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LT: August 25, 1864 James H. McDonald (50th NY Engineers)

Editor’s Note: This item is part of a collection of letters from New York engineers written while their units were at the Siege of Petersburg.  Researcher and Engineer enthusiast Dan O’Connell generously donated all of the items in this collection for use at The Siege of Petersburg Online.  These transcriptions are copyrighted by Brett Schulte and may not be used without my express written consent.  I do not have images of these letters so some errors could be from transcription or in the original.

Va., August 25th, 1864.

HON. BENSON OWEN—Dear Sir:—I observed in the Courier that you were connected with the recruiting business. As my regiment is one of the most desirable organizations in the service to enlist into, on account of pay, comfort, and chances for promotion to intelligent mechanics, I have taken the liberty of writing you on the subject. There is at present a vacancy for one hundred and fifty men. My Company numbers one hundred and forty-five men, and I can give a place to five good mechanics.

I lost one man killed at the Chickahominy, June 12th [1864], and have had very few men hurt at all; so you see the chances for returning after the war are better than in an infantry regiment. The officers have far more cause to fear being mustered out by the Johnnies’ bullets than the men, because the former have charge of large details of infantry during a siege, while the enlisted men are preparing siege material at a safe distance in the rear.

If there is any branch of the service that has the preference over all others, it is the Engineers, especially to an enlisted man, if he is intelligent, active and persevering. I presume more recruits can be had for this regiment than any other, as I have frequent applications to transfer sergeants of infantry to my Company as privates. Anything you can do for my Company in this way I assure you will be appreciated very highly.

As a friend to the policy of prosecuting the war in the most vigorous manner, you can appreciate our feelings, and justify the sentiment when we say, “Give us more men, and that speedily, and the Rebellion is used up.” If we had one hundred thousand fresh troops given us to-day, the war would end in three months. There is no possible doubt about this; for by simply holding the Rebel forces where they are, and cutting off their communications, they are annihilated by their own stomachs. Give us more men here; roll up a vote this fall that will strengthen the arm and warm the heart of the soldier, and we will soon come out of this contest victorious.

Yours very respectfully,

Captain, 50th N. Y. Engineers1


  1. McDonald, James H. “Letter from Cap’t McDonald.” Letter to Benson Owen. 25 Aug. 1864. MS. Near Petersburg, Va. This letter, which looks like it was copied out of a newspaper, appears here courtesy of Dan O’Connell, who has a large collection of letters from Union Engineers during the Civil War.
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