This letter was written by Joseph Walker Brownlee (1837-1909), the son of Joseph Brownlee (1791-1867) and Jane Auld (1805-1882) of West Middletown, Washington county, Pennsylvania. Joseph enlisted in the late summer of 1862 in Co. B of Ringgold’s Battalion Pennsylvania Cavalry and it was while serving in this company that he wrote the following letter. In the summer of 1863, this company was consolidated with other cavalry companies to form the 22nd Pennsylvania Cavalry (185th Volunteers) and Joseph was then part of Company C.
Addressed to Mr. Joseph W. Brownlee,
West Middletown, Avella, Penn.
December 29, 1862
I think this is the second letter that I have ever written on Sabbath but I think in the circumstances it is no harm for we have come here, all our things are left at Romney, we have nothing to read, and to sit idle all day is wrong; so I thought I could not spend a half hour more profitably than in writing you a short letter. You will see that I have taken a leaf of an old Blank Book made in 1786.
We came here on Tuesday morn having traveled all night. It is 42 miles from Romney to this place and you may imagine about how tired and sleepy we felt when we got here. Many of us had been on picket the night before which made it worse. There is preaching here today but we are not permitted to stay out of camp long enough to go. We are encamped in the outskirts of the town in some lots without any covering but one blanket and the canopy of heaven. Some of us pull pine boards off the fences to protect us from the damp ground.
The enemy drove in our pickets night before last but were driven back with small loss. No loss on our side. I stood picket one night on the old battlefield of Jackson and Banks when the latter was forced to retreat back to Washington City. Shells and balls are to be seeing lying around on the ground and the graves of our brave soldiers mark the place. ¹
This town is probably 3 or 4 times as large as Washington but strange to say, there is hardly a store in the town larger or even as large as Boyd’s in W. Middletown. It is reported that Romney is taken with all our clothes, carpet sacks, &c. It may be untrue. There is some fever and a good deal of small pox in the town so that we keep pretty close to camp. From this place we can see the Blue Ridge Mountains 30 miles off. The range is distinctly visible for about 10 miles. The gap at Harpers Ferry can be seen, Snicker’s Gap is where there was a hard fight and which the rebels still hold. Berry’s Gap and Loudoun Gap are also to be seen.
I would think the people of this town must be in a starving condition. Everything is is very scarce and dear. Eggs are 50 cents per dozen, butter !.50 per pound, flour 25 to 30 cents, coffee and sugar could not be obtained before we came here. We could almost get a meals victuals with our spoonful of coffee. I have great reason for thankfulness for good health and hope it may be continued.
Direct your letters still to New Creek as there is no mail here.
Monday evening: We expect to take another trip of 40 miles tomorrow. We can stand it better than our horses can. You may hear from us soon again. Your affectionate son, — J. W. Brownlee
P. A. B.
¹ This is a reference to the Battle of Cedar Mountain which took place on 9 August 1862.