This letter was written by Pvt. Peter V. Blakeman (1840-1919), Co. A, 122 New York Infantry. Blakeman was the orphan son of Abbott Blakeman (1801-1849) and Margaret Matilda McKelvie (1803-1850) of Berne, Albany County, New York. I believe Peter wrote the letter to Margaret Ann Blakeman, his cousin, of Watertown, New York.
Peter enlisted at Baldwinsville, New York on 5 August 1862 and was discharged for disability on 25 May 1863 at Falmouth, Virginia. His discharge must have been for illness; I can find no record that he was wounded. He married Lydia Elizabeth Munsey (1847-1905) in 1867; he died at Ridgeway, Missouri in 1919.
The 122nd Regiment was organized at Syracuse, New York and mustered in 28 August 1862. Without much training, they participated in the Maryland Campaign and were at the Battle of Antietam on September 16-17. From Maryland they moved to Stafford Court House in Virginia and then to Belle Plains by 5 December. Most likely Peter wrote this letter in or near Belle Plains on Sunday, December 7, 1862 — less than a week before the Battle of Fredericksburg in which the regiment was mercifully only lightly engaged. They crossed the river on December 12th but were held in reserve on the right. Lt. Clapp of Company A wrote the following, “Shells burst in every direction from us and ploughed the air with terrible fury. A connonading is a grand sight but mighty unhealthy.”
Virginia, Sunday [December] 7th 1862
Well Deal, I received your letter last night and was glad to hear from you for you wrote me more news in that letter than I have seen in any letter since I have been here. You said Susan was sick with the typhoid fever. That is bad news for I see too much of that every day. We have lost seven or eight in ten days.
We started Thursday [December 4, 1862] on the march and had a hard one that day and the next day we started very early and about eight o’clock it began to rain and rained until 3 and then it began to snow and grow cold and at dark it was freezing cold and the ground was was two inches of snow on it and snowing like the devil. We had to scrape the snow off a spot to lay down on and was as wet as could be. There was no wood to be got but green pine and it was most dark when we got to our stopping place and we had a hard time of it. I faired rather worse than the company for they got there by 2 o’clock and had time to get up their tents and make a fire but we had nothing to eat — any of us. I are with the train as guard. I have nothing to do with the camp.¹
Tell Aunt Sarah that Mike is not very well and Mr. Dickey’s folk that Ab [Albert] is pretty sick. He has been sick for two weeks. I went up to see him yesterday and he was out of eatables and I had some meal that I had got by good luck and a part of a cup of beans that I had picked up at the commissary’s where they had been spilt and I had some sugar. That was all I had. I took t and went up and made him some pancakes and give him the rest. Last night we got 10 hardtacks and a little coffee. I went up and see him. He was up and ’bout the same.
I had a letter a few days ago from Ad. ² He was worse, He was going to be examined by the doctors for his discharge but he did not expect to get it.
You wanted to know how we live. We don’t live — that is I shall tell you at present. If you can read this letter, you will do well for my hands has been most froze writing it. Write again, yours truly, — Peter V. Blakeman
¹ The diary kept by Lt. Alonzo Clapp of Co. A, 122nd New York, records:
Thursday, Dec. 4, 1862 – Started at 8 for some place to us unknown. Progressed slowly, AM, faster PM. Crossed the Fredericksburg & Aquia Creek R.R. and bivouacked at the south of Potomac Creek. I was tired.
Friday, Dec. 5, 1862 – Started early and stopped PM in a rain storm which turned to snow and it became cold before morning. We camped in a thick pine and red cedar wood.
Saturday, Dec. 6, 1862 – Cold, Cold. Worked all day at raising up my tent. The snow is about 3 inches deep. The boys have been busy.
Sunday, Dec. 7, 1862 – Cold, Cold. Worked hard all day for the first sabboth of my life. I worked with a purpose. It was necessary to keep warm. I banked up the tent and built a cedar bough fence around the yard.
Another soldier in the 122nd New York, Stuart McDonald of Co. F, wrote of the same march and snowstorm described by Blakeman from the camp near King George’s Court House, Virginia on 10 December 1862:
The storm clouds gathered during the latter part of our march and burst just as we were getting into camp. The nature of the ground was such that we could not get into proper shape with our usual alacrity and the consequence was that all hands were pretty thoroughly soaked before shelter could be prepared. It did not take long to pitch our tents and light fires–the latter almost refused to burn and were but sorry comforters; the wood being principally green made more smoke than heat. Night closed in cold and wet, the rain soon changed to snow, and there was but little to choose between a Northern storm and a snow storm in Virginia. Crawling under the shelter of their tents and wrapping themselves in their damp blankets, the shivering soldiers of our command passed the night in a manner that many of them will never forget.
² This was probably Addison Brown who enlisted in Co. A at Baldwinsville with Blakeman. He seems to have suffered a great deal from illness while in the army and was eventually discharged on 7 April 1863 at U.S. Hospital in Philadelphia.