This letter was written by James Reid (1839-1917), the son of Alexander Reid (1810-1880) and Jane Adams (1810-1860) of Moray, Scotland who emigrated to Buffalo, New York, prior to 1845. James had at least two younger siblings: Isabella Reid (b. 1845) and Adam Reid (b. 1848). In the 1850 Census, the Reids are enumerated in Buffalo’s 5th Ward where Alexander’s occupation was given as “joiner.”
James addressed this letter to his aunt Susan Jane (Young) Reid (1820-1912) — the wife of James Reid (1813-1887). Like his father, James’ uncle also worked as a builder.
I could not find a record showing the history of James Reid’s entire service in the Navy. In this letter he refers to the prior “loss” of a ship on which he served. My hunch is that Reid was being reassigned to the U. S. S. St. Clair that was being repaired at Mound City following the loss of the ship in the Mississippi Squadron on which he served elsewhere. Perhaps Reid served on one of the three gunboats — Keywest, Tawah, or Elfin — that were disabled or destroyed in the Tennessee River during the Battle of Johnsonville fought a month earlier. In any event, Reid served as Mate as early as May 1864 and was honorably discharged in October 1865 after serving his final tour as Acting Master’s Mate on the U. S. S. St. Clair.
This letter was written just prior to the Battle of Nashville of 15-16 December 1864 in which John Bell Hood’s confederate army was destroyed, vitally ending the war in the western theatre. Naval actions leading up to that engagement involved the U.S. Navy’s attempt to clear Rebel batteries at Bell’s Bend on the Cumberland River below Nashville — events which are alluded to in this letter.
Addressed to Mrs. James Reid, No. 145 Swan Street, Buffalo, New York
U. S. Steamer Paw Paw
[Mound City, Illinois]
December 9th 1864
My Dear Aunt,
It is some time since I received of the 5th of November. I found it here with several other letters on my return. I ought to have answered it ‘ere this but I had so much to attend to that I put it off till I had some interesting news to communicate. I found the Paw Paw here being repaired and finding that the St. Clair was not quite ready, I took up my quarters on the Paw Paw Hotel.
Today we received orders to proceed with all possible haste up the Cumberland River to assist Capt. [LeRoy] Fitch and his fleet in driving the Rebels from the river bank where they have planted batteries. Our boat is hardly ready but I suppose we will try and start tomorrow. I suppose and expect that we will soon see more hard fighting but hope we will be more fortunate next time and not lose our boat.
We have been very busy this week getting ready to commence housekeeping. We had to purchase bedding, crockery, cutlery, and in short, everything necessary except furniture and stores, carpets, &c. We have laid in a stock of provisions expecting to go down the Mississippi as far as New Orleans but as they want help near Nashville we must go.
We heard today that several gunboats of the Cumberland fleet had engaged a Rebel Battery about 14 miles from Nashville and after some hard fighting they had to return with one boat [the river monitor Neosho] disabled. Capt. Fitch then telegraphed to Mound City for another boat. Our boat has two fifty pound rifled guns on board and is the only boat here fit for the purpose. The iron clads Cincinnati & Carondelet are up as far as they can get on account of low water but they cannot get to Nashville. We do not expect to be gone long but cannot tell what may happen ‘ere we return. All is for the best.
I wrote father a few days ago but then knew nothing about going up to Nashville. I intend to write him again soon. I hope you will not alarm them by telling them that I am in danger. Just tell them that our boat is ordered up the Cumberland River and may see some guerrillas.
I had hoped to attend church here next Sunday as last Sunday there was no service here but shall again be disappointed.
I was glad to hear Alexander McWilliams ¹ read a chapter of scripture and a prayer last Sunday to the crew as they were mustered on deck. I hope we may be able to do so on our boat. I would enjoy it so much. I trust that I may be ready for whatever the future may bring forth and be able to say God’s will be done. I ask to be still remembered in your prayers and hope to meet you again in life. With love to Uncle James. I remain, your affectionate nephew, — J. Reid, U. S. N.
In haste. Write soon.
Address: James Reid, Act. Master’s Mate, U. S. Steamer St. Clair, via Cairo, Illinois
¹ Alexander S. McWilliams was the Acting Assistant Paymaster on board the U. S. S. Paw Paw in 1864.