One hundred fifty years ago today—October 17, 1861—25-year-old Lieutenant W. H. Timberlake of the 8th Maine Volunteers wrote the following letter from his regiment’s camp in Annapolis, Maryland. The men of the 8th had been in service little over a month at the time; four days later, they would board ships for the coast of South Carolina as part of the Port Royal Expedition.
To-day has been a great and proud occasion for our regiment. We had a flag presented to us, made by the wife of our general, Mrs. Viele. The presentation was beautiful; and whom do you think made by? No less a person than his excellency Governor Hicks, of this State. It was a very solemn occasion, and every thing passed off appropriately.
Our colonel made a very happy reply to Governor Hicks, saying that Maine has for him (the governor) the reverence usually given to patriots; that he occupies in their hearts a place second, almost, to none. That no more fitting place could be in which to receive our colors—here, in the capital of the State of Maryland, where Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the American army, at the close of the first revolution. “We, at the commencement of the second revolution, again unsheath the sword, which has so long rested in quiet, to fight again for a free government.” I can’t think of half said in that brief hour, so filled to the brim with a sense of our individual responsibility in this crisis.
We are to leave here very shortly, and “they tell us” are to land beneath the enemy’s fire in surf-boats, and a battle is expected immediately on our landing. So it may be, when I leave Annapolis, you may not hear from me again. But it seems to me as though I should see this war closed, and a whole Union, purified as by fire, again in North America.
There can be but little doubt that we shall land at or near Charleston, for which we are exceedingly desirous; for it will be glory enough to again possess Fort Sumter, and to see the glorious “stars and stripes” waving proudly from her walls! How I wish the brave General Anderson was to be with us! It seems almost wrong that he is not sent with this “expedition,” for he fired the first gun for the Union, and fought nobly in her defence.
There are now twelve large steamships in the harbor waiting to transport us south. It is a fine sight. The men of our regiment are all anxious to see the enemy, as are all the brigade. I think they will do their duty when in battle.
The colonel of the 48th New York was a clergyman before entering the army. There are men of all callings in life here, and we can do any thing, from working a telegraph to making pins!
W. H. Timberlake.
Source: Soldiers’ Letters, from Camp, Battle-field and Prison (New York: Bunce & Huntington, 1865), 64-65. Image credit: Frank Leslie’s The Soldier in Our Civil War.