1863: Rinaldo Alden to Catharine Hamerly

This letter was written by Rinaldo Alden (1843-1910), the son of Abner Alden (1801-1886) and Elizabeth Westgate (1812-1880) of Fairview, Erie county, Pennsylvania. Rinaldo served as a bugler in Co. G, 6th U.S. Cavalry along side of his brother, Corp. Alanson B. Alden. Rinaldo enlisted in July 1861.

Rinaldo married Anna Jeannette Howland (1847-1913) in April 1867 and together they had at least eight children. Rinaldo and his family eventually moved to Waukegan, Illinois, where he had an organ shop and wood-turning factory for over 20 years. He died in Ladysmith in September 1907 but was interred in Waukegan.

Rinaldo wrote this letter to Catherine Hamerly, the 18 year-old daughter of Joseph and Mary Hamerly—French emigrants who had settled in Rinaldo’s hometown of Fairview.

In his letter, Rinaldo tells his friend he was taken prisoner on July 3rd, 1863, in the Battle of Fairfield (near Fairfield, Pennsylvania) which resulted in the Confederate victory and the control of the Hagerstown Road down which Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was able to retreat from the battlefield at Gettysburg. In the cavalry fight, Brig. Gen. “Grumble” Jones captured more than 150 Yankee prisoners—Rinaldo among them. After the engagement, “Grumble” bragged in exaggeration that “the Sixth U.S. Regular Cavalry numbers among the things that were.” After his capture, Rinaldo was confined on Belle Isle in Richmond until he was paroled.

Rinaldo’s letter with image of unidentified bugler


Camp Parole
Annapolis, Maryland
October 30, 1863

Dear Friend,

Once more I take this opportunity to let you know that I have not forgotten you entirely for I never shall. Our correspondence has been stopped for some tome but I suppose you have heard of the accident that happened [to] me and a few others from about Erie county. The third day of July last, we was taken prisoner and have been in the hands of the enemy ever since. We have been back to Uncle Sam two or three weeks but have been a moving about so much that I could not write so as to give you the direction if you answer this. I am well at present and hope it will find you the same.

The last time I heard from you, you was very sick but I hope you are well and enjoying good health.

I was taken prisoner in the wrong time of the year to suit me for when we got back, the good peaches and melons and some other fruits [were gone]. But never mind. If nothing worse happens [to] me than that in my last year, they can’t fool me out of the fruit next summer, I hope. Then we may eat an peach and an apple together and that this cruel war may be over and a few such things be gone past and forgotten.

The South will starve if something is not done soon. I have been with them in the past two months and they did not have enough to feed us. We very nigh starved to death in their hands. But since we have been back to Uncle Sam, we have got fat and a getting in better spirits everyday where we are now—in a fine place—good houses and plenty to eat and good coffee to drink. We are well provided for by our good old Father Abe and Uncle Sam. They send us everything that we want—and more too—while the South is a starving to death on their cornmeal made up into hoe cakes. I will tell you how they bake them. They take the corn meal and mix it up with cold water—no salt nor a particle of anything else—and make it up in balls about the size of a teacup and put it in the hot ashes and let it remain there until it is done and then take it out and eat it with cold water. This is their main living. So you can tell or guess how they feed us and the rest of their prisoners &c.

I guess I will bring my letter to a close as it is the first one for a long time. You must not feel any disappointed for my not writing sooner. No more at present. Excuse poor spelling and bad scribbling and if you can’t red it, keep it a short time and I will help you. Do goodnight.

Yours truly, from a friend, — Rinaldo Alden

to Miss Catharine Hammerlie

Write soon and direct your letter to Camp Parole, Annapolis, Maryland, Barracks 8
Co. G, 6th U. S. Cavalry



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