November 1864: "The only good we got from the great effort to give every soldier a dinner was a barrel of apples reached the Battery..."

By Joan Fink, Volunteer

Letter from Warren Goodale to his children, 27 November 1864

Letter from Warren Goodale to his children, 27 November 1864

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    On 27 November 1864, sitting in the relative comfort of his winter quarters in Fort Cummings, Virginia, Private Warren Goodale of the 11th Regiment Massachusetts Light Artillery writes to his children describing in great detail his newly constructed winter home and regaling them with tales of how he passed his time and filled his belly on Thanksgiving Day.

    Warren Goodale was born on 2 July 1826 in Marlborough, Massachusetts, the son of David and Millicent Goodale. He attended Williams College, but concerns about his eyesight forced him to leave before receiving his degree. Subsequently, Goodale sailed from Boston to Hawaii where the reputation of his missionary aunt Lucy Goodale Thurston helped to establish him, first as a teacher at Royal School—where he taught the future King Kamehameha IV—and later as Marshall of the Kingdom and then Collector of Customs. Returning to Massachusetts for a brief visit, Goodale married Ellen Whitmore in 1852. The two returned to Hawaii, where they had five children together, Mary, Charles, William, and twins David and Ellen. In February 1862, shortly after the birth of the twins, his wife Ellen died. Goodale returned to Massachusetts where he entrusted his children to the care of his brother David, and enlisted as a private with the 11th Massachusetts Light Artillery. See the online presentation of a photograph of Goodale.

    One of the highlights of the featured letter is Goodale’s detailed description and drawings of his self-constructed winter quarters (pages 1-4). He notes that “the sides and ends are made of split pine logs” with the sides “about 8 feet long and four feet high” and he explains that the “cracks are filled in with clay dug out of the ditch which runs around our fort.” After providing all the specifics, Goodale asks his children to “see if you can tell what it should be called,” either a tent or a house.

    Goodale praises the black regiments who were encamped near the 11th, writing that “the more we saw of the negros, the better we liked them” (page 5) and when the neighboring regiment was ordered to depart Fort Cummings, he states “we were sorry to have them go.” Noting with delight that the evening before they were ordered to leave their encampment, those regiments had received their Thanksgiving gifts as well as several days rations, Goodale relates that he and his friends scavenged through the supplies left after the regiment departed. Goodale writes that he himself secured two bayonets, an English musket, an old coffee pot, two gun barrels, five pairs of old shoes, rice, turnips, soaps, and other personal supplies. Perhaps sensing that his children would question the ethics of this looting, he adds that when his own regiment receives order to leave, all the supplies they cannot carry with them will be ransacked by the other regiments in the camp.

    Goodale also writes of meager offerings on Thanksgiving Day, noting that he and his fellow soldiers received just “two small greenings” (a type of apple) for their Thanksgiving meal. However, he adds that on the following day some small turkeys arrived at the camp and that he received a portion consisting of two pieces of bone, part of a wing, and some sour bread stuffing. On Saturday, two days after Thanksgiving, he was given "three baldwins [apples] and a roll of bread from Boston, Massachusetts."

    A few months after writing this letter, Goodale was commissioned a lieutenant with the 114th United States Colored Infantry. With this regiment he participated in the sieges of Petersburg and Richmond, and was involved in the Appomattox Campaign. After the cessation of hostilities in Virginia, the 114th was dispatched to Texas, where Goodale served until February 1866.

    After leaving the army, Goodale returned to Honolulu, Hawaii where he served as manager of several sugar plantations. He also was appointed as head of the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society and was very active in the Historical Society of Honolulu. Suffering from heart disease, he died suddenly on 22 February 1897 and was buried in Nuuanu Cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii.

    Sources for further reading:

    The MHS holds the Warren Goodale Papers. This collection contains a series of letters serving as a diary written by Goodale to his children and his brother from 30 May 1864 - 27 February 1866. The letters contain information about his training and general camp life with both the 11th Light Artillery and 114th US Colored Infantry.

    Bigelow, Ella A. Historical Reminiscences of the Early Times in Marlborough, Massachusetts, and Prominent Events from 1860 to 1910. Marlborough, Mass.: Times Pub. Co., 1910.