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Union Soldier Tells His Wife of the Rebel Attack on New Bern, North Carolina
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we had quite an excitement in Newbern about a week ago the rebels made three or four attacks on the City and were finally repulsed we lost one man on board of one of the Gunboats that is all

HENRY PICKFORD. Fragment of Autograph Letter Signed, to his wife Sarah Pickford, c. March 1863. 2 pp.

Inventory #21265.13       Price: $140

N.B. The Boston Athenaeum has a collection of Sears and Pickford Family Papers.

Complete Transcript

all about  we had quite an excitement in Newbern about a week ago  the rebels made three or four attacks on the City and were finally repulsed  we lost one man on board of one of the Gunboats that is all  the Rebels came down from Kinston with 30 pieces of Artillery  we took 3 and found one of them burst, making 4 in all  we marched some twenty miles to try and outflank them, but they was too smart for us, and we had a long and rapid march for nothing  there is something exciteing about a march after all and I never would miss one if I could help it as tiresome as it is  my feet got very sore this time as I had to get a new pair of shoes and put them right on to march in and never take them off for three days except once to wash my feet  Charley Fisher tells me that you and his wife was talking about changing babies, but you cant do it now without us knowing it as I have our little chaps likeness  I was sorry for Mrs Hills loss  you give them my kindest reguards and all enquiring friends <2> I hear we are going to be paid off pretty soon but I dont know certain when  I wish you would let me know how we stand when you write  I should like to know if I have enough coming to me to pay all our little bills in Chelsea  there is over four Months pay coming to me at present so you will be able to tell me if that will square up accounts from your ever Loving Husband

                                                                        Henry Pickford

PS I received a letter from Charles Edwards in Chelsea and he says they are very busy and will be glad when I come back  old Mr Edwards has left the Firm and little charley has gone to Montreal to take charge of the business there

Historical Background

Union Army and Navy forces captured New Bern, North Carolina, in March 1862. The loss of the second largest town in North Carolina and an important river and railroad center was a severe blow to the Confederacy. Southerners unsuccessfully attempted to recover the town three times, in March 1863, February 1864, and May 1864.

In mid-March 1863, Confederate General Daniel H. Hill attacked New Bern with 13,000 soldiers from Kinston, thirty-five miles to the northwest. Hill’s plan was to attack with heavy cannon from the north, an infantry assault from the southwest, and a cavalry advance to cut the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad. On March 14, General James J. Pettigrew’s cannon opened fire on Fort Anderson and Union gunboats in the Neuse River. However, they neither damaged the fort nor drove off the gunboats, which shelled Pettigrew’s forces from far out on the river. With the failure of Pettigrew’s bombardment, Hill had to abandon the other parts of his plan and withdraw to Kinston.

Henry Pickford (1831-1907) was born in London, England, and moved with his parents to Halifax, Nova Scotia. At age 13, he became an apprentice to a watchmaker, and after four years moved to Boston. After time in New York City and Halifax, he again settled in Boston. In 1860, he was a machinist and locksmith in Chelsea, Massachusetts. In 1861, he married Sarah Sears, and in 1862, they had a son Frederick. Pickford enlisted as a private in Company H of the 43rd Massachusetts Militia in September 1862, for nine months. On April 27, 1863, he was sent sick to the hospital at New Bern, North Carolina. He was discharged on July 30, 1863. By 1870, he was manufacturing and repairing locks and knobs in Boston. He made over 35,000 locks, most of his own design, and he held five patents.

Sarah Ann Sears Pickford (1835- ) was born in Massachusetts. In 1855, she was a teacher and in 1860, an artist. She married Henry Pickford in 1861. They had at least three children, born between 1862 and 1875.

Charles R. Fisher (1824-1899) was born in Massachusetts and married Sarah Lillie in 1857. In 1860, he was a brass finisher in Chelsea. Like Pickford, he enlisted as a private in Company H of the 43rd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. In September 1862, they had a son named William. In 1870, Fisher was a locksmith in Chelsea with $1,200 in personal property.

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