March 28, 2012

Elias Witmer's 'Interesting, Instructive, and Amusing" Incidents in Nashville

Location: Nashville, TN, USA
Tennessee State House in Nashville (National Archives #528850)

After a hiatus of over two months, the 79th Pennsylvania's "regular correspondent," Corp. Elias H. Witmer, resumed his journalistic responsibilities with a letter penned on March 27, 1862, that was worth the wait.  Recall that Witmer was a shopkeeper in the Lancaster County village of Mountville before the war, and see <this post> for a brief biography.

The first half of the letter describes the state of affairs in Nashville.  Skip to Page 3, though, for Witmer's account of a nice spring day spent touring the city in company of a few friends.  The highlight was a productive mock legislative session held in the Tennessee State Capitol worthy of Lancaster County's Congressman, Thaddeus Stevens.  Witmer recounted the incident:
While on a visit to this place, in company with several of my friends of the "bloody 79th;" we forgot that we were soldiers, and imagined ourselves legislators and acted accordingly.  After electing a speaker by acclamation, we proceeded to business, during which able speeches were made, and animation burned upon the brow of every senator.  The following was the result of the session: Adopted the erring sister, Tennessee, as a member of the United States family, provided she hangs her traitors, re-builds her destroyed properties, swears allegiance to her former faith, clothes herself in sackcloth and sits in ashes, and prays for forgiveness until the last rebel shall have given up the ghost; sold South Carolina to Africa, with a promise that we will not interfere if England desires to extend her conquest to her shores; defied the allied powers to "break" our blockade; sympathized with Mexico in her present difficulties; sent Mason and Slidell exiles to the dreary shores of Botany Bay; sentenced Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet to be hung on John Brown's gallows, and the rest of the traitors in the City of Washington, and the English Parliament witness and House of Commons, be invited to the spectacle; voted that the "C.S.A." exists only in worthless bonds, scrip, shinplasters, and fresh-made graves, after which we adjourned to meet again on or before October next, in Lancaster, Penna., when the 79th shall be mustered out of service.
Having finished our National business, we paid our compliments to Gov. Johnson, who by the way, is a noble-hearted and brave man, worthy the position assigned him.  

Witmer continues to describe visiting the graves of President Polk and Confederate General Zollicoffer.  He ends by noting that Gen. Negley's brigade was detached from the division of Alexander McCook, who apparently had fallen out of favor with the men in the ranks of the Lancaster County Regiment.  While the rest of the division was marching toward their first engagement, the Battle of Shiloh, the 79th Pennsylvania spent late March and early April encamped among flowering trees by a beautiful spring south of Nashville on the turnpike to Franklin, Tennessee. 

From the April 3, 1862, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

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