These letters were written by Charles Edward Carruthers (1839-1863), the son of Charles Hutchinson Carruthers (1813-1889) and Greta Rand Edwards (1817-1863) of Portland, Cumberland county, Maine. Charles wrote the letters to his wife, Mary Jane (“Jennie”) Mann (1838-1918) whom he married in February 1859. In the 1860 US Census, Charles, his wife, and 1 year old son were enumerated in Portland where Charles worked as a pattern maker.
Charles enlisted in August 1862 as a corporal in Co. B, 17th Maine Infantry. He was gravely wounded near the Wheatfield on Cemetery Ridge during the 2nd day’s fighting at Gettysburg. Company records indicate he died of his wounds on 10 July 1863 at Gettysburg but there is some evidence to suggest that his death was more immediate.
Mentioned in one of the letters was Sergt. Edwin (“Ned”) J. Hawkes. On 5 July 1863, just after the Battle of Gettysburg, Sgt. Hawkes wrote a letter home to Portland that was subsequently published in the Portland Advertiser on 18 July 1863:
We take the liberty of making liberal extracts from a private letter written by Sergt. Hawkes of Co. B, 17th Maine Regiment, on the 5th inst., and received in this city on Saturday… “We went into the fight with 38 men in our company and have come out with only 17, all told. We have lost three killed: Charles Carruthers (shot in the mouth), Sergt. [Cyrus] Melville Hall, and a man named [Monroe] Quint, who were all killed by a shell which struck between them and exploded as they were loading and firing behind the breastworks. We also had eighteen wounded, one of whom, Charles Davis, of Portland, has since died of his wounds. George Duran, of Portland, was wounded behind the ear, also a man named [Sidney] Morton and one other — all by the shell which killed Hall and Quint.
We have lost about 125 men in killed and wounded…I am now acting orderly of a company which recently had nearly 100 men fit for duty but now has but 17 men. When the fighting commenced, the 17th was in a piece of woods, and on our left was an opening through which the rebels tried to break, when the attack was made on our right on Thursday afternoon. Our regiment marched by flank to the opening, our left resting against a stone wall; as the rebels were fast driving our fellows in the roads on the other side of the wall, we swung our right round against the wall and lay behind it waiting for the rebels to get into the woods so we could get a cross-fire on them. While we lay there, the regiment on our right forming a right angle with us broke and let the enemy through the opening which brought a cross fire on us so that we had to swing back to our former position. Then they poured into us an awful volley and we were soon obliged to retreat; but as it happened we were reinforced and the enemy were driven back and we gained the ground we had lost.
There was not much fighting on Friday until 5 P.M. when the rebels tried to break our right. They came in solid column of divisions, Longstreet in person, leading the charge, but they were repulsed with grape and canister, their dead and wounded lying in heaps. When the charge was made, we were lying behind a breastwork of fence-rails about ten feet high under a heavy fire of shot and shell. Here the shell came through the breastwork, killing Sergt. Hall and Quint, and wounding Duran, George Norton, and James McKeen.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to Mrs. Mary J. Carruthers, Portland, Maine
Postmarked Washington D. C.
March 21st 1863
I received letters from you & Father this forenoon & was right glad to get the pictures. Neither of them look natural to me. You have both altered since I came from home. Charlie has altered very much. He has the same mischievous look about the eyes. I think he looks as Bro. Johnny did when he was the same age. Anyone would know that he was a Carruthers. I showed them to Newt. Whitten. ¹ He thinks they look natural. I also went to see [Corp.] Ed[ward A.] Roberts & showed them to him.
We are to have an inspection this noon. It is now about twelve o’clock & I shall not have time to finish this letter. I received a letter from Eddie yesterday dated at Fort Jackson [on] March 4th. He seems to like the change. I have about finished the extras in my box. The substantials will keep, you know.
You speak of being sick & tired of the war. We are just getting used. I expect we shall pine & sigh for this wild life if we ever return to civilization. We are getting weaned from our old ways & soon this life will become a second nature to us. Did I ever tell you that I thought of entering the regular service as soon as my term of enlistment expires?
Although today is Sunday, we have nothing to show for it — no meetings or anything else except the inspection. I have made out [to] get my leggings on over my boots. It was a tight stretch though & they do about as much good there as gold sleeve buttons on a great coat. I suppose Gen. Sickles knows what’s right though. If he doesn’t, his wife does. ²
You speak of Mrs. Hersey. I don’t know her from Adam. Perhaps I have forgotten her though.
Now about those pictures. I must take your pride down some for I suppose you think yours remarkably taken. Why did you not fix your hair up differently? You’ll catch it when I get home. I believe you are growing older every day & so am I but if you comb your hair that way when I get home, I’ll pull it down for you.
I wrote to Mr. Staples yesterday. I mean to enclose a few lines to my Father in this. [Sgt. Edwin J.] Hawkes & Merrill are writing. Merrill to his Aunt & Hawkes to the Governor. We boys are getting ambitious, don’t you think so? Well there is no telling what a lousy calf will make. I am sorry to hear by [Newton] Whitten that Mrs. Clark is dead. It will prove a hard blow to George. he has had a very hard time of it. I shall not get any dinner today as I do not feel very hungry.
I mean to see what I can do here in regard to recommendations. Pa misunderstood part of my letter. He thought I requested him to say nothing of the matter out of the family. I think it reads, “Please not read this letter out of the family.” I could not expect him to do much unless he did speak to someone in regard to the matter.
I hear that Jane is awful proud of her skates. Perhaps the maker is a particular friend of hers. I’ve heard considerable about that letter that Frank is going to with but can’t see it.
I will now proceed to draw this already lengthy epistle to a close. I am in excellent health & feel remarkably good-natured at the present time. I feel perfectly contented as long as they let me alone & do not ask me to move to do anything. Take good care of yourself & I will try and do the same. If we both live until the war closes, I think we shall be a remarkably fat couple, don’t you? My love to Mother & all & answer me at least once a month.
Your affectionate soldier, — Charlie
¹ Newton Whitten of Portland was a Lieutenant in Co. D, 17th Maine Infantry. He was wounded in the foot on 3 July 1863 at Gettysburg and was later transferred to the Invalid Corps.
² Pvt. Henry Howell of the 124th New York, another soldier in Sickle’s Third Corps which included the 17th Maine, reported in March 1863 that, “We drawed leggings to make a show, and that is all they are good for those who have boots, but for those who wear shoes, they are very good. The General said we must take them so that we would all look alike.”
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Addressed to Mrs. M. J. Carruthers, Portland, Maine
Care of C. H. Carruthers
Postmarked Washington D. C.
In Camp near Potomac Creek
April 9th 1863
I will now try & answer yours of the 2nd. We are all ready for an inspection which is to come off at eleven o’clock this forenoon yesterday. This Corps with three others was out on review. I believe there was about 80,000 in all. President Lincoln reviewed us. He is the homeliest man I ever saw.
We have not got our tents finished yet. Ours is not mudded up yet nor our chimney fixed & two of us sleep on the ground. I with those who takes us off on reviews & inspections had to fare as we do but they do not. Many of the boys are sick & I am not very smart. I have a bad cold & more than that, I can’t help myself. Yesterday we were marched about 4 miles. When we got on to the field, we were very sweaty & the wind blew cold from the north. The sun was not out either. Our great coats were packed on our knapsacks & we were not allowed to put them on when we could as well as not if our generals had let us. But they care more about the looks of the men than they do for their health. Officers can wear what they please.
I feel cross as you might know. Everything works wrong. My chance in the Quarter Master’s Department is small as the Colonel does not want another man there at present. Everything in our tent is bottom side up & so am I. We are dirty, ragged, & want a comfortable place to live in but we shall get neither until some of the inspections & other fooling is suspended. It always is the way — just as we get half settled — they commence bothering us.
I suppose old Colonel Roberts is at home before this. I wish we were all there. There is plenty of fire wood round here — enough to last one division a year. I hardly think we shall stay here long after all. We hear plenty of lies about the division. I must get my quips on now & go out for inspection.
1 P.M. Inspection is through & I must go out after some poles for a bed soon. Dan Hall of the 10th Maine is here today. It is very pleasant today — real June weather. General [David B.] Birney inspected us today assisted by Col. [Samuel B.] Hayman who commands this Brigade.
I have got some peas stewing for supper. We have had rather hard grub since we have been here.
[Edwin G.] Ned Thorne has been detailed for a battery. I expect to be awful lousey this summer. Ned Hawkes is well. He is stopping in our tent until he gets his tent done. He is to tent with Davis & Samuel Buxton. We are all separated now so the tent crews are all new. I would write to all but they must take the will for the deed at present. I have been so busy daytimes & tired nights that I have not written a word in my diary since we came here & I have not much room to write anymore in it anyway. I must be off now into the woods so goodbye. Take care of yourself & Charlie. Excuse this writing. Give my love to all oblige your affectionate Hub. — Charlie
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.