Monday, December 2, 2013

Letters from a Maine Soldier - Part 4

For Nelson Jones, a few months have now passed since his last letter home. His unit, the 3rd Maine, part of the Union Army of the Potomac, has been in training and preparation under Gen. George B. McClellan since the demoralizing defeat at Manassas, Virginia. Nelson, along with his fellow soldiers, are slowly being trained and drilled to perfection in the art of war. As he writes this letter from the 3rd Maine's winter camp near Alexandria, Virginia, his thoughts again return home in Maine.

Ed. Note: All spellings and syntax are original, except any notations in brackets. The blanks represent unreadable or undecipherable words and phrases.


Camp life, Army of the Potomac - writing to friends at home (Library of Congress)

Camp Howard Va Jan
                                   25 62
Dear mother I seat my self down
to day to write you a few lines
to keep my self out of idleness,
and let you know I am well as
usual although I have been afflicted
with a bad cold for the past 2
weeks and has made me feel sore
all through my body but it is
getting better slowly and it has
been awful weather here for 3
weeks past it has rained nearly
every day and knight and the
wind is full _ ____ ___ all
the time but it has cleared up
to day and look like fine weather
for a time I hope when you receive
this you will be well and all the
rest of the folks and blessed
with good weather and know[?]
you are I would like to be at
home this muddy weather and
have some enjoyments that awates
one on any return sutch as aples
hogshead and potatoes my mouth
waters for them to eat I have
made arrangements now so I can
send you twenty dollars every two
months regular and long as I am in
the service it is called an allotment
roll and is an act of the president
so it will not cost me anthing
to send it and have to run know
risk either it will be paid at augusta
and sent to somervill[e] me just the
same as here and I shall have 6
dollars coming to me and it is all
I want for as long as I have money
there is ways to spend it and if
I was a prisoner in richmond
you get it just the same why I
done this was because if we were
in a place where I would not send
it you would have it to help
yourself with and so forth
and you will need it all most
likely to pay taxes and cloth yourself
so I sent 20 dollars to Silas
so on after I was paid of and sent
it by express or the colonel did for me
and I paid him for it and that
has has got by this time I suppose
and I sent him a box with a new year
present in it 3 weeks ago but have
not herd from either expect to the
next weeks for that that was in
the box was worth near as mutch
as the money I want Silas to
be sure and right soon as he gets
them and let me know if he receives
them or not I suppose you have
a pretty hard time this winter with
little ____ and abra going to school
+ Hannah to but the little is
good I know and wont be mutch
trouble to you but get along easy
as you saw and not work two
hard Silas wrote amelia badly had
the whooping cough I am sorry for
her and hope it will go easy as possible
with her for they have just one little
______ ___ ____ I will close soon
and write a few lines to father for he wrote
to me so often but that is nothing I suppose
he has __ gone deaf to do but dont
work to hard and keep a little good
medford in the jay for cold weather
Abra the same to yourself & also
Hannah be good to father and & mother
and help them all you can and
you will reap your reward for it
I will close as my hands tremble
so I can hardly hold onto my pen
please write when you receive this
and all the news give my love to Silas
& mary and kiss the little bab for
me once and little lilie so
I am N W J
to Mother
---------  [writing continues on the left, right, and bottom  margins]
this picture is to hang
wh in the cornfield

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Going Back in Time with Garry Adelman and the Atlantic

The Civil War was one of the first major conflicts that was captured in photographs. Photography was pretty new-fangled technology at the time of the Civil War, and it provided, for the first time, a real documentary record of a scene.

Using photographs as documentary evidence was first popularized by William A. Frassanito in his book Gettysburg: A Journey in Time (an excellent book, btw), and used by many historians ever since. The Library of Congress has a large selection of Civil War images, and they have done us all a great favor by digitizing a good portion of them in high detail. This means that anyone can download these images I use on this blog post.

While in some ways Civil War photography was a cumbersome, tiresome affair for both photographer and subject, the large glass plate negatives they produced offer amazing detail.

Here are two images showing the same scene taken a few minutes apart. They depict a cock fighting bout at General Orlando Wilcox's Petersburg headquarters in 1864.


If you zoom in on these pictures using the LOC's largest format file (TIFF), available here and here, you can see an item present in both images, the newest copy of the Atlantic Monthly (July 1864). Garry Adelman, a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide and educator (and all-around nice guy), explores the item in The Atlantic of today online here. I've always found it amazing what you can find in these Civil War photographs.

What else do you find interesting in these (or any other) photos?

H/T to Garry Adelman's Facebook page

Sunday, November 10, 2013

An Irishman in the 61st Ohio - A Veterans Day Tribute

Recently, I restarted a research project I had started during my time at Gettysburg concerning the Union and Confederate Dead of that battle. I've been going through the Union pension files that can be found online at NARA. Usually, they are pretty standard things, but every once and awhile you can find some great documents, including letters the soldiers wrote home to their families (one such set of letters, those of Nelson W. Jones, have been periodically featured on this blog).

Thomas Gilleran was born in County Roscommon, Ireland around 1819. When he was approximately 21 years old, he married Honora on May 23, 1840. Eventually, the couple made their way to the States like many other Irish did during the Potato Famine and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. By 1860, Thomas worked as a day laborer in the city.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Thomas volunteered for the Union Army and was mustered in the 61st Ohio Infantry on September 18th, 1861, joining Company F. Thomas participated in many of the well-known battles of the Eastern Theater with the 61st, starting with the 1862 Shenandoah Campaign through 2nd Manassas and Chancellorsville. Moving north in Summer 1863, the 61st Ohio was part of Gen. Alexander Schimmelfennig's brigade in the Union Eleventh Corps.

On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 61st Ohio battled Confederates north of the Pennsylvanian town before being driven back through the streets to Cemetery Hill.
The 61st Ohio's Monument at Gettysburg (Stone Sentinels)
The next day, the 61st Ohio watched and waited on Cemetery Hill. As the day came to a close, soldiers cooked their dinners, and waited for the next fury of action. One of the regular cooks had fallen ill, so Thomas Gilleran had be detailed to help the cooks deliver coffee to the weary troops. On his way back to the mess, Gilleran was shot by the enemy fire and was mortally wounded. Filleran would linger three more days at the Eleventh Corps hospital at George Spangler's farm before dying on July 5th, 1863. His first resting place was the Spangler Farm before he was disinterred and buried in the new National Cemetery which is nearing its 150th anniversary in a few weeks. 

The Marker for Thomas Gilleran, located in Gettysburg National Cemetery, Ohio Plot C-9
When family and friends made inquiries regarding Gilleran's death, his captain, William H. McRoarty wrote the following letter:

                                August 17 of 63
                                Camp at Warrenton Junction

                W H Scott
                                Sir in answer to your
letter of the 15th inst in relation to the
death of Thos Gilleran the circumstances
are these he was killed on the 2nd of
July in the evening being detailed to help
the cooks bring coffee to the men he was
killed whilst carrying the kettles back to where
they were cooking after the men had finished
their supper the reason of his helping the cook at
the time was on account of one of them being sick

                                                I Remain yours
                                                W H Mcroarty
                                                Capt Co F 61 Regt OVI

Honora Gilleran soon applied for a widow's pension due to her husband's death, which is where the majority of the information for Thomas Gilleran and the letter above was found. Mrs. Gilleran eventually was approved to recieve a $8 a month pension for her husband's "last measure of devotion" on the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Thanks to Thomas Gilleran, who gave his life in the service of his country on July 2, 1863, and all the other soldiers, known and unknown, who died fight for the cause of freedom. On this Veteran's Day, thank you for your service.
Widows' Pension File for Thomas Gilleran (WC16221), National Archives
1860 Census, National Archives
John Busey, These Honored Dead: Union Casualties at Gettysburg, Longstreet House, 1989. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Letters from a Maine Soldier - Part 3 - "I am in hopes to see you all...on the rock bound shores of maine"

In General McDowell's stead, President Lincoln named Pennsylvania native George B. McClellan to head the army and turn it into a well-organized fighting force. The soon to be named "Army of the Potomac", including Nelson's own 3rd Maine, settled down to train and drill around the defenses of Washington, D.C. Near the end of September, Nelson took the time to write this letter home:

Flag Hill Alexandria Virginia
                                Sunday Sept 22 1861
Dear parents I seat myself down to pen a few
lines to you to let you know I am well and hope
these few lines will find you the same I rec’d your
last letter wendsday knight yous silas and maries
and was very happy to hear you were all well and
sorry to hear of Joseph Canidas sad death you said
he sat out to go as hare on a blanket is different then what
I heard for a fellow told our company that was there at th
time and saw it as he stated he said, the boat got in
to new york in the evening and laid of from the warf
til morning a short distance and abot nine a clock
Joseph wanted to get a shore and as none was allow
to go he got on a hawser and started for the warf
in the evening and some lighnar aboard he got about
half way when he fell of and they instantly lowered
a boat but before they could get to him he arose
to the top waved his hand three times and went
down they got hooks hooked him up and there
was still life in him and they rolled him in a ___
but he died in a few minutes he has got rid[?] of
a toilsome and troublesome life here and dangers in
the bargain his folks must feel very bad about it
for he was their whole support I would like to
see you all to day very mutch I often think of home and
you all as one father mother brother and sister but
 I cannot at present ___ when the sign comes right I am
in hopes to see you all and shake the friendly hand
once more on the rock bound shores of maine. 

A View of Alexandria, Virginia During the Civil War
I suppose you are now about harvesting your corn and gathering your
apples and would like to help you a little someday father
I suppose you find it rather dull work doing your work
alone but I cant see as I cant help you any this fall but
some of the boys have gone home that is under 21 as their
father wrote to the colonel and he discharged them but I
do not wish to go home as soon as this by know mean
I feel as well as usual this fall and have held
my own decently well to when I left maine I weighed
179 and now I draw down the scales to 150 pounds
I have grown slim and tall since I came here and
I dont think you would know me if you should
se me nor mother I would I would like to have them
pies to knight first rate and you may send one
a mince pie and a few apples a pair of stockings and
so forth if you are a mind to for it would go a little
better then salt ___ does all the time you spoke
about hearing that we dont get clothes enough to wear
that is not so for we get any quantity of clothes but
our stockings that we get aint very good and our
toes get out pretty often but then black stockings I brought
with me is good yet only the toes is work sore[?]
and I have got to ____ them up a little I would
not give one pair of your stockings for 3 pairs of
these things had I sent you a little present last week
it was 20 dollars and colonel howard sent it
by express and it cost me 8 cents only and I want
you to write soon as you get it so to let me know
you got it I directed it to you and if you dont
get it the express is good for it you know mother
write me a line when you can and tell me the
news I sent you all the money I had but 1.00 and
that is all I want if I only had a ____ of paper
and I am going to get some tomorrow barry
was out to the firt last knight on guard and
our picket shot seven[?] rebels and took twelve prisoners
ther is battle about every day in the southern states
and our men come out victorious in all and
takes a good many prisoners but I expect you hear mor
about it then I do I was on picket guard last friday
and about 3 quarters of a mile from then and I could
take a spy glass and see patches on the ass of their
trousers and they was rayyed as you please. Emma I should
like to see you very mutch and talk an hour or
two with you and your little babe here I should
like to see her sweet little darling I knoe she must
be winning now for she was when I left and so
cunning to scan write often and all the news.
Abra I will write you a few lines as you are the
titman and tell you to be a good girl and __
at school all and take good care
of your little niece and write to me often
and all the news I was glad you got
that little trunk I sent you good
care of it and keep it for my sake and __
the shirts made up against I conehone
I shall have to close soon as it is after
dark and ther is a good deal of noise
in the tent among the biys there has been
about 20 discharged out of this comp
regiment to knight and start in the morning
I shall write to Willard this week
and tell him about a soldiers life
I will close by requesting you to give my
love & best respects to all the nabors
and friends From  N W Jones
To All At Home
                Direct Washington
                D C 3 Reg

                Co I

Friday, May 24, 2013

Letters from a Maine Soldier - Part 2 - "I Sometimes Think I Ought to Have Staid at Home..."

This letter from Nelson Jones to his parents occurs about a week after the first letter he sent home. The short war thought to end at one great battle near Manassas, Virginia turned to a Confederate rout, with many of the Union troops in full retreat to Washington, D.C. Weeks afterward, blame was thrown around, and General Irwin McDowell was removed from command. Morale was low in the ranks, and Jones' letter reflects that general despondency. Many of the letters found in National Archives pension files, involves soldiers' pay being sent home to support his family. Thirteen dollars a month, a private's pay, was good money for many of the new recruits who had some from urban slums or as in Jones' case, a rural farming town. As before, I have used minimal editing to preserve the style and syntax of Jones' original letter.


Clermont  Alexandria  Virginia August 7 1861
Dear parents I seat myself down this morning
to write you a few lines to let you know I am
well and hope and trust these few lines will
find you the same.  I have not rec’d any letter
from home for some time but look for one every
day and I guess I shall look in vain. I wrote several
home since I have been here and have rec’d know
answer from them. I wrote one about the 26 of July
and enclosed five dollars in it to mother and sent
it about the 27 but I am afraid it got lost or some
thing or I should have rec’d an answer from it
before this time but perhaps it laid in the
office some time but before you got it. I hope you
got it fast I suppose you nead it worse then
I did it was main money that I swaped gold
for and I shall be sorry if it is lost but
mother don’t say nothing nor say you are sorry
for when I am paid of again I will send you
ten in the ____ of five and I shall be paid
of in about a fortnight or three weeks but
I was going to send that to father and I guess
I shall as it is for I suppose he would like to
have something to encourage him a little 5 dollars
or so and I will send it to you when I get it mother
I should like to see you very mutch to day and father
and all the rest of my folks oh. I should like to
be at home a few days this hot weather and see all
of my friends and folks that I used to love and
respect but I guess it will be some time first
fall I guess and not before but I am in hopes
to get a furlow for two months this fall if I can
so I can help you about your falls work and
help eat apples, and so forth I don’t know as
I can but it is so lonsome here that I do wish
I was at home or some where else for a spell but
I don’t wory any only I am afraid you will get
out of health doing your work alone I sometimes
think I ought to have staid at home and helped
you instead of inlisting and come out here to
fight and be run to death as we were at bulls
run there were more beat out and now are sick
in the hospital then there was killed in that fight
this reg is over half sick I guess or near that I guess
it don’t look mutch as they did in augusta. I
tell you there they were a fine healthy looking set
of men as you generaly see
but now they are scrimping around and look pale
as a piss a bed there has a good many gone home
out of this reg privates and all there has amost all of our
officers gone some companies aint got any officers every
one has resigned and gone home our company has not
got many lieutenants for they have got their discharg
and left but Capt lakeman aint gone and says he
wont till his company goes but the most of them would
like to go well enough if they could. Col’l howard
says they cant hold us but three months from the time
we were sworn in at meridian hill in Washington and that
was the 27 of june but I don’t know nor I dont mutch care
whitch way it goes I suppose I might as well be here as any
where but I dont like the plan of being run double
quick 7 or 8 miles when it was hot enough to roast
eggs out dores I am willing to fight any time but I
aint willing to be run to death and then have to
Come in sight of a battery to fight them with an old
musket as we were at bull run there was two batteries in
plain sight playing when us and our artilery was laying
still without any amunitions to fight with but when
 there is another attack made it will be in different style
then it was be fore that so or I will not fight but they
are going to take 200 00000 two hundred thousand men next
time and cannons to match them to there is going to be eighty
mortar cannons to throw hot tar in among their batteries and
forts to burn them  out and throw into the woods to set them
on fire Gen Skott says it was against his will to run men to death
as thy were run but he will bring it out all wright in the end
I think. father please write me how your health is and if it is hard
work for you to do the work all alone and if you can do your falls work
without hired help if you cant I will try and help you all I cane
towards your work.  I have not got know letter from you for some
time I dont know but you are sick or some of the family if so let me
know it and I will send some more money if I can hire it I almost wish
I had not enlisted sometimes and others times I do b__ aint agoing
to be sorry for anything I do out here I suppose you will think I am
homesick but you are mistaken for I aint but the same time I
should like to be at home a spell through the hot weather for it
is pretty warm through this month and next to the Virginians
say but I stand it well I was up to fast elswar the last friday
afternoon and saw a man hung, he shot a woman in cold blood
 and the he was hung for it as an example for all other bad
people or men like himself he belonged to the new hampshire
2 regiment and was a reckless fellow and was hated by all
who knew him I will close pretty soon by requesting you to write as
soon as you get this and write and let me know if you want some
help this fall and all the news Please write if the graps are good
and if apples is good crops this year tell silas I wrote a letter to
him a few days ago give my love to all hands and also to anson
and Lydia and Amelia and west Silas and mary, and all hands
Mother please write if you got that money but if you aint dont
go a man was arrested in new york the other days for Robbing the
mail and on searching him 3 three hundred dollars was found
on him and a berrel of letter he will be sent to state prison
for life if not hung he ought to be skun alive the miserable ____
I will close by requesting you to write or rec’d this letter and
for I want to hear to hear from you very fast Please Direct to Washington
D.C. 3rd Reg Company I Maine Volunteers From
your Son Nelson W Jones to my folks in maine

 Source: Nelson W. Jones Pension File, WC 19616, National Archives

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Nelson Jones - Letters From a Maine Soldier, Part 1

Nelson W. Jones, circa 1862.
(Maine Historical Society)
Nelson W. Jones was born in 1843 in Palermo, a rural town near Maine's rocky coast. His father, Nelson, Sr. was a farmer near the town. As many young men did at the time, Nelson enlisted in the 3rd Maine Infantry Regiment on June 4, 1861. During his time in the army, he wrote to his father and mother Hannah, multiple times. Here is one of the first letters after his enlistment, written after the Union defeat at the Battle of Bull Run:

[ed. note: all spelling and syntax have been preserved from the original letter.]


Claremount Virginia
July 28, 1861
Dear parents I will write you a few lines
to let you know I am well and hope thise
few lines will find you the same I was paid
of yesterday the balance due me from
maine nine dollars and I will send you
five of it I shall be paid from the United
States in about 20 days and I will send
you some more I am well and have
written to you third this week before and once
to Amelia I suppose you have heard of last Sundays
Proceedings old mcdowal is going to be hung
they say if it had not been for him we should
got the victory he has been courtmarshaled
and Seceasion papers found with him but generall
mcclelan is going to be our general now I shall have
to close as it is most mail time write as son
as you get this: From Nelson V. Jones To his parents
direct as usual Washington D C 3 reg Co I ME In

Source: Nelson W. Jones Pension File, WC 19616, National Archives


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Francisco Olasquaga - The Great Escape

After a year hiatus, I've decided to starting blogging on this site again, concentrating on lesser and well-known stories of soldiers, most of which fought at Gettysburg. These are based on research I did while a SCA intern at Gettysburg National Military Park a year ago (two of my earlier posts below, John Cassidy and Simeon Roosa, were also part of that effort). Some are sad, others are heartbreaking  and others are quite amazing, but they are only a few of those who fought for their country at Gettysburg.


Francisco Olasquaga/ Frank Wallace

Francisco Teodosius Olasquaga was born in Toluca, Mexico on May 31st, 1836. His father, a drover and weaver, and mother were devout Catholics who had moved to Mexico from the Old World. One of four children, Francisco lost his father ten years later, and by the late 1840's, the young teenage had set off on his own. The Mexican War was a turning point both for the United States and Mexico at large, but for Francisco himself, it was life changing.

Riding with the invading American army was George Watson, a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment, hailing from Centre County. Francisco told his granddaughter many years later that the American flag was one of the beautiful things he had ever seen, and he soon began doing errands for the soldiers. Watson apparently took an interest in the young man, and when the regiment returned home to America and Pennsylvania in 1849, he brought Francisco with him to Centre County.

Soon after, Francisco took up residence with Watson's neighbor, James Alexander, and worked on his farm for a year. During that time he had stopped using his last name of "Olasquaga", appearing in the 1850 Census as "Francisco Dorsa", perhaps a name much easier to pronounce in Pennsylvania farmlands. Deciding that farm labor did not suit him, he began learning the brick-making trade in the neighboring town of Centre Hall, where he prospered until the start of the Civil War in 1861.

As he grew into a self-made American, Francisco decided to also Americanize his name. While a young man in Mexico, he liked (then) Lt. Lew Wallace, who was with the army in Toluca. Taking Wallace's last name and anglicized versions of first and middle names, he became henceforth Frank Theodore Wallace. After marrying and starting a family in the area, he deemed his patriotic duty to enlist in the 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry at the outbreak of the war in 1861. 

2nd PA Cavalry Monument at Gettysburg
(Stone Sentinels)

Soon after his enlistment he was quickly promoted to Sergeant, and served with his regiment through the first three years of war. At Gettysburg they served as General George Meade's headquarters guard. At the 2nd PA's monument dedication on the Gettysburg Battlefield in 1889, John Galbraith noted that "Comrade Wallace...also entered the town as a bearer of dispatches during the action of the first day." After re-enlisting in December 1863, he was to endure some of the most trying times of his life.

In the early spring, Frank was with his company in Bealton, VA when he lost control of and was reared off his horse, causing him severe injuries to the left side of his face. His left eye was severely injured, by the time he was discharged in 1865, he had completely lost sight in that eye. Despite his injuries, he insisted on being treated in the field and not sent to any hospital. 

His travails continued later that year went he was taken prisoner at White Oak Swamp, VA. After a succession of prison camps in Virginia, he was taken to the Salisbury POW camp in North Carolina in October 1864, where he immediately began plotting his escape to freedom. Despite two unsuccessful attempts, Frank Wallace escaped from Salisbury prison through the cook house on February 11th, 1865. Despite escaping the confines of the prison, Frank now had to contend with a long journey to freedom and safety: hostile locals, difficult and mountainous terrain, and exposure to the elements in a deteriorating physical condition. Against all of these odds, Frank made it to safety at Union headquarters in Knoxville, TN on March 16th, 1865, a trip of 340 miles in 33 days. A month later, Frank Wallace was headed home to Pennsylvania.


* Gettysburg NMP Library Vertical File # 19P-0782 "Frank T. Wallace"
* Commemorative Biographical Record of Central Pennsylvania: Including the Counties of Centre, Clearfield, Jefferson and Clarion: Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens, Etc.,1898.
* United States Census Records 1860 & 1880
* "Records of Escaped Prisoners of War USA". Records of the Commissary General of Prisoners, 1861-1905. National Archives and Records Adminstration (NARA).