1862 began on the same note as 1861 ended. James’ letters were cheerful and spoke of a desire to return home, his daily routine, and his concern that Melissa and Leon were well and have sufficient money.
Sometimes the letters included unfamiliar names of men and women. In this one, the first of 1862, James mentioned seeing a man named Henry Ernest:
Jan 31st ‘62
I received your letter I was very glad to hear that you was all well. I have got good health also at present. I saw Henry Ernest this morning. He was well. …. I don’t think it will be long before we will be at home. Keep in good spirits. Give my respects to all the family. I send my love to you and Leon....
From Your Husband
James F Price
Some research provided the information that Henry B. Earnest, Co. B of the Pennsylvania 46th Infantry, was mustered in on 24 August 1861 and was discharged on 31 October 1862 on account of wounds he received in action.
I assumed that Henry was a friend of James and searched for him in the 1860 U.S. Census. Unable to find him there, I broadened my search and made an amazing discovery: there in the 1850 US Census was Henry Ernest with his wife Lucinda, sons William and James, and daughter Melissa. I knew that Melissa Clark (James’ wife) had two brothers and that her mother was named Lucinda. I also knew that Lucinda had remarried after divorcing her first husband, the father of her children.
Census enumerators often assumed everyone in the family shared the surname of the head of the household, so it made sense that Lucinda’s children were listed as Henry’s children. Additional research verified my hypothesis and another brick wall in my research came tumbling down.
James’ letters continued. Sometimes they exhibited a sense of humor:
February 25th ‘62
Maliss I will take a letter home myself some of these days and see if I can get an answer for it.
Other letters remind us that during the first part of the Civil War company level officers were not appointed by the military establishment but were elected by the men of their company and the people they knew from the neighborhood:
Camp Carroll Patterson
April 22 ‘62
…. I don’t think it will be four weeks before we are at home our Captain has resigned and we keep drumming men out of camp every day which will soon break the regiment up we have no captain yet. Lt. Steward wanted to be Captain but the men would not agree.
Benjamin Johnston said if he had a boy like Leon he would not go to out to war Meliss I am tired of soldiering the way we are soldiering now …. give my respects to William and Rachel I send my love to you and Leon first….
The following letter highlights the dilemma faced, no doubt, by many soldiers: whether or not to use some of the money they normally sent home to purchase train fare to travel home while on furlough. This letter also explains the perilous journey made by letters from the front to home and demonstrates the importance of photographs to soldiers of the Civil War.
April 30 ‘62
I received both of your letters. I was very glad to hear that you and Leon was well. I could get a furlough but it costs so much to go home that I would rather wait awhile and see if we get discharged for I do not think they will keep us here much longer.
….We is lazing about two miles from the Post Office and we have to leave our letters in the Adjutant’s office then there is a man engaged to take the letters down, which through carelessness these are either lost or mislaid. My likeness was laying upwards of two months in the likeness wagon and is not very good. I will get another taken and send it to you. I want you to send yours and Leon’s with Robert Wilson.
I am agetting very tired of lazing around camp I would rather be home for I am so tired of soldiering this way. I have nothing this time to write particularly. ….
James was finally engaged in his first real fight in the spring of 1862. In this letter he describes the retreat from Winchester, West Virginia and the rigors he endured as his company was dispatched to cover the rear of the retreating army. I appreciated the display of humor that James included and his reassurances to Melissa of his health and safety.
May 2 ‘62
…. Henry has arrived - so far I have not seen him yet but the regiment is in Williamsport. I have not had time to go to his camp.
We have been very busy since we left Balt[imore] and have had hard times. It was for four days and three nights without anything to eat and was in our saddles all the time. The women in Winchester shot at our men as they were leaving town and the Rebels, from what we can hear, killed all our sick that we left ….
On Saturday night we left our camp at midnight. We had been out no more than an hour before the Rebels fired volleys into our camp - they thought we was sleeping in our tents. Some men of company C & Bs men could not be waked [and] up the Rebels killed them. One man escaped - he said he heard one man begging for his life but they shot him ….
The retreat was no very good order. Some of the men would give out and lay down as soon as the Rebels would come up they would shoot them all.
I got hurt. I got my big nose hurt in the woods by some brush.
It will take some time before the division can be formed again. I think we will lay here until they get them fixed up again. The Rebels killed a great many of our men but I think we killed as many of them.
I send my love to you and Leon. You need not worry about me. I think I will get through yet.
I am going down to see Henry tonight. Write immediately. I have good health.
From Your Husband
James F Price