1862: Peter King to Hannah (Mora) King

Peter King of West Pennsboro, Cumberland county, Pennsylvania, was 38 years old when he enlisted in Co. E, 130th Pennsylvania Volunteers—a 9 Months Regiment organized in August 1862. A poor farm hand, with assets valued at only $50 at the time of the 1860 US Census, Peter probably enlisted for the monetary bonus and pay he would send home to his wife—the former Hannah Mora—and his four children.

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Col. Henry I. Zinn of the 130th Penn. Vols. had his horse shot out from under him at Antietam; he was later killed at Fredericksburg.

Organized at Harrisburg, the regiment was fitted out and moved quickly in late August 1862 to garrison Fort Marcy, an earthwork near the Chain Bridge on the outskirts of the nation’s capitol. In early September, they were attached to the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 2nd Army Corps, of the Army of the Potomac and marched out on the Maryland Campaign with almost no drilling and of course no combat experience. In the bloody battle at Antietam on 17 September 1862, the loss of the regiment was forty killed, and two hundred and fifty-six wounded, many of whom died of their wounds. The regiment was commanded at Antietam by their colonel, Henry I. Zinn, who wrote his wife on the eve of the battle, “the 130th is not in condition to go into a fight, but we will do the best we can…” Zinn would have his horse shot from under him but survive this battle only to be killed at Fredericksburg three months later.

The regiment’s monument stands north of the Sunken Road, marking the regiment’s right of line in battle; it’s left extended to Roulett’s lane. It went into the battle by way of the Roulette farm buildings, about 9:30 A.M., and driving back the enemy, maintained its position at and immediately northeast of this point on the high ground overlooking Bloody Lane until 1:30 o’clock P.M. when withdrawn to replenish its exhausted ammunition, and then occupied the reserve line.

“The conduct of the new regiments,” says General French, “must take a prominent place in the history of this great battle. Un-drilled, but admirably armed and equipped, every regiment, either in advance or reserve, distinguished itself, but according to the energy and ability of their respective commanders. The report of Colonel Morris exhibits the services of his command. There never was such material in any army, and in one month these splendid men will not be excelled by any.”

After the battle, the regiment moved to Harper’s Ferry, and soon after went into camp on the heights overlooking the town. Here the men suffered severely for want of shelter-tents and hospital supplies, the sick list rapidly increasing.

[See also: “Pennsylvania’s Emergency Men: The 130th Pennsylvania” by blogger Dave Maher, and The History of the 130th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a Master’s Thesis by Terrence W. Beltz (2004).]

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King’s letter with patriotic letterhead and a tintype of an unknown Pennsylvania volunteer.

TRANSCRIPTION

Harpers Ferry [Virginia]
September 28th 1862

Dear Hannah,

I again commence to address you a few lines, to let know that I am still in the land of the living, after one of the most disastrous battles [Battle of Antietam] that this continent ever saw. I was not in the action but it was not my fault. You know we soldiers must perform any duty that is imposed on us by our officers. You know, I was left behind as a camp guard and of course owing to that fact, I was not in the battle. I am in excellent health, thank God and in good spirits.

I must now give you some account of our march to this place. We left Camp Marcy—the land of good water and bad pies—on Tuesday the 15th inst. about six o’clock P. M. and arrived in Washington about bed time after a middling tiresome march. We spent two days pleasantly in that city, visiting the different places of the Capitol. We started from that place on the following Friday morning and being detained along the road by other trains of cars on the track, we did not reach the Monocacy Junction until after nightfall. Before we laid down to rest we saw a number of Secession prisoners hurrahing for Jeff Davis and Alabama.

The next morning we awoke, we then first saw the miseries of war—Heavens what a sight! Our wounded fellow soldiers laying in the open air with no covering but the canopy of Heaven, wounded in all the different ways possible for man to be maimed and scarcely any of them with their wounds dressed.

We left that place after taking our crackers and coffee and started to pass through the city of Frederick—the place that was a short time before that the Headquarters for the Rebel army. Along the road we met many wounded soldiers who had passed along the road from the battlefield, having no places to stop. When we passed through that place, we found it filled with sick and wounded soldiers. There we first learned that our Regiment was in the hottest part of the battle and although raw troops, the most of them stood it like veterans.

After we passed Frederick, we also found wounded soldiers along the road not being able to get in any place by hundreds. We marched that day to the west end of Middletown—a beautiful little place—and encamped for the night and in the morning after coffee and crackers, we visited that place. We there found two large churches converted into Hospitals, yet their accommodations were short to keep all the invalids they were called on to accommodate.

We started and still found hundreds of wounded soldiers along our road to Boonsbo[ro], and there we saw the first wounded soldiers belonging to our regiment. The[y] appeared to be well taken care of, and in good spirits. The people of the town appeared to make them as comfortable as circumstances would permit. We passed through that town on Sunday, and encamped about two miles from the battlefield. Before we reached the field, we came to the hospital where a number of our wounded soldiers lay. Great God! just to think what misery war will cause. Men whom only a few days before were hale, hearty men, now laying in a stable and some in a barnyard on straw, maimed for life, with not a single relative to soothe their aching heart.

We arrived here [Harpers Ferry] on Tuesday morning last after wading the Potomac and found the regiment in a despondent mood. Yet they appeared in better spirits than I expected to find them.

Tell the children I want them to be particular and mind what their mother tells them. Let me know all the particulars about home.

I sent my likeness. Did you receive it? Have you sold the cow?

Direct as before.

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Photograph taken by Alexander Gardner on 19 September 1862. Burial crews, likely from the 130th Pennsylvania, stand on the ridge at the Sunken Road.

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