1864-65: George Washington Aughenbaugh to Elizabeth M. (Eyster) Aughenbaugh

These letters were written by George Washington Aughenbaugh (1829-1913)—a bar tender in York county, Pennsylvania—who was drafted into Co. H, 200th Pennsylvania Infantry. He entered the service in August 1864 as a private and was discharged as a sergeant in May 1865 after 9 months of service. At the time these letters were written, the 200th Pennsylvania was attached to the Army of the James and posted near Dutch Gap, Virginia.

George wrote the letters to his wife, Elizabeth Melvina Eyster (1830-1901). The couple had three small children at the time George was drafted—Lizzie (b. 1855), Jimmy (b. 1860), and and John (b. 1863).


Camp at Butler’s Front
October 19th 1864

Dear wife,

I wrote to you a few days ago and told you where we were in camp at that time and told you that we did not expect to move very soon, but I was very much mistaken for the next evening after I wrote to you, we were ordered to march at 11 o’clock at night and by half past eleven o’clock, we were on the march to the front—and to get us there they marched us around through the country about 12 miles when they could have done it in about 6 miles. We arrived at the front in the morning a little after sunrise where we now are in camp. Last Saturday night I was out on picket and came in Sunday evening. On Monday afternoon I went out on picket again & came in last night, but I suppose they will not be able to take us much farther anymore, as our camp is not more than about ¾ of a mile from the Rebel camp. When I was on picket Saturday night, I could hear the rebels sing and preach in their camp from our picket line. Last time I was in a different direction where we layed in a large pine woods not more than about two hundred yards from the rebel camp. The rebel pickets were not more than half that distance and we could see the rebels march up and down the line and could see them very distinctly in their camp. Some of the pickets were talking and trading coffee or tobacco with them. I would like to trade with them but I did not get close enough to them yet. Every morning all the soldiers in the camps are called out at between 4 and 5 o’clock and marched out into the breastworks and stand there until sunrise when we are taken into camp where we have to sweep all the streets before breakfast.

I do not think that we will have a fight here just now but we can not tell anything about as we are on the front lines about halfway between Petersburg and Richmond. We were out target shooting this morning when we could see the steeples in Petersburg very distinctly. One thing is certain, we get more rations here than we did any time yet since we left Harrisburg. But our duty is considerable too for when I am on picket, I am not allowed to go to sleep at all through the night as I always have charge of a post. But in daytime, I can get some sleep—that is, about every other night.

Col. Charles W. Diven; “Many of the men would rather shoot him than look at him.” — G. W. A.

Alexander Kidd was left behind when we marched to the front and I understood he has been sent to the hospital. There are quite a number sick in our regiment at present and then again there are quite a number of them that I think are too lazy to do anything. Some are afraid to go into a fight and are trying to make themselves sick. I like our company officers but our colonel [Charles Worth Diven] is not fit to have command of a regiment and I believe that a great many of the men would rather shoot him than look at him.

You sent me a comb. I have no bugs yet but I am glad you sent it to me. I do not know how soon I might want it. The nights are beginning to get very cold and frosty in the morning but the days are hot and a good many men are getting the ague & fever. I have got an elegant overcoat and this morning I ordered a pair of gloves but I am not sure if the government furnishes them. If it does not, I will get you to send me a pair. You can tell Jimmy if he would be with me, he could see the rebels. Give my love to Lizzie and Jimmy and tell them I want them to learn something till I come home. So no more at present but remain your husband, — G. W. Aughenbaugh

View of Petersburg from the right


In Front of Petersburg
December 2nd 1864

My Dear Wife,

I wrote a letter to you from the extreme left wing of Grant’s Army in which I told you that we had a long march but we remained only two nights and one day when we were marched back again the same road. We went as far as Petersburg when we took a northeasterly direction and went into camp where we now are. We marched between thirty and forty miles back and forwards and now our camp is not more than about four miles from our old camp.

We are encamped about one mile from Petersburg in a direct line. We are encamped on a hill sloping to the east and if we go on top of the hill, we can look right down into Petersburg and can see the steeples and tops of the houses. We had seen very little of the army before this march but we marched right through Grant’s army from right to left and saw more troops than you have any idea. I saw the field where Jacob Smyser ¹ was taken prisoner in and the men in his regiment have not heard anything of him since.

I am not quite as well as I have been but I think in a day or two I will be well again. The weather has been most beautiful since we started on our march. When you write again, let me know how the weather has been in Pennsylvania. Henry Brant stopped me yesterday and told me to tell you that he would like to rent the house again and said his wife was going to rent of you and he would pay the whole rent in advance. Be careful what agreement you make.

So no more at present but remain your truly husband, — G. W. Aughenbaugh

¹ Pvt. Jacob Smyser was drafted into Co. C, 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry. He was taken prisoner at Weldon Railroad on 21 August 1864.


Camp in front of Petersburg
February 22d 1865

Dear wife,

I received your kind and welcome letter yesterday morning and was glad to hear that you and the children were well at the time of writing. I am very well at present. You said in your letter that George Eyster has written several letters and wondered why I did not write to him and [    ]. I have not received any letters from any of them except young George and that one I answered and I also wrote one to George but he never wrote to me. I wrote to George day before yesterday. I received those two dollars you sent to me. I had no particular use for it as I have enough to eat at present and it is said we will be paid off this week yet but I have not much faith in it anymore as it has been reported before. It was right you got the interest if you wanted it.

You can tell [our son] Jimmy that the Rebels will not get me and I think the war will soon be over. Our colonel got a dispatch that the Rebels evacuated Charleston and Sherman occupied it and took two hundred cannon. The Johnnies are coming into our lines in our front by the dozens and they say we should wait until beginning of next month when they will come by the hundreds. I saw twelve privates and one colonel pass or camp today. There was about one hundred that passed our camp within the last week.

You asked me whether Father has sent me a box or not. I do not know if he sent one or not. I have not received none. There has no boxes come to our regiment for about six weeks. There are several boxes on the road for our mess which have been on the road for more than a month. It is said that the government will not carry any boxes since the rivers are frozen up. We have fine weather down here this week. It appears like spring.

Today they are going to fire a salute in our front of one hundred guns in honor of General Sherman’s victory. I wish you could be here to see it. You can tell Maggie Wolf ¹ that I said the Emanuel Heilman, Michael Smyser, Henry Bott, Andrew Brenaman, and some others are nearly crazy since they heard that she is married. You can tell her I wish her a great deal of happiness and a young son every year and a little one in between. You need not send a box until I tell you to send one because it will not come through just now.

I was working in the commissary this week and could get as much to eat as I want[ed]. I do not know yet whether I will stay or not. If I can stay, I will. So no more at present but remain your husband, — G. W. Aughenbaugh

¹ Margaret Ann Wolf (1846-1883) was George’s niece, the daughter of Peter Wolf (1822-1880) and Sarah Ann Eyster (1823-1885).


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