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Saving history, one letter at a time…

1864: James W. Whitford to Isaac Beard

This undated letter was written by 35 year-old Pvt. James W. Whitford (1829-18xx) who enlisted in July 1862 at Oswegatchie, St. Lawrence County, New York, to serve three years in Co. A, 106th New York Infantry. Military records indicate that James’ surname was spelled variously as Whiteford or Whitford, that he was born in Ireland, stood 5 feet 6 inches tall, had blue eyes and light hair, and that he was a farmer near Osewgatchie before he enlisted. He mustered out with his company in June 1865 at Washington D. C.

The letter is datelined “Camp of the 106th Regt. New York near Culpepper” so it was probably written in April 1864 just prior to the launching of Grant’s Overland Campaign in which the 106th New York was attached to the VI Corps and suffered heavy casualties at Cold Harbor in May 1864.

How Pvt.  have looked

How Pvt. Whitford might have looked

The letter was written to Isaac Beard [or Baird] (1833-1891) of De Kalb Junction, St. Lawrence County, New York. Like James, Isaac was a native of Ireland. He was married to Myra L. Sayer (1839-1908) in 1857. Myra was the daughter of Thomas Taylor Sayer (1788-1869) and Mary Elsegood Collins (1804-1877). Isaac was the son of Thomas Baird and Mary Whiteford of Ireland — the latter probably a relative of James Whitford’s.

There are three letters written by James Whitford giving an account of the campaigns near North Mountain and Petersburg, Va., 1863-1864, archived in the Walter King Hoover Collection at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. There is also a letter housed in the New York State Library Manuscripts and Special Collections that Whitford wrote while in camp near Winchester, Virginia, on 11 November 1864 in which he described the action he witnessed during the Battle of Cedar Mountain.

1864 Letter

1864 Letter


Camp of the 106 Regt. New York near Culpepper [Virginia]

My Dear Friend Isaac and Myra,

Your kind letter was received with pleasure which come to hand on the 29 and found me in good health. And Isaac, I would like to see you and Myra. Well, Isaac, there is not much news here to write. They are keeping everything so still but roads is getting pretty good and the weather is pretty warm but the nights are considerable cold and Isaac, I heard today that the 142nd Regiment are at Yorktown in Virginia but how true it is, I can’t tell.

You spoke of Thomas being hired out to William Graham. Is it Bill that used to work for the King of the Woods old store and what house do they run? Is it the green house or the smith house.

They have drawn in all the cavalry from the front and has sent a good many of them away somewhere but where I don’t know. I have just got in off picket and it is quite a march out there. It takes us about three hours to get out to the picket line. We have three lines of pickets and we are the outside one and the orders is very strict. It is death to leave your post but we had one leave and go over to the Johnnies. It was out of the 151st New York. He was a conscript. He had better not come back again.

And the talk of leaving one division here to guard the road and some think that it will be ours but there’s no telling anything about it. Nor I don’t care anyhow. And as for General Grant, he [is] fetching some of the loafers out. They are sending all out to the front that they possibly can. I think they calculate to do something this summer. If they don’t, I think they never will settle it by fighting.

Well, Isaac, I suppose you will be busy at your spring work. Will you be able to get along alone this year? You must not work too hard. Well Myra, I would like to see you very well and I hope we will be spared to meet once more. Well if the boys is come to Virginia, I might stand a chance to see them but I don’t think they have changed for the better. But we have to go anytime when they say or anywhere.

Isaac, give my best respects to Thomas and Ellen and all my old friends. There is some word of not letting the mail go from the army but they will let it come to us and if it is so, I want you not to stop. But perhaps it ain’t true for there are all kinds of stories going here. But I will close this up for I am afraid there is nothing in it that will be interesting to you. So Isaac, I wish you and Myra all the health and happiness that you can enjoy. No more, but I remain your affectionate friend. Goodbye. Yours truly, James Whitford

Write soon.


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This entry was posted on April 17, 2014 by .

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My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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