1862: Pvt. James Francis Russell, 9th NY Cavalry, to his siblings

Image of James Francis Russell in later years. Courtesy of George Russell.

Image of James Francis Russell in later years. Courtesy of George Russell.

I found this letter offered for sale on ebay in March 2011 and transcribed what I could. It was written by 22 year-old James Francis Russell (1840-1926) to his brother and sister in Wyoming County, New York. Russell was the son of Levi Russell (1813-1896), a farmer, and Mariah Baldwin (1818-1844). Levi and Mariah had two other children besides James prior to her death; they were Caroline Russell (1837-1912) and William Henry Russell (1842-1864). It is to these two biological siblings that I presume the letter was written. Russell’s father remarried and had several more children.

Russell enlisted in Company I of the 9th New York Cavalry. According to regimental history records, Russell enlisted on 5 October 1861 at Pike, New York. He was appointed Corporal on 1 September 1863, and he re-enlisted on 20 December 1863. He was captured by Mosby on 15 November 1864 and taken to Libby Prison on 1 December 1864. He was paroled on 20 February 1865 and discharged 21 June 1865 at Elmira, New York.

Arms carried by the 9th NY Cavalry

The skirmish referred to by Russell in this letter involved a detachment of the 9th New York who were escorting a quartermaster supply wagon train being led by Lieut. Erotus Wilder. Near Haymarket, Virginia, the train was attacked by some 200 confederates in the 2nd North Carolina cavalry on 18 October 1862. According to a Confederate report of the skirmish that ensued, “the work was short and quick — the whole party bagged in a few moments. One Lieutenant and 26 privates were made prisoners, and three killed; seven wagons with quartermaster and commissary stores were taken; also, two contraband (runaways), twenty splendid horses, twenty-four mules, twenty-five sabers, twenty-seven army repeaters, and the same number of breech-loading rifles.”

James Russell’s younger brother, William Henry Russell, also served in the Union army. On 14 December 1863, William joined Company B, 2nd New York Cavalry Regiment. Less than a year later, he was killed at Hatcher’s Run, Virginia.

The author, James F. Russell, was born 14 March 1840 in Phillipstown, Putnam County, New York. In 1873, he married Marana Whitney and had at least two children: Jessie M Russell (1874-1946) and George H. Russell (1878-1935). James Russell died 21 June 1926 in Perry, Wyoming County, New York and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery.

Letter by James Francis Russell, 9th New York Vol. Cavalry


Centreville, Va.
October 25th 1862

Dear Brother and Sister,

I have just received your kind letter and I take this operuneity of answering it for fear that it would be a good while before another would present itself as we are under marching orders all of the time. I am well as usual and hope that these few lines will find you all the same.

Russell’s Gravestone

Since I wrote to you last we have had hard luck in our regt. Had a detail of 30 men with one Lieut. to guard a provision train to a place called Hay Market. They reached the place safe about 2 oclock Saturday morning. While feeding there 500 North Carolina cav. took all of the train and all of the men but five. Three more was wounded, but not dangerous, two in the shoulder and one got cut with a saber in the back of his head. This train was sent out with rations for our brigade, which was out on a scout. Have seen a good many wounded, but never had such feelings as I had when our own boys was brought in to camp wounded.

You wanted to know what I think of the war. I will tell you, but you may think that I am a secesh — but I cannot help that. If they wait to fight it out, peace will not be made for another seven years. And another thing is the South will not give up until every man is gone. I think if this war is closed, the North and the South will have to give in a little and make a compromise of it and then let it go. I have got so I don’t care what come or which side come out the best if they will settle the matter and let me go and be free once more.

[Your brother] – J. F. Russell

A cavalry skirmish

4 responses to “1862: Pvt. James Francis Russell, 9th NY Cavalry, to his siblings

  • Richard Robert Russell

    I am the Great Grandson of James Francis Russell. I came across this article strictly by coincidence and found it fascinating. I would like to e-mail it to other family members or get your site for them to correspond directly with you. Hopefully you can help me out with this. Ricard Robert Russell

  • George Russell

    Most interesting. We have extensive information on James Francis Russell and would be glad to share.
    George Russell

  • Griff

    I’m pleased that this letter was useful to you and members of your family who are all descendants of James F. Russell. If you have a photograph of him that I can use in conjunction with this letter, I’d appreciate your sending it to me.

  • George Russell

    We have a number of photos showing James F. In later years. Not sure how to get them to you but would be pleased to try. Thanks for your amazing communication.
    George Russell
    Bakersfield, Calif

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