Daniel B. Stedman Civil War Letters


A Letter From a Member of Co. B, 16th regt. Vt. Volunteers,
to his Friends in West Brattleboro.


On Picket at Bull Run, Dec. 15, 1862.


Dear Friends at Home:--Well, here I sit in a cluster of trees, on the classic bank of Bull Run! If you are more surprised at our being here, than we were in coming, I am sorry. The very evening after I handed my last letter to the "Orderly," on returning from a hard days work on our fort, we were informed that the next morning, at 3 o'clock, we must strike tents, pack up, and leave! We did so, not knowing where we were going; but bade farewell to our fireplaces, bunks, and stockades, that we had worked so hard to make comfortable, and which we had just succeeded in finishing, hoping to enjoy them for a while, at least.


Daylight found us on the road between Alexandria and Fairfax Court House; and just before night, we pitched our fly tents a little beyond the latter place, having traveled about fifteen miles, loaded down with fifty rounds of cartridges, two days rations, guns, knapsacks, blankets, and fly tents,--load enough to satisfy a "pack peddlar." Perhaps we felt a little stiff in the shoulders, sore in the feet, and weak in the knees, when we arrived there,--at least, I have a very distinct remembrance of something of that sort. Howbeit, the next morning at 8 o'clock, part of the brigade remained here, the "tender 16th" took the road to Centerville, a further distance of seven miles, plus two miles, as we went out of our way by mistake.


Instead of halting here, however, we marched four miles beyond, when 250 of us were sent out on picket at once, a short distance ahead, the line extending along the north bank of Bull Run,--a sluggish stream, containing more water than Whetstone Brook, but easily forded at all the rapids.


The 25 men required from our company volunteered at once, Capt. Arms, one sergeant, and two corporals going with us. Being on the "third relief," I had a chance to rest until 5 o'clock the next morning. We slept on the dirty floor of an old house, the doors, windows and chamber floor of which were minus, and whose sole occupant, exclusive of about forty sleepy soldiers, was a half starved cat. A large fireplace in each room, connected with stone chimneys outside, after the Southern style, warmed us, somewhat, and in that house was "tall sleeping," that night. I was not disturbed till four o'clock, except at twelve, when 16 of us were ordered to go and occupy another house, half a mile off. Here Ezra Fisher and I rolled up together, and the last named individual covered his head with cape, to save his ears from the rats, and dreamed "the Soldier's Dream." At four we were ordered out, and taken to our several posts. Ezra and I, with four other Brattleboro boys and a corporal, were left together at one of the fords of the "Run," from which we drank, and in which we washed ourselves. At noon we were relieved and taken to where the regiment was in camp, two miles back, on land overlooking the valley. This was yesterday. Last night we slept on our guns, in an anticipation of an attack, having learned that a party of rebel cavalry was near. This morning I was detailed to go on picket again, and here I am now, writing this letter and waiting for 4 o'clock to-morrow morning, when our "relief" comes on.


I am surprised that we held out so well on the march; very few of Company B, fell out. By taking pains to wade through the mudpuddles and brooks that we passed, I kept my feet from blistering; and as we were halted five minutes at the end of every two miles, I was able to keep the ranks the whole distance. Those who fell out, were either taken up by the ambulances, or dosed with brandy by the surgeon.


The first place that showed marks of battle, was Cloud's Mills, east of Fairfax Court House. From that place to this, dead horses, broken guns, tattered clothing, demolished houses, riddled trees, cannon balls, shells, &c, &c, growing more frequent as we proceeded, gave us some idea of what had transpired before our visit. Fairfax Court House is a muddy "one horse" neighborhood, inhabited by darkeys and sick soldiers. At Centerville, a place even smaller than Fairfax, if only the houses now standing be counted, we passed rebel fortifications that appeared as if they had been taken and retaken half a dozen times. This place is not the main battle field, but a little down stream, though, it is said Gen. Kearney was killed here.


There is no lack of relics here, and the boys pick up old letters, canteens, &., in abundance. The country is as woody as Vermont, and as level as Connecticut. There is very little, if any snow, and the weather is after the style of October. Passing the heights of Centerville, I saw the first stone too large to lift, in Virginia; and on the side of the main terrace of Bull Run, the first ledge shows itself,--red sand stone. The soil is mostly a red clay--red, before ever human blood was mingled with it. For all the desolation, I can see several houses about, some of them inhabited. I have just been out to an old camp near here, to pick up a relic for you, but as it proves to have been the camp of a Pennsylvania regiment, instead of a rebel one, I think I will not send anything.


It is now 5 P.M., and the boys are eating supper. An old canteen, split in two, with a split stick for a handle, makes a good spider to fry pork in, as we have found by sweet experience. Pork, raw, or cooked, with "new" hard crackers, and coffee, which we boiled in our cups, are our rations at present. It is generally necessary to break up the crackers and pick out the bugs and worms, though some "go it blind!" I have eaten them when less than two out of five were free from the "varmints."


Wednesday, December 17th.


After writing the above, at 8 o'clock P.M., we went to the "support," and slept behind a rail fence. A sudden dash of rain woke us at the right time, and twelve of us followed our corporal through the rain, mud, and darkness, into the woods that hide the "Run," and were stationed a fourth of a mile from each other, there to watch for eight long hours. I hugged the side of a large tree until morning, and then, the rain holding up, and two of us coming together, we made a fire, and warmed up, made some coffee, picked some grapes, and made ourselves comfortable. We came back to camp at about 2 P.M., and to-day, having been relieved by the 12th regiment, we expect to go back to Fairfax Court House. More than 50,000, perhaps 100,000 troops have passed through Fairfax, since we came; and all sorts of rumors about Burnside's defeat or victory at Fredericksburg, are afloat in camp. Thanks for the Phoenix. I hope for a letter soon.


Yours, still living.

D. B. S.


Vermont Phoenix, December 25, 1862.

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Dr. Josiah H. Stedman of West Brattleboro, the father of the soldier Daniel, wrote an article entitled "Dr. Rush and the Temperance Reformation", dated October 1, 1885 and printed on the front page of the Vermont Phoenix October 9, 1885.


Ezra O. Fisher, who later restored and researched the Meeting House Hill cemetery, was the brother-in-law to Daniel Stedman. On July 3, 1863, Daniel B. Stedman was wounded at Gettysburg.


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Extract from a letter written by a member of Co. B, 16th Regt. Vt. Vol's. to his sisters in West Brattleboro:

Centerville, Va., Jan. 2d, 1863.


Dear Sisters: When I wrote the other day, we were in a hubbub; said hubbub has now subsided, the rebels having, apparently, done the same. All the damage I have heard of doing, was an attempt to burn a railroad bridge, the cutting of the telegraph wire, and the supposed extraction of messages at Burke's station.


We relieved the 15th at this place, yesterday. The first time we came out on picket, we went beyond here, but the line has been drawn in. The 15th was obliged to fall back, and occupy the earth-works at this place, during the "raid," but were not attacked.


I wish you could paint a picture of Centerville. Imagine how the village of Brattleboro would look after having been lifted 5000 feet into the air by a whirlwind, and suddenly dropped "ker-smash"! There are a few houses standing, perhaps a dozen in all, and a few inhabitants; but the ruins of a church, mill, &c., show that it is not what it once was, and it is not easy to see how it ever will be.


Co. B occupies some shanties, made of old roofs and boards furnished with stoves, in comfortable style. Our chimney is made of camp kettles with the bottoms knocked out, and the floor is six feet wide, giving just room enough for six of us to sleep "spoon-fashion" and rather tight at that. You may think, from the way I write, that we are a sober, whining, fault-finding set of boys; but you would change your minds rather suddenly, if you were to give us a call. Perhaps our mirthfulness is owing to our good fare of late, which is--for breakfast, a pint or more of coffee, a loaf of soft bread or its equivalent in hard bread, and frequently fried pork,--for dinner, beans, and sometimes potatoes, and soup,--for supper, rice with sugar or molasses, and coffee or tea. What more could a soldier ask? Here, on picket, we make our own coffee, and fry our hard bread in pork fat. Uncle Sam's stock of old wormy crackers, which had, apparently, been kept over from the war of 1812, are about exhausted, and we now have fresh ones, whose only bad effect is, that they make a man hungry. Coming from Fairfax to this place, we pass near the "Chantilly" battle ground. Here the trees and everything else are marked by bullets and shells, and graves in abundance remind visitors of the bloody conflict. I believe Gen's. Kearney and Stevens were killed here during Pope's retreat.


Sunday, Jan. 4th.--We are in Centerville yet, and are experiencing very pleasant weather. We are to stay 8 days. Two companies are on picket at a time, and stay 24 hours;--the other companies drill twice a day, as usual. On battalion drill, the other day the Col. complimented us by saying we had never drilled so well before. I am sure we all did our best. We have great confidence in Col. Vesey and Capt. Arms, and in our officers generally.


Affectionately, D. B. S.


Vermont Phoenix, January 22, 1863.

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We are permitted to print the following letter from a Brattleboro boy in the army to his Father:


Co. B, 16th Regt. Vt. Vols., Fairfax Station, March 5th, 1863.


Dear Father: You see we are in our old camp yet, and we discovered no signs of leaving it at present; indeed the guard tents, regimental and brigade, are just being stockaded and made in some degree comfortable.


We have not yet found out when our nine months will end, but it is the unanimous opinion of the boys, that our time will expire about the last of May; for, if we are considered as drafted men, it seems reasonable that our time should be reckoned from Aug. 28th, or the time the draft was to be and would have been if we had not enlisted. I think there is a much better feeling, less grumbling and more hopefulness among us, now that winter is nearly gone, and the prospect of a fresh campaign draws near. Another thing:--The reaction at the north and west against secesh sympathizers, and the action of Congress, give us fresh courage. If government would promptly come down on all traitors at the north, and make "arbitrary arrests" of a few hundred of the leading peace prophets, the soldiers would feel that they were not fighting in vain.


Our fare is about as follows: Salt-junk for breakfast, with a cup of coffee. Beans we get about every noon; occasionally soup. We have coffee for supper, and about half the time, good soft bread. Out on picket, such fare would be called extravagant, but lying in camp, we begin to get tired of so small a variety. A favorite way of eating "hard-tack" is this: Soak four crackers, crumbled in cold water, (some prefer hot coffee,) one minute, pour off the water and fry in a little fat, until crisp. Here is another recipe: Soak your hard tack with soft bread, in cold water, over night, salt and fry for breakfast, and call it "griddle cakes." Peddlars are plenty here. Pop corn balls, apples, twenty-five cent novels, gold pens, paper packages, pies,--all can be had for the money. A news boy comes nearly every day, with Baltimore, Washington and New York papers.


Yours with much love,


D. B. S.


Vermont Phoenix, March 19, 1863.


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A Letter from Co. B, 16th Regt. Vt. Vols. Union Mills, Va., April 16th, 1863.


Dear Sister: Perhaps lead pencils were not made before pens, but certainly they are more convenient for a soldier, who is obliged to carry his bed and board, as well as his weapons of offence and defence slung upon his shoulders wherever he may be called to go;--of course then, you will excuse the blunt stub of a thing with which I now write. By looking at a watch, I see it is fast approaching the hour of midnight, which is to put the finishing touch to this 5th day of April, 1863.


It so happens that I am corporal of the guard, and as I have to post every relief for 24 hours, once in 2 hours, and must keep awake, I will give you the benefit of it. Our "residence," a log hut 18 by 24 feet, contains a dozen "sleepers," mostly sound ones, they having been out on picket last night in the wind and snow storm. By the way, this storm caps the climax. Will you believe it? We woke this morning, and found the snow piled in doors and out. Between our barrack and the Captain's tent, it was 4 feet deep, about one foot on average perhaps, but the wind took it everywhere. We tied down the roof of our shanty, or we should have been shelterless. Strong winds we had expected, but to have old Winter put his foot in the "lap of Spring" in this style, is more than we had looked for. What will the Springfield Republican say now? Will it give Hooker another week?


I remember seeing in papers and books, descriptions of armies or bodies of troops marching; but I never read one that told all. The truth is, according to my experience, there is more real suffering caused by a long march, than most people imagine. With shoulders borne down with the combined weight of a knapsack full of shirts, drawers, coats, and various other things, surmounted by 10 lbs of blankets, and perhaps an odd pair of boots or shoes; canteen filled with water or something stronger, haversack containing three days rations; gun weighing 10 lbs; and cartridge box with 40 or more cartridges--lungs contracted by cross-straps in front to relieve in part the shoulders;--I say, with all this weight bearing upon his shoulders, breast, knees and ankles, on rough frozen or muddy roads, can a person wonder at the number who fall behind, or, as the other alternative, give their burdens a throw, and trust to chance for food, shelter and clothing? When Sigel's force moved forward, before the battle of Fredericksburg, some passed us barefooted over the frozen knobs, entering the winter campaign without blankets or decent clothes of any kind. Such were extreme cases, but all of old troops know it is better to run the risk of freezing, than to kill ones self in carrying things to make him comfortable. Only a few of our men have thrown away their knapsacks. On our severest tramps, some of the boys have always been ready with a song or joke, to make themselves and the others forget sore shoulders and blistered feet. On one of our Centerville marches, "Sorrel top," as we called him said he thought his old knapsack had rode long enough, and he would hop on and ride a while. Some one asked sergeant B, who had complained of sore feet, why he did not unscrew them and put on a fresh pair. The sergeant, always ready, replied that he would, had he not forgotten to bring his wrench with him. Such comicalities help, wonderfully, on a tramp.


Every company has its peculiar and marked chaps in it; so does every regiment, taken as a whole, only in a regiment the men are comparatively strangers to each other, certainly for the first four or five months. Now, in our company, one fellow is noted for his meanness, another for his folly good humor; one for being tall, and another for his ability to stow away beans or soup; one for this thing, another for that; but all work well in the same harness, side by side, without quarrels, while every one is ready to fight for every other one, against out siders. All they want is a fair chance, good handling, and a plenty of fodder--and these they have. When they do not have these things they will have one another--the privilege of grumbling.


Ah, well, these are past grievances, but no doubt there are others in store for us. Let them come. Our nine months will end, the war will end, and then, if we come out safe, we will call all this a dream,--a nine month's nightmare, and vote ourselves heroes.


D. B. S.


Vermont Phoenix, April 16, 1863.


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Daniel Bissell Stedman was born July 13, 1840, in Richford, New York, to Dr. Josiah H. Stedman and Elvira Strong. His sisters were Clara M., Lucina H., Maria Louise, and Frances Olivia. Daniel's family moved to Brattleboro in 1859, while he was learning printing on the Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts, during 1858 to 1861.


On August 26, 1862 Daniel Stedman enlisted in the Vermont Second Brigade, Sixteenth Regiment, Company B. He was mustered in October 23, 1862, and was eventually promoted to Corporal February 14, 1863.


After forced marching from Union Mills, Virginia, for seven rainy days through muddy roads, averaging eighteen miles a day, Stedman's untried company of nine-months' men arrived at Gettysburg at the very end of the first day of fighting. On July 2 Stedman was on rising ground mostly clear of trees and open to Confederate fire, and then helped to support a Battery near the center of the Union line, lying on his face behind the guns.


In the early evening the company was ordered down the slope to support the four remaining unwounded skirmishers along the Emmetsburg road, taking shelter just in time in the gutter, or muddy ditch from the cross-fire from the concealed sharpshooters of the Nineteenth Mississippi Regiment, before going on into skirmishing line until the forenoon of the third day of the battle, July 3, 1863.


"Corporal D. B. Stedman of West Brattleboro, shot in the thigh; will recover".


"The wounded of our Company were all taken from the field as fast as they fell and put in charge of the Surgeon, and are now in the hospitals and as good care of them as can be under the circumstances".


Daniel B. Stedman was mustered out on August 10, 1863.


He married on January 27, 1866, in Greenfield, Massachusetts, Mary Francella Browne. In 1868 Stedman became the editor and proprietor of the Brattleboro Vermont Phoenix, and was connected with this newspaper until 1888.


After March 1870 he served as secretary, then as treasurer of the Windham County Woman's Suffrage Association. After February 1877 he was the secretary of the Brattleboro Liberal Association, which was devoted to philosophical and religious discussion.


Daniel Bissell Stedman died October 7, 1923, age 83, having lived long enough to celebrate his fiftieth wedding anniversary. The iron marker on his grave in the Meeting House Hill Cemetery reads simply "Union Defender".


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Death Of Dr. Stedman.


Dr. J. H. Stedman, Brattleboro's oldest physician, who had spent more than 50 years in the practice of his profession, died Wednesday evening at his West Brattleboro home. Dr. Stedman was born in Durham, N.Y., April 7, 1809. He graduated from the Berkshire Medical college at Pittsfield, Mass., in 1831. He was in practice in New York state for over 20 years, and for four years in Cummington, Mass., removing from that place to Brattleboro in 1859. Since then he has lived in the West village, continuing the practice of his profession until a few years ago. He was married at Ashland, N.Y., in 1833 to Elvira Strong, who survives him, with five of their six children--Mrs. Lucina Bartlett, Mrs. F.O. Fisher and Miss Maria L. Stedman, all of West Brattleboro; W. P. Stedman of Bristol, Conn., and D. B. Stedman, now of Springfield, Mass., but for 20 years one of the editors of the Vermont Phoenix.


Dr. Stedman was one of the pioneer abolitionists, and was associated with Gerrit Smith, Frederick Douglas and other noted anti-slavery leaders in the work in New York state. From 1846 to 1848 he edited at Cortland, N.Y., the True American, an anti-slavery paper. Dr. Stedman was also a pioneer mover for temperance, joining what was known as the Washingtonian movement when he was a young man. He often spoke at public meetings against slavery and intemperance and in favor of health reform. After the enactment of the fugitive slave laws he took an active part in the work of the "underground railroad," and assisted many a black man on his way to Canada and liberty.


Dr. Stedman had a distinctive personality which was wholesome and helpful and commanded both love and respect. Like too many reformers he never became a pessimist and a prophet of evil when his own views did not prevail, and he never impugned the motives of those who opposed his views. He had a cheerful courage, born of an inward principle, which never forsook him. His fourscore years were filled with high aims and good deeds, and in a ripe old age the end came as quickly and painlessly as one might wish.


The funeral will be held Saturday afternoon at 3 o'clock, at the house. Rev. Mr. Babbitt of the West Brattleboro Congregational church, of which Dr. Stedman was a member, will officiate.


Vermont Phoenix, August 31, 1893.


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