Letter from Austin, Matthew S.

Soldier: Austin, Matthew S.
Allegiance: Union
Unit/Service Branch: 5th Infantry
Home State: New Jersey
Date Written: Wednesday, December 25th, 1861
Location: Lower Potomac
Correspondence Type: Letter
Subjects: Camp Life, Commanders, Comrades, Daily Life, Drilling, Eastern Theater, Family, Newspapers
Camp 5th NJV

Dear Father~

Today has been very pleasant indeed - quite warm, sky clear and the air as still and baking as a mid summer’s day. Last evening we had quite a sociable time in the commissary department - songs, music, “yarns” etc, etc. (etc. means Sutler’s whiskey) I am happy to say, however, that not one of the invited guests of the commissary drank to excess. The company consisted entirely of Com. & Non Com. officers. We had very excellent music and the time passed pleasantly. Considerable drunkenness prevailed in all the camps - particularly in this one - from the fact that the 5th’s sutler has had privileges (which are not allowed in other reg’ts) and which are in violation of certain General Orders. I hope the sutler department of the army will be entirely done away with or improved in some way. All commissioned officers have the privilege of buying from the commissary department, at government prices - which is about one half that charged by sutlers but the men have not. There are many things the men need that could not be purchased at the commissary but a more perfect system should be devised for supplying the men at reasonable prices. Sutler’s of the 5th does not sell molasses nor sugar, as the profit on them would not pay for the trouble. It (molasses) is always in demand but we are not permitted to sell only to our officers. I could sell a large quantity, could I get it at this point. This is why I spoke about the price of molasses in Philadelphia. The molasses we issue is sold to officers at 62 cents - the best quality.

January 1st, 1862

Our mails are very irregular - they are carried by the steam wheel boats I spoke of before (Skuylkill boats) and are irregular from the fact that they have to lie by whenever there are strong winds. On Sunday evening the bands for the 7th & 8th Reg’ts arrived - there was a general hurrah. There were more men in the ranks at evening dress parade on Monday than at any time since we came into the field. Yesterday the usual monthly review inspection took place - the ranks were full - only three sick in hospital. Two have died in reg. hospital lately - from typhoid. Since Christmas, the sale of spirits or malt liquors has been forbidden to the sutler of the 5th - which has caused some improvement in camp. The late act of Congress in relation to sutler’s liens on soldier’s pay is rejoiced on by the men but will not probably affect the sutler much. They will sell for cash and sell about as much as before. There is plenty of whiskey to be had in camp, notwithstanding the prohibition. Drunkeness is not very extensive however, among the men, the fear of punishment restrains them. The commissioned officers have the credit of being more ? than the privates. Today has been very pleasant as has the past month. I have been busy all day getting commissary stores from Mottowoman Creek and have hardly thought of anything beside. We have some 3 miles to haul provisions and counting all the minutia to be gone through with, it takes all the day to fill orders - with little time to think of other matters. My duties today and those of a year ago are very different and in a different portion of the ? then indeed I was encamped as now but on an entirely different mission. It is to be hoped I may come off as successfully as then. Our regiment is in most excellent health - they (the men) may be judged generally by my own standard. When I left Trenton, I weighed 140 lbs. I now weigh 160 (full weight) in my shirt sleeves. The men have influenced much in this camp. We are learning steadily in military matters and would probably make a vigorous fight should we be called upon. The men offer to be anxious for an engagement. They need good form more than extra drilling. The forms are difficult, have and ought to be condensed, as unfit to go into a fight with. The settlement of the Trent affair affects our men ? very indifferently. The other way would have pleased them as well. We have Baltimore papers of today and NY of yesterday.

Give my love and a happy new year to the folks at home.

M. S. Austin