About this Letter

The letter from Levi D. Green to his dear brother on December 31, 1862, provides a unique glimpse into the experiences of a Union soldier during the Civil War. Written on New Year’s Eve, the letter not only conveys Levi’s personal sentiments but also provides a comprehensive description of the skirmishes and battles that he and his comrades encountered during their deployment in Suffolk, Virginia.

Levi begins the letter by expressing his well-being and updating his brother on his current situation. He writes that he is still in Suffolk, and although he received his brother’s letter, he was unable to reply earlier as he was on picket duty. The mention of the “Rebels” driving in their pickets highlights the danger that Levi and his fellow soldiers were exposed to, as they were on the frontlines of the conflict. The Confederate soldiers were close to their camp, and the Union soldiers had to retreat quickly to avoid any casualties.

Levi describes a skirmish that took place near Blackwater, where some of the Union soldiers were wounded, and they took 15 to 20 prisoners, including a Rebel Captain. He mentions the sound of the Confederate soldiers giving orders and chopping trees, which demonstrates the proximity of the two opposing forces and the tension that existed between them. Levi also mentions the “blue pill,” which was probably blue mass, a type of mercury that was commonly used by both Union and Confederate soldiers to treat various illnesses.

The letter also touches upon the lives of the soldiers in camp, such as the fact that they were mustered for pay, and that Levi’s bunkmate, W.E. Smith, was writing his letters. The request for another stamp in the next letter highlights the scarcity of resources that the soldiers faced and the difficulties they encountered in communicating with their loved ones back home.

In conclusion, the letter from Levi D. Green to his dear brother on December 31, 1862, provides a rich and vivid description of the experiences of a Union soldier during the Civil War. It sheds light on the daily challenges and difficulties that the soldiers faced, as well as their camaraderie and resilience in the face of danger. The letter is a testament to the bravery and sacrifices made by soldiers like Levi during the Civil War and serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by our military personnel throughout history.

Letter Transcript


“Camp Suffolk, Dear Brother, It is New Years Eve tonight and I thought I would write a few lines to you, to pass away the time. I’m well at present and hope these few lines will find you the same. I’m still in Suffolk, I received your letter Monday but I was detailed to go on picket. So I did not get a chance to answer it sooner.

“The Rebels are getting pretty close to us, they drove in our pickets last night and they have drove them in before 2 or 3 times but never hurt a great many of our pickets, we have had another trip to Blackwater. I tell you they was not more than 3 miles from our camp we had to double quick it for 2 or 3 miles, some of our men were wounded in the skirmish and they lay along the road.

“One of our calvery men was wounded in the leg. In one house where was 2 wounded men, 1 was a Rebel, 1 was Union. We took 15 or 20 prisoners, among them was a Rebel Captain, he was a big over grown strapping fellow, he was dressed in the Butternut Brown so common in secession, we did not get any of our regiment hurt and came into camp rejoicing, but we should have liked it a great deal better if we could have fired about 40 rounds at them Co. B, F and E were thrown outright right under there nose for advanced skirmishers we could plainly hear them give the orders when they came around to change the relief. We could hear them chop trees across the road and even hear them cough. They ought to have had a blue pill for their cough. I recon that seed that you spoke about was a persimmon seed the fruit is delicious when it is ripe, plant in the spring in the garden where it is rich. You wanted to know who that was that wrote my letters, it is one of my bunkmates W. E. Smith by name. When you write again put in another stamp, for I can’t get hold of any here very well, we were mustered for pay today that makes 4 months pay due me. No more write soon. This from your Brother, Levi D. Green.

“Direct to L. D. Green Co. E 130th Reg. T N Y L V Suffolk VA c/o Capt. W. Hakes By the way of Fortress Monroe. Goodbye John Direct as I have with you. Marvin is well and sends his best respects to you, I most forgot about him. L. G.”

RESEARCHER’S NOTE: There is so much here to unpack, so I will start with what Levi calls the blue pill. The “blue pill” during the Civil War was probably “blue mass,” a type of mercury used to treat several conditions, including syphilis, diarrhea, and constipation. Mercury was combined with other materials like sugar, licorice, and chalk to create a blue mass, which was then formed into tiny tablets. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers frequently utilized it. However, it is now understood that the mercury in blue mass can be poisonous and lead to significant health issues, including neurological illnesses and kidney damage.

The Blackwater: Inner Coastal Plain of Virginia is where the Blackwater River of southeast Virginia travels for about 105 miles from its source near Petersburg.  The confluence of the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers separates Virginia and North Carolina. The Blackwater River truly flows through blackwater. Its water is clean, tinged with tannin, black, and slightly acidic. Many marshes can be found in its drainage basin. Most of the river’s flood plain is covered in vegetation, including bald cypress and tupelo swamp forests.

Many skirmishes took place during the Siege of Suffolk, which took place across the Blackwater river from Suffolk. You can read much more about these battles by clicking HERE.

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