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LaForge Civil War Diaries and Correspondence: January-March 1863

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 - 07:00

This selection of letters explains Abiel's continued presence at Camp Convalescent. His health (which he previously claimed to be quite recoverd) was proclaimed to be not up to the rigors of a winter at the front. And (as I intimated previously) his services were snapped up by the camp commander, presumably due to his reliable qualities shining through.

In this group is also the letter that may be my favorite of the entire set, describing the joys of a care package from home. Yet so firmly were [the boiled chickens] convinced that it was their duty (under any circumstances) to carry out the principles of their existance, that they had laid one dozen hard boiled eggs in their transit from Andover to camp Convalescent!

Content Warning: reference to a soldier committing suicide.

The Diary and Letters of Abiel Teple LaForge 1842-1878

Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Phyllis G. Jones (his great-granddaughter)

Copyright © 1993, Phyllis G. Jones, All rights reserved

January - March 1863


1863 Contents

  • January 11, 1863
  • January 26, 1863
  • February 15, 1863 - The Wonderful "Care Package"
  • March 2, 1863
  • March 20, 1863
  • April 30, 1863
  • May 27, 1863
  • June 26, 1863
  • August 3, 1863
  • August 25, 1863
  • September 24, 1863 - A Night at Ford's Theater
  • October 20, 1863
  • October 30, 1863
  • December 10, 1863 - Transporting Prisoners to Washington and Some Sightseeing


January 11, 1863 - HeadQuarters, Convalescent Camp. Near Ft. Barnard, Virginia

Dear Sister,

Yours of December 30th is at hand. I was reading it over tonight in the greatest state of perplexity you can imagine. It seems to me I have answered it, and yet I do not know. And as that is the case, to make "everything sure," as the dutch Captain said, I will write again.

In the first place then, this is no longer Post Hospital, but Convalescent Camp Near Fort Barnard, Virginia. This for some time will be your address for your dear kind letters to me. You made a funny mistake in the direction of yours mailed New Years Day. It was directed to McKim's Hospital. However the Postmaster there is a friend of mine and, knowing where I am, he redirected it and sent it to me, so that's all right. In your letter of December 20th, which I send back to you to see if it is the one you sent the money in (for there was none in it when I received it), you make the following inquireies:

  • 1st How far are you from Baltimore?
  • 2nd How far from Washington?
  • 3rd Where is Alexandria Va?
  • 4th What way and how much would it cost to come from Andover to this place?

To which I answer, this camp is about forty-five miles from Baltimore, 3-1/2 or 4 from Washington. To come here you would change cars at Elmira, and at Baltimore you would have to change again, and be carried in a "bus" from one depot to the other, about two miles. It would cost about ($12) twelve dollars, and much as I should like to see you, I should not advise you to come at this season of the year.

You say you can't find any Alexandria in Virginia. Now get my "atlas," which is in my trunk or some other place, and I will show you where it is. There now, you have the map of Virginia? You see Washington on the Maryland side of the Potomack. Now look on the opposite side of the river and a little way below Washington and you have Alexandria, Virginia. Now do you see it?

I gave up going back to the Army this winter. The surgeon said I would not be able to stand a winter campaign, and as I did not like to remain Idle, I accepted the offer made me to become one of the orderlies at Head Quarters. In this I stayed from December 4th untill January 7th, 1863.

At this time, a new Colonel came to take command of the camp, and when he got up his private quarters, he called me to him, and said he, "I want you to be my private orderly, as you appear to understand your business, and that's what I want." Now as there was seven other orderlies, I felt quite flattered to be chosen. I would not write this to any person but my dear sister, and I have a right to, to you, for you will make allowances for my vanity.

Tell father I thank him very much for those Postage Stamps. They came just in time for I was out of money and out of stamps. This is a much more pleasant winter than the last. It is getting rather muddy now but it is almost the first mud we have had. Tell Billings I am much obliged to him for his kind offer to come down and relieve me for a while, but as I don't see you coming, I shall have to take it as a mere offer.

Give my love to mother and Jane. Tell Joseph I wish I had a bushel of oats of his raising to eat, anything from Andover.

There are eight of us boarding togather. We live well just now. Two of the boys have boxes from home. One contains 105 lbs. and the other 85: chicken, rosted turkey, apples, pickels in jars etc. [Note: If this was a broad hint to his sister about receiving a box from home, she seems to have taken the hint, as the next couple of letters will show.]

But I must close,

Your loveing brother, A. T. LaForge, Orderly

Mrs. Joseph Potter Andover, N.Y.

[written in the margins]

I give up that riddle. Accept it is as Little Mattie says, but Jonah didn't dwell long, for the whale got sick of him.

[Note: I tried searching online for "riddle + Jonah" and found a few riddles in the right timeframe, but none for which this would be the answer.]

The letter December 20th Is not the one you sent the money in, for you mention in that having sent it the Friday before. Let the letter go. A dollar wont break me anyway, if I don't get [it]. Goodbye. A T LaF.


Head Quarters, Camp convalescent, Monday, January 26th 1863

Dear Sister,

Your kind letter of January 18th I received the 22nd. You may guess it gave me some pleasure! A box from home--why the very thought is joy. Just the box without any thing in it is enough to make me homesick, and the contents will have to be used to cure me I suppose.

You want to know what I want in it? Well thats a poser. I can hardly tell. Sweet meats are not in much demand; something more solid is better, such as a roast chicken or roll of butter, and above all things a loaf of your bread.

I am not in want of socks or shirts, thanks to the kind Matron of McKim's. She supplied me well with both before I came from there. Mittens I could not use here, for I often have to write in the open air. I shall buy a pair of gloves as soon as we are paid off. I wish you would send me a red silk pocket handkerchief, if you can get one that won't fade, and let me know the price. I should be afraid of being cheated if I bought one. And send me one or two old Genesee Valleys if you have them [Note: possibly a newspaper?], and if you will be so kind, send me my old account book (after copying my account with brother Josey's in some other book). If you have used it to write anything else in, never mind sending it. I only wanted it to make a kind of report of myself.

Well, I think I have said enough about the box. I am ashamed of myself, but I must add that it should be strong and well packed (if there are any breakables it) with straw or something, for they are handled rather rough sometimes.

The direction will be:

New Convalescent Camp

Near Fort Barnard, Virginia

Via Alexandria, Virginia

I received a letter from Uncle Siars to day. They were all well and had just received a letter from you. They want me to come that way when I go home, but that is such an uncertain date that I can hardly promise. [Note: I need to search and see if I can interpret "Uncle Siars" better.]

Janey sends me a piece of her dress to see how I like it, does she? Well she only does it to make me show my ignorance on such subjects. Well, I won't get mad with her, for she is too far away for me to punish her with a good kiss. So I merely give my candid opinion of it, so here it is. I think it is very pretty and only wish I was there to christen it for her. Well I'll delegate Billings for that. "Ha ha," wont he get his ears slapped! [Note: There is a running thread of semi-flirtation with Janey over a long period. I keep meaning to check the genealogy charts to determine exactly who she is.]

You found where Alexandria, Virginia was, didn't you? You say you want me to visit the Smithsonian Institute. I did that three times last winter. Did I not write to you of it? A person might spend a month there and not see all there is to be seen. It is the best free insititution in the country.

The name of the commander of the camp is Samuel McKelvy. He is a Lieutenant Colonel and is attached to Major General Hentzelman's staff. Last week we had some wet weather--mud a foot deep. Not near so bad as it was last winter, though. It is getting better now. This afternoon we have news that Burnside has resigned and Hooker is in command. [He] has crossed the Rappahannock and is as near Richmond as the mud will allow him to get. Hooker is a fighting man and I hope will do something. McKlellan is the only man who has proved himself worthy of handling a large army as yet. He will be in command again, if Hooker fails and Sumner after him.

It is half past nine P.M. and I must close with my best wishes to you all.

Your loving brother,

A. T. LaForge

Chief Orderly

P.S. Please put in the box a few hard boiled eggs, and an ear or two of popcorn, if you have it. None of the boys from there are in our mess.

A T L.F.


Head Quarters, Camp Convalescent, Virginia February 15th 1863

Dear Sister,

You don't know how good I feel! Why what do you think has happened? This morning I went down to the Express office and--strange to say--found there a box marked Abel. J. [sic] LaForge. And what do you think I did? You can't guess, so I will tell you. I claimed it! The express man asked me if I had an order or bill of freight and I told him no. "You can't have it," says he. That's tough, thinks I.

I must not give it up so. But I was saved the trouble of devising some plan to get it by a gentleman's coming in and, finding what I wanted, he asked me if I was not with Colonel McKelvy? I told him I was, and he gave me the the box without further ado. Bully for me!

I took the treasure home and opened it before the wondering eyes of our boys. Well, my friends, you would be abundantly paid if you could have heard their pleased remarks as the contents were revealed. That Jelly cake received enough praise to last Janey a year, when we tasted it. Maple sugar was pronounced superior to anything of the kind ever tasted of. And the honey, who shall undertake to describe the delights of home-made biscuit with butter and honey? A certain man, by name Joseph Potter, was voted the best honey raiser in these United States (or rather, Disunited States).

But the wonder is still to be spoken of. Those chickens--they made us all show the whites of our eyes in a remarkably edifying manner. I must tell you of them. They were chickens whose heads had been cut off, their feathers had been picked off, they had been boiled untill they were the most tender dainty I ever ate. They had been packed in a tight box. Yet so firmly were they convinced that it was their duty (under any circumstances) to carry out the principles of their existance, that they had laid one dozen hard boiled eggs in their transit from Andover to camp Convalescent!

What a model of unflinching determination--to perform duty under any circumstances--is this? And set us by a chicken too! Well is it said, "Our best examples are from the lowly."

The handkerchief just suits, and indeed I dont think it were possible to get up a box the contents of which would give more universal satisfaction than the one you sent me, and I must say, My Dear friends, I sincerely thank you.

Having disposed of the box, I will now proceed to to the news. We (meaning Head Quarters) have moved into a fine new building, where there is plenty of light and room. This building is divided into four rooms. One is used as buisness office, one as Discharge office, the third as Colonel's private office occupied by him (Colonel) and me, and the fourth is a sleeping apartment used for that purpose by a Lieutenant acting as Adjutant and your humble servant. My duty is to answer unofficial matters sent to the Colonel Commanding, and to keep myself "posted," so that when any information is needed, I can give it and act as [a] sort [of] confidante, to issue orders etc.

There is a railroad running within a half mile of here, from which we are building a branch road to come right up to the barracks, which are now completed and contain nearly five thousand men. Six thousand two hundred men are in this camp now. We discharge from two hundred to two-fifty daily from the service, and send a good many back to their regiments, yet fresh ones keep coming, so the number does not decrease.

We have been having some very muddy weather lately, but for the last two days there has been an evident inclination, to which I am sure I hope it will. [Note: I can't quite decipher that last sentence, unless there is some meaning implicit in "an evident inclination" that indicates a let-up in the rain.] Frank Davis started for Camp Distribution on the way back to his company last week. I have not heard from father yet. I hope he will write soon. Desiring the same thing of yourself. I remain as ever Your Loving brother,

Abiel T. LaForge, Chief Orderly


Head Quarters, Convalescent Camp, Virginia March 2nd 1863

Dear Sister,

I received your kind letter of February 22nd the day before yesterday. I had been expecting it for many days, and began to think you had not received my last. It is said that "hope defered makes the heart grow sick." If this is so, I know of an instantaneous cure, at least in my case, which is this: the final consumation of our hopes. For when I have waited for a letter from you untill I began to despair, its arrival would effect a cure in less than "no time".

Well, if this is not the funniest I ever saw! Two or three changes every day. It is impossible to say what weather we shall have the next hour, unless you say it will be bad, which is quite safe. However warm weather is at hand, and then it will be all right. Bad weather has no effect on the inmates of this camp, farther than to make them ill-natured, for they are all in good warm clean barracks.

We are surrounded on all sides by a fine grove of evergreens, nicely trimed up to about seven feet from the ground. What a splended place this will be in summer for the men to wander through! It is perfectly free from underbrush, the ground covered with the dried pine tassels, making a nice soft carpet for reclining upon.

You wanted to know the camp Frank Davis was sent to from here. It is Camp of Distribution, near Alexandria Virginia. He was sent there about the middle of February. Whether he has been sent from there to the regiment, I do not know. Colonel Belknap came here when he returned from his furlough expecting to have command, doubtless. And as he could not get it, concluded to return to his own command, for which he started last week. Before going, he came into the office and very kindly bid us all goodbye. He is well liked by all who knew him in the camp. [Note: At some point, I believe late in the 1864 entries, I comment on the sudden appearance of Abiel using "concluded" to mean "decided". Now that I'm watching for it, I've noticed this earlier example as well.]

I am glad you have heard from father. I wish he would write to me. What a good thing it is [that] he has such a strong constitution. I am always expecting to hear that he is sick or badly hurt some way. He is changing about from place to place so much. How I should like to be with him and you for a short time, but that may not be.

I suppose you have commenced making maple sugar by this time, have you not? Tomorrow I must go to work at Nelson Crandall's. He has just commenced making sugar. [Note: Not sure what this last comment is, since Abiel obviously isn't going anywhere to work at the sugarbush.]

Tell Janey her Morning Dew came through safe and I still carry it in my pocket. It is a most delicate odor. [Note: "Morning Dew" sounds from context to be some sort of perfume. A brief search turns up a patent medicine by that name, but I have no idea if there's a direct connection or if this is simply a generic name for a perfume.]

Did you intend that little wreath you drew at the end of your letter for me to kiss? That is the way I interpreted, and acted accordingly.

Give my love to Janey and Mother and kiss Joseph for me, for I know you can do that with a relish.

[Note: Sometimes the little everyday social differences are the most striking. Usually "kiss so-and-so for me" suggests a context where the speaker would expect to kiss the person, if present. So I'm trying to guess whether a man kissing his brother-in-law in greeting would be unexceptionable, or whether that sort of transitivity isn't implied.]

Your Loving Brother

Abiel T LaForge

Chief Orderly


HeadQuarters, Camp Convalescent, March 20th 1863

Dear Sister,

Yours of the 12th Inst[ant] arrived in what we think must be the Equinoctial storm, and a disagreable one it is. And as it is a very disagreable one, and I dont like to speak of disagreable subjects, I will not say any more about it. So such about the equinox.

You have got through your spring tour of visits have you? I have no doubt you had a pleasant time. I should like to have been there to supprise you when you came home. Suppose you had come in and found me in the "cubbord" at the pies and pickles? My, what a time there would have been! I guess my ears would have been pulled some, don't you think so? You state that father wrote that he had not received a letter from me since he had been there. I did not get one from him untill last week, and consequently did not know where to direct. His letters must have miscarried, for last week was the first I got from him, and that I answered immediately.

Last month I had the misfortune to lose my memorandum book, commened the time I enlisted October 3rd. I felt very sorry, as I was just going to send it to you to be preserved for me. However I have commenced another and "better luck next time" is my motto, so here goes.

A melancholy event happened last Sunday (15th). A man belonging to the New York troops, and who had been pronounced a case of "harmless insanity," and application had been made at the Adujtant General's for his admission into the Insane Asylum for the U.S. Soldiers at Washington, was found to have commited suicide by hanging himself in one of the barracks not ocupied at the time by any of the soldiers. This created considerable excitement at first, but Colonel McKelvy soon quelled it and sent the men to their quarters, ordering a proper disposition to be made of the body. And soon everything was going along as before. And in a few minutes you would not have suspected that one of our number had commited the sin of suicide in our midst. How wise, things are ordered.

Give my love to all my friends up there, if there is enough to go round. If not, those in the Old Homestead I want to have it all.

And remember me ever,

As your loving brother,

Abiel T LaForge

Chief Orderly

To Mrs Joseph Potter

Andover Allegany County New York

P.S. Sister, I have been so careless as to lose that letter you sent me giving Joseph's account with me. Will you please send me another, giving the same, if you please? The enclosed (20) dollars are for Perry [Potter]. Will you get his note, payable on demand, with seven per cent interest from date?

Yours etc.

Abiel T La Forge


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