UNION ARMY CIVILIAN / COMMISARY CLERK LETTER—IDENTIFIED AS “WILL”

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Dated “Office Depot Commissary / Hilton Head. S.C./ March 19, 1865.” Addressed to “Dear Mother and Father” / Signed by “Will.” 4 pp. in ink on lined paper, 5” x  8. Exhibits fold-marks, else VG.

Will was an unidentified civilian clerk posted to the Union Commissary Depot at Hilton Head during the winter of 1865. His relatively high clerk’s salary--$73.75 per month—and reference to “Seward,” to an army captain friend or acquaintance—indicate that he had at least lower-level government connections to land him a civilian clerk-ship in the final months of the war.  His prose and tone are those of a well-educated young sophisticate.

Writing in late March, ”Will” says in his opening paragraph that  soon arriving in Hilton Head he had a choice of  either of staying in the field or remaining  at the Depot Commissary in Hilton Head.

“I have had a very fair taste of a soldier’s life, and can’t say that I should hanker after it enough to make it a business for life. Yet there are times when I’ve enjoyed myself, but the next day would be tough enough to spoil the novelty of the previous day. I could save more money at the “Front” than I can here for the reason that it cost me nothing to live while there but here I have to mess with the Clerks and live some better, have butter, milk etc. which is very high and of course all have to share the expense which amounts to about twenty five dollars per month for each person. Then I have to have proper collars and washing which cost one dollar per dozen. So you can see those thing tell on my pocket. I get 75 dollars per month less one dollar and twenty five cents which is deducted as government tax and makes my pay $73.75. I like this place very well because I can ge the mail as soon as it gets in. If it had not been for that I should have stayed at the “front” with Capt. Garrard, who took our place, but I don’t want that mentioned to Will augur for it might get to Seward and that would spoil me in his estimation. [1st Lieut. William H. Augur was 7th CT Infantry quartermaster].

He goes on to add that “only a business I don’t know the reason he [Augur] gave my Pictures away unless he was afraid he would be troubled to with bringing them here. I was mad but said nothing…

I wrote to Will two weeks ago but don’t expect an answer yet awhile. I directed it to Fort Fisher [the 7th CT Infantry was involved in the January assault on Fort Fisher, NC], so he will get it. Seward got a letter from him some days ago, but he didn’t tell me of it, as it was letter. Concerning a horse that belongs to Seward. You ask how I like Seward. I like him first-rate sometimes and sometimes I get a notion that I don’t, but I would not have you or anyone write a word to Will that I ever breathed a word against Seward.”

The writer then goes on to explain how he contracted lice and what he did about it—“I think I am about rid of them, haven’t found but two since. How is that for Soldiering?” Also reports making a raid on the U.S. Sanitary Commission to steel some mattresses sheets and pillows, and says “we have a nigger to take care of our room and black our boots every morning, bring water, etc., so you see we are doing quite well…”

An interesting  letter from an unidentified civilian commissary clerk that that invites further research. In protective sleeve. [JP]  [ph:L]

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