Department of New York

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Grand Army
of the Republic

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The Letters of
John S. Maxwell
Commander, Department of New York

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John S. Maxwell – Age 17– Civil War Letters


Sept. 9, 1864 – The "Vermont" at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Several thousand men on board. First supper was hard tack and coffee. A week to go before hammocks arrive. Sleeping on the floor. Baggage from home is stolen from many of the ‘boys’. Referred to an $800 bounty for joining.


Sept. 19, 1864 – The "Vermont" at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Not much happening yet and boredom experienced by most. His mother must have expressed concern in her letters to him. He says: "I put my trust in an "Over-Ruling Providence". Commits to writing a daily log of his ship board experiences.


Sept. 30, 1864 – The "Vermont" at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

More sailors (some draftees) still coming on board. Tomorrow some fresh meat and soup. He reflects on "mother’s tea and pumpkin pie".


Oct. 6, 1864 -- The "Vermont" at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Wrote to Edward (who recently joined the infantry). "We have music every night on deck: banjo, fiddle, and accordion, with songs such as "Home Sweet Home" and "Do They Think of me at Home". Daily routine: "4:30 a.m rise, wash the deck and pump the ship, till seven when we eat our tack and drink coffee. Roll call at eight. After roll call, the sailors do what they please until six and then standby their hammocks. "Every night some of the men try to escape. Most are caught by little Police boats. "I find many kind hearted, good "moral" young men – although the most of them are the opposite."


Oct. 13, 1864 - The "Vermont" at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Wrote to Edward. Spoke to the Captain’s Clerk this forenoon about getting drafted (assigned). He says he will try and get us all together in the next draft for the "Blockade" We have to give him something for doing it – ten dollars apiece. I would rather do it than stay here a month longer.


Oct. 16, 1864 - The "Vermont" at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

In the service for six weeks. Having pork and beans for dinner today and hard tack for "dessert". "I am getting to understand sailor’ phrases pretty well now. To his mother, he says "This Cruel War" will be over and we (his brother too) will come home again."


Oct. 24, 1864 - The "Vermont" at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

"The "Augusta", a gunboat, is just starting. She is going to Wilmington.


Nov. 6, 1864 - on board the "A.D. Vance" at sea.

Sailed last Sunday. Hauled into Sandy Hook until morning. Set off for Fortress Monroe. Wednesday night off Hattress, "didn’t the old hop rock some!" A great mountainous wave would sweep clean over the bow of the ship. We are on the South Carolina coast somewhere. Tomorrow to Port Royal to take on coal and provisions. A lot of sea sickness and "throwing up" thoughout the ship. I can’t account for it, but I haven’t been sick at all – and I am now in tip top health.

"This is one of the neatest crafts: long and narrow – two masts, carries five guns – 24 lb. Brass howitzers and she has two large engines and is considered one of the fastest ships in the navy. Dried apples every day or two. It is a perfect home little home – if one can only think so.



Nov. 9, 1964 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", Beaufort, NC

Day before yesterday the ‘look out’ spied a vessel which was supposed to be a blockade runner. She proved to be one of our own ships. They were looking for the blockade runner "Talahassee".

"I suppose Edward has gone to the front an by this time next year – God protect us – we will both return home. He hopes that "the Union is restored and the old flag flying all over the courty".


Nov. 16, 1964 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", Off Wilmington, NC

"I can see the rebel flag flying over the fort at the entrance to Wilmington".


Nov. 19, 1964 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", Off Wilmington, NC

At about 7 p.m. the Captain hailed a steamer. She immediately put her lights out and scut off. We fired four rounds at her and then went after her, but lost sight of her in the dark. We got the steam up and were traveling at 17 knots.

"Since I wrote you, our ship has been made a ‘flag ship’. We are on the south side of Wilmington and there are thirteen vessels in the fleet and I do not know how many on the north side." I am starving for news. I suppose "Abe" is our next president and Fenton our (NY) governor.

The Captain has ordered us to put white tape on our collars – we are on the flag ship you know.

We can see the rebel flag flying from the fort. It may come down soon!


Nov. 22, 1964 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", Off Wilmington, NC

" Night before last we went within two miles or three of the fort entrance. Two or three shells were thrown at us but did not hit us. Yesterday we went on sort of a reconnoiter along the coast. We had the British flag hoisted so the rebs might think us a blockade runner. We went within a mile of shore. Our Captain returned a wave from the rebs.


Dec. 4, 1964 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", Off Wilmington, NC

Realized "Abe" had been elected. Had and "oinon stew" for Thanksgiving dinner.


Dec. 6, 1964 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", In Port Beaufort, SC

" I am off my watch and am sitting up the forecastle – one of the loveliest days I ever saw". Little boats "bam boats" come along the side of the ship with apples, cakes, break, sweet potatoes.


Dec. 13, 1964 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", In Port Beaufort, SC

page 26 – storm letter.

Dec. 18, 1964 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", Off Wilmington, NC

"I understand that we are to carry dispatches from the flaghship to the other vessels. There are a total of seventy vessels that will be included in the engagement.


Dec. 31, 1964 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", Port Royal Harbor, SC

Our captain has been fattening up a turkey on the ship for New Years. The turkey has been sea sick.. We can see Hilton Head. We are near the hotbed of the rebellion – Charleston.


Jan . 17, 1965 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", Off Wilmington, NC

You will have read about the fight by the time this letter reaches you. The AD Vance with half dozen other ships have been laying along the beach to protect the landing of troops and to protect the ammunition stores.

It was a grand sight to see the troops after they had landed fall into line and march up towards the fort. The fleet kept up shelling the fort. I don’t see how the rebs stood it. At about 4 p.m. yesterday, a party of rebs made a charge out of the woods on the troops left to protect the ammunition. They charged with a yell. The troops on the beach fell into line and charged right into them. We were called to quarters and with the other gun boats, gave a few shells. It was too hot for the Johnys and they retired.

The fort surrendered night before. The Admiral’s flagship was illuminated. The sun rose this morning to shine on many dead and bleeding forms that wer no more. It has been an awful weeks work, but the old flag floats on the fort where one week ago the rebel flag flaunted defiantly.

There were two or three thousand rebel prisoners on the beach yesterday.

The wounded men and prisoners are being brought over on the transports. They hoist the wounded men up the side of the ship as they would boxes. Oh it is awful!


Jan . 19, 1965 -- on board the "A.D. Vance", Cape Fear River.

This has been a terrible blow to the rebellion. The rebs must have meant that his place should not be taken – evidenced by the small torpedo boats. The rebel cause looks hopeless. Down with the traitors, up with the starts. Three cheers for the Army and Navy – Hallaleuia.

The rebel prisoners looked like beggars, old men and little boys with dirty blankets and no two dressed alike.

I was talking with one of the engineers who was ashore in the fort and dying all around. He said a young rebel soldier only sixteen lay with both lets blow off. He sat beside him until he died. He told the engineer he was forced to go into the army. His last words were : I will never see my mother again".


March 22, 1865. U.S. North Carolina, Brooklyn Navy Yard.

When I think of Sherman’s brave boys have gone through and what our prisoners suffer in prison, I can’t complain.

We drill every day with muskets or single sticks.


June 15, 1865. U.S. steamer Baltic, Mobile

I was ashore several times. The buildings nearest the explosion were completely demolished. I went through four forts. The guns have all been taken out. Steamers are coming an going laden with freight. The mosquitoes. They are here by the million.


July 31, 1865. U.S. steamer Morgan, Mobile

Home soon.


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