|THE CIVIL WAR LETTERS OF GEORGE W. COLLINS|
Co. C. 121st NY Volunteers
The 9 Civil War letters of George W. Collins of Russia NY, written to his cousin Eunice Earle of Clinton NY, were contributed to the Herkimer/Montgomery Counties NYGenWeb by Dora and Earle Furman Schwaiger, through Joan Jones of Clinton, New York. Earle Schwaiger is the great-grandson of George's aunt and Eunice's mother, Esther (Poole) Earle. Eunice's brother, Henry, was Earle's great-grandfather.
"George W. Collins, was born in Schuyler, Herkimer, New York and died at Spotsylvania Court House on May 10, 1964. He had been married to a Fanny Hubbard of Russia (born 1831 Russia and died May 18, 1863) and left a 12 year old son, Edward Collins, who was found in the 1865 census living as a "ward" with his grandfather, Solon Hubbard, Russia. George was listed in the 1850 census as a carpenter, and in the1860 census as a mechanic. He was certainly a scholar." Joan Jones
"George Collins was obviously an educated man. His letters, although there are only nine of them, are truly a pleasure to read. I met with Dora and Earle Schwaiger and Joan Jones one evening in mid August 1998 for a reading. The letters were recently discovered in the attic of the home where Eunice Earl lived during the Civil War. With us that evening was James Greiner, Herkimer County Historian, author and noted authority on the 121st NY Volunteer Infantry. We read aloud all nine letters. Collins gives a special insight into the war from an enlisted man's perspective. George's command of the language provides us a colorful image of the war as he saw it from his early enlistment through Gettysburg and the days leading up to the battle at Spotsylvania Courthouse."
"George obviously had a keen sense of humor, too. That you will easily realize as he describes the visit of the Russian (Country) Admiral and his troops. I hope you enjoy reading these letters as much as I have."
Coordinator of the Otsego County NYGenweb
PREFACE George W. Collins, son of George and Zurviah Poole Collins of Russia, NY was
mustered into Co C, 121st NY Volunteers on August 6th, 1862. He had a wife and son in
Russia - Fanny Hubbard Collins, age 32, and a son Edward, age 10. Fanny died on May 18th, 1863 and apparently when his cousin Eunice Earle went to the funeral, she must have asked him to write (as indicated in the letter of June 1863) as the first letter to Eunice was written a month after Fanny's death and seems to indicate that George had been in Russia for the funeral (Fanny is buried in the Gravesville Cemetery). Dora and Earle Furman Schwaiger, a grandnephew of Eunice, found 9 letters written to Eunice and has agreed to share them with the Herkimer County website. Letter #1
George W. Collins, son of George and Zurviah Poole Collins of Russia, NY was
mustered into Co C, 121st NY Volunteers on August 6th, 1862. He had a wife and son in
Russia - Fanny Hubbard Collins, age 32, and a son Edward, age 10. Fanny died on May 18th, 1863 and apparently when his cousin Eunice Earle went to the funeral, she must have asked him to write (as indicated in the letter of June 1863) as the first letter to Eunice was written a month after Fanny's death and seems to indicate that George had been in Russia for the funeral (Fanny is buried in the Gravesville Cemetery). Dora and Earle Furman Schwaiger, a grandnephew of Eunice, found 9 letters written to Eunice and has agreed to share them with the Herkimer County website.
I agreed to write to you and now am going to do it. I started from Russia on Monday morning and reached White Oak Church Wednesday night. Everything was right and no fault has been found because I was three days too late. They are glad to have them come back anytime I guess.
I suppose you will wonder what I am doing at Fairfax Court House when I had ought to be nearer Richmond but it is more than I can tell you only that all the rest came here and I kept company. The next Sunday after I got back we crossed the River again and stayed until Wednesday night when we came back. Saturday night we started for this place and have marched night and day to get here and now I hope they will be satisfied and let us rest a few days. It is mighty hot marching now.
Whilst we were on the river we were out on picket not more than 25 rods from the Rebs and a first rate lot they were too; laughing and talking and wanting to change papers all the time. It is fun to picket with such fellows. You can lay your gun down and let it lie there all day if you want to. We threw up rifle pits on the other side of the river a mile and a half long and all supposed we would stay and hold what we got, but Saturday we got orders to Skedaddle as soon as it was dark. They had brought up a 100 pound ground gun and mounted it near where we laid. The gunmen had orders to open all the Batteries (about 40 guns) at three but the order was countermanded. They were determined to have one shot though and they let off the old 100 pounder at them and away the shell went one way and the gun the other. The gun kicked out of the trees and stood right up on end. The shell struck in the Rebs works and blew up a caisson. The shells are awful things being percussion and filled with Greek fire. At night, 40 men with myself were ordered to go and get the big gun down to the cars. We started off in the worst thunderstorm I think I ever saw which kept up until midnight. You had better believe there was not many dry threads in our clothes. We got the gun on the cars just at sunrise when we got on the car and went down to Brooks Station which was about four miles from Stafford Court House the place we were ordered to report to. We got there about noon Sunday and stayed until the morning when we started for the Regt. which had passed us in the night. We finally caught up with them near Dunfrie and came in to this place. The hot weather has made this march a pretty hard one. A great many were sun struck and quite a number have died. I suppose Gen. Hooker does not call this a retreat, only a change of base; but I think if the Rebs should cut up this same caper we should call it a retreat. Everything that could be not be brought off was destroyed. The road was lined with ammunition where wagons had broken down and everything was scattered around in a pretty loose condition. All was destroyed by the Rebs Guard of Cavalry. I suppose they will be poking us into a fight again before a great while.
I don't know as they have got a place picked out yet but it is getting about the time of year for a Bull Run fight. Night before last they had a fight up near Leesburg in which our folks got the best of it. Yesterday quite a number of prisoners taken there, passed on their way to Washington.
I shall have to wind this thing off for this time but will write again if you answer this. Give my love to your Father and Mother and the rest of the family and also to Uncle Elisha's folks.
Yours, G W Collins, Co C 121st NY Vols. Washington, DC
Yours of the 24th June was read in due course of time but having been on the move all the time since, I have had no chance to answer until now.
I don't believe any army ever done any harder marching than this has during this Campaign. When we left Fairfax Court House we went to Edwards Ferry and crossed the river and went from there towards Penn taking Newmarket Westminster and other places on our route, arriving at Gettysburg on the 2nd day of July just in time to turn the Battle in our favor. Our Corps (which is the 6th) was in reserve and only a small portion were engaged. This regt. just escaped going in and that was all. All the troops in front of us were engaged and we had our knapsacks unslung expecting to go in every moment but luckily for us the Rebs gave way and we escaped.
We were ordered to take our position behind a Battery where we laid all the time we were at Gettysburg. The fight on Friday the 3rd was just on our right and I was a witness of one of the most terrific battles of the war. I thought I had seen fighting and heard Artillery firing before but never anything to begin with that.
Gen. Lee would place his men in almost solid columns and march them nearly half a mile against our Infantry and Artillery. There were some 32 pound guns just back of us and the way they threw the shell amongst them was a caution to all Rebs. As they neared our lines they were met by a perfect shower of musket balls and Grape and Canister literally mowing them down like grass. Twice he led his men in this road of death and twice they were sent flying back again. He then massed his troops for an attack on us but an attack was ordered from our side which sent them Skedaddling back for nearly a mile. A prisoner who was in those charges against our works told me that it was nothing but a slaughter house that he should think our gun threw canisters by the bushel. Sunday morning the 6th Corps was sent in pursuit of the Rebs, our division (which is the first) being in the advance. We overtook them about 5 o'clock and opened on them with shell which made them leave a barn full of wounded with a loss of only one man on our side. For several miles when we first started, every house and barn was full of wounded Rebs and great numbers of tents were left standing filled with wounded. I never saw so many dead and wounded before in my life and never wish to again.
All the way from there to Hagerstown we had to skirmish all the time being close to their heels all the way. At Hagerstown we expected to have a battle and both sides threw up breast works, but Tuesday morning they had gone; we started after them and when we reached Williamsport their rear was just going out of site the other side. We stayed there one night and then started for this place which we reached yesterday in the afternoon. Here is where we crossed the river last fall, it is about 5 miles below Harper's Ferry. The whole army is here waiting to cross as it takes a long time to cross an army on one bridge.
The Rebs think they have played a losing game, in their last move we have taken a great many prisoners and the country is full of their stragglers and deserters yet. But a great amount of property in the way of crops has been destroyed by both sides. All through Penn and Maryland the wheat, of which there are great quantities, looks first rate; it is all ready to cut and some has been cut. We take sheaves of wheat to make our beds nights which is much better than the bare ground. Corn looks poor this season having been too wet. But I can't write everything in one letter and must stop. Give my best regards to your Father and Mother and all the rest of the folks, Uncle Elisha included. Write.
Night before last I received your letter in answer to one I sent last July. I had begun to think the letter had either miscarried or you did not think it worth an answer. But when it did come it explained for itself. We have been in camp here since the first of August. There is only our brigade of four regts. here with a battery, there being no other troops nearer than Warrenton, a distance of four miles. Our life here is pretty quiet having nothing to do except drill a little and we, in about 12 days, go on picket, which lasts three days but that is easy having nothing to do whatever.
Once our regt. went out on a raid to a place called Middleburg about 15 miles from here and was gone three days. We had lots of fun and plenty of hard marching. We surrounded the place just at sunrise and searched every house taking all the arms and ammunition we could find, all men between the ages of 16 and 45 just by way of putting Jeff Davis' conscription act in force; and also taking what victuals we wanted to eat. On our way back we searched every house and took all the horses and mules we could find so that on our return to camp we looked more like Cavalry than infantry. And the number of chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese we had was astonishing. Taking it all together, we had a pretty good time and lived on the top shelf. Since that time nothing of any note has occurred until last Friday night when some Rebel Cavalry men made a dash on Brigade headquarters with the intention of taking Gen. Bartlett prisoner, but their good intentions were foiled and they did no other damage than the wounding of three men, one in the band, the others belonged to the 96th Penn which was on picket.
We were all routed out in the middle of the night and got under arms after a good many funny moves have been gone through with. Things were done that night that would not be tolerated on dress parade such as going out with nothing on but a shirt and cartridge box, he wouldn't look well you know. But all things have an end and in about an hour we were all in bed ready to go to sleep. So much for habit. A soldier don't care much what is going on so long as he is left alone.
Tuesday just as we came off picket, heavy musketry firing was heard in the direction of Warrenton and shortly after, cannonading in the same direction. We were ordered to pack up and be ready to move at a moment's notice. After waiting a while, we found out it was nothing. Cavalry men firing off their revolvers and some artillery practice, so ended scare No 2.
We are in a strong secesh (secession) part of the state, most every family having some of its number in the Rebel army which they do not pretend to deny. The men have been in the habit of trading off sugar, coffee and salt with them for milk, butter and vegetables until lately when there has been an order issued prohibiting it and no one can pass the picket lines with coffee or sugar. These things are very scarce among them and they can buy with them what could not be bought for money. They will pay .50 for coffee or sugar, .10 for salt. Everything else in proportion. They are things they cannot get except from the Army.
Everything throughout the Army is quiet and no prospects of a battle at present. It is thought amongst us that we shall not make a move until the army is recruited with conscripts. The papers tell of numbers of them arriving daily but my eyes have not been gladdened or dimmed with the sight of a solitary conscript yet. We have sent men home after some 300 for the Regt. who will arrive in due time I suppose. It seems as if they had a spite against my relatives some how. They have drafted Henry Lee, Ben's son and your Henry, which I think is enough. (No matter) How much I would like to see all these, I don't wish to see them down here as soldiers. I know what it is to be a soldier and I don't wish to get anyone into it that don't wish to come. The usage I have received in the Regt. I cannot complain of but there are hardships to go through with in the way of hard marching which I have seen but do not wish to see again. The campaign we have had the past summer has been the hardest ever known by the Army of the Potomac and we hope the like will not be seen again and present appearance seem to indicate that it will not but time will show.
My health has been first rate this summer as it usually is and with that one can get along with the rest. I should like to be at the fair but cannot, but expect to be able to have a ride on that railroad when I come out to see you and the rest of the folks. Tell Henry to do what I suppose he will, that is pay his $300.00 and stay at home.
Give my love to all the family and tell your mother I will send her that picture as soon as I can get it and now I will wind up this thing which probably will not be very interesting as I had nothing to write about. So goodbye and please write soon.
From your cousin, George W. Collins
Eunice Earle Clinton
Had you begun to think I was not going to write again? If you had, you thought different from me.
I have no excuse to offer for not writing before except that I did not get at it. We came to this place last night - it is about 14 miles from where we were when last I wrote you. The order for marching took us all by surprise. Saturday we moved camp and all day Sunday we were hard at work fixing up our Shanties for a lengthy stay, but in the PM the rumor got in camp that we had to come here and it was true.
Our object in coming here was to relieve the 2nd Corps which had been picketing along here for some time and also to get some men here that could be trusted. But I will tell you what I mean. The 2nd Corps has a great many conscripts in it whilst the 6th has but very few; these conscripts desert the very worst kind. The 13th Mass had 200 of which 75 have deserted, half of them to the Rebs. Plague take the conscripts, I say. I hope they will not put any in our Regt for it will take two of the old soldiers to one of them. **
I don't know why this is called Raccoon Ford for not a coon have I seen without they mean grey clothes and carry guns; if that is the case they are quite plenty and if you go too near, will bite but as a general thing are pretty peaceful.
The sentinels on the picket lines are about 25 rods apart and a pretty sharp watch has to be kept. We do not anticipate any fighting just here or a very active campaign in Va. this fall. Still circumstances may bring on a battle when least looked for. We probably shall not attempt to cross at this place, as it would be madness. They have a very strong natural position on the other side of the river and it is well fortified also. Whilst on this side we have no positions at all from which they could not make us Skedaddle any time they chose.
There is no news here but what you have probably read in the papers, without it is the departure of the 11th and 12th Corps to reinforce Rosencrans so the story goes but I guess the story is wrong. Gen Slocum who commands the 12th Corps has a brother in the 121st and he told me his brother's command had gone as far south as Fortress Monroe and how much further he knew not. The 3rd Division of the 6th Corps is on the RR between Catletts & Bristoes Station.
I should like to have your Mother's likeness as well as one of each of you if I could have them in the shape of Photographs, otherwise I cannot carry, but when I came home, I could keep them there.
Give my best regards to all your people and also to Uncle Elisha's folks and don't forget to write pretty soon.
Yours truly, George W. Collins
Miss Eunice Earle
**(He may have meant this another way. In a following letter George intimates that it takes two new soldiers to make one of the old volunteers.)
Yours of the 30th came to hand and I improve the present opportunity to answer it. Since my last, I have experienced nearly all the troubles and trials of a soldier's life but they have not been borne by the soldiers without a murmur, if newspaper correspondents do say so.
I have almost forgotten but believe my last was dated on the Rapidan the end of all journeys of the Potomac Army southward.
On Saturday morning Oct 10th we struck tents and prepared to leave the Rapidan but did not leave until dark when we started on our Skedaddle and marched through Culpepper just at daylight. From there to Rappahannock Station we went slow in order to give the train a chance to get out of the way. We reached the latter place just after noon and remained there until noon of the next day. When we recrossed the river and in company with the 2nd & 5th Corps and Bufords Division of Cavalry moved toward Culpepper again. Since being in the Army I have seen no sight as grand as when the 2nd, 5th & 6th Corps with the Artillery and Cavalry moved across the plain in order of battle toward Brandy Station and I might stay years and never see the likes again. But then it is better to see a show than to be part of it oneself.
We marched as far as Brandy Station and encamped for the night expecting to go to Culpepper in the morning, but about 12 they routed us up and back we started again reaching the River about 2 in the morning. Here we rested until daylight and then started again. That night we encamped about 8 pm at Kettle Run. Next morning at daylight started and marched to Manassas Junction 7 miles without resting and then without another rest we went to Centreville. When we stopped at Manassas the firing was pretty brisk in our rear and all thought we were in for a fight, but such was not the case as the Cavalry & 2nd Corps done all the fighting of any amount. We staid at Centreville until dusk when we went to Chantilly 5 miles. The next day we dug rifle pits and laid behind them until Monday morning October 19th when we started after Lee again. We stayed that night at Gainesville, a small village on the Manassas Gap RR, which place has been used by the GAR as a depot for the army since that time until within a few days. The next day we marched to Warrenton where we have remained up to the present time.
Our retreat and advance has not amounted to much as we can see, except giving the Rebs a chance to destroy the RR which they have done with a vengeance. It is repaired again as far as Warrenton Junction so that the cars run to this place now and all hope we shall get a little better fodder.
Since we left Culpepper we have been pretty hard up for rations GAR furnishing us nothing but wormy hardtack and pork(?) beside the coffee and sugar. We never have had as poor hard tack before as they gave us this fall. They were full of worms and little black bugs and both as lively as you please. If we have not killed any Rebs lately I think we have something else some dark night. When going to Centreville we crossed the Bull Run at Blackburns Ford and in returning at the Stone Bridge both memorable places in the first battle of Bull Run. At Manassas and below Centreville the winter quarters which the Rebs used during the winter of 61 and 62 are still standing in a good state of preservation being good comfortable log homes and most of them shingled. They do not compare very well with the quarters we get in the winter.
We have been here now since the 20th, how much longer we shall stay no one can tell as everything is kept pretty dark. We are in the front with the exception of the Cavalry. They have fights almost every day but not to amount to much. There is nothing to indicate a forward move at present, all eyes and thoughts appear to be turned to the South west as if there was to be the turning point of the War. I sincerely hope it may be so. Today has been a busy one I suppose in York State and I hope things have gone the right way. If all could be brought to think that the quickest way of ending the war was to bring overpowering number in the field I think our ranks would not remain as thin as they are for a long time.
I have not heard from Reuben's folks in some time, when I heard last they were in usual health. Hannah had been sick, was better. I thought you said Henry was going to write, have not seen anything of the letter yet. What is the reason Eunice can't come down with her mother and also some of the others?
I don't know but you will think this is pretty good sized paper but I'll tell you this is some of Uncle Sams and it is part of a soldiers trade to get all out of him they possibly can. And now I shall have to stop it is almost time for taps. We have been on a Review today, were reviewed by Gen Sedgewick the Corps Commander or Corps Butcher as the men call him from a likeness he bears to our Brigade Butcher.
I shall have to send this without a stamp as none are to be had in Camp. I have sent home for some and will do better next time. Remember me to your Father, Mother and the rest of the family and also to Uncle Elisha's family. Hoping to hear from you soon,
I remain your Cousin, George W. Collins
Mailed from Washington, DC Nov 7 to
Miss Eunice Earle, Clinton, Oneida Co., N.Y
Envelope had no stamp- Due 6
on side was written "Soldiers Letter, C J Campbell, Capt Co C"
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