Editor’s Note: George Gove of the 5th New Hampshire wrote a series of letters from the Siege of Petersburg in 1864 to his sister. These letters were placed online in 2012 as: “Parsons Family Papers, Milne Special collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire, N.H.” Gove’s descendant Doug Parsons worked diligently to make these letters available for The Siege of Petersburg Online and we thank him greatly for his effort. The transcriptions of the letters collected on this page are copyrighted by the Milne Special collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire and may not be reproduced without the express written consent of the University of New Hampshire. All rights reserved.
July 1, 18641
On Picket – Near Petersburg Va.
Friday July 1st 1864
I rec a letter from you a short time hence &, as I have nothing to pass away my time here in this wilderness will write a few lines to you. I suppose Mother is at Rye by this time so that this will do for you both and an answer will be expected from both. I have rec. only 4 letters since I left Pt Lookout: 2 from Mother and from you. I wrote to you last on the 23rd I believe, the day after our fight. It was rather a bad thing for the old 2nd Corps. we lost about 2000 prisoners and some artillery I believe. The men were not at all to blame. I never saw such miserable management in my life. Had it not been for Gen Miles commanding our brigade we should have been all cut to pieces and trains and artillery all captured. He disobeyed orders
doing as he did but it saved the 2nd Corps. I see that the papers state that our brigade – the 1st was attacked in the rear. This is utterly false we were with the rest of the Div. it was the 3rd Brig I am happy to say that a like affair will not occur again. Gen Birney was then in command of the Corps. Gen Hancock being disabled on account of his old wound breaking out. but he was given taken command. We fear no disaster when he is in command. the best thing possible will always be done. last Monday we moved back in the woods ¼ mile in rear of our breastworks & cleaned up a camp. worked hard all one day. dug wells and made every preparation for at least one week stay this was by orders from Corps Hd Qrs. Wednesday we had to leave our nice camp and go forward into the breastworks again. just as sure as we fix up a good camp we have to leave it right away. Last evening we came out on picket shall stay til this evening when we will be relieved and back to camp. our picket line is now ½ mile in front of our breastworks. We have little breastworks
thrown up large enough for three men, these just are about 2 rods apart, all along in front of this line of pits the trees have been fallen so it is almost impossible to get thru them. our picket line could hold a whole line of battle of the rebs. Wells have been dug, so we have plenty of water. This picket line runs along the whole front of our army & must be 6 or 7 miles long, the rebel line is about ¼ mile from us at this place. The thickness of the woods prevents pickets firing & sharpshooting I have charge of 8 posts, two men in each post have to keep awake all the time.
I hope you won’t get impatient if the army don’t do anything for a few weeks. We need rest and must have it. The army has been at work night & day ever since the 3rd May harder than they ever worked before & now a rest is indispensable. I do not think this will be as much hard fighting as there has been for the reason that it don’t pay. It has been generally quiet that the only
thing to do is to destroy the rebel army if that the only way to that is by hard fighting(sic). Now the rebels are almost entirely on the defensive & the have strong positions. We have to attack them. We drive them out of their positions but they fall back into another position equally strong & we lose 2 [—-?] [–?] [—?] has been this way ever since the Battle of the Wilderness. Anyone can easily tell which army would be destroyed first in this way. if Gen Grant had recd no reinforcements he would not have one third the men he started with on the 3rd last May. What we now need is a reserve of 100,000 men which should have been [—?] & drilled last winter, to put into this field fresh now, and this war would soon be over.
I am not discouraged by any means. I think we shall be victorious this year, tho how I can hardly see. The rebs may be as near exhausted as we are, but then an exhausted man can lay behind a breastwork & fight as well as a fresh one. The situation here now is if they attack us they will be repulsed with great slaughter, and if we attack them we shall be repulsed with great slaughter, so what will be done I don’t know, perhaps Grant will try another flank movement.
My man has just been up with my dinner he brought me a letter from James. James says Mother is at Rye and that you now have another little girl. I thought so. I must close this now and take a look along my pickets. It is good that our cavalry have got into a bad fix and the 9th Corps has gone to help them out.
I hope I shall hear from you soon
Love to all
Write me the little girls name.
[Editors Note: Along the side of the page continued from the back]
(Evening) Have just got back to camp. the 18th Corps undertook to take one of the enemys positions last night & were repulsed.
Capt Butler was very badly wounded in his knee, there is danger that he will lose his leg. He was in Gen Smith’s staff. Left the ambulance Corps some time ago. My health is most excellent – I have not taken a bit of wine since we came to the army.
Johnson is well
- Parsons Family Papers, Milne Special collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire, N.H. The transcription of the letter on this page is copyrighted by the Milne Special collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire and may not be reproduced without the express written consent of the University of New Hampshire. All rights reserved. ↩
What was George’s middle name?
I do not know. Here is the url where the Gove letters reside:
I’ll also ask Doug Parsons, a descendant of George, if he knows the answer to this one. He might!
I found his middle name. Shelburn. He was discharged a second lt. He was an engineer on the Chicago & Northwestern railroad for 42 yrs. He married Edna O. Combs and lived in Boone, Iowa. I do not know when he died. He had 2 children.
Thanks! If I ever decide to pursue his story in the future, you’ll have given me a nice head start.
Thanks, George and Brett.
[Brett, I’ll eventually get a concise bio to add to your Gove page]
George S. Gove was “George Sherburn Gove” with his middle name coming from his father, Capt. Sherburn Gove. I’ve seen a few places that spelled the middle name wrong as “Sherburne” and even “Shelburn” (as in the note above so maybe you got that from the same place).
He died on Feb 7, 1918 in Boone, Iowa. I found his grave listed online and I got a bio added a while ago:
After his 3yr service was up in Oct 1864, George returned to Raymond, NH and at some point not long afterwards he moved to PA where he became a locomotive engineer and married Edna O. Combs of Ohio.
They had two children, Sherburn George Gove and Grace L. Gove, who married spouses but I’ve found no sign of any grandchildren so apparently George S. Gove doesn’t have any living decendants. They eventually moved to Boone, Iowa (just outside Des Moines) where George was a railroad engineer for many years. I’m not sure why he chose to go to Iowa but my recent genealogy research has found that he had at least a couple uncles (i.e. brother’s of his mother, Jane Norris) who’d already moved there from NH in the 1850s so maybe that’s why. Who knows, but that was a bit of a next frontier, especially for the railroads. I don’t know much about what he did out there and I haven’t even found his obit nor any sign of him coming home to visit in NH, but he must have done so.
I’ve found two online listings mentioning him in some old railroad engineer journals and so far I’ve found three cases in the 1880s through 1910 where he is quoted writing to clear up some details and misconceptions about some of the 5th NH’s battles. He’s quoted in an 1880s’s letter to Dr. Child in the Dr’s book on the 5th NH’s regimental history. In another case, I found a reference to him writing about Antietam to General Ezra Carmen with details and a hand-drawn map of the battle — Carmen had been appointed to put together the definitive history of Antietam. I’m going to try finding out if the LOC has more Gove letters and documents in Ezra’s collection. Take a look at George’s Antietam letter at the UNH Parsons Family website and you’ll see that George had intense memories of that battle. A very surprising letter.
In a few of the 50+ Civil War letters from George that we have, he seemed intent on getting the truth out and speaking up if newspapers got something really wrong, especially about his regiment. It also seems that those letters home were meant to tell family and friends what the 5th was doing, almost like a reporter sometimes. Lots of details. Way more than later wars would have allowed past the censors.
It seems that George would have wanted to finally get these stashed-away letters out to the world. It’s been 150 years and it’s about time.
Also, I’m not an actual decendant of George S. Gove. George’s doesn’t have any.
In the letters that my family donated to UNH, he was mostly writing to his older sister, Julia Gove Parsons in Rye, NH. She was my g-g-Grandmother. George was the youngest of four children. He was single with no children when he volunteered for one of the 5th NH “3 year” regiment in Sept 1861. George was much younger than his sister. We also know from these letters that we was writing often to other relatives with the hope and expectation that… they’d write back to him. Soldiers need those letters and papers from home along with the occaisional article of clothing or box of home made food.
Thanks for that clarification. I’ll go back and change the intros to the letters when I get a chance. Thanks for all of the hard work to allow these letters to be shared here!