In March 1865, Charles Traynor wrote home to his mother Catharine in New York. A veteran of some of the most famed Irish Brigade actions of the war, he was still at the front as the conflict began to enter its final days. ‘I trust the Almythy will spear me my life’ he confided to her. A few days later, the Confederates launched a ferocious attack against Fort Stedman on the Petersburg lines. As part of the Union response, Charles and the 69th New York were ordered to advance on the enemy at a place called Skinner’s Farm- events which unfolded 150 years ago today. (1)
Irish bricklayer Charles Traynor enlisted as a 34-year-old in New York City on 16th August 1862. A little over a month later, as a private in Company K of the 69th New York , he was wounded assaulting the Sunken Road at the Battle of Antietam. The following June he was transferred to Company A, but at some juncture in 1864 he was assigned to the 18th Regiment of the Veteran Reserve Corps. He was serving with these men in Washington D.C. on 1st November that year, when he wrote home to his mother. It was the week before President Abraham Lincoln took on the Democratic candidate and former commander of the Army of the Potomac, George McClellan, in the Presidential election. ‘Little Mac’ was immensely popular among the majority of Irish troops, and Charles was clearly hoping for his victory at the polls. Aside from politics, the soldier also found the time to complain about the food:
November 1st 1864
My Dear Mother I received yours of the 28 of last month. I am happy to find you are well as also all my sisters and brother and their families. I do not get any of your letters only the above date[d]. I would have wrote sooner only we were moveing from place to place and are not settled yet I think. I have no particular news only about the election which will be a hard contest. I hope Little Mc will be the man. I was mustered for pay and as soon as [I] get it will send you some. I must let you know how we are treated as to our rations we are halfe starved not halfe as much as we had one year ago. I have to buy part of my grub, for I cannot eat what is isued to us. Now for breakfast one pint of coffee one cut of bread 1/3 of a loafe and about 4 oz. of poarke, for dinner sometimes poarke and the same quantity of bread. Sup[p]er coffee and 1/3 of a loafe. Only fresh meat once a week and then about 6 ounces but in the mean time I am in good health thank God. You will let Barney know Tom McMahon [enlisted aged 36 in 1861] of the 69th Co. K. is in this Regt. with me and will be going home by next Saturday his time is out he will call to see Barney and you. We are mates together. Now I will conclude by sending you my love hopeing you will enjoy good health till I return also my love to all my sisters and Barney, William Wallace and family,
Your Aff. Son
Co. B. 18th Regt. V.R. Corps
Washington D.C. (2)
If Charles had remained in the rear with the 18th Veteran Reserve Corps his prospects of making it through the war would have been bright. That wasn’t to be. He returned to the 69th New York and the front on 5th December 1864, eventually becoming a Corporal in Company F. As the Union continued to press the Confederate positions around Petersburg into 1865, Charles took the opportunity to write home on 13th March. It is clear from the different hand writing in both letters that someone wrote them for him; the use of language and spelling differences between the two examples is also suggestive of a different pen. In this letter Charles seems to indicate that he thought the war might not go on much longer- apparently he could have received a furlough to visit New York, but thought it wasn’t worth doing it until he could go home for good:
Camp Near Petersburg Va.
March 13th 1865
My Dear Mother
I write to you a few lines hoping the[y] will find yous all in good health as I am in at present thank God. I received your letter on the 8th and was glad to hear of yous all been well, Dear Mother. I got 4 months pay and sent you 40 dollors by Adams Express. I hope you have got it before this. I could have got a furlow if I had aplyed for one but I thought it as good to never mind going home untill I go home all together. I trust the Almythy will spear [spare] me my life. The duty is hard enough here we expect to have a moove shortly, give my best love to my brother and sisters and to Mr. Wallice and family. Write soone. Nomore at present from your
Charles Traynor (3)
Twelve days after Charles wrote this letter- on 25th March 1865- the Confederates made their final concerted effort to break through the Union lines at Petersburg. They focused that assault against Fort Stedman on the eastern portion of the line, but despite some initial success, they were eventually repulsed. In response, Union forces further west, including Second Corps units, pressed the right of the Confederate line. That afternoon the 69th New York Infantry were ordered into the woods near Skinner’s Farm (sometimes called Skinner’s House), where they engaged Confederates pickets in what became a sustained firefight. By the time they were relieved a few hours later, they had suffered 94 casualties, nine of whom were killed outright. Corporal Charles Traynor was among the latter, felled by a gunshot wound to the left breast. Having survived some of the bloodiest encounters of the conflict, and having hoped that he would be spared, he ultimately died in the American Civil War’s final days- 150 years ago today. (4)
*The letters above had little punctuation in their original form. Punctuation has been added in this post for ease of modern reading- if you would like to see the original transcription please contact me. None of my work on pensions would be possible without the exceptional effort currently taking place in the National Archives to digitize this material and make it available online via Fold3. A team from NARA supported by volunteers are consistently adding to this treasure trove of historical information. To learn more about their work you can watch a video by clicking here.
(1) Charles Trainor Dependent Mother’s Pension File; (2) New York Adjutant General 1901: 340, Charles Trainor Dependent Mother’s Pension File; (3) Charles Trainor Dependent Mother’s Pension File (4) Official Records: 200-1;
References & Further Reading
Charles Trainor Dependent Mother Pension File WC88894.
New York Adjutant General 1901. Roster of the 69th New York Infantry.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series 1, Volume 46, Part 1. Report of Lieut. Col. James J. Smith, Sity-ninth New York Infantry, of operations March 25.