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New York Cavalry Trooper from Elmira - Six Months Before It Became “Hellmira”
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A New York cavalry private writes home about arriving in Elmira shortly after enlisting. The commandant briefly placed him in charge of one barracks before he traveled to Virginia, where he was mortally wounded in action before the end of the year.

[CIVIL WAR – UNION]]. ARTEMAS WOOD. Autograph Letter Signed to Jacob Dudden, January 25, 1864, Elmira, NY, 4 pp., 5 x 8 in. With original stamped envelope.

Inventory #22400       Price: $400

Complete Transcript

Headquarters Barracks No 1

Elmira Jan 25th/64

Dear Sir

            I received your letter last saturday as well as the package of money ($5000) I had some trouble in geting the money When I telegraphed I directed it sent to the care of Lieutenant Benjamin[1] but it came in care of Seret [Sergeant] B— and as there was no such person they would not give me the “monish.” I finaly found a gentleman who was willing to say that I was the “pusson” that the money was for & the clerk delivered it to me.

            I left Troy Saturday the 9th inst at 7AM & reached this place at 12 PM. We stayed all night in the cars as there was no room for us in the barracks. <2> Sunday morning we marched to the Warehouse Barracks where I stayed five days. I was appointed seargent [sic] of the second floor containing some three hundred men. Friday I was taken to these barracks. Saturday I was taken to barracks No 3 along with Sheridan & a lot of others where we signed the pay rolls for $125.00 but that evening Col Brooks[2] sent over an order for me to report to these headquarters for duty and for my name to be struck off the pay rolls. I accordingly reported to Col Brook who commands these barracks when he ordered me to take charge of Barrack No. 12.

            I get along very well with the men now although when I first took command they were rather unruly. I made them all put out the lights <3> at 9 P. M. and all talking to stop after that until morning; also for them to turn out promptly in the morning at roll call. I had to put two men in the guard house the second night & to place some of the others on police duty. Everything goes on smoothly now.

            We get two meals per day, one at 9 AM & the other at 3.30 PM. that is the men. I can eat whenever I have a mind to. There is some seven or eight thousand men here at present, & more coming.

            The Circumlocution office is located here & in full opperation & doing a ‘big’ business just now. The weather is very warm & the the snow has mostly melted.

            Tom Sheridan[3] & Ed Welch are with at me <4> Also S Colburn[4] who is Seargent under me  I have not seen any other L— boys out here  Lansingburgh will loose $400 one man in Sherwood of Johnsonville who enlisted for L— He has had a fit and if he lives the government will undoubtedly throw him out, as he was subject to them before enlisting.

            I am in hopes of going to the regiment this week although they may try to keep me here. The Reg’t has gone to Harpers Ferry  Please write on rec’pt of this to me at this place. Direct to me at Barracks No 1 Elmira & if I am not here it will be sent on

                                                                                                A Wood

Res[p]ects to Eb[5] & the others Yours in haste

[Envelope:] J. Dudden, Esqr / Lansingburgh / NY / Care / E & C Wood

Historical Background

Camp Rathbun or Camp Chemung was a thirty-acre Union Army training and muster facility at Elmira in south-central New York. Because of its proximity to the Erie Railway, the Northern Central Railway, and the Chemung River, Elmira was convenient for assembling the state’s soldiers before sending them south.

As Union forces advanced South, the need to house more Confederate prisoners forced the state to convert Barracks No. 3 into a prison camp. In July 1864, it accepted its first contingent of prisoners of war. Originally designed to hold 5,000, it would eventually house over 12,000 Confederate prisoners. The facility lacked food, clothing, and medical care, and the death rate topped 25 percent as a result of malnutrition, disease, and exposure. Eventually, “Hellmira” earned a reputation as notorious in the South as Andersonville Prison was in the North. Woodlawn Cemetery, named a national cemetery in 1877, holds the remains of the 2,963 Confederate prisoners who died at Elmira.

Artemas Wood Jr. (1833-1864) was born in Lansingburgh, New York. By 1862, he was a surveyor in Troy, New York. He married Mary Elizabeth Bradshaw (1840-1924), with whom he had at least one child. His family were brush-makers, and the firm of E. & C. Wood (named for his uncle Ebenezer and his older brother Charles) produced brushes of all types for over sixty years from the 1850s to 1915. In January 1864, Wood enlisted as a private in Company L of the 21st New York Cavalry. He was appointed a sergeant in July 1864. On November 22, he was wounded at the Battle of Rood’s Hill in General Philip Sheridan’s campaign in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Wood died of his wounds on December 7, 1864, at Winchester, Virginia. When General and former President Ulysses S. Grant fell into bankruptcy in 1884, Charles Wood sent him a check for $500 and a loan of $1,000 without interest to be repaid when convenient. Wood sent them “on account of my share for services ending April, 1865,” a reference to Grant’s role in Union victory, and concluded “I owe you this for Appomattox.”[6]



[1] Charles A. Benjamin (b. 1844) was mustered in as a second lieutenant in Co. L. of the 21st New York Cavalry in January 1864. He transferred to other companies within the regiment, received promotion to first lieutenant, and was mustered out in June 1866 at Denver, Colorado.

[2] Enos C. Brooks (1823-1887) was born in New York, studied law, and obtained admission to the bar in 1853. That same year, he was commissioned a major in the 64th New York State Militia. He led that regiment from August 1861 until wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. After a leave of absence, he became provost marshal of Western New York at Elmira in April 1863. He was appointed inspector of drafts for eleven Congressional districts, a position he held until January 1864, when he became commandant of Barrack No. 1 at Elmira. He was honorably discharged at Washington, D.C., in May 1864.

[3] Thomas Sheridan (b. 1829) enlisted as a private in Company I of the 21st New York Cavalry. He was appointed a corporal in November 1864. He mustered out with his company in July 1866 at Denver, Colorado.

[4] Samuel Colburn (b. 1834) enlisted in January 1864 as a private in Company L of the 21st New York Cavalry. He mustered out in June 1866 at Denver, Colorado.

[5] Likely his uncle Ebenezer Wood, partner in the E. and C. Wood brush manufacturing company.

[6] Warren F. Broderick, “‘I owe you this for Appomattox’: U.S. Grant’s Mystery Visitor at Mount McGregor,” The Hudson River Valley Review 22 (Fall 2005):49-57

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