Transcripts (1863): Henry D. Wharton’s Civil War Letters (Pennsylvania Volunteers, 47th Regiment-Sunbury Guards, September 1861 – October 1865)


11 February 1863

For the Sunbury American.
Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
BEAUFORT, S.C., February 11, 1863.

DEAR WILVERT:– Yesterday a week ago, the 90th N.Y.S. Vols., Col. Morgan, arrived at Key West to relieve our regiment. We were not at all surprised at being relieved; had expected it, and were all exceedingly glad that we were to make our exit from that barren spot of creation; but that a regiment who are at ‘daggers points’ with the citizens should be sent back to see to the welfare of Unionists, Conks and the colored people, took all aback, and caused no little grumbling on the outside of the 47th Regiment. On Friday evening last, we went on board the U.S. Transport Matansas, but owing to high winds, and very probably, the superstitious idea of Friday being an unlucky day among the sailors, we did not leave the slip until next morning; when with fair weather and a good head of steam, we moved slowly and quietly down the harbor, passed the good war ship St. Lawrence and ‘Fort Taylor,’ and ere an hour had passed, Key West was lost to our vision, an [sic] I can say with the rest of the boys, ‘I hope forever.’

Col. Morgan’s return was a great thing for the colored population of Key West. He is looked on by them as the greatest man of the age, (always excepting Mr. Lincum.) and the extravagant behavior exhibited, by them, on his arrival, exceeded anything I have yet seen. One old fellow, Sandy, I thought would go out of his senses; at the time he would have been a good subject for some of Sanford’s Opera troupe to pattern by. Some two weeks ago, the Emancipation Proclamation, or Act, was celebrated at Key West, and a high time the lads and lasses of dark hue had of it. In the morning the male portion had a procession, with music (furnished by themselves, and banners flying; conspicuous was the Stars and Stripes. By the way, a Conk, that is a resident of the Key, hailing from Nassau, N.P., whose ancesters [sic] were tories, and fled from Charleston to Nassau during the Revolutionary war, threw a stone at the procession as it was passing by, and came very near hitting the flag we are fighting for, when a stalwart son of Lehigh county, asked the fellow if he had thrown that stone to insult the flag, when he received an answer, something like ‘my own business,’ for which he received a stunner from ‘the shoulder’ that sent him reeling to the ground, from which he had to be carried by his friends, teaching him a lesson not to meddle with the emblem of Liberty when the 47th boys are about. In the afternoon the party had a gay and happy time at the Baracoon, a short distance from Fort Taylor, on the beach. Four large tables were set, and to say they ‘groaned’ under the weight of good things, substantial and dainty, would be telling, literally, the truth. – The refreshments were not dealt out grudgingly, but every one had their fill, of which more than one officer and many soldiers can bear witness to. Your humble servant did not partake, being merely a looker on. Mr. Curtis, a rich shipmaster, addressed them in a neat speech, welcomed them as citizens, since the President, in his wisdom, had made them so, and hoped they would keep as good a character for honesty and truth as they had when they were in bondage. Sandy, the aristocratic farmer of the race, was called on and made a speech of the day. The days [sic] festivities concluded with music and dancing – the latter accomplishment being done up in a much better style by ‘ye ladies colored’ than the ‘divine creatures’ of that little island could do.

Our passage up was about the same as we have had. Nothing new – only that if bad accommodations and filth, even worse than we ever had, can be any news, then I give it to you. The vessel was a good iron steamer; the Captain, a jolly old Dane, and his officers and crew very clever and gentlemanly. There was more sea-sickness this time than on any of our voyages. I took the plan of staying on deck and keeping quiet, the escaping the squamishness [sic] peculiar to sea voyages. We arrived at Hilton Head on Monday evening, when the Colonel went ashore to receive orders. When the boat got back, that conveyed him to the shore, it brought such news that caused a yell that fairly shook the boat, viz: Col. T. H. Good to have the command of a Brigade composed of Pennsylvanians, besides having command of the forces on this part of Port Royal Island. To be sure he is only acting Brigadier, but before long, we are sure he will wear the star, by right, and no man better deserves it.

The news here is very stirring – activity shows itself. At the Head is now lying a very formidable fleet, and by the next mail you may expect to hear of some big work – work no less than the capture of Forts Sumter and Moultrie, and I hope the perfect annihiliation [sic] of Charleston. On last Saturday a week, about four in the morning, an affair came off similar to that of Galveston, only the Rebs couldn’t keep the prizes. The account is the morning was foggy but the lookout on the gunboat Mercidita discovered a strange looking craft, bearing down on the ship from the direction of Charleston, and only a few hundred yards distant. The guns were immediately trained, an preparations made for a chase, when the Captain after hailing some five times fired into it, but before a second round of shot could be fired against her, she struck the Mercidita against the side, crushing it as readily as if it had been pasteboard. The ram at the same time opened fire on the gunboat and put a seven-inch rifle shot through one of her boilers, exploding it, and killing two and wounding three by the scalding water and steam. The Mercedita began to sink, and the Lieut. Conig, then surrendered and gave parole for his officers and men; the ram then turned around to meet the Keystone State which was coming to the relief of the Mercedita, and at five hundred yards fired a shot that did the work by blowing up the boilers of the Keystone State, and scattering death and destruction about. The Memphis and Housatonic hearing the firing came to their relief and the ram and her consort not liking the appearance of these pieces of iron on water,’ skedaddled, and were fairly driven under the guns of Sumter. Both boats were towed to the Head and are now undergoing the repairs necessary to boilers and hulls. The loss on the Keystone State were killed 20; wounded 21, among the former was the Surgeon of the ship. The Ironsides, an Powhatan have been sent up to strengthen the blockade and prevent a like disaster.

The rebel steamer Princess Royal. (English) was captured by the blockading fleet off Charleston, last week. It was the richest prize taken yet. In the hold were two steam engines of great power; six propellers for gunboats; eight one hundred pounder Armstrong guns; besides an assortment if iron, steel and other stores which Jefferson D., is just now very much in need of. The Despatch Boat Hope captured the schooner Emily Tuttle, while she was attempting to run into Charleston. Her cargo is very valuable. She is the boat we captured before and a prize crew put on board of her to take her onto one of our ports, but the original crew overpowered them, and ran her into Nassau. This time these gentlemen were fastened in the hold and the Emily will soon be brought before notice of the Court of Admiralty.

I will write to you soon again when I hope to give you good news from this portion of Uncle Sam’s farm. Four companies of our regiment were left at Fort Jefferson, Tortugas, but will be relieved in a few days and join the regiment. Col. Alexander commands them. Sergeant Major Hendricks who was with them, is now with us at his old post, looking as hale and hearty as his friends could desire. The boys are all well and in excellent spirits at being at their old quarters. If Madame Rumor speaks the truth the boys will be more rejoiced at their next move, when they will feel piercing winds and where ‘Old Sol.’ won’t have such a telling effect on their complexion. But I wont [sic] anticipate. With respects to yourself, friends generally and all in the office, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,


2 March 1863

For the Sunbury American.
Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
KEY WEST, Fla., March 2, 1863.

DEAR WILVERT:– On Saturday, February 21, orders were issued to Col. Good, relieving him of the command at Beaufort, to be filled by Brigadier General Saxon, Military Governor, &c., of South Carolina, and for him (Col. Good) to report, with his regiment, to Headquarters for special duty. This was done. Our tents were pitched in a field outside of the entrenchments at Hilton Head, wells dug, cook shanties erected, and everything in a shape to make us comfortable, when an order came for us to ‘pack up’ to take another ride on the ‘Ocean deep,’ and at once repair to Key West. We started on the 24th of February, on board the steamer Cosmopolitan. After a pleasant and safe journey we arrived at our destination, on the 27th, at one P.M.

To go again to Key West was something the boys didn’t like, for in the big fight that is to come off at Charleston, a place had been assigned us on board the Ben Deford with Major General HUNTER. For want of a name, one might call the position ‘a body guard’ to the Commander of the expedition. The post was that of honor, and one that any regiment would like to occupy, but ‘where duty calls, ‘tis ours to obey,’ and as there is some likelihood of the ‘nephew of his uncle’ interfering in our private arrangements, and the Gulf will be the place where his French vessels will make their first appearance, the boys have got over their dislike to this little island, for here they will have a chance of giving Louis Napoleon a pill to swallow, more bitter than he is now receiving in Mexico, and teach him that it is better to mind ones’ own business than to interfere in that of strangers.

Col. Joseph Morgan is relieved of this command; Col. T. H. Good to have charge of all the troops here and at Tortugas. Four companies of our regiment, viz: A, B, C, and I, are stationed at Fort Taylor, Key West, under Major W. H. Gausler, and the other six at Fort Jefferson, Tortugas, Lieut. Col. G. W. Alexander, commanding. The 90th N.Y.S. Volk, will remain here and be quartered in the barracks and other places on the island. This post is to be fully prepared for any emergency. Batteries are to be erected at every available point, the Towers to have the necessary armament, in fact, to be so prepared that if John Bull or Monsieur Crapean wishes to engage us with their ‘dogs of war,’ we wont [sic] be placed in like fix with Major Anderson and his noble fellows at Fort Sumter.

Much joy was manifested by the inhabitants on our arrival. Flags streamed across the streets – on one cord alone I counted sixteen of different nations, the most conspicuous was a large American flag, having on its inscription ‘Welcome 47th.’ Houses were opened and the good things of this earth, wherewith to comfort the inner man, were plentifully distributed among the men of the different companies. It would be self praise (which is not very commendable,) to say we are the regiment, par excellence, but the people here have a very high opinion of us, and proved it by this ovation.

An order for all to remove, who had a relative in the rebel army, had been promulgated, and by four o’clock they would have embarked on board a steamer, bound for Hilton Head, where they would have been sent, under a flag of truce, to the rebel lines, unless ordered differently by the Commander of the 10th Army Corps. Our arrival stopped the banishment of several hundred and thirty souls, and until treason is proved against them, here they are likely to remain, happy in their homes, endeared to them by old associations and family ties.

From Northern papers we learn a great deal about ‘demoralization’ and ‘dissatisfaction’ in the Army. It is news to us, and I can tell those croakers at home that their stories are all untrue, and that, almost to a man, those composing the Army, as far as my observation has gone, have perfect confidence in President Lincoln, his Proclamation of Emancipation, and will join him heart and hand, in any measure to put down this infernal rebellion, and act with him in anything that will bring an honorable peace. There is dissatisfaction among the soldiers, but, it is caused by men in the North who are continually preaching conservative and peace doctrines, whereby they give aid and comfort to the enemy, and as long as treason is allowed to be sown broadcast, as it is by a certain party in Sunbury, such dissatisfaction will remain never to be forgotten, especially with the ‘Sunbury Guards.’

The members of our company are all well. Rations that Government furnish us are wholesome and of the best kind, but thanks to Capt. Gobin, who acts as Treasurer of our company funds, Sergeant Piers, company Quartermaster, and Johnny Vunsch ‘chief cook and bottle washer,’ we live at the head of the heap. Our extras are ‘pot-pie,’ three times a week, apple dumplings, with good milk, semi-occasionally, and for something to remind us of days past and gone, Sergeant Piers serves us with apple pie and doughnuts, made in a style that would do credit to more than one I know of, who is in the baking business.

With respects to yourself, all in the office, and friends generally, I remain

Yours, fraternally,


3 May 1863

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
KEY WEST, Fla., May 3, 1863.

DEAR WILVERT:– A few days ago Brigadier General Woodbury, with his staff, arrived at this place, and immediately assumed command of the forces at Key West and Tortugas. The General is a fine looking officer of the regular school, and I have no doubt is a most excellent one, but the boys being so wrapped up in their ‘little General Brannan,’ it will take some time till their affections can be transferred to another officer.

An order came by the steamer Mayflower, yesterday, from General Banks for one of the regiments stationed here, to embark immediately and join him on the Mississippi. Ours being the only regiment here, that is a full one, we were certain of hearing the welcome command to MOVE, but were disappointed – the 90th N.Y.S. Vols., were the lucky ones. The General saying the 90th was too small in numbers to garrison this place and Tortugas, consequently, we will have to abide on this island for a while, probably until our ‘three years’ are up, and take our chances with the natives, Conks and Spaniards, in being worsted by ‘yellow Jack.’ The members of our company and regiment are rather down in the mouth on account of a longer sojourn on a barren isle, and that we cannot share in the victories now in progress on the Mississippi; but like good soldiers they submit to the ‘powers that be,’ and content themselves to wait for the ‘good time coming.’– The 90th start this afternoon. This regiment, like most of the New York regiments, number just five hundred and one men, half the number of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

A letter from a gentleman (?) of Key West, written to a New York paper, has been extensively copied in the county papers of Pennsylvania, which is intended to do the 47th Regiment a great injury. The letter is a criticism on the notions of both officers and men, tending to their injury, and throwing dark cloud over all that we have done to establish a name for our regiment. The author, because he could not effect his own appointment to Collector of the Port, resorts to lies, and for fear of being caught, sends his learned epistle to a New York paper for publication. The 47th stands on her own bottom, and the good name she has earned the boys are determined to keep up, even though they are deprived of winning more laurels by meeting the enemy face to face. Colonel Good stands too high for the calumny of a sneaking penny-a-liner to reach him, and none by a sympathizer or copperhead would copy such slanderous articles, or try to tarnish the fair name of one who is using his best endeavors to keep together the legacy left us by our forefathers. It is ‘all very well Mr. Furgerson,’ but the Inspector of Customs at Key West, should recollect that there are stories afloat of a man who secretly sold powder (by packing it in flour, &c.,) to the Indians during the Florida war, and that if he must stretch his conscience in contributing to a newspaper, the injured party will give him home thrusts of truth and in the end he may lose his three dollars a day.

I am sorry, for the credit of Uncle Sam’s soldiers, to inform you of the bad conduct of some of the men of the 90th regiment, N.Y. Vols., on their departure from Key West. On the eve of their embarkation they displayed all kinds of riotous demonstrations, ocaduent [?] liquor was more plenty than water in this dry season, which gave to some of them spirits of fiends. An half hour before leaving, a private attacked the colored servant of the Surgeon of their regiment, running his bayonet through him, besides, when a citizen interfered, he was hit with stones, cutting him so severely that it will cause him to ‘think of his head in the morning,’ for some time to come. The colored man lies in a very precarious situation, and doubts are entertained of his recovery.

The gunboats are doing a very fine business in the way of taking prizes. A few mornings since one of them brought in five before breakfast. The steamer McClellan took with her yesterday a large quantity of cotton to New York, being part of five hundred bales that has been stored in the Government warehouse, captured from Blockade runners. Keeping count of prizes and a lookout from the ramparts for a mail or stray sail, is te only excitement that we have for fighting now is not in our time, and something, you know, must be done, or else the monotony of this lonesome place would kill us. By the way, the McClellan on her trips from New York to New Orleans and back to this place, captured two prizes ladened [sic] with cotton. I notice this as it is out of the line of transports. The Captain of the boat deserves a premium.

To rear a slab of marble in respect to the memory of a departed friend is always the first care at home – so with Capt. Gobin in the case of one of our comrades who died her last summer of yellow fever. It is gratifying to the friends to know that the last resting place of a brother or relative is marked;– so I will give it to you the fact of a monument being erected over the grave of George C. Watson, of Watsontown, Pa., that his friends may know it. The monument is of Italian marble, set in a Granite base, and bears the inscription –

In memory of
Co. C., 47th Reg’t., Pa. Vols.
a resident of North’d County, Pa.
Died, Aug. 26, 1862.

It is rumored in our company that Gen. JOHN K. CLEMENT, of Sunbury, is to be appointed Provost Marshal for Northumberland county. All of our fellows are delighted with the news and hope the appointment will certainly be made. They all say the General in that position would be the right man in the right place, knowing full well he would do his duty without fear or favor, and that he would make sympathizers and copperheads march to the ‘music of the Union,’ as well as attend to the conscripts who would come under his charge.

I am very well, so are all the boys. With respects to all in the office and friends generally,

I remain, Yours, Fraternally,


Thanksgiving, 23 August 1863

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
KEY WEST, Fla., August 23, 1863.

DEAR WILVERT:– Thanksgiving, or the day set apart by the President for prayer and to return thanks to Him who has the control of battles, was properly observed by the Army and Navy at this place. The proclamation of the President was read from the pulpits of the different churches on the Sunday evening previous, and invitation extended to all who wished to participate in the services on that occasion. General Woodbury issued a circular requesting all of his command to observe the day in a becoming manner and to attend Divine service at their usual places of worship.– He ordered that all drills and policeing [sic] should be dispensed with, so that the men were at liberty to spend the day as their feelings best dictated. The invitation of the Clergy was accepted, and the Military, by companies attended church. Company C, headed by Captain Gobin and Lieutenant Oyster, marched to the Episcopal church, where an eloquent discourse was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Herrick, but owing to the great crowd many were compelled to retire, thus losing an intellectual treat that would have benefitted them more than the mere listening to a common sermon. The Reverend gentleman of this church has been very kind to our regiment in reserving seats for their accommodation. One act of his speaks for itself, viz: on our arrival here he addressed a note to the Colonel of the 47th, inviting the officers and men to attend the services at St. Marks church, and mentioned particularly that the seats were free.

On the Saturday following Thanksgiving a Yacht race came off on the waters between Sand Key Light House and Key West.– Some thirty boats were entered. Boats of all kinds, from a Captains gig to a thirty or forty ton schooner. The wind was fine and a splendid day they had for the purpose.– Each boat had a flag that it might be known, and as they moved off, he fleet made a grand display. From the ramparts of Fort Taylor the sight was magnificent, for from that point one had a full view, and an opportunity afforded of following the different parties, with the eye, until they gained the turning point and their return to the starting ground. A steam tug followed the party, having on board ladies, the committee and guests, who had a jolly time of it, and an opportunity of tripping the ‘light, fantastic toe,’ to the fine music of the 47th Band, lead by that excellent musician, Prof. Bush. Quartermaster Lock’s schooner ‘Nonpariel’ won the race, out distancing all of its competitors. Of that fact I was certain, for how else could it be, when its name belongs to the ‘art, preservative of all arts’ – printing.

Last Wednesday brought two-thirds of the ‘three years’ of the ‘Sunbury Guards’ to a close, when Lieut. Rees surprised the boys, agreeably, by giving them an entertainment. In this the Lieut., took the start of the other officers of the company, but as all joined in devouring the good things furnished, every one was in a good humor and satisfied, no matter who was the caterer for the occasion. Company C is blessed with good officers – men who do, as they wish to be done by. This little celebration had a good effect, for if there was any misunderstanding, previously, it is now settled, and no better conducted or well regulated family, where good feeling are exhibited, can be found among the soldiers of Uncle Sam. Our company is slightly envied on account of their good grub, but for this the boys should not be blamed for Gobin, who has charge of the company savings, is continually hunting the market for the best it affords, and Sergeant Piers and Johnny Voonsch serve it up in their best style, proving to others that soldiers can, if they good [sic] cooks, live a well as any ‘other man.’

The nomination of Governor Curtin for re-election was well received, and if they had the right to vote there would be no fear of the next Chief Magistrate of Pennsylvania being a copperhead. The decision of Judge Woodward, depriving the soldier of a vote, is looked upon as a bribe for not re-enlisting; and indeed it is, for does it not give the bounty of the right of suffrage to every elector who stays at home? The voting men of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, are as a unit for the re-election of Andrew G. Curtin.

Blockade running is nearly played out, and is confined to Mobile and Wilmington, N.C. Very few vessels of this sort are brought into this port at present, owing to the strict watch that is kept on the above named places; however, a day or two ago, the U.S. Steamer De Soto brought in two very large river steamers laden with cotton. The cotton is being transferred to other vessels and will soon be sent North, where it will be put in market for sale.

One of the houses belonging to the Engineer Department was entirely destroyed by fire on last Thursday. It was occupied by the laborers as a sleeping apartment. How the fire originated is unknown, but it is supposed to have caught from a tobacco pipe of one of the men, or from a spark of the locomotive that is used in hauling material for the outside works at Fort Taylor. The boys are all very well and in fine spirits, only a little more active life, and occasional brush with the enemy, they think, would give them a better appetite and enable them to enjoy the rations fournished [sic] by Government. With respect to friends, all in the office, yourself and family, I remain, yours,