April 24, 2012

Lancaster NOT at Shiloh: Letters from 'E.H.W.'

Location: Columbia, TN, USA
General Buell's army crossing the Duck River near Columbia, Tennessee, where the 79th Pennsylvania was left on detached duty during the Battle of Shiloh (HW 5/3/1862)
Checking in with the 79th Pennsylvania's regular soldier-correspondent, Corp. Elias H. Witmer, we find that missing the Battle of Shiloh due to being on detached duty outside of Nashville caused much angst among the soldiers of the Lancaster County Regiment.  It's hard to separate hyperbolic indignation from fact, but Witmer certainly took umbrage at silly insinuations of cowardice by "ye shallow-pated demagogues of Lancaster" that the 79th Pennsylvania had been intentionally excluded from battle. 

After that excitement calmed, we have a second letter from the Mountville storekeeper written a week later on April 21.  Its main topic was fugitive slaves--a naturally complicated situation that would demand policy attention by Union forces in that part of Tennessee.  Acknowledged the polarized nature of discussions about slavery, Witmer--who apparently went to war with a negative opinion of slavery--declined to judge what he saw saying, "If I would write favorable about the slaves, my friends would say, he has changed his opinion on slavery, and if I would write unfavorable some would say he is prejudiced." 

He continued to complain about the restraint Union forces showed to hostile civilians and express little hope of reconciliation within a generation.  Of Southern women, he wrote:
The women are evidently the worst enemies to the government; they display a prejudice and hatred unequaled by the men in arms; they believe that our mission is the emancipation of slaves, which would doom them to labor.  They despise the sunburnt brow of honest industry; they look in scorn upon the dignity of labor, and consider the subjects of that great lever of our national greatness as the rubbage of society.
Witmer concludes with comments about pay problems in the 79th Pennsylvania and the allotment roles designed to transfer money to soldiers' families.  I have other information about this, including a letter from the wife of a soldier, which warrants its own post (time permitting).  

From the April 19, 1862, Daily Evening Express (alternate link):

From the April 30, 1862, Daily Evening Express: (alternate link)

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