6 July 1861: “I am enjoying good health, am surrounded with a good many friends and consider it an honor to fight and die if needs be in the defence of the Union.”

Item description: Letter, 6 July 1861, from William Ray Wells, private in the 12th New York Infantry Regiment (“Onondaga Regiment”), to his sister. Wells writes from his regiment’s encampment near Washington, D.C. He reports optimistically, “I do not expect to see any fighting of any account as our time is up on the 13 of August when we all or nearly all expect to return home if alive and well.” In fact, Wells’ regiment would see action within a few days of this letter, and Wells did not return safely home in August of that year.

[Item transcription and biographical information available below.]

Item citation: From folder 2 of the William Ray Wells Papers #2960-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Camp Onon[daga]

Washington, 6 July 1861

My Dear Sister,

I had just returned from the city just now when I read your kind letter and will hasten to reply. I presume our folks has written you nearly all the news as far as regards our reg., &c. I am enjoying myself as well as might be expected under the circumstances. I am enjoying good health, am surrounded with a good many friends and consider it an honor to fight and die if needs be in the defence of the Union. I do not expect to see any fighting of any account as our time is up on the 13 of August when we all or nearly all expect to return home if alive and well. We were sworn into the U.S. service for three months and in the States service for two yrs. unless sooner discharged. We do not have any thing to eat to [?] of. We have to cook all our own vituals but our bread. We have bakers bread, beef, salt pork, and bacon, coffee and sugar, rice and beans. We are also furnished candels, soaps and towels, and have to do our own washing. We expect to march to Georgetown Heights next week. And if there is need of directing different I will write and let you know. It is raining slowly today which makes me a little home sick. We have to drill about 5 or 6 hours a day and are getting so that we drill very well. You wrote that liquor was dealt out to the troops. I do not know but they do in other regs. but they do not in ours. It would not make any diference to me if they did for I have sworn to touch not, taste not, and handle not. And heaven helping me I never will. I presume if when my time is up I can get away. I shall come out there and visit you but now I am in for it. I will never desert. Our officers are all very kind and do all they can I presume to make us cheerful and happy. We had to march considerable in the city on the 4th. We had to be up and have our breakfast eat and was ready to march at six o’clock. We had to march till nearly noon. The Capt. gave me the countersign and I went down in the evening. They did not have any doings to amount to anything. But I must close as I have got to write home. Write soon again as I shall be glad to hear from you at any time and I will answer them as soon as recd.

Your affectionate brother,

Ray

direct 12th ‘Onon. Vol’, Col. Walrath care Capt. H. A. Barnum. Be sure to put on ‘Onon. Vol.’ as there is a reg. 12th (state militia) here.

More about William Ray Wells:

Enlistment:

- 21 years of age at time of enlistment

- Enlisted on Apr 30 1861 at Tully, NY as Private

Mustering information:

- Enlisted into I Company, 12th Infantry (New York) on May 13 1861

- Killed while serving in 12th Infantry (New York) on Aug 30 1862 at 2nd Bull Run, VA

[Click here to learn more about the 12th NY Infantry Regiment.]

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2 Responses to 6 July 1861: “I am enjoying good health, am surrounded with a good many friends and consider it an honor to fight and die if needs be in the defence of the Union.”

  1. This is a great addition to our knowledge of New York’s 12th Onondaga Regiment. The name Wells was a common one in southern Onondaga County where Ray Wells was from (village of Tully, NY). We will see if we have any further information on this soldier in our archive here at Onondaga Historical Association. Please keep up posted with any other letters you may find.

    • dcbh says:

      We are very honored to preserve this small but significant collection of Wells’ letters in the Southern Historical Collection. As you might imagine, as our name implies, a great majority of our collections contain personal papers of Confederates. However, we do also have many collections that reflect the experiences of Union soldiers. This is a fantastic example of that.

      You may have noticed it already, but the finding aid for the Wells papers can be found here. Here you can find more information about Wells and about the contents of his collection:
      http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/w/Wells,William_Ray.html

      We are planning on featuring about 10 more letters from Ray Wells throughout the rest of 1861/2011. We hope you’ll stay tuned! He had quite a journey.