George Sisson Civil War letters
We share a recent discovery of letters written by George F. Sisson during his service as a private in the 3rd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
For towns in Northern states such as Westport, the impact of the Civil War was felt most keenly through the personal experiences of soldiers and the human cost of lives lost or disabilities sustained by those who survived.
The fate of many of Westport’s soldiers is recorded in a resolution at the town meeting in 1866:
“resolved that we still cherish the memory of such brave men who have laid aside their armour and have passed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Some have fallen on the field and sleep in rebel soil. Some have sickened and died in the camp. Some have returned to their families only to die among their friends. Others have lingered famished in loathsome rebel prisons away from home and friends, denied even a cup of cold water to cool their fevered lips and aching heads.” (Westport Town Meeting 1866)
George F. Sisson (1821-1902)
The following letters were transcribed from copies shared by WHS member, Andrew Macomber. At the age of 41, George Sisson, a carpenter by trade, enrolled as a private in Company G, 3rd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was the son of David Sisson and Penelope Howland Sisson.
The regiment’s mission was to march from Newbern to Goldsboro, NC, to destroy railroad tracks and bridges, thus interrupting Confederate supply lines.
Much of George Sisson’s time was spent building hospitals for the sick and wounded. His letters provide us with some insights into the daily life of Civil War soldiers and their battle weary fatigue. He offers us a few Westport-centric comments, wishing for “some of the eels that I caught last winter” and he mentions other Westporters, John Hazzard and Humphrey Wood.
George Sisson was discharged in June 1863, settling in Middleboro with his wife Clarinda Macomber. Like many veterans, he suffered from lingering wounds and disease. Rheumatism, deafness and loss of sight prevented him from working as a carpenter. Tragically, all four of his children predeceased him.
(Biographies of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors of Westport, Massachusetts by Paul A. Pannoni and Dawn Manchester)
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7, 1862
Dear Mother, I promised you that I write you how I got along so I will fulfill my promise. This morning the weather is cool. There is some ice here for the first time this season. The country is very level ad plenty of tall pine timer and plenty of soldiers here. You would think if you could see them all. There is twenty thousand troops in about here. We are well fortified with forts that mount 70 guns or more. The Rebels would have a warm reception to come down here. We are encamped between the Trent River and on the Moose River with two forts within a half mile of ours. If you could see me writing now I am sitting in my bunk which is my place to sleep at night is of some boards to keep me off the ground. We had beans & pork for dinner it being Sunday, that is our dish every Sunday.
We are under General Forster. I don’t think we shall have to fight much this winter.
I would like to see you all but I can’t at present so I must be content where I am. There is some of our men a coming home, they having been discharged for poor health. I hope mine will prove good to the end. Give my love to Deborah that I would like to see her first rate. I often think of you all. Charles and Mary Jane and the children have my best wishes. I hope that some of them might write me a letter. I would like to hear from. Tell Louise that she might well have to come out here before the rebellion is put down. I thought that some of them C/D were a coming out to camp Joe Hooker before I went away but it was too much work for them so I should expect them to write me. Give my love to them all that inquire and let the rest go to the grass. Tell Deborah that I get along first rate. I have not drilled any since I have been out here. I was detailed out to work at carpentering the next day after landing. I have worked at it ever since. I get 40 units and ½ ration and which makes my pay $25 per month and state aid and all makes 35 dollars per month. Tell Uncle John that the war has not ended yet so I must bid bid you all goodbye at present as I am getting tired.
From your affectionate son, G.F. Sisson
NEWBERN, NORTH CAROLINA
SUNDAY, JANUARY 4, 1863
Dear Mother, I sit down to write you a few lines to inform you that I received your letter the 2nd day of this month. I was very glad to hear from you and that you was all well. I am not very smart. I have 3 boils on my neck and last night I had the colic and today the diarrhea, but I feel better than I did this morning. I have wrote to Ann today.
I have been on an expedition with the Army. I know more of this war than I did at home. All that I said at home is true and more than that. Mother, there never will be peace by fighting. We never can whip it out of them in the world.
It will take them a thousand years to accomplish it. We take them prisoner and parole them then they go to another place and fight again. The soldiers have got tired of it.
We had another hard march and some hard fighting. We was gone 11 days. I had a chance to see some hard fighting there. Balls flew thick and fast around our heads but their shots were aimed too high for us.
Mother, I saw any quantity of men killed. The Rebels suffered the most to Goldsborough (NC). We think that we killed from 7-8 hundred of them there. It is nothing but a slaughter when they open on them with our batteries with shell, grape and canister. A man don’t stand much of a sight but it all goes in for nine months. We are back at our old camp in Newbern again. We had 3 men wounded and one killed in our regiment; that is all.
We had orders to tear up the railroad track when the rebels were a firing right down the track from us but they did not hit us while to work. There our guns were stocked when we were to work on the road. While there was a shell that struck one stack and broke two of our guns in two, smashed all to pieces.
I saw some rebels with their heads shot off. I saw them in all shapes. I saw a Boston man that was shot. He was making his will. He lived about an hour after he was shot. I have seen something of this war. I hope it will end soon.
That is the wishes of all the soldiers that is out here. Whether it is so or not I do not know. It is a rumor.
I want you to write me how you are all getting along. Give my love to Deborah and all the rest of the folks that inquire. Give my love to Charles folks. Ask him if there is any danger of a draft now. Has Ruby Ann got James so that he can sleep nights or not?
You must excuse me for the present as I am tired of writing. This is the 4th letter today so I remain dutiful son. G.F. Sisson
Sunday, JANUARY 18, 1863
Dear Mother, It is Sunday afternoon with us. I thought I must write you a few lines to let you know how I get along. It is cold weather with us out here. We have a good fire in our tent at present and are comfortable. It is cold enough to freeze quite hard. I am well with the exception of a boil on my hand, the back of it, I got cold in it. Friday it rained and I worked outdoors. It was very painful yesterday and last night but I pasted it with Indian meal and it is better today.
I am at work carpentering again for the government. We are building hospitals for the sick & wounded. We have ten of them to build; 44 feet by 75 feet. I am foreman of the job. I do not have to work very hard. I get 40 cents extra per day for my work. It will last some time. I have not drilled with a musket since leaving Camp Joe Hooker nor stood guard but one, then it was on picket so I am not much of a soldier yet.
There is an expedition to leave here tomorrow in part, as part of it has left already. There is plenty of troops arriving every day from other places. Some think they expect an attack here as there is a rumor that Stonewall Jackson is a coming down upon us with 40,000 rebels. If he does he will meet with a warm reception in Newbern for it is well fortified with forts and gun boats so there is no fear we think at present. They say that we have 60,000 men here at this time. They are a coming every day. They cover a good bit of ground. It is generally healthy here I think at present. There was a good many sick that was sick last summer and some of them have died. It is considered the healthy season here now.
I am going to leave the camp tomorrow morning. There is 8 of us that works at carpentering in the city so we have got a house down there and a book and draw our rations down there and live together. We shall get more to eat and have better accommodations.
The mail has been stopped some time on account of the expedition so I have some 7 or 8 letters wrote already that I have wrote at different times.
You must tell Uncle John that we never shall put down the rebellion by fighting for they are as determined to fight as we are. The only way to make peace is by compromising with them. That is the general opinion out here with the soldiers. They are all tired of it and want peace or have it settled some way. There is a New York regiment that mutinied here last Thursday on account of their pay, as they had not been paid for the last 5 months.
Give my love to Deborah and Charles’ folks. I would like to hear from some of you. Give my love to Holder Borden and tell him I hope that he will have good success a fishing this Spring.
Mother, I would like to see you all but you must wait 5 months more so goodbye at present.
From your son, George F. Sisson
SATURDAY NIGHT FEBRUARY 14
Dear Mother, As it is evening and I have nothing else to take mind, I thought I would write you a few lines. So I am as well as common with the exception of the headache, but that is a common thing out here.
I am still at work in the city on the hospitals. We have got three of them done so that 2 of them are full of the sick and wounded. There is plenty of work for us yet. I hope to remain in the city the rest of the 9 months. They say that we are a coming home in May. I hope that it is so.
We shan’t have to go on this expedition for it has gone to Charleston and we are left in Newbern. We have not heard much from them as yet. General Forster has come back and gone to Washington on business. The report is that he and General Hunter could not agree who should take command of the Army there. They are jealous of each other for the honor, and mother that is the ways that the war is carried on all through the South. That is one reason that we are a fighting now. I do not see that the war is any nearer to a close than it was at the commencement.
It is generally pretty health with the exception of the Typhoid Fever. There have been some cases of that out here. This Winter the weather is pretty warm for Winter. I have not seen any ice but 2 or 3 times this Winter.
My boss Pearsons went on the expedition with them. He got wounded aboard the boat accidentally by a gun going off. It went through the deck and hit him in the hip and made a gash 7 inches long, then went through his arm and then passed through his writ and came out between his fore and middle fingers. He came home and is now in the hospital where I am at work. He is getting along first rate. They are discharging a great many of sick and wounded at present and I am glad of it. There is so many of them out here that is all broken down. Let them come home and recruit. There is about 15 or 20,000 soldiers left in Newbern now. There are most of them 9 months men.
There is 9 of us that is a living together in a house and we get along first rate. They are all good fellows. Humphrey Wood (son?), George and John Hazard of Westport Point. (Of the 3 names only John Hazard is listed in W and CW. Company “G” 3rd Mass Infantry roster is also not listed in there.)
Mary Jane and the children and let Edgar (know) that he must write me another letter and I will answer it forthwith. Tell Uncle Holder that I can beat the most of the a playing checkers out here. They do not get the Code of me the best of them.
Give my love to all that enquire, spurn those that do not write. I would write more if the sheet as bigger. From your willful son, G.F. Sisson
Dear Mother, I received your letter on the 14th. I was glad to hear from you and to hear that you’re better. I will say that I am in my usual health.
I have some news to write to you. The 3rd Regiment has been on an expedition since I last wrote you. They were gone 5 days. They did not have any fight. They went out on a scout some 35 miles and did not find any Rebels but the 14th of this month the Rebels attacked Newbern early in the morning and that Saturday they commenced at 4 o’clock in the morning on the opposite side of the river on one Regiment of New York. The 96th Regiment that was on picket duty but they only killed one man and wounded 3 or 4 more. we got 3 of our gunboats to bear on them and soon shelled them out. I was a spectator and saw the whole of it. They fired some shot across the river into the city but don’t know the damage. At the same time they attacked us out 6 miles on the Trent Road. The 3rd Regiment was ordered out there. They went out 4 miles and was ordered back in case they should attack the city. The report is that there is 45,000 around Newbern but they can’t come in here, no not 100,000 of them. They would find that they would have a warm time of it if they attempt it. We are well fortified here for them I don’t apprehend any longer. I do not have to go on the expedition with them. I was left behind to work on the hospitals.
I got a letter from Edgar and was glad to hear from him and to hear that Charles’s folks was getting better. Give my love to them all and Deborah, I would like to see her first rate.
The 3rd Regiment is on an expedition, started yesterday with 3 days rations. They have not gone a great ways this time. All quiet around here at present.
You must write me again. Edgar must excuse me this time for not writing to him for I have barely time to get this in the office now.
Your Affectionate Son, G.F. Sisson
I forgot to say that we should not go on this expedition as our guns are considered very poor and have been condemned by General Forster and as we are excused from this march. The General told our Colonel no the other day.
I would like to have some of the eels that I caught last winter. We have plenty of apples out here to see 3 for 5 cents. We do not go hungry when we can buy enough to eat but it costs something.
I might keep on writing til night if I was not tired so you must excuse me.