This letter was written by 20 year-old John Dentzer (1841-1913), the son of Philip and Catherine Dentzer. In the 1860 US Census, 18 year-old John Dentzer (spelled “Dencer” in the census record) was enumerated in the Pottsville, Pennsylvania, household of 80 year-old German immigrant Elizabeth Shank, presumably with two of his brothers, Andrew (age 20) and Charles (age 22). John was identified as an apprentice blacksmith at that time.
John enlisted as a private in Co. A, 96th Pennsylvania Infantry on 23 September 1861. He was dropped from the company rolls in October 1862.
In 1888, John was married to Susan W. Otto (b. 1862), 21 years his junior. In later life he resided in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania, where he was employed as a blacksmith.
John addressed the letter to Anthony Madison of Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
[Note: This letter is posted here by the express consent of Janet Madison Nolan who offered to share it with others.]
Camp Franklin, Virginia
December 13, 1861
My dear friend Mr. Madison,
I now take up my pen to write a few lines to inform you that I am well at present hoping that these few lines will find you in the same state of health and prosperity. I guess the people of Pottsville think that I am dead but they are very much mistaken. If they would see me eating flitch [milk custard pie] they wouldn’t think I was dead.
We are all in good health. [Your son] John is in good health and he gets along very well.
There was a man deserted from the New York First Cavalry Regiment ¹ and they caught him this week and he was executed and shot today. The whole [of] Slocum’s Division was present and our regiment had the purtiest sight of it. They formed a [hollow] square and then they hauled him all around the square while the band was playing the Dead March and I tell you, it sounded very solemn. And then they took him in the square and sat down his coffin and sat him on the top of the coffin. And then the priest prayed for him and then they tied his eyes shut and then there was 12 men stood 10 yards off and the priest got on his knees and then they shot him in the head and breast. And then the whole division passed by him and looked at him while he laid along side of the coffin. So we can say we seen one traitor shot.
I must now bring my letter to a close as it is late. I will write more the next time. Please excuse the writing. Give my love to all inquiring friends. Please direct your letters to John Dentzler, Co. A, 96th Regiment Penn. Vols, Camp Franklin, Alexandria, Va., Care of Capt. T. S. Hay
So I remain your true friend, — John Dentzer
Answer soon. That’s all at present
¹ The trooper was William H. Johnson of Co. D, 1st New York Cavalry. At his trial the trooper testified that it was not his desire to desert but to slip through enemy lines so that he could visit his mother and sister who lived in New Orleans. The execution took place on Friday the 13th at 3 p.m. and was the first military execution in the Army of the Potomac. The execution took place on a “wide plain north of the seminary. The brigades of Slocum, Kearney, and Newton, each in two lines twenty paces apart, formed three side of a hollow square.” [Source: “The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry…” by William Harrison Beach, page 68]