, I should not want to hold of it. I can probably remain in service as colonel if I wish, but I don’t think I shall do so. . . .

Headquarters 56th Mass. Vols.,
Near Alexandria, Va., May 25.

Dear Hannah, — We had our big review day before yesterday, and everything passed off splendidly. We started from camp on Monday morning at 6 o’clock, and marched over Long Bridge to Washington. I met William George, Uncle William and Mr. Andrews in W. and again in the evening, when they came to my camp. We marched beyond the Capitol about a mile, and bivouacked there for the night. Saw Harry Townsend here. In the morning we started about ten o’clock and marched by the Capitol and up Pennsylvania Avenue. The scene when marching up to the Capitol was splendid. It really seemed as if the statue of the Goddess of Liberty were alive and looking down on us with triumph and pleasure. The Avenue was crowded with ladies and gentlemen, and with the long column of troops looked splendidly. Where the reviewing officer was stationed there were thousands of people, and it almost bewildered me to see so many faces gazing on the show. We marched down to Long Bridge, where I left my regiment, and came back to see the rest of the troops. Our corps looked better than any other as far as I could see, and every one that I met told me the same thing. The 56th were in first-rate trim, and I flatter myself looked as well as any of the regiments about there. I came back to camp late in the evening, and found William George and Mr. Andrews bunked in in Colonel Jarves’s and my tents. They went off yesterday morning, and had quite a pleasant time I imagine.

I expect to have a dinner this afternoon for several of my class, and for any visitors that may come along. I expect the governor may be here.

Bill Perkins has been camped near here, but has now moved across the river.

May 26.

Had a dinner party last night. John Hayden, Charlie Whittier, Lawrie Motley, Walter Thornton, Charlie Horton and Charlie Amory were present. We had a jolly time, and enjoyed ourselves very much indeed.

I am appointed on a board to examine officers below the rank of colonel, who desire to remain in the service. From what General Griffin, our division commander, told me, I imagine that I shall have very little trouble in remaining in the service myself, if I desire to do so.

We are having a heavy rain-storm to-day. . . .

Alexandria, Va., May 1, 1865.

Dear Hannah, — We arrived here last Thursday and are now encamped about two miles from the city. We have quite a pretty camping ground on a hillside, directly south of Fairfax Seminary, and in sight of the different forts. We are on a Mr. Fowle’s place, whose house is quite a pretty one, more like our modern country residences around Boston than any I have seen.

We had quite a pleasant passage up from City Point on the steamer Montauk, a propeller. We had only our regiment on board, all of whom behaved themselves and gave us no trouble. We had the most delightful weather. I was quite unwell all the way, and until yesterday did not feel like myself again. I had a sort of bilious fever, something like what I had three years ago at Yorktown. I am perfectly well now.

In regard to losing my valise, I will tell you all I know. When I got off the cars at Meade’s Station, I gave my valise and bedding to an ambulance driver to take to General Willcox’s headquarters at Petersburg. When I sent for my things, my valise was not to be found, and no one knew where it was. The first thing I heard of it, was a note from a captain in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, saying that it had been picked up in the woods near City Point by some of his men, rifled of its contents. He has since sent it to me. My scarf-pins were taken, amongst other things.

I spent part of Sunday in Washington with Father. He starts for home this morning.

From all that I can learn, we shall be mustered out of service in a few weeks. We shall probably remain here until that takes place.

I saw Lane Brandon, one of my classmates, among those prisoners captured with Ewell. I think I did not write you of this. He seemed quite pleasant although rather blue. . . .

We are having a cold chilly day here.

Johnny Hayden came to see me day before yesterday. He is stationed at Alexandria.

City Point, April 24, 1865.

Dear Hannah, — I received several letters from you last night, several of them complaining of my short letters and my want of enthusiasm for Lee’s surrender. To tell the truth, we none of us realize even yet that he has actually surrendered. I had a sort of impression that we should fight him all our lives. He was like a ghost to children, something that haunted us so long that we could not realize that he and his army were really out of existence to us. It will take me some months to be conscious of this fact.

In regard to the brevity of my epistle, I can only say that I have nothing to tell about. I have got a splendid mule, which I am going to take home with me, if I can. He is the finest animal I have ever seen.

Last Thursday we received orders to move to City Point, and from there to Washington. Part of our corps has already moved and we are waiting for transportation. We shall probably move to-morrow, having reached here yesterday afternoon. Last Wednesday, the day before we moved, I went up to General Miles’s headquarters. First I went to Second Corps headquarters and then with Charlie Whittier to General Miles’s. While there, about forty negroes came in from Danville. General Miles ordered the band out, and told the negroes that he would hang every one who would not dance. About seven refused to dance, saying they were church members. The rest went at it tooth and nail, gray-headed old men and young boys. I never laughed so hard in my life. From General M.’s we went to General Barlow’s, who commands the 2d Division. We amused ourselves with a galvanic battery which General B. has for his health. From there we went to General Meade’s headquarters, where I had a very pleasant talk with General M. Saw Theodore Lyman, who is probably home by this time. He was very kind to me indeed, and gave me several articles of clothing which were very acceptable. Had a very nice time there indeed, and had a very pleasant reception from the staff. When my men saw me on my arrival, they gave me 9 cheers and then 9 more, etc., etc. I tell you this because you asked me.

We had quite hard marching, making 63 miles in a little over 3 days. The story is that we are going to Texas, that we are to be sent home for 6 months to be disbanded by that time, in case we are not wanted, etc., etc. No one seems to know what we are going to do. If we have a good camp in or near Washington, perhaps I will let you come down there.

Burkesville, Va., April 18, 1865.

Dear Hannah, — We are now camped with the brigade about half a mile from the above place. I have got a tent up, and am quite comfortable. My Q. M., who is a — and is only acting as Q. M., furnishes me daily with chickens, ducks, geese, eggs and butter. He wishes to be appointed Q. M., but I don’t think I shall give it to him until he has found all the poultry in the country.

I went to corps headquarters last evening, which are close by us, and saw several of the staff. General Parke, who commands our corps, told me that he saw General Meade the other day, and that General M. expressed a desire to see me. I imagine the mine affair is what he wished to converse about. I shall go up there in a few days and see him, if he would like to gaze upon me.

I am quite busy now, drilling my regiment, and fixing the camp. The regiment is in good condition and discipline. Captain Adams, who is acting as major, tents with me. We have a nice floor to the tent and bedsteads put up made out of poles, so I think on the whole we are as comfortable as could be expected.

Captain Lipp is with the regiment. He cannot perform any duty, as he is very lame indeed. I am trying to get him a staff position, but if I am unsuccessful he will have to resign. . . .

What a fearful thing the assassination of the President was! The feeling is very strong in the army about it. If it turns out to have been done by the sanction of Jeff Davis or any of his crew, but little mercy will be shown to any of them. We have not had any particulars yet.

Dedham, November 7, 1885.

On arranging and looking over my books and papers for my “den,” I found this diary. Enclosed in it were the following notes, written on a sheet of letter-paper. I had been paroled the December before this, and had just been exchanged.

April 1 – I at once started for the front to join my regiment, but too late to join in any more fighting. It seems to me appropriate that the beginning and ending of my military life should be written in the same book. When I am dead, it may interest my grandchildren to read these notes of a young boy, for I was only nineteen and three-fourths years old when I started on the Hilton Head Expedition.

Wellsville Station, South Side R. R.
31 miles from Petersburg, April 8.

Dear Hannah, — Our corps is guarding the railroad and wagon trains. We are to guard this railroad permanently from Petersburg to Burkcsville, so I understand. My regiment was in the battle on Sunday at Petersburg and charged the works. They were very fortunate, only losing 14 men killed and wounded. They did splendidly. I did not start from Washington until Sunday and reached my regiment on Tuesday morning. Met with a very gratifying reception indeed. Saw several of General Meade’s staff. General Lee and remnants of his army are supposed to be between the Appomattox and the James River on their way to Lynchburg. General Grant has his headquarters at Burkesville, about 20 miles from here, and General Meade is some 15 miles to the north of B. The opinion seems to be that General Lee will be cut off, but I doubt it.

Am perfectly well.

Am sorry to say that I find my blue mare is dead. After Colonel Jarves left, she was ridden by every one, contrary to his express orders, and was used up. I feel quite badly at losing her. . . .

Thursday, April 6. — Went to corps headquarters. Started about 12 o’clock, and moved through Black and Whites. About two miles beyond went into camp. Started again about 7, and reached Nottaway Court House, where we were sent to guard a bridge.

[My notes end here. The following letters carry the record to the end of my military life.]

Wednesday, April 5. — Men relieved from picket about 12 noon, and started on march again. Weather very warm and hot. Had a very disagreeable march, halting every few minutes, until we reached Wellsville, about 31 miles from Petersburg. Went into camp for the night.