11th Vermont Infantry (aka First Heavy Artillery, Vermont Volunteers)
Fort Totten, DC
Sept 28th 1863
Your letter of the 22nd inst. was received in due season and I take this oportunity to answer it. I was glad to learn that you and your folks were all well and hope the same blessing may always attend you. As for me my health is pretty good now though for a few weeks it was pretty slim but I am gaining every day now. I am on guard, and by writing you see I can pass away the time. It is 10 minutes past 1 in the morning. The moon is shining almost as bright as day and it makes me think of the good old times I used to have going to parties in Old Vt and I
should not be stretching the truth very much if I were to say I wished I was where I could enjoy the same pleasures at the present time. It is quite cool nights now days but the days are warn and nice. I am none to warm with my overcoat on while I am writing and sitting by the fire at that but tis quite diferent here in this old Guardhouse from what it is in a good house in Vt. If you or I had a barn that was no warmer than this we would Board it over before we would put cattle in it to winter. If not they would hump their backs before Spring I tell you. And the boys are rather slack about cutting wood beside.
I suppose likely you attended the Fair at St. Johnsbury at least did you not. If you did no doubt you had a bully O time. I should enjoyed being there very much indeed. But I don't know as I ever shall have the
privilege of attending another Fair of the kind again but hope I may.
I suppose you are diging potatoes and the like about this time. How do they yield. Potatoes sell here for $1.25 per bushel. Sweet ones for $2.00 and upwards. So you see this not much like Vt on that score. Everything else in proportion.
I see by all the letters I receive from home that the young people are all getting married or doing worse. What is getting into them all.
Has Freedom gone to Boston yet, he wrote me he was going he thought but did not write whether he was going to stop or not. I suppose that Simon and Mariam are enjoying life right up to the handle these days. Well they may. I would try it if I were they.
The Paymaster paid us a visit last week Tuesday. His visits are always acceptable to the soldier I assure you. We are now paid up to the 1st of Sept.
I should like to be at home this Fall, I tell you Willard. I have been gone from home long enough to find out how Dear my old home is and how much I was enjoying when there. One does not know until he has been deprived of all this and a soldier's Life will learn one a good lesson. But if I am spared and permitted to return to my Home and Family I think I shall stop a while until there is a very urgent call from my Country at least. Yes, Will, I think we could enjoy an evening together first rate about these times but as I cannot go where you are, I should be pleased to have you call on me at any time you can make it convenient.
We are building new barracks for Winter and am in hope to be more comfortable in them than the Old ones. We are also diging a Well in the Fort which will be quite a job. I would not think strange if it had to be dug a 100 feet or more to get water. I do not think of much more to write and will finish this uninteresting letter soon. The Boys of your acquaintance here are all right. Remember me to all inquiring Friends and accept this with much Love from your Uncle & well wisher.
The writer of this letter, Nathan Smith, was born in Burke, VT February 3, 1838. He enlisted August 4, 1861, and mustered in to U.S. Service as a Private in Company A, 11th Vermont Infantry (aka 1st Vermont Heavy Artillery) on September 1, 1862. He was promoted to Corporal on May 20, 1863.
Nathan wrote the letter on September 28, 1863, while on post at Fort Totten, D.C.
Fort Totten was a medium-sized fort, a seven-sided polygon with a perimeter of 270 yards. It was located atop a ridge along the main road from Washington to Silver Spring, Maryland, about three miles north of the Capitol, and a half-mile from the Military Asylum or Soldier's Home, and a small cottage where President Lincoln would sometimes go to relax.
The regiment transferred from the Defenses of Washington in mid-May 1864, joining the Overland Campaign of Army of the Potomac; Nathan was killed in action at Weldon Railroad, near Petersburg, Virginia, on June 23, 1864.
Nathan had married Adalaide M. Davis, of Newark, VT, and left a daughter, Jennie Alice Smith, born in Sutton, VT November 19, 1862. Jennie later became the wife of Henry S. Webster.
Nathan Smith was a son of Asa and Mariam (Smith) Smith, who in 2003 has at least ten descendants living in Sheffield, including Leslie Ham [who has the original letter] and Leslie's children and grandchildren. The letter was written by Nathan to his nephew, Willard [Moses Willard] Smith. Willard was the son of Nathan's sister, Sophronia Betsey Smith and her husband Jabez Smith, Jr., of Newark, VT. In the letter Nathan mentions Freedom - he was Freedom Brockway, his brother-in-law -- the husband of another of Nathan's sisters, Miriam Miranda Smith.
According to Dr. David Cross, author of A Melancholy Affair at the Weldon Railroad, June 23, 1864, there is a death certificate registered in the town of Sutton, Vermont, but Nathan is not listed in the town clerk's burial records. A search of Sutton cemeteries and available records failed to locate a cenotaph.
Scans of original letter and transcript provided by Harman Clark, Sheffield, Vermont. Permission to publish on the website given by descendants Karl and William Webster.