Fredericksburg Eyewitness: ‘The chances looked black for our lives’
Capt. Nathaniel Low was born in Dover, New Hampshire, and received his education in the schools of that city. In 1861, he was appointed postmaster there, a position he resigned to enter the service. Largely through his efforts, Company K was raised, of which he was commissioned captain Sept. 4, 1862. He participated in the Mississippi campaign, and during the winter of 1863-64 was on duty in Kentucky.
While the regiment was at Annapolis, Capt. Low was promoted to captain and Assistant Quartermaster, U.S. Volunteers, and received his commission June 16, 1864. He was assigned to the Naval Brigade as chief quartermaster; then to Fortress Monroe in charge of water transportation; and, after Lee’s surrender, to Norfolk where he engaged in breaking up the depot of supplies and selling the government property.
The following two letters were written by Low to his wife a month before and a week after the Battle of Fredericksburg. These letters are some of thousands of letters transcribed by William Griffing as part of his online repository of Civil War letters, Shared & Spared. For more of the compelling letters he makes available to read, visit the Spared & Shared Facebook page.
The letter dated November 18, 1862, by Capt. Low is from the private collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent.
8 Miles from Fredericksburg, [Virginia]
November 18th 1862
4 o’clock p. m.
My own dear wife,
I have been trying to send a letter for two days to you. Frank Vittum’s man has just come into camp & is going to return to Washington tomorrow so I must improve the chance and write to my little dear. It is a week today since I joined the regiment & I can truly say it has been the toughest week of my life. We have done nothing but march, march, march, eat nothing but hard tack and half of the time not enough of that. We have just pitched our tents now after a forced march of 12 miles and I am just about killed out. Lieut. [B. Frank] Rackley is disgusted & has just handed in his resignation which I hope will not be accepted as I can ill afford to have him go.
Four of the boys have deserted. It is bad enough to be a line officer & as for a private, I would rather see a friend of mine go into his grave than enlist for they are used shamefully.
I am afraid, Jennie, that you will think by the tone of my letters that i have got the blues. I have not but only the mads.
Please excuse my short letter for I am almost tired to death & my head aches as if it would crack. Jennie, I think of you always and long for the time to wag round for me to return to you—-never, no never, to leave you again. From your affectionate husband, — Nat Low, Jr
This letter was written by Capt. Nathaniel Low Jr. a week after the Battle of Fredericksburg. He tells his wife that the memory of her and of her inspiring words gave him courage to face the carnage on the slopes of Marye’s Heights.
Camp of Gen. Ferrero Brigade
December 20, 1862
Saturday, A. M. 10 o’clock
My Own Dear Wife,
Good morning. It is bitter cold. I have just finished my breakfast. You see by the time we eat at fashionable hours. I was out part of last night with my company playing possum on the rebel pickets. The pontoon bridge had been taken up & the planks were laying round on this side of the river so we were ordered to creep down silently, each man shoulder a plank & leave, which we done in good shape without any loss.
After our return last night, I built up a rousing fire in our fire place, heated some water, & fixed up a nice hot whiskey, took out the letter of Aunt Jane’s that I had received during the day, read it for the fourth time, sat & sat and thought of you dear, [and then] made up my mind fully that a married man has no business in the army. What do you think, Jen?
I see by the papers that there is good sleighing East, which seems curious as there is no snow here & some of the time the weather will be too warm to wear an overcoat. But the trouble is this morning to get overcoats enough on.
It is a week ago that we had the big battle. God grant that I may never see another day like it. It will be a day never to be forgotten by those engaged. It is called the bloody fight of the war. I don’t think you were out of my mind for a whole hour during the day. I remember when we were making a charge in the face of the rebel cannons, their fire was deadly. It was mowing our ranks down. The chances looked black for our lives. The men began to falter. It was then I remembered what you wrote—“Nat, be brave.” I jumped forward, waved my sword, told the boys to follow or be branded as cowards & I believe if I say it myself, Company K got to the front first & stayed there. Anyway Major [Evarts Worchester] Farr says Co. K is the fighting company.
We hear that our lamented, brave Capt. [Amos Blanchard] Shattuck is to be buried tomorrow at Manchester with Masonic honors. Poor Shattuck. I can’t help thinking of him.
Jen, I long to see you but when I do go home, if we won’t enjoy ourselves & make Rome howl, then I lose my guess. My regards to Mr. & Mrs. Peirce. With much love. Your affectionate husband, — Nat Low, Jr.