1862: Civil War Letters to Pvt. Daniel E. Swift

Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, 1861

The following four letters were sent to Daniel E. Swift (1844-1864), the son of Peleg Swift (1811-1865) and Lydia Griffith (1811-1874) of Wareham, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Daniel worked as a “Nailer” (manufacturer of nails) prior to the Civil War, as did several of his brothers. The letters were written to Swift while he was garrisoned with other members of Company E, 32nd Massachusetts Infantry at Fort Warren in Boston harbor in the winter of 1861-62. This regiment was formed in the fall of 1861 and garrisoned at the fort from late November until May 1862 when they were transferred to the defense of the Nation’s Capitol.

Grave Marker of Daniel Swift, brother Perez, and father Peleg

Daniel Swift survived the war. He was mustered out of service on 26 June 1863 at Camp Hooker, Lakeville, Massachusetts. Ironically though, he died the following year while employed as a mariner. His death record indicates that he drowned when his vessel capsized near Charleston Beach off the coast of Rhode Island. Others in his family suffered tragic deaths as well. One brother, William Henry Swift (1837-1860) was stabbed and killed in a drunken altercation with his brother-in-law, Captain Nicholas Stanton Boss [husband of Cynthia Swift (1832-1908)] in Newburyport, Rhode Island in September 1860. Another brother, Perez Swift (1840-1865) served in Co. D, 40th Massachusetts Infantry and died a prisoner at Andersonville. Finally, and incredibly, Daniel’s father — Peleg Swift — enlisted in Co. A., 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery in December 1864, and was killed only three months later at Boydton Plank Road (sometimes called Hatcher’s Run) south of Petersburg. Peleg Swift was the only member of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery killed when the unit, being used as infantry, joined the 5th Michigan Infantry to make an assault on the Confederate line in front of the Crow House about 2:30 in the afternoon of 31 March 1865.

Death Record: Daniel E. Swift

The first two letters to Daniel Swift were written in January 1862 by Sarah Brown. She does not identify her relationship to Daniel; it’s likely they were simply acquaintances. It is believed that she was Sarah (Holmes) McDonough, born in Dublin, Ireland on 12 November 1821. She was married to Joseph Brown (1808-1874) in New York City on 18 March 1853. They were the parents of Joseph H. Brown, b. 20 December 1855; Emma Demaris Brown, b. 2 November 1858; and John Daniel Martindale Washington Brown, b. 19 January 1862. It was this last child who’s birth was announced in letter 2.

Sarah’s husband, Joseph Brown, was born in Dudley, Straffordshire, England. He was a 53 year-old Iron Founder from Boston when recruited for enlistment at Cambridge by Capt. William S. McFarlin in December 1861. He was mustered into the 18th Massachusetts Infantry on January 14, 1862 as a Private in Company C. He was engaged with his regiment in 1862 at Second Bull Run and the Battle of Fredericksburg. He suffered a gunshot wound to the face, causing loss of the right eye, on Dec. 13, 1862 at the Battle of Fredericksburg and was subsequently discharged due to his wounds on Dec. 11, 1862 from a hospital at Newark, NJ. He died of consumption on Feb. 10, 1874 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.


9 January 1861 Letter


Addressed to Mr. Daniel Swift, Care of Captain Cephas Cushman Bumpus, Company E, First Battalion, Warren, Massachusetts

Boston [Massachusetts]
January 9, 1862

Dear Friend Dan,

Page 1

I hope that on the arrival of these few lines that it will find you enjoying good health as thank God I enjoy at present. I should let you know of all that has passed since we had the pleasure of seeing you and your friends. Joseph has enlisted in the 18 Regiment and gone for Washington on the 8th, and you may be sure that his absence we all regret very much for the last two weeks. Our family circle has not been so happy as it has been but I must be reconciled to my unhappy lot for the present. I sent you a paper but I did not know whether you will get this letter or not. But if you do, let me know and what paper you would like to read and I will send it to you.

Page 2

George Taylor has been to Tremont since I seen you and he says that it is so deserted – no one there – and Richard Lynch got drowned on the day before Christmas and more their was nothing strange happened. Will you let me know if you had a snow balling since you went to the fort for I want to give you a good one when next we meet which I hope will be before the winter is gone if you get a furlough from the fort. I hope that Joseph being away won’t keep you or your friends from calling on me as I shall be happy to see a friend at any time. Give my respects to your friend [Lawrence B.] Briggs and accept the same from your friend, — Sarah Brown

7 Morton Street, Boston



22 February 1862 Letter


Addressed to Mr. Daniel E. Swift, Company E, First Battalion, Care of Captain C. C. Bumpus, Fort Warren, Boston Harbor, Massachusetts

Page 1

Boston [Massachusetts]
Tuesday Morning, February 22nd 1862

Friend Daniel,

I received your welcome letter today and I am happy to hear that you and all friends are well as this leaves me and my family at present. When I see you in person, I shall be able to thank you for your kindness in answering my letter so quick. I gave up ever hearing from you as I thought that you had not time to write to the 3rd person and I was the last of the 3. I had 5 letters from Joseph since I wrote to you. He is well and hearty and asks for you in every letter. They are under orders to march but don’t know when. All the Tremont boys are well. They were all glad to see him and George. He is quite well.

Page 2

I have had an increase in my family since you were here and I am waiting for you to name him when you see him. You will say that he is as big as yourself and will be worthy of the name of Daniel. I hope that you won’t come to Boston without calling to see me as we are very lonesome and I hope that you will have a good time. I have moved from where I was then and moved to 74 Endicott Street. It is at the corner of Morton Street. You will see Endicott Market and I live opposite to the market. Give my respects to all friends and accept the same from our friend, — Sarah Brown

74 Endicott Street
corner of Stillman St., Boston


The third letter was written by Mary S. Morse (1830-18xx), the wife of Seth C. Morse (182-1897). He was the son of Simeon Morse (1782-1863) and Silvia Fish (1777-1854). Seth — a farmer — enlisted in Company E, 32nd Infantry Regiment, along with Daniel Swift. He was mustered out of the service on 25 July 1862 at Boston. From this letter we learn that Seth and Daniel were bunkmates at Fort Warren.


26 February 1862 Letter


Addressed to Mr. Daniel E. Swift, Fort Warren, Massachusetts

Page 1

West Wareham
Feb 26, 1862

Mr. Swift,

Dear Sir. As I was writing a letter to Seth this evening, I thought I would divide my time and write a few lines to an old friend. I hope this may find you enjoying good health for that is one of Heaven choices blessings. I hardly know, friend Daniel, what to write you as I am not in the habit of writing to gentlemen (only to my husband) but perhaps if there is not much news, it may be acceptable to you. Your Mother with the rest of your friends are well. I think your mother is very well for her. I think she must be very lonely if I judge anything by myself for I will tell you I never knew what it was to be lonesome before.

Page 2

I think you are too bad to have Seth all to yourself, but then I am very glad that he is with kind friends. But to your care, I shall commit him if anything should befall him. You wrote to Phebe to tell me that you would take good care of him. I thank you very kindly for your kindness and hope you will faithfully perform your promise. But I can safely trust him to take good care of himself when he is well. But if he is sick, then he would need someone and I know of no one I would sooner trust him with than yourself.

I have the sad news to write you of the death of Mr. Gurney. He died Sunday afternoon of an illness of about a week. He has lived to be an old man and has now gone home to reap his reward. The old neighbors drop off one by one. Mrs. Freeman died a few weeks ago as you have heard before this. The rest of the neighbors are all well.

Page 3

Our lane is really lonely this winter, but I hope and trust that ‘ere many months, our Wareham boys will be at home again enjoying the company of their families. I hope this war will come to a close and men will lay down their arms and all will be peace once more and this our once happy country will again be reunited. But Oh! what desolation has this war made. How many of our brave men has fallen in defense of their country. How many have been made widows and orphans even since our new year come in. Oh dreadful the thought. I hope this may not be my lot. I hope my husband may be spared to return to those who he has left at home. It is hard to have Seth away from home and sometimes I think I can not have it so. My wish is that you all may soon be in old Brigg’s Lane again very soon and if our brave countrymen do as well for time to come and are blessed with as good success, I think with most everyone else the rebels will soon come to terms.

Page 4

I am very sorry that friend [Lawrence B.] Briggs is sick. It is bad, I should judge, to be in that place even if one felt well. But to be sick away from home is very bad. His wife and mother feel bad. I hope you and Seth will do all you can for him. I don’t know as I have any more to write and if I had, I think you would be tired of reading. So I will bid you good night and may heaven’s blessing rest on you. I should be glad to have a letter from Fort Warren and I have a good lot that I have read many times.

Yours with respect, — Mary S. Morse

If you think Seth don’t like it, you may not let him know I wrote. But I guess he won’t care seeing you are his bedfellow. I wish I could see your bedroom. I often picture to myself how you and Seth are looking there together. If you can’t read this, you must get Seth to do it.

The last letter was written by a woman named Harriet who represents herself as the Daniel’s sister. From the letter we can see that she is not close to her parents — particularly her mother — and it would appear that she has been cast out of the family. She wrote the letter from South Middleborough, Massachusetts, which is a few miles northwest of Daniel’s parent’s home in Wareham. The 1850 Census shows a ten year-old Harriet D. Swift residing in the household of Middleborough farmer John Reed and his wife Mary. An 185o court record shows that this Harriet D. Swift changed her name to Harriet D. Reed. An 1855 census shows her still residing in the Reed household, age 16. I have to conclude this was indeed a sister of Daniel’s but by 1862 when this letter was written, Harriet appears to be married but doesn’t sign her married surname.



Page 1

South Middleborough, [Massachusetts]
March 12, 1862

Dear brother,

It was with the greatest pleasure that I received your letter and read its contents. We had waited a long time to have one from you and I had made up my mind that I was forgotten by my brother and sometimes it made me feel almost alone in thinking of it, and when your letter came, I cried for joy I was so glad to hear from you. I suppose you write home often (I hope you do) but I do not hear from Mother, or see her. I have not seen her since you went any. I look out and wish I could see her coming.

Page 2

Three weeks ago I burned my arm very bad – so bad that one week I did nothing at all. I could not dress or undress myself without help. Hattia with her Father help do the work. She done the work well, and better than you would think she could for one so young. My arm is getting better now. I have used up most 5 bottles of Arabian Balsam on my arm. It was the best that I could have to bathe it in. If I do not get cold in it, I think it will soon get well.

I suspect you hear from Mother often if she don’t write by the way of Seth and Lauris. I suppose they have letters every week from home. Old Mr. Gurney was buried two weeks ago. He was 77 years old. Last Wednesday one of Mr. Harlow’s son that worked with him on Mother’s house was buried. He died to Washington and was brought home. It was hard thing to them all. I don’t think of much more news to write you.

Page 3

Hattia has gone to school & today is the last day. She liked her school very much. Little Sarey has not been but little part of time this winter. The children talk a great deal about Uncle Daniel and want to see him. Dallie says she wants to see Uncle Daniel and she says I want him to fetch me a little rocking chair when he comes. The baby is well and fat as a pig. She does no creep yet. Sarey is very much hurried getting some wood out of the swamp, if he has time, he will write in this letter, but if he don’t, he will write soon to you. Now don’t forget to write me soon and I will do the same.

Goodbye, from sister Harriet

(Aunt Desire did not have any good luck knitting your mittens. I suppose you have had some this winter.)

Page 4

Sunday Evening

Dear Brother,

I wrote this letter last week, but have not had a chance to send it to the office so I will say a few words more. I suppose you have heard of Symthie death. She died very sudden. You will learn the particulars by her brother Luther. Oh what a hard thing to them all.

Hattia is quite sick. She has not sat up for 2 days. We think she has a fever and if she is no better tomorrow, we shall have the Doctor to her. She has a bad cough and very dry and hot — no appetite at all. We feel very anxious about her, but I do hope she will be better in the morning.

Good night, brother Daniel. From Harriet


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