Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Letters of Albert Liscom, Co. C

"Boston, Mass., September 1, 1921

To the Members of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment Association:

...The last meeting was held at Young's Hotel, September 17th, 1920, with twenty-three members of the regiment and eighteen sons and others present,...

...Charles S. Liscom, of the sons, gave us an interesting talk, and then read a number of letters written by his father, Albert M. Liscom of Company C, during the years 1861-2.
      A copy of the son's letter to me under date of September 12, 1920, which appears in this circular, refers to these letters and their contents.  Limited space forbids printing the letters, even though Comrade Liscom kindly offered to curtail the stories somewhat.

Dedham, Mass., Sept. 12, '20
Comrade Swan:     I am reminded of a former offer of mine to prepare something relative to the part taken by the 13th at Bolivar Heights and Dam No. 5, and the rather lively engagements there in October and December, 1861.  The history of the 13th does not give any details of these scraps, but in a way I think they were of some importance, for those engaged got probably their earliest training and experience in real battle conditions during these fights and gave the enemy something to chew over.

...My father seems to have been quite a letter writer and sent frequent and newsy letters home, with much attention to detail.  He sent home some 91 letters in all, from Aug. 6, 1861 to Jan. 25, 1863, although the latter part of the time he was confined in hospitals, due to breakdown in health in 1862, just before 2nd Bull Run Battle."  Charles S. Liscom.
It was from the above correspondence printed in the 13th Regiment Association Circulars, that I first learned of the existence of the Albert Liscom Letters.  Today these letters are part of the military archives collection at the Army Heritage Education Center in Carlisle, PA.  I discovered the letters around 2001.  It was not until last summer, that I finally got the chance to visit Carlisle, and make digital photos of the "13th Mass" materials in the archive.

 I started transcribing the Liscom letters in October.  They are a bit tricky.
Albert's cursive is very fine, and most of the letters are written in pencil almost too light to see.  Digital technology gives me the benefit of darkening the letters in photoshop for better copies, but its still a chore.  I was very excited to get this material, because in the early part of the war, Company C, had a different itinerary from the other 9 companies in the regiment, and this is the only source of information I have at the soldiers' level. I recently learned from another source, (the letters of Elliot C. Pierce, from the Mass. Historical Society,) that,

 "Capt Kurtz of Co C. stationed at Frederick is the one that broke up the Maryland Legislature taking 18 prisoners you see the 13th is at work"  [Captain John Kurtz, pictured.  He soon left the 13th for a Lt. Col.'s commission in the 23rd Mass. Vols.]
Unfortunately, most of the letters I transcribed so far, are from the latter part of Albert's service, and as his son Charles wrote, "the  latter part of the time he was confined in hospitals."

Albert left the regiment two weeks before the battle of 2nd Bull Run.  The hard campaigning had left him lame.  He checked into a hospital, and it seems his health never improved.  He could get around okay, and made frequent forays to the city of Washington  (disguised in civilian clothes so he could escape the dreary hospital)  but his endurance was gone, and he really was unfit for duty.  October 29, 1862, he wrote home:

"I went down town yesterday morning with Mrs Brown we got back about two O’ck. And had dinner.  After which I was anxious to go down town again it was so pleasant...

...I wanted To go to some place of amusement.   I went to the Avenue House and found Mrs Goff and a young lady with her a Miss Thomas from Dedham Mass a very agreeable young lady.   They said they would be pleased to go.    So we four went together to Graves Theatre To see Miss Lucille Weston play Lucretia Borgia – the after piece was the loan of a lover.  We had a fine time.   Got back to the Hotel between eleven & twelve."
He spent most of this time actively trying to get a discharge from the army, which did not arrive until late June, 1863.  By January of that year, his long absence induced his officers to report him a deserter:
"Learn by your letters – that I have been mistrusted as a deserter – as soon as I read your letter I sat down and wrote to Lt. Livermore – giving an account of myself – and this morning I got the Dr to add a line certifying that I was regularly admitted here as a patient.   I requested an answer to know if my explanation was satisfactory.   - but I suppose my long silence has given rise to suspicions that I had sloped – but I think my letter with the Drs signature will quiet all suspicion."
 It is apparent from his letters however, he did not wish to go back to the regiment, and would do anything short of desert to get out of the army.

I've been transcribing the letters in reverse order, as that is how they were photographed.  I've completed the letters from May '62 to Jan '63, but there is little new information for me in these. I finally jumped ahead (or backwards if you please) and found some  of the earlier letters to transcribe, but only got to 3 of them before setting this project aside.  I was pleased to find a few references to the popular Color Sergeant Roland Morris, (KIA at Gettysburg) within these letters, but I was getting little else in return for the effort it took to do each letter transcription. (I've transcribed over 100 pages and have at least as many to go).

Oddly enough there is an interesting account about the Oct. 1861 "Battle of Bolivar Heights," in the collection, but it seems to be written by someone other than Albert !

I will return to Albert's letters one day, but I'm currently concentrating on the period of Jan - April 1863, for the website.  I ordered a series of letters from the Massachusetts Historical Society which arrived around Christmas, and I gave them priority.  These include several  letters of Charles F. Adams, Company A, (about 14 letters, Aug. '62 - July '64) and materials that belonged to  Major Elliot C. Pierce, of the field & staff, (Sept '61 - Sept. '63) I will post about these next.

Here is the Bolivar Heights letter, which was probably not written by Albert:

Harpers Ferry Va Oct 18th

                                                My own dear faithful Maria,
                                                                        Since I last
Wrote you Marie I have been through a fight of 7 hours & escaped unharmed.  Early Wednesday morning before we had eat our? breakfast news came that our outposts had been driven in by a large force of the enemy.

 I swallowed my breakfast as speedily as possible I started with about 600 men in the field but only 200 or 300 were in the thickest of the fight & our comp’y were exposed all the tjme so their bullets from their rifles & their shells & cannon balls from their batteries & they had 2 batteries  1 on Loudon Heights across


Shenandoah & 1 right front of us of 2 or 3 guns 1 of which we captured.    When we first advanced they opened their fire upon us with their rifles & it was terrific & not being supported we had to fall back under cover of the houses   We had orders to advance again the bullets fell around us like hailstones over us beside of us at our feet & the way they whistled through the air was astonishing  & our boys kept advancing under cover of everything they could find & at last we got into a brick house & determined to hold it at all hazards befor we all got into the house 1 of the Wisconsin boys got hit in the heart & died instantly   I was very near him when he fell


    He died instantly & the expression on his face was so mild that one that did not know couldint tell whether he was dead or asleep   he had 3 other brothers in the field.  The Wisconsins lost 4 killed, & 5 wounded & 1 taken prisoner  (he was wounded)  Co C had 2 wounded  1 shot through the arm & 1 slightly in the foot it is the greatest miricle that a great many of our Com were not Killed as we were in the thickest of the fight all the time & the many, many narrow escapes that our boys had makes us all think that it was the hand of Providence who preserved our lives   1had a bullet go through his cap  1 through anothers pants 1 struck an others rifle & 1 passed through our Lieut (Jackson’s) [pictured right, Lt. William Jackson, CO. C.  Because of his gallant actions at Bolivar Heights the regiment named their camp at Williamsport, Md. "Camp Jackson" in his honor.]


Revolver case   Your Frank had them strike all around him but was not hit at all   Oh Marie you cannot form even an idea of the feelings when in battle  I did have the least fear but seemed as if I wanted to fly right at them & pay them for Killing & wounding our men   But thanks to our Commander Lieut Jackson (who I am happy to say proved him self a man of good judgement & bravery & who thought a great deal of the lives of his men) we did’t?  be come rash or wild but kept cool & maintained our position  Why the Wisconsin boys had so many Killed was they were ordered to advance to near their batteries  by their Capt & then had to advance & were cut off by their cavalry & 2


 of their men were not only Killed but their bodies were stripped of almost all their clothing & their dead bodies mutilated.    Well Maria to go on with my account of the battle when we got into the brick house we thought we would be able to hold it but Maria we found our mistake for they began to fire their shells at it.  We then fell back amid a shower of bullets to the town &  our Col  (Col Geary of the Penn 28th ) told us not to advance again but to hold our position until we could get a cannon across the river so there we staid exposed to the fire of their shot & shell from their rifle cannon for about 2 hours we?


when they were shelling us But dearest Maria none of us were killed & we all were surprised when we heard that such was the fact how thankful we felt & we all say that it was miraculous none of our company were killed.  (The Paymaster is here now & paid us off this morning)  Well we held our hard fought fort until about 11 O’K at night when Col Geary gave orders to retreat as he had heard that Gen Johnston was advancing with a large army    we crossed the river & you may believe that when we got here we were about tired enough to sleep all of our troops did not get across until about morning.  We achieved a glorious victory Maria & although the


enemy had about 2000 or 3000 men we drove them off & besides they had 2 batteries.  Col Geary said he never saw a harder fought battle & he has been in some 12 or 15 battles.  We expect the enemy will try & drive us away from across  the river   they may be able but I doubt it.  Thankful for our preservation & hoping for a letter from you soon darling I remain your own true soldier boy.