1864-65: Alonzo Reed Letters

Alonzo Reed was an African American soldier from Spring Wells, Michigan who served as a private in the 102nd Regiment Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.

Alonzo’s letters have been donated to the Rubenstein Library at Duke University. This collection “consists entirely of 21 personal letters [eight transcribed here] from an African American Union soldier, Alonzo Reed, written to his mother while stationed in South Carolina during the latter part of the Civil War. Some of the letters were written by Reed, some by other individuals, and indicate that Reed’s regiment was often on picket duty, though they also provide some descriptions of warfare and the ransacking of plantations during marches. A brief sketch of the letters is also included in the collection folder.

“Reed, who was nearly illiterate, provides brief insights into daily camp life in terms of references of illnesses, hunger, not being paid for many months, life as a soldier in the midst of war, and the desire to have news, photos, and writing supplies from home. Reed occasionally refers to the reception they received from both whites and blacks in the South. He also writes about fixing railroad supply lines and utilizing surrendered Confederate soldiers to aid in this work. In November 1864, he inquires as to whether African American men are being allowed to vote in the North and indicates that they are in the South.”

Only the first letter shown here was actually penned by Reed. The others were written by others for him.

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 10.10.58 PM


Winnsboro [South Carolina]
August 14, 1864

Dear Mother,

I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well and I hope these few lines to find you in your same health and tell Jane that I send my love and to [ ] of my friend and tell them I [will] come home in two months. The regiment is come home and the City of Chester. It don’t like to see a negro soldier and we did have to fire and kill two men and then the rest of the city is in prison and put some of the men in prison and put the captain under arrest.

And tell Mr. and Mrs. Gray I send my love to her and tell my aunt I send my love to her and I read a paper and some postage stamps and was glad to get them. The colored people is glad to see us.

All [for the] present. Not to write me till I write again. If we don’t start home in two weeks, I will write to you.


September 2nd 1864

Dear Mother,

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well at present and hope that these few lines may find you the same. I received your kind letter and was glad to hear from you. I would have written to you before but the regiment went out on an expedition and did not have time to write any before we went.

We left Beaufort on the first day of August and went to Hilton Head and stayed all night and then took the boat and went to Jacksonville and stayed there all night and in the morning before daylight, marched twenty miles till we came to a little place called Baldwin and stayed there about two weeks and then we started out for a tramp. We then marched one hundred and fifty miles in five days at the rate of five miles an hour—that is, he walked us that fast, and the sun was hot as an oven and one of our men give out and our Major [Newcomb Clark] grabbed him by the belt and hit him over the head with his sword and then galloped his horse off and dragged him a half of mile. We marched in mud and water up to our waist.

John Thompson has got relieved from that sentence. The court wasn’t sworn when he was tried on the 30th of August. I was at Hilton Head and I saw some men that seen him. We could not get off of the boat. He is well and sends his love to his folks.

Mother, tell Mr. and Mrs. Gray that I am well and send my best respects to them and hope they will find them the same. Give my respects to Mrs. Hughbanks and Oliver Hughbanks. That I send my love to them and also to Charley. The reason I did not send you that money was because I could not get to anyplace where there was any post office and I was afraid to trust it with any person and that is the reason why I did not send it. I had the money drew up in an envelope and the captain of or company told me that it wouldn’t be safe to send it until we got to some place where there was a post office. I would have sent my likeness but didn’t have time.

We arrived at Beaufort about eleven o’clock and the next day had to pack up and leave. I would like to have you send your likeness, my sisters, and aunt and brother and Dessey and nothing more. Direct your letters to Beaufort Island, South Carolina.

102nd USCT


September 19, 1864

Dear Mother,

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well at present and hope that these few lines may find you the same. Mr. James Robison, a sergeant in our company, and myself are a going to send our likenesses to you. The reason I had it taken so rough is I was on business in town and I did not have time to fix up any. I am a going to have it taken again. It will be a little better. Tell Mrs. Thompson that I have seen Jim and they talk of letting him out. He is well and sends his best respects to you all. John sends his love to you and he is wishing to have his mother write to him as soon as she receives these lines reach her. Direct your letters to me. No more at present.

— Alonzo Reed, 102nd US Colored Troops, Beaufort, S. C.


Coosaw [South Carolina]
October 24th 1864

Dear Mother,

I take this present opportunity to write a few lines to [say] that I am well and hope these few lines will find you the same. I received your letter the 23rd of this month. Was glad to hear from home, I [have] been on picket about all the time. I could not get it [my likeness] taken. I will get it taken just as soon as I can get time. In your next letter, let me know whether you received my likeness I sent you. You may expect some money by the next mail, We will be paid off by that time.

John Thompson sends his love to his mother. He is now at Shell Bridge where he can’t send. It is sickly down here in this department with the fever. Most of our regiment is down sick with the fever. Tell James I saw some of his friends down here. He used  to be drayman with him. Give my love to Miss Gray and Mrs. Hubanks.

This from your son, — Alonzo Reed

Direct your letters to Beaufort, S. C., 102d United States Col. Comp. E


Coosaw, S. C.
January 4, 1865

Dear Mother,

I thought I would write a few lines to you that I am well at present and I hope these few lines may find you the same. Just one year ago today I was mustered into the service of the United States. I am in for three years. You need not send that box you was a going to send because I can’t get it. If the box was to come, I could not get short of three months. Our boys are not come in yet off the raid. Our boys are still shelling yet. Sherman is doing a big thing. Sherman has not got Savannah yet.

I want you to tell my sister she is taking her time about sending her likeness. I should like to have you to send me the Republican paper. We are on picket yet. We can’t tell how long we will stay—probably not for two months.

Tell Mr. Gray and Mrs. Gray I send my love to them. I want you to tell James I think he is doing well. About writing to me, I will always remember him. No more at present. Give my love toeverybody.

— A. Reed

Direct your letters to Beaufort, South Carolina, 102nd United States Col. Comp. E


Charleston, South Carolina
February 25, 1865

Dear Mother,

I seat myself in a very fine house in the city to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope when this reaches it may find you enjoying the same state of health. I am having a very nice time here with the girls but we have had pretty hard marching through the state to different points until we reached here. We have ransacked every plantation on our way and burnt up everything we could not carry away.

The next time I send you any money I will send it by express. Give my love to all enquiring friends. I have no news to write now as we have not been here long enough to learn. Answer soon and let me know all the news about the city.

No more at present but remain your son, — A. Reed

Co. E, 102nd USCT, Charleston, S.C.


Savannah, Georgia
March the 21st 1865

My dear mother,

I now take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to inform you of my health which is very good at present and I truly hope these few lines may find you and the rest of the family enjoying the same blessing.

We have been on a long march of 93 miles from Deveaux’s Neck, [S.C.], to Charlestown.  There we stayed about 2 weeks. Then we had orders to pack up and march down to the dock and take the boat for Savannah. We marched down to the dock which was the distance of four miles. There we waited for awhile till the order came for us to turn around ad march back to the camp which we had just left and this we did not like very well before we got away on the boat. We marched backwards and forwards 3 times and at last my company had to stay back for 2 or 3 days but at last we were all at Savannah, Georgia. Here we are doing camp fatigue, picket, and provost duty.

Savannah, Georgia, is a nice place and there are a great many colored people here and seem to enjoy themselves very well since the colored soldiers have been here. Charleston, S. C. has been a very nice place once in time but now it looks horrible—knocked all to pieces by the shells from our gun boats.

No more at present. Only I still remain your affectionate son, — Alonzo Reed

Company E, 102nd USCT


Summerville, South Carolina
May 15, 1865

Dear Mother,

It is with pleasure that I embrace the present opportunity to address you a few lines to inform you of my health. I am well at present and hope that these few lines may find you the same.

I have been on a raid through interior of South Carolina and destroyed all of the cotton in the state and we burned the gins and brought six thousand contrabands to Charleston.

We are camped at Summerville, S. C. and we are getting along as well as can be expected for soldiers. God knows when we will get paid. We have got 8 months pay coming….

— Alonzo Reed, Co. E, 102nd USCT, Charleston, SC

6 thoughts on “1864-65: Alonzo Reed Letters”

  1. Hello! Did you find these transcriptions alongside Reed’s letters at the Rubenstein Library and the collection description? If so, I transcribed all twenty-one of these letters, wrote the collection description, and submitted them to the library! This is wonderful to see Reed’s name and letters coming to light!


    1. I did get the images of the letters from the Libraries website and lifted the summary of the collection too which I put in quotes, but the transcriptions are mine. I was asked by a young man named Maurice Imhoff (a re-enactor honoring Reed’s regiment, I think) to transcribe them because he could not read the handwritten letters and he told me that the Rubenstein Library had NOT transcribed them. I have to confess, when I went to the site, I could not find the transcriptions either or I would not have transcribed them. Maurice told me he had asked for the library for transcriptions & was told they were not done yet, or some such response. If there is a link to the transcriptions on the Library’s website, it is not obvious. Yes, they are great letters and deserve exposure. If you could share the link to the transcription of all of Reed’s letters, I think readers would appreciate it. — Griff


      1. Hi Griff! I actually transcribed the letters in 2017 and submitted them to the library shortly after. I have spoken with Maurice who let me know the transcriptions were not available. They were mistakenly placed alongside another collection. I spoke with library personnel a couple of months ago. They are now in the proper place, but I do not believe they are available in digital format. I researched and wrote extensively about Reed for my doctoral dissertation. The dissertation is in the process of being published via ProQuest. I have promised to send the transcriptions to Maurice and will do that today. The Rubenstein Library purchased the letters from an antique dealer in 1937. The letters were not encoded until 2014! I’m not sure why as there was no embargo of any sort. I am in the process of gathering more genealogical information about Reed’s life before enlistment. It appears he was enslaved.


      2. Sherri. Good information. It’s a shame the transcriptions have not yet been posted by Duke University but at least they have the letter images posted. Your work should be shared with others. I’m sure I would enjoy reading your dissertation if you would be wiling to share it with me. I couldn’t find much genealogical information of Reed on-line but confess I didn’t have time to search long. Enslavement would account for his absence in census records, &c. I’ve owed Maurice a response for quite a long time and frankly forgot to get back to it. I transcribe hundreds of CW letters every week and have so many projects in the works and on the back burner that I fear I’ll never get them done. I’m not familiar with Pro-Quest. Will your research be publicly available when they publish it? Congrats on your doctorate. You may want to follow me on Spared & Shared Facebook which will keep you informed of my projects. — Griff

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed reading all of Alonzo Reed’s letters. The transcript of the first sentence of the second paragraph in the letter written from Savannah on March 21, 1865 reads “ We have been on a long march of 93 miles from D[ ] Neck…. “. D[ ] Neck is Deveaux’s Neck , SC , where an engagement was fought from December 6 -9 , 1864 in an unsuccessful attempt by Union forces to cut the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. The 102nd USCT participated in this action which is known by several names including the Battle of Deveaux’s Neck and the Battle of Tulifinny .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s