1864 Letter - 58th Massachusetts Band - Cold Harbor Casualties - Women Taken Prisoner in Rebel Officer Uniforms

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1864 Letter - 58th Massachusetts Band - Cold Harbor Casualties - Women Taken Prisoner in Rebel Officer Uniforms

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Item No. SQ5857151

Offered here is a very interesting letter written by Musician Jonah Benson, Jr. of the 58th Massachusetts Volunteers, a regiment raised in the early months of 1864 and attached to the 9th Corps during the 1864 Overland Campaign. As a musician in the 58th’s band, Benson was detailed to the Corps hospital at White House landing and, in this letter to his brother, described the steady stream of wounded coming to the rear after the Battle of Cold Harbor (he names several 58th officers as casualties). He also described having seen two women soldiers among the Confederate prisoners, one of whom was likely Jane Perkins of the Danville Artillery, who was captured on the North Anna and sent to White House at the time that Benson was there. Benson finished the letter describing the care he gave the wounded soldiers of his ward, some of whom were rebels. Benson is listed as having died of disease the following month while being transported by steamer to Fortress Monroe, July 30, 1864. The letter reads, in full:

White House Va June 5th 1864

Dear Brother
As I have not much to do I will improve my time by writing a few lines to you. We are encamped in a field where the White House was. This is a very pretty place. The White House was the house that George Washington was married in. This farm lies on the river. It is about 2 miles long and one mile wide. It is very level. It is owned by Fitzhugh Lee. The most of this land is now covered with tents & wagons. It is a sight to see the supplies that arrive here daily for the army. Everything that is brought for the army is also brought here. There are ten or fifteen hundred Contrabands here and about 2 hundred rebel prisoners. Among them there are 2 female officers. I have seen one of them. Their soldiers look rather rusty. I have not heard any firing today but Thursday and Friday the cannon were booming all day. They were twelve or fifteen miles from us but we could hear them very plain. There has been a great many wounded soldiers brought here but the most of them are sent farther north. They are repairing the railroad very rapidly that leads from here to Richmond. in a few days they can see their supplies by rail. They have had very hard fighting of late. Old soldiers say that they never saw anything like it before. It is reported here today by a man that is just from the front that he saw our Major & two Captains killed & Lieut. Col. Whitton had a rib broken but was on his horse again.

June 6th
Last evening there was very brisk Cannonading. For about an hour there was a continual roar of artillery. This morning the cannon are roaring again. There are a great many wounded soldiers here. last night they came to our camp and wanted all the Bands to go and take care fo the wounded. We went. I had care of one ward and sat up all night and took care of 17 wounded men most of them were rebels. Some of them were very fine looking men. It is awful to see the wounded men. Some of them are so bad so disfigured that they hardly look like men. There are some 2 thousand wounded here now and 18 hundred more coming today. I think there will be work for us all for some time to come.

We have had a fine time so far. Our journey down the Potomac River the weather was very fine and the trip very pleasant. There are large quantities of contrabands arriving here daily. They seem very happy to be free. Some of them are very smart looking people. The white people keep them at work carrying loads upon their heads. It looks very strange to me to see them carry such large loads on their heads.

1 o’clock PM
I have just given out dinner to all the wounded in my ward which is 17. They want a great deal of care. Many of them are wounded very bad. There are several of them that have had their limbs amputated. There is one of them I think will not live many hours. He is wounded very bad. But I have told you enough about them. I want to inquire about the folks in Bridgewater as I have not heard from there since I came away from there. Asaph Thompson had a letter from home the other day. It said that Marian Thompson was dead. This is all the news I have heard form Massachusetts. How is labor in Bridgewater? Business is very good here. I want you to write and tell me all about home. There are a great many things I should like to ask about but I cannot think of them now. We have just moved tents to another part of the field. We are now in the 9th Corps hospital. We have been in the 5th [Corps Hospital]. As I must go to work I will close my sheet by saying that if you will direct a letter to Washington D.C. 58th Mass Vol. Band. Yours with much Love
Jonah Benson, Jr.

The letter was written upon four pages of a 5” x 8” stationery sheet. The paper is in excellent condition with few signs of wear. Very light foxing in a couple of places. Little wear to edges or corners. Creases where originally folded.

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