Perry, Edwin
Correspondence of Pvt. Edwin Perry, of Co C, 11th Rhode Island Infantry Volunteers, to his brother, 1862-1863

18 letters, 65 manuscript pages dated 4 December 1862 to 23 June 1863; Perry writes all 18 letters to his brother from various locations and camps during the Civil War. The collection also includes: 1 “Muster Roll of Company C of the 11th Regiment of Rhode Island Vols,” measures approximately 30” x 20”, printed form, completed in manuscript with the names and rank of the men of the company, as well as when, where, and by whom they were enrolled and for what period of time. Includes the names of 81 soldiers of the rank of private, plus an additional 18 names of officers, musician, wagoner, etc. 1 cabinet card black and white photograph of Edwin Perry when he was older, not dated, photo measures approximately 4” x 6”, inscription on rear reads “Uncle Edwin Perry.”

       Pvt. Edwin Perry (1844- aft 1880)

Edwin Perry was born about 1844, the son of Daniel Bliss Perry (1802-1879) and Lydia Ann Carpenter (1805-1883) of Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts. Edwin learned the trade of manufacturing bobbins (occupation called “turner”) for cotton factories from his father.

     For some reason, Edwin did not join the other boys from Rehoboth in Company H of the 40th Massachusetts. Rather, he enlisted in Company C, 11th Rhode Island Infantry. He enlisted as a private in Providence, Rhode Island, on 22 September 1862. He mustered into Co C, of the 11th Rhode Island Infantry. When his time in the military was up, he mustered out of service on 13 July 1863.

    Perry married Ella J. Perry (1851-19xx) sometime after the war and continued to reside and carry on the family business in the vicinity of Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

 

       11th Rhode Island Infantry Volunteers

    The regiment was organized in Providence, Rhode Island and mustered into service on October 1, 1862 for a nine months term of service. It was initially commanded by Colonel Edwin Metcalf, then by Colonel Horatio Rogers Jr., and finally by George Earl Church for the remainder of its service.

    The regiment left Rhode Island for Washington, D.C. on October 6. Attached to Military District of Washington D.C. to December, 1862. District of Alexandria, Defences of Washington, and 22nd Army Corps, to April, 1863. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 7th Army Corps, Department of Virginia, to June, 1863. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 4th Army Corps, Department of Virginia to July, 1863.

    Duty at East Capitol Hill, Fort Ethan Allen and Miner's Hill, Defences of Washington, till January 14, 1863. Guard duty at Convalescent Camp till April 15. Moved to Norfolk, thence to Suffolk April 15–19. Siege of Suffolk April 19-May 4. Siege of Suffolk raised May 4. Expedition to destroy Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad and Seaboard & Roanoke Railroad May 16–27. Expedition to Blackwater June 12–18. Moved to Norfolk June 19, thence to Yorktown, and to Williamsburg June 22. Duty at Williamsburg till June 30. Left Yorktown for home July 2. Mustered out July 13, 1863.

        Sample Quotations:

 

Encampment of Guards [Camp of Distribution near Alexandria, Va.]

February 8, 1863

 

My Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 26th and 28th is received — also a letter from father of the 27th ultimo. All three arrived the same evening. I am ailing somewhat today so that the doctor excused me from duty today. Night before last I did not get any sleep and was out four hours in a snow storm. I suppose I overdone but as shall not be on duty until Friday again, I shall try to be all right then.

The weather here for the last few days has neither been one thing or another. It rains, snows, hails, and fair weather — all in five minutes. Day before yesterday there was a fair-sized battle fought in the vicinity of Clouds Mills about three miles from here. Some of the New York regiments which were situated on Upton’s Hill when father was here had an inkling in the matter.

You wished to know if my hair continues to fall off. It does! I expect it will all come off.

Co. K is a city company — the Second Christian Association. I like this detached service better than being with my regiment because here there are no dress parades, no knapsack inspections, and no guard around the camp to keep us in, besides numerous little things which we are not obliged to do here.

Since the regiment was paid off in February, the restrictions on the camp have been [made] rigid. No one can pass off or on without a pass. Bayonets will not stop the men as they would in Dexter training grounds but bullets will.

Enclosed I send you the soldier’s prayer. I don’t mean the one he says when he has to turn out in the middle of a stormy night to do four hours guard duty, but the one that is used on common occasions.

How does the new conscriptions law go down with the Northern inhabitants? Have you seen this conundrum? “Why is the government currency like the ancient Israelites?” - “Because they are the issue of Abraham’s and know not their redeemer.”

I should have sent you my picture some time ago if it had not been for some humor sores on my face. As soon as they get well, I will get one taken.

Thirty more skedadles [in this case, Union deserters] arrived yesterday from Fort McHenry, Baltimore. Some had no change of clothing or blankets and but two had overcoats. Some were dressed in citizen’s clothing.

Your affectionate brother, Edwin Perry”

“Camp of Guards at Camp Distribution [near Alexandria, Va.]

February 15, 1863

 

My Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 9th ultimo is received. Glad to hear from you often.

Last night the second lieutenant who has command now, put me on guard between the hours of one and five for a difference in opinion which we had for a few days. I stood it very well although it deprived me of sleep nearly all the night. I did not receive the order until nine o’clock and I did not get to sleep until nearly eleven. I shall get an excuse from the doctor today and then he can go his length. It commenced to rain last night about dark continuing until now. I understood that a new colonel is soon to take command of the regiment. Hope he may stay longer than the other.

There are many rumors afloat concerning our joining the southern expedition but I place but little reliance on them. We are now going down the hill of our time and them men are beginning to count the days when they reach home. They have all seen the elephant, the romance of war, and are now ready to go home. The sick call has been numerous this week — a great many being sick with a cold.

Our quarters are now in the best of condition — all the condemned tents being substituted for new ones. All those in the distribution camp have to sleep on the ground. This causes a great amount of sickness. The doctor who has charge of the camp does things up in a hurry. For instance, a morning at sick call perhaps a hundred men are drawn up in line waiting their turn. The guard lets in the first man.

Dr: What the matter with you?

Soldier: I have a severe pain in my side, Sir.

Dr: Give him some liniment. Next.

Dr: What’s the matter with you?

Soldier: I have rupture, Sir.

Dr: Who told you you had a rupture. There is nothing the matter with you. Like to go to the convalescent camp again suppose! Clear out! Don’t you let me catch you here again. If I do I will put you in the guard house.

This is the way he examines perhaps sixty men in an hour. In fact, he has now more mercy for a man than I would have for a beast.

My hair is fast falling off my head. Would you have it cut off and run the risk of catching cold or let it remain?

I see you have sent me a box of rations. I suppose it will reach me tomorrow. Such things are always acceptable.

Day after tomorrow we shall have one hours and a half drill every other day. This is rushing things some if not more. I don’t know but he will try to make me drill but I think I shall go to the guard house first. The participants in the fight of which I wrote recently have been sent to the slave pens in Alexandria for the rest of their time. These two companies have nothing but soft bread draw that which is baked every day. Fresh beef three times per week.

No more this time. From your affectionate brother, — Edwin Perry”

“Camp of Guards at Camp of Distribution [near Alexandria, Va.]

February 18, 1863

 

My Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 14th ultimo is received — also a box from you, for which receive my thanks.

I think everything arrived safe although the box was broke open on the way and nothing remained of the address except Co. C, 11th Regiment. My name was found on something inside. I received a piece of cheese, a pail of butter, a nice cake, five pies, a lot of apples, a jug of vinegar, a box of mustard, a paper of pepper, a bar of soap, some pins, thread and yarn, a lot of wine crackers, and a chicken. I think this is all. This is a very serviceable box — butter, cheese, and spices are the things. Today there has two more boxes arrived in the mess and we are having a merry time of it.

My strength is gaining everyday so that I am now on duty. Day before yesterday I was on the third relief guarding prisoners. Today I am on the same relief a guard at headquarters. All I have to do is to stand at the door and stop men without shoulder straps from going inside.

Yesterday it snowed all day and today the rain is carrying it off. I stood four hours yesterday in a snowstorm. And now let me say a word in regard to the three reliefs. The first and second go on at nine in the morning and stay until five at night at which time the third relief go on and stay until nine o’clock and are not again called out until five o’clock this morning. This gives us the whole night to sleep.

We have an odd way of keeping prisoners here.¹ Two posts are placed firmly in the ground to which a rope is stretched across. To this the men are handcuffed. This gives them the liberty of walking back and forth perhaps ten feet.

We cannot get passes to go to Alexandria now except on business. My nerves are getting stronger so that I can look and see teeth pulled and dug out without my heart’s jumping. Dr. [Moses S.] Eldredge of our mess is doing considerable business. Yesterday he dug out a tooth while the person was under the influence of ether.

I have not received a letter from home for two weeks. I am afraid the letters have been miscarried or delayed in some way. Rumors of the regiment’s moving continue but no one seems to know. If we move again, I shall throw away everything but my blanket and perhaps a spare shirt. Carrying a knapsack causes the heart disease which prevails to such an extent in the army.

I want you to send me two or three pens of Potter & Hammonds, or some fine quills; those that father sent are too coarse to write with.

The manufacture of bone rings occupies the time of the men a great deal. While writing, there are four of the boys in the tent so engaged.

There is but little news in our little camp and as [I] write often, you must not expect long letters. It’s going [to] be one of the nights for guard — plenty of rain and slosh. Write often to your affectionate brother, — Edwin

P. S. I forgot to name the paper and envelopes father and mother sent. — E.P.”

¹ The prisoners Perry refers to detained at Camp Distribution were military prisoners who had committed various crimes from desertion and murder to sleeping on duty or drunk and disorderly. In other words, they were Union soldiers, not Confederate prisoners of war. While confined here, many of these men were put to work on the fortifications around Washington D.C. though they were generally not good laborers.

 

“Camp of Guards [at Camp Distribution near Alexandria, Va.]

Sunday, March 8th 1863

 

Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 2nd and 4th instant is received. [I am] always glad to hear from you often. We have not had any good weather here for a long time. It rains, snows alternately making a sea of mud to tread through.

The Camp of Distribution is moving today. The First and Third Army Corps go today — that is, those armies who are absent from their respective regiments. A detachment of Co. H, First Rhode Island Artillery was here today looking after deserters. This is the artillery which were encamped a short distance from Dexter’s Training Ground at the time the 12th [Rhode Island] Regiment had their trouble. This squad said that all of half of their company had skedaddled to quarters unknown. So much for the patriotic volunteers of Rhode Island.

One of our prisoners took french leave of absence while Co. K was guarding them last night. A member of this company has been tried by court martial and sentenced to two years hard labor on the Rip Raps without pay. I believe the charge was striking a superior officer.

I expect to draw some more clothing in a few days — say three pair socks, one pair of drawers and one pair of shoes. Our Second Lieutenant [Seth W. Cowing] left us today. He takes a position in the Navy. He could not go too soon so my best wishes are for his poor success. Lieut. [William A.] James has command here now.

You inquire about Wilbur Slocum. I have not seen him for some time. Since I saw him, he has been reduced to the ranks — what we call broke off his sergeant’s warrant. I am very sorry for him for he has done me many favors.

We are all eagerly looking forward to the time that the draft will be put into execution. Perhaps they will draft me if I ever land in Little Rhode. And then again perhaps they won’t. I will give two cents a head for all nine-months men they draft in government shinplasters.

New has “played out.” There is nothing new about this guard duty. It is the same thing over every day. Write as often as usual to your affectionate brother, — Edwin Perry”

“Camp of Guards [at Camp Distribution near Alexandria, Va.], March 11, 1863

 

Dear brother,

Your favor of the 7th instant I received last night and now hasten to reply. For the last two days I have not found time to write a letter on account of want of time. I was sorry to hear of your ill health. Have you ever tried a medicine for your wakefulness of which you speak? A whiskey punch or Dover’s Powder I should think might be good.

Yesterday I paid a visit to Fort Worth¹ beyond Fairfax Seminary. It is situated on the brow of a high hill overlooking a large valley. The fort mounts about thirty guns of which the largest throws a one-hundred-pound shot. The bed and carriage is constructed of solid iron. There are a number of large Parrott guns of beautiful workmanship. Besides these and some common sixty-fours, there are some eight mortars placed on massive beds of iron. There are also two pieces of light artillery bearing the inscription “Whitworth Guns Presented by the Loyal Americans in Europe to the Government of the U.S.” You will remember of reading about this about a year ago. These are made of steel and are bronzed like a musket about ten feet in length and breech loading.

I also paid a visit to the grounds of Fairfax Seminary, this place I suppose father can describe as well as I.

We — that is the mess — have formed a debating club to discuss the political questions of the day. This together with cards and checkers we make out to pass away our evenings when not on duty pleasantly. This evening we discuss the question, “Resolved. That the press is more powerful in influencing the minds of men than the tongue.” I will give you an account of the debate in the next.

Tomorrow I shall send a record of this company to you and also one to father, not that I feel particularly proud of having my name placed on this record of the 11th Regiment but because I thought I would make you a small present and this might be acceptable. Be careful in opening it. Tell father to enclose me a dollar in my next letter as my funds have all been used with the exception of two dollars which I have lent in the mess. I cannot get it until we are paid off.

No more this time. I will try to write more in my next.

From your affectionate brother, — Edwin Perry”

¹ Fort Worth was located on Seminary Heights about one and one-half miles west of Fort Ellsworth, and one and one-half miles south of Fort Reynolds.

 

"Camp Perry, Suffolk, Virginia

May 13, 1863.

Dear Brother,

Your favor of the 7th and 9th instant is received. I was glad to her that father was doing so well in his business, but at the same time I am afraid that he is working to hard. I shall hold you in part accountable for his good behavior.

The news for the last few days has been more favorable to the federal cause. Rumors that our flag floated over Richmond, Fort Sumter, and Fredericksburg reached here last night but needs confirmation. I see that the 7th Mass Regiment has been in the great fight on the Rappahannock (he refers to the Battle of Chancellorsville), an account of the commissioned officers killed and wounded is received. I can hardly believe that Gen Hooker has succeeded in defeating the enemy as represented but hope it is so. The more I see of war and those engaged in it, the more I am impressed with the gigantic task before us. The government employees are like a team of contrary mules. Not more than one will pull in the right direction at once....

From your affect. Brother

Edwin Perry

 

Co. C 11th Regiment

Rhode Island Volunteers,

Suffolk, Virginia

via Fortress Monroe"