Headquarters, Hartsuffs Brigade.
Near Warrenton Va July 11 1862.
Your letter of the 7th Inst reached me yesterday. My letter of the 6th to Mother was then of course on the way. It noted my safe arrival. Our camp here is pitched on excellent ground. A beautiful and cold spring adjoins the camp which in part feeds the brook where we wash. A short distance from the camp is quite a large run, and a Sulphur Spring, the water of which I frequently imbibe. Cherries and blackberries grow in great profusion, sufficient for the whole brigade. I have to speak now however of other matters. The recent call of the national government for 300,000 men makes it the duty of Massachusetts to raise a large number for the field. The Governor has called upon the different cities & towns of the commonwealth to furnish each their quota to fill up the gallant but thinned regiments now in the field and for the organization of new regiments. It is difficult to say whether the old or new regiments will be more attractive to recruits. It should seem that those earnestly wishing to engage in the combats of the war would join regiments now in the field whose names have become distinguished by the conduct of both officers and men in the late conflicts. And yet there are other reasons which would induce many to prefer the new regiments where one feels more at home and the military equal of his comrades. The older regiments in the field which were raised at a time when the ardor for the war was warmer than it is now certain many men who if at home would be efficient workers in the raising of the new regiments, and who by their experience would be more competent to do their work faithfully. The impossibility however of obtaining furloughs at this period will keep these men back in their regiments, and unless they have friends at home to look after their promotion and their interests, the places which they might well fill and for which they have been fitted by a years campaigning will be given to those who have remained at home while their brothers were toiling far away in the service of their country. It is now more than a year, a year last May since I went to Fort Independence a member of the 4th Battalion of Rifles. Circumstances being then favorable to my obtaining a place in the 16th Regt. I declined a corporal’s warrant which was offered me in my own regiment & took a discharge from my battalion. I afterwards however joined the company again as a private and went with it to the seat of war. Promotion has been slow. But one corporal has been made since we left, our orderly being promoted Sergeant Major. Promotion is therefore hopeless. With Eight corporals and five sergeants in a company where is the chance for a private? Only out of the Regiment it is plain, & through the efforts of his friends. It seems hard that those who first volunteered in the service of the flag in our humble position should be debarred? from rising higher while those who came after them reap easily the honors which were open to them had they been more careful of their own interests. It appears that the organization of the new Regiments is conducted in some what different principles from that of the old ones, and that the services of those who have campaigned are not in demand. I saw yesterday a secret circular from the Governor of Mass. To the ColonelsS of Mass. regiments in the fields. It was shown me by a friend under the promise of secrecy. It asks the Colonels to send to the adjutant Generals office the names of those who are distinguished for merit among the noncoms and privates to be promoted to positions in the new Regiments, and the Captain to send in the names of those suitable for promotion. The circular thus says in effect that many commissions are to be awarded to those in the field fitted to receive them, but who are debarred by their present position from the chances open to them at home. The Colonels send in but a few names – ten I think. Of course a private, like myself, who is to the Colonel but as one of a thousand men can have no hope of being one of the lucky men to receive the recommendation. Nor should I fare better with the Captain, whose rank I respect, but not his fitness or abilities as a soldier. There has been no opportunity in our regiment for any one to distinguish himself, for we have not had the fortune to be put in that place where private merit makes itself conspicuous. Even the best solder, cultivated & genial spirit, is but one of the hundreds of men who do their duty faithfully & well. Nor even is he who is best fitted for promotion the one who is promoted in the company, but other reasons among which may be the friendship of the Captain, whose character may be repulsive to his best men, stands prominent. It is natural that a Captain should favor his friends, and if he nominated any as worthy of promotion, he would, and rightly too, name those of his non commissioned officers who had discharged their duties most faithfully. The Colonel’s only Knowledge of men is from the officers’ and from contact with some of the highest of the non commissioned officers. No one Knows better than he the difficulty of selection of men suitable to be promoted. It has been said of him that he remarked of his regiment that he had a hundred men more fit to be commissioned officers, than the majority of those who came out as officers of the Regiment. The Colonel does not know me and I have done nothing to call his attention to me more than to any one else in the Reg’t. He knows man capable men and good soldiers whose conduct he has remarked and whose merit he will reward. I have then to look out of the regiment. At home I should be well provided with recommendations. Lt.Col. Meacham of the 16th who interested himself in me before I came out and who I believe is now wounded would recommend me as also would Major C. Peleg Chandler of the 1st mass. I was a member of the drill club of the first named officer before I joined the battalion and guarded the arsenal with him and had frequent conversations wit him at Camp Cameron.
All the friends with whom I once drilled at Cambridge including about 20 in my own class, who are now in the army are there as officers. Some of them as the lamented Lowell have distinguished themselves by honorable service & found death a fate in battle. More illustrious end to well spent young man-hood who could desire! Who for their sakes would wish to recall them from their youthful slumbers?
Since things are so it would seem to be a favorable moment to press my claims to notice as a candidate for a commission in one of the newly organized regiments. If a liberal education is any acquisition to an officer of the experience of a years hard, active, varied service(?) is any qualification for an officer, if sobriety and gentlemanly traits (qualities how infrequent, or rather how not over and above common in the offices of our volunteer army) are what an officer should possess then am I far more qualified to sustain the position of an officer than many who are now in the service and are constantly being added to it. I have not the influence, or the audacity to press my claims before his excellency the Governor, but if he desires those who have seen service rather than men in civil life to officer his regiments, my name is at his disposal. If he is influenced in his choice of officers by such matters as a liberal education, I offer him that. But I would have it understood that rather than not fight at all, I am ready to finish as I began a year ago last May, indeed last March, an humble private in our splendid army, & if I am to die out here by sickness, or the bullet, I am content to have it said that I fell doing the duty I was ordered to do in the hope that my county might once more become a united nation.
Two men from Co. D. received appointments to day in the new regiments. Perhaps I have before stated that Stimpson will probably receive a commission in the regular army. So Lowell & Howe are gone. They were both gallant officers and of urbane manners and their Class (for I may also place Howe with 58) mourns them, & to their friends their loss is irreparable. Who shall say however that they were not fortunate? An honorable life is not measured by length of years and glory is not always with grey hair. Duce et cecomum est pro patra non, and especially is this the case before age has worn away the ardor of youth.
In haste Your Aff. Son
John B. Noyes.