1862-63: William Suydam to Sister

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A post-war photograph of Sidney Blackwell Suydam (1833-1905) who served with his brother William in Co. F, 9th New Jersey. Sidney lost a couple of fingers on his right hand in 1869 when a cannon prematurely discharged during the Northwest Colored Emigration Society Convention held in Prescott, Wisconsin. 

These letters were written by William Suydam (1825-1864) of Co. F, 9th New Jersey Volunteers. The regiment got its nickname, Jersey Muskrats, during the Battle of Roanoke Island when they successfully “sloshed through shoe sucking mud into waist deep water in ‘division’ formation”, giving the regiment a two company front flanking the enemy. The regiment was the last to leave the state in 1861 but the first to see battle.

The 9th took part in the Burnside Expedition into North Carolina. The regiment remained in North Carolina with the occupation force until early 1864 when the first enlistment was up. In January 1864 the regiment went back to New Jersey where more than 50% of those whose three-year term was about to expire reenlisted. This allowed the regiment to add “Veteran” to the name—a mark of distinction for the men. Those who reenlisted for three more years were given a 30-day veteran furlough. The regiment then moved into Virginia leading to the Siege of Petersburg.

Suydam was wounded in the shoulder at Drewry’s Bluff on 16 May 1864 and died on 16 June 1864 at Fortress Monroe Hospital.

William was the son of Christopher Suydam (1799-1874) and Jemima Blackwell (1804-1836) of Hopewell, Mercer county, New Jersey. William’s father was a minister of the Old School Baptist Church in Hopewell. William’s brother, Sidney Blackwell Suydam (1833-1905), also served with him in the same company. Sidney survived the war and mustered out of the service in July 1865. William is buried at the Hampton National Cemetery under the name “William Surdam.”

See also—1862: William Suydam to Sister on Spared & Shared 17.

[Note: These photocopied letters are from the private collection of Dave Suydam, the great-grandson of William Suydam’s brother Sidney (who served with William in the same company) and are published here by express consent.]


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE

Havelock Station North Carolina
July 18th 1862

Dear Sister,

Yours of the 22nd June come to hand 7th instant and we were truly glad to hear from you and that you enjoyed your usual health. I take the first opportunity of answering it. It takes a long time for a letter to go or come now—about as long as it does to cross the Atlantic. We are here yet in this nigger country. How long we will stay here, the Lord only knows. I did think sometime ago the war was nearly to a close, but now it looks as though the day was quite distant. But I have not the least doubt but we shall conquer and in such a way that it won’t have to be done again. When McClellan gets reenforced and makes a dash at them, he will rub them out entirely. But I dread to hear it when I think how many valuable lives must be sacrificed to accomplish it. It is horrible to think how many brave boys have been slaughtered in front of Richmond already. If it were not for the union men and our prisoners there, I’d like to see a charge of powder heavy enough put under the accursed city to blow it and all there is in it to pieces.

We have had no official report of the last battle. The last papers we have had was the 4th July. By them we learn that McClellan has got his army just where he wants it and out of danger. The loss is said to be very great but it is to be hoped not so great as represented. I see the Jersey boys were in the mid[dle] as usual and were badly cut to pieces. The 4th Regiment having only 80 men left. I was well acquainted with several of the officers and men that were killed.

It makes my blood boil while I am writing when I think how it come about that so many of our noblest sons must be murdered to accommodate a few aspiring politicians. But a day of reckoning is coming when I hope they will get hemp.

We are here yet guarding the railroad. We have got the bridges rebuilt and the road in good order. And since the middle of June, the old iron horse has sneaked through and though he was afraid of Mosby rebels in particular. For three or four weeks past, they have shown symptoms that they would like to get possession of the road and us too. Last Monday night week our outside pickets were attacked and driven in. There were 8 or 10 shots fired, but no one hurt on our side. It’s been so dark and you could not not see much further than the end of a gun. If the rascals were any of them hurt or killed, they were taken away.  The boys were out in less than no time expecting every minute the devils would rush out of the woods onto us. [But] as we expected, the few that attacked the pickets were only a reconnaissance. We waited until nearly daylight and as they did not show themselves, we laid down on our arms to rest—-but not many of us to sleep, expecting at daylight they would pitch in. But they did not come. We began to think they were only trying to scare us. But just after breakfast, we saw a darkey coming on a mule as if Old Nick was after him—the mule making as big time as Flora Temple or Old [George M.] Patchen [and] the darkey’s eyes sticking out like saucers—saying the road and woods two or three miles back of us were full of rebels and marching on to us. I tell you what, we were out in a hurry in line of battle in about as little time as it takes to write this. Shortly the road was lined with darkeys, mules, dogs, and wenches coming to us for protection. Some of them said there were a 1000 men—some more, some less. Quite a fix for us seventy men, some of them sick [and] not able to be up.

Every man looked well to his rifle as he well knew it all depended on them and the bayonet. There was a short council of war held when the captain sent 4 of the stoutest darks on a hand car to our regiment 8 miles below us for reinforcements. They got there in time to meet the up train when 2 companies jumped aboard and were up here in two hours from the time the alarm was given. Things began look better. One company stayed here. Our company and the other one started to meet the scoundrels but they found out the darks had got the start of them and we were ready for them. They concluded to get what plunder they could and get away. There is a large plantation which the owner left after the battle of Newbern, since occupied by his slaves—the same ones that gave us the alarm. They robbed the darks of everything they could carry. They carried off 6 darks, 6 mules, all the darks’ clothing, what money they had—-some of them had $15, some $20, others more or less [that] they had got for [selling] pies & cakes, and for washing for us. They left the old decrepit darks that would be of no use to them, but not until they stripped them of their clothes and left their dirty rags in place of them. They must be pretty hard up to take the clothes off old lousey niggers and put them right on. ¹

They had been gone about an hour when we got there. They had made a road through a swamp and round a lake were we had thought they could not get through. They left their horses on the other side and waded through, mud nearby up to their necks. There were only 175 of them. Many of them had shot guns and old muskets. If they had come on that night, we would have given them a warm reception. But if we could have met them next day, we would have given particular thunder. 

[unsigned]

¹ William is referring to an incident that occurred on 23-24 June 1862. When the reconnaissance was made toward the Lewis’ Plantation. it was found that the large force of dismounted Confederate cavalry had withdrawn after plundering the place and taking the money and clothes from the resident negroes. Company F, of which William was a member, commenced and completed the block house at Havelock Station and remained on duty there most of the summer.


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO

Camp Reno, Newbern, N. C.
Co. F. 9th N. J. V.
December 29th 1862

Esteemed Friend,

I have long had a desire to write to you and to hear from you but knowing any inability to write any thing interesting, I have put it off from time to time. I often think of the pleasant hours I have spent in your society & of what I have heard you say of the joys and comforts of religion. I have not always been indifferent or thoughtless as you might suppose by what you have heard me say on the subject.  I recollect once saying to you that I did not believe in a future punishment but that a man’s conscience was his guide and if he done what he thought was right off would be well. The Lord knows how hard I tried to believe it, but it is hard recoiling a guilty conscience. I have tried as hard as any poor sinner ever did to do something to merit eternal life, but I have been led to believe if I am ever saved, it will be through the mercy of God—not for anything I have done. 

I am sometimes led to believe the Lord has pardoned my sins and appears to [paper creased] and I wonder the Lord has not cut me down long ago. I again think it a delusion because I have not had the same trouble and trials that Christians have. But in all the dangers I have passed both by sea and on the battlefield, I have always felt unconcerned and felt if I were called away, all would be well. But afterward I fear it is all a delusion. I sometimes think it is a blessed thing that I ever entered the army as I never before saw [paper creased]. I am preserved from these sins. I have God here on to be thankful. I often think I would give anything to hearing dear old Father preach one of his old fashioned sermons he used to preach on experimental religion. No doubt you recollect some of them. But whether I shall ever see or hear from Father & Mother again, it is hard telling. I have not heard from them since April 1861. They were then living where the war has been raging ever since. 

Long before this reaches you, no doubt you will see an account of the Foster Expedition that left the 11th December to destroy the Wilmington & Goldsboro Railroad and bridge  which is one of the connections of the south with Virginia. We fought two hard battles & with the one there was three besides a number of skirmishes. We got back to Newbern the 20th [at] 8 o’clock in the evening, as near used up as any set of fellows ever were.  I tell you what, it is it is a good deal like work to march 20 & 25 miles a day, often mud & water knee deep, fighting & skirmishing nearly everyday, sleep out with the earth for a bed—in the morning our blankets were white with frost—sometimes within a few hundred yards of the enemy. [paper creased]….official account & shall not until we get the New York papers. We don’t know much what is going on outside of our own regiment. The only wonder is we did not lose more as we were on the advance all the way through. There were several regiments with us that were in the Seven Days Battle before Richmond. They said they never had harder marching or fighting in Virginia than they had here. 

I have been through five battles and all kinds of hardships. I never enjoyed better health than I have since I have been in the service with the exception of chills. I was 6 weeks in the hospital which is the only time but what I could go ahead. Taking it all together, I like soldiering as well as anything I ever done. When it comes to fighting it is pretty rough with the exception that we have about work enough to do to give us good appetite for grub. Sometimes we have plenty to eat and that is good but sometimes not so good as it might be. But we get as good as we deserve. I am thankful we get what we do. we have good tents with stoves, and with two blankets apiece we manage to keep comfortable.

You must excuse the way this is tumbled together as it is a hard matter for one to write or think as he wants to in a tent where there is a dozen fellows romping & pitching around you, with nothing to write on but a board across your knees for desk and the ground for a seat. One of the greatest comforts a soldier has is tobacco and we have to pay well for it. Chewing tobacco costs 1¼ dollars a pound, smoking 1.00 dollar [and] not very good at that. Anything we buy here costs a big price.

The only pastime I take interest in is reading the New Testament and the Psalms—particularly the 23rd.

I don’t know of anything of much interest so I will close. Give respects to the Harborton forks & the rest of the friends. My best wishes for yourself & family. Don’t fail to write soon to your friend.

Wm. Suydam

[ ] M Holcombe

Direct [to] William Suydam, Co. F, 9th N. J. Vol., Newbern N. C., Via N. York.


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE

St. Helena Island, South Carolina
February 16th 1863

Dear Sister,

Your welcome letter of January 9th came to hand 29th, the day after I wrote to you. We were then on board the steamer bound no one knew where. I should have written sooner but I have been waiting to find out where we were going and what we were doing. It is hard telling yet. 

We left Beaufort Harbor, North Carolina, [on] January 30th. We had a pretty rough time out at sea. [We] anchored in Port Royal Harbor 1st February, opposite this Island—about 50 miles south of Charleston. We lay in the harbor a week waiting and expecting to light somewhere, but the whole expedition was ordered shore. Gen. Foster—it is rumored—went to Washington for orders or something else. That appears to be the order of the day now—strange way of doing business that. It appears to me there is no one to depend on or no one knows what to do. There is at least 50,000 men encamped around here idle—well, they might as well be. We have fine weather—rather warm some of the time, some days uncomfortable. Any quantity of niggers employed by the government raising cotton, &c. It is said there is a negro regiment on the island but I [have] not seen any of them.

They grow the finest cotton here of anyplace in the United States. This is the place where they raise the Sea Island cotton. The country here is all islands—the finest kind of land. If it was near Trenton, New Jersey, it would be worth 200 dollars an acre. Where it is, I would not have it for a gift. There is any quantity of oranges growing here but they are poor and sour. [It would] make you squeal to bite one. They look pretty to see them growing. You may calculate it is pretty warm for oranges to grow and not cold enough to hurt them. It must be very hot here in the summer. The most beautiful tree I ever saw is the Palmetto.

The box you sent has not come yet but it will be along some of these days. Some of our boys get boxes that have been on the way eight months. Woolsey Blackwell writes he has heard from our parents through Mrs. Spencer Weart and she from her son. They were encamped within three miles of them but did not know it in time to go and see them. He saw a man that lived near them who seen them the day before. He stated they were at the same place and doing well. I and Sid are enjoying good health for which I desire to be thankful and for every other blessing we enjoy. May we all live that when we come to die we may all meet in that bright world above where we shall praise our redeemer forever and ever.

You talked of publishing my letter. You can use your pleasure. I did not think it very interesting. I think there is a good many words and sentences would look rather odd in print [but] if you do, send me a paper or two.

The mail leaves here this afternoon for Hilton Head.

Write soon to your affectionate brother, — Wm Suydam

Mr. V. [and] Mrs. C. A. Wambough

Direct [to] Newbern, N. C. put the 9th New Jersey plain and it will come correct.

It is the impression here that we will go back to N. C.


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR

St. Helena Island, [South Carolina]
March 7th 1863
Co. F, 9th Reg. N. J. V.

Dear Sister,

Through the mercies of God, my live is spared and [I am] permitted to enjoy good health and many other temporal blessings for which I have great reason to be thankful. But above all, for spiritual blessings and promises to us guilty sinners. May the Lord teach me to rely on His promises, know His will, and do it. 

I received yours of 8th Feb the 24th. The stamps [came] all right. Yesterday the long looked for box come to hand, everything in good style—chicken, apples, cakes, and pepper rotten. The large can of pickles [leaked,] the vinegar worked out and [bottom of page cut off]…little can of pickles, the top was loose and wizzed when I took it off. The preserves were first rate—as good as when put up. One can of tomato was good. The other I have not opened yet. The butter was musty, but by scraping off the outside, there was a little we could eat, but it is not very good. I know it must have been first rate when it was put up. The dried apples are a little musty [and] so are the cherries. Some of the boys got boxes [with] everything spoiled. I am much obliged to you as much so as if every[thing] was good. I come out better than the boys that had all spoiled as we all had to pay fifty cents freight—the cost from Newbern to Hilton Head.

We are here yet holding ourselves in readiness to leave at minute’s notice. [There are] all kinds of reports. Some say we are going to Savannah, others back to North Carolina. For my part, I don’t pretend to know and I don’t care if they would [only] do something to settle the war. When it will end, the Lord knows. May He hasten it on is my prayer. 

We have very changeable weather—some days so hot we can hardly stand it. Then again it is so cold we want fire. But most of the time it is warm. Peach and cherry trees are in bloom.

It is reported that our forces have taken Vicksburg. How true it is, we don’t know or won’t until we get the N. Y. papers. Not much dependance to put them as we don’t get any here but the N. Y. Herald and that is the best secesh paper north or south. I have so bad opinion of it, I scarcely believe the local news in it. Old [James Gordon] Bennett [the editor] ought to be hung with a few more of the same stripe [up] North. But if they think there is no here [bottom of letter cut off]…I don’t know of anything new or interesting.

Write soon to your affectionate brother, Wm. Suydam

Mr. V. & Mrs. C. A. Wambough

Direct [to] Port Royal, South Carolina.

It is likely we shall go farther south than other ways.


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE

Hammond Hospital
Beaufort, North Carolina
September 4, 1863

Dear Sister,

You will see by the heading of this I am in the same place I was a year ago. I have been on the sick list all summer—not exactly sick or well, but just good for nothing, doing duty part of the time. A week ago today the doctor sent me here to recruit up. I am considerable better. I felt better as soon as I [illegible] water (conceit will do a great deal you know). I have a salt water bath every day, a good bed to sleep on, and pretty good food. I had ought to gain. I am content knowing I have done my duty in serving my country and helping to put down this cursed rebellion.

My trust is in the God of battles whose strong arm has given me many victories. I feel as confident of success as ever. One stronghold after another has come down and probably before this Charleston (the Sodom of America) has surrendered or been destroyed. The last accounts we heard from there is they were bombarding Fort Sumter and she was caving in [paper creased]…If in place of the old scoundrel Buchanan we had such a Democrat president as Gen. Jackson who 30 years ago told the secessionists of Charleston he would hang every one of the as high as Haman, what a disgrace the name as Democrat to call such men as Buchanan, Jeff Davis, Floyd, Vallandigham, Seymour, Wood, Jim Wall, and a score of others I could name. There is no Democracy about them. They are a set of aspiring politicians who are trying to break up one of the best governments in the world and establish a despotic government of their own—but they never can. What rights of the South have ever been invaded?  They have always, with one or two exceptions, had a president of their own choosing, a majority in congress, a fugitive slave law, and all other laws to suit themselves. 

But when the majority of the people elected Lincoln, many of them knew their term of office was out and the determined to have a government of their own. How well they have succeeded, we all know. How an American citizen living North can aid and encourage the rebels by abusing the administration and discouraging enlistments is more than I can tell. The leaders of the democratic or copperhead party North no doubt know what they intend to try to do—to elect a president to suit themselves and the South and go hand and heart with the rebels. They have beguiled many well-meaning people and induced them to turn against the government and trying to dishearten the soldiers already in the field who have left home and friends and everything dear to them to fight for the Union and the old flag that our Revolutionary Fathers fought and bled to sustain and which the rebels are trying to destroy. The ignorant masses are easily led and excited as was the case with the New York rioters. But where was Vallandigham, Wood, Thain, Jim Wall, and others? Out of harms way after counseling them to resist the draft and exciting their worst fears and passions by telling them Old Abe intended to make them fight for the nigger and make slaves of their wives and children. A friend writing to me from the North says he hopes I will soon be home to help hang the Copperheads (if not with hemp) with scorn and contempt. 

Another friend writing says it seems to be enough to crush the spirit of our soldiers to find so much selfishness and ingratitude among the men. They think we never shouldered a gun or marched a mile in our nation’s defense. It would crush their [   ] not believe that with all the [     ness] manifested, there is yet an overwhelming majority of truly patriotic sentiments in the country that will see justice done them, and enough of the lusty haggards that have lain so long at home, enjoying the luxuries of peace, not compelled to do a part of the hard and dangerous work that they have been performing. They [the soldiers] have reason to feel indignant that all the burdens of the war should be thrust upon them—as if they had no friends or families to leave, no business to abandon, no losses to sustain, no limbs and lives to lose when they enlisted and went to camp and to the field as soldiers of the United States. Many people North think the Conscription Act is wrong and the President has no right to draft men to fill up the army, but he certainly has a right. The secessionists have their conscript law and have enforced it to the letter ever since the war broke out. [Up] North, they have their choice to volunteer or be drafted and get a substitute and stay at home themselves. [Down] South, they have no choice. They are drafted and made to go in the front.

I would like to see them [in the] South jump up and say they won’t stand drafting. I was reading a few days ago in a southern paper an order enforcing the Conscript Law. First, if a man should absent himself from his home to avoid this order, burn his house and other property. Second, if a man is found to resist the execution of this order by refusing to report, shoot him down and leave him lying. Third, if a man takes refuge in his house and offers resistance, set fire to his house, and guard it well, that the recreant may not get out. Such is the liberty the Southern people are fighting for. 

Our regiment has been hammered round a good deal this summer. They have had several hard marches and skirmishes [and] there are a great many sick. They have been in barracks above New Bern all summer in a very unhealthy place. They are now encamped by Carolina City four miles from here on the banks of Bogue Sound. They are now in a healthy place with a fine sea breeze. Several have died. What great cause have I to be thankful to God for preserving my life and preserving me through dangers by land and sea and on the battlefield where I have seen my companions fall around me. Surely mercy has followed me all my days. I feel that I can say the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. 

I had a letter from Elizabeth a few days ago. They were all well. She said she thought of making you a visit this month. I hope she may. I should like to meet her there but I don’t expect to get to Jersey before my time is out which will soon roll round as I have but little over a year to stay. If we never have the privilege of meeting on earth again, may we be so happy as to meet around our Father’s throne where sorrow and parting are feared and felt no more. I have not heard Suydam since May. Sidney is very well. It is pleasant weather here now. It has been very hot this summer. The thermometer as high as 115 in the shade. My love to Charles and the children and a good share to yourself and write whenever you can to your affectionate brother, — Wm. Suydam

Direct William Suydam, Co. F. 9th N. J. V., Newbern N. C.

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