Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17, 1861: Letter From Gideon Angle, 11th PA Cavalry

By October 1861, Lt. Charles Butts, of Belvidere, and the men of "The NJ Company" (Company I) of the 11th PA Volunteer Cavalry were stationed in Virginia at Camp Palmer.  Butts had recruited Company I in Belvidere, Hope and Blairstown in August and September.

One of the men who joined Butts' company was Gideon C. Angle, a book seller from Belvidere.  In May 1861, Angle was the sole agent in Warren County, NJ selling a 500-page book entitled The Teachings of Patriots and Statesmen, or The Founders of the Republic on Slavery.  The book sold for $1.00.  the book was a compilation of reports and speeches on the issue of slavery made by such statesmen as President John Quincy Adams,  Silas Wright, Thomas H. Benton, President James Buchanan, Daniel Webster, Henry clay, John C. Calhoun, Sam Houston, Lewis Cass, and Robert Toombs.  The book contained a history of the Ordinance of 1787 [predating the Constitution, the ordinance regulated the creation of new states within the Northwest Territories], the debates in Congress between 1790 and 1850, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Congressional debates of 1831 to 1836, and Clay's Compromise of 1850. 

Warren Journal publisher/editor John Simerson, a Democrat, wrote of the book, "This is a work which every man needs, who wishes to be fully posted upon slavery agitation, from the formation of this government to the present time."

On October 17, 1861, Angle wrote to Simerson from Camp Palmer, "Friend Simerson: Having been solicited by many of my friends to write them and give them some idea of camp life, I shall comply with a short epistle.  Since leaving Belvidere (a place in which I have always delighted to live, and with whose townsmen I have been so long associated, some of whom I shall always hold dear to memory for their kindness bestowed on me when leaving for the war), I have had the pleasure of seeing many things that were entirely new to me, and have gone through many things that I have never been accustomed to, and have learned some things that I never knew before, and trust that they shall be a lesson for me through life.

"To give an idea of what would be most interesting to those who read this letter, I will commence at Camp Harlan, two miles northwest of Washington city.  We arrived at this place on Sunday, the 15th of September.  While there, I had the pleasure of visiting some of the most important places in the city and district.  Having heard much said of the Patent Office, my curiosity led me to see it, and through the kindness of my friend, Dr. Wilson (who is a clerk in the department, and by the way was my school teacher in the village of Paulina when I was at the age of nine years), was conducted through the office and had pointed out many relics of antiquity, the most important of them were Washington's camp equipage and the same uniform that he wore during the revolution, the original Declaration of Independence, and many other things of less note. In passing through, we met with H. D. Swayze, Esq. and Mr. Henry Hartung.  These gentlemen are also clerks in the department, and by an invitation went with them through the Capitol, and on the part of the dome that is finished, although it was a cloudy day, we had a beautiful view for many miles in any direction, and no person can imagine the magnificence of it without actual experience.

"It being dinner time, they took us to Mount Pleasant Hotel (their boarding place), corner of Delaware Avenue and A Street, conducted by Moses Foster, formerly of Bridgeville, had an excellent dinner and relished it more than any I have taken in a long time.  To say the least of Mr. F., he is a whole-souled man, ever ready and willing to accommodate his customers.  Don't forget to stop with him when you come to Washington.  His place is about twenty-five yards from the Capitol.  The Smithsonian Institute, the Hospital, the Soldier's Home, and other places of the kind, are of much interest to the visitor.  The Soldier's Home is on an elevation about three miles north of the city.  I visited this institution on Friday, October 4th, and gathered some information concerning it.  I was informed by one of the inmates that it was erected in James Polk's administration. There is a main entrance with right and left wings, making in length 350 feet and 60 feet wide, four story high, with an observatory on the center of the main building; the material is solid marble; the grounds surrounding are handsomely laid out and beautifully decorated with all the choicest flowers; over the door of the main entrance of this building is a solid marble plank on which is engraved this motto, 'A grateful country to her defenders.'  Much more can be said concerning this institution which would be interesting to those who have never visited it, but time and space will not permit me to describe it all in full, but shall leave it until another time.

"Just four weeks have elapsed when the order came for us to march; we did so by striking our tents on Monday morning, the 14th, marched across the Long Bridge, on the Potomac, to a distance of five miles into Virginia; we arrived at our place of destination about noon, pitched our tents, and remained till next morning, when orders cames to march; we struck our tents, packed wagons, saddled horses, mounted and remained on the ground to ascertain the next camping place; finally General Palmer came and soon found us a place, which is in an adjoining field of about 40 acres, our regiment taking up the whole ground. After pitching tents and getting all things to rights, an exploring party headed by Captain Cornog, of Company A, discovered a line of telegraph under ground; with some difficulty I procured a small piece, part of which I send to you for those who would like to examine it.  I am told the same party found under ground a keg of powder.  This is truly a land of wonders.

"Before closing, I wish to say a word in regard to our officers.  Our Colonel is the well-known General Harlan, of Philadelphia.  I am told by a nephew of his, (who is a Lieutenant in the regiment), that he was five years in the English service and twenty years since a General-in-Chief of the Persian Army.  It is evident from his deportment that he is a true soldier.  Hon. S. Wetherill, of Bethlehem, is one of our Majors.  I had the pleasure of conversing with him one cold morning about 5 o'clock; from my short acquaintance I pronounce him a true gentleman and a superior officer; he is affable and kind, just what inferior soldiers want.  As I am not acquainted, I can speak of no other officers save those of Company I, the one to which I belong.  Hon. Daniel Herr, of Columbia, Pa., who was four years Colonel of the Pennsylvania volunteers, and two years a member of the Legislature, is our Captain; his words of command are clear and distinct; in this respect he has few superiors; he is beloved and respected by his men, especially by your humble servant.  Our 1st and 2nd Lieutenants, Kensinger and Butts, are good, whole-souled fellows, and it gives me pleasure to speak in their praise. They have robbed themselves of money and clothes to befriend their men, and will do all in their power in having justice dealt to them.  At some future time (if spared to do so), I will give you further information concerning our men and their movements.  Very respectfully yours, Gideon C. Angle."

Copyright 1999-2011: Jay C. Richards

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