Chancy Smith was born in 1842 in New York, the son of John M. (1814-1875) and Mary A. (b. 1815)
New York natives John and Mary were married, probably in New York, sometime before 1837. In any case, his family moved from New York to Canada sometime between 1842 and 1844, then on to Michigan between 1844 and 1846. By 1850 Chancy, or Chauncey as he was also known,was living with his family and attending school with his siblings in Alpine, Kent County, and by 1860 Chauncey was a shingle-maker living with his family in Algoma, Kent County, where his father worked as a farmer.
He stood 5’8” with light eyes and hair and a sandy complexion and was 21 years old and may have been living in Alpine, Algoma or Grand Rapids when he enlisted in Company F on May 13, 1861.
On May 8, 1862, while the regiment was bivouacked at “Camp Williamsburg, Virginia, Chauncey wrote home to let his family know that
I received your letters yesterday. I am yet well, and able to carry my rifle and I hope this will find all of you able enough for that. I must tell you about the great battle we have had. The rebels evacuated Yorktown after we shelled them 30 days [?] and our men went in and took possession of the town, and the rebs on the retreat and we after them. They fell back to Williamsburg and made a stand. We advanced on them and attacked them. The battleground was right in the woods. The fight lasted all day and at night the rebs run and left everything: their cannon and ammunition [and] baggage wagons and everything. We drove them before night and took some of their forts [posts?]. And as soon as we found out they had left our cavalry[went] after them and the cavalrymen sent in a dispatch that they had taken more prisoners than they knew what to do with. We have got their army in Virginia all surrounded. The prisoners that we took say their general told them that if they lost this battle they could go home. And the rebel soldiers threw away their guns and everything and runs for the woods. That is all I have to tell you about the business this time, only the war can’t possibly last much longer. Our regt. Wasn’t in the fight. We went to support a battery, the Mich 5th and 2nd was in and they lost a good many but my Brigade saved the day and won the battle. There is 4 regts in a Brigade. We have to carry the rebels’ dead and have all of their wounded to take care of. We have nineteen hundred of their wounded and have been burying their dead now for two days and the dead rebs lay all through the wood. We are now camped on the battle[field] and expect to march every day.
I have not much time to write just now and so you must excuse me for not writing more. Our regiment was paid off about a week ago and I was waiting for your letter so to send you a little money. I can’t send you much for I owed so much before we got our pay to the other boys. I thought I would send you $5. Write soon please, Chancy Smith
On June 18, 1862, Chauncey wrote home to say that “I received your letter today of the 23rd May and was more than glad to hear from you. I am perfectly well and in good spirits and feel perfectly confident that I shall see you all again in a short time or in a month or two I think. I hope this will you all well.” He went on to say “Pap that I sent you $5 the other time. I thought it no more than fair to send Mama $5 so one won’t get jealous of the other. When you get this let it convince you that I am well and all right.”
On September 18, 1862, Chauncey wrote home to his mother.
This day I received your kind message of the 11th and was glad to hear from you. I am well, no complaints whatever and if there were I should let you know the first thing that I done. If you have not received any letters from me it is not my fault for I have answered every letter that I have received. The letters with the hooks and lines, and almanac in I received some time ago and I answered them both. I got them both at once. The reason I did was because that we did not get any mail all the time we was on this last campaign, and when we got back to Washington, then we got mail again.
You must not get uneasy about me nor any such thing, for that won’t do any good no way. Don’t you see our men has been snatching the rebels from ___ lately. We have killed and wounded over forty thousand of them in the last two weeks, and have taken a great many prisoners, and 100 wagon-loads of ammunition.
We haven’t got any pay yet; hain’t been paid off since the battle of Fair Oaks, and we expect to get our pay everyday, and when we do you will get ($32). When we was laying siege to Yorktown they brought an enlistment record for the boys to sign, so if they got killed that their money would go home, and they owe us 4 months pay and that makes ($32) thirty-two dollars. Don’t you see now if you get it I want you to keep it, unless you want to use it freely. But I have got 4 or 5 letters now on the road to you. You will probably get them before you do this or I would write more. I have wrote all that I can think of.
So no more this time. Good bye. This from an old veteran to his mother. C. Smith
Chauncey continued to send money home to his family. On January 30, 1863, he wrote to “Friends and fellow-citizens, As I have just received my pay once more of Uncle Sam, I thought I would write you a few lines and send you a few dimes but not quite so much as I thought I should. We only got 2 months pay, but expect the other 2 months in a few days and then I shall send you some more. I have [?] only ten [dollars?] this time to spare you Pap, and two to Mom. Write as soon as you get it, so that I will know it went all right. I am well and hope this will find you all the same. C. Smith.
On April 15, 1863, Chauncey wrote home to his family, first to his “Marm” and second to a younger brother (?).
I received your letter of the 5th and it found me miserable smart and I hope these few lines will find you and all the rest the same. I haven’t any news for you this time only we have marching orders and I suppose by the next time I write I will have some interesting news for you. I hope so anyhow. We have just got our pay and I inclose $20.00 for you expressly and if you can’t go get that headache cured I want you should do it. I would try it and see if that doctor can do any good.
I think you had better try and clear off some this spring if you can. Tell me next time you write if you have made any improvements on the place since I came away, if you have clear any I mean. I believe I have write all the particulars for this time. Write as soon as you get this so I will know whether you got it or not. Very respectfully yours Chancey Smith, Soldier
Johney Sir [?]
I thought ___ maybe as you would get short of tobacco some time on your courting expeditions and so I send you a dollar and so I send mary a dollar for fear she might get out of snuff. Goodbye for this time. Soldier Smith
He was reported missing in action on May 3, 1863, at Chancellorsville, Virginia, and in fact according to the War Department he was taken prisoner on May 2 at Chancellorsville and subsequently paroled at City Point, Virginia, on May 15, 1863. He was sent to Camp Parole, Maryland, and returned to the Regiment on October 8, and reenlisted on December 24, 1863, at Brandy Station, Virginia, crediting Vergennes, Kent County.
On Christmas day, 1863, Chauncey wrote to his “Dear Mother.”
I am under the painful necessity of writing you a few lines just to let you know that I am well and tough, hoping that this may find you the same or better. It is Christmas here. I don’t know what it is there but I hope something good. I should like to know what the reason is that some of you don’t write. I wrote a lot four weeks ago and I haven’t heard from you since. I should like to know what the matter is. When I wrote last I sent you twenty-five dollars or sent home twenty-five: fifteen to you and ten to Marm. We had had two fights since I wrote last, and have been waiting for an answer from my letter. The reason that I did not write, you need not write again until I do for the Regiment is coming home and I expect to go into some other Regt.
Give my respects to all inquiring friends and I will write as soon as I can. Yours truly, Chauncey Smith.
He was presumably absent on veteran’s furlough in January of 1864 and probably returned to the Regiment on or about the first of February.
Chauncey was severely wounded in the right leg in early May of 1864 and was probably absent wounded when he was transferred to Company F, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864.
On August 7, 1864, Chauncey wrote home to his “Mom.”
Your welcomed but displeasing letter of July the 23rd finds me all right, well and tough as an ox. I hope this may find you well also. I think I beg to differ with you on this westering [?] business for I will pledge you my word and honor that is if I have any honor that I have promptly answered every letter that I ever received from you. Therefore I wish to beg you a pardon for I don’t carry the mail and if you don’t get my letters you musn’t blame me for it but if I was the one to bring letters to you I am sure you would get every one.
I think you broke out on me almost too rash. It has not been much over two weeks since I wrote to you. Perhaps you think I like to receive such letters as this from you. But I will inform you that such as this is not in any way pleasing or gratifying to me at all. I will send you back a few words of your letter and if you think it is all right very well. I hope I shan’t get any more such letters as that, for if I do I shan’t know how to go to work to answer the, I don’t know as you have ever gave me any cause for not writing before, but I shan’t know how to answer the next letter like this one enclosed. Write as often as you want to hear from me, and I will answer your letters the [same] as I have done heretofore. Very truly yours, My mother, Chauncey Smith
PS I enclose $10.00 for which you will use for your own special benefit. Tell Gurden [?] if he wants me to name his boy that all I can think of is Byron Vernon. B. V. Smith [?] looks good.
He apparently returned to duty and was wounded severely and taken prisoner on October 27 at Boydton Plank road, near Petersburg, Virginia. He was first confined at Richmond, Virginia on October 28, and then on November 4 was sent to Salisbury, North Carolina, where he was admitted to the prison hospital on December 9, released on December 12 and readmitted on December 23.
He died of pneumonia on December 24 or 25, 1864, presumably in the prison hospital, and was buried in Salisbury National Cemetery: no. 2941.
On March 25, 1865, Lieutenant E. P. Davidson, who had served in the Third Michigan and subsequently in the Fifth Michigan infantry as well, was at his home in Nunica, Ottawa County, Michigan when he wrote to Chauncey’s mother to inform them of his death. (It is quite possible that before he died Chauncey had asked Davidson to write to his family.)
Madam, it becomes my painful duty to inform you of the death of your son Chauncey Smith. He was captured Oct. 27, 1864 in one of the battles in front of Petersburg with myself, and confined in the C. S. Military Prison at Salisbury, N.C. where he died sometime in Dec.
I left my memorandum book in Grand Rapids & cannot give you the correct date today but if you desire it drop a line to Grand Rapids or Nunica and it will receive prompt attention. Very respectfully, etc. Lieut. E. P. Davidson 5 Mich inft.
Lieutenant Davidson was still at his home in Nunica when he again wrote to Mrs. Smith on April 5, apparently in response to her further inquiry.
I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your note of the 2nd inst in regard to the capture and death of your son and for your . . . information would state that he died the 24th day of December 1864.
He caught a severe cold and it settled on his lungs. He had entirely recovered from his wound.
He had as good care as the circumstances of the place afforded. Tis true that was none of the best. But all that could be done for him by his comrades was done.
He [lived] in a tent with some 15 of his own regt. . . . I think I may venture to say that he got enough to eat such as it was. I did not see him buried. He was buried the same as they buried all of our dead men there in trenches outside of the prison. He was in his right mind to the last moment. He realized that his time for this world was short. But he said he was ready and willing to die and died happy.
He said that he had been a true and faithful soldier to his country and he believed that he had made his peace with his maker. By his premature and untimely death you lost a worthy son and the country lost one of its best soldiers.
Very respectfully etc. Lieut. E. P. Davidson 5 Mich Vet Vol. Inft.
Chauncey’s parents were still living in Algoma in 1870. In 1876 his mother applied for and received a pension (no. 183242).