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

War Letters of William Thompson Lusk.

New-York, Jan. 29th, 1863.

My own dear Son:

I enclose a copy of a letter received by your Uncle Phelps from Col. Allen. Mr. Phelps has been so good, so kind, so faithful to you and your interests, I can scarcely feel grateful enough. Now, he wishes me to lay before you the following facts for your consideration, and as a guide for your decision. Col. Allen says he has recruited about three hundred men, but owing to desertions he has only one hundred and fifty in camp, with the promise of two hundred more recruited by someone else, whom he may or may not receive. After receiving this letter Mr. Phelps went to Ex-Gov. Morgan; who is in the city, and requested him to write and ask Gov. Seymour to grant a furlough. Gov. M. said it would be of no use, as Gov. S. had no power; it was for him to give Commissions, and the War Department to make transfers. He (Gov. M.), however instructed his Secretary to write Col. Farnsworth requesting him to make an application, or assist you all in his power to get a furlough. The Gov. didn’t know as the Regt. could be raised, and if it were, Gov. S. might perhaps appoint another Col., and he was so desponding that Mr. Phelps, who had felt elated at your prospects, was so disappointed that he said to me, “I could have cried.” Then, Mr. Phelps met Mr. S. B. Chittenden, who said to him, “From all I hear of the talents of this young man, I think in the reorganization of the Army he will be promoted, which will be better than being troubled with this new Regt.” So you perceive, Mr. Phelps, having your interests so near his heart, scarcely knows how to advise, except to get a furlough if possible, come on, judge for yourself, and make your own decision. Col. Allen says, every day almost, ten or fifteen apply at his office, but, finding they are not authorized to give bounties, refuse to enlist. There is a bill now before the U. S. Senate for the encouragement of enlistments, offering bounties. I have told all these facts, and now leave the matter to your consideration. If you wish the Lt.-Colonelcy, I suppose you can have it at any time. Your own military experience makes you the most competent judge. Col. Allen wants you, and he thinks if bounties are offered, the Regt. will be full in four weeks. I cannot advise, but I pray God to guide you aright. God bless you my own dear son. Always,

Very Lovingly, Mother.

There are others pressing for the Lt.-Colonelcy, so as soon as you decide you had better write to your Uncle Phelps. Mayor Opdyke has a friend, somebody else, one of the Military Committee, also has a friend, but Col. Allen prefers you if you choose to accept.

79th Highlanders,

Camp Near Falmouth, Va.,

Jan. 27th, 1863.

My dear Mother:

I have not written either you or other friends to whom I am indebted in an epistolary, for some little time past, because I sincerely cherished the hope that a short leave of absence was at length about to be granted me. As a last card I wrote to Doster to try what he could do for me in Washington. I immediately received a reply from him to the effect that he had applied to the War Department and that I might hope for the coveted “leave” the next day. That was more than a week ago, so I suppose I have had my usual ill-luck, and have nothing more to hope for. Morrison becomes more affable and annoying every day. He cannot forgive me the fright I gave him in regard to the Majority. Fear of American influence in the Regiment is his great Bug-a-boo. He watches me like a cat, and I suppose will catch me at something one of these days which will serve as a pretext for disgracing me. Then he will talk hypocritically of his great regard and fondness for me, but that he is a soldier and must do his duty. Nothing can exceed the sweetness and amiability of the gentleman toward those he particularly dislikes. Bah! Why should I trouble you with these things? I do not doubt that at best your own fond fears make things out much worse than they really are. I hope I may soon see Sam here. He wrote me he intended running down. I should feel delighted to see him.

I wish I could ascertain something positive regarding the new Regiment. If it is not going to succeed, I would try and get something in the line of my profession provided for me. However, I hate to back down, as I resolved at the outset that, for the period of the war, I would serve in any capacity Providence might find best, only reserving my intention to induce Providence to be as pliable as possible.

Joe Hooker commands the army of the Potomac. Everybody appears entirely indifferent to the matter. Heroes of many defeats, we are not inclined to give gratuitous confidence to anyone. Whoever finally succeeds any better than McClellan did, has a fine chance for immortality. The army of the Potomac is splendid in material, and, once taught that their best efforts are not to be wasted, they will tell for themselves a splendid story. With McClellan they did best, because they believed that his plans contained all that human skill was capable of. Every new General will be splendidly supported in his first battle. If the battle end in another Golgotha, the old cry will be raised, “McClellan, or a new man!” Sumner and Franklin, piqued, it is reported are about to withdraw likewise. So, peaceful revolutions are occurring in the Army. Let us pray, and hope for the best. Possibly we are adopting the right course to find the right man, possibly the right course to insure our ruin. If Burnside was not a Napoleon, he was a first-rate soldier, and in a subordinate position can do splendid service to the country. Alas! Good-bye.

Affec’y., Will.

79th Regiment,

Camp Near Falmouth, Va.,

Jan. 20th, 1863.

My dear Mother:

Yesterday I wrote Walter and was not a little despondent; to-day we are told that the auspicious moment has arrived. To-morrow we are once more to meet the enemy. All gloomy forebodings engendered by the idleness of camp-life, have vanished before the prospect of impending action. My heart is as light as a feather. Hope is dominant, and I can think only of the glorious result if we are victorious. The gloom that now rests on our country will be lifted, and I already hear citizens repeating with joyous lips: “We are victorious. Not in vain have been our sacrifices. We are proud of the army we have created.” Let then all tongues be hushed that cannot join in the glad paeans of victory. I will not think of defeat. If God is gracious, and granteth success to our arms, let the voice of selfishness be hushed, let there be no house of mourning. Let even mothers say we have given gladly the dearest thing we possessed to win the Nation’s rest. I have borne, dear mother, a charmed life heretofore. Even when conversing with comrades on the battlefield, death has singled them out, and left me unscathed, left me to witness the peril of the nation. What, then, if now the charm be broken, and my last moments be cheered with the thought of the Nation saved? Then let my mother and those that love me rejoice as I would in the full tide of victory. But should we triumph, and I live to see the end, think of the rapture we all would feel to think that to a poor worm like me had been vouchsafed the terrors of death, and at this cheap price been spared to view the glories of salvation to our country. Then think how sweet would be mother’s or sister’s kiss, or the glad welcome of trusted friends. But living, or fallen among the chosen, I trust if the tidings of victory be heard, all who love me will wear their gayest colors and cheeriest smiles, in the joy at the success of the cause in which the loved one rejoiced to risk his all. With such parting words I can go without a tremor into battle, and fear nothing where God ruleth Supreme.

You remember a year ago I wrote you I had had my likeness taken. Yesterday the impression reached me. I enclose you one now, and will send you by a convenient opportunity quite a number more. I have grown a good deal older since then, but you must take that for granted until I can find an opportunity to show you how the latest edition of your son looks. I will send likewise some views of the battlefield of Antietam, concerning which I will have strange stories to tell when the war is closed, and peace fairly, honorably won.

Affec’y., Will.

(W. E. Doster To W. T. Lusk)

Washington, Jan. 19th, 1863.

My dear Lusk:

Yours was received this morning. I spread myself on the subject of unrequited merit accordingly and went in person to the War Department. Asst. Secy. Watson promised to let me have it to-morrow, but as you are impatient I write to-night. Of course it must receive the approbation of Stanton also, but altogether you have good reason to hope.

Very truly,



24 West 31st Street,

New-York, Jan. 18th, 1863.

My own dear Son:

I hope my letters reach you more regularly than yours do me, for I write faithfully, and have great pleasure in the thought that my written words keep you connected with, and interested in, the events transpiring at home. A rumor was in circulation last night, that the rebels had crossed the Rappahannock and that our army were fighting their way back to Washington. A young man told me also last night, that a gentleman just arrived from Burnside’s Army, told him it was owing entirely to Lee’s humanity that our forces escaped entire annihilation after the battle of Fredericksburg. Don’t think we credit such absurdities; I only show how secession sympathizers spread reports. The story is this: Lee seeing the danger of our army, and being humane and generous, sent to Burnside, offering him six hours to depart peacefully, which Burnside of course gladly accepted. New-York is full of Southern people in full sympathy with the South, bitter in word and action, and my blood often boils with indignation though I keep usually a quiet tongue. The news of our Western victories, and the intercepted rebel correspondence, make them rather more spicy than usual. You will see the disgraceful proceedings about the election of a Speaker in Albany. The Republicans behave far better than the Democrats. Oh! I am sick. I have been in the house a week with a cold, and I long again for fresh air and freedom. We had a pleasant call yesterday from Abby and Carrie Woolsey. Their brother is on the staff of Gen. Seth Williams who is one of Burnside’s staff. Carrie said she should write him to try and see you, as she thought you might find it pleasant to meet.

To-morrow evening we are going to meet a few friends at Mrs. Gilman’s. Mrs. Perkins (Tom’s Mother) is there on a visit. I am sorry you see no hope of a furlough or promotion. I do not know how things progress here, but I do know Mr. Phelps is still actively at work. The party in power is somewhat opposed to enlistments, or rather does not encourage them. However, the Military Department will control that matter I suppose in future.

Jane and Georgie Woolsey are nursing in a hospital near Newport. A corps of ladies acting under the direction of the Surgeon-General, takes charge of the department of the very sick, giving their time and their means to this noble object. Georgie assisted a good deal in the Peninsular Campaign. It is refreshing to meet a whole family so devoted to one cause. Miss Kitty Elliott wants to do something of the same kind, and if I had strength I would not hesitate for one moment, but I am too nervous and good for nothing.

General McClellan is living in a new house next to us. The house was presented him by some of his friends. Cousin Henry and Louisa have just been in to tell me that they heard through Dr. McDonald that you had applied for a furlough on the 13th, and would probably get it. Can it be possible? I cannot believe such joy is in store for me.

Good-bye, God grant us strength to bear, and thankful hearts for all his mercies.

Very lovingly,


Camp Near Falmouth, Va.

Jan. 16th, 1863.

My dear Mother:

We have orders to march to-morrow. I cannot say whether we will positively do so, but it is certainly intended that we move very shortly.

I do not know whether the movement is intended as an advance, or whether it is proposed, as was the case a couple of weeks ago, to fall back on Washington. It is generally supposed that the first will be the case. I am glad for anything like a movement, and I trust that this time we may have a successful encounter with the enemy. But oh, I do trust, too, that, should I come unharmed out of whatever dangers are before me, I will be able to get out of this Regiment. I do not want any further connection with foreigners. I would almost prefer never to come out alive from this campaign, if it is only to prolong the present disagreeable associations.

No matter, though, I am always content when actually in motion. The thought of being really able to contribute something, however little, to the Cause, is then dominant, and I can afford to forget the more selfish feelings that I cannot repress in camp. This letter must be short, for I am pressed for time.

Good-bye. God bless you all. All will be for the best. If we are to fight, pray God to give us victory.

Affec’y., Will.

Camp Near Falmouth, Va.

Jan. 5th, 1863.

My dear Mother:

My letters seem very long in reaching you. The one I sent the day before Christmas, containing a little money which I hoped would contribute to the children’s happiness on New Year, had not come to hand on the 31st, yet I had hoped it might precede the rather dolorous document written only the evening before, but which, of course, wouldn’t be overtaken. To tell the truth, I was not a little ashamed at having been so querulous. I do not like the habit of complaining, and do not mean often to indulge in it, but the best of our guardian angels cannot always resist the attacks of those emissaries of Satan — the cooks.

Col. Farnsworth, it is said, will soon rejoin his Regiment. It is still a matter of doubt though, whether his physical health will permit him to remain long. Besides the natural effects of his wound, he is much paralyzed I understand, from severe neuralgia. Be this as it may, I am very sorry for him, and shall welcome him back with pleasure. Farnsworth, McDonald and myself enjoy about an equal degree of popularity in the Regiment. Since writing the last sentence my opinion has been somewhat modified by the arrival of the mail. Farnsworth sends a certificate of disability looking for a further extension of his “leave of absence.” This is indefensible. The law allows disabled officers two months to recover. F. has had four months already, and looks for a further postponement of his return. I have also received your letter bearing date Jan. 2d, and see how much harm I did by indulging in a little fit of spleen. I do not see the slightest hope or prospect of either a short leave of absence, or of promotion, neither of which little matters do I intend shall disturb my equanimity in the slightest degree. To be sure my associations are not always agreeable, but when I entered the service had I any reason to hope they would be? I certainly enjoy more favor than any line officer in the 1st Division. This ought to suffice. Again I am losing years that ought to be spent in fitting me for my profession. Well, what of that? Shall I at this late hour begin to count the cost of doing my duty? No, mother, we both know that this matter must be pushed through to the end. I am not of so much value as to complain of having to bear my part. To hear me talk, one would suppose I was the only one who fancies himself unjustly used. Bah! The army is filled with them. Possibly twenty years hence I shall be grumbling because my professional skill is not properly appreciated. It is hard for disappointed men to believe the fault lies in themselves. Yet such things do happen. I shall be obliged to postpone my Christmas remembrances to you until the paymaster (invisible now for six months) shall visit us.

Very affectionately, Will.

24 West 31st Street,

Sunday, Jan. 4th, 1863.

My own dear Son:

I went to hear Mr. Prentiss this morning, and was deeply affected and impressed by his New Year’s sermon. Thomas and Lilly having gone to church this afternoon, I take advantage of this quiet hour to write a few words to you. We are anxiously awaiting the final result of the battle in Tennessee. It has involved another fearful loss of life; another “army of martyrs” have shed their blood, we trust Oh, God! not in vain. The Emancipation Proclamation too has been issued, and now we wait for the events which crowd so heavily, we trust to a final end. The Monitor has foundered off Cape Hatteras, another calamity to mourn over. We take victories as a matter of course without much elation, but defeats or humiliation in any form we cannot bear. I hoped to have received a letter from you yesterday but did not. Your last letter to me was written on the 23d. Elliott told me he heard that Col. Farnsworth had resigned. Is it true? I hope you approve of the Proclamation. It seems to me it strikes at the root of the evil. Dr. Grant says, although it beggars his family at the South, he thinks it wise and just. Mr. Riley, who was born in a slave country (S. A.), says he thinks it is the first blow which has given much alarm to the rebels. There is an idea that it is an obnoxious measure to the soldiers, and those hostile to the Administration foster the notion and strive to spread it. Many prayers for Abraham Lincoln have been offered up to-day, that he may be guided aright, and having acted in the fear of God, that all other fears may be quieted, and he may be strengthened for his great responsibilities. I heard a young man say, at our table to-day, that democratic clubs were forming about the city to prevent drafting. I heard another say that Gen. Dix had been appointed Military Governor of the State of New-York. The times are indeed turbulent and stormy, and none can prophecy as to the future, and yet a stranger in New-York would scarcely believe that we were a nation struggling through appalling trials. The streets are as gay as ever, public amusements as much frequented, and our gayest shops are filled with ladies spending money profusely. The hospitals however tell a tale different indeed.

5th. I have received a letter this morning from Mary, very bright and cheerful. She writes: “Yesterday was quite a day of rejoicing here over the President’s Proclamation. The Mayor (Lloyd Greene) ordered the bells to be rung, and cannons to be fired.” Nearly all in this house where we are boarding are Southern people, or Southern sympathizers. I am very quiet and seldom make any remark. A Baltimore gentleman remarked to me the other day, “I do not believe you are an Abolitionist, you don’t look like one.” I merely replied “Ah?” A lady sitting opposite me said “I have seen the meanest Yankees, they are all so mean.” As she looked at me, I drew up and answered, “You are unfortunate. I, on the contrary, have met many a noble-hearted Yankee.” “Oh!” said she, “so have I. I was born in New England.” So it goes.

Well, the morning is passing rapidly away, and I have to go down to the Everett House to see Mrs. Tyler. The morning is charming. I hope you are enjoying it. Your last letter was sad, it was written with a sick heart, so I long anxiously for another. I do not think an hour passes, when I am awake, that my thoughts are not with you. Lilly unites with me in dearest love to you. We are all so anxious to see you, sometimes I fancy I hear your step approaching, but it is only fancy after all.

Good-bye my own dear son, may God bless and guide you.

Very lovingly,


Kind regards from all to Dr. McDonald.

Camp Near Falmouth, Va.

Dec. 31st, 1862.

My dear Sister Lillie:

I have just received your letter, and am much troubled to hear that mother has been ill. As you were intending to write me on New Year’s eve, I have concluded to write you in turn, knowing it to be all one, whether I write you or mother. I am specially disposed to write to-night as I feel very good-natured. I am not troubled for the moment, either with the goadings of disappointed ambition, the peculiarities of Scotchmen, the inclemency of the weather, or even with “the unfortunate Abraham Lincoln.” In a word, I am determined to be good-humored in bidding farewell to the old year, notwithstanding it is responsible (either it, or the aforesaid Abraham) for so many disasters. If all the hopes so fondly entertained at the beginning of the year have not been realized, we know at least that Providence doeth all things well, if not exactly as man would have it.

The Highlanders mean to celebrate the New Year, as the accompanying card will show. Turkeys, hams, tongues, bread and butter and a bowl of punch will be furnished to visitors, and we hope they may be many. But pleasantest of all, Hall is coming to visit me, bringing with him a Dr. Hubbard of his regiment—an Uncle of pretty little Mary Chittenden. If we don’t have a good time, then I’ll hang up my sword on a willow tree, but you will have to wait until the second inst. for particulars. I had a good time Christmas too, and only regret you should have spent it so quietly. You see I raised a pair of ducks and rode up with them tied to my saddle to Stafford C. H. (ten miles), found Hall, eat the ducks (with Hall’s assistance), gossiped, and made very merry, though I had so recently written home representing myself so very miserable. Yesterday I made Major Crosby of the 2ist C. V. a visit, and found that I used to go to school with him to old Peltis up-town. We had a right good time of it. His heart so warmed toward me finally, that he brought out a loaf of cake made by his wife’s fair fingers—good cake it was too. Speaking of cake reminds me that the Chaplain, my tent companion, has just received a cake from his sweetheart. Oh these sweethearts! Chaplain receives every mail pretty pink notes which he likes to be joked about. He likes the cake too.

Hall thinks I have grown dreadfully unrefined. I smoke a pipe and eat onions. Horrible, isn’t it? Would you really like your brother at home, who can do such dreadful things? I can’t come. I’ve tried, but Rhadamanthus, that is Old Bull Sumner, is adamant, and bids me wait until I catch swamp fever or lose a leg, when I will be able to return with flying colors. I tried in fact to take the Bull by the horns, and that’s what I got for my pains. Dear me, I’m growing older every day, so you can imagine how old I shall be when I get home.

Well, sister Lillie, I would try and be sentimental in view of New Year’s Eve, but that could hardly be looked for in a man that eats onions. But may many blessings rest on both my sisters, my mother and the little ones that are dear to us all. True love between you and Tom, between Hunt and Mary, deepening not weakening at each successive return of the New Year.

Had I my six months’ pay, and twenty days to spend at home, how I would make things fly around.

Again love to mother, Uncle Phelps, Aunt Maria, Nellie, Tom, friends individually, collectively, and in bulk.

Affec’y. your brother,


New-York, Dec. 30th, ’62.

24 West 31 St.

My own dear Son:

… I received your very sad letter last night. I sympathize sincerely, and do not wonder that you feel sick and disheartened. However, I trust the spirit of gloom which oppressed you when you wrote, has passed by, and the brave spirit of my own boy is aroused again. Never call yourself a “despised soldier.” Neglected you have been, and we all feel it most cruelly, but “despised,” never.

No name is mentioned with greater respect than yours, about none is more indignation felt by friends than about you. Your career has been a marked and peculiar one; high titles now are no mark of merit. Gov. Buckingham said to me in the cars on my way to New York, “I want a Colonel now. I know of no one who would fill the position half as well as your son, and yet, with the desire, I cannot give it to him.” So it goes — some town-clerk or petty lawyer, having stayed at home far from a soldier’s dangers, watches, waits, and the first opportunity steps into the soldier’s honors. Mr. John Tappan, who has no particular friends in the army, says he always draws the inference if a man is promoted, he doesn’t deserve it — he has seen so few really meritorious officers treated well. I think he goes too far and do not myself wholly agree with him, still I think there is a great lack of justice. … It was certainly a great piece of self-sacrifice in you to sign a paper requesting the majority to be given to another, when you knew it had been promised you. I admire the valor of your regiment, and, as Elliott says, “you can refuse to fight a duel now, having fought in the 79th.” … I should be extremely glad, my dear son, to see you again at your books, if you can return honorably. You say you entered the army against the advice of your friends. Very true, my dear child, God knows how hard the struggle was to me, God knows how much I often now endure, yet through everything I feel comfort, nay pride, that my son’s motives are pure and conscientious. Well, the New Year is close at hand. May it open brightly for you, my own dear son. For some reason you have been preserved through many and great dangers. He who guarded has still work for His servant to do, so be of good cheer, you will not be forsaken. By-and-by you will look back on your humiliations and say, “They were hard, but they have done me good.” Beside, I can only acknowledge your disappointments. A soldier, a true man, is never humiliated by the performance of right. And yet your letter touched a responsive chord which vibrates now, for through the whole I recognize myself. May God bless you my own dear son, and grant you His assistance. . . . You could not be dearer to the heart of

Your loving