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The letter of Private Bernard Sullivan

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On May 18, 1863, Bernard Sullivan, a private serving in Company I of the 9th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, wrote to Bishop John Bernard Fitzpatrick of Boston.

Sullivan was a 24 year old baker and resident of Charlestown who enlisted for three years of service shortly after the war broke out, on June 11, 1861. The regiment was raised by Thomas Cass, former commander of the Columbian Artillery, a state militia unit comprised entirely of men born in Ireland.

The regiment assembled at Camp Wightman on Long Island in Boston Harbor, and departed for Washington D.C. on June 25, 1861. While there, the regiment worked on the defenses of the city, building that they named Fort Cass, in honor of their commander, and serving in a brigade commanded by Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman.

The unit first saw battle in the Peninsular Campaign, taking part in fighting at Hanover Court House, Mechanicsville, Gaines' Mill, and Malvern Hill. In the last two battles alone the regiment suffered 111 casualties, including Cass, who was mortally wounded and died in Boston 11 days later.

The regiment was present at several major battles but, due to its depleted strength, acted only as a reserve unit, seeing few casualties. The list of engagements includes the Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. It was not until nearly three years later, in May 1864, that they again saw heavy fighting during the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse, resulting in 78 men killed or mortally wounded.

In his letter, Sullivan notifies Bishop Fitzpatrick that he has sent him $100 to deposit in a bank until he returns home. He explains that there, "being so much deception in sending money I knowed no way so sure as to send it to Your Reverence."

What the letter does not reveal are specific details about Sullivan's experiences in the army, but he does allude to what he has witnessed and how it has affected him. The final paragraph begins "Rev. Sir you must excuse me if I don't say anything about the war for I am sick of the way things are going on. Changing generals and slautering (sic.) men is all I can see and nothing for it. He continues "it is a sad war ... May God in his mercy soon grant that it may be settled."

The regiment's three years of service ended in June 1864, shortly after the Battle at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Sullivan survived, returning to Boston with the regiment on June 15, 1864. He was mustered out of service six days later.

THOMAS LESTER IS THE ARCHIVIST OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.

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