This letter does not contain dramatic news, but Baird does reference the draft. The draft was instituted for the first time in 1863 and led to uprisings around the country, but especially in New York. Be sure to follow the link below.

Raccoon Ford, River Rapidan Va.
Friday, Nov. 20th, ‘63

My dear Father,

Your letter of the 3rd reached me last Saturday, but I have’nt had a chance to write till to-day. I am Sorry to hear that your corn has done so poorly. If you can find a good pair of colts, well matched, I would like to have you buy them for unexpectedly I got my pay yesterday, & so I will endorse to you in this a check for twenty dollars which will help towards buying the colts. I got a letter from Sammy this week, dated Oct. 3rd. He was then still in Arkansas, & was well. By his talk I think his regiment is going into winter quarters.

The 6th Mich. is now picket at this place

Our Camp is some five miles to the rear of us at a little place called Stephensburg. Nearly all of the Army of the Potomac is now around Culpepper & Brandy Station. The rebels are strongly fortified on the other side of the Rapadan, I think Meade will soon try & drive them out of their nest, however.

Henry Ward is with the Company & looks real well & hearty. So does Jeff Kelley, in fact all of the boys do. My health is getting right good again.

When you write please send me a list of all that have been drafted in our town.

With my love to all I remain, as ever,

Matthew

~~~~~
Who’s Matthew Baird?

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Last page of Baird's letter with poem "Our Flag". HCP Collection.

In Baird’s own words, this letter is “extravagantly long”, containing details of picket duty and interesting gossip from home. We unfortunately do not know to whom the letter was written, but we do have an indication of Baird’s sense of humor for the first time.  The photo to the right contains the text of the poem found at the end of this 6 page, over 1,000 word letter all written in pencil (for which Baird apologizes)!

Wednesday Morn

Sept. 11th 1861

Dear Friend.

I received you kind letter of Sept 1st last evening, but have been detained from answering it till this morning on account of our Company being detailed for picket guard, and as a matter of course I had to accompany it.

Pickets are used for the purpose of giving warning to the camp in case of the approach of an army to begin an attack.

This is a very particular duty and has thus far in this war proved to be a very dangerous one.

A great many have been killed on both sides by pickets firing at each other. Company E has been detailed for this duty almost exclusively for the last few weeks. So you see, I have had some experience in this part of war. One day and night last week, I was on a post within full view of a rebel fort on Munson’s Hill (it is about three fourths of a mile from where I stood.) and about five miles from Washington city on the road to Manassas. This fort occupies a beautiful and commanding site, and to every appearance from where I was, might be made a very formidable place. Sunday and Monday, the 8th and 9th, I was on a post so near the rebel pickets, we could hear them talk, and in part their pickets and ours did get to talking with each other in rather a rough sort of way. Many harsh words passed between them, and they often answered each other by discharging their muskets back and forth.

Monday morning the firing grew so warm that the rebels threw several shot and shell from the fort at our pickets, however without any harm.

For my part, I have not had the privilege of firing at a single secesh yet, nor can I say that I realy desire to. The two armies have now agreed to cease firing at each others pickets. There are from three to six men on a post.

But now I must tell you something about the post I occupy at present. It is about three miles west of our camp on the railroad running from Alexandria to Vienna. I have two comrades with me. We have a little bough house to protect us from the sun. Behind us is a thick deep forest into whose shades the strongest eye would not penetrate at night. Before us is the railroad with its winding [illegible] running through sunny fields, and shady groves, now along some steep hillside. Now through a tiny vale, then it plunges into a deep cut where it is lost to view. Just below the railroad is a deep ravine through which courses a pleasant little stream overhung with huge rocks and towering forest trees. And here as it passes along unheeded by the desolating hand of war and untainted by treasons foul breath. As it rushes over heavy boulders, or along smooth pebly banks, or plunges and foams at the foot of a steep precipice, and then dashes on through the [illegible] shade of a wide spreading tree, whose ample and luxuriant branches reach far over the mossy banks and then playfuly murmurs out into the broad sunlight, it ever sings all its course the songs that were sung by our grandsires, the sounds of liberty. And I have no doubt if it had a human voice it would cause the surrounding hills to resound with the music of the Star Spangled Banner, or with the thrilling notes of Hail Columbia. At least it would not lend a voice to the traitors cause, nor whisper one word of comfort to its disunion in its expiring hour. And in this beautiful spot we are to spend the day. We expect to be relieved at night. But I must say a little about home matters. I received a letter from home a few days ago and they stated that brother Samuel [sibling] had enlisted in the cavalry company at Battle Creek and was expecting to go to Missouri to join Gen Fremonts command. I will give you a list of the names of those that enlisted (in the same company) and with whom you are acquainted.

Emery Jackson, Mr Holman, De Witt Keyes, Daniel Toles, Elanzo Gilbert, Jacob Mott, and Sam’l Baird. They stated too that Mary [sibling] had broken one of her arms. There appears to be several out and out rebels down in Barry [County] and they don’t carry any colors to disguise it either. Secession seems to be quite a prominent theme with them, and certain young ladies, say they hope every northern boy that goes south to fight will get shot. Patriotic young ladies, They have a small thimble full of humanity and a considerable loss of common sense.

I have never written to Noah yet but I think I shall if I have time, but I suppose you often write to him. So if I do not get time to write, you will please give him my best respects, and tell him I would be happy to hear from him, and also give him my address. I saw Aaron’s wife last winter, I think he married her out of pure love, for she is not much handsomer than myself, which you of course know does not excel, but she is spoken of by every one as an excelent girl. But I am realy sorry the widow Polly is married, for I shall miss a good chance then won’t I? But never mind she’ll get tired of him after awhile. You will please remember me to Jackson Russell, tell him I said my best respects to himself and wide from the battle ground of Virginia.

You spoke of its being such a beautiful Fall morning, when you wrote, but everything retains the hue of summer here yet. Scarcely a leaf is turned to show the change of season. The weather is beautiful and warm. We have been expecting a battle here for a long while, but everything seems to move slowly. Yet it may come when we think not, like an avalanche, terable in form and power.

Enlcosed I send you a photograph of General McClelan commanding the Army of the Potamac. He is a shrewd, far seeing man and [two words obscured by tear] with all, and under him we may hope to subdue secession and restore peace and tranquility to the Union. Words cannot express my grattitude to you for the kind wishes you express in my behalf. While there are some who would desire that evil might befall those who have gone to fight for their country there are others whose hearts are not quite so calloused in whose sympathies we may find a place, and whose kindest wishes and sincerest prayers we know are ascending to Heaven in our behalf. You will please excuse me for writing you in pencil, but I am so far from camp and have no ink with me and I am on duty so constant that I have to write whenever an opportunity offers.

But my letter is getting extravagantly long and I must close and I presume you will wish I had sooner before you have read it through.

With my kindest regards to you parents and my best wishes for yourself.

I remain yours
Write soon, write often, truly and sincerely
To your Friend                 Farewell, Matthew


Our Flag


Where is the banner that doth wave

Beneath the sky, on land or sea

So beautiful, so bright, so [tear in paper]

As thee, our noble Flag, as thee

Well may the laws of Freedom feel

Proud when they see that standard above?

And proudly draw their sacred steel

T’ defend the banner of the brave

Matthew

~~~~~

Who’s Matthew Baird?

August 19th

First portion of Aug. 19th entry, HCP Collection.

Camp Life

There is something interesting and [illegible] in camp life.

And though it is attended with many inconveniences and often with hardship and suffering it still has something of a charm which makes a man feel perfectly at home. There are blended the serious, the comical, the sentimental and the ludicrous.

There may be found men of refinement and accomplished educational attainments. Men whose hearts beat high with generous impulses, men in whose hands might well be trusted the nation’s honor. There may be found men of fortitude and courage and to whom danger and difficulty would seem but as passing scenes of every day occurrence which to in [illegible] would be but to overcome. There may also be found men of weak minds, and of dastardly and cowardly dispositions. Men to whom vice is more sacred than virtue, men who are sunk to the lowest ebb of depravity and who would delight as much in distruction of their fellows by their their own corruption, as their on distruction is sure. But the latter form an exception. I am happy to say that I believe that a great majority of the American army, though not strictly moral, are possessed of enough of the principal of justice and honor to detain them from acts of crimination, or from a desire to lead others into such measures. Here there are many too whose lives are in strict conformity to the morality and religion, and whose acts and virtue we would do well to coppy. But these, alas; also form an exception. Thus a man who loves to study character and human nature will find no better place than in the Camp.

The scenes in camp are also varied. The things that occur today, are often entirely different from those things that transpired the day before. The mode of cooking, which is after a primitive fashion, and the ridiculous eagerness of the soldiers to obtain their food, with their manner of eating it, often forms an interesting and laughable scene. But above all the most exerting is packing up for a march. Everything is then all in a bustle and confusion. Camp kettles and eating utensils are hurried together. Soldiers hurrying hither and thither, packing their knapsacks, cleaning their guns, and striking their tents, lashing the wagons, with the usual hurry flurry impatience of the officers presents a picture at once lively and interesting.

Today our camp at Hunters Place presented such a scene. After everything had been packed and loaded and all men ready, we were formed into line and marched in our present camp above Fort Albany. From this camp (as from most others we’ve occupied since 21st July) we have a beautiful view of Washington and the Patomac. The Mich 2nd and the N.Y. 34 are stationed just to the west on our rear. The Mass 14th at Fort Albany. While on our front are ________ [Baird left purposely blank to fill later] Artillery.

Above, Baird references that the 14th Massachusetts Infantry was an artillery unit at Fort Albany. In fact, the unit was reorganized on June 20, 1861 becoming First Regiment Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. To see a map of the many fortifications constructed to protect Washington, D.C. click here. Zooming in will give you a better idea of how close together many of the forts were.

~~~~~

Who’s Matthew Baird?