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1st Sgt. William Curtis

of the 9th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

Writes Home

Contributed by Mike Schofield

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The following is a series of letters written by and to First Sergeant William Curtis of the 9th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Co. A. The first letter was written b Curtis in camp in Massachusetts before being mustered in. The second was written by Curtis from Camp Alger, near Washington DC., The third was written by Curtis from Santiago, Cuba. The last was written to Curtis from Boston, Massachusetts.

The following items may be useful when reading the letters. Maggie is the wife of Sgt. Curtis. Maggis' "condition" referred to in Lwetter 3 is that she was pregnant with the couple's second child.

The last letter was written by T. McLaughlin, the wife of Eugene B. McLaughlin, a private in Co. A. The letter was to thank Sgt. Curtis for writing to her about her husband who had died while the regiment was in Santiago.

Following the war, William Curtis went back to work at the post office, where he remained until at least 1920. By 1920, he and maggie had ten children.

Letter 1:

(Read this letter to Ma)
Camp At Framingham
Sergt W J Curtis
“A” Co 9th Reg.
So Framingham
May 5, 1898

Dear Maggie,

 I was very disappointed at not receiving a letter from you.

Did you see Mike at the Post Office? What did he want? One of the carriers met me at the depot and said Mike wanted to see you. So if you have not gone to him yet go as soon as you can. Did you receive any reply from Mrs. L yet?

The examination by the regular army doctors is very severe, and thorough. All the way from 10 to 25 men are rejected from each company and the officers catch it too. The 2nd regiment has lost 5 officers and they have not finished examining the men yet. The 9th has lost 3 officers so far among them is Capt Crotty of Co. D. We will not be examined until tomorrow or later. I am afraid my teeth will throw me, so don’t be surprized  if you see me home in a few days. There is a big kick brewing from this exam because a number of the rejected have left good positions, and how the deuce will I feel crawling back to the P.O. after the send off I got Wednesday?

I was commander of an outpost guard last night, it was awfully cold but we have been supplied with heavy army blankets and I have the one you sent me so I am well fixed. The field down here is remarkably dry after the wet weather and my cough is getting better instead of worse as I thought it would. We have no music with us at all except our buglers and there is no booze in the camp at all. Some of these old soaks who came with us looking for a good time are sadly disappointed.

In front of every company each morning there is a big load of wood dumped and about 8 o’clock they are ignited (don’t stumble over that word) and it is a pretty sight to see 24 bonfires about 10 feet high all going at once. Tonight we will have 36 as the 8th Reg. reached here this PM. We are not yet on army rations, not until we pass the surgeons, they are feeding us pretty well but not so well as at an ordinary camp. The sharp (unreadable) a great appetizer. This morning for breakfast I ate 5 fried eggs, a big piece of steak, 4 boiled potatoes, 2 rolls and 3 cups of coffee (how would you like to pay my board at this rate).

This is a very free and easy camp. Joe Delaney went up to Col Logan yesterday and asked him if he would mind a ring for him as he was afraid he would lose it. Logan said “sure me boy” and Joe pulled a big cow bell out from under his coat and rung it, saying “well here it is take good care of it”. Logan was mad enough to eat hay but he had to laugh at the joke.

Now Maggie, don’t forget what you promised me about not worrying as we are not in the least danger. As soon as there is I will let you know. Don’t forget what I told you about yourself, the children and the house.

One of our recruits just fell off a big bonfire that he was building and broke his leg, it was his own fault.

The camp is called “Camp Dewey” and in the morning it is damned dewy but I have my heavy rubbers.

Well I must say good night. It has just started to rain, but I don’t think it will last. Write at once to your loving hub.

Have you received my postal card?

Letter 2:

2PM June 8th 1898

Dear Maggie,

 I received both of your welcome letters, the first came the day I wrote to you and the other this morning. I was glad to hear from you and I wish you would write every day as it takes 3 days for a letter to reach me. This camp is nearly 500 miles from Charlestown and the mail only gets here at long intervals and leaves the same way, so don’t be worried if you don’t hear from me every day as there may be a letter on the way while you are worrying. I am glad to hear such cheering news from home as I am pretty homesick and would give a great deal to see you and the children, but I guess it won’t be long before I will according to the papers. Take good care of yourself dear and the children too and don’t worry about me as I never felt so good in all my life, I have had no need to use either the castor oil or the blackberry cordial yet and I am getting as fat as lard.

This is a very healthy place and we have 3 fine doctors and 4 ass’t doctors. There is not a single case of sickness in the hospital, but I wish I could get a long cold drink of Charlestown water. The water we get here is fine and pure, but we have to carry it so far that it is warm when we get it and you know I drink a lot of water. We have a new addition to our rations, fresh beef, we swap bacon for it in Washington. I saw that piece in the Post, I am getting to be a famous citizen aint I?

Our tent is the best arranged in the company. Here is an outline of it.

The bed is made of branches of pine trees filled in with pine boughs and it is very sweet and soft. The clothes and gun racks are small cedar trees stripped of their leaves. The desk is a large bacon box with legs put under it. The chairs are made of pine boughs. Altogether it looks very pretty. The bed is over 2 feet from the ground.

I am having a good time here as I am excused from half the drills and have lots of writing to do. I am almost black from the sun. Serg’t Frost and I were in Washington Monday and had a fine time. I saw the Capitol and Congress in session, and shook hands with the President. The city is very pretty and we stayed there all night and the next day, and saw all the sights. I was up to the top of Washington Monument, which is over twice as high as Bunker Hill Monument. It takes a half an hour to go the round trip in the elevator. We have not been paid off yet but the paymaster is here and we will be paid off before the week is out. Our company and all the regiment is to be increased to 100 men, and we are to be sent to Fort Meyer Washington. I may not be home for the 17th as I said I would but I’ll be there on the 4th or I am greatly mistaken, the war can’t possibly last much longer. The Spaniards are eating rats and mules in Havana now so they must soon surrender or starve to death. I am quite busy and have an awful lot of writing to do but I like it, but it don’t leave me much time to myself to write home. I have just finished a two days job writing for the regimental adjutant, there is more red tape in thee army than anywhere else. I wrote to Frank to New Hampshire and he will read it to you and Ma, I would not have time to write another like it. It took 30 pages. I got a letter and 35 stamps from Frank from NH. I never received the camp picture but we will probably have one taken down here and I will send you one.

P.S. You did not say whether Bert was better or not
Letter 3:

Santiago de Cuba
Aug 1st, 1898

Dear Maggie,

 I suppose you will be surprised to receive a letter from me written in ink and on decent paper after the collections of “freak letters” I have sent home from Cuba. The change is because we are in possession of the city now and can send men in there occasionally. Yesterday I received 4 letters and 9 postal cards from you the latest was a letter July 13 saying you and Mrs. O’Donovan went looking for state aid. I also got about 6 papers with notes from Frank. I hope you succeeded in getting some money as it has worried me like the deuce wondering how you are getting along without money. We have not seen the paymaster since I sent you that check for $20.00. I have no fear that you are not getting enough to eat but I suppose the landlord is dogging you for the rent. Tell him what I write, or better still show him this letter. If the rent runs up to 4 months, he will be paid as the money is due me and there is no surer paymaster than Uncle Sam. When I do get a chance to send some I will send a good pile. There is no need of you writing every night now as you see all your letters will reach me in a bunch whenever the steamer gets here and that is very uncertain. Write a good long letter about every 5 days and tell Ma, Addie and Frank to do the same thing only on different days by this way I can get all the news and it won’t be so much trouble to you. I have written about 20 letters home since I have left Camp Alger, one of them I wrote on the train and posted at Newport News, VA, and about 5 on the “Harvard”. I have not got a reply to any of them yet. I suppose they have been held in quarantine and been delayed in delivery. I hope you have received them all. I suppose you know how the war is going on better than I do. All the news we get hee is two weeks old. I know Spain is suing for peace and that they are only waiting for transports to ship us home. After the surrender of Santiago all the prisoners were driven into a valley between the American lines and we were detailed to guard them. While doing this duty a terrible sickness (fever) broke out in the regiment and in 2 days over 300 of the regiment were in the hospital. I was taken down 10 days ago and only came out yesterday. I thought I was going to die. I cannot describe the awul feeling it was. Everyone got it alike the first sensations was chills and fever and awful pains all over the body, then a terrific pain in the head, and then I dropped and was half delirious for 7 days. They gave us good care at the hospital and out of over 400 cases there were only 5 deaths in the regiment among them was Major Grady who died July 30. The sickness lasted all the way from 4 days to 2 weeks. Corp O’Donovan got it very light having been sick only 4 days. The fever is not yellow fever but a mountain fever brought on, so the doctors say by hardship, exposure and insufficient food. It has left me very weak, but I am glad to have had it and be over with it as now we are free from any danger of yellow fever. There are only about 30 men in the hospital now and the regiment is going back to the U.S. as soon as it is ready to move. They are going to make us burn up every stitch of clothing we have on and go aboard the ships naked so as not to bring fever into the states. I don’t know how true this is, but if it is so I will lose lots of souvenirs.

Now Maggie, I hope you are not worrying about me. Remember your condition and remember that I am free from danger of bullets and fever, now that I have had it. Give my love to all the folks tell them I’ll see them all soon.

Letter 4:

60 Church St., Boston
Oct. 1898

Dear friend Mr. Curtis

It was quite an unexpected surprise to receive a letter from you, and I was much pleased to hear you were getting strong so quickly.

It was very kind and thoughtful of you to write me and explain what you did, but I have decided to wait until you return.

A few days ago I received the certificate of my dear Gen’s death, through Mr. O’Neil, he having wrote for it to Washington, to the Assistant Adjutant General, Thomas Ward.

About the bringing home of the bodies, seems to be sure enough, but how soon no one seems to know, but it is a consolation to Know they are certain to bring back all the bodies of our dead heroes.

Now Mr. Curtis, you may say you are reading a Cuban sheet of paper and envelope of a package & some tobacco, which I sent to Gene about the 1st of August by registry, but when it arrived in Santiago, my poor Gene was beyond receiving, or ever writing a letter. It was sent back to Framingham, and from that back to me again, you can imagine how I felt then Mr. Curtis. So you are the first one so far, who received any of the paper.

Bill Kelleher is home, and I need not tell you how changed he is, very weak, but has not gone to the hospital as yet, he came almost naked into Camp Wikoff, but first class passage by boat and rail, so I suppose that helped to land him a little stronger than the others.

I hope you will let me know when you arrive home, that is, if you do not call at the house, and I trust you will be quite strong. I remain your friend,

T McLaughlin


Flynn, Thomas A. - Roster of Company A  from a "Soldier's Memorial" broadside (Fuller Brothers: Albany, New York, 1898) that was owned by Musician Orlando W. Flynn of Company A.

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