Thursday, January 24, 2013

Oh My Bleeding Country: Part Two

     In the first real action that James saw, he and the rest of Union forces began to advance at midnight and quietly drew within four miles of the Confederate forces by daylight. It amazes me to think that 5000 men and several hundred horses could move so quietly that no one was alerted to the presence. The Confederate pickets left their posts at 8:00 and the Union forces actually entered the Rebel camp, surprising them at breakfast.
     The Confederate guns proved difficult to fire – perhaps the habit of literally sleeping on their arms to prevent the rifled muskets from collecting dew in the night had not been ingrained in them. 
     The firefight continued well past noon until General Reynolds ordered the Union forces to break off the fight. Both sides claimed a great victory, inflating the size of the enemy forces and the number of enemy killed. In reality each side lost fewer than fifty killed and wounded. 
     We do not have James’ letter to Melissa following the 3 October 1861 Battle of Greenbrier, West Virginia. But a few weeks later he wrote complaining that while he had sent her five letters he had only received one from her. He also explained what happened to his civilian clothes after his mustering-in.
     James continues with the traditional soldiers’ complaints: severe officers and miserable weather. Although he report having a “very good time” he tells Melissa to warn off his two brothers, Will and Adam, from volunteering.
     This single line helped me to locate James in the 1860 U.S. Census. I could now look for William Price and Adam Price living in the same household and found them all, including the young glass blower, James.
     His letter concluded with James asking about Melissa’s daily activities and a new glass work that he assumed was about to open. He asks her to have baby Leon’s photograph made in tin and sent to him and then closes his letter in what came to be his signature sign-off for the next year: “My love to you and Leon.”
Oct 15 [1861] 
Dear Melissa 
      I received your letter on Sabbath evening from Charles McCoy. This makes the fifth letter I have wrote to you and have only received one answer.
     You asked me what became of my clothes. I concluded I would not send them home and therefore I gave them to our cook…. 
     We have a pretty hard time of it at present on account of our officers is so severe but we can live. Yet I would like to see you and Leon and I hope the time will not be long before I shall.
     While I was at Hancock I had one hard night The rain while I was asleep run down my back. It was a terrible night, the worst we have had yet. I stayed six days in Hancock and had a very good time considering that night. 
     Tell Will and Adam to not think of coming out….Get Leon’s likeness on tin and send it in your letter. Write and tell me all about the times and also all about the Glass Work and if they are started yet. Write as soon as you get this letter. 
     I send my love to you and to all the folks and to little Leon and tell him to be sure and be a good little boy. 
     From Your Husband 
     James F Price 
     James’ next letter was written almost a month later. He recounts being “plagued” but Rebels but there were no casualties to the Union forces. The tables were turned when a cannon was delivered, scattering the Rebel pickets from the other side of the river. 
     Payday was an important day in the army. A private received $13 per month, or about $4400 in today’s money. But they were usually paid every quarter. The system was no doubt devised to minimize the work of the paymasters, but it also provided an enormous amount of money in a large number of young men’s hands all at once. Since the military provided the troopers with food, clothing, and housing, there wasn’t much money needed on a day-to-day basis. Most of the soldiers’ pay was spent on gambling, liquor, and the purchase of more tasty foods. 
     But James had a wife and child to support, and sent home $25 ($8500) via Lt. John Stewart. The paragraph in which James explains to Melissa how and where to collect her money was an eye-opening one. With no ATMs, no direct deposit, and no branch banks, James and the other men were forced to send someone home with the money. But then what to do with it? It would be unreasonable to expect someone on furlough to spend his leave time visiting from house to house to deliver the money.
     In James and Melissa’s case the solution was elegantly simple: Lt. Stewart would carry the money to a local Pittsburgh storekeeper who agreed to hold the money for the wives and mothers. James told Melissa which store, where it was located, and what day to go pick it up. The storekeeper was willing to be the go-between in hopes that the ladies would in turn shop in his store. A good deal for everyone.
     At the end of his letter James noted that time was passing quickly. He had been in the cavalry for three months. He had two years and nine months left to serve. 
Nov 24/61
Dear wife,
     I have sent a letter to you two weeks ago and have never received any answer yet. We have been plagued by the Rebels a great deal within the last few days. We had a fight with them across the river the other day there was from three to four hundred Rebels to one hundred of us. We fought about six hours steady. Our loss was none killed or wounded although pretty narrow escapes by some of the men. The Rebels lost six killed and seventeen wounded all this from noon. 
     The hills opposite us was pretty full of pickets from the Rebels this morning. We received a cannon this morning which open out on them this forenoon and made them scatter. There is none to be seen now…. I can’t come home until we drive the Rebels out of this district which will soon be done. 
     We got paid on Sunday Lieut Stewart [eventually Capt. John H Stewart] is taking charge of the money which he is a goin to Bradley’s where you can get it – Bradley’s store warehouse … you can go and get it on Tuesday. I gave in his charge twenty five dollars. And let me know what’s agoing on in Pittsburgh and vicinity. 
     Malis I want you to write and let me know how you and Leon is agetting along I send my love to you and Leon and to the rest of the folks. Hoping to see you soon. Write and let me know if you received the money. 
     Time passes away pretty fast now on account of having so much to do with the Rebels. 
     From Your Husband 
     James F. Price

No comments:

Post a Comment