For sale is the correspondence of Corporal Albert H. Bancroft during his years of service in the 85th Infantry of New York during the Civil War. There are 60 letters including those written prior to his enlistment which have all been carefully transcribed and numbered in chronological order. The letters are largely addressed to his sister Almyra with whom he was in regular contact. There are a few letters addressed to friends and other family members as well. The letters chronicle the soldier's journey through the war, the hardships, duties, and enduring hope he had for the end of the war. His regiment was present at the battle of Williamsburg and at Fair Oaks and he wrote of the destruction of cities and the carnage of war. These letters served as a warning for his younger brother William ("Willie") J. Bancroft, who desperately wanted to be a soldier like his brother. Not heeding his older brother's advice, Willie enlisted in the 24th Regiment of NY Cavalry in March of 1864. Tragically, Willie died in the battle at Cold Harbor June 2, 1864. Albert was taken prisoner when his entire regiment surrendered to superior forces in Plymouth, N.C. He later died in Andersonville prison, G.A., August 10, 1864. Included in this collection are 3 letters written by Willie during his service in the Army.
The letters start prior to the Civil War, finding Albert in Bristol, NY, away from his family in Shortsville, NY. He enlists at Elmira, NY and his correspondence follows all of his Company's movements from 1861 until 1864. The following section tracks the movement of Co. B NY 85th Regiment:
Eighty-fifth Infantry.—Cols., Uriah L. Davis, Robert B. Van Valkenburgh, Jonathan S. Belknap, Eufice . Fardella, William W. Clark; Lieut.-Cols., Jonathan S. Belknap, Abijah I. Wellman, William W. Clark, Seneca Allen; Majs., Abijah J. Wellman, Reuben V. King, Walter Crandall, Chauncey S. Aldrich. This regiment, re-cruited in the southern part of the state, was mustered into the U. S. service at Elmira, from Aug. to Dec., 1861, for a three years* term, and left for Washington on Dec, 3. It served in the defenses of Washington until the advance of the army to the Peninsula in March, 1862, when it was assigned to the 3d brigade, 2nd division, 4th. corps. It performed trench duty before Yorktown and other duties incident to the siege, was active at the battle of Williams-burg and was closely engaged at Fair Oaks, where its total loss was 79 in killed, wounded and missing. Upon the return from the Penin-sula, the regiment was stationed at Newport News and late in the autumn moved to Suffolk, where it was assigned in Dec., 1862, to the 1st brigade, 1st division, Department of North Carolina, and ordered to New Berne. There it took part in the Goldsboro expedition, and in Jan., 1863, became a part of the 1st brigade, 4th division, 18th corps. In the summer of 1863 it was located in the District of Albemarle and undertook various expeditions into the surrounding country, meeting the enemy in several minor encounters. In Jan., 1864, the 85th was assigned to the 3d brigade, 1st division, 18th corps, and ordered to Plymouth, N. C., where in April, it was obliged to surrender to a superior force of the enemy, almost the entire regiment being captured. As a result of this disaster the loss of life in Southern prisons was appalling—222 deaths during imprisonment being reported. The remnant of the regiment received by transfer the members of the 16th N. Y. cavalry and having previously reenlisted, served throughout the war as the 85th regiment. It was posted at Roanoke island and was active in the Carolina campaign in March, 1865, after which it performed garrison duty at New Berne until June 27, 1865, when it was mustered out in that city. During its term of service the command lost 36 members by death from wounds, 103 from accident or disease, and the 222 who died in prison. [From The Union Army: a history of military affairs in the loyal states, 1861-65 -- records of the regiments in the Union army -- cyclopedia of battles -- memoirs of commanders and soldiers. Madison, WI: Federal Pub. Co., 1908. volume II.]
The letters are in very good condition. Written in both ink and pencil on various types of paper with light fading and some heavy creasing. Each letter retains its original envelope with postage. Ephemera is also present such as a postcard of the enlistment camp in Elmira, NY, an Almanac postcard, and card from the government about taking care of your health. Albert recites his favorite poem "I'll Hang My Harp on a Williow Tree" while his sister writes an original poem entitled "Annie of the Vale". These colorful and affectionate letters paint the portrait of the soldier as a simple man, like most others, who wanted to serve his country and return home to a new life. Additionally included in this collection are numerous letters by other family members both before and after the war. We feel that the family's letters should be kept together as its original entire collection.
Excerpts from the letters of Albert H. Bancroft:
February 23rd, 1862
You speak about that capture of Fort Donaldson as a great victory. It truly was great and they feel it. For we may truly say that the backbone of the rebellion is broken and the must soon come under. There was great rejoicing down down here and a portion of the City were wild with joy and the booming of Cannon was to be heard in every direction and it was a bitter Pill for poor Secession but it had to go down and it will do him good. Yesterday the birthday of Washington was properly respected and the roar of Cannon and Rattle of Musketry was almost deafening. It sounded like a Tremendous ThunderStorm.
Everything now looks like the speedy ending of this war. Certainly by the middle of April Rebellion will be dead and Buried and perhaps before that. Something seems to whisper to me that I am soon going home.
I suppose before this you have heard of the last Battle and perhaps count me amongst the dead or wounded but I have been spared this time while thousands have been killed and wounded.
But soon we saw what was to pay. Those in front came running back beyond us and the Obnoxious Rebel Flag was seen bearing down upon us through the slashing when the Colonel said take good aim Boys and let them have it and for the first time we drawed a Bead on the Rebs and then they were more than 50 rods off but they felt it. And we loaded and fired as fast as possible and the Canister shot was poured into them from the Canon but they still bore down upon us until within about 20 rods when what there was left of them turned and went back but there was not one fifth of them able to get back out of the two Regiments that started out. But there was fresh troops ready to take their places and we saw that they were coming down on us on both sides and in the center. And that the cannons were deserted and the horses nearly all killed and wounded and floundering in their harness. Our Lieutenant Colonel was wounded and the Colonel nowhere to be seen and the Major also had got out of the way or somewhere else and the Regiment gave away for for a moment when remembering that we had no orders for doing so we rallied into the pit again and with a shout of defiance we poured in the leaden storm doing fearful execution but they swarmed on all sides and we had to run or be taken prisoners
But it was a Bloody field. I was over Monday to help bury our dead and they were to be seen in every direction, sickening the Beholder and making one think what a Blessing war is. But you will have all of the particulars in the papers and so I will begin to close.
January 14th, 1862
We have eat so much mule beef that our ears are about 3 inches long and thrifty indeed. I am almost ashamed to look a mule in the face.
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