25 March 1862: “the Generall in Command (Gen Branch) gave orders when he retreated to burn the City & set fires in severall places but the people who did not leave got out the engines & put out the fires.”

Item description: This is the third in a series of four letters, which were written in 1862 by William B. Alexander to his wife Mary F. Alexander.  In this letter, Alexander writes describing his the wound he received during the Battle of New Bern on 14 March 1862, as well as his plans to obtain a discharge from the army and return home.  Alexander also discusses the response of the citizens of New Bern, N.C. to its occupation by the Union Army.

More about William B. Alexander:
William B. Alexander was born in Plymouth, Mass., around 1832. He worked as a carpenter in Boston before enlisting with the Union Army as a second lieutenant in Company B of the 3rd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, April 1861. He mustered out in July 1861, but returned to service in December of that same year as a captain in the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, Company E. On 8 February 1862, the 23rd participated in the Battle of Roanoke Island (N.C.), which ended in a Union victory. Shortly thereafter, he was wounded in the left arm while engaged in the Union capture of New Bern, N.C., 14 March 1862. On 28 December 1862, he resigned his post and joined his wife, Mary F. Alexander, and daughter, Ida, in Boston.  He died on 5 February 1900.

[Transcription available below images.]

Item citation: From the William B. Alexander Letters #5197, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Newbern N.C. March 25′ 1862

To my own Dear Wife

I have just recieved 3 letters from you mailed March 13+14+15th, with your picture & Idas, you can hardly immagine how glad I was to get them as I have been looking for them every mail. It is a great pleasure to me to have the pictures of my darlings who I love so well. I am thinking of you all the time & wishing I were with you to cheer & comfort you. I am in  hopes I shall soon. I am here in a house boarding with a colored family. The Regt are in tents a short distance from here. I have about recovered from the shock I got in the Fight my arm was quite stiff but now I can use it almost as well as the Right one. Only not quite as strong. my health is excellent & but a few of my men sick & none of them seriously. I think you would be delighted with this beautifull City. It is very pleasant here. the Roses are in bloom & trees leaved out, & in blossom & every thing seems pleasant & nice, I received a letter from John C. Barnes inquireing about Thomas. [L.?] Saunders they haveing got no information from him. he died in the hospital at Roanoake of fever on March 11th & was buried in the Buring ground there. In regard to Edward Stephens I have not heard from him for 3 weeks he & his brother Charles, was left at Hatteras Inlet on board of the Barque Guerilla. The last I heard from him he was quite sick & his brother was takeing care of him. I should think his brother would let his wife know how he is, all of my men who are sick are well taken care of, I have none who are real sick. I also got a letter from Tim & a short note from M. A J Robinson I was glad to hear from them & shall answer their letters. The wounded are getting along first rate. Sergt Terry had his foot taken off & is in first rate spirits as soon as he is able he will be sent home. I may come with him as to tell you the plain truth I am sick of this business. but I want you to be sure & not say one word, so as to let anyone know that I am tired of this. If I get my discharge it will be on the plea of ill health, & I want no one to know it but yourself. If the Regt moves from here I shall not go with them They are now about 8 or 9 miles from here doeing picket duty & will probably be here again tommorrow. I have got a pretty little fan for Ida & one of the Rebel Bowie knife. our men got lots of plunder, The Rifle you have got I want to send to [W. T. Savery?] & the one he has got belongs to Otis Rogers. I wish you would tell him how it was. I suppose before this you have got all the accounts of our victory in the newspapers. Sergt Major Johnson I suppose will see you & tell you about it. I had a nice horse & also nearly all the officers, but the Provost Marshall has taken them for the use of Government also every thing here has been confiscated for the Government. there is an immense amount for every thing here which the Rebels have lost, & they will lose a great deal more if they dont give up soon. I hear that the Paymaster is here & we shall probably be payed off in a few days. if there is no Express running from here I may possibly come & fetch the money myself. if I get my discharge I shall have to work hard again as usuall. But I think I would prefer to go to work again & be with you. you hardly know how much pleasure it gives me to have your pictures to look upon. you who I love so well & who I know loves me so truly & faithfully & I assure you my own dear wife that I return your love with the same true & heartfelt affection that you have for me & ever shall have & hope soon to be with you to shave it togather. I have not yet been around this beautifull place but shall in a few days. a great many of the inhabitants are comeing back & occupying their houses & stores. the Generall in Command (Gen Branch) gave orders when he retreated to burn the City & set fires in severall places but the people who did not leave got out the engines & put out the fires. But the largest Hotel the (Washington Hotel) was destroyed & a large manufactory of turpentine were all that were burnt that is about all the damage done to the town. The inhabitants had removed about all their valuables before we came here. Gen Burnside is well pleased with the Mass Regts who done the most of the Fighting. it is impossible to get a correct account of the Killed & wounded on our side, about 60 or 70 killed & 2 or 3 hundred wounded we do not know how many of the Rebels but found some of the very men amongst the dead which we had as prisoners at Roanoake & released them. Thomas is well & has letters from his wife which I have sent out to him & Rogers, I wish if possible you would see Sergt Terrys Folks & tell them he is doeing well & in good spirits, also see Mrs May mother of James B May & tell her he is in good health & spirits he has been acting as Hospital Clerk since we left Annapolis, if any of the friends of my men inquire of you how they are, tell them there is no one sick a few have colds & dieareaha & such like slight illness but none sick & all have good care taken of them. I have got quite of number of letters which were written to the Rebel soldiers by their friends & there is some of the funniest spelling & writeing in them you or any body else ever saw. I have saved a few for you to read. I shall look for letters from you when Sergt Major Johnson gets here which I suppose will be soon, I think you need not have your potograph taken for me untill I find out wether I am comeing home or not. I like your pictures tip top yours is much clearer that Idas, but you both look as sober as priests & look as sober as priests & look as if you had lost all your friends. I guess you was thinking of me when they were taken. I have just received 15 newspapers from [W. T.?] Davis if you see him tell him I am everlastingly obliged to him for them. I have not got the papers which you sent me, the ones I got from Mr Davis had the Plymouth Bank Seal on them, which I suppose brought them through. Now that we have a regular mail letters can be send safe. I have written to Tim & Mary A. Ida picture looks like a little woman she must have grown some since I left. I should like to see the little darling I guess she misses her dear Father very much, you must tell her the she like thousands others have Fathers in the Army who are thinking of their little girls & hopeing soon to see them soon. I hope you will write me now the mail has opened at least 3 letters a week as you know how much good a letter from me does you. & one from you does me as much, as I am ever anxious to hear from you, how you are getting on, & be very carefull of your health & dont expose yourself, I dont sit up late nights, take my advice as one that loves you as your own dear Husband your pictures are before me as I write & gives me great satisfaction to see them. kiss my little Ida for me tell her to be a good girl as father is thinking of her all the time. this must go to the mail so I must close. Give my Respts to D & Mrs Abbot & all in the house with you, [this?] from your own Dear & true Husband

W.B. Alexander


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