1863: Martin Van Buren Culver to Harriet E. Culver

Martin Culver enclosed this poem written by one of the members of the 16th Connecticut
Martin Culver enclosed this poem written by John Rusty, 16th Connecticut, Co. G

These two letters were written by Martin Van Buren Culver (1833-1907), the son of Martin Culver (1798-1867) — a stone cutter in the Portland Quarry — and Lucy P. Bailey (1803-1894). Martin served in Co. A. 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. He wrote the letter to his sister Harriet (“Hattie”) E. Culver (1847-1913) in Portland, Connecticut. Martin listed “carpenter” as his occupation when he enlisted in August 1862. In the 1860 Census, he was enumerated in the household of Roswell R. Robbins in Rocky Hill.

The 16th Connecticut was formed in Hartford County, Connecticut, in July and August 1862. It was mustered into service August 24, 1862 and became part of Mr. Lincoln’s Army of the Potomac. Three weeks later the regiment first saw action in John Otto’s 40-acre cornfield at the Battle of Antietam, Maryland as part of Burnside’s Ninth Army Corps. Having loaded muskets for the first time only the day before the battle, the regiment suffered significant casualties at Antietam. It next saw action at Fredericksburg, Virginia in December 1862, then at the Siege of Suffolk, Virginia in April/May 1863.

In 1864, the 16th Connecticut was part of the Union garrison at Plymouth, North Carolina, and vigorously defended Plymouth against a Confederate combined land and naval attack April 17-20, 1864 led by General Robert F. Hoke, C.S.A. Outnumbered more than 5 to 1, with no means of escape or opportunity for reinforcements, the Union garrison at Plymouth was surrendered on April 20, 1864 by Brigadier General Henry W. Wessells. Culver and the other members of his unit who surrendered were taken to Andersonville Prison. Culver’s prison record there states simply: “Survived.”

1863 Letter
1863 Letter

Addressed to Miss Hattie Culver, Portland, Connecticut

Camp Near Portsmouth, Virginia
September 27 [1863]

Dear Sister,

I received your letter yesterday and was very glad to hear frome you again. We arrived at camp from North Carolina Tuesday night. It is cold nights here now but very pleasant days. Today is Sunday and it is the pleasantest day that I ever saw or it would be if i was at home for we have about as much to do Sundays as any day in the week. Today at 2 o’clock we have a review at or near the 15 Co about 3 miles from here. Our brigade are to be reviewed by [Brig.] General [Edward] Harland and staff. We are in the 18th Army Corps but it don’t make any difference about letters as long as we are in this part of the army — Norfolk or Washington D. C. will come just the same.

Yesterday I put pockets in my overcoat and it took me most all day. We have got a brigade band but I have not heard it play yet nor don’t want to. I have heard enough of them. I hear that all of the sick and wounded around hear have been taken to New Haven. Albert Hatch — my old tent mate — has gone and Horace Warner of Rocky Hill. ² As soon as I hear from Hatch and he gets home, I am agoing to write and tell him to go out home and see the folks. He can tell you more news in one half hour than I can write in a week but I shall have to stop now and wash my white gloves and get ready for revew.

It is now Monday night. I have been out today at work on breastworks cutting and piling up logs as high as a man’s head. I went up to the 15th and saw Charley Taylor this noon. He is in the hospital. He has got the asthma so that he can hardly talk. Thare is no news here to write. I think that we shall move camp again before a great while. It seems to be the opinion that we shall stay around here this winter. If we do, I shall get me a small stove and try to keep warm. There was some frost here last night and I suppose that you have it at home every night. It is about Chestnut time and how I should like to be home to get some. But I don’t see how I can just now. There is no Chestnut trees around here. Nothing but Pine.

But I must stop for it is time for roll call so good night. From your brother, —  M Culver

I will send you a song that was made up by one of the boys about our sutler. His name is Merritt. He tells about driving the women. It is the ones that bring their stuff to sell to the boys and it has been stopped.

¹ Albert S. Hatch of Co. A, 16th Connecticut was wounded in the left hand, resulting in the amputation of a finger, during a skirmish with Confederates while on a reconnoissance across the Nansemond River on the Providence Church Road in May 1863. Two men were killed and eight wounded in Company A.

² Horace M. Warner, died Oct. 24, 1864, age 29 yrs., Company C., 16th Connecticut Volunteers, buried at Newburn, N. C., Civil War marker and flag.


Dec 14, 1863
Camp 16th Connecticut Volunteers
Portsmouth [Virginia]

Dear Sister [Hattie],

I received the things and letter by way of Taylor yesterday and was very glad to hear from you. The things were very good and the walnuts were the first that I have since I left home. I should like to be at home Christmas but I can’t and I don’t know when I shall come. We have had to draw cuts and I come the 9 man and if the furloughs are not stopped, I shall be home sometime this winter. I can’t tell at what time. I shall come as soon as I can, you can bet on that.

The weather is warm and pleasant. We had a very hard thunder shower last night and one today. We have got nice quarters and a good place. There is but a very few sick in the regiment now.

I am at work in my trade and have been for a long time and shall be for some time to come. Charley Taylor came up here last week. It is the first time that I have seen him for 2 months.

The 21st Regiment has left Norfolk and gone to Newport News and the 27th Massachusetts has taken their place. What brigade the 21st are in now, I do not know. If you see the Hartford Post you will see a piece from the 16th [Connecticut] every week. There is no news here. Everything is about the same as it has been for the last 6 months. I have got a stove in my house and get along first rate. If we can stay here in this department till my time is out it is all that I ask. There are a great many old troops that are enlisting over for three years and all of the unbleached Americans ¹ are enlisting very fast. That is what they call them now.

I want to get home and see how things look but I don’t believe that you would know me if you should meet me in the daytime for I am a great deal larger and blacker and everything else. You must write as often as you can and I will do the same and if anything happens I will let you know as soon as I can.

Col. [Francis C.] Beach is back here and is now acting Brigadier General so we shall fare pretty well I think. It is now roll call and I must stop, so good by for this time. Give my best respects to all the folks in Taylor town when you go down there. I hope that I shall get home before long [even] if i don’t stay but 3 days.

From your Brother — Martin V. Culver

¹ Unbleached Americans is obviously referring to the colored troops.

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