This page presents transcripts of letters written by Sergeant John Gross Helfrich during the American Civil War. To read more about his life, read his biographical sketch here.
January 12, 1862
* Note: This letter was written on regimental letterhead, preprinted with the following poem:
The Forty-Seventh, we are the crew,
To raise the Stripes—RED, WHITE AND BLUE,
Col. GOOD, who takes command,
Will lead us down to DIXIE’S land.
Pennsylvania’s Reserve Corps,
Plainly saw her flag was tore
Old Jeff, may ride Jackass or mule,
We are bound to catch him, his neck to pull.
Head-Quarters 47th Penna. Regiment,
Jan. 12th 1862.
I will again address you, in order to inform you of my getting along, and at the same time I will remark that this will to all probability be the last letter that I may be able to write, while at this place, as we have orders to leave at almost any moment.
The place of our destination I can not name for certain, however, it is rumored that we would go to Florida.
While I am writing, I am informed that we will first go either to Baltimore, or Anapolis [sic], and there join the fleet just about being fitted out for some southern seaport. Our going is a certainty, as Gen. Brannan, has gone to either of the above named places to make the necessary arrangements, preparatory to our going.
Yesterday, (Saturday) our regiment was paid for the preceeding [sic] two month service. The monthly wages of a sergeant is [sic] seventeen, and those of a private thirteen, dollars.
Our company has just passed through the usual Sunday morning inspection, when each man is [to] have a suit of clean clothes, in his Knapsack, and must also have his arms, and acoutrements [sic] in perfect order. This inspection greatly promotes the healthy, as well as the good appearance of the soldier, and in fact is indispensable.
Our company is in exalent [sic] health, not a man, is at present in the hospital. The health of the regt. has always been pretty good during the past four month [sic] we are now in service, which is verified by the fact that there occurred but seven cases that proved fatal out of over nine hundred men, and we can not find language to express our thanks to the Great giver of this our greatest and best blessing, that a mortal being can enjoy, and it is our prayer, that He may continue to bless us in the future.
I would very much like to see my friends and relatives first before we go, but time, and circumstances, will not permit me to do so. I hope however that the time may soon be at hand, when a peace may again be restored to our former blessed land, and when those who are now separated from their Parents, and friends, fighting for their country cause and honor, may again be permitted to return home, and enter the circle of their Parents, families, and friends, left at home in peace and prosperity.
Enclosed find ten dollars of my wages. I would have sent you more, but perhaps I may need it my-self, from this until next payday. I must now close by saying that I am well, hoping that you and all the rest of the family are enjoying the same.
Remember me kindly to all my friends at home and abroad.
A friendly goodby [sic] to you all.
Your son, &c.
John G. Helfrich
Will write again soon if I am spared to do so.
June 19, 1862
* Note: This letter appears to be missing at least one page since Helfrich’s signature is missing from the available pages and since at least two of Helfrich’s other letters were four pages in length.
Officers Hospital, Key West, Fla.
June 19th 1862.
Your epistle of the 15th [illegible abbreviation] is received, and its contents perused. I was very much pleased to see stated that you were then all enjoying good health, which is indeed the greatest blessing, that we mortals are permitted to enjoy in this world of woe and sorrow.
We are under marching orders, some of the companies of our regiment have already gone. The reason for our not going together, is owing to not having vessels enough. Those who have left had to embark on small “briggs” & skooners [sic], taking from two to three companies aboard. The place of our destination is “Beaufort S. Carolina.” The two companies of regulars, stationed here, have also left a few days ago; for the same place.
The health of our men is exceedingly good a present, out of our whole regiment there are but nineteen, who are unable on account of sickness to accompany us, which is comparatively, but a very small number, and these as far as my knowledge is concerned, are not dangerously ill; and it is hoped that they may soon be able to follow us.
After we are gone the garrison at this place will only consist of six companies of the 90th Regt. N.Y.V. [90th New York Volunteers]. The other four companies of the above named regt. are stationed at “Fort Jefferson”, Tortugas; some fifty-odd miles from here.
The 91st Regt. N.Y.V. were ordered a few weeks ago, to Pensacola, Fla. So you perceive, that there has been a considerable change made among the military, of late at this place.
News has reached us, of the capture of Mobile Ala., but I can not vouchsafe for the truth of said report.
June 25, 1862
Hilton Head, S.C.
June 25th 1862
Having first arrived at our place of destination spoken off [sic] in my last, I will now give you a brief description of our passage to this place.
We left Key West, on the 19th inst., about mid-night in the brigg [sic] “Ellen Bernard,” and arrived at this place yesterday (the 24th) at one o’clock p.m. having had a very pleasant voyage, not the slightest accident having occurred, and the men seem to get accustomed to riding at sea, as but a few had what is generally called “seasickness”. Our regt. was put on four small vessels, the “Sea Lark”, “Emaline”, “Tangire” [handwriting difficult to read] & “Ellen Bernard”, the second last named, has up to this time, not yet arrived, having started about 4 hours ahead of us. She had three companies aboard & the hospital baggage.
The weather is not quite so hot here as where we come from, but I think it will perhaps make a material change in a few days, as the ground is at present cooled off by the rain.
The health of our men is admirable, but a few comparatively are confined by sickness; out of the entire regt. we had to leave but nineteen (19) in the hospital at Key West.
Since our arrival on this island we learned that a pretty severe fight came off about eighteen miles from here, at a place called “James island” at which our boys seem to have got the worst of it as the hospital at this place contains a great many of the wounded.
Our boys are all eager for a fight, and no doubt they will get a chance to show their fighting abilities ere long, as it is rumored that an assault is to be made on “Charleston” at an early date. Troops are coming and going every day, I am told, and I should not be surprised if we had to go away from here in a day or so.
You must excuse me for writing with red ink as it was the only article of the kind within reach.
I am in the full enjoyment of health at present, hoping you are the same.
I will enclose forty dolls. which I will send to you for safe keeping, until I return home, which will be ere long I reckon. Write soon, as I am anxious to hear from you.
I remain as ever your dutiful son.
John G. Helfrich
Port Royal S.C.
47th Regt. P.V.
To P. Helfrich & Family,
December 29, 1862
Key West, Fla. Dec. 29th 1862.
Dear Parents, brothers & sister,
I will again write a few lines as regards my getting along & welfare. By this heading, of this you will perceive that we are not at Beaufort, S.C. anymore, but have changed our place of abode and duty, for what used to be our home just six months ago.
I have as yet received no letter from you in response to the many I have written to you. The last letter received from you, if my memory serves me right, was about the middle of Oct. I can not make out what [illegible word] have become of the letters, in case you should not have received them, for our present postal laws & system I always considered safe andjust.
I do likewise receive no letters from Reuben anymore. He used to write to me regularly. I wrote to his address at Schnecksville a number of times and received no answer.
I must describe the sea voyage to you briefly, for that is about the only thing of note that has transpired of late.
We left Beaufort, S.C. on the 14th day of Dec. and arrived at Key West, Fla. on the 18th, only one day less than six month [sic] since we first left it viz. (June 19th 1862). While at sea we experienced pretty rough weather that together with the crowded condition of the vessel made it very uncomfortable for us, as well as dangerous for our ship (the steam transport “Cosmopolitan”), was none of the strongest and safest vessels. The captain of the boat himself had fears of our safety, but owing to the watchfulness & protection of God Who heareth the prayers and cries of the shipwrecking mariner and traveler, we at last arrived safe and without the slightest accident at our place of destination. But while unloading our baggage, to our surprise, we found about four feet of water, in the hoald [sic] and the vessel still leaking. Here for the first time I was convinced of the danger we were in for not a great deal more was wanted to place us all in a watery grave, below the wild and mighty billows of the briny deep. We can not help but feel thankful to Almighty God for thus delivering us from a watery grave and untimely death. I am sorry however that the past good & Protection we have pertaken [sic] is not more properly realized or acknowledged by some of our boys.
We as a regiment have great reason to be thankful for the many gifts & protections that we have received since our organization comparatively but few of us have fallen by the enemy’s bullets or disease whole other regiments were almost entirely anihilated [sic] by disease and bullets. Such was our lot in the past, what the future may bring on no human being can yet tell, but let us hope for the better, and keep our powder dry, hoping that the day may not be far distant when we shall be permitted to see peace and harmony again established in our once prosperous land, and those who may then be spared by permitted to rejoin the circles of their friends & families at home.
Col. Good is at present in command of the Island and its fortifications. Lieut. Col. Alexander with Companies “D”, “F”, “H”, & “K” were ordered to Fort Jefferson at Tortugas about sixty miles from here, the remaining six comp. are here, and all comfortably quartered 2 in the fort and the rest in barracks. I also stay in the fort. I am again acting Hospital Steward, having a nice room, and a good bed, and in fact everything to make oneself comfortable.
I have met with a little difficulty, in consequence of which I am out of money, if you be kind enough as to send me five dollars in your next, I should be very happy to receive it for I do not know when we will be paid again. I have all my extra pay due me yet, besides my regular pay for the last four month [sic], which amounts altogether a little over one hundred Dolls. I will send part of it to you again after I get paid, if I am spared that long yet. Tell me in your next whether you did [get] the Christmas present I have sent you from Beaufort, S.C. Also how you liked the oranges. I do only wish I could send you some from here, they are very cheap and plenty, selling at 1 and 2 cents a piece. The market is also supplied with fresh fish & [illegible word regarding a type of food], cabage [sic], Beets, Sweet potatoes, turnips, &c.
These things can all be had at a reasonable price if a man has only money.
In your next tell me how mother is, also how Sarah and the boys are getting along at school. Instruct them to improve their time well, for their school time will be over ere they are aware of it, and than [sic] only will it be seen by the young man or woman, but to [sic] late.
I am well at present, hoping your are all enjoying the same.
John G. Helfrich
Co. G. 47th Regt. P.V.
Key West, Fla.
To P. Helfrich & Family