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Jared A. Abell Papers, 23 December 1862 - 5 June 1864
Thirty letters, 23 December 1862-5 June 1864, of Jared A. Abell (1832-1864), a teacher by occupation, who enlisted in Co. H, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers on 5 September 1861 offer much information about the Federal occupation and military activities on the South Carolina coast. A native of Bozrah, Connecticut, Abell was thirty-one years old when he entered military service. The Seventh Connecticut arrived off the coast of South Carolina in November 1861 and served in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida until April 1864 when the regiment was transferred to Virginia. The regiment's activities from late December 1862 until early June 1864 are chronicled in letters from Private Abell to Hannah Abell whom he often addressed as "Dear Friend."
The Seventh Connecticut was in Beaufort in December 1862 when Jared described the town and appeared pleased that he had challenged Gen. Alfred Terry who was unaware of the countersign. Abell likened privates to machines - -"No better than the negro slaves, only we look forward to the time when we shall be free once more but they look only to death as the end." A month later, the regiment was located in Fernandina, Fla., "this God forsaken, out of the way hole." He described the village and the condition in which the Confederates left it and commented on the demeanor of the troops, including himself - -"We have been so long without female society that it would be almost impossible for us to behave decent....I thought I was bad enough...but I have sadly degenerated, grown seedy, and the longer I stay in the service the worse I grow." Abell returned to this theme in other letters, including one of 8 March  in which he discussed "the evil influences that continually surround us in the army. In the first place Woman - - with all the ameliorating influence of society is not here....I often think that a man can not be a soldier and a christian." He apparently approved of the determination of the women of the South, for he contended in a letter of 5 April, "if the wom[e]n of the North were as much engaged and as earnest as the women of the South, It would be all the better for the welfare of the country."
Abell's regiment was garrisoned with the First South Carolina Volunteers, "composed of colored gentry." In a recent engagement the African-American troops had assaulted and burned the village of St. Mary's. He noted the presence of Captain Montgomery, "of Kansas notoriety," who, now a colonel, commanded the Second South Carolina Volunteers. "Say what you will," he remarked, "the Negroes can and will fight" (8 March 1863).
This New England native often complained about the heat and vermin that the army had to endure in the South, but this was not his first exposure to the southern climate. In a letter of 14 April 1863 he compared the climate and terrain of New England and the South and contrasted the "working class of the North" and the African-American laborers of the South. In doing so, he recalled his experience as an overseer in Mississippi where "I was not considered an equal...and was only tolerated as a sort of necessary evil." He noted in a letter of 18 April that if he had left Mississippi in June of the year that he was there, "I should have been able to have gone back in the fall full strong and healthy. But I attempted to stay the first summer, and the consequence is I shall never get over the effects."
Like many of the soldiers in the Union army, Abell declared that he had never been an abolitionist, "but still if it comes to this; Union and no slavery or Disunion and slavery, why let it go, but Union first, last and forever" (18 April 1863). Abell was proud of being an enlisted private and wrote with some disdain of the privileges accorded officers to whom he occasionally referred as "shoulder straps." Writing from St. Augustine, Fla., on 5 June 1863, Abell informed Hannah that "our officers are having a nice time, still it provokes them to find out places in the city where shoulder straps are at a discount, and the private is welcomed to the exclusion of the Officer. I think it would do some of them good could they but really and truly know the opinion of their men." After the Seventh Connecticut's participation in the assault on Battery Wagner, which resulted in heavy casualties, Abell observed-"I am thinking there will be a few less of the shoulder Straps if any of them show the least bit of a white feather" (6 August 1863).
Although Abell seemed to display a soldier's dislike for rank and privilege, in at least one instance he reversed his opinion of an officer. In several letters Abell expressed criticism of his company commander, Capt. John Dennis. However, writing from St. Helena Island on Christmas day 1863, he reported that the opinion of the men towards Dennis had changed after the men contributed fifty cents each and Dennis and his wife prepared dinner. Abell noted - -"Today, our Captain is considered the best liked of any in the regiment."
The hardest fighting in which the Seventh Connecticut engaged during Abell's correspondence occurred in South Carolina after the regiment was transferred there from Florida in the summer of 1863. Abell participated in the assault on Battery Wagner and informed Hannah that the African-American troops in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts "fought as tigers" (6 August 1863). The heavy casualties in this action caused General Gillmore to declare "no more charging, although there is another regiment of darkies from Mass. that are anxious to try it." Abell's regiment remained on Morris Island when he penned a letter within 250 yards of Battery Wagner. "We are in good spirits," he noted, "and are bound to win.... Gil[l]more is anxious to take [Charleston], and sacrifice as few lives as possible" (31 August 1863). He wrote two letters on 8 September and reported in the first that "we see the stars and stripes floating over Sumpter." He reported that this was not correct in the second letter but was elated that the army had occupied batteries Wagner and Gregg. The ground around Wagner was "full of dead bodies" and "the stench was almost unbearable."
After two months of hard fighting on Morris Island, the Seventh Connecticut was transported to St. Helena Island in October 1863. The change in locale suited Abell. He preferred the cold weather of the North over the sudden changes of temperature in the South but approved of the warmer weather on St. Helena - - "we are on good grass ground. It is much warmer than where we were last week and the water is a heap better" (18 October 1863). He also expressed approval of President Lincoln's leadership and observed that "some of the strongest kind of Democrats...are more in his favor than some that have always been Republicans."
Writing from St. Helena Island on 25 December 1863 Abell noted that the army was conducting a re-enlistment campaign. As he often remarked in his letters, he disapproved of substitutes, volunteers who deserted, and the able-bodied who remained at home. Perhaps to emphasize this point, he described the punishment that was meted out to a substitute who was caught stealing a watch and cash - -"Ten volunteers from each company took their station in two parallel lines about six feet apart each way. The rest of the men were drawn up in the rear. He marched through, preceded and followed by a guard of two men so that he could go only so fast. It looked rough, but we are compelled to do it in self-defense."
The final letter in the collection was written on 5 June 1864 from "Camp in the Field" near Old Point Comfort, Va. [Elizabeth City County; now city of Hampton.] The Seventh Connecticut had been involved in hard fighting and had suffered heavy losses - - "We had almost one thousand men when we came to Virginia. We have lost about three hundred....I do not suppose I ought to complain, as I am yet untouched." Twelve days later, on 17 June, Jared Abell died in action at Bermuda Hundred (Chesterfield County, Va.).
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