Letter from Austin, Matthew S.

Soldier: Austin, Matthew S.
Allegiance: Union
Unit/Service Branch: 5th Infantry
Home State: New Jersey
Date Written: Friday, August 1st, 1862
Location: Near Harrison’s Landing, VA.
Correspondence Type: Letter
Subjects: Camp Life, Commanders, Comrades, Daily Life, Eastern Theater, Family, Friends, Rumors, Strategy
Camp Fifth N J Vols.

My Dear Father

Since my last, there has been little of interest, in military matters in this vicinity (so far as we are informed) up to last night - when the quiet of the night was suddenly disturbed by as heavy an artillery battle as the James River can boast of. We are informed that the enemy opened upon our camps near the river, from extensive field batteries, which had taken up positions (on the opposite side of the river) during the darkness of the night. Whatever the number of the artillery of the rebels, our gunboats were not long in convincing them that they command all hills or ravines, redoubts or forts (and can clear and silence) which they may attempt to occupy or hold. We are not reliably informed in regard to the affair - what damage was or was not done. We know or believe at least that the rally of the James River has not before heard a more fierce commanding. You will, doubtless, have minute particulars, through the army correspondents and I shall rely upon the same source.

I have to say received the small package you sent me on June 21st - was slightly damaged from contact with the box of ointment. The Tartaric oil was uninjured. The article this is intended to supply as a substitute (lemons) is today being supplied to the regiment. The sick, in hospital, have been receiving them in abundance for some two weeks. (I have just received two.) Soldiers are dying daily, in the various regt’l hospitals - from diseases (hereditary) brought out during the campaign. Three have recently died in this, from consumption (pulmonary). As many as 20 have been discharged since we encamped within our present lines. Rupture Schofula consumption are the cause - the first contains the largest no. of cases.

I have more rest than formerly - have made, today, a six days issue of provisions. This six days issue is made up as follows - two days of bacon; beef; 5 days bread; 1 day flour; 3 beans; 3 rice; 4 coffee (r &ground); 2 tea; 6 sugar; 2 days of onions; 2 dried apples;2 potatoes; 6 salt; 2 molasses; 6 vinegar; 6 candles; 6 soap; 2 days fr. Beef - whiskey is issued two or three times a week - of a very ? quality generally. I suppose it contains quinine. The no. of articles is numerous enough - the quantity of some might be profitably increased - some diminished. I have quite recovered from the attack of diarrhea without having done more that abstain from all food. I shall take some ? of Deshler’s pills to operate on the hives and as a ? to fever. I think there are symptoms of ague in my case, I have probably passed through the most trying portion of the campaign - so that I do not apprehend a severe attack of sickness if cautious.

From the ? of expedition, on the part of Adam’s Ex. Co., I fear I shall not receive your box for weeks. Their agents are very dilatory - or else that are so overcrowded with business as to make it impossible to do as they would have the public believe. I am much in need of the shirts I wrote for but you ought not to send them until I can acknowledge the articles already sent.

Yesterday there was rain - today is quite pleasant from a cooler atmosphere.

There are a number of resignations in this reg’t awaiting finality - probably will be ? as follows: Capt Clandek, Co “H”; Capt Eayre, Co “I”; Capt Angel, Co “A”; Lt Rierdon, Co “F”. I am not anxious to step into the boots of any officer in the Reg’t if I can succeed in any of the new ones (I would prefer the 14th) would rather be second Lt. in the last named than have two = in this.

In your letter accompanying the pkge I rec’d today - you say you have means of influence with Col. Starr, and that if I would consent or ask it, you would use it for my benefit. I do not admire him as a man enough to ask him for favors. One quality he excels in - a self command in battle as appreciation of his position when in great danger 0 a discretion in the hour of battle (which he saved many a life with us) that has given the men the greatest confidence in him at such times - but in camp he is tyrannical in the extreme, so that there are few exceptions (with the men) in their expression of intense hatred of him. I do not join in any sentiment of the kind, he is my principal to entertain hatred - nor allow its feelings of others to rule me. His treatment to me ? has been such as allows me no room to complain - only justice should have been shown in the list of promotions - now I do not ? it here.

Love to all at home,


M.S. Austin
Com Serg’t Fifth NJV