Letter – Alfred Sofield, 12 April 1863


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Letter written by Captain Alfred J. Sofield of Company A, 149th PA Volunteer Infantry “Bucktails,” to his wife, from a camp near Belle Plain, VA. Sofield describes an army corps review by President Lincoln, where he was able to see the president as well as his wife and children. He writesabout his potential promotion to major, though Sofield received the majority of votes from the officers, it was Captain John Irvine who was elected to the position. Sofield describes a recent ride to Falmouth, and how he stood along the bank of the Rappahannock River and gazed towards Fredericksburg. The Confederate and Union pickets are on opposite sides of the river, within speaking distance. Sofield writes about visiting the Lacy House and White Oak Church.

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Camp near Bell Plain, Va

April 12, 1863

My Dear Wife                          

     I rec’d yours of the 7th inst. by this evening’s mail, and you were right in thinking I was anxious to hear from the boys. I wrote you a short letter on Tuesday last in which I stated that I was not well, or rather that I was lame. I have entirely recovered.

     On the 9th inst. our army corps was reviewed by the president. Our regiment left camp about 8 o’clock in the morning en rout for Bell Plain (about 4 miles distant) arrived about 10 o’clock, were about the first on the ground, which gave us an opportunity of seeing the other regiments as they came in, and I can assure you it was a sight worth seeing. Well, about 12 o’clock the president arrived. I think there was in the neighborhood of fifteen thousand present. Mrs. Lincon and her two sons were on the ground. Mrs. L. was in a carriage and I did not get sight of her. To see him she looked, but the boys were in review and they stopped just in front of our regt., and I being in front of the regt., had a good look at them, and could not discover any particular difference between them and others of their age

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The president was on horseback. He rode along the whole line with his hat off. I think he is looking better than when I last saw him at Washington. I would have given a good deal to have had you and the boys there on the occasion.

     You ask what about the major. Well, there is a considerably about it, and I will tell all about it. Soon after we came here the col. [Stone] was about to appoint Capt. Osborne [Co. F] to act as major until Speer returned. The capts had a meeting and agreed to tell Col. Dwight that that would not answer. We done so, and it blackened the game. A day or two after that we appointed another meeting to take into consideration what was best to do in the premises – as Col. Stone had issued an order saying that promotions should be made by appointment, and not according to seniority. Well, it so happened that I had to go on picket at the time of the second meeting, and my friend Capt. Irvine [Co. B] was also absent, but the other eight officers met and agreed to take a vote, agreeing that the man having the most votes should be declared the unanimous choice, and that they would pledge themselves to go in for his appointment. Well, they took a vote. There was two others nominated. I received six votes, and the others one each. They then drew up a writing according to the agreement and all signed it. Capt. McCullough took charge of the papers and

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says he publish it in his morning report book. That the book was taken to headquarters in the morning, and that was the last that was ever seen of it. Thus the matter rested until Major Speer was discharged. Then Col. Dwight said we must have an election, and appointed it on the 10th instant. I know that Col. Stone, & Col. Dwight were both in favor of Capt. Osborne, and I knew that they thought they could manage to have him elected, or else they would have stuck to their order – that is, have had it given by appointment. And thinking so, I concluded I would not take part in the election, but would do what I could to defeat Osborne. I attended at opening of the meeting, and stated to them that I was not a candidate, and should take no part in the election, but should insist upon my appointment by the governor, by virtue of being the senior captain, and also by virtue of having been declared the choice of the regiment by the former meeting. I then left, but before I went in Capt. Irvin & myself had done what we could to secure his election at the meeting, and we succeeded. Capt. Irvin was elected. Well, now the col. says he will not recommend Capt. Irvin at present, and I am of opinion he will not recommend anyone but Capt. Osborne. I have written to Wilson at Harrisburg a full statement of the case and asked him to attend to it for me. What the result will be remains to be seen.

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Yesterday I took a ride over to Falmouth. Falmouth is about 9 miles from our camp and about a mile up the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. I went down the bank of the river opposite Fredericksburg, and stood there about an hour. It was a beautiful day and I had a splendid view of the city and surrounding country. The river at Fredericksburg is about as wide as the Tioga River at Tioga, could hear the Rebels talk quite plainly. Our pickets are on one side of the river and theirs on the other, in speaking distance of each other. They are not, however, permitted to talk to one another. While standing there, about 20 Rebels came down to the river with a fish net and they came out more than half way across. I visited the Lacy house about which you have read a considerable during the war, but what about it I can’t recollect. It is a very large house standing on the bank of the river opposite Fredericksburg. If you remember for which it is noted, tell me in your next. About half way between our camp & Fredericksburg stands the famous White Oak Church, and it is in perfect keeping with everything else in this country. It looks precisely like a moderate farmer’s barn; no steeple, and in fact has no resemblance to a church. I send you a piece of it; the piece I send is not oak, but the frame of the building is of white oak, and from that takes its name. No paymaster yet. expect him every day. I rec’d a letter from Capt. Bryden yesterday. He started for home on Saturday last. Platt Irvin visited me today. He is checking for a battle about one mile this side of Fredericksburg. He is getting $40.00 a month. I must now close, and the next letter I shall direct to Hillsboro. Kiss the boys & have them kiss you for me.

                                    Ever Yours,                                   


Alfred J. Sofield was a clerk/justice of the peace in Wellsboro, PA when he enrolled as a Union Army Officer. He served in the Civil War as Captain and commander of Company A of the 149th PA Volunteer Infantry. During the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, he was stationed along Chambersburg Pike north of the McPherson Farm. His unit under artillery fire from the Confederate batteries on Herr Ridge, and was struck by a round, which killed him as well as Private Edwin D. Dimmick and Corporal Nathan H. Wilcox.

Letter – Clark Edwards, 14 January 1863


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Letter written by Colonel Clark S. Edwards of the 5th Maine Infantry to his wife, from the headquarters of the 5th ME Volunteers near White Oak Church, VA. Edwards begins by expressing gratitude at still being alive when so many others have died in battle or from disease, and states how much he misses his wife and children. Edwards lists the battles in which he has fought with the 5th Maine, including West Point, Gaines Mill, Fredericksburg, and Antietam. He describes his daily life in camp, and that for the next three days he will be the field officer of the day while the regiment goes on picket. The papers have reported a bill to consolidate the regiments, and Edwards says he will leave if that happens.

A second part of the letter is dated January 15th, 1863. Edwards claims though he believes slavery is wrong, he feels it is none of the North’s business to meddle with the affairs of the South. However, now that the South has rebelled, the North must bring the states back together. Edwards bitterly writes of how unworthy officers are being promoted due to their political ties, and cites Henry Halleck as a prime example.

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Head Quarters 5th Me. Vols.

Camp near White Oak Church, Va.

                                  Jan. 14th, 1863

My Dear Wife

     I sit down to write you this evening with a heart overflowing with gratitude to our Heavenly Father for protecting and carrying me through the past year, while thousands of this army have been killed in battle – with prospects one year ago as bright as mine. And I feel thankful for His kindness in preserving me in health and strength while tens of thousands of this army have been cut down by diseases; while I have never seen yet a sick day. One year ago tonight I was with you at home, as I left on the fifteenth for Augusta. Little then did I think that one long year would pass before I should see you again. You may think I have lost that feeling which should always animate a father’s breast for his wife and little ones, but I can truly say that my dear

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family is always uppermost in my mind. Not a day nor an hour but some incident reminds me of beloved ones far away. Glad would I be if I could but press those little ones to my breast this night, but that cannot be. What a change has taken place in this the last year. When I look back, it seems like a dream. I can hardly realize it, but still there has been some reality, in the fight of West Point, Gaines Mill, Golding Farm, Charles City Cross Roads, Crampton Pass, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and a sprinkling of Malvern Hill & the last Bull Run, all of which I have taken part in. I think I have done my part of fighting. But few officers can boast of taking part in so many fights. No man can say in the 5th Maine that he has been in every fight of the regt, and has not seen a sick day. I am probably all the officers or man but what has [not] been off duty at some time on ac[count] of sickness, and I think but few can say what I can in regard to drink. Not a drop of

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the critter have I taken. But then I am not perfect, but far from it. When I look back, I can see many things I have done that I ought not, and many things undone which should have been, but we live to learn, and learn to live – or at least such has been my life. My life for the past year I am willing to have it published to the world. In battle I have always looked after the interest of others, regardless of my own in a great measure. But I will not boast of my deeds. I have done no more than any soldier should do in his duty to his country. But I must leave of this style of writing – you will say I am growing sentimental. I expect you will want to know how I pass my time now. I will tell you. I get up at eight, eat breakfast at nine, have the camp policed up, and the work done around camp till twelve. Then the men eat their dinner. I eat mine at half past one, drill the battalions from two till four, then have dress parade, supper at six, read & write till ten

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go to bed ½ past ten. That has been the way I have done for the past week. In the morning our regiment goes on picket for three days, but I shall not stay with them but little, as I am to be the field officer of the day for the next three days, and shall stop nights at my tent. I went to Falmouth tonight to look after that fatal box, but could not find it, so have now given up in full. I still wear the old blouse with a plenty of shirts, so I plan to keep comfortable. I have sent to W[ashington] some five times after it. I have also been more than one hundred miles, so I think I have some little reason to be cross about it. If it had come, or been sent at a reasonable time after I sent for it, I should have gotten it, but two months had passed from the first letter I wrote before it left Maine, and then we were away from Washington so far that it could not be looked after. I do not blame you, but those that had the job to get it. But we will let that pass now, henceforth and farewell. Your last letter that I received was dated ten days ago, and was answered six days

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[ago], so I have none now to answer. I am in hopes I may get one in the morning before this leaves. I wrote you or the boys about having an overcoat the same pattern of the one I now have, but they never sent me word why they did not get it up. But as it is almost spring, I shall not need it, so will let it go now, or if I ever get a chance to go home, I can then see to it. I see by the papers that they are getting a bill [up] to consolidate the regt. – that is put two or three into one. If so, I will leave the show any way, as it will be an honorable way to get out. I am in hopes of getting another commission before the time arrives, so as to go home as high as any of the Bethelites. I expect everything has changed some in Bethel within the last year. Write me of the most important changes. I expect the little ones have gone along some in size. Nelley must be quite a miss, & Frank a big boy. Waldo, I expect goes over to see Adel Twitchell as usual. Kate I hope is courted up

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to her knees, and I presume she is. Massie & Bertie are quite [the] boys now, I suppose as a year makes a great odds with such little ones. I feel somewhat older than I did when I came into to the show, but still I am well and hearty; fat as a hog, and about as putrid. Thursday morn., Jan. 15th 1863, The mail has just come in and it brought a letter from you to me. It is dated Jan. 9th. The thing you speak of I have received, that is the hat & scarf. You spoke of my being changed in politics, but it is not so. I am the same as ever. I was never a negro worshiper. I believe the principle of slavery is wrong, but it was none of our business to meddle with slavery in the states where the constitution planted it, or rather where it was planted before the constitution was passed. Let the North look after her own affairs, and she has enough to attend to. If she had always done that this war could have been avoided. But now as the South has violated the constitution and has rebelled against one of the model governments of the world, I say if she cannot be brought back by an honest promise of the North not to meddle with her states’ rights, why then use all the powers of the North to do it. I go for giving the South a chance to repent once. If she does not, make her if it takes all the treasure of the North

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and a million more men. But what I am sick of [is] this, of having men to fill offices that are not worthy of the place. There is Halleck, commander in chief of all the armies of the North. What is he? It he a warrior? No, never as yet saw the first battle – never under fire in his life. Is he the man for the place? It is some political favorite that gets these places. There is where all these blunders have arisen. For instance, I will give you an illustration. Yesterday, Capt.[James A.] Hall of the 2d Battery called on me. He is one of the best officers from Maine, puts on no airs, but goes in for work & has been in more fights than any other officer in any of the Maine batteries, but still is hardly known outside of his division; is not a political aspirant. Now for another capt. of one of the Maine batteries, his name is [O’Neil W.] Robinson, from one of the rural towns back in Oxford Co., Maine. He is a candidate

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for what  – it should be for a dishonorable discharge for cowardice from the service – but to the contrary, it is for a brigadier general. And I would not be at all surprised if he gets it. That is what a man by the name of Kimball is now at W[ashington] fixing. Is it to be wondered at that many of the battles come off as they do under such officers? As I write you, I am sick of the show. Who would wonder at it. Give us the men we want for leaders and the thing will be cleaned up. But force generals on us to serve under, that the latest recruit from Maine can teach, and who wonders at the result. When I tell you I am sick, I tell you the truth. Not of disease, but of heart. When McClellan was removed and Burnside put in his place, [that] was the first attack. But after the repulse at Fredericksburg it sunk deeper. But now if I could see any improvement I should get better. But when I see saints removed and the broken down politicians of the North replace them, it causes my

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heart to ache. Only give us McClellan, or more of his stamp, and victory is sure to follow. But force on us the political aspirant and the broken down demagogues of the east, and we are gone. I reflect and then rave. I rave and then reflect. But for no purpose, as such men will have sway. Is the thing to always go on in this way? If so, I am like the comedian Jerry Blossom, I want to go home. I am willing to fight if I can see the least prospect ahead, but for such generals we have already had enough of. Lord deliver us from any more such. But I have written more on this than I intended. Say to Kate that I know of no one by the name of Billy Toohey. I have not sent my trunk. I intend to go with it soon myself. As for money, I have but about $25. The government is now owing me some $400. It has cost me much more to live now than before I was a field officer. But I will try to

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save something for a rainy day. Ask the boys if the greenback is worth a premium. If so, in my next payment I would exchange it in Boston or Portland for bank paper, as that will pay my debts. You say in yours that not a cent of rent do you get, but I suspect Ayres gets it. So it is just as well, as it helps to pay [my debt?]. Do give my regards to Dr. Line. Say to him I will never forget his kindness, and I thank him a thousand times for his good wishes toward me. I have written much more than I intended to at first. My regt. has just gone on picket, and I must go over the line. I have written the last part of this in a great hurry, and please correct it before you read it to anyone. I have written the sentiments of my heart. I will be honest in expression. Let them say I have changed, or what not, I have tried to do my duty faithfully in all things, but have some regrets for things – that is your part.

             Regards to all,    


Clark Swett Edwards, was born March 26, 1824 in Otisfield Maine. On June 24, 1862 at the age of 37 he enrolled as captain of Company I, 5th ME Infantry, in Bethel, ME. He was promoted to major on July 1, 1862, following the severe losses of the 5th ME at Gaines Mill. Edwards was promoted to lieutenant colonel on Sept. 24, 1862, and colonel January 8, 1863. He was mustered out of the service on July 27, 1864, at the expiration of the regiment’s three years of service. Edwards was brevetted brigadier general on March 13, 1865 for war service. He died in Bethel, ME on May 5, 1903. Many of his letters have survived, and a large grouping are in the Peace Collection at Navarro College, Corsicana, Texas.