Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 28, 1861: The Return of the ALFRED THOMAS

The steamship ALFRED THOMAS was built in Easton, PA in 1860 to travel up the Delaware river from its home port of Belvidere to Port Jervis, NY. However, on March 6, 1860, on its maiden voyage up river from Easton to Belvidere, the boiler exploded near Getter's Island.  Twelve people were killed, including the boat's owners Judge William Sharp, Alfred Thomas, and Richard Holcomb.  The hull was undamaged, and a new Federal gunboat was built on it.

On December 28, 1861, Lieutenant Anthony Heminover, of the Belvidere, the son of William H. Heminover - owner of the Warren Journal from 1853-1856 - wrote to the Warren Journal from the camp of the 7th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment on the lower part of the Potomac River.  Heminover was promoted from Commissary Sergeant to Lieutenant of Company H on November 25, 1861.

Heminover wrote, "Mr. Editor.  It being the holidays and thinking it would interest your readers to hear from some of their dearest friends as a New Year call, in place of a call in person, which no doubt would be very agreeable to both parties, but it is quite out of the question at this time.

"The Warren County soldiers  that are in this regiment enjoy the best of health, all improving in strength and looks, and if they don't cause a great many girls to weep after they get home, it will be strange, or else they will not have much fancy for soldiers.  They will say to their mama's it is too bad you made me marry so soon, I told you my dear Johnny would come back.  I can speak the truth and say that the Warren County men are as fine, healthy, and good looking set of men as there is in the service.

"We are encamped in a lovely clump of pines on the slope of the hill overlooking the muddy old Potomac, and opposite those famous rebel batteries, by the way six schooners ran the blockade this morning  and they fired fifty or sixty shells at them and did not touch one, the distance they shot was a half or three-quarters of a mile - they truth is they can't shoot.  We don't want to hurt them if there is any other way to do, but they do not stop firing over at us, we will get mad and then look out for breakers. 

"I got leave of absence for forty-eight hours to spend the holidays, so I thought I would take a trip to Washington.  I left camp of Christmas Eve in company with three other officers, we wandered through the pines for a boat three miles.  It was darker than a stack of 'Maryland's nigger' - at least we found the boat and got sent on board.  It was so black that he could not see how to row, the surgeon and myself came within a ace of drowning.  At 11 o'clock, we found ourselves on board the transport PHILADELPHIA, got up steam but no go, she was fast in the mud, and was good for the night, and she laid so near the Free Stone Battery that it would be of no use of making any more noise than was necessary.  She is a beautiful boat, her cabin I should think is four feet square, two chairs and an old table is her outfit of furniture, there we were jammed in for the night, almost froze.  Daylight next we were set ashore to get a better start, it was not long before we got the sight of a thing, looked like a toadfish with a fanning mill fast to its tail, we hailed her, was sent on board and soon got under way, passed the Free Stone Battery [rebel], which luckily did not get a shot at us; if one of their shots had struck, it would have mashed her, she was so little, passed the HARRIET LANE and gunboat fleet.  Soon after we took our dinner, the Captain of the boat, a good natured clever fellow, was telling us about his little craft being so unlucky, and the boat turned out to be the ill-fated ALFRED THOMAS, many of your readers will read that name and shudder. 

"We passed the spot where the Father of our Country lays, it looked deserted and forsaken, not one person was to be seen, the trees all stripped of their cover, which gave it a more forlorn appearance.  Fort Washington, a beautiful and well constructed fort, lays nearly opposite, having the whole command of the river.  Farther up we passed the brig PERRY, then the monster ship PENSACOLA; over to our left we could see the Seminary where the First New Jersey Brigade are stationed, and arrived at Washington at 2 o'clock P. M.  Made a Christmas call on Captain [Joseph] Henry, of the 9th Regiment, found them very comfortably camped on our old campground, on Meridian Hill.  The boys all looked hail and hearty, and as if they eat their share of subsistence, and could do some tall fighting.  New Jersey troops will make their mark, for our brigade is getting wild to have a fight; they all enjoy the sound of the long [drum] roll; they will form at mid-night in five minutes in heavy marching order, and the sound of the cannon is music for them; they don't care any more about the enemies shell than you would about a blue pill.  At the sound of the long roll, the hospital is rid of its sick, they will form in line of battle in spite of all; there is no use, we are all fighters here, and lay where there is fighting to be done.

"Second day in Washington took dinner with our old friend H. D. Swayze, and you can rest assured his table was spread with edibles fit for a king.  May his good wife live to cook a dinner for us all after the war is at end.

"I was at the fire of the Government stables in Washington, it was an awful sight to see, those poor beasts tied side by side in rows of fifty or more and burned to death; some would have their eyes burned out, and others the hair is all burned off.  The streets were full of loose horses running wild with fright, some into the river, others in the flames again.

"We have sent a James' projectile to Trenton as a sample of the rebel pills that they send over to us nights.  It weighs sixty-four pounds, and when they burst they don't weigh so much; we have them in all shapes, only about one in six bursts, we take the powder out and make water jugs out of them.  The shell was sent by the commander of Company H.  I will close by wishing you a Happy New Year.  Tony.   P.S. In Jersey we generally get invitations to a ball, but here the rebels send their balls without and invitations."  

Copyright 1999-2011: Jay C. Richards

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas 1861 with the 47th PA Veteran Volunteer Infantry

The men  of Warren County (NJ) and Northampton and Lehigh Counties (PA) celebrated Christmas 1861 at Camp Griffin, VA, near Washington, D.C.  Snow had covered the ground, and the cold temperatures hardened the mud that had been created by days of rain the week before.  The soldiers had decorated their huts.  All tree stumps had been removed from the regimental camp perimeter, and small cedars were planted around the parade ground, along the streets, and at the entrances to officers' huts.

Captain J. P. S. Gobin, of Company C, described Christmas with the 47th PA, "Christmas was spent in a manner entirely different from that which most of us were accustomed to spend it.  No drilling was done, and the men scattered about as their inclinations led them.  Most of us, however, dined on turkeys provided by the Sutler at $1.75 a piece."  One of the pastimes offered to the men was the use of the Regimental Library of 25 books donated to the 47th PA in September by the Sunbury Presbyterian Church.  

The regimental band, Easton's famous Pomp's Coronet Band, held a Christmas concert for the entire Brigade.  Gobin stated in his journal, "The day was very pleasant, and in the evening, the New York 33rd gave a Ball on their parade ground.  As I sat in my quarters, I could hear the familiar 'all hands round, swing your partners' sung out in a manner that showed they were going in with a will.  There were no ladies present, nor was there a bar-room for the young men to frequent, and everything passed off finely.  In one division of ten thousand men, I did not on that day see a single person intoxicated."

Captain Richard Graeffe, of Company A, was still home on furlough in Easton.  While he was away, Washington, D.C. photographer David Bigley was granted permission to set up his camera and "studio" in Graeffe's "log palace."  Bigley would make Ambrotypes [photos on glass] for soldiers of the 47th PA so they could send them to their families and friends before shipping off to Florida to man Fort Zachary Taylor on Key West and Fort Jefferson on Shark island in the Dry Tortugas. 

Private Mike Delany, of Easton, in Company A wrote wrote to the Easton Daily Evening Express on December 26, "Now that Christmas has emerged into the times that was, it may not be  inappropriate to make a few remarks concerning the manner in which the festival was celebrated by the 'bowld soger boys' in this neighborhood, a place now generally supposed to be infinitely beyond  the pale of civi, I suppose, of its youth and purity, whose internal regions betrayed the fact of its last meal, while on the land of the living, to be a highly seasoned one.  Next came sausages, interminable links of sausage, which, after officiating somewhat in the manner of 'the five loaves and fishes,' enable me to decorate the tent's interior, in an artistic manner, far surpassing the festoons or fresco paintings of the renowned Michael Angelo.  The various other items I must pass over till another opportunity, except the liquids, which I must remark was of such a quality, that before half of it was disposed of, a band of fellows might be heard indulging in the melodious strains of 'We're all a Nodding, bob, bob, a Nodding.'  We must avail ourselves of your columns to return to Mr. Seitz our sincere thanks for such unexpected, and undeserved, kindness, and we earnestly hope and pray that his wine press may never rest from its labors, nor his gobblers degenerate, either in size, quality or number.

"In the afternoon of the day, the inevitable dress parade took place, at which all the formalities were duly undergone, not excepting the company commander's advance to the center, to the tune of the Rogues March, or some other music it is our pleasure to hear frequently executed by Pomp's Band.  It is my pleasant duty to informs the citizens of Easton that Pomp's Band has acquired an ascendancy in these regions, both from the character of the pieces arranged by Mr. Coates, and manner of execution that justly renders them the 'ne plus ultra' of the musical profession.  Corroborative of the high appreciation in which their performances are held, I must say that the leader, Mr. Coates, keeps constantly employed writing music and filling orders that are incessantly flowing in from the bands around Alexandria and the surrounding camps.  To follow them while executing Captain Dachrod's Quickstep is inspiring and makes a fellow feel infinitely greater  than the Great Alexander, of sea-chastising notoriety.  Talk about storming batteries, war, and the walls of Quebec, with such music in the van, said walls would crumble, if threatened by a party with no other arms but walking sticks.  They did the Christmas night serenading through the Brigade, and of course, the General's  best rectified found itself in thousands of individuals, capable of bestowing on its distinguished honor.  

"We were agreeably occupied in reading your paper of the 23rd instant, containing a communication from a lady, who visited various camps, and portrayed what came under her observation.  She seemed to be horrified at the fact of soldiers sleeping with stockings on and bolsterifying their knapsacks, having labored under the impression, I suppose, that each soldier had an attendant to bring him in the morning hot water, shaving apparatus, moustache dying receipt, eau-de-cologne, fine tooth combs, and everything else necessary to the completion of a dandy's toilet.  Let the dear girl but visit the 47th, and she will have an opportunity of beholding the bright side of the picture.  No cases of sickness, owing to the efficiency and unremitted labors of Surgeon Bailey and his Assistant, Dr. Scheetz, and every man gay and happy, whose only ailment is a worrying state of peaceful inactivity.  In order that she may witness our expertness, where preserves are the order of t he day, she must bring some jellies, and my goodness, if we don;t clearly demonstrate the inutility of soap-suds to our fingers, its more than I conceive; besides, she will depart with the pleasant satisfaction of knowing that her relationship is vastly extended, every man failing not to observe, like the Vermonters, that there is a resemblance between her and his mother.

"On last Friday while trying to demolish a bowl of soup, which, by the way, is a conglomeration of every article in the known vegetable kingdom, with pork or beef juice and water, the long roll beat, and incompliance with its suggestions, the 47th, in a shorter time than it requires to relate to the same, uttering wild huzzahs and frantic with excitement, were in line awaiting the Colonel's orders to march.  So quickly was the movement effected, that the General was heard to remark that whatever work was to be performed give him the 47th.  The Brigade started forward, and having arrived at the place suspected of danger, Company A, under the command of Lieut. James F. Meyers, and Company I, deployed right and left as skirmishers, leaving the main corps to proceed in column along the road.  Our expedition through the woods revealed nothing save a few indications of a prior Rebel occupation, namely some fence rail sheds, covered with spruce, and the position behind a hill, on top of which rested a battery, awaiting the enemy's advance; but in this, as on several other occasions, we were disappointed and consequently returned to camp, considerably more depressed than at the start.

"It is reported by reliable authority that our stay here will soon terminate, for some destination as yet unknown, so Captain Graeffe, who is now recruiting in Easton, will perceive the necessity, or otherwise, of his reappearance in camp, an incident to be hailed with the highest satisfaction, not only by the men, but by Lieutenants Meyers and Dening, whose duties have of late become insufferably onerous.  I would recommend all who have it in contemplation to take up their country's cause, to embark under him, being from his long military experience, the only man capable of seeing them righted in every respect, as the men can fully testify, from the proceedings of the last pay day.  So wishing all a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and many recurrence of the same, I remain, Yours Respectfully, Mike Delany, Co.A, 47th Regt. P.V.    PS - Daguerreotyping has become a permanent institution with the 47th, Mr. David Bigley, a Washington artist,  having submitted his fortune to the fate of the Regiment, and is now operating in the log palace of Capt. Graeffe."    

Copyright 1999-2011: Jay C. Richards                       

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 23, 1861: Jersey 9th at Meridian Hill, VA

On December 23, 1861, Charles Hinton, of Belvidere, in Company K, 9th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, wrote a letter to Franklin Pierce Sellers, publisher of the Belvidere Intelligencer.

Hinton wrote, "Since I last wrote you, we have moved to Meridian Hill to take winter quarters.  We left Camp Allen on Thursday morning.  We were ordered to leave our tents struck and knapsacks packed and be ready to march by 8 o'clock - all of us ready and we started off.  Our knapsacks were very heavy, as we had our blankets and other things to carry.  The distance was about four miles, and some of the boys felt pretty tired before we reached the Hill.  I had been on guard the night before and didn't feel like carrying my knapsack, but as it was the first duty of a soldier to obey orders, I did not complain, and there would have been no use to complain of a march of only four miles.  If we never march any farther than that, none of us will be hurt.

"The boys all seem willing to do their duty as soldiers, every one of them, only we would like to go a little farther South, so that we could do a little more than we have been doing.  We all came here with the expectation of fighting, and we don't want to be disappointed and kept out of it by laying here all winter where there is nothing to be seen.  We want to go where we can see something and hear and know something more about war than we do.  We did not come here to live off Uncle Sam for three years, and then go home without ever seeing a battle, or doing anything to put down the rebellion.  There are fighting boys in the 9th, and if they have half a chance shown them, they will make things tell.  The boys are in very good spirits, and there has been but little sickness among them as yet.  The weather has been very pleasant ever since we have been here, but it is not quite so warm this morning. 

"I seen Commissary [Lycidias] Hamilton, John E. Matthews and Jacob Meyer this morning.  They are all well, and as far as I know, all the other Belvidere boys are well.  Jacob Sharp and William Silverthorn were out here to see us.  We were much pleased to see them, only that they made such a short stay.  We were in hopes they would have remained with us to dinner.  The Intelligencer is a welcome visitor to us all - we are all glad to see it every time it comes.  As dinner is ready, and I am hungry, I will bring my letter to a close.  C.H."  

Hinton and the men of the Jersey Ninth wished for battle and they soon would get - and later regret - their wish in January 1862 when they shipped out for Roanoke Island, North Carolina.

Copyright 1997-2011: Jay C. Richards   

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December 9, 1861: Letter from Charles Hinton of the 9th NJ Regiment

The 9th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Regiment was camped in Washington, D.C. by December 9th 1861.  The regiment was commanded by Colonel Joseph W. Allen, of Bordentown, and Lt. Colonel Charles Heckman, of Phillipsburg.   The bulk of Warren County men in the Jersey 9th were in Company H under the command of Captain Joseph Henry, of Oxford Furnace.

On December 9, Charles Hinton, of Belvidere, a member of Company K, wrote a letter to Franklin Pierce Sellers, editor and publisher of the Belvidere Intelligencer.  Hinton was one of Sellers' war correspondents.  Hinton wrote, "Having a little leisure, I thought I could not better employ the time than by writing to you.  We left Camp Olden, Trenton, on Wednesday morning last, for Washington.  We had a fine start, the day was beautiful; the boys were all in good spirits and glad to leave their old camp for one in which they could learn more about war.  We arrived in Philadelphia about sundown - there we stacked arms and went to supper, and we had a fine supper - one that a soldier don't get every day.  We all got ready again and started on our way towards the depot, where we had to take the cars for Baltimore.  We all got aboard the train and started with the expectation of getting to Baltimore about 2 o'clock that morning, but we did not get there until 9, and then we marched about a mile through the city until we got to the depot, where we were ordered to sling knapsacks and get ready for breakfast, which came very acceptable, for we were hungry just about that time, but the boys had been paid off just before they left Camp Olden, and they made the cakes and pies suffer, which boys and girls brought down for sale; and by the time breakfast was ready, they had no wish for dry bread at all.  As I did not join the Regiment in time to get any pay, I had to take dry bread and coffee, and I ate heartily of it.

"We left Baltimore about 2 o'clock for Washington, and about every five minutes the train would stop at the passings, and they kept on that way, so we did not get to Washington until nearly daylight, where we got out of the old sheep cars and started for the Soldiers' Rest, which is near the depot - there we slung knapsacks, washed up, and got ready for breakfast. We started for the Soldiers' Retreat, where our breakfast was all ready: we had good coffee, bread, and corned beef, and we all ate of it very heartily.  About one o'clock, we started for our encampment, about a mile-and-a-half from the Capitol, there to await further orders.  It is thought we will not remain here long, but how long we cannot tell.  We don't know any more about that than you do.

"The Belvidere boys of Company H are all well and in good spirits, and want to get further South so they can play a little on the rebels.  There is nothing of importance going on in our Camp, so I will bring this letter to a close, and the next time I write you I hope there will be something more to write about.  Chas. H."

Copyright 1997-2011: Jay C. Richards