Transcripts: Henry D. Wharton’s Civil War Letters (Pennsylvania Volunteers, 11th Regiment-Sunbury Guards, April-July, 1861)

All letters below were published in the Sunbury American newspaper and are in the public domain, courtesy of the Chronicling America project, U.S. Library of Congress.


21 May 1861

Letter from Camp Wayne.
WEST CHESTER, May 21, 1861.}

DEAR WILVERT: – We are still encamped in this valley of “noble deeds,” but it is impossible for us to form any idea of our stay. There was a rumor this morning of our being ordered to Fort McHenry, opposite Baltimore, in a day or two, but the orders, like the promises of our uniforms, are to keep us in good humor and from grumbling; as for grumbling, there has been enough of it in this camp, because of the meanness of the Commissary and higher officers.

Up to last Thursday night all was fun and frolic. Friday morning came and the provisions we drew were not fit, as Nig Weitzel says, “for a South Sea Cannibal to eat.” The rations consisted of salt pork with the fat six inches thick, and hard sea biscuit – having actual worms in them. This was too much, the boys would not put up with such treatment. About four hundred men mutinied – and if you ever saw fun it was here. The men formed in procession, wi h a man carrying, in advance, a long piece of board for a flag-staff – and a piece of pork and beef made the flag, and a biscuit, on top, for spear. The procession marched through the camp, and on being ordered back to quarters, the Colonel was pelted with sea biscuit. The Commissary received three groans for his share, and his horse was completely covered with the biscuit – a string of biscuit around his (the horse’s) neck, (pity it hadn’t been a rope around the Commissary’s,) biscuit for a saddle girth, biscuit to the tail, and biscuit on the foot of each leg.

After the men had fully expressed their indignation they went to their quarters quietly, and were satisfied. A tree in front of the “Guards” quarters was turned into a “Christmas bush,” the boys having literally made the boughs bend by the quantity of beef, pork and crackers hanging to them.

Do you think soldiers can sit quietly, with their arms folded, and receive such treatment and “grub?” No sir. And I tell you the 11th Regiment, for one, will not submit – they are the right stuff, and will have their rights, and the next time will prove themselves to be, as Gov. Curtin called them, the “Bloody 11th.”

If we are to have such food, and can’t get any other, the citizens at home will have to stop the “supplies” on the soldiers passing through Sunbury, and send them to us. We have received things from home, and after having satisfied our wants, the emotions and gratitude cannot be expressed. Jared Irwin wishes me to say that “the Continental Hotel” of our “mess,” is completely renovated, and is enjoying a big run of custom.

Yours, respectfully,

28 May 1861

[For the Sunbury American.]
Letter from Our Volunteers.
NORTH EAST, Md., May 28, 1861.

Dear Wilvert: – After a tedious ride and march, we are at last in the enemy’s country. The people seem friendly, but by the advice of Captain Bruner, and the good sense of our boys, the strictest vigilence is kept, knowing that “discretion is the better part of valor.” There is a great difference in the feeling, seemingly, of the citizens of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. On the route from West Chester to Philadelphia, there was one continual shout, cheering us on our way, and what most warmed our boys was on passing Mrs. Eastwick’s Seminary, in Chester county, Pa., the windows of the building were completely filled with young ladies, and the waving of their “‘kerchiefs” – the smiles and kisses thrown to us – was enough to urge a soldier on to duty. All the way through Delaware there were similar demonstrations of enthusiasm. When we got to Elkton, Md., a cloud gathered over us which dampened our good humor considerably. The people looked daggers at us, and one of our boys not having a chance of a pop at a secessionist, took revenge by shooting a dog, saying that he would not even “allow a Secessionist’s dog to bark at him.”

This is a small town about ten miles from Havre de Grace. There are two nice Rolling Mills [?] about a mile east of this place, the business of the town is not increased by the Mills. The principal occupation of the citizens is fishing. A gentleman told me at his fishery, that he had taken four hundred barrels of herring at one haul. This may seem a big fish story, but I am assured by others it is actually true. There is a Church here (Episcopal) one hundred and thirty years old. The brick in it were brought from England, and in the church-yard is grave-stone dated 1734. The walls of the building are three feet thick.

An election is being held here to-day for the Member of Debate, (the same thing as our Assembly). I saw a hand-bill in town urging all good men to go to the polls vote for McIntire, to prove that the “old 5th district was unconditionally for the Union.”

Our Regiment is distributed along the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, from Elkton to Havre de Grace. – How long we will stay I cannot tell, but the impression is we will very shortly move to Washington.

In speaking of the election to-day, I should have mentioned a wise precaution of Captain Bruner, – knowing the feeling the people hereabouts, he requested his men not to visit the town or go to the polls, as the presence of military might influence them. I am happy to say the Captain’s request, to a man, was lived up to.

The boys are all well – in fine spirits. I will write to you again as soon as anything of importance transpires.

Respectfully, Yours,


4 June 1861

[For the Sunbury American.]
NORTH EAST, MD., June 4th, 1861.

Dear Wilvert: – We are now lying “becalmed,” but like the crew of a good ship, from present indications, we will soon be moved to where there will be something to do for a “yankee ship, and a yankee crew,” and the citizen soldier. – From the feeling and actions of our Regiment, I feel pretty certain that if they ever get into an engagement, they will prove themselves good and true men – not, I hope, like the fourteen hundred Southrons at Fairfax Court House, Va., who were frightened and made to retreat by forty-seven regular yankees. Pity for the South, her boasted chivalry is gone. Not that she is cowardly, but the miserable cause in which she is engaged. As news here, there is nothing that would interest you but the condition and doings of our boys. They are well – in first-rate spirits – to show it, neither the Principal nor Assistant Surgeon have been to see us since we have been quartered here. We have considerable sport among ourselves. In the evening we have music by our “string band,” composed of Sergeants Heilbing and Pleasants, and Corporal Wharton, (by the way, Corporal S. Bright puts in a few interludes by his jokes,) and it is highly appreciated by citizens of North East. – At all our entertainments we are so crowded that we can’t keep the “front seats reserved for ladies and small children.” Private Rizer has charge of the Menagerie. In his collection there is an Elephant, an Ostrich, a Cameleopard and a Giant. The animals are made by one or two of the boys, with the aid of blankets, and the Giant by one of the fellows sitting on the shoulders of another – with a blanket covering them. – They make a first-rate representation. On a visit to the town you can hear called by one citizen to another, “are you going to-night to hear the music and see the Elephant?” I mention this to show how well the thing is made up, and the liking of the citizens for the amusement. You know Ritzer’s love of the ridiculous, and can imagine how well he acts his part. – There is very little dissension or quarreling in our Company, and you can almost call us a “band of brothers.” The officers of the Company are very well liked, especially Capt. Bruner and Lieut. Gobin, and from my own knowledge, if any act of the enemy were done to them, as ’twas to Col. Ellsworth, our boys would act the part of the Zouaves, and avenge the death of either – such is the love of the men for them.

In last week’s “Gazette,” I saw a note of the arrival of our “big box,” and the mention of crackers in it. I wish it distinctly understood that the crackers sent were picked from those that were covered with mold and worms. If he, the Editor, thinks they are “good enough,” he should have some to eat that were left behind    We are in good quarters and are well satisfied.

Yours Fraternally,

3 July 1861 

[For the Sunbury American.]
Letter from Our Volunteers.



Bravery of the Men – The Rebels Driven from
the Field – Killed and Wounded – Schall of the
Sunbury Guards among the wounded

CAMP ____________ , MARTINSBURG, VA.,
July 3, 1861}

DEAR WILVERT: – Gen. Patterson’s Army have at last advanced this far on the “sacred soil of Old Virginia.”    The Eleventh boys, first Wisconsin regiment, a few Cavalry and a portion of Captain Perkins’ Artillery met with a most CORDIAL reception on their first visit to the hospitable state of the F.F.V’s. Yesterday morning (Tuesday) preparatory to the moving of the entire force, a scouting party of nineteen men, with a corporal, were detailed from the Eleventh and the Wisconsin regiments, under command of Lieut. Colonel Coulter, to visit the country on the Virginia side of the Potomac, opposite Williamsport, to discover the whereabouts of the rebels – our party met with a reception they had not bargained for. The scouts started at 2 o’clock in the morning; it was very dark and the boys having reached the opposite shore were moving along noiselessly, as they supposed, when, bang! bang!  came the fire of 150 rebels right in the midst of our scouts which confused them some, they immediately returned their fire with double interest; making the rebels retreat without saying “with your leave” or giving our boys a chance to find out what damage they had done to them . Our fellows fired twice and had a third load ready for them, but the rebels thinking “discretion the better part of valor,” left so abruptly that the boys kept the last load for another fight.  Not one of the party was injured How they escaped is beyond my comprehension.

About 4 o’clock of the same morning all the regiments in and near Williamsport, – in fact all of Gen. Patterson’s Division, were ordered to march into Virginia.   We forded the river, and everything passed off pleasantly until we reached Falling Waters, four miles below Williamsport, when we heard of the rebels and it was not long ’till we had a smell of Jeff. Davis’ “southern powder.” There was a regular fight then – some may call it a skirmish, but from the way in which the cannon and the Minnie rifle balls flew, I should call it, well a regular battle.  The Wisconsin boys took the left of the line, acting principally as scouts and sharp-shooters, while our regiment took the right, the post of honor, and the battery, with the cavalry, the centre. If ever a pretty move and a display of bravery was enacted it was shown by the 11th regiment. The command was given (after the enemy commenced the fight) by Col. Jarrett to charge, away went the boys on a run, cheering at every jump, with the balls of the enemy flying around and about them, and repeatedly an eight pound cannon ball striking in front and sometimes a ball bouncing over their heads. One of our drum corps picked up an eight pounder that flew over the right of our company and passed over the heads of our Charlie and Capt. Bruner. I was frightened then, supposing they and others were killed, but Capt. Bruner seeing the ball strike before them, cried “fall,” which they did and thus escaped unharmed. It was when they fell I thought they were gone, but I was soon relieved, for up came a cheer, and I saw our brave fellows rush into the fight and pour a volley into the enemy that made them scatter. It was the evident intention of the gunners of the rebel battery to break the centre of our column, thinking by doing so they would be confused and they (the rebels) have an easy victory, but they calculated wide of their mark, the steady and determined charge of our regiment, the continued throwing of shell and ball by the battery, with sharp-shooting of the Wisconsin boys, made them retreat and the first victory gained on Virginia soil was by a portion of the 6th Brigade.

The battle lasted about one hour and a half, and the length of ground on which it was fought was three miles.

The force of the enemy was four regiments with five hundred cavalry, about double our number. The loss of the enemy was over one hundred killed, fifty wound, besides several prisoners, while our loss was two killed, one in our regiment and one in the Wisconsin, and about twelve wounded, – two severely.   The one killed in our regiment was a member of Company H, (Danville Rifles). The enemy, on their retreat, said if it had not bee for the d____d regulars they would have whipped us – the idea of them taking such raw recruits as us for regulars is laughable – they took us for U.S. Troops, from the fact of our wearing the undress uniform of the regulars, the coat being the same as that worn by the Dewart Guards.

The enemy have retreated toward Winchester, further down in Virginia, where we soon expect to have another engagement. Our whole force, by Friday, at Martinsburg will be about twenty-five thousand, with Doubleday’s heavy battery, the Rhode Island battery and Perkin’s battery, besides some Cavalry, part of which the First City Troop of Philadelphia. When we do meet they will have more to remember than the recollections of the battle of Falling Waters. I should have stated that McMullin’s Rangers took an active part in the fight, did good service and that with great credit. Our boys, Sunbury Guards, were in the hottest of the fight, they being in the centre, and strange to say no one was killed, and but one slightly wounded. The name of the wounded man is Christ Shall, from Cincinnati. I wss at the Hospital assisting, when he came in, after the wound was dressed, he turned to me and said, “Harry, where is my gun, I must go help the boys fight it out,” and he went, and after returning helped Bill Christ to kill two heeves. [?]  That is what I call cool and shows considerable bravery. When the man fell, Capt. Bruner, seeing him, shouted, “boys, avenge the death of Shall,” the Captain supposing him dead, away went the boys with a yell and made some pretty good work. All our boys returned from the fight in good humor, and the “knife and fork game” play at supper, gave evidence that the day’s work did not spoil their appetite.

I commenced this last night, the 3d, at Martinsburg and finish it on the 4th of July, opposite Williamsport, twelve miles above. The reason of my doing so, is that the Wisconsin and our regiment have been sent here as guards to a train of two hundred wagons after a three months supply of provision, and as escort to the Rhode Island regiment.   Pretty work for the 4th, and as Sergeant Helbing says, “not a glass of lager to drink”   You have your fun today – we expect ours soon in a fight and a great deal more pleasure on our return home, if we are lucky enough to get there.

Yours, Fraternally,

30 June 1861

[For the Sunbury American.]
Sunday, June 30, 1861.}

Dear Wilvert: – We are again ordered to march. Of our destination we are perfectly ignorant, but it is supposed we will go into Virginia, below Martinsburg, when the spunk of the Eleventh Regiment will be tried. It seems there is to be a battle at Manassas Gap, and the rebels, if victorious there, will then proceed against Washington city; in the meantime they keep a considerable force on the Virginia side of the Potomac to impede the progress of General Patterson’s Division, to make a more sure victory at the Gap. In this I think they will be mistaken, for Gen. Patterson, under the direction of the brave old SCOTT, will push his men through to aid the main army, whatever may oppose, and then they they they (the rebels) will say, as the coon did to Capt. Scott, “don’t shoot, I’ll knock under.” Our boys are in good health and in fine spirits – the prospect of a fight makes them quite hilarious, and I have no doubt if they meet the enemy you will hear such an account of them that their friends at home will not be ashamed to listen to. I don’t say this for them in the style of a bragadocio, but in truth, for I have known them twice to be ordered to march, when there was every appearance of a fight, when not a cheek blanched, and every man seemed eager for the fray.

On our march from Hagerstown, yesterday, we met an officer of the 23d Pennsylvania Regiment, on the side of the road, who had in his possession a military cap with the letters B.R. (Beauregard Rifles) on the front of it. A part of their Regiment, the day before, were over the river on a scout; they met some rebels, had a brush with them, made them retreat, and brought the cap to their regiment as a trophy. The officer, who held the cap so that we could all see it as we passed, seemed very proud of having it in his possession, and looked as if he would rather hold something of more importance for our inspection, for instance, the head of Jeff. Davis.

JOE SMITH (Bachman’s four) is now the proudest man in our company. Yesterday, when ordered to march, Joe was detailed as cattle guard or driver. It is rather a tedious piece of work, and on coming into this camp Joe was the only driver left, the rest of them gave out, and he had driven the cattle about one-third of the way by himself. Joe takes his honors quite easy, and says “I don’t care, dey had to knock under.”

You must excuse the shortness of this letter, as I am ordered to play the tattoo, and get ready for our march to-night at 12 o’clock – such are the orders. When you next hear from me I hope I can inform you that we “have done the State some service.”

Yours fraternally,

19 July 1861

Letter from Our Volunteers.
Camp – 6th Brigade, 11th Regiment, P.V.,
CHARLESTON, Va., July 19, 1861.}

DEAR WILVERT: – “There is many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.” That saying was verified, in our case, yesterday. Numerous were the conjectures of the boys of the pleasures they calculated on when they got home – They were in great glee with the idea of being discharged so soon – their time expiring on next Tuesday, the 21st, at five o’clock, P.M., but as there is “a tide in the affairs of men” that can’t be stopped, so it was with them, and then happy visions were, as the printers say, “knocked into Pi.”[?]   Six regiments of the three months Pennsylvania troops, whose time is soon up, were ordered on review by Gen Patterson, and after having formed in company, ten columns deep, he, the General, addressed them, told them that they had acted well THEIR part, and he was proud of them, that they did the hard work, in fact we had been “wet-nurses” to the army at Washington, while those at Washington had marched but ten times in the enemy’s country, we had left the land of Pennsylvania, settled secession in Maryland  had crossed the Potomac and trod on the “sacred soil” of Virginia – (in speaking of that, he could not see that it was any more SACRED than our own) – had whipped them at Hokes Run, Falling Waters, chased them through Martinsburg and again offered them fight at Bunker’s Hill, a place of great notoriety, where the rebels would not stand, but showed us how well posted they were on a foot race    It had been his intention to have marched us immediately on Winchester, but from information gained from engineers and scouts he knew their exact position, how many troops they had, their number exceeding ours by two thousand, besides four thousand Virginia Militia, whose bravery was noted on paper, that they had masked batteries and felled trees on the road we would march to reach there, for some six miles, knowing this and being responsible to his government for the lives of his men, besides the wives, children, mothers, sisters, relatives and sweethearts of his men looked to him for their protection, the enemy could not lure him on to destruction, so he abandoned the idea and marched us to this place. He then told the men their time would soon be up, and he was ready to discharge them, but that he could not hold this place if they would leave him before he was reinforced by the three year men, he having that day received a dispatch from Gen. Scott requesting us to stay for a week or ten days longer until he could send in troops to take our place. Our boys had made up their minds not to stay a minute longer than their time, but when Patterson told them his situation, spoke of the honor of Pennsylvania, and then said that all who would stick to him and help him out of the scrape, should shoulder arms, our boys could not stand it, up went their muskets to a shoulder, and some, who were afraid that they wouldn’t be counted in, stuck their caps on tops of their bayonets so that the General could have a fairer sight of them    Our regiment consented unanimously. —
You should have seen the old General then, his eyes kindled, it seems with the fire of his younger days, his frame expanded and he exclaimed, “well done my brave bloody 11th,”  “you Jackson blue jackets.”  “Oh, you blue jacket rascals, I would not be afraid to meet four regiments of rebels if I had you boys of the 11th Pennsylvania alone”
After considerable talk and coaxing the other regiments, with the exception of the 2d Pennsylvania, concluded to stay, the General assuring them that they should not be taken away from here into a fight, all he wanted was for them to help keep this point until the reinforcements came, and then he would send them home to their families.

It was a proud day for our regiment, and reflects more credit on them than the victory of a half dozen battles. It takes men of considerable good humor and forbearance to do as our boys did after the treatment they received, half the time not having enough to eat, receiving no money, and even now some of the boys clothing won’t hide their nakedness.

After marching into camp Col. Jarrett made a short speech to the boys of our regiment, he thanked them for giving so hearty a response to Gen Patterson’s request, called them the “idol of his heart,” and “henceforth he would not call them any more hard names.”  His remarks aroused the boys, and they forgetting the bad treatment received, gave him three hearty cheers with a big tiger. All our boys are very well, and although they are determined to fight for and protect the “Star Spangled Banner,” they have a great desire to see the “loved ones at home.”

Yours fraternally,

Editor’s Note: Missing punctuation and unusual spacing between words and paragraphs present in the original letters of Henry D. Wharton were retained in the transcriptions shown above (as were certain words and phrases which are no longer acceptable in present day society) in order to preserve the accuracy of the content presented. Such wording does not reflect the views of this blog’s editor or contributing authors. The use of the [?] marking above indicates that exact transcriptions of certain words or phrases were not possible due to faded or otherwise marred printing of these particular historic newspaper clips.


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