2 May 1862: “I have some bad news to send, one of my Co. has been shot & 3 taken prisoners.”

Item description: Letter, 2 May 1862, from William B. Alexander, captain in Company E of the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, to his wife, Mary F. Alexander. He writes from New Bern, N.C., newly occupied by the Union Army. Alexander relates the story of one Union soldier killed and three taken prisoner in a surprise encounter with Confederate soldiers.

More about William B. Alexander: Alexander was born in Plymouth, Mass., around 1832. He worked as a carpenter in Boston before enlisting with the Union Army as a second lieutenant in Company B of the 3rd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, April 1861. He mustered out in July 1861, but returned to service in December of that same year as a captain in the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, Company E. On 8 February 1862, the 23rd participated in the Battle of Roanoke Island (N.C.), which ended in a Union victory. In a letter written nearly one month later, Alexander mentioned a cheek wound that he likely incurred in the battle. Shortly thereafter, he was more seriously wounded in the left arm while engaged in the Union capture of New Bern, N.C., 14 March 1862. On 28 December 1862, he resigned his post and joined his wife, Mary F. Alexander, and daughter, Ida, in Boston. By 1890, the family had moved to Plymouth. William Alexander died 5 February 1900.

Item citation: In the William B. Alexander Letters #5197, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Newbern May 2d 1862

To my own dear Wife

I got your letter yesterday [?] dated April 20th also one from each of my sisters, & Father & Georgy & [L.T.?] Alexander so I had quite a reading time. I have some bad news to send, one of my Co. has been shot & 3 taken prisoners. the circumstances are these. The Regt. is out to Batchelders Creek 8 miles from here, doing Picket duty. April 29th my Co. under Lt. Wordsbury, { myself & Lts. not being able to do duty } were sent out on Picket about 3/4 of a mile from Camp. & on each side of the Rail Road. Corp. [H. G.?] Lanman, John Taylor, Edward Smith, & Edward Braley were on Out Post & on the right of the line. Lanman, Smith & Taylor started for a house a short distance off to get their dinners, when they were suddenly surrounded by a body of Rebel Cavalry & taken off as Prisoners. Ed Braley was but a short distance from them, & seeing the Rebels fired at them. they instantly replied back wounding him in 3 places & causing his death within an hour. he fired twice after being twice wounded. the shot that killed him struck him directly in the chest, one in the left side of the neck, one through the left arm. The whole transaction did not occupy more than 3 or 4 minutes, & before the others could get there, the Rebels were gone. Co. A. was immediately sent out but would get no trace of them. We buried Braley in the buring ground here, today I went to see Gen. Foster about getting them released. he told me that a Rebel Captain who was taken at Fort Macon & released, went to Goldsboro 2 days ago & says he will have them released & I am expecting to see or hear from them every day. I got the promise of Gen. Foster to send them money or clothing or anything which they may want, which I shall do when the opportunity offers. We all feel bad about it. Thomas is going to get his discharge & will be at home in a short time he will give you all the particulars in regard to the Co. I have done no duty yet. Col. Kurtz has arrived & brought a Major’s Commission for Adj. Chambers which is a great insult to us Captains & make a great fuss, but let his slide. I have only time to write a few words as Henry is waiting to carry this to the office & goes right away. the weather is very warm & pleasant. I am thinking of you all the time [?] write more.

From your own true Husband,
W. B. Alexander

I have written to their [friends?] & [? Davis?]

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