1864: Joseph Henry Buck to Sophia (Cowdry) Buck

Joseph Henry Buck in later years

These six letters were written by Pvt. Joseph (“Joe”) H. Buck (1846-1917), the son of Joseph H. Buck (1820-1904) and Sophia Cowdry (1818-1903) of Woburn, Massachusetts. Pvt. Buck was employed as a clerk when he enlisted at the age of 18 on 16 July 1864 in Co. D, 6th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry (100 days, 1864). He mustered out on October 27, 1864.

Organized at Readville, the 6th Massachusetts left the state for Washington, D. C. on 20 July, arriving there on 22 July. They were assigned to garrison duty at Fort C. F. Smith on Arlington Heights (Va.) till 21 August when they were transported to Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, relieving the 157th Ohio Infantry from guard duty. They spent the remainder of their service guarding Rebel prisoners there until 19 October when they were transported to Boston and mustered out on 27 October 1864.

Joe mentions three younger brothers by name in his letters; they were: Reuben A. Buck (b. 1848), John C. Buck (b. 1851), and Waldo E. Buck (b. 1856). He also mentions three uncles; they were Charles Buck of Stoneham (1829-1915); Emmons Buck of Stoneham (1831-1917), and Nathaniel Cowdry. Emmons Buck served as a private in the 4th Independent Battery, Massachusetts Light Artillery.

Joe was married in 1876 to Mabel Thompson (1856-19xx), daughter of Charles A. Thompson and Maria Sherburn.


Arlington Heights, Va.
August 7th 1864

Dear Mother,

I received your letter written the 1st and mailed the 3rd last Thursday, the day after it was mailed. So you see I got that letter in two days. My letters you won’t probably get quite so soon for they are not taken to Washington until the day after they are written. You will be surprised when I tell you that I have been in the hospital since last Monday morning. Perhaps you will wonder why I didn’t say something about it in the letter I wrote the middle of the week. But I didn’t want you to know it until I got well, for I knew that you would be worrying all the time about me and I knew that wouldn’t help the matter any. I’m going back to my company just as soon as I get this letter written so I had just as soon let you know it as not. But you will want to know what was the matter with me. I caught cold last Sunday night in my right knee and in the morning when I woke up, I found it swelled badly and it pained me a good deal. I couldn’t step on that leg so two of the boys took me up to see the doctor and he sent for an ambulance which brought me up here. The doctor said it was rheumatism and gave me something to bathe it with. The result is that today I am alright again.

I guess you didn’t miss me anymore evenings than I miss home but you must not think I am homesick for I am not. For a day or two past we have had copious showers which have done a great deal of good. I should like to have been at home while the girls were visiting there. Also while Lizzie is there.

I washed my shirt in hot water in an iron pan. This morning I went down to the brook and washed all over and put it on. I don’t see as it has shrunk much but I think it has a little. As you say I should like to step into your pantry once in awhile and eat a piece of pie and drink some milk. Pie, milk, butter and cake are things that the soldiers see little of. I don’t expect to eat any berry pie this season unless you preserve some berries so that I can have some after I get home. I will try and perform all the duties devolving upon me faithfully and cheerfully. Although our drill is pretty hard, yet I like it and hope by the time I get home I shall know something about handling a gun.

There has been but one sun struck in the regiment which is doing pretty well considering the hot weather we have had. Johnnie says they go down to the pond 3 or 4 times a week. I hope they will all learn to swim. I have wished a great many times since I have been out here that I could swim. I should like to help eat some of those berries the boys picked.

The strikers are beginning to come to their senses. I expect to hear soon that they have all gone back to work. I am going to answer both letters in this one. I am glad that Alex Hurdock has gone into the seats for he is a good singer. By the time I get home, they will have enough to sing so that I can sit in the pew and listen. I hope Waldo has got over his cold. Tell Johnnie to put into the piano playing now it is vacation. Johnnie wrote a first rate letter. Tell him to write often and put in as many fancy flourishes as he pleases.

Bill Dean ¹ won’t get a chance to shirk duty much at the Rip Raps. It is a beautiful day but I think it will be awful before noon. I have lost about ten pounds of flesh since I came out here and the boys think I look thin in the face but I can’t see it in that light. What I have lost in flesh, I hope I have gained in wisdom.

The Ohio boys expect to leave for home next Tuesday. We don’t care how soon they go for we shall have better quarters as soon as they are gone. What time we have been here has slid away very quickly to me. Here it is the 7th day of August. It don’t seem like more than a week since I left home. I think I shall send in an application for a pass to Washington in a few days. I shall probably have to wait a month before I get one.

But I have filled my sheet. write often as you can and as much as you can.

From your affectionate son, — J. H. Buck

¹ Willian (“Bill”) Russell Dean (1840-1902) enlisted in Co. B, 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery on 2 January 1864 and mustered out at Wilmington, N. C. in September 1865. The “Rip Raps” was at Fortress Monroe.


Arlington Heights, Va.
August 10th 1864

Dear Mother,

I received your letter — also one from Reuben and Waldo — last Sunday night. You must remember that our mail comes the same Sunday as any other day. You said in the last letter you wrote that you did not intend to write this time. I hope you will write every time a letter is set if you can. Yesterday afternoon one of the members of Co. H died in the hospital of the typhoid fever. He was sun struck when we first came out here and had been sick ever since. He was embalmed so I should think by that he is to be sent home. His name was [William J.] Conn. He enlisted in Boston but belongs in New York. So soon has one of our number passed away.

You wrote that last Sunday you had the pleasure of listening to the new bass singer. If he had Mr. Fox to help him, you couldn’t tell whether he is a good singer or not for Fox is such a powerful singer that he would drown the new singer all out.

Today is the hottest day we have had. It is about noon and I am sitting here in my tent writing this letter with the sweat pouring off of me in torrents. Last Sabbath afternoon the chaplain held service at the colonel’s quarters. I attended. The exercises which were short consisted of singing, reading of the scriptures, prayer, and a short sermon. We shall probably have meetings every Sunday now that the chaplain has joined us. I am glad that you found the South Reading folks all well. I suppose Johnnie White is having a good time up country. I wish I was there. I hope Uncle Nat. will get into the 4th Battery so that he will be with Uncle Emmons. I wrote a letter to Uncle Nat. last week Thursday, I think it was, and directed it the same as usual. I am afraid he won’t get it but I don’t know. I hope you will hear soon that he has got out of the hospital.

But I must fall in for dinner and roll call. After dinner I will finish this. I got my shirt and stockings this morning (the one that I had washed). The shirt, I think, is washed pretty well but the stockings are not clean. She charged 5 cents for washing them. I think I shall have her wash my shirts but the stockings I will wash myself after this.

Last night I went and found Frank Hamden. I don’t remember him if I had seen him before. He said he could come over and see me today. The other young man you spoke of I couldn’t make out the name in your letter and I wish you would write it over in your next.

The 84th New York Regiment ¹ passed by here this forenoon and 5 of their number had been sun struck when they had reached here. You can judge something of the heat from that fact.

So Aunt Clara is going to be married again. Well, I don’t know as I can help it if she is. I should like to see her when she comes East but she’ll probably be home again before I get back. I hope George stands it well. I am going to write to him in a day or two. I wonder how he likes soldiering? I have felt a little homesick once or twice within a few days but I shall soon get over that. I shall think more of home when I get back than I did before. Tomorrow night, ¼ of our time is out. The Ohio troops are still here but expect to leave for home everyday. We try to wait patiently for them to get out of the forts so that we can get in but we find it hard work sometimes. I don’t think that they will rejoice any more than we shall to have them go.

The rain that fell was no doubt a great blessing which if much longer delayed the crops would have been spoilt. We have had some showers here but no steady rainstorm. I have had some peaches lately which are quite a luxury for us Massachusetts boys. The boys come round with them selling them at the rate of 3 for 5 cents. I am going to write a sheet to Reuben and Waldo which I will put in the same envelope with this. How is father’s butchering ² going now? How many does he kill a week? Are they dearer or cheaper than they was when I left home? I suppose father has been quite busy raising money for recruits lately. But I see that I must close for this time.

Goodbye from your affectionate son, — J. H. B.

¹ Joseph must be mistaken in identifying this regiment as the 84th New York. They had disbanded by the time this letter was written in August 1864.

² When the Bucks resided in Stoneham, Joe’s father worked as a “trader.” In Woburn, he worked as a “butcher.”


Arlington Heights, Va.
August 14th, [1864]

Dear Mother,

I wrote in my letter last Wednesday that I had just received a letter from you but that I had not read it. I should like to have been at home to have taken tea with you that night very much but as I couldn’t, I am glad that you did the next best thing and wrote. I hope the boys have got over their colds. To your request to write often I will reply that I will write twice a week certain and perhaps oftener. Your description of George Smith’s funeral ¹ was sad but interesting to me. Mr. [Joseph Conner] Bodwell‘s sermon the next Sunday morning I should like to have heard very much but I got a pretty good idea of it from what you wrote to me.

Yesterday quite unexpectedly I received another letter from home dated August 11th. Those lozenges which you sent in the letter I think will be a good thing for me to take when I get wet and cold. I also received three papers yesterday and three the day before. Yesterday and last night I was on guard and just at night we had some heavy showers which I was out in. I got quite wet and when I was relieved, I went to the fire and dried myself as well as I could and took one of the lozenges which warmed me up first rate. I didn’t get a bit of cold and I feel first rate today all except I am pretty tired for I got but three hours sleep out of the 24 that I were on duty. I will let you know if I am sick again for I had rather tell you than have you hear some other way.

I’m sorry that they couldn’t raise the money to buy recruits but I hope the town will pay the 125 dollars they voted to pay provided they could do so legally. If Reuben has to bring all the water from Mr. Nichols’ I think myself that is enough for him to do this hot weather — especially if you have anywhere near as hot weather as we do here. I hope before this letter reaches you that you will have had some rain. I thought the strikers would have to give in and so they have. I guess some of them will find it hard work to get anything to do in Woburn again. I hope Mr. Richardson has heard something more favorable from Charlie before this time. Now I think of it, I wish to ask if they hear anything more from Charlie Conn. I hear that it is rumored that Arthur Wyman is taken prisoner. ² Have you heard any such rumor? I wrote the sentence before this before I thought that you wrote that Arthur was missing. I hope he has not been taken prisoner for I am afraid it will fare hard with him if he has. I hope Col. [J. Parker] Gould will recover but if he does, he will have to go the rest of his life on crutches as a cork leg will be of little use to him if his leg is amputated at the hip.

I should like a good meal of potatoes. I haven’t tasted of one since I left home. We haven’t had any vegetables of any kind except a few onions in some beef soup yesterday. I should like a few tomatoes. I believe I could eat them now with a good relish. You said that if I wanted any buttons to let you know and you would send some. I have as many as I shall want. I have used only one since I left home. I don’t worry either about my growing poor for just as soon as it gets a little cool, I shall grow as fat as a hog. See if I don’t. I don’t think I shall have the rheumatism every time I get cold for I had it very little when I was at home. I am going down to bathe before night. I intend to bathe and wash my things Saturday afternoons but I couldn’t yesterday being as I have said before on guard. We still remain in our old camp and there is little prospect of our moving at the present. As for myself, I had about as leave stay here as anywhere for it is the most healthy place there is about here.

I want you to send me some paper and envelopes for I have only 4 sheets of paper left and a few more envelopes. Get some paper like this if you can and a bunch of stamped envelopes. Cover the package well so that the paper won’t get dirty. I want you to send me one of my photographs for I have received one for which I am to return mine. Hoping that you will write soon and often, I close these few lines with an affectionate goodbye.

From your affectionate son, — J. H. B.

¹ George Robertson Smith (1848-1864) was the son of Charles A Smith (1824-1897) and Elizabeth A. Robertson (b. 1829) of Woburn, Massachusetts. George died on 4 August 1864 at the age of 16.

² Arthur Wyman served in Co. K, 59th Massachusetts Infantry. He was wounded and taken prisoner in the Battle of the Crater on 30 July 1864. He was exchanged on 22 February 1865.


Arlington Heights, Va.
August 18th, 1864

Dear Mother,

I received a letter from you and Johnnie yesterday which I will try and answer this morning. We haven’t drill any for a week past but have been on fatigue duty. We have to work only three hours a day and the rest of the day we have to ourselves. Our work is to cut down the trees and brushes around the forts within range of the guns.

It seems by your letter that most all the neighbors have been away visiting. Now why don’t you go? Go up and see Augusta a couple of weeks if you possibly can. Charlie Nichols didn’t have a very pleasant time of his visit, did he? If he can’t go down East without getting sick, he would never do to go to war. I am glad that they have brought Charlie Richardson on north for if he stops even in New York his father can go and see him. I hope he will be taken to Readville for then his folks can see him often. Did he write what was the matter with him? I am not sorry that he said as much as he did. Neither am I sorry that I came out here for if I had stayed at home, I should have been discontented because I couldn’t go.

I had a letter from George last Tuesday. He wrote that he was well but that their duties were rather hard. They are stationed in Fort McHenry about 5 miles from the City of Baltimore doing garrison duty and guarding prisoners of war and bounty jumpers. I guess by what he says, they are having a great deal harder time than we.

I should think Henry Knights was some pumpkins according to Charlie Nichols. Tell what is he — proprietor of the hotel or only landlord?

We have showers every day and this morning is is just beginning to rain. It looks as if we are going to have a storm. I have seen Frank Hamden but two or three times. He is young and quite small for a soldier. I don’t see enough of him to find out what kind of a fellow he is. Henry Eames ¹ I will try and find for I should like to get acquainted with him. Never mind about the berries for I eat peaches enough to make up for it. We can get just as many large peaches as we want for a cent apiece. I will eat one for each one of you and me too.

Father will have to come down on papers now that they have raised the price, I should think. It seems that the 50th and 5th are both in the same fort. I am glad that Emmons and Nat are so near and I hope they will be in the same battery. I don’t care how often you write for I tell you, the boys jump for a letter from home. I haven’t received any papers this week but I suppose you have sent some. At any rate, I hope you have.

Our time commenced the 18th of July. Consequently, it is 31 days today. I don’t think I shall feel homesick if I can keep well but if I should get sick, I couldn’t help being homesick.

We were out in a shower yesterday afternoon and not quite wet but today I am all right. I didn’t get a bit of cold. The Ohio troops leave for home today so that it looks as if we should get into one of the forts pretty soon. We all hope so for we have got sick of sitting here in the dirt. But I must stop for I want to write a little to Johnnie.

From your affectionate son, — J. H. Buck

August 18th

Dear Brother,

I will write a short letter to you in answer to yours which I received yesterday. I should like to eat some of them tomatoes. Frank hasn’t got too big to fly a kite yet, has he? They didn’t make out very well to the war meeting Saturday night. I hope they will make out better to the meeting this evening. I hope you will have a good time if you go to the pic-nic/

Nathan Melendy had to run away to enlist, didn’t he? I heard he did. We don’t drill Sundays but we have to go on inspection which is a great deal worse. We have to go out with everything on and if anything is out of order, it must be righted immediately.

Does Reuben like his jack knife? I haven’t seen and orange since I came out here and I don’t expect to so I don’t think there is any danger of my getting into the same trouble as the boy in Pawtucket. But I don’t see but what I shall come to a close for the present. Goodbye.

From your affectionate brother, — Bub

¹ Henry W. Eames, a resident of Wilmington employed as a farmer, enlisted at age 23, on August 18, 1862, as a Private in Company D, 5th Regiment Massachusetts Vounteer Infantry. He mustered in on Sept. 19, 1862 and mustered out on Aug. 24, 1863.


Fort Delaware, Delaware
August 28th 1864

Dear Mother,

YesterdayI received two letters and 8 papers from home — the first I have received for more than a week. That Harper’s Monthly that you spoke of sending me I have not received as yet. As you say, the time is passing quickly away. I should like to have heard the sermon that you spoke about but I hope we shall have good sermons here. There is a beautiful chapel here and I am told that there are to be services held there this afternoon. If there is, I shall attend. I suppose Orin was wide awake as usual. Has he got sick of farming yet? I did not notice when the papers that I got were mailed. I received my paper and envelopes all safe and in pretty good condition. I have not seen anything of the man with the lozenges and probably shall not see him now that we have some here. I am sorry for Wally’s sake for I know he will be disappointed when I tell him I have not received his present. I will send him a short letter on the end of Johnnies. I hope you gave my love to all the folks over to South Reading. I have been expecting a letter from Lizzie but have not had any. Perhaps she is having such a good time that she has forgotten to write.

I should like to have been at home when Frank and Augusta come down but I shall not be this time. Tell Frank that soldiering is not the worst thing in the world. Tell him that I think that a white man is just as good as a nigger if he behaves himself as well. I should like to have seen Alfred first rate. Don’t he talk and act as if he came from up country? I should have enjoyed going to Boston with the most of anything. He will feel as if he had seen all there was to see worth seeing when he goes home. They have done well in Reading and Stoneham and I can only express the hope hat they will do as well in Woburn. The present prospects, however, are not very encouraging. I suppose Uncle Charlie thought he couldn’t afford to buy a substitute and so enlisted. Well, if he wasn’t accepted as a recruit, he probably won’t be if drafted. I am sorry Charlie Richardson  is no better. I hope he will get a furlough to go home for he will get well twice as soon if he does. I wonder if he hasn’t got a little sick of Uncle Sam’s service.

I am glad they have heard from Charlie Conn again. I hope he will soon get exchanged. Did the neighbors enjoy their visit down East? What has been the matter with Charlie Johnson? Is it his old complaint? I will try and write to Abby before long but I am pretty busy now.

We struck our tents a week ago today which was a busy day for us. Consequently I did not get a chance to write a letter home. You want to know how I like Fort Delaware. I like it first rate so far. I expect we shall have to do just about as much guard duty as we are able to but I guess we shall live through it. I have been on guard twice since we have been here. Came off this morning and expect to go on again tomorrow morning. Only about 200 miles nearer home than I was on Arlington Heights. It is a healthy place here. The Ohio regiment lost very few men while here. There are about 70 cases of small pox among the rebel prisoners. The surgeon has vaccinated a great many in the regiment and I think I shall get vaccinated.

I haven’t read my papers yet so I don’t know whether I have got the one that speaks of the death of Col. [J. Parker] Gould or not but the magazine I haven’t got yet. I forgot to tell you how to direct my letters so that I will tell you in this one. Direct to Fort Delaware, Del.

I should like to have some of the Woburn folks come and see us first rate and I know that the other boys would too. Reuben will have a little chance to rest from his water carrying while he is gone a visiting — a good thing for him. How did the fire happen? Murdoch was my boss at Cummings.

I should like to have helped eat the old hen but I guess you will have some of them left when I get home. Recruits come in rather slow for them to fill the quota before the draft comes off. I could read it all very easily but some of the words look as if you were a little bit sleepy. I understand just where Fort Delaware is situated. It is on quite a small island at the head of the Delaware Bay opposite Delaware City, 30 or 40 miles from Philadelphia. We didn’t see the famous break water for the reason that we didn’t come past it. We came by land direct to Philadelphia, then took the steamer down the river to this place.

But I have filled my sheet full. Goodbye.

From your affectionate son, — J. H. Buck


Fort Delaware, Delaware
August 28th 1864

Dear Brother John,

I received your letter and mother’s last night and was very glad to hear from you. I want you to write as often as once a week if you possibly can. The War Meeting that you spoke of was not a very successful affair if they did have some smart speakers. The “big thing on ice” was a little bigger than the other but nothing great. I was glad you had a good time but I am sorry you didn’t get any of the watermelons. I can buy plenty of watermelons twice as big as your head for ten cents and three much-melons for 5 cents. I can also get plenty of milk here at ten cents a quart and good butter at 50 cents a pound.

I suppose you didn’t do much at swimming, did you. They broke up in good season, I should think, but I don’t know as it was any to early. Did you have a good time over to South Reading? I guess Reuben had just as leave father would butcher some other time than when he wants to go a visiting. I don’t think I am very courageous but I guess I shall make as brave a one as he would. I should like to have had a ride in the boat with you boys but I probably shall not have a chance this summer.

You said in your letter that Johnnie and Francis had got some eel hooks. Are they any different from any other fish hooks? Does Orin like to play piano as well as he used to? You said you wanted me to write a longer letter. If you want me to write a longer letter, you must make yours longer. I want you to tell mother to get me 3 good stout fish lines and half a dozen hooks about an inch long and do them up in the next lot of papers she sends. There are plenty of fish in the river and all I want is a line and some hooks to get fish enough to make me a good meal. We have had comfortable weather ever since we came here. I think the hot weather is over for this summer. At any rate, I hope so.

How are the springs — still dry? Haven’t you had a good storm yet? I suppose you have commenced a new quarter of music lessons before this. Put the music through. I want you to have some good new pieces learned to play to me when I get home in about two months. We are going to have fresh beef every day now. We have had some potatoes once since we came here but I don’t know whether we are to have anymore or not. Are there going to be any apples this year?

There is a steamer runs to Philadelphia from here twice a day. Two mails leave here every day but Sunday — one in the forenoon and one in the afternoon. The mail from home arrives here every afternoon at 1½ o’clock. Does Mr. Clark ever enquire after me? If he does, tell him I am well and enjoying myself as well as can be expected.

I came off of guard this morning. Consequently I feel pretty sleepy and tired today but a good nights sleep tonight will make me alright again. It is the quietest Sunday that I have seen since I left home. Are the folks going to the beach this season? I shall have to let you go this time if you do without me.

We load our guns every time we go on guard and fire them off when we come off. I expect to have to go on guard every other day. i came off this morning and shall probably go on again tomorrow morning. But I feel too tired to write anymore today. I must write a short letter to Waldo. Write often and I will answer.

From your brother, — Joseph H. Buck

Brother Waldo,

I thought you would like to have brother Bub write you a short letter. I did not get your lozenges but never mind. You be a good boy and brother Bub will send you something before I come home. But I can’t write anymore today for I am tired. Goodbye. — Brother Bub


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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