Capt. John Norris Letters

Following his release from Confederate prison in South Carolina in December 1864, Capt. John Norris returned to the army (see biography below). He wrote these letters to William whom he befriended while a prisoner at Camp Asylum.

8 May 1865 Letter
Capt. John Norris to William B. Phillips

Camp 2d Pennsylvania Veteran Artillery
Near Petersburg, Virginia
May 8, 1865

Dear Phillips,

May_1865-1I received a letter from Killow a few days since, at Washington, saying that Rittenhouse, Gant & Co, Bankers, at Washington had received returns from London, and that payment had been stopped on the draft & sent to Columbia for you, and that they have the money to refund to you. You will have to have the receipt I hold and an order from me to enable you to get it. I write to know if I shall send it to you at Hyde Park as I am not positive of your whereabouts. Please write me immediately and I will enclose the papers to you in a registered letter.

I returned to the Regiment on the 23d April and was mustered on my Commission – Captain of old Battery “G” – on the 24th. Everything goes on finely at present. [George W.] Webb returned on Saturday and I suppose will be mustered Captain of “F.” Captain [William S.] Bailey of “F” is now Major. Winzer is Lieutenant Colonel and Captain Schooley is commissioned Major. He arrived yesterday.

May_1865-2There have been a number of promotions recently. The old second is a mammoth Regiment yet, having over 2300 names on the Rolls and from appearances, will have an opportunity to serve some time before being mustered out as it is expected our Brigade is to do Police duty in the five counties hereabout. We have a very nice camp and comfortable tents. I suppose you have heard that our Colonel is now S[amuel] D. Strawbridge.

Write me soon and give me an account of yourself. My wife forwarded me the letter from your friend.

Respectfully your friend, — John Norris

Captain Commanding Battery “G”
2d Pennsylvania Veteran Artillery
1st Brigade Ferrero’s Division

15 September 1865
Capt. John Norris to William B. Phillips


Petersburg, Virginia
September 15, 1865

My Dear Phillips,

Sept.15_1865-1Yours of the 6th instant is received. I was indeed glad to hear from you once more. My wife had been down to make me a visit and on her return to Washington she found your letter. She informed me that she went to the bank to collect the money for you, but as you had made an error in the amount, saying five pounds (the amount being only four pounds I sent you) she could not collect it. If you will write her again stating the amount at four pounds sterling, she can collect it and will send the amount by Draft, which will be the more safe. If you have the receipt which the bank gave me, and which I believe I gave to you, you had better send it to her also. I regret that this delay has occurred in your procuring this money.

Sept.15_1865-2I am pleased to know that you had the pleasure of a visit to your parents. I am surprised that you should have returned so soon. I think you have become thoroughly Americanized. I have had a busy summer of it. I returned to the Regiment the 23d of April. On the 24th was mustered Captain of Battery “G.” In May, was appointed Military Commandant of Prince George County, Assistant Provost Marshall, &c. and issued rations to destitute citizens, white and black. We issued in that County at the rate of one thousand rations per day. I continued there until the middle of July when Battery “G” was ordered to join a portion of the Regiment at Poplar Grove Church. The latter part of July, the Regiment was ordered into the city for duty and I am now appointed Ordinance Officer on the staff of General Hartstaff. General Hartstaff has been relieved and Major General Gibbon is now in command and I continue on his staff.

Sept.15_1865-3Am now on a General Court Martial for a few days. The Regiment has had several moves and is now scattered over the city and a portion is out at Burksville under Lieutenant Colonel Winzer, who is in command of Sub. District of the Roanoke. Colonel [Samuel D.] Strawbridge is stationed in the city in command of Sub. District of the Blackwater. Captain [George W.] Webb is here issuing rations to destitutes. He is in good flesh, weighing near two hundred pounds. I have not time to write more now. Please answer without delay. Remember me kindly to your parents when you write them.

With sincere regards, I remain your friend, — John Norris

My address:

Capt. John Norris
Ordnance Officer
District of the Nattaway
Petersburg, Virginia

Biography of Captain John Norris
by Darrel Salisbury

John Norris was born on March 15, 1837 in Bridgewater, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, the son of John Meredith Norris and Sarah (Fitzrandolph) Norris. His mother died when John was 18 months old. It is probable that his father remarried soon after.

Capt. John Norris

Capt. John Norris

In his diary, John states that he lived in Bridgewater until he was 7 years old (that would have been about March, 1844). He further states that his family moved to a farm four miles northeast of Bridgewater, living there not quite two years. John went to school most of that time. In the fall of 1845, his family moved to a farm on the banks of Lake Barron, five miles northeast of Niles, Berrien County, Michigan. John describes Lake Barron as being about one and one-half miles long and three quarters of a mile wide, with abundant fish of many kinds. John says that his step-mother (Jane Baden) died of consumption (tuberculosis). That was in March of 1849. John was 12 and the family was living on the farm of Dr. Finley on Lake Barron. John ‘s father was very ill at this time and he and his brother, James, put in the crops. He says that he went, more or less, to a country school about two miles from his home.

On February 7, 1852, John went to Niles to learn the printing business with Darius B. Cook, publisher of the Niles Republican newspaper. He served as an apprentice with Mr. Cook until December 15, 1855. He spent most of the winter of 1855-56 at his father’s home which was then one mile west of Niles. His father was absent, having gone to Philadelphia.

On April 7, 1856, John married Emily R. L. Willard, ” Emma”, in Buchanan, about five miles west of Niles. He worked for Mr. Carleton at the Niles Enquirer in the summer and fall of 1856.

In December, 1856, he moved to Elgin, Illinois and formed a partnership with Eliphalet Owen to publish the Elgin Gazette. This partnership was dissolved in June 1857 and on July 3, 1857, John contracted with R. L. & G. B. Mayo and Jacob A. Simons of Sycamore, DeKalb, County, Illinois, to publish the DeKalb County Republican Sentinel. In April, 1859, John purchased the newspaper and renamed it the DeKalb County Sentinel. John ‘s health was not good and his diary indicates that he was not prospering, In April, 1861, he sold the Sentinel and decided to go to Philadelphia. John arrived in Philadelphia on July 7, 1861. His uncle, John M. Stetler, proposed to help John start anew in Philadelphia, but, before this could be done, John was stricken with erysipelas, a painful disease, also known as St. Anthony’s Fire. When John recovered, he decided to enlist in the United States Army.

In October, 1861, authority was granted to Charles Angeroth, of Philadelphia, to recruit a battalion of heavy artillery — soon after extended to a regiment — which was designated the Second Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, One Hundred and Twelfth of the Line. [i.e., the 112th regiment in order of formation] A camp was established at Camden, New Jersey and Regimental Headquarters was established at 506 Vine St. in Philadelphia. The regiment was recruited principally from the Counties of Allegheny, Franklin, Monroe, and the City and County of Philadelphia.

John Norris enlisted on November 16,1861 in Philadelphia for a period of three years and was appointed Quartermaster Sergeant of Battery G. John was 24 married, with 2 sons.

The Regiment was mustered in in January, 1862 and, on January 9, Batteries D, G and H were ordered to Fort Delaware. [Fort Delaware was on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River at the present town of Delaware City, DE] On 25 February, the remaining seven batteries were ordered to Washington, D. C. On Sunday, March 9, before the batteries moved, word was received that the Confederate ironclad, CSS Merrimac, was coming. All guns were loaded and lookouts were posted, but the Merrimac never arrived. On March 19, 1862, the batteries left Fort Delaware at eleven P. M. and arrived at Fort Lincoln, Washington, D. C. on the 21st of March.

John Norris was Quartermaster Sergeant of Battery G, stationed at Fort Lincoln [in the area of the present National Arboretum] when, on September 26, 1862, he was promoted to 2nd Lt in Battery E. His wife, Emily Roxy Levina WILLARD Norris was then a nurse at Cranch Hospital, located at 6th and D and, later, 6th and E Streets, Washington, D. C.

On September 14, 1863, John Norris returned to Battery G, being promoted to 1st Lt. On March 26, 1864, the Regiment was transferred to Fairfax County, Virginia, occupying Fort Ethan Allen and Fort Marcy near the Chain Bridge.

In the Spring of 1864, the Regiment had far more men, 1836, than authorized and, on April 18, 1864, a new regiment, the Second Provisional Heavy Artillery, was formed from the excess, with a cadre of Officers and NCO from the old regiment. John Norris was promoted, on 20 April 1864, Brevet (temporary) Captain, commanding Battery B of the new regiment.

The Regiment was assigned to the Ninth Corps of the Army of the Potomac and participated in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5, 6, & 7, 1864, and marched on Petersburg. It took part in the Battle of Cold Harbor, June 1-3, 1864 and here its history becomes muddled, as its parent organization, the Second Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, had been transferred to the Army of the Potomac, and arriving at Cold Harbor, on June 4, proceeded with that Army, including the Second Provisional Heavy Artillery, to Petersburg. Both units were placed on the right wing, from the Appomattox River to Jerusalem Plank Road.

Although called Heavy Artillery, these units were used as infantry. The Second Provisional made a charge at Petersburg on June 17 and the Second Pennsylvania “Veterans” on June 18. And, when the mine was exploded on 30 July, the Second Provisional Heavy Artillery formed part of the Brigade that led the charge into The Crater and suffered heavy losses in killed. wounded, and captured. John Norris, in his diary, states that he was appointed to lead the 1st Battalion of the 2d Provisional into The Crater.

John Norris was among those captured. He is listed as a prisoner of war from July 30, 1864 to March 25, 1865. He surrendered his sword to Capt. John W. Beaton, Company H, 41st VA Infantry [Part of the Old Dominion Brigade led by General Mahone]. Capt. Beaton presented the sword to Capt. Norris ‘ son, Calvin C. J. Norris on April 15, 1902, as related in a Washington Post article dated April 17, 1902. In the article Capt. Beaton says that he and Capt. Norris were together long enough to become friends before Capt. Norris was sent to a prison camp, though he does not say how long that was. Pension files indicate that he was held at Columbia, South Carolina until December, 1864, but do not say when he arrived there. One source has him at a camp on the grounds of what had been an asylum for the insane. Another source says that he was released from this camp on December 9, 1864, but does not say where he was from December 10, 1864 until March 25, 1865, when he was officially returned to duty. He survived in confederate prison by selling his belongings and bartering for food and a single wool blanket. When he was released, the family claims he weighed a meager 90 pounds.

After being released, he was promoted to Captain on April 24, 1865 and was mustered out with his battery on January 29, 1866 at City Point (Hopewell, Prince George County), VA.

He returned to Washington, D. C., where his wife and sons, John Willard Norris; Calvin Columbus Jackson Norris; and Francis Elias Spinner Norris were living. He returned with them to Sycamore, IL, where they lived until returning to Washington, D. C., in the summer of 1868. John was again involved with the publishing of the True Republican and Sentinel until January, 1868. John Norris died in Washington, D. C. on December 14, 1868 of service related causes.

Emily worked in support of ill, injured, and wounded veterans after the war. She was instrumental in the establishment of the Memorial Day holiday. After John died, Emily married Judge William G. Langford on 01 Jan 1873, in Washington, D. C. Emily died in Walla Walla, WA, on 11 Jun 1880. There were no children born of her marriage to Judge Langford.


7 thoughts on “Capt. John Norris Letters

  1. Interesting story about Capt. John Norris, was he a union soldier?
    My Great Grandfather was a Captain John Norris in the confederate army perhaps in Georgia somewhere. Would like to know more about him . He lost one leg & settled in Fla near the Suwanee River .

  2. Records show that:
    John Norris was married to Hester Ann Murray April 29 ,1869 in Pearsonville Ga.
    But it does not mention his being in the Union Army …

  3. I am also a decendant of your John B. Norris and Hester Norris. My Great Great Grandfather via Hiram Norris. This Capt Norris is the wrong one I believe.

  4. Yes, I suspect you have located the wrong Captain John Norris. I am a direct descendant; he was my Great Great Grandfather and my Great Grandfather was Calvin Columbus Jackson Norris and my grandfather was James C. Norris.

    • Hi James, I’m trying to find descendants of Captain John Norris who know about about the story of the sword or by chance have the sword. I’m a journalist at CBC in New Brunswick Canada.

  5. Pingback: Capt. John Norris Letters – writersarah1

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