Letters of Pvt. George P. Risdon,
Co. F, 20th Reg.
Veterans Reserve Corps. U.S.A.
By Thomas Risdon Baine
George Pliny Risdon was born the eleventh child in his family on January 11, 1844, and was raised on the family farm nestled in high meadows of the Green Mountains near Danby, Vermont. In this small community, he grew, learned, played, and worked with little interest in the world outside of Danby and, for that matter, outside of Rutland County. When the War between the states broke out, George was sixteen, working on his father's farm and as a part time laborer on the neighboring farm. Some of his older friends in town immediately enlisted, but George was too young; he had to be content with newspaper accounts of the war and an occasional letter from friends.
Several months after his eighteenth birthday, George and two friends from Danby traveled over the mountain to Ludlow and enlisted as privates in Company H of what was to become the 10th Regiment--the Vermont Volunteers. He was mustered into the U.S. Army in August, 1862, at Brattleboro. It was at this time that George began a correspondence with his family in Danby which continued throughout his enlistment. From the rural mountains of Vermont, George traveled south through cities larger than any he had ever seen. Finally, he arrived in Washington, only to march through it, on his way to serve guard duty along the Potomac. At Arlington Heights, Seneca Locks, Offitts Cross Roads (now Potomac), Poolesville, White's Ford, George wrote home to tell of life in camp, brag of his "soldierliness" and report the conditions of his friends. It was at White's Ford that he reported the death of one of his friends with whom he enlisted. In 1863, George was having trouble with rheumatism but went on to Harper's Ferry in pursuit of Lee's army after Gettysburg.
Shortly thereafter, in August, 1863, George was sent to a brigade hospital near Rappahannock Station, Va., with the "rheumatiz" and heart problems. He was transferred back to Vermont for three months at the General Hospital in Brattleboro but was unable to get a furlough to travel the fifty miles or so to see his family in Danby. He was visited by his brother who described his condition as "improving daily." In November, he was transferred to Camp Convalescence, Alexandria, for medical evaluation. After some time, doctors decided George was not fit enough to return to his regiment, but not unfit enough to be discharged to return home. Instead, Private Risdon was assigned to the Veteran Reserve Corps. This group was known as the "Invalid Corps" and consisted of men who were too sick, too old, or too disabled to carry out the rigorous life demanded of the soldier in the field. The Veteran Reserve Corps performed duties in "safe" areas such as supply, office work, and guard duty. George was transferred to the Eastern Branch Corral located in Giesboro near Washington. This camp was the largest cavalry depot for the Union Army, and George was to serve here for four months. In June 1864, George was assigned with Company F, 20th Regiment, Veteran Reserve Corps, and was put on detached service with the Mounted Patrol at Leonardtown, Md., in July, 1864. While there, George frequently visited Point Lookout, Piney Point, and Great Hills; and it was in this locale that he spent the last year of the war.
In June, 1865, George was ordered to Philadelphia where he was discharged on the 4th of July. He returned to his hometown of Danby; he married and worked as a mechanic and farmer until his death in November, 1871.
It is then, within the context of George' life and service, that I submit the nine letters I have in the collection that originated from St. Mary's County. In transcribing the letters, I have taken the liberty of inserting proper punctuation and correcting mistakes in capitalization. I did this to increase the readability of the letters; however, I did not change any of the mistakes in spelling. To do so, I felt, would change the flavor of the letters of a young man to his friends and family. I sincerely hope that the reader will experience no problems in reading and understanding the letters as they may provide the reader with a greater appreciation for the history that occurred in St. Mary's County.
Thomas Risdon Baine
Point Lookout, Maryland June 1864
Dear Friends at home,
I now take my pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope that you are all enjoying that same great blessing. I have not heard from you for a long time but we have moved and have not got any mail latley.
We are now at Point Lookout, Maryland. Have been here 4 or 5 days. We are guarding prisoners here. There is about 17,000 of them. There is not much news to write. We do not get any here. I wish you would write as soon as possible and write all the news if you get any. I have written several different letters but have not got any answer yet. This is rather a rough place here. The duty is hard. I think that I shall be sent to my regiment soon. I hope so, for the duty there can not be any harder than here. There is not much hopes but I shall try very hard to get a furlough before I go. They say that Richmond is burning. I hope so for we, our army, have tried very hard to get or destroy that place. There I can't write any more this time. So good by. Write soon. This from your well wishing and afectionate son and brother.
Geo. P. Risdon
F Co, 20 Regt VR Corps.
Point Lookout Maryland
and write as soon as you get this.
Envelope - Miss Amanda Risdon
Camp Hoffman, Point Lookout Md June 28th 1863 (Date should be 1864)
I now take my penn in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and kicking and hope that you are the same. I feel the best now that I have for some time. The reason why I did not answer your letter before was that I have been to Fort Dellaware to guard some 600 Rebs Prisoners there. We had a fine ride on the water. We started Thursday and got back Sunday at night about 10 o' clack. We had a fine time going and coming. The weather was fine and the sea smothe. Fort Dellaware is a very strong fortress. it stands on an island some ten miles up the Dellaware River. They, our folks I mean, are a going to take 60 Rebbel Colonels and 4 Generals down to Charlston and put them on to the Gun boats and under the fire of the Rebs for retaliation. They have put our oficers under fire and we will do the same by theirs.
Dina make a strawberry short cake and eat a piece of it for me and think while you are eating it of from a good table with a white clothe upon it and earthen dishes to eat of from: of setting outside of your tent and eating a piece of Salt horse on a tin plate in your lap and a tin cup full of coffee setting on the ground by your side and a case knife in your hand and using your fingers for forks and when you get that piece eat whish you had some more of the same but can't get it because you have had you ration. Think of that and you might call it tough but then again let me call your mind to the front. While you are eating your strawberry short cake think of the soldier at the front, poor soldier, you would say. After marching all day through the hot sun when he stops for the knight drops his blanket and gun and starts off for a rail if he can get one if not he picks up such sticks as he can find and starts a fire, gets some water in his canteen and makes him a cop of coffee then pours in some cold water to sittle it and then takes his hard tack from his haversack and a piece of Salt pork raw without any vinegar to put on it and eats his supper without any plate or knife at all. Think of that and then think how long the war has lasted and how much longer it is to last, how it was brought on in the first place; how many lives have been lost and how much suffering has been caused then get up, shake your selfe and Houle.
Good by Dina. Write soon. Good by accept this with the love of your brother.
George P. Risdon
Piney Point Md Oct. 18th 1864
Dear Friends at home,
I now take my pen in hand to write you a few lines in answer to Dina letter dated Oct 1 which I received last Saturday. I was very glad to here from home and to hear that you wer all so well. I am well and as tough as a brick. I think that I never was any better than I am at this present time. Dina said that she had written 6 letters to me and had receved no answer now I have not got but two letters from her since I have been at this place. I have not written but 3 this will make the fourth one. You say that father has sent me a great many papers now. I have not received one. Tell him to send me another and direct it to Great Mills. Direct to George P. Risdon, Mounted Detachment, 20th Regiment, VRC, Great Mills, Md (in haste) and see if I will get them then. Send me one with the list of the wounded in the Valey. My Regt--the old 10th is thare and I had ought to be there allso. I see in the paper that the Major of my Regiment is kill. Well may peace be with him. I do not know whither them things would come through safe or not or not send them until you write again. See whether I can get a letter or paper through strait or not first. that gum that you sent was nice till. Tell Kate that I will write to her if she will send me her address. I would like to write to all the boys and girls but I do not know where to direct. I dont get a letter once in an age. Do you see that I dont have much encouragement to write. Tell Ann Zinks to go it while she is young. I suppose that all boys and girls have forgoten all they ever knew about that Roudy Risdon that left thare some over two years a go. All right they cant forget any more than I have. I will get a furlough this winter if I can. I am a going to try and get back to my old Regt. if I can this winter and then I can get home. I have got ten months to stay yet, that is not long. There that will do for this time. You must write as soon as you get this. So good bye with much love to all--Good by, God Bless and Preserve you all until I come home once more. Goodby accept these few lines from your brother and son.
George P. Risdon
Piney Point Md Nov 5 1864
Dear Father and Mother,
I received you welcome letter bearing date of Oct 29th day before yesterday and now take my pen to answer it. It found me well and I was glad to hear the same from you all. You say that Dina was not at home. You said that you sent me a Rutland hearald. I have not received a paper from home yet. Try it once more. Send two direct one to F Co 20th Regt VRC Leonardtown Md and write a letter at the same time and direct it to Mounted Detachment 20th Regt VRC Great Mills, Md. You said Dave Colvin was going to write to me. I have received no letter from him yet. I would like to come home this winter but I dont think that I can get a furlough but shal try. I have not got quite ten months longer to stay. Any way you need not be worried about my re enlisting for I shall not untill my time is out and I come home. I shall come home then if God spares my life of if the Johnies do not let day light through me. I can not think of much to write. There is no war news of any account. They are fighting in the Valley and at Petersburg yet the 1st Vt Cavlry don a big thing. In one charge--out of 43 pieces of Artilery captured in the Valey in one charge the little 1st Vt Cav. captured 27 of them with about 300 prisoners, 4 stands of colors and wagons and harnesses and mules and other things to numers to mention. That was not much. General Sheridan says that it is the best Regt in his command. We are having very cold weather here now. We do not have much. You said John Kelly was killed. Well it is the fortunes of war. I may get a hole knocked through me yet. War creates great changes. Well I cant write more this time so good by and accept the respect and love of your son.
George P. Risdon
Piney Point Md. Dec. 13th 64
Dear Friends at home.
I now take my pen in hand to write you a few line to let you know that I am well. I have not got much time to write for one of the boys or my old woman is going to the post office. She is getting ready now. Her name is T. H. P. Davis. She is a Baltimorian. Her time is out the first of Jan. next. I expect that I will miss her some. The rest of the boys is well. We do not have much to do here. Only go on a scout once or twice a week. I suppose that Dina is at home now. Father I am getting them papers that you sent me now. I have got 4 or five the first week. I got a letter from home day before yesterday. I cant write much this time for my old lady is in a hurry. We had soft bread, beef stake, turnips and tea for breakfast this morning. William and Maria is at home I suppose. Charley is very sick you say. I had a ring I was a going to send him but I broak it. I will send him the pieces. It may pleas him some. I hope he will get a long if God willing he will I wish I had time to write more but have not. So you must excuse me this time. I will do better next so Good by and accept this with the best wishes and love of you son.
George P. Risdon
Piney Point Md Feb 1865
I now seat my self to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well at present and hope that these few lines will find you the same. I got a letter from Father some weeks ago. It brought me sad news. He writes that Mary C. and Marcia are both dead. I can hardly believe it. They died very sudden. It was a sad blow to Daniel and Mary and to all of us. Father writes that it is very sickley up home this winter.
You wanted to know in your letter what I had for Christmas and New Years. Well we had a baked goose and whiskey plenty. We all got to feeling pretty good but that does not happen very often. We kept 12 days Christmas. Tell her, Pinks, I want you to write soon and write me a good long letter and let me know things are getting along at home. How is Ann (P)inks and Calvins' two girls. How are the Hilliards. Ellen and Hellen and how is GB Cover, Tribby Smith and all the rest. How is David C and Silas B and how about the Weatherbes, Ephram and Moulton and the rest. I am or will bee an entire stranger when I get home for I begin to think about coming home some time if I ever do. 7 Months longer and then good by to US Service. I dont care how quick it roles by either. There is no news to writ. I guess that I have written enough so I will close by subverving myself. Your well wishing brother,
George P. Risdon.
Piney Point Md March 8th 1865
Dear Sister Amanda,
I received your welcome letter yesterday. I got it at the post office when coming from Point Lookout. I was very glad to here from you and to here that you wer all well but was very much grieved to hear of the death of Charley. Although I was expecting bad news, I dreaded to go to the office. I am not supersticious at all nor do I believe in dreams but I could not but think of a dream I had the other night. I dreamed that I was at a funreal and that it was some friend of mine and it was at the old south house or one that resembled it very much. But as you say we will not dwell on such a painfull subject. As the old saying is "What cant be cured must be endured." I am well as ever. You wanted to know who I did not answer father's letter. I will answer that question by asking another. Why does father not answer my letter? That card that mother sent me is a good one and looks for all the world like Mother. I think I will have mine taken and let you see how I look. At the present time I am very poor. I only weigh 170 lbs. Small boy! I do no look much as I did in Brattleboro. I all most began to think that I was gon up the spout that time you said you had a letter from Jim B. Well that was all right. I have written one to his sister. I suppose that is all right is it not? He is writing to my sister, pitty that I cant write to his. You say that Hi Pinks wife has got a girl and that High is mad because it is not a boy. Tell High to hold his temper that he is better of than many that has got none at all. You will be nearley sorounded by Colvins and Parises this summer. Do not let them out general you. I reckon that the old folks had a big time on that ride from Danby to Wallingford. Alice and Mary Griffith done a big thing. S--- in the wash bowl and wiped their A-- with the landlord. Bigh thing! Smart laidas but they can't keep a hotell. Eh? Well we are having big times down here. I was in the Guard House the other day but they thought that I was not a very profitable boarder so after keeping me in 24 hours, they let me out. I would not saddle an nother mans horse for them to ride so they put me in the guard house. We are having good and bad weather here now. Yesterday was a fair pleasant day and today rains like time. The roads are very muddy. I came from Point Lookout yesterday. It is about 38 miles. It is a good long ride. Sheridan has done a big thing--taken old Early and 18000 men. But I suppose that you get all the war news before I do. Dina if you were me now would not you re-enlist for 1 year get $1,600 bounty...I don't know what I will do when I get out of the service. i will bee to lazy to work but don't be worried. i shall not re enlist until I come home and like enough not then. I had not had a letter from any one for three weeks untill I got yours I geban to think that all the folks had forgotten that thare was any such fellow as me. Dina, how much would a good pair of good wool shirts cost at home, home made I mean. I cant get a pair of shirts here that is good for anything short of twelve or fourteen dollars and that is a big price I think but this sheet is pretty near full, and I am pretty near done writing but not write now.
Amanda, write soon and write another good long letter like the last one. I like to read such a letter. I dont like such bad news though but we must take the bitter with the sweet. I supposed now if you can read this you can do better than I can so with thees few remarks I will bid you good by. Accept with the love of your well wishing brother, George P. Risdon.
George P Risdon
Great Mills P.O.
St Marys Co, Maryland.
that is all - goodby and dont forget to write as soon as ever you get this. take care of yourself.
Piney Point Md. March 28th 1865
Dear Sister Dina
I now take my pen in hand to write to you in answer to yours of the 16th which I received some time ago and which I have had hardly time to answer until now but will try to do so now. I was glad to hear that you war well. I am well as usual. I am tough and fat. I will send you my photograph in my next. I am having them printed and see if there is not a diference than when I was in the hospital in Vt. I think there is a great difference. Dina I want yours also. I have fathers and mothers and Isaac's and yours but yours is not a good picture. I would like to get Maria's and Williams also, I will send you the photograph of one of my comrades. His name is Richard Chapman. He is not here now. He is an ordelie at Point Lookout now for Capt Welsh. Dina I can buy as many photographs as I like at Point Lookout of soldiers and officers if you have not got your album filled, I will get you some when I am at the Point again. I have just written to Dave Colvin and have got to write to Bucklin this afternoon. He is in front of Petersburg and I wish I was thare also.
Time flies very slowly by I suppose. It is because I am so lasy. I don't know what I will do when I get out of the service. I will bee to lasy to work so I guess that I will have to enlist again. I wish I was out now. I would enlist in Hand Cock's Corps for one year and get $1600 Bounty but I am not so I might as well keep still and let things slide. Dina I don't feel like writing any more just now so I guess that I will stop for now. I may write some more before I seel this up and I May not. It is April 1st and I have not had time to seal this up and send it to the office but will do so now. Write soon. Goodby. This from you well wishing brother.
George P. Risdon
Piney Point Md Apr 18th 1865
I now take my pen once more to write you a few lines in answer to one that I received from your dated April 2nd and mailed Apr. 6th which I received last night and was very glad to here from you and to here that you was well but sory to here of Mothers sickness but you say she is getting better. I hope she will continue to improve. I am well, and hope that this will find you the same. We are having splendid weather here now - clear and warm. The woods look green and fresh once more another spring has broke in uppon us and is not unwelcome by us, either. I suppose that you have heard the good news before this of the taking of Richmond and the surrender of Lee and his army and Johnston and his army. They fired 400 guns at Point Lookout in honor of the success of our arms and the victories achieved by them. It looks as though we would soon have peace once more but I think it will not be of long duration for we have got another little job to do down in Mexico with the French which will take six months or a year. I shall not re-enlist until I come home. You say that Ann Zinks had a letter from me. She has not answered it yet. I did not much expect to get an answer when I wrote. I have not written to A. Johnston for some time but must before long. I dont hardley know where to direct this letter. Your letter was written in Danby and you say Direct to Dorset, Vt., Bennington Co. and your letter was mailed at E. Rupert, but I will direct it to Miss Amanda D. Risdon, Dorset, Bennington County, Vermont and let it rip. William must bee pretty hard up. I am very sory to hear that but am in hopes that he may soon bee better and tough once more. Dina I am as fat as a hog - too fat to bee comfortable. I believe that soldiering agrees with me. I have nuthing to do and plenty to do it with. I believe that I will bee to lasy to work when I get out of the service. Idleness just suits my complection to a dot. Oh what will I do when the country brakes the war up and knocks the poor soldier out of a job. I shudder to think of it. Gerbbie Smith you way is keeping company with Eph Otici. I knew that Buckline Geo A was engaged to her. She had used him rather rough. George A is a good boy. I wonder if he knows it. I had a letter from him the other day since that big fight at Petersburg. He was all right then. About them shirts, Dina, I dont hardley know whether it is best to have them or not. I have not much longer to stay, 4 months and some over but I want shirts though. Dina how could you send them. Put them in Adams Express and send them to George P. Risdon, Point Lookout, Md. - Send it to Geo P. Risdon, Mounted Patrol, Point Lookout, Md. - Well Dinah this sheat is pretty near full so I guess that I quit by and by.
Well Dina Guess that I will shop up and get some dinner and have something to eat once more. So good by for this time. Write soon and accept this with the love of your brother.
George P. Risdon
Following text was written upside down at the top of first page:
I guess that I will fill this space up. I would like a good cake of maple sugar. I had a letter from Junior A. written on the first of April. She said she was getting better. She though she would get along then. Herrieck is got him self into trouble. Then I wonder if he don't want me to chop wood for him for 50 cts per cord now. You think that he will have to learn a trade in Windsor. Then well it will be good for the boys health, Eh?
[Originally published in "Chronicles of St. Mary's," Monthly bulletin of the St. Mary's County (Maryland) Historical Society, June 1983, Volume 31, No. 6. Contributed by Thomas R. Baine, great-grandnephew of George P. Risdon, and used with his kind permission.]