These letters were written by Stephen F. Down (1839-1864), the son of Stephen Down (1808-18xx) and Lydia G. Hill (1799-1874) of Milton, Strafford county, New Hampshire. Stephen was born in Lebanon, York county, Maine, but came to Milton, New Hampshire, as an infant with his parents and four siblings about 1840. A sixth child, Lydia E. Downs (1841-1878), the youngest, was born in Milton.
During the American Civil War, Stephen F. Downs was one of the first to answer his country’s call for troops. He enlisted as a private at the age of 22 in Co. K, 3rd New Hampshire Infantry. He remained with the regiment until his death on 16 May 1864 at Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia.
The following describes the history of the regiment:
September 14, 1861, the regiment was ordered post-haste to Washington, and arrived there the 16th, going into camp east of the Capitol near the almshouse and jail. There the regiment stayed and drilled till early in October, when it was ordered to Annapolis, Md., where it and other regiments were to embark on their perilous errand. About the middle of October the embarkation took place, and the fleet concentrated at Fortress Monroe, from which place the final start was made the 29th of October. Gen. Thomas W. Sherman, commanding the expedition, was quartered upon the steamer “Atlantic” with the Third New Hampshire. In sailing, the “Atlantic” was given the post of honor, following the stately “Wabash.” After the taking of Port Royal, S. C. (November 7), the regiment landed and remained on the island of Hilton Head till April, 1862.
Early in April, 1862, the regiment was ordered to Edisto Island. The headquarters were established in the west central part of the island at Dr. Mitchell’s plantation. Some of the companies were detached for plantations nearby. During April, 1862, several reconnaissances were made to Jehossee Island. Early in June the regiment was ordered to James Island. It reached there only to find that the place was very near Charleston and was well guarded. Here the regiment had its first baptism in blood, 16th of June, 1862, Secessionville. Loss 105, killed, wounded, and missing. James Island was evacuated about the 1st of July, 1862, the regiment returning to Hilton Head, encamping in rear of the General Hospital. But a few days elapsed were the regiment was almost wholly ordered to various outposts, and continued in that duty till the capture of Company H, August 21, 1862, when the companies were all ordered to reunite at Hilton Head.
The next move of importance was the attempt to burn a bridge at Pocotaligo (C.& S. R.R., October 22, 1862. The regiment participated—wounded 3. Early in January, 1863, a large detachment was sent to Florida to assist in capturing a large lot of lumber; expedition failed; wounded, 3. During February, 1863, the regiment again divided, six companies going to Pinckney Island; two remained in camp; one on provost guard; and the other on Hilton Head, but near the six companies. Early in April, 1863, started again for Charleston, but only to lie at anchor in Stono Inlet, while the naval engagement of April 7, 1863, was enacted. Shortly after, returned to Hilton Head again, but not to stay. Embarked again in April, 1863, and finally landed (eight companies) at Botany Bay Island, S.C. Companies E and I were landed at Bay Point, where they remained till early in June, when all concentrated at St.Helena Island. There the troops were organized and drilled for another onward movement. The lower end of Morris Island was taken early July 10, I863, the Third New Hampshire participating. The regiment also was support next morning for an unsuccessful charge on Wagner. The duties on Morris Island were very heavy, and from the day of landing there until the 28th of February, 1864, when the regiment left, there was an almost unceasing demand for the various kinds of duty.
In the charge on Fort Wagner, July 18, 1863, the regiment lost heavily. Its duties during the siege of Wagner—ending September 7, 1863— were extremely severe, but somewhat lighter after that date. Shortly after the evacuation of Wagner, the regiment was ordered upon provost duty, as a respite from excessive duty in the trenches. Several of the regiment were recipients of the Gillmore medals, bestowed by General Gillmore for good conduct during the siege. These medals were of bronze and bore upon one side a representation of Sumter in ruins, while the other bore a facsimile of the General’s official signature. The medal proper was attached to a bar, upon the face of which was engraver the name, rank, company, and regiment of the recipient.
February 29, 1864, the regiment was ordered to Hilton Head to be mounted, and received its horses within a few days thereafter. Meantime large numbers of the men had re-enlisted, and those went on their furloughs in a body, early in March, 1864 accompanied by eight officers. The regiment was then mounted, and was designated “Third New Hampshire Mounted Infantry.” They were ordered to Florida early in April’ 1864. Encamped near Jacksonville. Soon after, four companies were sent up to Palatka, and returned therefrom in about a week. In the latter part of April 1864, orders were received to dismount the regiment and prepare to go to Virginia.
The regiment reached Virginia prior to the first of May, 1864, then began the Virginia campaign, and the regiment had its full share in nearly every engagement of that period. At Drewry’s Bluff; May 13, 14, 15, and 16, 1864, the regiment suffered heavy losses in both officers and men.