Wensday, August 26 
This morning we started abought eight o clock from concord [Mass] and when we got to Boston we were marched to the wharf and went on to the steamer. When we got to the island we marched up on to it and had our knapsacks searched and then we put up our tent. In the tent with me is gaarfield…parmeter, and a fellow from chelmsford [Mass.] In the next tent is Severence. There is some New Yorger [sic] on the island but they ar well guarded. Some tried to git away last night. We expect to go to alexandria [Virginia] this week but i will take good care of my self.
You neadent wright any of you until you hear from me again. There is abough a thousand on the island.
August 27 to day we drilled some not much, just enough to see which was the laziest. Some of the substitutes stop to think before they answer their names and this will do for the first letter
I shall write better when I git use to it.
Thursday August 27
This after noon struck our tents expecting to go to night but we did not. You had better not come down any of you because we may go at any hour and you cant git on to the island without a pass.
I recently obtained Loker’s letter through an eBay auction, which Marion, who resides in Indiana, was kind enough to offer for bid. I have to admit to this, I did not stumble on the letter by chance, and didn’t buy it because I thought it might be neat to own a letter written during the Civil War. I have very specific search criteria that I use for eBay and immediately recognized the name by the fact that Edward J. Loker was a member Co. H of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry. That was enough for me to hold my breath in hope that I’d have the winning bid. Loker’s letter is now, in a sense, home again and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
On the surface of things the letter seems pretty straight forward and not very informative, i.e. he writes about marching from Concord to Boston, taking a boat to Long Island in Boston Harbor, pitching a tent, mentions a couple of names, participates in a drill, estimates the number of men, writes of men from New York trying to skedaddle, takes down his tent when it’s rumored they’re heading South, and tells his family not to bother visiting him. Underneath the surface and with a little digging the letter fleshes out and becomes a remarkable document.
Edward J. Loker was born April 22, 1842 at Wayland, MA, the third of seven children born to Charles and Zemiah C. (Hammond) Loker. His father, Charles, was born in Wayland, MA on March 26, 1799 to Isaac and Betsey. Loker, was a 36 year old Farmer from Wayland when he married Zemiah, then 16 years old, at Natick, MA on June 24, 1835. She was born November 27, 1818 at Natick, her parents being unknown at this time. The couple’s other six children, all born in Wayland, were Charles, born ca. 1836; James, born ca. 1839; Alfred, born ca. 1846; Helen, born ca. 1847; Willard, born ca. 1849; and Isadore, born ca. 1852 and who died in 1867.
In 1860 all the children were unmarried and resided at home. Both Edward and Alfred worked the farm with their father, while Charles and James were employed as Shoemakers. Charles Loker’s real estate was valued at $5240, while his personal estate was $300, making him financially better off than most of his immediate neighbors.
Edward was drafted in the Concord District for three years service on July 18, 1863 and mustered in that same day. It’s possible that he may not have been the one from his family drafted. It could have been his brother Charles or James. Under a provision of the draft law, a father could make the decision as to which son would go and which would stay home. In most cases it was purely an economic decision, based on whose loss would have the least impact on the family’s fortunes. For others looking to avoid the draft, if they had an extra $300 in their pocket they could buy their way out by purchasing a substitute.
Long Island, at a mile and three-quarters in length and a quarter mile in width, is the largest in a chain of islands that dot Boston Harbor. It’s undergone numerous incarnations since white settlers first began farming it in the early 1630’s and most recently housed a number of the city’s social service functions, including a homeless shelter. During the Revolutionary War it was a strategic location for American artillery to fire on British ships during a three-month blockade. By 1850 the soil had been exhausted, all timber cut, and a resort community had failed, leaving the island virtually abandoned, all signs of civilization reduced to little more than a manned lighthouse. The Civil War brought the island back to life, when it was established as a training ground for Massachusetts troops. Members of the 3rd, 4th, and 9th regiments all received their introduction to the army’s way of doing things before sailing to Virginia. When the draft was instituted in 1863, Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers at Camp Wrightman, were charged with turning reluctant civilians into well drilled soldiers, capable of wheeling right or responding to the long roll of the drum when sounded.
The island was an ideal location for a training facility. Separated from the mainland by close to a mile of water, it was an effective deterrent to the large-scale bounty jumping that plagued other camps. Still, the number of reported drownings was evidence that more than a few were willing to take their chances rather than serve their country.
Loker, one of 117 draftees assigned to the 18th Massachusetts, reached the Regiment’s camp near Beverly Ford, VA on Wednesday, September 7, 1863 and was assigned to Company H. The bounty jumpers, thwarted in Boston, didn’t waste any time, as seven hightailed it out of camp within the first week, including John Carlisle, Frank Curtis, Henry Osborne, and Michael Summers, all of Company B, and all on the 13th of September. The following day John Robinson and Johan Rock made good their opportunity. Sgt. William P. Alderman of Co. I, commenting on the quality of the draftees stated, “They were mostly a poor lot as far as I observed them, and the government was the party to suffer.”
Among the 117 were the three men mentioned by Loker in his letter home, Marshall Garfield, Edwin S. Parmenter, and Ephraim F. Severance, the former two being assigned to Co. H with Loker, while the latter became a member of Company I.
Garfield was born Nov. 1, 1832 in Weston, MA, the son of Francis and Dorcas (Stratton) Garfield. He was a 30-year-old Shoe Finisher from Wayland, MA, when he was drafted at Concord, MA and mustered into the 18th Mass. Infantry on July 18, 1863. He was engaged with the regiment at Rappahannock Station in November 1863 and wounded in the right shoulder at Spottsylvania, VA (Laurel Hill per regimental records) on May 8, 1864. He was treated at hospitals in Baltimore, New Haven, CT, and Readville, MA. He was transferred, with the remnants of the Regiment, to Co. E, 32nd Mass. Infantry on Oct. 21, 1864 and mustered out of military service with the 32nd Mass. Infantry on June 29, 1865. Garfield returned to work as Shoe finisher in Wayland following his military service. His first wife Emily L. (Hammond) Garfield, died of Sencothemia on Jan. 7, 1865. Garfield married for a second time to Nancy J. Schleicher, a 35-year-old widow, at Wayland, MA on March 19, 1866. He died at age 61 of chronic diarrhea and rheumatism at Wayland on Sept. 20, 1891.
Edwin S. Parmenter was born Aug. 19, 1844 at Sudbury, MA, the son of Charles and Fanny Parmenter. He was a 19-year-old Farmer from Sudbury, MA, when he was drafted on August 22, 1863 and mustered that same day into the 18th Mass. Infantry. He was severely wounded at the Chickahominy River, VA on June 7, 1864 and succumbed to his wounds at White House Landing, VA on June 9, 1864. Parmenter's remains were returned to Sudbury, MA and interred at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.
Ephraim F. Severance was born at Meredith, NH, the son of Peter Severance. He was a 21-year-old Shoemaker who was drafted at Concord, MA and mustered on July 16, 1863. He was engaged with the regiment at Rappahannock Station, VA on Nov. 7, 1863. He was reported to have straggled while on the march on May 4, 1864 and was reported absent without leave. Declared a deserter from the regiment, the Muster Rolls for Co. I state, however, "Straggled on the march May 4, 1864. Prisoner of war." Peter Severance, then age 70, filed a claim for pension benefits as a Dependent Father on Jan. 27, 1871. He declared in a deposition that his son died at Andersonville Prison on Sept. 15, 1864. A report from the Adjutant General's Office dated Feb. 2, 1871 stated that Prisoner of War Records did not furnish any information. Additionally, Andersonville records do not list him as a prisoner. A decision was never made with regard to Peter Severance's pension claim, and was marked "Abandoned, " an indication that he died.
Edward J. Loker was a small man, even for the time, standing just 5 feet 3 ½ inches tall. In the bitter cold that swept across Virginia during the Mine Run Campaign in November 1863, when it was reported that soldiers literally froze to death, when short rations nearly caused mass starvation among Union troops, Loker struggled to keep up and finally fell out of the ranks on or about November 27th. He was a sitting duck as a straggler and was captured by Confederate troops on the aforementioned date.
He was most probably taken to Richmond and confined at Belle Isle, however this has not been confirmed. What is known is that he was transferred to Andersonville and didn’t survive. Loker succumbed to Dysentery 11 days shy of his 22nd birthday, the 479th man to die inside the infamous stockade. Over 12,000 Union prisoners would follow his fate and find their final rest in the National Cemetery.