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Calvin Shedd Civil War Letters, 1862-1864.

See also three letters acquired in 2000.

Thirty-eight letters, 1862-1864, of Union soldier Calvin Shedd, Co. A, Seventh New Hampshire Regiment, are written primarily from locations in coastal South Carolina and addressed to his wife, S. Augusta Shedd, at Enfield, N.H., and South Reading, Mass. Shedd, a first sergeant, later second lieutenant, writes intelligently and with great detail, describing events, people, and places. His letters are noteworthy for their accounts of hospital conditions, portrayed vividly in correspondence penned from U.S. Army general hospitals at Beaufort, Hilton Head, and a field hospital at Folly Island.

Writing from Key West, 17 June 1862, while aboard ship enroute to South Carolina, Shedd boasted—"we expect to go as near Charleston as we can land & help take it....that will be the most Glorious spot in the whole U.S. to Die for our Country." The letter continues on 20 June from Hilton Head and from an encampment near Beaufort on 23 June—"I hardly know how to describe this place I think God made it for the Garden of Eden....when Hilton Head was taken last fall the Rebels left here in a hurry....they did not take so much as their clothing....Our Soldiers used most of the furniture for fire wood last winter & smashed ever[y]thing they could even to Pianos & Organs in the churches[.] Mirrors that cost hundreds of dollars were broken in the general ruin & all other furniture & Fixtur[e]s general[l]y found in houses of the wealthy[.] The Rebels are sacrifising eve[r]ything in the general ruin."

At Beaufort the New Hampshire regiment was joined by troops from Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. "There is a Rebel Prisoner here," Shedd reported, "while he was sick in the Hospital made his brags of killing our wounded men at the [James Island] fight where he was taken & he gave proof of the truth of it, after he got better by killing several of the sick in the Hospital with his Knife they being too sick to help themselves, the Soldiers tried to get at him but the Guard kept them away they would have made short work with him. I wish they could have got him & Burnt him alive after skining him." A letter of 27 June 1862 notes that the Confederate had been hanged from the yardarm of the Wabash at Hilton Head.

The New Englander's observations of low country blacks are striking. From Camp Stevens on Port Royal Island, 29 July 1862, he wrote of the "tall specimens of slaves on the Plantation"—"many of the children have only a shirt on & they look funny walking with their slim black legs....It is with great difficulty that we can understand what they say....on some of the Plantations the Negro Houses are quite comfortable with Floors fire Place & Brick Chimney, others are mere Hovels with dirt floors & chilmneys built of sticks & mud." Concerning the organization of a black regiment at Hilton Head, Shedd advised, 12 August 1862—"there is a great difference of opinion among the Soldiers as to the utility of the Black Regts, I am rather of the opinion they had better be Organised & put in the Quartermaster's Dept as Laborers rather than depend on them as fighting men."

The climate of Beaufort contributed greatly to the Northern soldiers' discomfort. "...it is our Battallion Drills that sweat the life out of us," he complained on 13 July [18]62. "Man after man will fall fainting to the ground with their shirts Pants & thick uniform Coats so that you could wring the sweat out in streams not in drops....We have got the name all over the Division as the Double Quick Regt...but to earn it has been at the expense of the lives of many of our Boys. Somebody has got to answer for their Blood." Shedd was equally unimpressed with what he saw of army medicine—"It is enough to make ones flesh Creep: the Scenes & tales of Sick & Dying men at the Hospitals: the way they are treated & handled. If I am sick or wounded I should thank God if I could have a place as good as our Cow Stall to Die in. The stories of the care & comforts of sick men in the Army that you read in the Papers are all Gass got up by Surgeons & Hospital Stewards & Nurses to cover up their Damnable neglect & Inhumanity."

Letters dating between 26 August and 26 September 1862, written from Beaufort's General Hospital No. 5, tell of Shedd's hospitalization with chronic dysentery. Writing on 10 September 1862, he noted—"There are no conveniences for bathing here....Some of the sick are not washed from the time they come till they die[.] I have not felt able to wash all over till yestedy morning when I got up at 3 & drew my water from the well by tieing a Pitcher with a line (there is no Bucket to the well) & had a good wash....you may ask why I dont wash in the day time like any sick Christian man should, well we have nothing but a wash Dish & to tell the truth I am to[o] modest to strip before all the men in the room with the Dr. & forty others running in & out, my sensibilities are not all killed out yet as with some men." Shedd tried to dispell the boredom of hospital confinement in part by reading. But, he complained on 21 September 1862—"I have nothing...but my Military Books & Paley's Moral Philosophy which I Took in a Secesh House, the Book belonged to Miss Anna M. Chaplin. I mean to apologise if I ever see her after the war."

Like many soldiers, Calvin Shedd questioned whether his personal sacrifice was in vain, particularly as the command of Union general George B. McClellan came to be viewed with increasing dissatisfaction. "I hope the next mail," Shedd wrote on 14 September 1862, "to hear, that the President has issued his Proclamation, abolishing Slavery at once & forever—put about a dozen of the Generals in Prison & if he cant find any better ones than some of them have proved, take Privates out of the Ranks. I feel ashamed of McClelland after getting an Army that he was perfectly satisfyed with, & bragged over so much, to play it all out & not accomplish anything but disgrace[.] The North are a bundle of Fools & growing more so, I know that I am one of them but I did think that among all our profesedly great men that some of them would have known something about the strength & resources of the South, or found it out before they had used up 700,000 men for nothing."

After a gap in correspondence between 26 September 1862 and 16 June 1863, a number of letters focus upon the seige of Battery Wagner on Morris Island, while that of 14 July 1863 responds to news of a meeting at Concord, N.H., and complains of Northerners who remained at home while he and others fought their battles—"Men will spout, write letters, get their names in the Papers, blow round, save the country, crush the rebellion, & are the greatest Patr[i]ots in the world while Tom Dick & Harry the Mudsills, that they would not speak to before or after the War, are doing all the work, & eating all the poor Grub; when the fact is if it was not for these poor D—ls, they would not have a country to blow about the Glory of."

The seige of Battery Wagner began on 10 July 1863, but Shedd was not present. Hospitalized again—first at the Folly Island Field Hospital, then at Hilton Head's General Hospital—Shedd provided a side-line perspective of the bloody assault. From the hospital, 29 July 1863, he told of the New Hampshire men's involvement in the fight and the death of their regimental commander Col. Putnam—"it was not a fight but a Slaughter without a chance for our men to see who or what they were fighting with or against it is thought that half of our men were killed by our own men it was so dark that they could not tell friend from foe." Discouraged over the heavy casualties and his own ill health, Shedd advised that he had made application for a leave of absence—"I do not feel right to resign or stay, if I stay and am sick all the time it is not right as others have to do my duty for me & I dont like to go home for I want to do the country some service if possible."

Another letter, dated 3 August 1863, conveys further details of casualties, laments the fact that "Patriotism is all played out," and speculates—"I think there are officers higher in rank than myself that would give hundreds of dollars for the chance I have to resign." The letter further complains that Northern newspapers had unduly credited much of the Morris Island assault to the Negro troops of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts.

By 12 August 1863 Shedd was confined to Ward C, General Hospital, Hilton Head. "I am in as comfortable place as there is & much more so than if I were in Hospital on Morris Island," he wrote. "There is a homely old Maid or widdow nurse in eve[r]y ward, they fix up the Grub the best I have ever seen in any Hospital, if one is sick they prepare a gruel or anything allowed them in a neat & homelike manner so that it does not turn ones stomach which is a great desideratum to a sick man." September 1863, a full two years after he enlisted, found Calvin Shedd still a hospital patient. "I must say that they have been the most miserable & comfortless years I remember like time thrown away, lost, a blank if life," he lamented in a letter dated 23 September 1863. "But I have done all the Governm[en]t required as far as I had the ability, so my con[s]cience is clear." Having made application for a leave of absence, Shedd quipped, 2 October 1863—"now all I have got to do is to wait, get well, or die, as the case may be." An official document of 2 October 1863, from regimental adjutant Lt. H.G. Webber, requests that Shedd resign his commission in consequence of his extended absence. Shedd's final letter, dated 8 October 1863, indicates that he had spoken with regimental commander Col. Abbott, who wished him to resign, but had not yet received the dispatch from Webber. The last manuscript in the collection, a letter of 5 January 1864, from assistant surgeon J.E. Semper, U.S. General Hospital, Hilton Head, originally forwarded four certificates to Shedd to be sent on to the Adjutant General, Washington, D.C. There is no further indication whether or not Shedd resigned his commission as requested or was able to return to duty with his regiment.

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