On March 26, 1862, 19-year-old Stephen Minot Weld wrote to his sister to tell her about the camp his regiment had just set up near Newport News, Va.
Camp at New Market Bridge, March 26, 1862.
Dear Hannah, — We shall probably start to-morrow morning for Big Bethel, which we shall occupy and I think without a battle. A reconnoissance was made to-day, but very few of the enemy were seen. We arrived here yesterday, and are encamped about 6 miles from Fortress Monroe, and 3 miles from Newport News. The country is very level and sandy, pines growing in great abundance. We selected a very pleasant place before a burnt house, on a grass plot, and pitched our tents there.
Our pickets were thrown forward about quarter of a mile along the banks of a stream, which branches out from Back River. I wish you could see some of the scenes of camp life. There are so many of them queer, and at the same time beautiful, that I know you would be pleased with them. To-night I was struck by one in particular. We have a large fire kept burning outside our tents all the time, around which we all of us frequently gather. Tonight about 7 o’clock we were all around the fire in various attitudes, some sitting, others standing, etc., generals, colonels, etc., in fact all grades down to privates were represented. A guard brought in two negroes from Yorktown, they having made their way up to our lines.
As soon as they had been questioned by the general, some one gave them some crackers, and down they dumped themselves on a pile of wood close by the blazing fire. It was a scene worth witnessing. The officers and servants, some mounted and some not, scattered around in every way imaginable, and these two contrabands, the picture of perfect contentment, notwithstanding the sufferings they had just gone through. Footsore, famished, and their clothes in tatters, they had escaped from Yorktown where they had been working on fortifications, with a band of seven others. Two were shot by the rebels and one wounded. Two are now wandering in the woods, and two have arrived here.
Stephen Minot Weld, Jr., a member of the prominent Weld family of Massachusetts, was a first-year law student at Harvard when the Civil War broke out. He was appointed a 2nd lieutenant in the 18th Massachusetts Regiment in January 1862. He fought in the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg. He was twice captured and once had his horse shot from under him. In may, 1864, he was promoted to colonel, and after the war he received the honorary promotion to brevet general for gallant and meritorious service.
After the war he became a wealthy cotton broker. He is the great-grandfather of Tuesday Weld.