Alexander (William B.) Papers, 1861, 1862, 2 Items

Administrative Information

Access: Unrestricted

Copyright: The copyright of these letters is held by Navarro College Archives, Navarro College, 3200 W. 7th Ave., Corsicana, Texas. Internet:

Cite As:William B. Alexander Letters, 1861, 1862, Pearce Civil War Collection, Navarro College, Corsicana, Texas

Forms Part of: Pearce Civil War Collection

Location: 1-E24-f

Transcription(s): Yes

Scanned Copies on File: No

Accession Number: 2005.056

Processed by: Harriet Burdock, August 2005; Updated, Julie Holcomb, January 2006

Reproductions of original materials and transcriptions may be available. Please contact the archivist for further information.

Abstract: Two letters from William B. Alexander document his Civil War military career. The first letter (April 21, 1861; 4 pages) describes the destruction of the Norfolk, Virginia Navy Yard and the ships that were anchored there. The second letter (March 18, 1862; 4 pages) documents the battle of New Berne, North Carolina.

Biographical/Historical Sketch

William B. Alexander was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, circa 1832. He moved to Boston where he was a carpenter. On April 22, 1861 he enlisted in the infantry and was commissioned a second lieutenant with the 3rd Massachusetts Infantry, Company B. On December 4, 1862 he was promoted to captain and transferred to the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry, Company E. On March 14 he was listed as wounded at New Berne, North Carolina. Nine months later, on December 28, 1862 Alexander resigned from the army. After the war he became a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, Post #76 (Collingwood) in Plymouth, Massachusetts. William B. Alexander died on February 5, 1900.

Scope and Content Note

Union Lieutenant, William B. Alexander’s letter to his wife, Mary, places him at Fort Monroe, Virginia on April 21, 1861. He described the fort: “I should never know that we were in a Fort by the looks inside it is…just like a town with nice walks & trees & flower gardens & houses…” Alexander then told her of the preceding day’s events: “Yesterday was an eventful day…the Sloop of War Pawnse…wanted our regiment to go up to Norfolk to defend the Navy Yard…the commodore…gave orders to sink burn & destroy all the ships & guns & every thing in the yard.” “We have given them the death blow…as they intended to use the ships & guns against us.” “All this was done in the night time…” On the night of April 20 the Federal Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk, Virginia, was evacuated and partially burned. Commandant Charles S. McCauley had decided that the facility was threatened with capture. His decision was later censured by Federal authorities.

In the remainder of his letter, Alexander turned his attention to his wife, telling her not to worry about him: “Don’t give your self any uneasiness about me…take good care of your self & my dear little Ida…” He expressed his love for her and his devotion to the cause for which he was fighting: “you know that I shall always love you where ever I am…& I hope you will attach any blame to myself for coming as it was my duty to defend the honor of my country.”

Alexander’s second letter (March 18, 1862; 4 pages) to Mary describes the fighting at New Berne, North Carolina. “It was the most terrifick fire ever known, the grape shot & cannon balls cut down trees as big as my body. Our regt immediately dropped down on their hands & knees & crawled up to were the trees were cut down, & got behind the trees, & commenced to fire at them. The smoke laid so low that it was almost impossible to see.” In his letter Alexander described the wound he received: “. . . a shell just h it my little finer of my left hand & passed so near my arm that it knocked me over, & lamed my arm that I cant use it much, but did not hit me. It was the wind of the shot & not the shot itself which hurt me.”