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]
These two letters were written by Robert Theophilus Rigg (1840-1911), the son of Reese Evans Rigg (1816-1893) and Jane Finger (1815-1882) of Pottsville, Schuylkill county, Pennsylvania. Robert enlisted in September 1861 in Co. A, 96th Regiment of Pennsylvania. He mustered out on 1 March 1862.
Robert wrote both of these letters to the parents of John Madison who served with him in the same company. Robert was engaged to John’s oldest sister, Jane Ann Madison, at the time, though they never married. After Jane Ann’s mother died in February 1862, she decided to not marry Robert Rigg but to stay home and raise her younger brothers and sisters.
Robert was married to Mary Jane Beck (1842-1903) in March 1862 after he was discharged from the service.
[Note: These letters are posted here by the express consent of Janet Madison Nolan who offered to share them with others.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Camp Franklin, Virginia
December 11, 1861
Mr. Madison and dear friends,
Sir, you must forgive me for not writing to you sooner. We are kept busy drilling from morning till evening that I have very little time myself. Mother Madison, she thinks John must be sick. He is not for he is well and hearty and so am I well. And we are in good spirits in the bargain.
Christmas will soon be here so we must fix a tree in one corner of our parlor and hang our guns and cartridge boxes and our hats on it. Pap and Mamy, we have fine times together. We try to do our duty to God and at the same time to our country—the land that gave us birth. We hope and pray that the flag of our country may float over all the land again.
My love to you and Many and the girls and all the family. Give my love to my father and mother and all the rest.
Tell Jane Ann [Madison] that she must get everything ready [for our marriage] for we may get home on Christmas, I think, three years from now—not this Christmas, but Christmas three years. So you must not get down-hearted but keep up your spirits. Give my love to all the young ladies and all inquiring friends. So write soon. Remember us in your prayers. From your son, Robert Rigg
Give my love to all my friends, Jane Ann and Elizabeth. John Madison and Robert T. Rigg and the rest of the boys sends their love to you—that is, the ones in our Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
January 12, 1862
I suppose you think that I have forgotten you altogether. Not yet, for I think about you all.
We are trying to love and serve God in our weak way, but at the same time we have to contend with more wickedness than if we was home for there we can be led by those that has served God for years. Where we are now, we have to do the best we can so pray for your unworthy brother.
When you write, please tell us how the meetings are progressing this winter at Church—whether there has been any mourners or not. Tell us all the news. We are separated from all these blessings of God, but far from you all, I still thing about all and the many happy meetings that I have been to and felt the good of them.
I am very sorry to hear that so many is sick and some have died since we have left our homes. I hope by the time you receive my letter that all manner of sickness may have left your Father’s house.
We are all well—John and myself, and in good spirits in our log house.
It is reported that we have to march back to Washington City. If so, instead of moving towards the Rebels, we are moving near home but to guard Washington City is a high honor. It is something that not every regiment can do. I hardly know what to write for I hear nothing from morning to night. The only thing we hear is the roaring of cannon and guns. We are in the wilderness or else clean out of the world.
I must bring my letter to a close for this time by asking you to give my love to your Father and Mother, and all the rest of the family. My love to you and all inquiring friends. Write soon and oblige.
These letters were written by Jacob C. Claar (1836-1912) of Co. E, 138th Pennsylvania. He enlisted on 29 August 1862 and was mustered out of the regiment on 23 June 1865 at Washington D. C.
Jacob learned how to swing a hammer from his father, Simon Walter Claar (1806-1849) and how to cook and wash his own clothes from his mother, Rachel Alice Croyle (1811-1861). When Jacob’s father died in 1849, his 40 year-old mother was left with a large family to care for. There were eight children enumerated in the household in 1850, ranging in age from twenty to two. Perhaps she was helped in keeping up the farm by 40 year-old John Claar and wife May who lived on an adjacent property—most likely a brother-in-law.
Before entering the army, Jacob married (in 1859) his cousin, Christina Claar (1839-1909), the daughter of Joseph and Ester (Ickes) Claar of Blain County, Pennsylvania. Jacob and Christina may have jumped the gun a little starting their family. By the time Jacob entered the service, he had two boys, Austin and Samuel, who are frequently mentioned in these letters.
After the war, Jacob returned to Union, Bedford county, Pennsylvania, where he earned a living as a carpenter, a farmer, and eventually a preacher. The Stiffler family is also mentioned from time to time in these letters. I believe they were cousins of the Claar’s.
The twenty letters are transcribed and may be found by clicking on the links below. Use your “back” or “return” key on your browser to return to this page.
These two letters were written by Corp. William Budd Shinn, (1832-1899) of Co. H, 138th OVI (National Guard) that served on active duty from 2 May 1864 to 1 September 1864 (100 Days). William was the son of Job Rogers Shinn (1799-1871) and Anna Maria Miller (1808-1887) of Hamilton county, Ohio.
This Regiment was mustered into the United States service on the 14th of May, 1864, and was ordered immediately to Washington City. Arriving on May 22nd, it was placed in the defenses south of the Potomac, with headquarters in Fort Albany, and detachments in Forts Craig and Tillinghast. June 5th found the regiment at White House Landing serving picket duty and guarding prisoners. It was ordered to Bermuda Hundred and proceeded on steamer, via Fortress Monroe, up the James to Fort Powhaten. The regiment debarked and marched 25 miles in very hot weather to Bermuda Hundred. On the 19th of June it arrived at Fort Spring Hill, on the eastern bank of the Appomattox, opposite Point of Rocks, and was engaged in picket and fatigue duty at Point of Rocks and Broadway Landing. On June 22, they were visited by President Abraham Lincoln as mentioned in the second letter.
William wrote the letter to Elizabeth Hine (b. 1836), the sister of his wife, Henrietta or”Ettie” (Hine) Shinn (1839-1903) of Mount Washington, Hamilton county, Ohio.
I thought a few lines from your unworthy brother would not be amiss at this time. Although you may hear direct and often from me through other sources, perhaps it is not so satisfactory as to come from me directed to Miss Lizzie.
Well, in the first place, my health is tolerable good. There is something in the water or what we eat that does not agree with us. Otherwise we are tolerable well. We expected to have left this place on yesterday for we always move on the Sabbath, but we are still here waiting transportation to some point on the James River. They say we report at Fortress Monroe. They say Fort Darling is taken and we are going to garrison that place. There is a great many of the old troops of Baldy Smith’s Division coming from the front to this place to go around to the James river.
Lizzie, the army is a good place to find out the principles of men. There is a good deal of style put on by our superiors—even down to our Fifth Sergeant. A private feels that he is of but little consequence. I think we have a poor doctor [Charles P. Wilson]. If you could see him strut around with his spurs on, it would remind you of some small strut of a rooster. I pity the man that gets sick on his hands for he would soon send him off to the hospital. In fact, I don’t think we are very deficient in this matter.
We had meeting on yesterday afternoon out in the hot sun seated on the ground. We had some golden chains from which we selected some pieces and tried to sing. Brother [Charles H.]. Williams being sick, some brother of the Regiment preached from these words, “A greater than Jonah is here.” The Colonel [Samuel S. Fisher] concluded with prayer which was very appropriate.
The Captain [Benneville Kline] and 2nd Lieutenant [John C. Littler], Henry Bill Gerard and one or two more mess together. They have a good fix of it—always plenty. If the balance go without, they buy many things extra to eat, having a cook purposely detailed for that object to wait on their honors. Don’t understand me to be complaining. There is some of us more fortunate than others—that’s what’s the matter.
I have just been talking with some of the men from the front and they say Grant can’t take Richmond from this side and he is changing around to Fort Darling and try it on that side. I must close. Excuse my imperfect letter and write me a good one. Give my love to all the family. Yours in truth, –W
Tell me all the news.
Direct to Washington to follow the regiment. Remember me, Wm. B. Shinny’s. I have written 3 letters to Ett and received 2. Last night was very cold and we had hard work to keep warm. In the daytime, it is quite warm. I will make the next more interesting to you if I can. No more at. present.
P. S. Sam Burdsall deserted us at Washington and is now under guard at that place as a deserter. It is the married Sam.
Pages 1 & 4
Pages 2 & 3
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Spring Hill, Va.
June 25, 
A few lines from me in answer to your kind letter I have no doubt will be received with pleasure. Your letter was very interesting to me—especially where you pictured out to my memory the present appearance of my little home. How different now the present prospects to the past. All is uncertainty. The grass in the yard may grow as green as ever and the beautiful flowers may bloom and land forth their lush [paper creased] there is something missed. The home is not complete. There are not so many foot steps as there used to be heard upon the gravel walk. There is one less to enjoy it. I will not dwell here.
I wrote a letter to Ettie yesterday and I was sorry afterwards for the weather was so hot and not feeling well, I could not make it as interesting as I should had circumstances been more favorable.
I am writing now while I am on picket about a quarter of a mile from the fort, having come out last night, and this is about eight o’clock Sunday morning. We are sitting under some rails fixed up with bushes thrown on top for shade. I wish for some rain to settle the dust and make it cooler for everything is getting parched up with the heat. Theodore Johnson is sitting by my side and Tom Rose on the other, both writing letters. Abe Hopper is laying down in the shade. He is not well. There is four of us.
There was hard fighting last night at Petersburg—one continuous roar of cannon and musketry. There is some firing this morning. I have not heard the result of the fight. The rebel pickets on one side of us are in plain view just across the river. The pickets don’t disturb one another. There is a signal tower across the river from which we watch their movements. They don’t like this at all and have tried to shoot it down but have failed so far—some of their balls coming very close to it. We could see all their movements from where they fired their shots and see the ball strike the ground near the tower.
We do not know whether we shall leave this place or not. There is no one that can have any idea of the immense work before our army. To look at the work that is yet to be accomplished before we can believe we shall be successful in taking Richmond would cause the firmest of us to waver at home. We think different and not one in a hundred have the least idea how things are situated. You can’t tell anything by the papers.
Now for instance, [take] Petersburg. If at home, we would say, “Why don’t our army take it?” Well they have been and for near two weeks has there been constant fighting and it is not yet taken because there is fortifications every foot of the way. And when one line is taken, there is another behind that. This is a matter of fact—no exaggeration.
Old father [Pres. Abraham Lincoln] was here a few days ago [June 22, 1864]. He came up [the James River] on his boat and went up on the tower of which I was speaking and was told by General [Godfrey] Weitzel that we are hundred days men from Ohio and was quite astonished to know that we were so close to the front. The General said if he had have known it two hours sooner, we should have been sent to Norfolk. He also said we should not be sent into battle. This I have from brother Colter. General Weitzel told him and I give it to you for what it’s worth.
The camp is a great place to get up reports—a thousand and one a day. I don’t think much of our Colonel [Samuel S. Fisher]. I think he wants to get us into the fight so he can get a name. I thought quite well of him in Ohio [but] he has come down heavy on the men and for the most frivolous offense will punish them by putting them at labor for twelve hours a day on bread and water with fifteen minutes for dinner and no blanket at night to sleep on. If this is the way the National Guards are served, may God pity the poor soldiers by profession. He is cursed from one end of the regiment to the other and he knows it too. He pretends to be a West Pointer and I suppose must carry out the style but I think he is a humbug.
Now Lizzie, do not think ill of me writing these things. It shows the spirit that seizes a man when clothed with a little military [rest is illegible].
This incredible letter was written by Marcus Morton Johnson (1840-1927) from Sumner, Kansas, to his only brother, Hiram Johnson (1838-1925). Marcus and Hiram were the sons of Artemus Ward Johnson (1814-1886) and Experience Briggs (1817-1871) of Walnut township, Atchison county, Kansas—formerly of Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
He learn from the letter that both Marcus and his father worked for Bela Metcalfe Hughes (1817-1902) who was the President & General Counsel for the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company until he sold the concern to his cousin Ben Holladay. In the 1860 US Census, Marcus’ father is identified as a “freighter.”
Sumner [Atchison county, Kansas] ¹
September 4th 1861
This is the first time that I have written you since my return home. I had a pretty good time coming in but my passengers thought that I kept them rather hard and was not driving fast enough for them so they left me at Kearny—all but Frank. He & I went from Nebraska City down [the Missouri River] in a skiff 225 miles—took us three days. We arrived in Sumner the first day of September.
The weather is very hot here just now and mosquitoes, fleas, & bed bugs till you can’t rest. I bought a young antelope on the plains about half grown [as] a pet for mother.
But I must tell you of the settlement between Howe, Father & myself. Yesterday morning I went down and found Howe and began my settlement with him and found that we could not settle until Father and him had settled so I told him and Father that I wanted them to settle that day so that I could settle my account before Howe went back to the mines. Father brought in a bill of my work from March the first ’60 up to the 15th May ’61 which amounted to $300 dollars. Howe protested against it like the devil but it could not be helped so he allowed it. They squared up all accounts up to date and passed receipts so now we are out entirely with that concern. Howe wants me to go and drive the mules out once more but I don’t think that I shall unless he gives me thirty dollars per month which I do not think he will.
There is nothing doing here at all but I can live pretty cheap and so I think that I shall remain here—that is, if I do not go to the war. I have a great notion of doing so at present as I can get 35 dollars per month and all board in a cavalry company now forming in Atchison. That Young that worked with you out on wider’s house is in a company and says that if you were here, he would like to have you in with him. Father can get a Colonel’s commission to go to New Mexico but he does not want to go there at all. He is training a company now out to Mount Pleasant [Atchison county] as Captain.
The rebels are trying to raise the devil in Missouri but Fremont has proclaimed martial law in the State and now the war begins in earnest. Every man that can be found now bearing arms against the U. S. Government is taken out and shot. It ought to have been done long ago as the rebels do not touch the soldiers at all but if they find a Union man, they just kill him. There will be big fighting now soon in Missouri. ²
Most every person in town has been sick this summer. But I am in a hurry as my hand writing indicates, Write me soon and give me all the news. — Marcus
P. S. If I have any letters come, please to send them to me. Never mind about opening them. — Marcus
¹ Sumner was located about three miles below Atchison on the Missouri River. It was platted in 1856 and advertised as a free-state alternative settlement to the pro-slavery town of Atchison. Though it had a good start in business & industry, it was virtually wiped off the map by the trough of 1859-1860, by a tornado that destroyed virtually every building in town in the summer of 1860, and by the grasshopper invasion of September 1860.
² The Battle of Wilson’s Creek had already taken place near Springfield, Missouri, in which Union General. Nathaniel Lyon had been killed.
This interesting letter was written by Lorenzo Dow Round (1813-1877), the son of George C. Round, Sr. (1779-1852) and Martha Sally Hopkins (1784-1831) of Herkimer county, New York. His identity was confirmed by the mention of his younger brother Bertram Round (1829-1859) who died on 25 September 1859 in Alabama. He wrote the letter to one of his nephews. Sometime after 1863 but before 1870, Lorenzo had relocated back to Herkimer county, New York.
Lorenzo’s letter gives a great description of the state of politics in Kansas Territory in 1860 as the territory continued its quest to acquire statehood from a deeply divided US Congress. It also describes the shenanigans played out at the local level in locating the county seat of Linn county. And finally, it refers to the rad on Harpers Ferry by John Brown in October 1859.
Mound City, [Kansas Territory]
January 3d 1860
Yours of the 25th ult. came to hand today and I take this opportunity to answer. You stated that I owed you a letter. I suppose it to be the other way but be that as it may, I was glad to hear from you and shall always try to keep up my correspondence with the friends at the Rapids.
You think that I must be lonesome here all alone as you term it. You are not aware of the state of things here. There is some excitement here almost all of the time. Politics rages all the time. We have had eight elections since last March closing on the 6th of December for State officers under the Wyandotte Constitution. The Republican ticket was mostly elected. All of the state officers are all Republican. But whether we will be admitted into the Union [under] this constitution or not is somewhat doubtful. This is the fourth time Kansas has presented herself to Congress for admission and will probably be the last.
We have had a very exciting time here in locating the county seat. There was two places voted for—Mound City and Paris. Mound City received a majority of the votes of the county. But Paris refused to give up the county records (as that was formerly the county seat). An officer was sent from here to get the records and they met him with an armed force and would not let him have them. A few nights after, we got up a posse of forty or fifty men and went over and took the records in spite of them.
The County Clerk said the books were stole two or three nights before but it was all of no use. We told him to get the books in fifteen minutes or we would destroy their town. He hurried over to his house and got down under his floor and hauled them out. We brought the books over to Mound City and the County Seat is here. Paris is an old pro-slavery town located by the border ruffians.
I presume the Harpers Ferry affair has caused more excitement in the East than it has here. Many of the citizens here were well acquainted with Old Brown and his men. I have seen the old hero many a time and was very sorry that he succeeded so badly.
I received a letter from Arminins a few days since informing me of the death of brother Bartram. He died among strangers. Would that some friend could have been with him. But he has gone. I recall many pleasant and happy seasons I have spent with him. It reminds me that I too must soon give up time for eternity.
I am stopping at Mound City. I have not lived on my claim since my house burned last spring. My health is good. Times are rather hard here but on the whole we get along very well. There is plenty of corn in the county and also beef and pork. I think of going East in the spring if I can sell or pre-empt my claim. Society is rather rude here at present but is improving.
I wrote a letter to you some time since but have not received any reply. Give my respects to all of the friends. I often think of them and shall be happy to see them all again.
This letter was written by Edward Oscar Fitzalan Roler (1833-1907), the son of Peter W. Roler (1803-1880) and Catharine A. R. Carson (1814-1870). Edward was a graduate of DePauw University (Greencastle, IN), and Rush Medical College (Chicago, IL) in 1859. In 1861, Roler enlisted as an Assistant Surgeon in the 42nd Illinois Infantry. He was later promoted to Surgeon of the 55th Illinois Regiment and rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel.
Roler’s letter provides a medical summary of the wound received by Col. Oscar Malmborg (1820-1880), a Swedish emigrant who worked as an agent on the Illinois Central Railroad prior to the Civil War. During the war, he served in the 55th Illinois Regiment and assumed temporary command of the 2nd Brigade of the 5th Division commanded by William T. Sherman. He was permanently made the Colonel of the regiment in April 1863 and received the wound—described below—while leading his men at Vicksburg.
[Note: This letter & the CDVs are from the personal collection of Austin Sundstrom and are published by express consent.]
May 15, 1865
Col. O. Malmborg, 2d Regt. U. S. Veterans, late Col. 55th Regt. Illinois Infantry, having requested a certificate relative to the condition of his eyesight from injuries received in the service, I must willingly certify, from personal knowledge at the time of occurrence and from frequent examinations made subsequently that he is laboring under an affection of the right eye of an amaurotic character, the result of a wound in the right temple by a musket ball while leading his regiment in the assault on the enemy’s works in the rear of Vicksburg May 19th 1863. As nearly as can be determined the stretch to the globe of the eye and optic nerve has resulted in impairment of the sensibility of the retinae.
The integrity of vision of the left eye is also slightly impaired from a wound received during the second assault on the same works May 22nd 1863—a minute spicule of shell entering the external angular process of the temporal bone in which it still remains embedded but this eye does not give serious inconvenience.
The history of the case shows that the degree of imperfection in vision is influenced to some extent by external circumstances of temperature and conditions of weather.