George Driver was a Union soldier from Danvers, Massachusetts, serving as a commissary sergeant aboard the schooner
Highlander from December 1861 to March 1862. His Civil War naval activities began in Annapolis, Maryland, at Camp J. A. Andrew, and continued aboard the schooner
Highlander in the Pamlico Sound. The Massachusetts regiment of which he was a member, Company F of the 23rd Regiment, was part of a brigade commanded by General John Gray Foster, and the Floating Coast Division Fleet commanded by General Ambrose Everett Burnside. After March 1862, Driver was apparently on detached duty in Massachusetts due to illness according to a letter from a friend (January 1863).
This collection consists of correspondence between Driver and his family and friends. Letters from mid-December 1861 originate from Camp J. A. Andrew in Annapolis, Md. For the next month he remained in Annapolis aboard the schooner
Highlander. By 14 January 1862, the schooner was in North Carolina waters where Driver remained until his detached duty.
In correspondence concerning Annapolis, Driver describes battle drills (17 December 1861), target shooting (undated), seeing General Burnside (undated), the personalities of his tentmates from Co. F and their names (20 December 1861), being reviewed by Brigadier General Foster and the Maryland legislature (19 December 1861), the makeup of his brigade (19 December 1861), and the ships and boats in his vicinity at Annapolis (30 December 1861).
After going aboard the
Highlander, he writes about his berth (5 January 1862), the ship (2 January 1862), his duties as commissary sergeant (2, 5 January 1862), how he spent the Sabbath (5 January, 1 February 1862), the rescue in Hatteras Inlet of a shipwrecked crew containing members of the 9th New Jersey Regiment (15, 17 January 1862), episodes of measles (4 March 1862) and seasickness (14 January 1862), the
Zouave striking a sunken vessel and sinking in Hatteras Inlet (15 January 1862), the
Highlander being towed by the steamer
Hussar prior to their arrival at Hatteras Inlet (17 January 1862), the difficulty of maneuvering around sandbars in Hatteras Inlet (January 1862), and the importance of cutting the railroads supplying the Confederate army.
In February 1862 letters he discusses the attack on Roanoke Island at which he was present. His letters give some elucidation of Union naval battle tactics and list the other ships in the first brigade. He describes the gathering of the three Union brigades before the attack on Roanoke Island, the beginning of the battle including heavy involvement of Union gunboats, the guns used and uniforms worn by the Confederate soldiers, the falling of the Confederate forts and battery, and the taking of large numbers of prisoners. Driver repeats a rumor that Confederate General Henry A. Wise left the area before the battle, retiring to the Dismal Swamp, and also mentions that Wise's son had been captured and had died of his wounds (16 February 1862). After the battle, Driver noted that several citizens from the mainland came to claim U.S. protection and described the people of North Carolina "as union at heart" (16 February). In the same letter he speculates that the next targets of attack would be New Bern, Goldsboro, and Raleigh. In a 17 February letter he notes the necessity of boarding the schooner
Cordelia Newkirk in order to gather provisions, some North Carolina men taking the oath of allegiance to the Union, the exchange of prisoners, and a near collision of the
Hussar and the
Highlander while running aground in the channel.
In his last letter (15 March 1862), Driver describes the battle that took place at various batteries along the Neuse River near New Bern, tells of those wounded and killed in the 23rd Regiment and Company F, and mentions the burning of the City Hotel (15 March 1862). The remaining letters are from Driver's brother Stephen and friends.
Writing from New Bern (June–December 1862) Stephen Driver, also with Burnside's fleet, expresses his desire for a substitute or leave (7 September), comments on a rebel guerilla raid at Washington, N.C. (7 September), expresses his displeasure with his position and desire for a promotion (14 December), and discusses the sniper attacks on Posts 3 and 5 at New Bern. He reports that one sentinel was shot and that the culprits were captured; and, in retaliation, the Union soldiers destroyed furniture, gates, posts, fences, trees, and houses in the area (26 July). John P. Tilton of the 23rd Massachusetts Regiment informed Driver of recent engagements in Kingston (Kinston), Whitehall (Seven Springs), and Everettsville (South Goldsboro), N.C., under the command of Burnside (25 December). Tilton fought at Kingston and Whitehall (where he notes the number of killed and wounded) and gives a list of the men in his tent at Camp Pendleton in New Bern (25 December). Tilton also writes (25 Dece,ber) of how discouraged the soldiers are with the war progress, details regimental promotions (27 July), and discusses further the sniper attack about which Stephen Driver had written (27 July). A final letter from a friend written on board the steamer
United States in Beaufort Harbor surmises that the ship would probably go on to Charleston, S.C. (29 January 1863).
Other topics of interest discussed throughout the correspondence are religion (1, 17 February 1862); the use of alcohol by the troops (31 December 1861); gambling (14 January 1862) and swearing (20 December 1861; 17 February 1862) by the troops; Negroes traveling from camp to camp in Annapolis working as hucksters (17 December 1861); reopening of the Catholic Church in New Bern because General Foster's wife (a devout Roman Catholic) had taken up residence (27 July 1862); and a stated preference for Beaufort, N.C., over New Bern (25 July 1862).