Library & Archives
George Henry Mathews (1841-1910)
Letters, 1862 - 1864
Processed by R. B. Rauscher
Edited by Barbara Carver Smith
Monmouth County Historical Association
70 Court Street
Freehold, New Jersey 07728
George Henry Mathews was born 1841 June 4 at "New Prospect," a part of Bennett's Mills, Monmouth County, to Edward and Catherine (nee Miller) Mathews (Today, that area is found on the southern branch of the Metedeconk River in the northeast corner of Jackson Township, Ocean County). He was twenty-one years old when he joined Company E, Twenty-Eighth New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Regiment. This made him three years older than the average Civil War enlistee. When Mathews' enlistment expired, he went west to Ohio in search of work. His stay there was short. He soon returned to New Jersey and married Hannah Francis in Blue Ball (today Adelphia), Howell Township, on August 2, 1866. Working as a carpenter, he spent the rest of his life in the Monmouth-Ocean area. He died on June 18, 1910, in Asbury Park and was survived by his wife, who died in 1922. George and Hannah are buried in the Old First Methodist Church Cemetery in West Long Branch with George's brother Lewis (1844 - 1920).
Mathews' Civil War regiment was one of New Jersey's "nine-month" units raised in mid-1862. That summer, the War Department requisitioned 10,.478 new troops from the state. At that point in the war, volunteer enlistments had already dropped off. The state then faced the bitter and unpopular possibility that it would have to resort to a military draft for the first time. However, the offer of a nine-month enlistment precluded that measure, at least temporarily. Drafted men served a three year term. Therefore, potential draftees saw a nine-month, voluntary enlistment as a welcome alternative. This may well have been the lure for Mathews. Eleven such "nine-month" regiments were easily raised and quickly mustered in before the end of September. Two of these units organized in Freehold: the Twenty-Eighth and Twenty-Ninth Regiments. The Twenty-Eighth drew its 935 volunteers from Camden, Gloucester, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties. Ocean County provided most of the 86 men in Mathew's Company E.
Nine-month regiments typically saw little action. The Twenty-Eighth was one of the exceptions. It participated in two major campaigns during its service with the Army of the Potomac. The campaigns of Fredericksburg, VA and Chancellorsville, VA were large, albeit fruitless, offensives launched by the Union army in December 1862 and May 1863 respectively. The Twenty-Eighth's first engagement was the Battle of Fredericksburg. The regiment was a part of the First Brigade, Third Division, Second Army Corps in that action. It suffered 193 casualties, or nearly twenty-one percent of the men engaged. This was greater than any of the other five regiments in the same brigade. Mathews, however, missed the actual battle. Unable to keep up with the unit, he fell out of the ranks and his report, therefore, was second-hand. His reaction to the defeat and the losses was real, though. His, and the regiment's morale, was obviously at a terrible low in the weeks that followed. Indeed, the same was true for the entire Army of the Potomac. Mathews did see combat at the Battle of Chancellorsville the following spring. Here, the Twenty-Eighth sustained another fifty-nine casualties. Shortly after Chancellorsville, a recapitulation of unit strength showed the regiment had only 409 men under arms, or about forty percent of its original roster nine months earlier.
DESCRIPTION OF COLLECTION
The collection consists of approximately 31 letters and 21 postal covers from George Henry Mathews to his family and a friend in New Jersey. These letters began in September 1862 and continue until November 1864. Mathews wrote most of the letters in this collection during his military service in the Civil War. His letters provide excellent insight to the life of an average infantry soldier recruited from rural New Jersey. His thoughts and concerns were common to those of thousands of his uniformed contemporaries. Food and personal comfort were universal problems for soldiers in the field and Mathews focused on obtaining adequate supplies of both. Also like most others, he worried about disease, criticized his officers, missed his home and family, and anxiously anticipated the expiration of his enlistment. News about other members of this company was another standard part of his letters. any of his comrades were friends and neighbors to the Mathews family before the war. When they became casualties, Mathews faithfully reported on their conditions.
Much of the content might be called routine and ordinary, but not all. Unthinkable violence punctuated long periods of inactivity for the Civil War soldier. Mathews captured the fear in those brutal moments with descriptive accounts. He struggled to comprehend the loss of friends and the uncertainty of his own existence. Profound boredom and depression also frequently crept into Mathews's letters. This was especially true during the winter encampment that followed the Federal defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, VA in December 1862. His personal plight and the suffering of his comrades, combined with strategic setbacks, threw Mathews into a prolonged bout of melancholy. The prospects of a military draft at home further disturbed him. At one point he succumbed to a defeatist attitude and predicted that only a Southern victory would bring peace. Yet, he was always conscious of his commitment. Never did he hint that he would foresake his duties.
Accession Number 1988.13, donated in June 1988 by Mr. DF Matthews (Belmar, NJ) and Mrs. Susan Fischer (Sparta, TN). Mr. Matthews and his daughter Mrs. Fischer were descendants of George H. Mathews (In his letters, George Mathews spelled his surname with one "t". His military records show one as well. However, the inscription on his grave marker is spelled with two; his descendants also spell the name with two.)
Size of Collection: Approx. 51 items
For a more detailed item-level list of this collection, and a summary of the contents of the letters, please see the hard copy finding aid in the library office.
Box # / Folder # / Contents
1 / 1 / Letters and portions of letters, 1862 November - December, n.d. 10 items
1 / 2 / Letters, 1863 January - 1864 November. 21 items
1 / 3 / Miscellaneous items: 20 postal covers; military and pension file papers from the Federal Archives pertaining to Mathews; typescript of 3 of Mathews' letters.
Boatner, Mark M. III. The Civil War Dictionary. New York: David McKay Company, Inc. 1987
Foster, John Y. New Jersey and the Rebellion. Newark: Martin R. Dennis & Co., 1868
Long, E.B. The Civil War Day by Day. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1971
Scott, Robert N., ed. The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Vols. 21 and 25. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1888.
Stryker, William S. Record of Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Civil War 1861 - 1865. Trenton: Murphy Steam Book and Job Printer, 1876
Zinkin, Vivian. Place Names of Ocean County, New Jersey. Toms River, New Jersey: Ocean County Historical Society, 1976
Military and Pension Files of George Henry Mathews, Company E, Twenty-Eighth New Jersey Volunteers, National Archives, Washington, DC
This page last updated 14 July 2008.