Transcripts (1862): Henry D. Wharton’s Civil War Letters (Pennsylvania Volunteers, 47th Regiment-Sunbury Guards, September 1861 – October 1865)


16 February 1862

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
Warm Climate – Attending Church – Disloyalty of its Members – Population of Key West – Its Inhabitants – Their Ocupation – Drinking Saloons – Stores – Horses and Cattle – Mosquitoes – Fort Taylor – Prizes Captured – Troops Arriving Every Day – Price of Lumber – Wages – The ‘American’ and ‘Gazette’

CAMP BRANNAN.                            }
KEY WEST, FLA., Feb 16, 1862.

DEAR WILVERT. – With the thermometer at 86○ [degree symbol] in the shade, it is not a very pleasant undertaking to commence a letter to a friend, but, as I have promised to keep you posted, I must do it or lie in a position that would not be at all agreeable.

With several members of our company, I attended Episcopal Church last Sabbath – The Church building is a large and beautiful one, and the people deserve great credit for erecting it. The Minister is a strong Union man, and it struck me, on last Sabbath, that he lost no opportunity of displaying his Union sentiments. Some time ago some of the members of this Church were very disloyal, and when he Minister read the prayer ‘to behold and bless Thy servant, the President of the United States, and all others in authority,’ they would close the prayer book, and look daggers at him, wondering whom they should hang first – the Minister or Abe Lincoln. General Brannan (Captain at the time) hearing of it, put an end to this disrespect, made them take the oath of allegiance, and now they can say, ‘Amen,’ as loud and as heartily as the best Union man on the island. There is nothing like a little ‘moral susaion’ For the sake of the Church. I am happy to state that only a few of its members were weak enough to show their fondness for Jeff. Davis – the rest of the members were very glad that Gen. Brannan took the matter in hand.

The population of the island is about four thousand, consisting of negroes, Spaniards, and a few whites. With the exception of five store keepers, the occupation of its inhabitants is fishing, dealing in fruit and selling hot coffee and cool drinks. There are as many coffee and cool drink saloons here as there are Lager Bier saloons in the Everlasting State of Williamsport, and from that you can readily perceive there is no need of being thirsty. As for intoxicating drinks, they are prohibited – the island being under martial law it is impossible to get even a smell, and it is well that it is so, for in this climate there is no telling what amount of sickness its use might produce. The buildings used for stores are very large and airy, but I can assure you that in the stores of either Friling & Grant or E. Y. Bright & Son, there are more goods than in all the stores on this island put together. Oranges, coming from Cuba and Nassau islands, are very plenty, and can be bo’t [sic] at three for a sixpence; not such as you folks get at home, but real fresh, juicy fellows that melt in one’s mouth equal to the best ice cream made in H. B. Masser’s patent ice cream freezers. Fish are very plenty, and can be bought cheap. Thanks to Sergeant Smelser, our company is living high in the fish line. He is company Quarter-Master Sergeant, and on every fish market morning, Peter is at the wharf, and there exchanges our surplus pork and beef for fish; so that the boys have a variety and are content.

Horses and cattle are very small. They come from Cuba. The horses are not near as big as Peter B. Masser’s black ponies, and I have seen at home two year old cattle larger than those they use here for beeves.

There is an article here, that I believe bothers the whole human race, and that is mosquitoes. Those on this island are not of the common kind, but regular tormentors. – Fix your net work as you may, you will receive their sting before morning. They are great on a serenade too, and if one is impolite enough to go to sleep as they are in the middle of a glee, the leader will give you a tickler with his sting that it is impossible to resist; but for my part, I can easily dispense with that kind of music, and often wish that they would favor some one else who can appreciate their talents better than I can.

The Fort on this island (Fort Taylor) is a very large one, and is now of the most importance to the Government. It is not near finished, but so much so that the rebels dare not venture within the range of its guns. – When finished it will have one hundred and eighty guns, and with those on the embankment on the moat, fronting the town, it will have two hundred and seventy five. Some time since they fort came within an ace of being taken by the rebels, but Capt. Brannan saved it by stratagem. Men were working at the fort, so, to prevent suspicion, the Captain every morning would march a guard from the garrison to the fort, and in that manner before the rebels were aware of it, he had full possession of it. Mulraner, formerly a Sergeant of the Captain’s, who became rich in the rum business, hoisted a secesh flag on his hotel, and sent an impudent note to the Captain requesting him to honor the seven stars by firing a salute from the fort. The reply was that if the rag was not taken down on the return of the messenger, the Commander would open the guns of the fort on the town, and send Mulraner and his friends to Tortugas to work in the hot sand and give them time to repent of their folly, preparatory to dangling at the end of a rope. The flag was taken down – Mulraner vamosed [sic] the ranch, and is now in command of a company of rebels somewhere near Pensacola. It is tho’t [sic] that when Gen. Brannan arrives Mulraner’s property, which is valuable, will be confiscated.

There are a large number of men-of-war here, and every day more are added to their number. Fifty-seven prisoners were brought in during the last week from Ship Island, besides two prizes, one loaded with turpentine, and the other with arms and machinery that were on the road to New Orleans, for a large steamer that is building there for the use of the rebels.

You need not be surprised to hear of an expedition being sent out from here – everything looks like it – so many vessels in port, more expected and troops arriving every day. There are three regiments here now, the 90th and 91st New York, and our own, besides the Regulars in the fort. If we do go, there will have to be a strong force left behind; for, in my opinion, the most of the Union men here are as treacherous as the men who use the stiletto to stab a friend, at night, from behind.

With the exception of fish and fruit, everything they use comes from the North. They would starve if it were not for the ‘mud ills,’ and yet they would try to break up the Government that protects them. Lumber is worth one hundred dollars per thousand feet. Carpenters’ wages are three dollars per day but I think they would starve at that, as I see no employment for them. The boys are very well, and are enjoying themselves with the sea bathing. We have received the American and Gazette three times since our arrival, and they are very welcome visitors, much more so than were the morning papers in Virginia. It is very strange we receive no letters; if the ‘folks at home’ knew how anxious we are to get them they would be a little more punctual.

Yours, Fraternally,


27 February 1862

Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
Arrival of Gen. Brannan – The 22d of February – Programme of the Celebration – A Ball given by the Band of the 47th Regiment – The Dancing – A Concert – Negro Minstrels – Health of the Boys.
CAMP BRANNAN.                           }
KEY WEST, Fla., Feb. 27, 1862.

DEAR WILVERT:– Gen. Brannan and staff arrived here on Friday last, on the steamer Philadelphia He made his first appearance, to us, on our parade ground, at dress parade, and seemed pleased at the improvement the men had made with their new arms, in the manual. After dress parade he rode passed [sic] the different streets of the regiment, and the enthusiastic cheers given him showed that he was liked, and that the men had perfect confidence in him.

Saturday last, the anniversary of the birth of “the Father of his Country,” WASHINGTON, was celebrated in a becoming manner. The whole Brigade was formed in Divisions, which made three sides of a square; the officers in the centre [sic]. A prayer was then offered to the Throne of Grace asking for success to our arms, that this wicked rebellion might be put down, and that we might hereafter celebrate the anniversary of Washington’s birthday in peace. The farewell ‘Address’ was then read, after which the Brigade moved in column through the town to Fort Taylor, to be present at the firing of the National Salute of thirty four guns. Immediately after the salute from the fort, the Pensacola, a man of war lying in port, lot go all its guns, one after another. The effect was splendid, and the loud barking of its ‘bull-dogs’ was dangerous to secesh window glass. The regiments then returned to their different camps, pretty well tired after their march and long exposure to the head of this hot island. After resting, washing and enjoying a tin of soup, a holiday was given, and the men were ready to see the fun to be had in the following

Of the celebration of the 47th Reg. Pa. Vols
At Key West, Florida,
February 22, 1862.
Music by the Band. Oration by Capt. Gobin.

1st, Foot Race.– Two men from each company, to run across the Barrack yard and back. The man making the best time to receive $5, the second best $2.50.

2d, Wheelbarrow Match.– Two men from each company to wheel a barrow, blindfolded, fifty years at a mark or stake. The man coming, the nearest the stake to receive $5.00. Second best $2.50.

3d, Sack Race.– Two men from each company to run a race of fifty yards in sacks up to their necks. The man making the best time to receive $5.00. Second best $2.50.

4th, Pig Chase. – Ten men from each company to run after a shaved and greased pig. The men catching and holding it by the tail to receive the pig.

Judges were appointed to decide as to the winners of the different feats.

The foot race was very well contested. Jacob H. Keiffer, of our company, came in for the second prize. In a run of four hundred yards he would beat all who were in that race. The wheelbarrow match was full of fun, some of the contestants were further off from the stake at the end than when they started. The big thing of the day was the sack business. P. M. Randels was in the ring for that.–

Lanky started well, but when almost to the goal he lost his equilibrium, down he fell; however, a lucky thought struck him, he tried the rolling process, and the consequence was ‘old Dad’ rolled himself into the second prize. The pig race was a failure. There were too many runners for one thing, and another, Mr. Porker being a Secessionist, the sight of so many Union troops rather discomfited him, made him weak in the knees, and consequently he could not run. Everything passed off well. All were pleased, and the ladies, who favored us with their presence, ( there was a goodly number of them,) declared they never before enjoyed themselves so much as they did at the celebration of the 47th Penn’a Vols.

On Monday night, the 24th the Band of our regiment gave a ball for the officers. It was numerously attended by the knights of the spur and tinsel. The ladies were not quite so plenty, however, there was enough present to form six setts. As for the performance on the ‘light fantastic toe,’ I have seen some that was more pleasing to my fancy – it was too much on the ‘bobbin round’ style. The ladies are unacquainted with our northern figures, and were always ready to fill up a set so as to keep the ball in motion. I should say all parties enjoyed themselves, for three o’clock of the morning sounded on their ears before any motion was made to move homewards.

On Wednesday night, the 26th the Band gave a concert. On account of the heavy wind and rain it was not quite so well attended as it might have been. Notwithstanding the storm, the ladies turned out well. Amusements have been very scarce here, and the inhabitants patronize almost anything. Why, some of the boys of our Regiment, got up a negro band of minstrels, and their houses were so crowded that many were refused admittance. The Band cleared over fifty dollars – pretty well for a few hours blowing. From the amusements and sea bathing, you can perceive the Northern ‘mud sills’ are enjoying themselves, and if they keep it up this island will soon become famous as a watering place – second neither to Cape May or Atlantic City.

The ‘American’ arrives regularly, much more so than letters from home; but five of the latter received since we have been here. The boys were very glad when the paper came, liked Mr. Masser’s letter very much, but came to the conclusion that the regiment where the ‘Augusta Rangers’ are, they have a srange hour for beating the reveille; the hour specified is the general Army rule for retreat.

The boys are very well – they have a strong desire for a little more active service, thinking that when the fighting commences this war will soon be at an end, and they will then have a chance of shaking hands with the good people of Sunbury.

Yours, Fraternally,


19 April 1862

[Correspondence for the AMERICAN.]
Letter from the Sunbury Guards,
CAMP BRANNAN,                              }
KEY WEST, Fla., April 19, 1862.

DEAR WILVERT:– Having finished a plate of soup, (not a hasty one) enjoyed a piece of ham, cooked in my best style, fried and now luxuriating in a pipe of the best Lynchburg tobacco, I conclude to indite [sic] you a few lines from this most miserable place, Key West.

There are now lying here three very fine vessels captured from Secessia. The cargoes are very valuable, consisting of cotton, coffee, rice, liquor, kerosene and olive oils, leather, and a great many articles of use. I attended the sale of one of the cargoes, and one article I found more numerous than any other – that of hooped skirts. I was curious to know why they had supplied themselves so plentifully with that article, when an old gentleman said that was easily understood, for when the rebels had to run, and in fear of being caught they would make good hiding places, and then he related a circumstance of a Mexican General who, in running away, found crinoline very convenient as a hiding place, but not secure enough for the Lynx-eyed Americans, as the brave gentleman was caught in his wife’s trap.

There has been considerable sickness among the troops, but I am happy to state it is abating. Two members of our company, Theodore Kiehl, and H. Wolf, have been in the Hospital, but are now out and almost ready for duty. They take very readily to their rations when they get back to the company, saying the Hospital is a very nice place to get well in, but no place for grub, as they were as hungry as wolves all the time they were in, or rather when they became better. We have lost eight men from our regiment, by death, since we have been on this island. From what I can learn the diseases were mostly contracted in Virginia, but if they have not, it is a wonder that the mortality is not greater among us, owing to the sudden change of climate, the bad water, hot sun and hard work our men are subjected to.

Lieut. Henry Bush, Co. F., in our regiment, died two weeks ago. His company were in the Fort, learning heavy artillery, where he was attacked with typhoid fever – in a few days he was beyond the physicians skill, and now he is sleeping his last sleep in the strangers cemetery. His funeral was very largely attended by the military and the masonic fraternity, of which he was a member. Lieut. Bush was beloved by his company – they having presented him with a sword a few days before he was taken sick – and in fact was liked by the whole regiment for his kindness and gentlemanly bearing to the men. As soon as they necessary arrangements can be made his body will be sent to Catasauqua, Lehigh county, where his widow and two little children reside.

Since the promotion of Lieut. Oyster, there has [sic] been some changes in our company, 2d Sergeant Beard has been made 1st Sergeant, and Peter Haupt, of Sunbury, taken from the ranks and promoted to 1st Sergeant. Haupt passed an excellent examination, and I am proud, for Sunbury, to say that he is considered one of the A. No. 1’s on drill in our regiment.

With the exceptions of a few slight cases of sickness, the boys are getting along very well and would be perfectly contented if they were at a place where there could be a chance to have a hand in some of the glorious victories which their brothers in arms are engaged in, and away from this detested spot, where there would be something to relieve the eye beside sea-gulls, pelicans and turkey-buzzards. Excuse the shortness of this, hoping ere long to be able to give you an account of a victory in which Co. C., was engaged. Respects to yourself, all in the office and friends generally, I remain

Yours, Fraternally


16 June 1862

[For the Sunbury American.]
Letter from the Sunbury Guards.
KEY WEST, Fla., June 16, 1862.


A very sad accident happened here one day last week, which has cast a gloom over the whole regiment. First Sergeant Charles Nolf, Co. I., 47th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers was out on the beach with a few friends of his company gathering shells; in front of them were four of the 90th New York boys with loadened [sic] rifles on their shoulders, one of them was carelessly playing with the trigger of his gun, when bang! went off the load, the ball entering the forehead of Nolf, killing him instantly. Great excitement was caused by the accident, and for a time (our boys not knowing the particulars) some of them were determined to avenge their comrade’s death, but an investigation pronounced it accidental, when they were satisfied. Nolf was a young man of excellent character, beloved by all who knew him, and it seems hard that he should be hurried into eternity in such a manner, and that too, when the carrying of loadened [sic] rifles is strictly prohibited.

There is a family in this city by the name of Fift. One of them, A. Fift, after making a fortune out of his Uncle Samuel, (U.S.), thought to make another speck by going to New Orleans to his friend Mr. Mallory, one of Jeff Davis’ Cabinet (?) in the manufacture of gun boats. Mallory and he went into partnership. After finishing boats, while at Memphis, with a considerable amount of Confederate funds in his pocket, (specie) he gave them the slip. Some of his indignant southern friends followed the double traitor, caught him and immediate hung him, thus saving the United States the trouble of buying an extra rope after this war is over. His brother, who has grown fat off the government, and at the time giving aid to secesh, wishing to visit a cooler atmosphere, and act the part of a nabob in the North, was a few days ago provided with a passage to New York in a Government steamer, while on the same vessel, a soldier, for want of room, could not send a box of sea-shells to gratify the curiosity of his friends at home. You can draw your own inference.

On Saturday, June 4, the troops on the island were reviewed by Gen. Brannan and staff. The ‘Era,’ a paper published by the 90th New York Volunteers, in speaking of our regiment, pays us the following compliment:–

‘The 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, under command of Lieut. Col. Alexander, made a fine appearance. Their marching was perfect and the entire regiment showed the effect of careful drill. A more sturdy, soldierly looking body of men cannot be found, probably, in the service. Col. Good and the officers under his command have succeeded in bringing the Regiment to a state of military discipline creditable alike to them and the State from which they hail. The Regimental band deserves some mention; there are many bands in the service of greater celebrity, whose performances would not bear comparison with that attached to the 47th Regiment.’

The paymaster has come at last and paid us off for four months. The sight of money was new to the boys, an most eagerly accepted by them. The Sunbury boys sent most of their pay home to their friends, very glad to do so, showing that, although far away from home, loved ones are not forgotten.

We have received marching (sailing) orders, and before this reaches you, if winds do not play us false, we will be in South Carolina, and probably before Charleston, helping to reduce the place where this foul rebellion first broke out. I will write to you immediately on our arrival, attempting to give you a description of the voyage, and an account of the manner in which Neptune treated the health and feelings of the boys. All is hurry and bustle in camp, striking tents, &c., so much so that I can scarcely write. We are all well. None of the Sunbury boys left behind.

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

Yours, fraternally,


21 December 1862

[Correspondence for the AMERICAN.]
Letter from the Sunbury Guards,
December 21, 1862.

DEAR WILVERT:– Again at Key West. On Monday, December 15th we left Beaufort, S.C., on board
the Steamer Cosmopolitan and proceeded to Hilton Head, where Gen. Brannen [sic] came on board to bid farewell to his regiment. Capt. Gobin addressed him in a neat little speech, which the General tried to reply to, but his feelings were too full and tears were in his eye as he bid the old word, ‘Good Bye.’ The boys gave him tremendous cheers as he left the vessel and the Band discoursed sweet music ‘till he reached the shore. The members of our regiment felt badly on leaving his command; but the assurance that we will soon be with him, in another department, makes them in a better humor; for with him they know all their wants are cared for, and in battle they have a leader on whom they can depend.

On the passage down, we ran along almost the whole coast of Florida. Rather a dangerous ground, and the reefs are no playthings. We were jarred considerably by running on one, and not liking the sensation our course was altered for the Gulf Stream. We had heavy sea all the time. I had often heard of ‘waves as big as a house,’ and thought it was a sailor’s yarn, but I have seen ‘em and am perfectly satisfied; so now, not having a nautical turn of mind, I prefer our movements being done on terra firma, and leave old neptune to those who have more desire for his better acquaintance. A nearer chance of a shipwreck never took place than ours, and it was only through Providence that we were saved. The Cosmopolitan is a good river boat, but to send her to sea, loadened [sic] with U.S. troops is a shame, and looks as though those in authority wish to get clear of soldiers in another way than that of battle. There was some sea sickness on our passage; several of the boys ‘casting up their accounts’ on the wrong side of the ledger.

We landed here on last Thursday at noon, and immediately marched to quarters. Company I. and C., in Fort Taylor, E. and B. in the old Barracks, and A. and G. in the new Barracks. Lieut. Col. Alexander, with the other four companies proceeded to Tortugas, Col. Good having command of all the forces in and around Key West. Our regiment relieves the 90th Regiment N.Y.S. Vols. Col. Joseph Morgan, who will proceed to Hilton Head to report to the General commanding. His actions have been severely criticized by the people, but, as it is in bad taste to say anything against ones superiors, I merely mention, judging from the expression of the citizens, they were very glad of the return of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

The U.S. Gunboat ‘Sagamore’ has had good luck lately. She returned from a cruise on the 16th inst., having captured the English sloop ‘Ellen’ and schooners ‘Agnes,’ ‘By George’ and ‘Alicia,’ all hailing from Nassau N.P. The two former were cut out in India river by a boat expedition from the Sagamore. They had, however, previously discharged their cargoes, consisting principally of salt, and were awaiting a return cargo of the staple, (cotton) when the boats relieved them from further trouble and anxiety. The ‘By George’ was sighted on the morning of the 1st, and after a short chase she was overhauled. Her Captain, in answer to ‘where bound!’ replied Key West, but being so much out of his course and rather deficient in the required papers, an officer was placed in charge in order that she might safely reach this port. Cargo – Coffee, Salt, Medicines, &c. The “Alicia,’ cotton loaded, was taken in Indian river inlet, where she was nicely stowed away waiting a clear coast. The boats of the Sagamore also destroyed two small sloops. They were used in Indian river, near Daplin, by the rebels in lightering cargoes up and down the river. There are about twenty more prizes lying here, but I was unable to get the names of more than the following:

Schooner ‘Dianah.’ assorted cargo.
“         ‘Maria.’           “             “
“         ‘Corse.’           “             “
“       ‘Velocity.’        “             “
“  ‘W.E. Chester.’  sixty bales of cotton.

Key West has improved very little since we left last June, but there is one improvement for which the 90th New York deserve a great deal of praise, and that is the beautifying of the ‘home’ of dec’d. soldiers. A neat and strong wall of stone encloses the yard, the ground is laid off in squares, all the graves are flat and are nicely put in proper shape by boards eight or ten inches high on the ends sides, covered with white sand, while a head and foot board, with the full name, company and regiment, marks the last resting place of the patriot who sacrificed himself for his country.

Two regiments of Gen. Bank’s [sic] expedition are now at this place, the vessels, on which they had taken passage for Ship Island, being disabled, they were obliged to disembark, and are now waiting transportation. They are the 156th and 160th N.Y.S. Vols. Part of the 156th are with us in Fort Taylor.

Key West is very healthy; the yellow fever having done its work, the people are very much relieved of its departure. The boys of our company are all well. I will write to you again as soon as ‘something turns up.’ With respects to friends generally, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,