Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Oh My Bleeding Country: The Story of James F. Price, Part 1

“I have some old letters from my Civil War ancestor. They aren’t much. Mostly he talks about money and how he wants to go home.”
     This comment made by one of my students began a fascinating odyssey for me. The student was taking “Discovering Your Civil War Ancestor” a community education course I teach at the local community college. Her casual comment made me salivate. While I have plenty of Civil War ancestors, and a fair number of mementos from one of them, I do not have any Civil War-era letters.
     Eventually we embarked on a project to preserve her letters and share their contents with her entire family. As I read and transcribed the letters I discovered the letter writer, James F. Price of Co. G, 1st Regiment Maryland Cavalry, was a loving and devoted husband, father, and friend. 
     He began the war as a private and ended as a sergeant, proving his devotion to his cause and his leadership abilities. Along the way he saw terrible slaughter and endured devastating losses. Yet James continued on steadfastly in spite of his loss and privation:
“It is all for our blessed country and must be endured without murmuring….Oh my bleeding country, it is for thee I suffer and endure the hardships and privations of a soldier.”
     James Price was born in October of 1838 in Pennsylvania. His beloved wife, Melissa Jane Clark, was born ten years later. James became an apprentice glass blower in Pittsburgh, where the two met and married at the First Reformed Presbyterian Church on 7 February 1861. Later that year their first son, Leon, was born. 
     On 5 August 1861 James F Price and a number of his friends and neighbors answered a Maryland recruiter’s call and, as was customary during the Civil War, all were enlisted in the same company, G, of the 1st Maryland Cavalry.
     It is interesting that James, a city boy who could not have had many opportunities to ride horses, ended up in the cavalry. Particularly because, according to the company’s Descriptive Book, James was five feet nine inches tall, much taller than the average cavalry trooper. The Descriptive Book also tells us that James had a fair complexion, blue eyes, and light colored hair.

     On 25 August 1861 James was mustered into service, kissed Melissa and Leon goodbye, and headed off to war. All of James’ letters have not survived to today, but the first letter we have was written just a month later from Williamsport, Maryland. In his letter James sounds like he is on an adventure, laments that he has not yet killed a Rebel, and, in a delightful display of his sense of humor, reports that he is optimistic that he will be home before Christmas. 
Williamsport, Maryland 
Sept 28th/61 
Dear Malissa,
We left Washington on last Wednesday a week and traveled only fifteen miles the first day. We had our wagons with us and had to ride slow which made it so wearisome. We travelled three days afterwards before we arrived at Williamsport….
     There is one company of cavalry and one of infantry. Also a mile from us is the first Maryland Regiment. We have to go out skirmishing each day. There was a boy shot by the Rebels the other day while he was driving along the tow path. 
     Some of our men while out on picket the other day captured a wagon full of boots, shoes and saddles.And also our lieutenant took four of our men and a captain of another cavalry company took the same they … went to a town name Hancock Town. They stayed there three days and captured three men. The ladies treated them very nice. 
     We expect to go again very soon. I think I shall go this time. I have been out on picket but did not have the luck to kill any Rebels yet. I hope I shall. 
     You may get a large turkey for Christmas for I think we will all be home that time. I have got plenty to eat here and good health and food found. … 
     I will tell you more the next time. I would like to see Leon and see if he has growed any since I left. Write and tell me how you are agetting along…. 
     I send my love to you all and hope to find you all well. Write soon. 
     From your husband 
     James F Price
James F, Price in uniform, There is a small hole caused by an imperfection in the glass
in the  center of the glass plate. I wonder what James the glassblower thought of that?

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