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Consisting of forty one Boyer letters, dating from January 13, 1861, to October 21, 1862. Thirty three of which are written to his sister Hattie in Philadelphia, two to his mother, two to his father, five to a brother. Two letters are from USS St. Lawrence shipmate Charles R. Foster to his father and sister Hattie notifying them of his death, and the disposition of his personal effects, with three others dating from 1863-65 written by sister Hattie to other sisters a brother, including and one written to his sister Hattie Boyer in Philadelphia in. All are in ink, written generally on lined paper, either 5” x 8, or 8” x 12, ranging from 2 to 8 pages. All are VG and entirely legible.

Daniel S. Boyer enlisted in the USMC in January 1861. Following a period in Philadelphia and Washington USMC barracks, he was promoted Corporal in August 1861, and afterward served aboard the Navy Frigate, USS St. Lawrence, through September1862.

As for his ship…although the keel of the USS St. Laurence was laid in 1826, but due of a shortage of funds, it was not launched until 1848. 175’ in length, with a 50’ beam, with a crew complement of 480, The ship carried an armament of eight 8” inch guns and 42 thirty-two pounder cannon.

From the beginning, the U.S.S St. Lawrence served primarily on blockade duty while partaking in the March 6-7, 1862 Hampton Roads ironclad battle between the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, where it sustained damage and ran aground by the latter.

Following shipyard repair, back on blockade duty, the St. Lawrence served as flagship for the East Gulf blockading squadron, based in Key West. Here, in the summer of 1862 the island was hit with deadly a Yellow Fever epidemic with Corp. Boyer eventually succumbing to the disease, September 13, 1862.

Leaving Key West, the St. Lawrence continued blockade duty with the Northern Squadron and was decommissioned at the close of the war, later serving as a Norfolk USMC barracks ship until its sale to private hands in 1875.



Corporal Daniel R. Boyer was a 20 year old Philadelphian, well educated and literarily sophisticated—quoting Shakespeare and Lord Byron, and capable of composing a piece modeled on Dr. Samuel Johnson’s “Rasselas.”

Boyer’s motives for enlisting in the Marines were those of a rebellious footloose 19 year-old on the on the run… in disgrace with his Philadelphia family, in particular in his father, though his offenses, while alluded to, are never spelled out. In late October 1860—two months prior to his enlistment—Boyer writes to his sister Hattie from La Porte Indiana in the following mood:

“I never expect to come to much. Neither do I care a great deal where I am. If I can get enough to eat and drink and a bed to sleep on at night and no hard work to do it is the height of my ambition. This world is an infernal humbug and that is the most you can make of it. So a man might as well take it easy. But you can I expect to steer of most the difficulties of life by remaining Single Just get a man tied to a petticoat and trouble come thicker than flies around a molasses barrel…”

By the end of that year, however, he has executed an about-face and enlisted in the Marines, in order to make something of himself and, while at it, make amends to his family,..not that his family seems to have been highly impressed with his enlistment, which seems to have taken them by surprise.


The vast majority of Boyers letters were written to his sister Hattie, whom he regards as his one ally within the family and his liaison with the others. He bombards her with letters continually begging her to write him more often, and to get other family and friends to do the same.

In general, Corporal Boyer comes across as a sensitive loner with few friends aboard ship. Part of this “distancing owes to being from being part of the Marine guard which serves the ”police function” aboard ship, setting him and the Marine guard apart, and at odds, with ship’s company sailors, of whom he has a low opinion.

As the same time, however, Boyer provides a birds-eye glimpse of life in a ship’s company Marine Guard on southern blockade duty. Then too, as a member of the landing party, he takes part in the 1861 burning of the Norfolk Naval Yard, a dicey operation—(see letter of April 20, 1861). While also recounting the Hampton Roads action between the Monitor and “Merrimac”—(see letter of March 23, 1862).

Along with graphic accounts of terrifying storms encountered on Southern blockade duty. Then too, over the months Boyer reveals himself as a true blue patriot, cheering news of Union victories and wishing to be ashore in the thick of the fighting instead of stuck aboard ship on boring blockade duty. despite the occasional excitement of chasing privateers and capturing the “Petrel,” his letters reek of the monotony of being a sea-duty Marine.

Most dramatic and telling of his letters are those near the end describing description of the Yellow Fever epidemic fastening on Key West and taking a heavy toll aboard ship. His last letters begin to reek of fatalism. fatalistic. Though he desperately fights hard to stave off despair, by September 1862 he senses that he own number is coming up . And he was right.

Correspondence as follows:

January 13, 1861—Marine Receiving Barracks, Washington, DC.

In this letter Boyer advises his mother “to tell father that the notion most people have about the Marine Corps is entirely wrong. The majority of the men are young and intelligent Americans and are a very fine body of men.” He adds that the rations are excellent, and then near the end alludes to coming the war by writing…”A draft is daily expected to go down to Charleston to bring them smart fellows to terms…” Tellingly, he signs off by saying “Nothing more at present from your undutiful son / Daniel L. Boyer.”

January 24, 1861—Marine Receiving Barracks, Washington, D.C.

In this next letter to his mother, Boyer takes note of troubles to come: “We do not expect to get away from here until the first of April on account of the troubles with the South. We expect be ordered out the 4th of March to guard the capitol as them southern fire eaters are talking taking it about that time…They are getting ready here for troublesome time the Marines from all the northern rendezvous are concentrating here and if the south attempts to take the capitol I’m thinking they will find troublesome times. The barracks here are much crowded at present and we are much troubled for bunks.”

February 1, 1861—Washington Marine Barracks. (Written to sister Hattie)

“Everything here is complete war footing. There is at present about 1500 US soldier here including the Marine Corps which for the time being act as US soldiers for land duty. As I write the news has just been received that Fort Sumter has been attacked by South Carolina army. Well, I enlisted for service and am thinking my wishes will be fully gratified before. But as for any fighting I don’t think there will be much…and expect that after the 4th of March I will be drafted for a three cruise up the Medatarianian, and then when I come back I will have a little better idea of the world…I am going to try if possible before my four years are up to be a corporal anyhow. How will that sound, “Corporal Boyer of the US Marine Corps”?

April 20th, 1861—On board U.S Sloop of War Pawnee off Norfolk. (Written to sister Hattie)

Now at sea, Boyer writes burning of the Norfolk Naval Yard:

“…We were put in and went down the Potomac River when it was rumored that we were going to Norfolk, we arrived there we the utmost difficulty The secessionists haven sunk vessels laden with stone to blockade the river but we arrived safely and I went through one of the most trying nights I ever experienced. After landing a guard was detailed to go ashore and I was one of those detailed. We went ashore and stood Guard on No. 1 Gate. They were about 2000 secessionists outside and we fully expected very moment to have the gates opened.

They called us all sort of names attempted to force the gate but word was sent to the shop and about 50 sailors armed to the teeth and dragging with them a pair of howitzers came to our rescue. We stood guard for about six ours when all of a sudden a rocket flashed in the air and we faced to the right about and went off in double quick time to the Pawnee.

Then commenced one of the most sublime and terrible sights I ever witnessed. 2 large houses in one of which the line of battle ship New York was on the stocks and everything appertaining to one of the largest navy yards in the United States was fired in a hundred different places. Besides the ship of line Pennsylvania one of the largest vessels in the service the Frigate Merrimac sloop of was the Germantown and two other vessels. Ammunition balls, and everything in the yard were thrown overboard. About 1000 cannon of the largest were spike and everything in the yard was totally to keep them out of the hands of the rebels.

The scene was perfectly awful the flames reached to a height of about 500 feet. While the guns on the Pennsylvania which were double shotted and pointed at the yard they became heated going off all combined to render the scene one of the most terrible I have witnessed. It was a daring deed. Some may think a foolhardy one a vessel like the Pawnee carrying as she does only about 8 guns to run down in the face of the secessionists and thus burn sink and destroy what they considered their most valuable property but it succeeded beyond our wildest hopes and we came off with only the loss of one killed and two slight wounded—I am called on deck and will finish in my next.”

August 13, 1861—U.S.S. Frigate St. Lawrence, off Hilton Head, Port royal, S.C. (To sister Hattie)

“…I will write you about something else…after being about a day out from Roads when off Cape Hatteras we captured a brig from Wilmington MMV loaded with naval stores and tobacco bound south. We sent her in an opposite direction in charge of a prize crew. We then cruised around the gulf for about two weeks and then steered for Charleston SC while off Charleston we fell in with and captured and took the crew of the Privateer Petrel she mounted two guns and we had a short flight before we captured her. You will see the rest of it in another letter There is a sail in sight and we are called to quarters.

PS—The sail turned out to be the gun boat Iroquois \ from New York…”

November 2, 1861—USS Frigate St. Lawrence, Cruising off the Georgia Coast…(To sister Hattie)

”…we have captured no prizes since we came out from Hampton Rhodes this last time, although we have overhauled about a dozen vessels…[and] there is not a more dangerous coast in the world…a life on the ocean wave is not the life for me I would sooner be ashore than ploughing the raging sea. (that’s not quote from Sharkespeare or Byron.

P.S. Yesterday afternoon while laying off Darien Ga. We espied a sail coming from ashore…we got under way and captured her in an hour and 28 minutes…very quick time considering we had 75 fathoms of cable out….”

December 14, 1861—USS Frigate St. Lawrence, Off Hilton Head, Port Royal, S.C. (To sister Hattie)

”…The next day…we had something to do. Sail Ho was rung from the mast head…two points on the weather bow…she was made out to be a schooner with English colors flying trying to run into shore…I am very sorry if I conveyed the impression that I was homesick, far from it. I would not come home if I could because we will have plenty of fun down in seccessia this winter. We are now lying at anchor at the scene of our late glorious naval victory, a victory which give us the Key of Savannah Ga and Charleston, S.C., which places will be taken this winter in my humble opinion. Even now an expedition is filling out.

I see you are inclined to be sarcastic, but never mind Miss, when you read in the paper of “Gallant Action” “Two Negroes” captured by Corpl. Boyer or something, to that effect why you will think I should be brevetted Major of the Horse Marines or something else. “

January 26, 1862—USS Frigate St. Lawrence, Port Royal, S.C. (To sister Hattie)

.”We have just returned to Port Royal after a month’s cruise on the Coast in which we suffered pretty severely…I was aroused from my slumber by the Boatswain’s shrill pipe of “All hands reef topsails,” I dressed myself as soon as possible and hurried on deck. The ship was going along at a fearful rate dragging the lee guns completely under water…the waves came and rose mountains high and it thundered in a manner I never see before….The gale lasted all that night and part of the next day when it lulled off and we steered for Port Royal and arrived here yesterday…”

February 25th, 1862—USS Frigate St. Lawrence, off Castle Garden, NY (to sister Hattie)

.”I arrived here safely on Thursday evening….I reported to the 1st Lieutenant commanding. He did not saying anything about me overstaying my leave…he rather expressed his surprise at my returning so soon as out of some twenty of thirty that received a furlough at the same time I did. I (pardon the egotism) was the first to return…I set a good example don’t you see? For the rest to follow after…I had originally ;intended to have been abord ship before sundown, but was detained at Roberts Photographic Gallery getting my good looking (?)Physog taken…I wish you please let me know as soon as you get those “Positive Photographs” and tell whether they are good counterfeits of me. Me! The Hon. Etc., etc.,….Daniel S. Boyer Corporal U.S. Marine Corps…

[At this point Corp. Boyer alludes to his status within the family and earlier problems with his father]…..”Hattie when father and the rest of our family turned from me and set me down as an Incorrigible scoundrel you were the only one excepting my mother that still clung to me and tied to make me better. I have been bad, bad. I unquestionably was am yet, but I never was the hardened ____ that father in his conversation with Mr. McKeever and others made me out to be. Hattie! If I ever do turn from the broad road that leads to death, and try to fight my way up the narrow road that leads to Life Everlasting—I shall think of my mother and you as the instrumentality….

I am finishing this letter on the breech of a gun a half past two o’clock in the midnight watch using the ships gong for a desk and resting it on the Breech of a gun with a battle Lantern for a light not very business like true enough but it is the I can get. “

March 23, 1862—U.S.S. St. Lawrence at Sea (to his sister Hattie)

[Earlier on March 8, the USS St. Lawrence had been attacked by the ironclad USS Virginia in the epic naval battle at Hampton Roads, commenced by the CSS Virginia (Merrimac), soon engaged by the USS Monitor ironclad. In this fight the USS St. Lawrence was towed toward the fight by a Union gunboat, but ran aground, and was fired upon by the CSS Virginia at a distance of 900 yards. At which point, at dusk, the Virginia withdrew and the St. Lawrence, now afloat, withdrew to safety at Ft. Monroe. Corporal Boyer begins this letter to his sister Hattie by referring to this naval action two weeks earlier.]

“Soon after that small affair at Newport News [The Monitor / Merrimac affair] this ship by orders of Captain Fox the assist. Secretary of the Navy, started for Philadelphia it having been conclusively proven at least to his satisfaction that Wooden walls are rather too old fogeyish for this advancing age especially when they had nothing but sail to depend on.

The iron monster Merrimac could have sunk all the sailing vessels brought to bear against her. She well deserves the name our old Captain gave her when he called “All Hands to Muster” the day after the fight. Says he. “The Iron Clad shit devil was too much for us but we done all we could to sink her.”

April 1, 1862—USS St. Lawrence, on the Potomac. (To his sister Hattie)

In this letter Corporal Boyer writes of his Marine constabulary duties aboard ship, while noting the opening troops movements of Gen. McClellan’s 1862 Peninsula Campaign :

“I can tell you that being a “Corporal” aboard a large Frigate with the motley assembly of scamps that is generally found in one is a source of constant care and anxiety. You will hear someone crying out {Corporal of the Guard! Fight in the forecastle! Away I go draw my side arms and pitch in to stop it at once, and take the participants to the mast, see that they are properly secured in to “Brig as the place of confinement is called & you are in fact a sergeant of police aboard ship, and you may judge yourself that it does not suit my feelings exactly but a good soldier always carries out orders, duty first know and pleasure afterwards…

There is a grand movement at Hampton Roads, VA, and about seventy five thousand troops have passed down the Potomac River…steamer as they pass give us three cheers, and sailors can cheer. Although I have called them scamps yet there is exceptions to every rule, I have found beneath a rough exterior as true a heart as ever beat…”

April 11, 1862—USS St. Lawrence on the Potomac. (To his sister Hattie)

“My heart has been gladdened by the glorious news from the South and West , [Union Victories at Ft. Donelson & Shiloh] victory following victory in a quick and rapid succession that pleases every loyal heart…I was reading a book—The Sunny South, or the Southerner at Home—[and] it seemed then (the book was written in 1852) that the idea of secession was not only known but openly proclaimed and that the idea was uppermost in their minds was Charleston the Capitol of the Southern Confederacy and New Orleans the rival of New York in commerce…”

April 13, 1862—USS St. Lawrence, Potomac river. (To his sister Hattie)

In this letter Boyer writes about his ship being moved up river to guard against possible passage of the CSS Virginia (Merrimac).

“We are lying about thirty miles above the mouth of the river opposite a place called “Blackstone Island Light” thirty miles above the mouth of the river. Rumor says…that we are to go still further up to where the channel is narrowest, anchor there, and in case that Iron Clad shit devil (that’s what the captain calls her ”Merrimac” runs the blockade at Hampton Roads, and attempts to come up to Washington we will fight her as long as we can and if we cannot keep her off we will “”out all boats” go ashore and sink the ship in the channel which will effectually stop her progress in that direction she can’t come up Washington if the U.S. Frigate “St. Lawrence” can help it.”

May 2, 1862—USS St. Lawrence, Hampton Roads, VA.

In this letter writes of the experience of drilling ships company with muskets, and of an officer’s compliment.

“Imagine my consternation at being ordered by the Marine Officer to go up on the quarter Deck and drill a company of sailors, about one hundred, who are being drilled into the mysteries of the Musket Exercise…

Talk about congressmen making their maiden speech…I never so…being obliged to “Lay Aft” on the quarter deck and drill a lot of old “Shells”, horrible thought, perfectly atrocious, compromised my dignity, and I told the Marine Officer so, but no use so I had to and go. I did, put on airs of course, talked loftily, brought them to an Attention in the most profound Military Manner the it was “shoulder arms! By the Right Flank, Right Face, Forward March! And so on through the intricate mazes of “Hardee’s Tactic.”

I drilled them for about an hour…Do not think me egoistical but the Marine Officer to use his own words said I done “Remarkably well, Corporal”. There is four companies of sailors aboard ship and the Marine Corporals have to drill them. Now that the ice is broken I will not mind it so much….aboard ship you have to choose as it were from two masters, one is the officers, and the other is the crew. I choose to do my duty and thus serve my superior officers, which as a matter of course puts the Ships Company down on me…”

May 7, 1862—U.S. Ship St. Lawrence, Hampton Roads, VA.

“…There has been a great commotion ashore and in the fleet all day, on account of the visit of Abram Lincoln…As he visited the different ships he was received the usual salutes…they fired the Lincoln & Union gun and sent shots clean across Sewall’s Point, on the Frigate Susquehanna. The tried the range of a couple of new rifled guns, Dahlgren’s Patent…they worked beautifully sending their shots clear across the channel which is about four mile wide. There is a great many starting rumors but I can not believe any of them, one thing is certain and that is we are not going to Vera Cruz at present…the story is now that we are going to Port Royal, S.C.

May 8, 1862—U.S. ship. St. Lawrence, Hampton Roads. VA. [at the commencement of Gen. McClellan’s 1862 Peninsula Campaign]

“I am all excitement just waiting for the orders to come for our ship to take a hand in the action now going on here. Early this morning a cloud of smoke was seen over Pigs Pointon the James River about ten miles from here . On enquiry it was found that the “Merrimac” and some other rebel steamers had run up the James river in the storm last night and ran Iron clad vessels the “Galena”, “Monitor” a new Iron Clad steamer call the “Port Royal” and Stevens battery, “Naugatuck,” have gone up. They are now engaged with the “Merrimac” and are also shelling the “Secesh” batteries at Pigs Point . Our other vessels, the Susquehanna, Mohican” “San Jacinto” “Octorora” and some other guns buts are shelling Sewall’s Point.

The scene is glorious. The shells are exploding beautifully, over the devoted heads of the “secesh” at that place. They make a most indescribable but pleasant music to my ears. We are lying about a half a mile out of range but expect we will take a hand in the “music” before night. The “Jamestown” has just come in and there is force enough here now to take Norfolk…”

May 24, 1862--U.S. Ship St. Lawrence, Key West Fla.

“…We made a quick passage from the Bahama Banks here being favored with a fair strong breeze. The passage when only eleven days out at sea the startling fact was heralded through the ship that our water was almost out, here was pretty fix becalmed in mid-ocean, with only about ten days water aboard ship and no one knew or could tell how soon providence would favor with a breeze. The first thing they done was stop our “Scourse”…

The moral here I’ll show…with short allowance of water neer again to sea we’ll go; for I do think, I may perhaps be quite mistaken, the captain’s confidence in the 1st Lieut. is shaken, and when again to sea we do go water will last more eleven days about…”

May 30, 1862—U.S. Ship St. Lawrence, Key West Fla. (written to his father).

In this letter the family blacksheep / prodigal apologizes and asks his father’s forgiveness as follows:

“Although you will be astonished, and, surprised at receiving a letter from a son who has been so reckless, criminal and undutiful as I have…think not of the past nor let its sad, sad remembrances come up and fill your heart with hatred for a son though undutiful and ungrateful as he has been now comes to you and askes you for forgiveness…

I have no wish to extenuate myself in the least yet father I was young, headstrong and reckless, let my youth plead for me and never in the future I will never God helping me again make you ashamed to own me as a son….”

July 5, 1862—U.S. Ship St. Lawrence, Key West, Fla.

In this letter, Boyer writes of a cruise, commencing June 4th that took his ship to Cuba, then in the grip of Yellow Fever epidemic that was soon soon to arrive in Florida, followed by ugly weather before returning to Key West. As follows:

“We started for Key West on the 4th of June and with a fair breeze headed for the sunny Isle of Cuba. When about twenty miles off Havana we fell in with and boarded an English Barque and from her we received the information that the ever terrible visitant to the southern Yellow fever was raging there. Terribly. We immediately altered our course and headed for Cape St. Antonio at the North Western extremity of the Island of Cuba. Up to this time providence had favored us with beautiful weather but soon after leaving Cuba behind the sky was filled with dark lowering clouds…It was the most terrible storm it may ever be my misfortune to encounter….”

Returned to Key West, Boyer goes on to write of standing at “Parade Rest” during the heavy weather attending 4th of July ceremonies.

July 16, 1862 —U.S. Ship St. Lawrence, Key West. (Written to a brother.)

In this letter Boyer begins by telling his brother that he has about $100 in “Half-Pay” on the books and that that he will send money. “I can send you twenty dollars, and will send more if possible. Do not mention it to anyone.” He goes on to say that the ship’s purser is “close fisted , and it is an almost impossibility to procure money, but twenty dollars I can and will get…”

Although there is no news of consequence to report, Boyer goes on to write of the “Steamer Susquehanna ab out a week or so ago whilst laying off Mobile Alabama, done one of the most daring things in the navy. An English Steamer the “Ann” I believe from London, managed to elude the vigilance of the Blockading Fleet and run up under the Guns of Fort Morgan at that place and commenced, unloading her cargo which consisted of Coffee and Ammunition of different kinds. The “Susquehanna being apprised of this “up anchor” and started towards Fort Morgan. When within gun shot she lowered her boats and fired a broadside into the Fort under the cover of the smoke her boats went alongside of the steamer, cut her adrift and towed her beyond gun shot. She was brought in here the day flowing. The steamer “Quaker City” also captured a valuable prize a large English Steamer called Adela from Belfast, Ireland.

England I think is getting to be quite kind to us, sending such valuable prizes over here that fall such easy prey into our hands. I have been in the service 19 months and much as I dislike it, I would freely stay five years longer to have a chance to “Samm” the English Bull thoroughly. “Of all the Arrogant, thou art the King, O Johnny Bull, thy nose I would love to pull.”

Boyer then writes of his health and his suffering from scurvy, as follows:

I have suffered terribly of late from scurvy. Over one half of the Ships Company were taken down with it. And at last the fact (though the officers of the ship tried hard to prevent it) became known to the Fleet Surgeon. Doctor Wheelnight. He visited the ship and made such a terrible report of the condition of the crew, that the Commodore or Rather flag officer Lardner became somewhat alarmed. He sent for our Captain and although I do not know what happened between them this much I do know. Salt provision for the ships Company was immediately stopped and for the last week we have been eating to use the common parlance at the first table…limes, lemons, Bananas, guava jelly, Chickens, tomatoes, Onions, Garlic, Sweet potatoes…Finding that there was not a very large quantity of the aforesaid green thing at Key West the Captain chartered a schooner and sent it to Havana Cuba after a supply…All a man has to aboard ship now is to show a wrinkle on him anywhere and swear tis is the scurvy and he will be treated first rate.”

Boyer goes on to note the liberty parties going ashore nightly in Key West and thinks it is “nonsense. I feel sorry for the many, many young men of our country who are being daily shot down in defense of their country. And although doing all I can, yet I would feel far better in an activity if even more dangerous than our present state of Passive Idleness.”

July 28, 1862—U.S. Ship St Lawrence, Key West. Fla. (written to his brother)

Here Corporal Bowers gloats over the ruin of Confederate Key West residents Stephen Mallory and John B. Floyd, former Florida U.S. Senator become Confederate Secretary of the Navy, and the former U.S. Secretary of War and U.S. Secretary of War later disgraced as a Confederate commander at the fall of Ft. Donelson:

“Lo, how the mighty have fallen. Two years Mallory’s name shone resplendently in the galaxy of the great men of our country., today he having joined his fortunes to the fallen confederacy, his property in Key West has been confiscated , and today he has been ruined pecuniarally as well as morally. I passed his former residence one day last week. Weeds were growing…the place stands, as it still stands, as it has stood for many long months, like a haunted ruin…

I also passed the residence of John B. Floyd, that notorious and every detestable name, who some years since was also an inhabitant of this isle of the sea. It is in the possession of a good Union family, or at least I judged, for the Star and Stripes were floating proudly from a flag staff and I heard the Star Spangled banner discoursed on the Piano in lively strains.l

Boyer also chuckles over 12 or 14 British prizes brought in, suggesting that the U.S. Government get up a testimonial thanking “her most Satanical mean majesty Queen Victoria for her extraordinary and untrammeled kindness toward the people of the U.S.”

He concludes with several lines of his own poetry, the leading stanza as follows: “Awake! Arouse from your sleep. Hasten Onward to join the band of the brave / let not fair liberty weep / Awake to your wrongs, your country save!”

August 9, 1862—U.S. Flagship St. Lawrence, Key West Florida. (Written to sister Hattie)

In this letter, Corporal Boyer relates the sudden death of a fellow Marine without stipulating the cause, though this death seems a harbinger of of the disease soon to devastate Key West:

“…I was called to the death bed of Seargent Kearcher of the Marine Guard an old companion in arms, and a tried friend. We stood by his bedside all night, rubbing him with alcohol and giving him stimulants to drink...About an hour afterward I was called to his bedside just the last lingering breath left his body. He died in terrible agony, his screams resounding through the ship…harshly on the ears of all…I helped to dig his grave deep in the Coral Rock…this morning I went ashore in the market and placed a small wooden stone over the head of his grave, He was a young man endowed with a great talent for drawing. Two of his pictures are at present in the North, one is the “The St. Lawrence Sinking the Privateer Petrel”, and the other is a representation of the naval action at New port News between the “Merrimac” and the Cumberland, Congress and the St. Lawrence…

An English steamer fitted out as a gun boat was captured by our Steamer Santiago De Cuba, she proved a quite valuable prize. She was sent her for adjudication and most probably will be condemned tomorrow and be sent north. We should be truly thankful to England for her kindness in them sending so many fine steamers o’er the Atlantic to fall such easily into the hands of our Cruisers. She has unwittingly helped a great deal in conquering these deep dyed traitors of the South..”

He concludes with encloses with several lines of his own poetry, the leading stanza of which opens as follows: “Awake! Arouse from your sleep! / Hasten onward to join the band of the Brave!”

August 22, 1862—U.S. Flagship St. Lawrence, Key West. Florida. (To his sister Hattie)

In this letter Boyer now addresses the Yellow Fever that is devastating Key West, and its effects aboard his own ship… thanking his lucky stars that he has be spared.

“I thank God the suspense is over at last. I can now breathe freer, though when I think of the dangers that are now past and the many shipmates who have died around me I shiver and yet thank a kind providence who hath carried me safely through the storm of sickness and disease. For the last two months there has been nothing but sickness and death aboard this ship. The first case was that of a poor contraband, he died very suddenly, as was supposed from typhoid fever. At least such was the opinion of the ships Company. But the doctors looked and talked very strangely, still no one had an idea of what really died of.

The next case was that of a young man by the name of Kearcher, a Sergeant in the Marine Guard. He also died very suddenly, as was supposed from Typhoid fever. The doctor’s in the ship by this time became somewhat more alarmed and any one could see that some thing worse than Typhoid fever was the cause of his death…Suddenly more are taken in the morning and die in the evening with a disease that could not be mistaken. One was a case of yellow fever, and the other of the same type but a more malignant form, black vomit…over forty of the Flag ships crew were taken down (The San Jacinto’s) she was immediately sent North…

I thought when it was the worst aboard ship that I would write to you and tell you some things about. On a second thought I concluded I would not as it might worry you, and thought even if I did die the feeling of pain be no worse than that of constantly fearing that I would. So you must pardon me for not writing you.”

August 29, 1862--U.S. Flagship, St. Lawrence, Key West, Florida. (Written to sister Hattie)

In this letter,Boyer tries to reassure that the reports of the ravages of Yellow fever have been misrepresented in the press, or at least as far as the Navy or his ship is concerned.

“…Tis true that we have been visited by the terrible scourge of the southern, but more terrible to the unacclimated Northerner, but though a great many in the ship have been taken down with the disease yet the deaths in comparison with the troops ashore we have suffered but slightly. The disease as a general thing is more as a general thing confined to the Marine guard, as they are more exposed than the officers and crew…

We have lost by the disease since coming in here, of officers, the Carpenter, Yeoman and one Masters Mate, of the guard, one Sergeant, two Corporals and five privates, of the ships company, three Seamen, four ordinary Seaman and five Landsmen, making a total of twenty three out of four hundred, there is still sick the Orderly Sergeant of the Guard, One Corporal, and eight privates, of the ships company, the Purser, gunner, and twelve of the crew, all of which are recovering rapidly, thanks to a kind and watchful providence , who has sent us storms and gales, which…in this present instant are a great good it has purged the air of pestilence…

I have been almost dead myself, though I had a very slight attack of it. But with watchings and nursing…But enough of this…I have often wished that I could be more active though I could not be in more dangerous service. Disease and Death truly comes like a thief in the night. The soldier on the gory battlefield sees the danger he is in, but here no knew at the time yellow fever was raging. Who would be the first cut down.

I was walking up and down the spar deck with on e of our Sergeants, both of us were apparently in the best of health. Of a sudden complained of a terrible pain in his head and back, the first symptoms of the disease. He was taken below and put in a cot. Two days afterwards he was a corpse. The ship appeared like a vast hospital and the sick men’s hammocks and cots are suspended on hooks over the entire ship.

September 3, 1862—U.S. Flagship St. Lawrence, Key West, Florida. (addressed to Titus D Boyer)

Boyer begins by teasing his father about earlier service in a howitzer company, saying…”If [you] pardon the egotism I consider myself “Au Fait” at either Musket or Bayonet drill, as I am 2nd Captain of a Gun at “General Quarters.” So if my life is spared to again come North, I will put you through an extensive course…as far as Military tactics goes. But then I have nothing to brag of. I have done nothing this last twenty months but drill and keep myself clean along with a bit of guard duty once in a while….”

He then adverts to the yellow fever scourge aboard ship….”Everything here is gloomy, on account of the visit of yellow fever to the Island and shipping. Aboard our ship there is a veil of sorrow and I might say horror thrown over almost everybody, on account of so many deaths and so much sickness……Since coming here we have lost a very great many of our shipmates, and we all had hoped and thought that the disease had vanished, but it is again, very bad last week. We lost the carpenter, Purser and several sailors and Marines.

The disease seems to be most amongst the marine guard…Of fifty in the original guard men in the original guard according to the morning reports 1 Lieutenant, 1 Sergeant, 1 Corporal doing duty and 12 privates. A total of 15 for the guard. .The rest are all sick or dead. This is almost enough to frighten one but when a person gets scared he might as well make his will and order his coffin for that reason alone. I will not allow myself to get frightened.

I have been last week constantly among the sick and do not feel the least concerned about myself, though I am very nearly tired out from constant watching…there has been scenes passed before my eyes that at almost any other time would have driven me crazy. The guard have hand duty enough now to make them all sick, two hrs on Post and four off in the day time, 2 on and three off at night. Terrible hard duty in this warm country…”

September 5, 1862—U.S. Flagship St. Lawrence, Key West, Florida. (Addressed to sister Hattie)

Living in the midst of the Yellow Fever epidemic that has stricken numerous ship mates, in writing his beloved sister, Boyer is but a week and a half away from his own death.

“I received your kind, welcome and anxiously looked for letter…I read eagerly every line from you…Life without a word of sympathy would be a dark drear plain. It is almost a desert now, in which your letters form the oasis of A mothers love and a sister’s affection are to me two of the sweetest things of Earth, and if they too were denied me I know not what could do, would do…”

Boyer then writes about trying to obtain money from his Captain to assist civilian brother Sam back home:

“I went to the Captain of the Ship about money. But our Paymaster having died of Yellow Fever he told me he could do nothing for me at present. This is the seconde time I have asked him. I asked him some time ago when Samuel wrote me a letter telling something of his situation. But have not yet received one cent that I can send him.”

Boyer then writes that his “thoughts of the Sunny South have somewhat changed since Yellow Fever has made its appearance here. I wrote a piece sometime ago called “The North” which I thought I had sent to you, and will give it to you now.” Followed by ten stanzas of extremely sad sentimental poetry, yearning for home.

He then begs sister Hattie to “send me the answer to my poem called the South,” and goes on to say that he sent her “ a piece some days ago, called “Rasselass” (based on a poem by Dr. Samuel Johnson), adding that he had procured the services of “Mr. Storer of the Guard to write it off.”

Going on to add that…“A choking sensation came to me though the day following the one I mailed it he [Mr. Storer]--was taken with the Yellow Fever and three days afterwards died in the Marine Hospital at Key West…I have one consolation left. He died the death of a Christian, and hope and trust that I may again meet him in a Heaven above, “Green be the grave above, friend…

I wrote a letter to his sister in Riegelsville, Pa, and though I couch it in words of condolement, yet it went to my heart like a arrow. Life, what is it? Yesterday…Isaac Storer and I had a watch on deck together and were conversing of Home and friends. Then he was blooming in Health and Cheerfulness, The morrow brought sickness, and death, tis hard to see one’s comrades dropping of daily around me…But such is life. Today blooming in all the beauty of early manhood, the face tinged with the roseate hue of health, the night closes dark and drear…”

There is more of this, including mention of sickened shipmate who in terror jumped through a porthole into the sea, only to be saved by a shipmate who jumped in after him. Boyer reports of later being was roused from his sleep by the man’s “wild agonizing cries resounding with terrible distinctness through the decks. I hasten to his bed. One wild yell of agony and fear. A convulsive start, and a soul had left the frial earthly tenement.. I pray that I may be never again called to witness such a scene, his yells are yet resounding my ears. But enough of this drear gloomy subject…”

With his own death but a week away, he closes the letter with a another poem of ten stanzas, this one titled “Childhood, ” concluding with these lines: “On Life’s Early Manhood darkened by strange fears / Thou doth bring on us a shell / As we think of the days we loved so well / In our former happy childhood days.”

September 18th 1862—U.S. Frigate St. Lawrence, Key West, Fla.

In this letter, Boyer shipmate Charles R. Foster informs sister Hattie of her brother’s death from Yellow Fever:

“Miss Boyer…I write to inform of the death of your esteemed brother Daniel, which took place this morning at a about half past after ten o’clock of Yellow Fever. Some five days ago he contracted the disease which is now raging furiously in this place but the next day he was supposed to be recovering and indeed until this morning hopes were entertained of his recovery.

Early this morning there was a decided change for worse and the Fleet Surgeon gave him up, although every means that were available were tried but all proved a failure.

He called me to him yesterday morning and asked it as a great kindness if I would write and let his parents in Philadelphia and also his sister in Maryland know of his death for he had not the slightest hopes of recovery. He died entirely out of his mind and knew not a single person around his bed but passed away like a child going to sleep in its mothers arms.

Daniel died happy believing that all his sins were forgiven him and that he had been born over again. So I trust that he is in a country free from Sin sorrow and Temptation and singing the praises of the Father around the Throne of Good.

I remain yours Respectfully / Chas. R. Foster

I have some three or four letters of Dans which he asked sent to you which I shall forward by mail.

October 21, 1862—U.S. Frigate St. Lawrence, Key West

In this letter, Boyer’s friend Charles R. Foster writes his father, Titus Boyer, concerning his son’s death:

“Mr. Boyer / Dear Sir…Yours of the First reached here last evening, and I hasten to write you in regard to the questions asked.

Daniel was buried upon the island of Key West in a Cemetery devoted to that special purpose. His grave has been marked by a suitable monument stating his age together with the place he was born and died.

His clothing has all been sold by his comrades as that is the usual custom on board of a man of war. And the proceeds of the sale credited to his account at the treasury Dept at Washington.

Daniel died very quietly indeed for it was expected by all hands that he would struggle very much, as on the night before his death he was raving continually all night but towards morning he became more calm and gradually sank into a kind of stupor in which state he died. I was with him until about an hour before he died when I was call away upon duty so it did not fall to my lot to close his eyes but rest assured that that he had the best treatment that rough hands but kind hearts could tender.

I feel sure that he was truly repentant for all the sims he had ever committed and he told me when he was in his right mind that he had made his peace with his god.

He seemed very much troubled about his siter Hattie and spoke to me much about her and said for me to write and tell her that he had tried to profit by her kind teaching and thought he would be all right.

There was nothing left but a few letters of Dans which I destroyed as they were of no use whatever.

I remain your /Most Abt. Servt. / Chas. R. Foster


Civil War Marine letter groupings are scarce and especially those from enlisted ranks on blockade duty. The Boyer collection provides A fascinating glimpse of shipboard life among the USS St. Lawrence Marine guard, while including short accounts of the landing party raid on Norfolk shipyard in April 1861 and the March 1862 Hampton Roads action between the Monitor and “Merrimac” (CSS Virginia.) The closing letters from Key West, when the crew of the USS St. Lawrence was living under a Yellow Fever (“Black Vomit”) death sentence are poignant and gripping.

All letters in protective sleeves, in black vinyl binder. A superb Civil War Marine Corps collectible.   [JP][ph:L]






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