1861: George Alexander Meacham to Georgiana Wilmarth (Olney) Meacham

How Lt. Col. Meacham might have looked

These two letters were written in November 1861 by George Alexander Meacham (1826-1893), the son of George Meacham (1793-1864) — a wealthy banker in Cambridge — and Mary Stedman (1792-1874).

During the Civil War, George A. Meacham served as the Lt. Col. of the 16th Massachusetts Infantry. These two letters were written from Camp Hamilton, which was approximately 1½ miles outside of Fortress Monroe in Virginia. He wrote both letters to his wife, Georgiana Wilmarth (Olney) Meacham (1836-18xx), the daughter of Charles Remington Olney (1815-1882) and Sarah Bradford Jones of Taunton, Massachusetts. George and Georgiana were married on 7 October 1858 at Cambridge.  In the letter, George mentions his older sister, Mary Elizabeth Meacham (b. 1818).

In the 1860 US Census, the Meacham family was enumerated in Cambridge, Middlesex county, Massachusetts, where George was identified as a real estate agent. His wife, Georgiana W. was 33 years old, and his four daughters ranged in years from 11 to 6 months.

The 16th Regt. Mass. Vol. Inf. was made up of companies recruited in Middlesex County in April and May, 1861. By Special Order of June 17, 1861, it was ordered to assemble at Camp Cameron, North Cambridge, on the 2d of July. Its companies were mustered in on various dates between June 29 and July 12, with Powell T. Wyman, a West Point graduate, as its colonel. It left the State August 17, and was in camp near Baltimore, Md., until Sept. 1, on which date it removed to Hampton, Va., where it was in camp during the autumn and winter of 1861-62.

In May, 1862, it was posted temporarily at Gosport Navy Yard and at Suffolk, Va., and on June 12 joined the Army of the Potomac near Fair Oaks. It there formed a part of Grover’s Brigade, Hooker’s Division, Heintzelman’s (3d) Corps. It was engaged with heavy loss on the Williamsburg road, June 18, and took part in the battle of Oak Grove, June 25. In the Seven Days fighting the 16th was heavily engaged at Glendale, June 30, losing its commander, Col. Powell T. Wyman, and wounding Lt. Col. George Meacham in the right arm.

Meacham resigned his commission and was discharged in August 1862. Back in the Boston area, he resumed his career as a real estate agent/broker.

By November 1861, there was a fairly sizable contraband camp in the vicinity of Camp Hamilton from which many of the Union officers selected young boys to serve as their personal servants. In this letter, George speaks of his “boy” William with whom he trusts with everything.

[Note: Only one of these two letters is complete and it bears the signature “George.” The other letter is missing the last page. Neither are there accompanying envelopes with these letters to aid in the identity of the correspondents. Both letters are clearly in the same handwriting and are addressed to George’s wife whom we learn is at “Cambridge.” The content of the letters suggested that it was written by a relatively high-ranking officer, most likely of a Massachusetts regiment which led me to search for regiments from that state in winter quarters at Camp Hamilton in 1861-2. This led me eventually to conclude that George A. Meacham of the 16th Massachusetts was the author.] 


Camp Hamilton
November 6, 1861

My dearest wife,

I received a short note from you a long time ago and one from your father since which I have not heard a word from you and am very anxiously awaiting some tiding of your whereabouts and am very desirous to know if you or any of the little are sick. I received a letter from Mary and have written you and Mary since. I hope to hear very soon from you.

Last Sunday [3 November 1861] we were visited by a very severe storm — one of the very severest wind, blowing terrifically, and nearly beating our tents but to our surprise after a forenoon of suspense, the sun shone forth in its agreeable [    ].

I have expected a letter every day and today certainly thought I should receive one from you and cannot quite make up my mind to your trouble or the cause of your not writing. However, I trust that all is well. No news is said to be good news. If we may think so, I must add, trusting that I may soon hear from you and that all are well. With love to all, very affectionately your husband, — George


Camp Hamilton
November 17th 1861

My dear wife,

Your letter reached me today — Sunday — and a cold one it was too, I can assure you.

I was up this morning at 4 o’clock and rode 3 miles to visit my round of pickets — it being my turn for field duty. The moon shone brilliantly indeed — almost as light as day, and the ride gave me an excellent appetite. This P.M. I have been asleep and tonight I have been writing — one letter to a William A. Allen who’s letter I will send you, and then you can know why and judge if its merits. He is well known at home and to Mrs. W.

What do you think of this paper? Pretty good — and I have just bought it of our sutler.

I replied to Allen’s letter and gave him some good advice, enclosing a recommendation. What a word. I do not hear from Mr. & Mrs. Washburn and others, Aunt M. Give them my love. You would wish me to say that I want to see you occasionally. I enjoy indeed letters from you and friends at home. It is more pleasure that one does not appreciate until absence from one’s friends [   ] it to him. That I would enjoy a pleasant chat with you, I cannot deny and that I wish to see — and more than that — is truth. Yes, it would be a bit of [   ] enjoyment to step in upon you and clasp my little family in my arms. I miss them much, but I owe them something and thus we will end — and [move] upon other subjects.

I would much wish this was was ended and hope it may soon close. The last news here was that Messrs. Mason & Slidell had been brought in here and lodged in the Fort [Fortress Monroe] and it is true. I think our cause looks more encouraging and we generally feel in buoyant spirits and would like to go to South Carolina. Nothing of importance other than [  ] news transpired here since my last writing. We have and are making our quarters as comfortable as possible for winter. We have had built on our grounds a stable to accommodate 110 horses and they are now occupying it and our horses are much improved by shelter from cold storms.

My William is an excellent boy and is now here looking after my things. I trust him with everything and never fear but what it will be forthcoming when I want it. And our paymaster has arrived and I shall send some money on to Cambridge for you when I receive it. I shall also, if possible, send some in this letter to you. If not, you must send [remainder of letter missing].




Griff View All →

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.

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