It appears that Donaldson initially enlisted in the Tenth Legion, which was organized in the Tenth Congressional District by the Congressman from that district, Col. Charles H. Van Wyck. The Tenth Legion originally consisted of ten companies of infantry, one of sharpshooters, two of artillery, and two of Cavalry. The War Department did not accept the unit in that configuration. The two artillery companies were spun off to become the 7th and 8th Independent Batteries of Light Artillery. Likewise, the two companies of cavalry became Companies C and D of the 1st New York Mounted Rifles. The remaining companies became the 56th NYVI, although the eleventh company, Co. L, was sometimes known as the 5th Company, New York Sharpshooters, and the 10th Legion Sharpshooters. It seems to me that there is some confusion because the 56th continued to refer to itself as the Tenth Legion even after the breakup. For a fact, the regiment long into the war, wore their original issue uniforms that bore on the breast a large white shield with an "X."
The first paragraph of Donaldson’s letter of April 24, 1862 refers to the reorganization, and by the last letter in the collection he is giving instructions that his mail be directed to him at the 1st NY Mounted Rifles.
Columbia Colage HospitalDear Sister Hattie
Feb the 3rd 1862
I received your letter the 29th it was quite welcom. your letter & Sarahs was verry welcom visitors. I am about forty yards from our barracks right in sight of them it used to be a coIage the students now they say. It is a very large house & I am on the top shelf. It is either the 4 or 5 story That I am on. they put all the measels in the upper room. I have received two letters since I came in the hospital beside yours & Sarah one from Levi Hall, one Charles Hall. Charles said he heard the soldiers was not allowed to read the newspapers. tell Charles they can read all they have amind to but they charge high for their papers 5, 6, 7 cents apiece. things are high down here.
I am glad you get along so well with your studies. Calvin did not write whether he went to school or not. dunot think you will graduate this winter. hope he will
has Sid Hall gone back to his Regiment or is he at home this winter? How does Washington Miller get along making shingels? they need watching some I believe they would take the advantage it they got a good chance. you must not let anyone see this perhaps I am wrong but all i Judge from is the capers I have heard them tell of their doing.
Henry K. Brundage Sulvenue Keogan Charles Christian & myself is all that is in this hospital of our company. I believe we are all gaining as fast as can be expected & now Sister we may never meet again here on earth. Will you meet me in heaven Remember life is short death is not far distant at the longest & let us so live that when death Shall come we may be pre pa red to die
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to Harriet N.D from J C DonaldsonDear Sister
56th Regiment, 10th Legion
Apr 24th /62
I received your letter today. I was quite pleased to hear from you. I wrote to Sarah the other day & should have written long before but have had boils so I could not. I had a number under my arms & when one went a way two others came in the place of it. I am quite healthy, now the story is that we are to be disbanded the two cavalry companys we belong now to new york Mounted Rifles we dunot like our new Officers, Colonel Van Wyck has been to see us twice. he sent in a petition to have us mustered out of service. The Major went to Washington three days ago to have the orders countermanded. He is not back yet. He says we shall not go away from here if it cost him one thousand dollars I have a little butter yet you need not send me any at present. We are not in the 56th Regiment. Colonel Van Wyck wants us in his Regiment or else send us home. I think you done verry well making sugar.
Burten & Miller done it up brown making shingels, I think. You wanted me to say what I thought about currying the suit up. I have nothing to say. Tell father to do as he thinks best. Coles Castle is dead. Edward Castle took the corps home. We all put in a dollar apiece to send it home. I should have sent my money home by Castle but I thought it not verry safe. There is going to be a verry bloody battle at Yorktown 24 miles from here. We hear that there is over one hundred thousand troops on each side. Our men is under command of McClellan at Yorktown the 56th is here. I think it will be a week before the battle commenses. Some think it will be the last battle fought if we whip them but I think not. I think it will take Some time to take Yorktown the rebels are fortified there verry strong. If we dunt get disbanded I would try to get a furlough to come & see how things look around home after this battle is fought but I guess I better wait until July & be home in haying Give my love to all who may enquire for me.
Harriet N D Yours affectionately
Write soon J. C. Donaldson
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Sister Hattie Hampton Hospital
May the 4th
I have just received a letter from Pa and Ma. It found me mutch better than I was when I had that letter written that you received the 25th. I am writing this myself & I dunot know as you can read it but you must read what you can and guess at the rest. I will now tell you something concerning Suffolk. The Co I am in was out six days on pick. et between Suffolk & blackwater. we came in on Saturday about one hour. Sun when we came to Suffolk we met Gen Dodge used to be our Col. he told us that the graybacks had captured quite a number of the Penn Cavalry on a road that they was picketing on. He said they were in force coming to attack Suffolk. We came to camp & before we got to camp we could hear the cannons roar which told the foe was night. we went to bed that night got up the morning went and dug rifle pits untill noon. We then went to feed the horses.
We then had orders to saddle & eat our diner get our oats on our saddles & one days ration in our haversacks & be ready in 15 minets to get in the saddle. we then went out on the Eden ton road towards N. C. my Co & Co A. Co A stoped about 3 miles from Suffolk, part of our Co went two miles father & found the rebs pickets fired on them & drove them in to their Artillery & Infantry. we did not see anything of them after that. the next night we came in went to bed. the next morning we went out & sent in the Co that was there. we could see them quite often through the day kept fireing on them & they on us all day. we shot two of their men that we say & they wounded one of ours. his name is Wilson. he died one week after. We had no fireing that night. the next morning before daylight they sent out two more Co of the Mtd Rifles two Howitzers & part of the three Regt of Infantry to find out what force they had on that road. we then advanced. it was not quite daylight we charged on their pickets captured part and drove the rest in to their main body. when we came in sight of that we halted for the Infantry & Artillery to come up. when they came up the 1st platoon of our company was sent out through two large fields. they was a fence between them. We was to skirmish to the woods on the other side of the field to see how many was their. we got within 20 yards of the woods. we saw them. we drawed up our Carbines & fired. It was not quite day- light or we should have seen them before we got so close & just as soon as we fired they fired before we got our pieces from our face. they was two that I fired at. one stood right behind the other. when I fired the first one fell the other one shot me. I think the ball hit on the right of the chin cut the flesh from the bone & went through by shoulder just misses the collar bone & pass through and hit the shoulder blade verry slightly. As soon as we fired they fired I felt something burn my shoulder a little but I was not shure that I was wounded. We wheeled our horses when the man on the left of me fell from his horse. they had shot him through the leg. they took him prisoner. he is not in Petters- burgh. they took his leg off. The other man they took prisoner is now back to Regt. When I wheeled my horse after firing you may bet he run som untill he got back to the Regt. he did not go to the place where we took the fence down when we went. he jumped the first place he came to as nimble as a deer. when I came to rest of Regt. one of the boys asked me if I was wounded. I told him I didnot know I thought I was. I told him to look at my shoulder and see. He rode behind me and he said he did not see any blood but there was a large hole through my overcoat. I then began to feel the blood run. we then went to the ambulance where the doctor was. By that time there was quite a number of the Infantry wounded & I didnot get my wound dressed untill I got to camp. I asked the doctor this morning if I could not go to my Regt. He said he would let me go in 4 or S weeks. My shoulder has done better than any wound in the hospital. tell Dave and Levi Hall. Cull that I will write soon. I have not had any letter from Dave nor any elese in along time but you give me Mr. Wildmans people address
I think Dave directed his letter rong. You said he wrote as soon as you got the letter. JCD
I am glad father is nearly out of debt. My money that he dont want to use he can put out on interest.
You need not send me any box at present. I by my butter here pay 35 cts per pound. What is the price of butter there? I have good care but not as mutch to eat as I would like. My horse is at the hospital. He was wounded.
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Dear Sister Portsmouth July the 24th 1863
I thought I would write you a few lines to let you know that I am well. I have been in the Regt some few days not quite three weeks. To- morrow morning we start on a ten days scout as near as I can learn we are going to make a raid across the Black water towards Petersburgh to scour the country for horses. We are going down towards Washington, N.C. to destroy some Rebble property between there and Petersburgh and burn some railroad bridges. You must write as soon as you get this so the letter will be here. I expected to be home before this. My furlough was made out and sent down to the Post to be signed by Gen Dix about the time he went up the peninsula consequently it didnot get signed. Co D, have been Stationed ten miles east of Norfolk at a place called Keensville. We have a very pleasant place. There was a young lady liveing there, she had a brother in the confederate army. As I passing her house rideing my horse to water she stood by the gate & said good morning. I returned the salute & stoped. She asked me if I was fond of cucumbers & sweet milk. I told he very mutch so she invited me in. I thanked her for the kind invitation & told her that we was under march. ing orders & was going to start for camp at 12 o'clock & I had my things to pack up. She went in & fetch me ten nice cucumbers & a quart q new milk & told me if I saw her brother while scouting not to shoot him. I told I would spare him on her account. She said they took him against his will. He belonged to the 8th Va. She told me to call any time it was convenient. I thanked her & left. The citizens told us we was the most civil & genteel of any soldier had ever been there. Our army has done good execution for the last five or six weeks. If we dunot have any pull back I am in hope the war will soon close. The report here is that England & France is a coming to make war with us. I hopenot but if they want to come let them come. I got one or two letters at the hospital that I did not answer. I expected to come home. Write all the news as soon as you get this. I have not had a letter from Dave in 7 or 8 months. Tell all the rest to write. Give my love to all the family.
P.S. Direct Norfolk 1st NYM Rifles Troop D
I was in the hospital when the boys was paid off last. I am in hope we will soon be paid again.
(I copied the text of this correspondence from pages 25-30 of Brass Buttons and Leather Boots: Sullivan County and the Civil War, published in 1963 by the Sullivan County, N.Y. Historical Society. According to that book, the originals of Donaldson’s letters may be seen in the Sullivan County Museum at Monticello, New York.)
DONOLDSON, J. C.Age, 25 years. Enlisted, September 3, 1861, at Claryville; mustered in as corporal, Co. D, September 18, 1861, to serve three years; reduced, May 19, 1862; wounded in action in Suffolk, Va., April 16, 1863; mustered out, September 16, 1864, at Bermuda Hundred, Va.; also borne as John Donaldson.