1862: Frederick Wilhelm Wild to Alfred Wild

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Frederick Wilhelm Wild in later years

The author of this letter—“Fred”—addressed his letter to a younger brother whom he named “Alfred” and datelined the letter from Williamsport, Maryland, on 4 December 1864. This did not give me much to go on to further identify the author though I quickly deduced he was most likely a member of the Maryland Brigade; probably in the 6th, 7th, or 8th Maryland Infantry. These regiments were formed in the fall of 1862 and throughout October, November and early December were deployed in the Union line of defenses some five miles long on the upper Potomac River near Williamsport. All three regiments had relocated to Maryland Heights by mid-December where they went into winter quarters.

As I searched further for possible members of this brigade with members named “Fred” or “Frederick” and a younger brother named Alfred, I found a Frederick Wilhelm Wild (1841-1923), the 20 year-old son of German immigrant George Wild, a blacksmith residing in Baltimore’s 17th Ward in 1860. Besides Frederick, George had a son named Alfred born in 1842. Pulling the string further, I discovered that Frederick had enlisted on 9 August 1862 in Alexander’s Battery of the Baltimore Light Artillery and that this artillery unit was attached to the Maryland Brigade.

Compelling evidence of the author’s identity is his reference to “Hen” and “Lew” who were two other brothers—Louis P. Wild (a 23 year-old glass blower in 1860), and Henry Wild (a 16 year-old clerk in 1860). Fred also mentions having to retrieve water from a distance comparable to a neighbor in Baltimore named Hopps. I could not find a neighbor by that name in the 1860 Census but I did find a neighbor recorded as “Mr. Hobs”—a stove maker residing not far away in the 17th Ward.

After the war, Frederick published his memoirs in a book entitled, Memoirs and History of Capt. F. W. Alexander’s Baltimore Battery of Light Artillery. On page 17 of that book, he describes the Williamsport position: “The troops here were placed in a defensive position, and were called lines of defense of Williamsport. Two of our guns were placed to guard the ford of the river. Small earth works were thrown up to protect the position.” By the 4th of December when this letter was penned, the battery had exchanged their “old smoothbore brass six pounders for the new modern three inch rifled steel guns.”

Fred served 2 years, 10 months, and 8 days in the battery. He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Winchester and spent two months at Belle Isle in Richmond.

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In 1864 the Wild family resided at 272 S. Charles Street just south of the Baltimore & Ohio RR tracks (middle of red dot). 

TRANSCRIPTION

Williamsport [Maryland]
December 4th 1862

Dear Brother Alfred!

You don’t know how glad I was to get a letter from you but I am almost ashamed to answer it because you write a good deal better than I do. I am sorry that Father is sick. Tell him I hope he may soon be better.

I should like to be home Christmas but I can’t get a furlough as we have not gone into winter quarters yet. Hen or Lew will tell you what winter quarters are. But I shall come home as soon as I can get a furlough.

Do you know where Williamsport is on the map? If you look, you will see that it is on the Potomac river 100 miles above Washington. Our camp is on a hill like Federal Hill where we can look over into Virginia where the rebels are. We have no fort like Federal Hill though but the hill we are on is an old wheat field. We sleep in our tents and I tell you, it is pretty cold sometimes—especially when the wind blows.

Alfred, I often think now how I used to hate to go to the pump after water but I would like to do it now if I was home for we have to walk as far as from our house to Hopp’s pump after water. [And] then it ain’t like in a town where you can walk on the pavement, but it is over a field full of mud and dirt. Then I couldn’t eat no fat. Father and Mother often told me I would learn it yet—[and] so I did. But not until I had to for the meat the meat—most all fat pork—we get is so fat, it would have made me sick to look at it when I was home. But now I like it.

Dear brother, nobody knows what hard life is till he becomes a soldier. But don’t think that I mean to grumble or be dissatisfied. No!! far from it. I am willing and able to stand a harder life yet when I think it is to preserve the greatest and best country that ever was. And when this horrid war is over and the Union is again as it was, I will be proud to say that I fought to get it so. So may you be proud to think that you had a brother in the Union Army of the Potomac.

Your brother, — Fred

Answer soon.

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Handwriting comparison between Fred’s 1862 letter and one he wrote in 1910; clearly a match though separated in time by half a century.
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