October 30, 2011

Happy Hallow Eve from 1861

Location: Lancaster, PA, USA
"Jeff Davis Reaping the Harvest"
Harper's Weekly, 10/26/1861
Not knowing much about the history of Halloween, I thought it would be fun to check into what festivities might have looked like 150 years ago in Lancaster.  As it turns out, the holiday had gained widespread awareness by 1861, especially "as a carnival of fun by the rising generation." Besides party games like bobbing for apples and its more sinister cousin involving a lit candle described in the link below, it appears tricks were emphasized more than treats by the generation whose older brothers went off to fight as soldiers.      

The subject of Halloween also provides a good occasion to highlight the utility of the PA Civil War Newspapers Project.  My simple research question of the history of Halloween got me a preliminary answer within a matter of seconds.  Of course, serious historical analysis would require much more work in interpretation, but it's a pretty good start.

If you want to learn more yourself about Halloween, go to the PA Civil War Newspapers Project and try the following searches: Halloween, "Hallow E'en", and "Hallow Eve".
    In my PA Civil War Newspapers Project searching, I found a three-paragraph description of "Hallow Eve" in the November 5, 1861, Lancaster Intelligencer (click the link to view).  I also found a similar description in the October 31, 1861, Daily Evening Express, which is not available online, so I have posted it below (alternate link):

    By the way, if you want to read the poem referenced in both articles, it is Halloween by Robert Burns.

    October 29, 2011

    'Here in an Isolated Place': 'E.H.W.' from Camp Nevin

    Location: Camp Nevin, Hardin County, Kentucky
    Camp Nevin (HW 12/7/1861)

    It's now three days and three letters published from the 79th Pennsylvania's new camp, Camp Nevin, Hardin County, Kentucky.  This letter, by Corp. Elias H. Witmer, touches on many of the same topics as the previous letters by O.C.M. Caines and W. Wilberforce Nevin, so I won't add much too it.  The only thing to notice is the issue of how the citizens of Kentucky and Tennessee--loyal and "secesh"--respond to the presence of Union armies there. Interactions with the civilian population of Kentucky and Tennessee town will play an important role in the regiment's history over the first two years of the war, especially because the 79th Pennsylvania spent much of its first two years of the war running around those two states on detached duty attempting to protect towns and railroads.

    From the November 2, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    October 28, 2011

    'Our Present Duty is to Work': A Letter from Camp

    Location: Camp Nevin, Hardin County, Kentucky
    From Hardtack and Coffee
    Today's letter introduces us to a fourth semi-regular correspondent from the 79th Pennsylvania to Lancaster's newspapers, Lieut. William Wilberforce Nevin.  You might (rightly) recognize the surname "Nevin" for its connections to other aspects of Lancaster's history, but I'll postpone my biography of Wilberforce Nevin for another week.

    On October 24, the Lancaster County Regiment boarded trains in Louisville and traveled a little over 50 miles south on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, passing camps along the way to arrive at Camp Nevin (no relation).  They arrived late at night, prepared fires, and spent the night on the ground before laying out camp the next day.  Their six-week stay at Camp Nevin allowed the regiment's soldiers their first real taste of army life, including their first issuance of ammunition, target shooting, and various drills overseen by Col. Hambright.  [WTC] 

    From the November 1, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternative link)

    October 27, 2011

    'J.H.S.' Letter: The Battle of Camp Wildcat

    Location: Camp Wildcat, near London, KY, USA
    J. Hale Sypher
    (Library of Congress)
    I've mentioned that I hope to post not only letters from the 79th Pennsylvania on this website, but also letters from others in the Civil War's western theater who wrote to Lancaster newspapers.  It is from one of those other soldiers that the Daily Evening Express published its first letter with a first-hand description of combat.

    The author was Lieut. Jacob Hale Sypher, commanding one section (two of the six cannon) of Battery B, 1st Ohio Light Artillery.  He penned his account on October 27, 1861, of the Battle of Camp Wildcat, Kentucky, that took place a week earlier.  Total casualties numbered less than 100 in this minor action that was considered a Union victory.  J. Hale Sypher's connection to Lancaster was his brother, Josiah R. Sypher, whom I've mentioned in other posts and who was about to take over as the Daily Evening Express's local news editor.

    Flag of Battery B, 1st O.V.L.A. (Source)
    At a future date we'll hear more of J. Hale Sypher when his artillery section went on a small expedition with the 79th Pennsylvania.  J. Hale Sypher also had an interesting career later in the war and during Reconstruction.  He would go on to be Colonel of the 11th United States Colored Heavy Artillery.  Sypher moved to Louisiana after the war where he bought a plantation, studied law, and was elected to Congress as a Republican.

    From the November 4, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    Another Letter by the "Judge": Louisville and Camp Nevin

    Location: Camp Nevin, Hardin County, Kentucky
    Union Troops Pass through Louisville (HW 10/19/1861)
    Today's letter is another from jovial regimental band member Oscar C. M. Caines, aka "The Judge," and the first from Camp Nevin, where the regiment would spend a little over a month.  One theme that we can draw out when we get past Caines' playful banter (e.g., "our first soprano, Daniel Clemens") is the extension of Lancaster's institutions to the regiment's camp in Kentucky.  The reference to the "corner" is I believe a reference to Lancaster City's Centre Square (now Penn Square) and a group of men who regularly interacted there before the war, perhaps due to their business interests.

    With more certainty, I can say "big 'U'" refers to Lancaster's Union Fire Company, a fire company over 100 years old and a who's who organization of prominent Lancasterians.  From a history of the Union No. 1 at the Lancaster County Historical Society, "the response board of Lancaster County Emergency Communications maintains an active tap-out signal for Union Fire Company No. 1, even though the organization has no equipment and the fire house is the Willson Memorial Building of the Lancaster County Historical Society."  Besides Caines, I wouldn't expect too many other Union Fire Company members in the 79th Pennsylvania, as they were well-represented in Company B, 1st Pennsylvania Reserves, aptly named the "Union Guards." 

    From the November 2, 1861, Inquirer: (Thanks again to reader Andi Beyer for re-typing this letter.)
    Camp Nevin, Ky., Oct. 27th, 1861.

    Friend Wylie: Our Regiment left Pittsburg, on Friday evening, Oct. 18th at 4 o'clock being delayed by the accident, to our boat, read, in your Pittsburg exchange papers. - There was only three seriously injured, C. R. Frailey Adjutant, a private named Landis, and our first soprano, Daniel Clemens, the two former receiving severe contusions of the brain and the latter, having the small bone of his left arm broken, near the wrist. I am happy to inform you that they are all recovering rapidly, Clemens took his place in the Band last Monday, the same day we received by Telegram, the news, that Frailey and Landis would join us in a week. You cannot imagine the feelings of the men on the boat, when the dispatch was read, three cheers and a Bengal Tiger, were given with a will and a roar, that made the broken part of the old boat groan anew. We are all looking for their arrival daily, and when the Adjutant arrives the "Corner" will be all right again.

    Our fleet of six steamers, arrived at the city of Louisville, on Monday the 21st, at 6 o'clock P. M. The men remained on board the boats, until Tuesday morning; at 10 A. M., marched out to Oakland, a distance of 3 miles, pitched tents, and formed Camp Lyons, no straw with a cold rainy night. Struck tents at 6 A. M. on Wednesday, and marched to the Memphis Depot, where by the liberality of the citizens, we ate a hearty breakfast of bread, cold ham, and hot coffee. Marched out to the commons for Regimental drill, (there not being cars enough to convey the whole brigade.) Returned to Depot at 5 P. M., ate our supper of coffee, ham and bread.

    Our Colonel, not wishing to quarter his men in the depot, marched us to Boone's Tobacco warehouse, on Main street, between 9th & 10th, occupied by Wm. E. Glover & Co., it was dark when we arrived, and the warehouse closed, the watchman declined admitting us, as they had on that day, stored 1200 hogsheads of tobacco. Word was sent to Mr. Glover, a whole sould Union man, who sent word back to break open the doors, and roll the tobacco on the street if necessary, to make room; but it was found that there was room enough and some to spare. I propose Wm. E. Glover of Louisville, Kentucky, as an honorary member of the "big U," and if elected, that the Secretary be directed to notify him of the same.

    For the second time since leaving home, the Band left the quarters, to serenade some staunch Union men, the first one was Captain Shelby, who entertained the band bountifully; the next was Marshall Halbert Esq., on Broadway, whose house, on the morning of our arrival, was literally covered with banners of the right stripe; and the yard in front of the house was crowded with the youth and beauty of Louisville, each lady with a banner in hand, waving a welcome to the Pennsylvanians. Mr. Halbert followed Capt. Shelby's example. - Next was to Mrs. Henry, the chief of the Patariotic Daughters, (bless that name, it sounds of home,) and the last was given to Capt. Gilbert, who was wounded at Bull's Run. On our return to quarters, Capt. Barker of Gen. Neagly's staff invited the band to Walkers Restaurant, and then, and there, in violation of the army regulations, fed us on Prairie chickens, beefsteaks, ham and eggs, &c. &c., an Oasis in Desert, (of our stomach,) arrived at the Louisville Hotel, where by the kindness of General Neagly, we were provided with lodgings and an early breakfast, arrived at quarters by sunrise, in time to escape, what would have been an unpleasant finale to our previous nights pleasures.

    Our present location is about fifty miles South by West from Louisville, and one mile from the railroad. The camp is situated on rising ground, dry, and of course healthy. Our Brigade is annexed to General McCook's Division, and it is said by those competent to know, that he has now from 25 to 30,000 men, within a circuit of five or six miles. The main body of the rebels under General Buckner, are within 20 miles of us; the picket guard are on the move day and night, from three to five miles beyond the camp guards.

    The health of the men in the 77th (our) Regiment is A No. 1, which I attribute in a great measure, to the skill and attention of Dr. Albright, aided by good and subtantial food, and the temperate habits of the men. Whiskey is as scarce in our camp as money, and you might shake every man and not disturb the repose of a single dime. I have a three cent coin in my pocket, the balance on hand when we left Camp Wilkins. I intend to keep it until my return to Lancaster, when I will ask my old friend Harry Zahm to fix a ring to suspend it with, as a memento of the times when I had neither money nor the need of any.

    Our rations are composed of fresh beef or smoked ham, shoulders or side pieces, coffee or black tea, beans or rice, molasses, biscut, (bread for those that can bake it, for we have plenty of excellent flour,) soap and candles daily. Those who have money to purchase, or any overplus of provisions to barter, can obtain eggs, milk, butter, potatoes, cabbage, &c.

    The prices charged are somewhat singular in their average. For instance they charge ten cents a quart for milk, and only fifteen cents per pound for excellent butter, ordinary heads of cabbage, five cents each, and sweet potatoes forty cents a bushel. Our musical mess have this moment returned from a trading expedition, they have three pounds of butter, two dozen of eggs, and two quarts of milk. Fritters for supper, good; I can enjoy, and do, most heartily all the food, except the biscuts; they are a persimmon above my huckleberry, (teeth.) Unfortunately for me, I must have stood on the extreme left of the rear, when the molars were distributed, as I received a poor sett. I have only two left, that can make any impression on what our boys call the Jersey pies, but I thank Nature for those two, being opposite. To see me eating one, would remind you of a grey squirrel, nibbling at a hard shellbark, turning it about to hunt a soft spot to begin on, but when we soak them over night, and fry them in ham fat for breakfast, coated with molasses, they disappear like buckwheat cakes on a frosty morning. Go awry little boy you - daddy's sick, none left for you.

    We, that is, the regimental quarter-master and the Adjutant (when he returns), and myself, are quartered on the North West corner of the camp; would be "the corner," you see, but with this difference, we have none of the "nutritious element" here, and I am free to say that we all (or both rather,) acknowledge the corn, that it is no loss, but an advantage to us. Do not think I write thus, on the fox and grape idea, or like Jack who would not eat his supper, for it is a truth, and if you doubt it, why try it on for a month or so, and report progress. There is a rumor in our camp, that Gen. Rosseau of the Kentucky Brigade, McCook's division, has orders to strike tents, and advance ten miles forward, towards Bowling Green, if so we will no doubt follow in a day or two.

    Truly Yours, The Judge


    October 26, 2011

    A Poem from 1861: 'The Lancaster County Volunteers'

    Tintype of Unidentified Union Soldiers (vws)

    One of the minor joys of Civil War newspaper research is encountering amateur poetry, whose variance in quality results in some gems alongside some that make you scratch your head.  I've even run across some poems and modified song lyrics specific to the Lancaster County Regiment, surely the subject of a future post.  In today's post, I'll share a poem, "The Lancaster County Volunteers," which was written and published in October 1861.  Although not directly about the regiment, the timing makes a connection not unlikely, and the contents apply anyway.  We've already seen farmers like William T. Clark, skilled laborers from Lancaster City, three lawyers leading Company G, and a large number of teachers in Company E.  Although I haven't focused much yet on the shakeup of the party system, we've also seen soldiers capably and passionately articulate the cause for which they were fighting.

    From the October 22, 1861, Daily Evening Express:

    October 24, 2011

    Three Days in Louisville

    Location: Louisville, KY 40202, USA
    Arrival of Union Troops at Louisville (HW 1/11/1862)
    Getting back to current events in the life of the Lancaster County Regiment, the regiment's initiation into soon-to-be-replaced Gen. William T. Sherman's Department of the Cumberland began with a three day stay in Louisville, Kentucky.  Opposite the Union army in that part of Kentucky were forces under of Confederate Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, who had recently invaded Bowling Green, Kentucky--100 miles south of Louisville--and who was poised to strike farther north.  To the west, along the Mississippi River, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was about to begin a campaign against Confederate forts that would take him into western  Tennessee.  To the east, Gen. George H. Thomas was organizing Union forces to drive Confederates out of eastern Kentucky.

    The following letter appeared in the November 2, 1861, edition of the Lancaster Inquirer.  My hunch is that the correspondent, "Ipse Dixit," was Hospital Steward John B. Chamberlain, based on the content of an earlier letter and the fact that he later wrote to the Inquirer in 1862 under the alias, "Occasional."  Thanks again to reader Andi Beyer for typing up this letter. 
    Camp Oakland,
    Louisville, Ky., Oct 24, '61.

    Mr. Editor: It may be "bully" for Uncle Sam to economize in his expenditures, in these hard times; but I do think that he might have chartered another steamboat at Pittsburg for the transportation of the Negley brigade. "Elbow room" is desirable at all times, and in all places, but there's no use in complaining.

    On Monday evening we entered the port of Louisville, Kentucky, and a more interesting sight we never witnessed. Before us for a mile or two, as far as the eye could range on the levee, the gallant sons and daughters of Kentucky were packed to the water's edge, to fittingly greet the sons of the old Keystone state, who had come to fight secesh under Zollicoffer and Buckner, the two rebel generals. When the fleet of steamboats had all been fastened to the shore, we were greeted with a shower of grape and canister in the shape of fine large apples. For better than an hour it looked as if they intended to take the boats by storm; but the ammunition giving out, they had to withdraw. On Tuesday morning, we were moved out to one of the most beautiful groves around the city, about one mile and a quarter from the outskirts. Before the men had started, the citizens waving flags and Union emblems had completely crowded the streets and pavements in one dense, wild mass, barely leaving space for the men to pass. The "brave young lads and lasses," greeted us enthusiastically as we passed along, with the waving of flags and singing national airs. Our reception throughout to camp was a perfect ovation, and speaks well for the sincerity of the people in this crisis.

    Tents were pitched, and everything went as "merry as a marriage bell," until evening when a severe storm arose. It was extremely cold, and between it and the rain, the men had a hard time. The men crowded into the tents as closely as possible, to get warm. The storm strongly reminded me of the three months' campaign on the sacred soil of the Old Dominion, and the storms we encountered there. We received orders to strike tents and march to the city. The orders were complied with, although there was some grumbling at leaving such a beautiful place. When we arrived at the depot, we ascertained that Colonels Stambaugh's and Sirwell's regiments were to move off first; so Colonel Hambright moved the men off into a field nearby, and put them through the regimental drill, which was executed very satisfactorily. The men thought that they would have to go supperless; but the good Union people of Louisville had other intentions in view. Immediately in the rear of the depot, a large building is erected, where every soldier can get his meals "without money and without price." The men were greatly surprised when marched into the yard, and saw the large supply of provisions prepared for them. Most ample justice was done to the bounteous repast; and numerous and hearty were the encomiums lavished by the grateful men upon their kind benefactors - The leading gentlemen in this movement to provide for the soldiers are James Malone, Esq., President, John Graham, Dr. Goddard, John Gill, Wm Kaye, Rev. Haywood, Mr. Cornell, Prof. Holyoke, S. Dupont, Benj. Cawthorn, Wm Grunstead, Andrew Graham, Richard Cox, and William Nally. All soldiers passing through Louisville are provided with hot meals.

    On Thursday morning, Mrs. John Graham, formerly of Lancaster gave Col. Hambright and his officers a most splendid repast; which was most highly appreciated. Shortly afterward, orders came to embark the 1st battalion; and this afternoon the 2nd one follows in the hospital department, to join Col. M'Cook at Bowling Green, [M'Cook was at Camp Dennison, in Lancaster] Gen. Buckner has 30,000 secesh troops now in sight of that place; and I think ere long, I will have the pleasure of sending you word of our troops dislodging him. At least from the preparations now going on it does look like fight, for Kentucky must be cleared from the vermin that infest her soil and prey upon her vitals.

    I cannot close without paying Louisville a passing notice. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The buildings are elegant in appearance and chaste in architecture. The people are kind, social and hospitable, worthy the reputation they have enjoyed abroad.

    Yours Truly, Ipse Dixit


    October 23, 2011

    Backtrack: Oscar Caines' Letter from Pittsburgh

    Location: Pittsburgh, PA, USA
    1874 Lithograph of Pittsburgh by Otto Krebs (Source)
    Thanks to blog reader Andi Beyer for typing up the following letter from low-quality photographs of the original newspaper.

    Although I intend to post letters 150 years after the date they were written, I wasn't able to post this letter two weeks ago as it's from the Lancaster Inquirer, a newspaper not on microfilm.  Thanks to the work of reader Andi Beyer, you can now view the following typed copy below.  

    The letter's author, Oscar C. M. Caines, joined Col. Hambright's regiment as part of the famed Fencibles Band.  Known teasingly as "Judge Caines"--presumably because he supervised construction of the Lancaster County Courthouse--Caines left Lancaster promising an occasional letter to editor Stuart A. Wylie of the Inquirer, a formerly Democratic paper that threw its full support to the war effort and the Union Party in September 1861.  I'll have more on Caines and Wylie in a post down the road.

    From the October 19, 1861, Lancaster Inquirer:
    Camp Wilkins, Pittsburg,
    October, 13, 1861.

    Friend Wylie: I take advantage of the first leisure day (being Sunday), that I have had, since being in camp, to fulfil my promise of writing to you. We had a rough time in getting here--Tuesday night on the road--in the meanest kind of a car, arriving at camp about 8 o'clock on Wednesday evening, ate a supper prepared by our friends, Captains Duchman and Wickersham; then marched a distance of three miles to the City Hall, each man selecting a soft plank for his bed, with anything he could find for a pillow. Those who obtained haversacks, by the kindness of the "Patriotic Daughter," fared the best--Your humble servant, having on his best duds, selected three old chairs and a carpenter's saw-buck, for a bed and pillow, and I assure you we all slept soundly until near daylight, when wishing to change my position, I fell out of bed, thus disturbing the slumbers of the fat Trombone. As you may suppose there was something said in very pure, but strong Teutonic language, which as I did not understand, I cannot repeat. At sunrise, that is if it ever does rise over this city of smoke and fogs, we started for camp, were again fed, and set to work at pitching tents, getting straw, drawing rations, and beginning our camp life in all its details; and at this time we are all conveniently quartered, and well and fully provided for in all that is necessary for our comfort.--The men are being clothed and equipped rapidly and we expect by the close of tomorrow to have all our equipments complete.

    We, that is us, are "all hunk," and our music attracts large crowds daily. There could not have been less than five thousand persons present at our evening parade to-day. It is conceded by all that ours is the best band that ever encamped, or was heard here.

    While I am writing this, divine service is being performed in camp. Nearly or quite all of the companies of our regiment, under the care of an officer, were permitted to attend church in the city this morning. The men were all orderly in their deportment, and I truly say, that they give evidence of being not only a crack, but a model regiment. Our Colonel is very energetic in perfecting his men in their duties--six drills daily--two by squads; two by companies; two by regimental parades, and guard mounting, so you can see we have no idle hours.

    When we first came here it was generally supposed our destination was either Missouri or Kentucky; now it is thought to be Western Virginia; but be it where it may our friends may rest assured that the Rifles under the lead of our gallant Colonel will render a good account of themselves.

    Now for self. Can you not make some arrangement to send us some five or six papers occasionally. Although the time is short since we had the pleasure of reading your very interesting and instructive paper in our homes, yet you can not imagine with what eagerness the men seek for a paper from good old Lancaster. I read your Saturday morning issue this evening, and sincerely hope that when "we meet the enemy we will not be theirs." Our old friend Wm. Thackara, is standing guard at the door of the Quarter-master's Department, where and while I am writing this, he takes to a soldier's life like a young duck does to water - naturally. Remember me to all my friends of the "big U,"(1)  and excuse this rambling epistle. Let me hear from you as soon as you recover from your late defeat and believe me, I remain as ever,

    Your Friend, The Judge.

    (1)  Union Fire Company

    The Accident at Pittsburgh

    Location: Monongahela Wharf, Pittsburgh, PA
    From Ballou's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, 2/21/1857 (Source)
    As mentioned in recent soldiers' letters, the Lancaster County Regiment took its first casualties before even leaving the Keystone State.  Soldiers from Negley's Brigade, which included Col. Hambright's Regiment, had already been packed onto five steamboats, and waited only for an artillery battery with its guns and horses to leave Pittsburgh and travel down the Ohio River.

    From Harper's Weekly, November 2, 1861
    In the middle of the afternoon on Friday, October 18, an artillery horse being led up the gangway fell off, causing much excitement.  The ensuing commotion led to the collapse of the hurricane deck of one of the steamers and serious injuries to a couple members of the 79th Pennsylvania. The accident was described in detail in the October 21, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    Bearing the brunt of the blame for the accident was "Commodore" William J. Kountz, who was in charge of coordinating the river fleet.  Kountz went on to work with General Grant and apparently continued to infuriate everyone around him, including the boat captains he was appointed by the government to oversee, and getting himself kicked out of General Grant's office in the lead-up to the Fort Henry and Donelson campaigns of early 1862.  From the October 22, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    Of the three most-seriously injured soldiers--Adjutant Charles Frailey, Band Leader Daniel Clemens, and Priv. Daniel Landis--both Clemens and Landis recovered from their injuries to rejoin the regiment.  Frailey's injuries caused him to resign a week later.

    October 22, 2011

    'Ho! For Old Kentucky!!': Rewind through Recruiting

    Location: Lancaster, PA, USA
    From What a Boy Saw in the Army
    Time constraints limit me from making a post out of every little news item related to the Lancaster County Regiment that I run across, so here's a list of items that I won't have time to discuss in detail.  I also recommend listening to Tim Orr's presentation, "Enlistment in the North and South During the Civil War," for a more general look at how Civil War regiments came into existence.  Compared to what happened elsewhere, the recruiting process was relatively tame in terms of partisan politics, presumably because Col. Hambright's stature as a military hero and proficient leader earned him bipartisan support. 

    Here are a variety of references to news items from the Daily Evening Express, with the notations referring to the newspaper edition in which they appeared, ranging from September to November 1861.  
    • Capt. Duchman's company, later Company B, is mustered in on September 5. (9/5)  Praise for Capt. Duchman. (9/10)
    • Recruiting for Col. Hambright's regiment is "looking up."  (9/10)
    • Battalion parade through streets of Lancaster with 400 men and visit by Brig. Gen. James S. Negley. (9/13)
    • "Ranks Rapidly Filling Up" for Col. Hambright's Regiment. (9/17)
    • Arrival of Capt. McBride's company, later Company D. (9/18)
    • Sword presentation to Lieut. David Miles. (9/18)
    • Arrival in Lancaster of Capt. McNalley's company, later Company C, 77th Pennsylvania. A scandal over the company's departure from Harrisburg ensued.  (9/20,25)
    • Regiment is "nearly full." (9/25)
    • Sword presentation to officers of Company F. (9/25)
    • Capt. Wickersham's company filling up with many "school teachers and men of education." (9/25)
    • Clothing distributed to Col. Hambright's regiment. (9/27)
    • Officers of Col. Hambright's regiment entertained at N. Queen St. saloon and serenaded by Fencibles Band. (9/27)
    • Report that Gov. Curtin assigned Hambright and his regiments to Negley's Brigade. (9/30)
    • Dinner for volunteers in southern Lancaster City held by patriotic citizen Samuel Cormany. (10/1)
    • Regimental parade on Center Square. (10/3)
    • Controversy resulting from Capt. M. D. Wickersham unsuccessful recruiting visit to town of Christiana during which Wickersham's commitment to war was questioned based on his helping a stranded Southern female student at the Millersville State Normal School. (10/3,7,8)
    • Fencibles Band concert to support Patriot Daughters of Lancaster. (10/4)
    • Recruiting editorials: "More Union Men Wanted" and "Your Country still Calls," including announcement of company recruited by Frederick Pyfer and Benjamin Ober.  This company was recruited for Col. Hambright's regiment but later became Company K, 77th Pennsylvania. (10/10)
    • Recruiting appeal: "Be in time, Young Men!" (10/17)
    • Deserters from Col. Hambright's Regiment. (10/18,19)
    • Capt. Foreman's grievances from a failed attempt to recruit a company for Col. Hambright's regiment. (10/20,22)
    • Update on Pyfer and Ober's company. (10/22)
    • Poem: "The Lancaster County Volunteers." (10/22,23,26,29;11/11)
    • Presentation of sword to Capt. Wickersham. (10/30)
    • Recruiting appeal: "More Men Wanted for Active Service in Kentucky." (11/2)
    Advertisement for Capt. Pyfer's company, appearing in November 1861 editions of the Express.

    October 20, 2011

    The Voyage Down the Ohio, Part II: 'E.H.W." and F.J. Bender Letters

    Location: North Bend, OH 45052, USA
    "Passage Down the Ohio River, of General James S. Negley's Brigade" (FLI 10/14/1861)

    On October 20, 1861, Gen. Negley's Brigade continued on its journey down the Ohio River toward Louisville, Kentucky.  Soldier-correspondents E. H. Witmer and F. J. Bender documented that portion of a journey whose sights left a deep impression upon the six steamboats' passengers for readers of the Daily Evening Express and Church Advocate, respectively.

    Their letters give a sense that they had finally left home and were in the process of determining who they were going to be as soldiers.  A false alarm, although rather unrealistic in retrospective, gave the men of the 77th and 79th Pennsylvania at least the chance to think about combat.  Also, since October 20 was a Sunday--the first Sunday for which attending church was not a possibility--both Witmer and Bender naturally turned to the soldiers' religious world and what faith would look like privately and publicly in the army.

    From the October 29, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    From the November 14, 1861, Church Advocate, noting that the October 30 dateline is a typo that should read October 20: (alternate link)

    October 19, 2011

    'E.H.W.' Letter: The Voyage Down the Ohio

    Location: Wheeling, WV, USA
    Steamboats near Cincinnati, Ohio, in a photo from the late 1860s (Source)

    Today's letter was written by Corp. Elias H. Witmer of Company E, 79th Pennsylvania, on October 19, 1861, as Col. Hambright's regiment traveled down the Ohio River to a destination of Louisville, Kentucky, with two other Pennsylvania regiments that made up Gen. James Negley's brigade.  The almost 3,000 men occupied six steamboats, and you can visit the site "Georgetown Steamboats" to learn more about the boats and the mode of transportation. I'll have more about the accident and the fallout from the accident in another post.

    From the October 28, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    October 18, 2011

    Gov. Curtin Presents Flags to Negley's Brigade

    Location: Allegheny Commons, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, USA
    Early War 79th Pennsylvania Flag, presumably presented by Curtin in 1861
    (PA Capitol Preservation Committee)
    Due to a regimental numbering controversy, it is unclear specifically when this flag was used.

    Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew G. Curtin
    (Library of Congress: cwpbh.01288)
    On October 17, 1861, Pennsylvania's popular and tireless wartime governor Andrew Curtin arrived in Pittsburgh to present flags to the three newly formed regiments gathered there, including Col. Hambright's regiment.  An unidentified correspondent "X" recorded the governor's speech and sent it on to the Daily Evening Express for publication.  As the flags were unfurled, so was the brigade's destination thereby ending weeks of speculation as to whether the men would be going to Western Virginia, Kentucky, or Missouri.  Curtin announced:
    In a few hours (not a few days) you leave your native State of Pennsylvania and go--not to Western Virginia, for the orders have been changed--but to Kentucky; for while at Washington hordes of rebels, led on by men steeped in treasonable purposes, menace the capital--in Kentucky they are invading a State loyal to the Union and devastating the homes of her faithful people.  But Pennsylvania, true to her original compact, goes to defend Kentucky, and I now stand in the presence of men who go to defend the friends of liberty there.

    From the October 19, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    October 16, 2011

    'Continuous Smoke' and 'Unpleasant Features': E.H.W.'s 2nd Letter from Pittsburg

    "Post Office" by David Glimore Blythe, c. 1862-1864 (Carnegie Museum of Art via www.metmuseum.com)
    Set in Pittsburgh, the painting satirically depicts urban ills, as described on its CMOA page: "The Neoclassical bust over the delivery window alludes to the idealism and dignity of the American past, while the indifferent newsboy on the steps symbolizes the squalor of contemporary urban life. In pairing these figures, Blythe contrasts the noble ideals of the nation's founding fathers with the greed, self-interest, and venality he sensed in his own times."

    On October 16, 1861, Elias H. Witmer penned his second letter from Pittsburgh for publication in Lancaster's Daily Evening Express after having a little bit of time to explore the city with the regiment.  You can read his impressions in his letter that appeared in the October 17, 1861, Express, which is re-printed below. (alternate link)

    Here are a couple other samples of opinions about the Steel City:
    • From William T. Clark diary: "We leave Pittsburgh Pa. at 5:45 p.m....We gladly leave this black greasy, smoky city."
    • From William G. Kendrick: "I am rather glad we are going to leave this place for all the mud and filth that we got collected in one place. I think we have got the filthiest." (WGK, 10/17/1861)
    • From an April 5, 1868, Columbia Spy account entitled, "A Western Editor's Description of Pittsburgh": "It is now seventy-two years since Pittsburgh has been warmed or reached by the sun's rays...The ladies use smoke and coal dust to protect their complexion...Men kiss each others' wives in Pittsburgh, unable to tell which is their own only by the taste. Women send children on errands, first writing on their faces with a thumb nail or wet stick."

    October 15, 2011

    Better Know a Soldier: Elias H. Witmer

    Location: Mountville, PA 17554, USA
    79th Pennsylvania Monument at Chickamauga Battlefield
    Corp. Elias H. Witmer was presumably mortally wounded around
    the time of the incident depicted in the monument. 

    Name: Elias H. Witmer (Corporal, Company E)
    Birth: March 8, 1835, Mountville, Lancaster County
    Occupation: Storekeeper in Mountville according to 1860 Census.  Storekeeper in Millersville until store burned down 1858
    Church/Religion: Christian, denomination unknown although he did write two letters for publication in the Church Advocate
    Political Beliefs: Republican
    Enlistment: October 1, 1861
    Death: Missing, presumed dead at Battle of Chickamauga, September 19-20, 1863

    Before leaving Lancaster with Col. Hambright's regiment, Corporal Elias H. Witmer arranged to write letters for publication in the Daily Evening Express, Lancaster's only daily newspaper.  The fifty or so letters he wrote approximately every other week over a two-year period beginning in October 1861 describe for a general audience the significant and insignificant events in the life of the regiment.  As a soldier who wielded a semicolon as proficiently as a Springfield musket, Witmer played an important role for anyone in Lancaster interested in the regiment, and we get the sense the letters were eagerly consumed and given weight in Lancaster.

    Elias H. Witmer Service Record
    From PA Civil War Veterans Card File

    Witmer enlisted in Capt. Morris D. Wickersham's company--the "Normal Rifles," later Company E--as part of a contingent of nineteen men from the village of Mountville who joined the regiment in September 1861.  His background isn't fully clear, but his ancestry appears to basically be old Lancaster farm families with his mother's family part of early Lancaster County settler Hans Herr's lineage.  His father, Daniel W. Witmer, ran a mercantile business, and Elias had his own shop by the time of the Civil War.  His educational background is unclear, but his letters testify to a strong education.  Here's a description of his family from the 1903 Biographical Annals of Lancaster County:
    In Oct. 1855, Mr. Sneath married Elizabeth Witmer, who was born in Manor township, Lancaster county, daughter of Hon. Daniel W. and Anna (Hershe) Witmer, granddaughter of Daniel and Elizabeth Witmer, of Manor township. Daniel W. Witmer was a prominent farmer of Lancaster county. He served for three terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and in his later years was a merchant and drover in Mountville. He married Anna Hershe, daughter of Abraham Hershe, an old resident of Lancaster county, and to them were born the following children: Benjamin A., deceased; Mary, who married David H. Wideler, of Mountville, and is now deceased; Elizabeth, wife of Mr. Sneath; Elias H., who was a soldier of the Civil war, wounded in battle and is now deceased; Abraham, who served as lieutenant in the Civil war and is now deceased: Jacob H., a bank clerk at Mountville, Pa.; Kate, wife of Levi Myers, a tobacco merchant of Lancaster; Harry C., a merchant at Lancaster City; and Sarah, who died young. Daniel W. Witmer, the father, died in 1896, aged eighty-eight years; his wife in 1870, aged sixty years. She was a member of the United Brethren Church, and both are buried in Mountville cemetery.
    Detail of West Hempfield Township Map from 1864 Bridgens AtlasD. W. Witmer residence can be seen just north of Mountville.

    I intend to post all of Witmer's letters on this site 150 years after the day they were written.  You can view his first letter, an index of all 79th PA soldiers' letters, and all posts tagged "Elias H. Witmer."  The letters provide invaluable insights into the regiment's events, morale, and attempts to form a cohesive identity.  I get the sense they were eagerly consumed in Lancaster and provided a valuable function to anyone at home with connections to a soldier in the 79th Pennsylvania.  One can only wonder of the somewhat awkward social pressures that came with writing a letter from camp on behalf of a couple hundred soldiers, having the letter be published and distributed, and then having all the soldiers reading the letter about their own lives when the Express made its way to camp.  

    In 1863, Witmer took a fierce Unionist turn in his letters, castigating anyone he viewed as hindering the war effort.  Witmer even took the opportunity of a furlough in May 1863 to give a Union League speech in Mountville to continue his scorn for "Copperhead" Democrats in person.  We also know of some teamwork in March 1863 between Capt. William McCaskey, his brother J. P. McCaskey (then a principal and activist in Lancaster), and Witmer that resulted in Witmer promising to "give a little thunder" to confront a rumor in his next letter to the Express.  

    Back to October 1861, we get a sense of Witmer passion, capabilities as an author, and his reasons for fighting from a speech he gave in Mountville for the presentation of a sword to Lieut. William P. Leonard.  From the October 9, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    October 14, 2011

    Lieut. William McCaskey's Two Black Confederate Regiments

    Location: Murfreesboro, TN, USA
    If you've spent a few minutes browsing Civil War websites and blogs in recent weeks, you'll inevitably (and lamentably) hit a somewhat bizarre and controversial topic known as "Black Confederates"--the proposition that African Americans fought in significant numbers as soldiers with Southern armies.  It's promoted by a fringe element of self-styled defenders of the Confederacy's heritage, but basically all historians dispute the interpretation of the evidence (if not the evidence itself) behind their claims and view it them as the disturbing descendant of the early-20th century "faithful slave" narrative.

    The issue has even gained national attention with the Virginia textbook mini-scandal of last year and a recent episode of the "History Detectives."  I'll refer you to primers on the subject that can be found on two blogs: Dead Confederates and Civil War Memory.  The whole issue is sad as it diverts talented and/or passionate historians and readers from connecting new resources with new questions in novel ways--an activity that I hope ends up defining the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

    William S. McCaskey, Co. B, 79th PA
    Richard Abel Collection, USAMHI
    With the attention of this past week to Black Confederates, I thought I'd throw out a reference I coincidentally discovered while re-checking a note about Corp. Elias H. Witmer, a 79th Pennsylvania soldier-correspondent who penned his first letter to the Lancaster Daily Evening Express 150 years ago last week.  The source is a private letter from Lieut. William S. McCaskey, Co. B, 79th Pennsylvania, to his brother John Piersol McCaskey (a locally famous educator and the namesake of Lancaster's McCaskey High School), written in Murfreesboro, TN, on March 20, 1863--a very interesting time when the Union army was dealing with the Emancipation Proclamation and going through its own internal "Republicanization."  Here's the excerpt, as transcribed in The Letters of William S. McCaskey:
    A negro brigade or two would come might handy, to throw into the thickest of the fight, for by this, you scary many a white man, and at no cost to the government.  I sounded most all our boys, and most of them did not like the idea of having them as comrades, but when the matter was fully explained and when they heard that Van Dor of the rebel army had two regiments in the fight at Franklin some few weeks ago, to which Regiments (Negro), many of the men had to surrender, they kind of changed their foolish ideas and now the cry is, "let them come, let them come," with regard to those remarks of mine, and your request to show them to [Corp. Elias H.] Witmer, I would say, that your request has been complied with and he will give them a little thunder.  with regard to my being acquainted with him, I would say that he is a member of Co. E., and I had command of him some two months and further that he is a very particular friend of mine.  (March 20, 1863, Murfreesboro, Tennessee)
    Although it's hard to prove a negative, it appears to us as obviously a false rumor that Confederate Gen. Earl Van Dorn fought with two regiments of black soldiers.  Note the fairly apparent motivation of the myth here: McCaskey was trying to justify the use of African-American soldiers in the Union Army to the men of his company (and maybe even to himself).  This thought process calls to mind Frederick Douglass' 1861 comments about Black Confederates

    J. P. McCaskey
    Richard Abel Collection, USAMHI

    Even more interesting to me is the coordination dynamics between the home front and battlefield.  We have Republican agitator J. P. McCaskey, who we know (from other letters) occasionally put anonymous articles in the Express attacking Democrats, appealing for an audience through his brother to soldier-correspondent Elias H. Witmer.  J. P. McCaskey's concern was presumably a Lancaster citizens' public claim of receiving a letter from another 79th PA soldier stating that "contraband negroes are fed better than soldiers," as Witmer's next letter, published in the Express on April 6, 1863, contained a lengthy build-up to a strong denial:
    I have been led to this train of thought by a letter handed me written by a prominent citizen of Lancaster, saying that at a meeting held in that city, one of the speakers remarked that he saw a letter from the 79th P.V., stating that contraband negroes are fed better than the soldiers.  I do not wish to have any controversy of a public character with any person, but justice to the army, and to the government demands a denial of so fabulous a charge.  If the letter was written from this regiment it is a misrepresentation of facts; if it was an imaginary fabrication, manufactured for the occasion, it was done to drop a narcotic into the public heart and breath a upas breath into the public mind.  If the letter was written in this regiment it promulgates a falsehood; if not written here, the publication of such a statement was the damning work of partisanship bordering on disloyalty, and should receive the condemnation of every loyal citizen in the country...I forewarn all men against writing to men in this regiment telling them to lay down their arms, as this is a war for the nigger.  I shall expose every man that resorts to this "snake in the grass" manner of sending discord in our ranks.  (April 6, 1863, Daily Evening Express)
    Those are pretty harsh words for simply suggesting that African Americans could achieve equality in terms of caloric intake, but I think it testifies to the sensitivity and volatility of the issue of race at that time in the North.  If you want the Democratic counterpoint to Witmer's letter, see this poem reprinted from the Philadelphia Sunday Mercury in the February 17, 1863, edition of the Lancaster Intelligencer.

    The Union army's winter camps of 1863 seemed to provide a crucible for matters of race, so it will be interesting to catalog the diverse perspectives within the 79th Pennsylvania (recall Lancaster was home to both Thaddeus Stevens and James Buchanan) and their evolution during the war and after.  Based on other research, I'm fairly confident that Witmer, McCaskey, and the Daily Evening Express approximately represent the median Republican opinion, so it's important to note the reluctance in early 1863 to advocate on African Americans' behalf as a benchmark for future reference. 

    Letter by Elias H. Witmer, Co. E, 79th Pennsylvania, appearing in the April 6, 1863, Lancaster Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    October 13, 2011

    'Three Days in Camp': A Newspaper Editor's Visit

    Location: Camp Wilkins, Pittsburgh, PA 15201, USA
    J. M. Willis Geist, editor of the Daily Evening Express
    From Ellis and Evans' 1883 History of Lancaster County

    A strong theme that quickly emerges when researching the 79th Pennsylvania is the deep connection between the regiment and the hometown newspapers, especially the Daily Evening Express--the only daily paper at the way's onset and predecessor to the New Era (see examples of printing work here).  Its editor, J. M. Willis Geist (bio), started the paper in 1856 around the same time he was involved with starting Lancaster County's Republican Party.  Throughout the war, soldiers continuously requested their friends in Lancaster forward copies of the Express, and many of the regiment's diarists note regular arrival of the Express in camp.

    Allegheny Arsenal, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA
    Just up the street from Camp Wilkins (Source)

    Shortly after Col. Hambright's regiment left Lancaster, Geist traveled to spend three days, October 12-14, with the regiment in camp.  When he returned, he published the following account posted below in the October 16, 1861, Express (alternate link).  I truncated the company rosters mentioned in the account and will post them on another occasion.

    October 12, 2011

    'Onward! Upward!': Pvt. F.J. Bender's Journey to Pittsburgh

    Location: 2-4 E Main St, Mt Joy, PA 17552, USA
    Camp Slifer, Chambersburg (Harper's Weekly, June 29, 1861)

    Even though this blog focuses on the 79th Pennsylvania, it takes me relatively little time to post soldiers' letters here.  So, I plan to post letters from other Lancaster County soldiers who campaigned with the 79th Pennsylvania in Kentucky and Tennessee.  For 1861 and 1862, this basically means a few letters from Cos. C and K, 77th Pennsylvania, which coincidentally each had intended at some point in the recruiting process to be part of the 79th Pennsylvania.  Don't expect much in the way of annotation due to my time constraints, but I think the letters stand pretty well on their own.

    The majority of these non-79th PA letters were written by a soldier named Flavius J. Bender of Co. C, 77th Pennsylvania.  As he records in this letter, Bender belonged to a cadre of fourteen enlistees (including younger brother Ezra) from Mount Joy who joined the company which otherwise was recruited from Huntingdon County.  Bender was a devoted member of the Church of God (Winebrenner), and was one of many correspondents who wrote to the denominational newspaper published by E. H. Thomas in Lancaster during the Civil War.  Thanks to Gaye Denlinger, of Conestoga, PA, for making her bound volumes of a complete run 1861-1864 of the newspaper available to me.

    The following letter was published in the November 7, 1861, Church Advocate: (alternate link)

    October 10, 2011

    First Soldier's Letter: 'Trip of the Normal Rifles to Pittsburg'

    Location: Camp Wilkins, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
    Passenger train at depot, Hanover Junction, 1863 (Source)

    I'll have more about the author of this letter, Corp. Elias H. Witmer of Company E, in a future post, but for now enjoy the first of a long series of letters published in the Daily Evening Express documenting events and emotions in the life of the Lancaster County Regiment.  A couple other notes:
    This letter appeared in the October 11, 1861, Express only one day after it was penned: (alternate link)

    "Allegheny Tunnel" Stereoview by Purviance, W. T. (William T.) via Wikimedia Commons

    October 9, 2011

    On to Pittsburg

    Location: N Queen St, Lancaster, PA, USA
    From What a Boy Saw in the Army
    Between October 5 and 8, 1861, special trains filled with Col. Hambright's volunteers departed Lancaster to cheers and good wishes of many citizens of Lancaster.  Although some companies briefly rendezvoused at Harrisburg, the regiment's destination was Pittsburgh.  A post tomorrow will feature a letter by one of the soldiers of Company E recounting the scenes in Lancaster and their journey.

    The journey was largely without incident.  The Express's editors, who generally supported Temperance causes, lamented in an article entitled, "Disgraceful," that a few hotel keepers in Lancaster threw open their doors to the volunteers and offered complimentary liquor.  Speaking of the saloon owners, the Express wrote: 
    If they were prompted to this step under the belief that they were doing the soldier a service they made a deplorable mistake.  When about to leave home an friends for the uncertainties of the battle field, we know that there are many feeling revolving in the heart of the soldier; and the fiery cup, when proffered in supposed friendship, its contents are swallowed down thoughtlessly.  No greater wrong could be done the soldier than to place the poisoned chalice to his lips on the eve of his departure from home.  (10/7/1862)

    Capt. William G. Kendrick of Company A, the "Jackson Rifles,"--Col. Hambright's most trusted company and the first to leave Lancaster--had a similar experience.  His first letter home to his wife, written from "Camp Hambright" in Harrisburg on October 6, began:
    My Soldier Life has now begun.  A terrible day I had of it yesterday.  Nearly the whole company was about half drunk or stupid, which gave me a delightful day of it.  I fear we will not soon meet again.  We are about to strike our tents now for Pittsburg.  (Kendrick Letters)
    Here are newspaper accounts related to the regiment's departure from October 5, 7, and 8, 1861 in the Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    October 4, 2011

    A Sunday Drive to Southern Lancaster County

    Location: Chestnut Level, Drumore, PA 17566, USA
    The Brown family at Devil's Den, Gettysburg, c. 1930.
    My grandmother, Ethel (Brown) Bielmyer, stands second from the left.

    On Sunday, I had the fortunate occasion to take a drive with my ninety-one year-old grandmother to southern Lancaster County and visit some of the sites I wrote about few weeks back.  Our mini-tour included William T. Clark's farm, the Chestnut Level Presbyterian Church where he was buried, the Drumore Friends Meeting with its cemetery in Liberty Square (where most of the people in the Shoemaker album are buried), and the Octoraro Creek in Little Britain Township where the fictional events of Ellwood Griest's John and Mary were set.

    In exchange, my grandmother recounted stories of her grandparents (Browns from Little Britain Township and Oxford, Chester County) and visiting family there in the 1920s.  Here are a few pictures of what we saw:

    'An Attempt to Poison Col. Hambright'

    Location: Martinsburg, WV 25401, USA
    I'm not quite sure how to interpret this rather odd story concerning Col. Hambright during the Three Months Campaign from the September 23, 1861, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

    October 3, 2011

    A Glimpse of the Nearly Invisible

    Location: Bainbridge, Conoy, PA 17502, USA
    1) Emma Smith 2) Maggie J. Wiley 3) Mary Johnson
    CDV by B. Frank Saylor, late 1860s
    Ebay item #200656604669 ($137.50)
    Of the thousands of photographs taken by Lancaster photographers before 1870 that I have viewed prior to this week, I can only recall one that had an African American as its subject.  In terms of primary sources, especially photography, Lancaster's African-American community is largely invisible.