These two letters were written by Pvt. George W. Smith of Co. F, 102d Pennsylvania Infantry. He had previously served as a lieutenant in Co. H, 13th Pennsylvania which served for only three months.
The 102nd Pennsylvania was organized by Colonel Thomas A. Rowley after his previous command, the 13th Regiment, was mustered out of service in August of 1861. As troops were badly needed in Washington, D.C., a detachment of five companies was sent out during the recruiting process. Finally, twelve full companies were manned and sent east for training. For most of the war, the regiment actually saw little fighting, often being held in reserve or placed on guard duty. However, their few battles were intense, and they occasionally suffered terrible losses. In December 1863, all but a handful of men agreed to re-enlist, and the 102nd Regiment became a “veteran organization,” at which time they were entitled to an extended furlough while the ranks were replenished with new recruits. After several bitter fights in the summer and fall of 1864, the regiment was ready to move deeper into Confederate territory when the war came to an end the following spring. The 102nd Regiment was finally mustered out of service on June 28, 1865.
George Smith’s brother, Richard G. Smith, joined Company K of the 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry in July, 1861. George had another brother, William (“Will”) D. Smith, who spent the war living in Chicago with his wife and infant daughter. His sister, Mollie E. Smith, was also married, to a Mr. Hayes. Their parents, Emily and David Smith, remained in Allegheny County and maintained correspondence with their distant sons.
Private George W. Smith was discharged from the 102nd Pennsylvania on a surgeon’s certificate in December 1862. His brother, Richard G. Smith, was wounded and captured by the enemy in June and then also discharged in December 1862.
Several of George Smith’s Civil War letters are housed in the Stanford-Smith Families Papers at Davidson Library, University of California.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to David Smith, Esq., Box 901, Buchanon, Allegheny Co., Penna.
September 15, 1861
Well here I am Sunday morn. in camp about 2 miles from our former camp. Yesterday directly after dinner we got orders to pack, then all was wild with excitement, packed up & waited for the wagons (ours is not ready as yet) some 3 hours, finally started at 4, marched 2 miles halted longer at intervals than we marched. Before we had a nice place in the woods but this is out in the open field — not a tree about. I think we will move in the morn. again. Always direct your letters as I let you know if we they will follow us surely. We drilled in a nice field at “Camp Sprague” with a nice steep hill for double quick up & down 3 or 4 times at a lick. 8 or 10 acres of it is a potato patch tramped solid, yes indeed.
Was in the city (Washington) day before yesterday down at the P.O. or Patent Office — a splendid building. So is the Capitol inside but the dome not finished. Spoils outside look.
Drill & Roll call before breakfast (creates an appetite), then company drill & regiment [drill] at 9 to 12 generally company at 2, regiment at 4, roll call at 9 — so you see our time’s taken up.
Thursday night was at Col. Hays camp ½ mile from here. Seen Burt Whitfield & others was also at several cavalry camps. Think that we’ll go out to Bladensburg where they are building a fort (forts all around). Sickles’ Brigade, also Hooker’s, is there acamps & nothing but camps about. Coming we passed a camp 32 miles from Washington, 300 of them out on picket duty, 700 in camp. At Harrisburg was all through the [State] Capitol &c. Got to Baltimore 10 at night, streets lined [with people]. An old man tottering on his feet said, “Give them hell. Don’t let a damned rascal of them escape.” We all said amen to it. A lady [said;] “Goodbye, don’t expect to see you anymore.” Day before they asked some men where their music was? They said in their cartridge box! Questioned no more. Was cheered and cheered till we got to our tent. Was uniformed & equipped the same day we arrived.
The roads are miserable to soldiers. Very sandy and dry at that. It’s hot here to what it is in Pittsburg. Could not have been better pleased in everything — mess, officers, crowd & all. A three-months man says he had nothing like [it] in their time. Capt. & Orderly about to see all that we get enough to eat &c. Capt. [William McIlwain] is a nice young man.
Just come back from washing 1½ miles from camp. Took a general wash in a nice creek. Talked with a man that owned the place. His next neighbor, the head of the house, went South. The son is on our side. Son is at home now. Swears that he’ll shoot him when he sees him again. Rebels scarce about here. Suppose you read of the wholesale arrests in Baltimore.
Friday, this morning paper says that Mexico has quasi declared war against the Confederate States of America. We have liberty to march out troops through to attack Texas &c.
No drill today but dress parade at 4. wrote Wednesday to you. Friday to will. This is my 5th. Have another one to write. Think I’ll write again till latter part of the week. Always make it a point to answer right away so we’re not stationary. Like it first rate. Half you hear of camp life’s not true. I wish you would send me a small gum blanket. Mind, not a big one, to throw over my shoulders when on guard. Get my initials on it plain, dark, plaid shirt. Will be plenty. Mind, we’ve all to carry when we march. But I must close.
From your affectionate son, — George
George W. Smith, Camp Sprague, Washington D. C.
13th [Pennsylvania] Regiment
Col. Rowley’s P. V.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
March 6th 1862
Your welcome and ever kind favor of the second received yesterday. You wonder where it would reach me — well, still in the old place, but liable to move at an hours notice. We are to have four days cooked rations ready. Our destination is uncertain.
As regards Gen. Banks seizing of Charlestown (Va.), nobody knew about his moves till it was taken. The Ninth [Pennsylvania] & Bucktails [13th Pennsylvania] went on a scouting expedition to Centerville t’other day and had a slight brush with the Rebels.
The camp is full of news from Pittsburgh about the Army of the Potomac taking Manassas Junction the [Old] Thirteenth [Regiment] (102d [Regiment]) in the front and all cut to pieces — not one left to tell the tale — and of Gov. Curtin sending for all the surgeons that Pittsburg could possibly spare. Now where do they get such news as that at old Pitts? When we leave here, you will surely know soon thereafter.¹
As regards those varieties, it would be hard to get it brought on now. There is some of our Regiment at Pittsburgh and one of our company is going home on furlough, but I suppose it’ll be too much trouble. The report now is that we are to move today or the morrow. [They are] getting ready again at the Hospital sending the sick down to the General Hospital. I think it very likely that we will move someplace shortly, but again we might stay here for a month or more just as the “powers that be” say.
Wrote to [brother] Will a few weeks ago but never got any answer. Occasionally receive a paper from him. Have not heard from Put very lately. I think he sends for too many clothes — far more than he actually needs. We had a light blue pair of pants issued to each [man] last Sunday and so now I’ve three pair. The understanding now is that we are to only take one pair of pants and one bare change of under clothes and our hundred rounds of cartridges (buck and ball) — forty in cartridge box and sixty in knapsack, extra clothes to be boxed up by Quartermaster and sent after us. I forgot to mention that our old pants — dark blue — were condemned.
I see by a late number of the Pittsburgh Daily Dispatch that Sam & Maria as executors have filed a partial account at the Register’s Office. Is there no talk about the old concern? How’s the folks on the hill these times? Has Uncle Billy been to see you yet? How does the grain &c. look?
Today here is very pleasant. Expect a little rain shortly.
Company “M” is now once more in the regiment. Came down from Fort Penna. about a week ago and if we had our other three companies in, we would look like a large regiment.
How do you [like your] new preacher (Kirk), or does M__ let you hear him occasionally. Have both of you together been out at Clokey’s since I came away? During the severe storm of Tuesday week, it capsized our big tents, broke some three of the braces and a little other damage. I and another were inside when it went down. Escaped unhurt. It is a mystery that we were not struck by the heavy center pole but thanks to an “all wise Providence,” we escaped unhurt. Fixed it up last evening again and held our usual regular prayer meeting. As our time here might be of short duration, we concluded to hold meetings every evening.
First call for Brigade Drill. Had a severe knapsack, haversack & canteen Reg____ skirmish &c. drill this morning.
Well, here it’s morning again — cold and clear. Was at prayer meeting last evening or I could have finished [my letter] then. Have a Temperance meeting tonight. Were out on Grand Guard Monday and we put in a hard night — no shelters. Heavy rain part of night. Then it froze very hard.
My love to all. Write soon. From your son, — George
P. S. As our press is packed up, cannot send you our paper. ²
¹ This report was of course completely false. The first engagement in which the 102nd Pennsylvania participated during the Civil War was at Williamsburg in May, 1862.
² It was not uncommon for various regiments to publish their own little newspaper during the Civil War, typically done on small, portable presses. This is issue #9 of such a newspaper which lasted but 14 issues, done at Camp Tennally near Washington, D.C. by the Thirteenth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, “…by the Pittsburg Dispatch Mess, Company A, Gen. E.D. Keyes’ Division, Gen. J.J. Pecks’s Brigade, Col. Thomas A. Rowley’s Regiment.”