Samuel Mathews was born in 1827 in Ontario County, New York, probably the son of John (b. 1799).
New Jersey native John took his fmaily and left New York and eventually settled in Michigan. By 1850 Samuel and his father were working as farmers and living with the Tunis Taylor family in Wheatfield, Ingham County. By 1860 Samuel was working as a thresher and boaridng with the Tunis Taylor family in Wheatfield.
He stood 6’0” with blue eyes, auburn hair and a light complexion and was a 31-year-old thresher in Ingham County, probably from the Wheatfield area, when he enlisted in Company G on May 10, 1861.
On May 29, 1861, he wrote home from Grand Rapids that he was “not very well at present; it has been very unpleasant weather since I have been here. I took a very heavy cold when I first came here [and] have had diarrhea since I have been here but I am better now. I like the soldier's life so far very well. . . . We have not got our military clothes yet but we expect them soon; they are at the [Grand] Rapids and they will be in camp [?] today or tomorrow. We do not know when we shall leave here or when we shall go, but I think we shall go to Detroit at Fort Wayne. Last Sunday we went down to the River to go in swimming and one man got drowned, by the name of James Hammond. He was from St. Johns. He was in the river forty minutes but he could not be brought to life again.”
On June 13, the Regiment departed from Grand Rapids for Washington, DC, the “seat of war.” “We was called to march sooner than we expected to,” wrote Mathews on June 18, 1861, from Washington, DC.
We left Grand Rapids the 13th and got to Washington the 16th. We had a good time and a long ride eight hundred miles. We went through Baltimore about seven o'clock; all was quiet. We was all armed and our guns loaded [as] we expected an attack. We are encamped on the heights in the District of Columbia close to Virginia. There is someone killed almost every night. Our guard shot at a man last night but did not hit him. It seems as if it is quite danger[ous] place here. Everyone has to look out for himself. We are not allowed to go out of camp unless he is a guard. Last night there was a traitor taken last night in woman's dress. He had a buggy and a bushel of caps for guns. We hear that there was a battle at Alexandria yesterday; that is thirteen miles from us. I like it here the best of any country I was in. It is some warmer here but the night is cool. Water is not very good; it seems to be soft and warm. The crops is better in Michigan than Ohio or Pennsylvania. But some parts of Maryland can't be beat. We came through the Allegheny mountains. We went through tunnels through the mountains for half mile that was dark as night. We have to sleep on our arms nights for the enemy is watching us.
From Arlington Heights he wrote to his sister on July 24, 1861, “that we had a little brush with the rebels and was preparing for another battle it took place on Sunday last. It was a bloody battle as was ever fought in America. It lasted ten hours and part of the time at Bayonet charge. The enemy was stronger than we expected and was strongly fortified so we was driven back. We retreated back to Arlington heights, that is on the other side of the [Potomac] River from Washington. There must have been ten thousand killed on the battle field, of friends and enemies all mingled together. The rebels has got my coat and knapsack and blanket and Bible; I hope they will read it and the may they get them from me. My officer commanded us to take them and pile them up when we was preparing for battle. The president visited our camp and Wm. H. Seward yesterday. We have had plenty of rain here most of the time.”
By early October Samuel was sick with the “fever.” He wrote to his brother and sister on October 2, 1861, from Fort Richardson near Alexandria, Virginia, “to let you know I am sick. I have had the fever but it is broke; but I have no appetite so I gain no strength. I am now in [an] old house close to our camp but we shall have to leave have it soon for an order has come for us to move, but I do not no where.” He closed by saying that “The enemy has left Munson's Hill and fell back to Bull Run or near it.”
From Fort Lyon -- another link in the new chain of defenses around Washington, DC -- he wrote to his brother and sister on October 29, 1861, informing them that “My health is returning to me and I am glad of it for I have seen some hard times on account of my health being poor. I hope these few lines may find you all well and George making heaps. I received your letter bearing date the 16 and was glad to hear from you. I have nothing new to write to you this time. We are encamped in sight of Alexandria, south west of the city some two miles over looking the city. It is all quiet around Washington now the rebels has fell back we do not apprehend any battle here. Some think we shall soon advance and give them a brush. The rebels has blockaded the river below us not over 18 miles from our camp; we can hear their cannon when they fire into our vessels. It is very cool hear now we have fire in our tent which makes it very comfortable more for me. We have plenty to eat. It consists of bakers bread and pork and beef, pies and beans and potatoes tea and coffee.”
By late fall Samuel was employed as a company cook. On November 28, 1861, he wrote his brother and sister from Fort Lyon, “We do not [know] where we shall winter; some think we shall winter here. We shall know soon. I think the war will be over by Spring. I do not care how soon. [The] rebels are deserting continually [and] the rebel army is dwindling away. We had a oyster dinner today. They are pleasing here. It would surprise you to be in our camp one day to see the [people] both black and white, old and young, men and women, and it is the reward of slavery. You have heard the reports in Michigan, but the half was not told. I never knew there was a race of beings in America so wretched as the poor people are down here. They are despised more than the black man; they are trampled under foot by both master and slave. I have never seen but one schoolhouse in this State. The slaves are running away by numbers. I do not no how much tea is a pound. I am cooking for the Company men.”
On January 3, 1862, he wrote to his “dear friends in Michigan,” “I suppose you are anxious to hear from me. I have neglected to answer your letter I have been so busy. I am cooking yet and it occupies all my time. My family is so large: 84 men. We have moved since I wrote to you. We has abandoned in Virginia three miles from Fort Lyon. I am well yet and hope these few lines may find you enjoying the same. . . . The weather is pleasant here. So far we had but one flurry of snow and that was not enough to track a man. . . . I am well satisfied with a soldier's life. We are quite comfortable now in our new camp we have built log huts and enjoy ourselves [in] various ways: some singing, some playing cards, some getting drunk.”
Three weeks later he wrote his brother and sister from Camp Michigan on January 20, 1862, “I went to Alexandria and got my likeness taken; it is not very good but Mathews' head looks natural. We have got our pay money I is flush at present. It is very muddy here and warm. It is muddier here than I ever saw it in Michigan. They have to go the under road [?]. Here has come new guns for the Regiment, they are rifles. I think the war will close in a few months. You may look for me home next fall. Last Tuesday I had the sick headache and I have it very hard.”
On February 5, 1862, Samuel wrote from Camp Michigan that “Our Regiment has been on picket duty on the last four days and . . . had one skirmish with the Rebels killed several of them without receiving any loss. I was not in the fray but heard it and started for the scene but the fun was over before I could reach the scene of action. Our men retreated; there was but seventy-one of our men and the rebels had some five hundred. You spoke of England interfering with us in our present troubles but there is no danger. They dare not interfere as far as I am concerned. I had just as leave they would pitch in as not.” Although “It is very muddy here. It is pleasant today.”
From Yorktown Samuel wrote his brother and sister in March of 1862,
I suppose you began to think I am dead, but you are mistaken. I am still alive and well and hope these few lines may find you the same and all the friends in Wheatfield. I received you letter after we left Camp Michigan and deferred answering it until the battle of Yorktown which I thought would be fought before now, but it is not. There is skirmishes most every day and I came very near being killed in one of them by a cannon ball, and dropping down the ball passed over me. We are making fortifications here day and night. We have lost two of [the] company by death since we left Washington. They are the first since we left Michigan. One was buried yesterday. We got our pay yesterday and I would like to send it home if it could be disposed of to pay off Boswell and Byers would give 15%. I would let them have some. We are encamped in the woods and there is not much else but woods here. . . . We think the fighting is most over if there is a battle at this place it will be a big one. It is rainy today. Peach trees in bloom in March here. This is the place Cornwallis gave up his sword to Washington.”
Soon after, Samuel wrote from Camp Michigan that he was enjoying good health. “We have been under marching orders for two months and the whole army has advanced but our division and that is left behind and what they are a going to do with us. The Rebels has left in front of our lines. . . . There is good news from all parts of the armies. We think the war will end soon. I am chosen pioneer again this spring. . . . Our Regiment is healthy at present. I have not shaved for six months so you can know what ails my likeness. I like the soldier's life and I have thought I should enlist in the regular service. I like to live with Uncle Sam. You say the girls will all be married off before I get back. That news does not alarm me for if I make up my mind to marry I will have someone if I have to take someone's wife.”
Samuel was probably detached as a pioneer, along with Riley Kent and Ed. Marsh, all of Company G, sometime in early spring, but by September he was working as a company cook. On December 27, 1862, he wrote his brother and sister “Today is fine, the Winter is pleasant so far. Polk Pollock slinked out of the ranks when we filed in to line of Battle and run to the rear and we have not [heard] from him since. I do not think he will stop until he gets to Michigan so you may look for him soon.”
On April 7, 1863, he wrote his brother and sister from Camp Fairbanks. “We moved some four miles and have been busy for several days fixing our camp and our quarters. We have received orders to fix up for Summer. We think we shall stay here for several months. I hope we shall, the longer the better. I have seen active service enough but I think I can stand some more yet. My health is good except a bad cold. It has been unpleasant weather here all through March. We had a quite a snow storm [on] April 5th, . . . It put me in mind of old Michigan. . . . There is no prospects of the war closing as I can see yet unless the Rebels is getting short of something to eat. The health of the Regiment is good. I have heard the 26th Regiment was coming in our Brigade. I hope they will.”
On October 1, 1863, Samuel wrote from camp near Culpeper, Virginia, “Well you can see I am in old Virginia again. We have been back two weeks. We had a good time in New York. We went up north [on the Hudson] River to Troy. I did not see Henry. I could not find him. . . . We have had eight days rations on hand for several days and we expect to advance soon or retreat. I hope we shall do neither. We are encamped three miles from Culpeper. If you want to use some money use what you please, if there is enough there. If not let me know and how much you want and I will send end it within two months. I have thought I would reenlist in the Veteran Corps. Perhaps you would rather I should not. I have 8 months & ten days yet to serve on my old enlistment. I had a close call yesterday a bullet just missed. I do not no whether it was meant for me or not. I had been to the spring after water. The bushwhackers is plenty here; we have to keep close to camp. There has been several of our men shot at here.”
Samuel reenlisted on December 24, 1863, crediting Grass Lake, Jackson County, although apparently Mathews originally wanted to credit his reenlistment to Wheatfield, Ingham County. “To his brother-in-law Tunis Taylor,” wrote Madison Kuhn, “in the home community of Wheatfield, near Lansing, Mathews wrote asking him to invest $100 in a mortgage on land at 20 percent and was incensed when prospective borrowers suggested 10 percent. Upon reenlisting in 1863, Mathews offered his enlistment to Wheatfield Township if it would pay a bounty of $100. But Wheatfield's current quota had been filled, the use of the draft for a time avoided, and the enlistment went uncredited and unbountied.” He presumably returned to his family home in Wheatfield on veteran’s furlough in January of 1864 and probably returned to the Regiment on or about the first of February.
Samuel was reported on detached service in April of 1864, and on April 20, 1864, he wrote from a camp near Brandy Station, that his “health is good at present.” On May 19, 1864, from a camp in the field he wrote that he letter was cut short (he finished it the following day) as “the rebels made a raid on our [wagon] train and we had to go. We was gone all night and have just got back. I am tired and when I get time I will write more. We have had no rest for 16 days & nights. I have not been hit with a bullet on this campaign. Charles Church is dead and many more of our brave boys have fallen. On the 5th of this month my right & left handed men fell. I began to think it would be my turn next.”
Samuel was transferred to Company F, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864, and from the field he wrote on June 11, 1864 “We are 10 miles from Richmond. We have fought all the way from the Rapidan [river] to this place. Our company has lost 6 killed in this campaign & 7 wounded. We have had a hard campaign. We have marched and fought night & day for 1 month. Today it quiet. The rebels is quiet when we let them alone. There was an attack last night on our left but I have not hear[d] the result yet.”
On June 22, 1864, Samuel was taken prisoner near Fredericksburg, Virginia, confined briefly in Andersonville prison and subsequently transferred to the prison at Columbia, South Carolina. Although reported to have been returned to Union forces on April 26, 1865, at Burkville, Virginia, in fact he died on January 10, 1865, in the Columbia “from barbarous treatment in rebel prison.”
He was presumably buried in Columbia.
No pension seems to be available.