George Duncan Wells Letterbook

Manuscript Collection #241
Wells, George Duncan, 1826-1864
Physical description
0.1 Cubic Feet, 1 volume , containing correspondence, reports, photographs, and clippings.
Preferred Citation
George Duncan Wells Letterbook (#241), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Letterbook (1861-1864) consisting of handwritten transcripts of letters.

Biographical/historical information

George Duncan Wells of Massachusetts enlisted in the Union army and was ordered to Boston Harbor on April 29, 1861. Wells was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel Commander of the First Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment on May 25, 1861. He became Colonel Commander of the Thirty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment on July 31, 1862. Wells was wounded and captured at Cedar Creek on October 12, 1864. He died the following day and his body was sent through the lines. In his final promotion he was made Brevet Brigadier General on October 12, 1864.

Scope and arrangement

The letterbook consists of selections of letters written to family and friends from the various camps where he was stationed.

The letterbook consists of selections of letters written to family and friends from the various camps where he was stationed. From Fort Warren, Massachusetts, Wells writes of the camp life and of new recruits. In June, 1861 he was transferred to Camp Bank (near Washington). From this position he comments on the secessionist spirit in Maryland; Confederate forces across the Potomac; camp life; morale of troops; and the 1st Battle of Bull Run, including the role played by the 1st Massachusetts Regiment in that battle.

Wells subsequently moved to Camp Union (near Washington) in August, 1861. From this position he comments on General Joe Hooker, the quality of his regiment, camp life, and war rumors in newspapers.

In September (1861) he describes an expedition through Maryland to suppress secessionist tendencies. From Camp Hooker (October, 1861) Wells comments on the Confederates opposite him, leadership of General Hooker, the effect of the Union blockade and camp life. Wells also was very critical of Confederate artillery fire.

During the spring of 1862, Wells participated in McClellan's Peninsular campaign in Virginia. His correspondence contains comments on McClellan, camp life, encounters with the enemy, living quarters, morale of troops, his role as provost marshall of Williamsburg, troop movements, and his attitude toward blacks.

Wells returned to Washington in August 1862 and remained in the area until July 1863. During this time he was stationed at Worcester, Fort Segan and in the city itself. He comments on General John Pope's abilities, differences in the army under McClellan, his command at Fort Segan, the Confederate cruiser Alabama, Washington defenses, and his appointment to a commission examining prospective black regiments.

Wells was transferred to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, in July 1863, where he remained until May 1864. From this position he describes the Bistoe Campaign of General John Imboden, the capture of Charleston (West Virginia), the Union counterattack, and General William Averell's raid on Lewisburg (Virginia).

In the final phase of his career, Wells served in the field. Wells was near Strasburg in May 1864 and in June he was assigned command of the 1st Massachusetts Brigade which participated in the Battle of Piedmont. Wells was also involved in General David Hunter's raid on Lynchburg. His correspondence describes and comments on these expeditions. Wells was in Martinsburg (Virginia) during General Jubel Early's Washington raid (July 1864) and his letters describe this raid and the Union counter measures.

The final action described in the letterbook was General Philip Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Wells comments on the Battle of Winchester, Battle of Fisher Hill, the part played by his brigade and the upcoming presidential election.

Administrative information
Custodial History

October 11, 1973, 1 volume; Handwritten transcripts of letters (1861-1864) of commander of 34th Massachusetts Infantry. Transferred from J.Y. Joyner Library.

Source of acquisition

Gift of J.Y. Joyner Library

Processing information

Processed by C. Joyner, December 1973

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Key terms
Personal Names
Hooker, Joseph, 1814-1879
McClellan, George B. (George Brinton), 1826-1885
Pope, John, 1822-1892
Wells, George Duncan, 1826-1864
Corporate Names
United States. Army--Military life
Bristoe Station, Battle of, Va., 1863
Bull Run, 1st Battle of, Va., 1861
Peninsular Campaign, 1862
Shenandoah Valley Campaign, 1864 (August-November)
Soldiers--United States--Correspondence
Charleston (W. Va.)--History, Military--19th century
Maryland--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Blockades
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Campaigns
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives
Virginia--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
Washington (D.C.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865