1864: John C. McMunn to Wife

CDV of John C. McMunn taken shortly after the war

This letter was written by John C. McMunn (1839-1871), the son of Samuel McMunn (1801-1879) and Margaret Morrison (1821-1868). He wrote the letter to his wife, Rachel (Gilchrist) McMunn (b. 1841) whom we learn he had married just prior to his enlistment in Independent Battery G (Young’s Battery), Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery.

Young’s Battery was organized in August 1862 by Capt. John Jay Young. The members were recruited principally from Allegheny County. Though in the service for nearly three years, the battery was never engaged in battle. Most of the time they were garrisoned at Fort Delaware. Late in the war they manned the defenses near Washington D. C. Unlike many of the heavy artillery units, they were not converted to infantry and taken with Grant’s army in his Overland Campaign of 1864.

From Draft Registration Records we know that McMunn had no prior military service before 26 June 1863. At that time, he was enumerated as a resident of Burrell Township, Armstrong, Pennsylvania — still a single student.

According to service records, 25 year-old McMunn enlisted with Young’s Battery on 3 September 1864 at Pittsburgh — just two weeks before this letter was written from Camp Distribution near Alexandria, Virginia. If this is true, how was it that McMunn was just previous to the date of this letter at City Point, Virginia? Could he have been the same John McMunn who enlisted as a sergeant in July 1863 with the 57th Pennsylvania Infantry — currently in the entrenchments before Petersburg? I have not been able to find any record on-line to substantiate this theory. Neither does the following extract from a subsequent letter suggest that McMunn had prior service:

“Your advice with regard to keeping out of the way of many temptations incident to camp life,” McMunn wrote his wife on 10 October 1864 from Fort Reynolds, “will be heeded and religiously followed. I was wild and wayward before you became my partner for life. Now I have someone to live for — one who I hope shall never have to regret the choice she made when she accepted the heart and hand of the poor medical student.”

I could not find any biographical record for McMunn but he appears to have settled down after his discharge (1865) in Cochran’s Mills, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, where he practiced medicine but a brief time before his death in 1871 at age 31. He was buried at Saint Michaels Lutheran Church Cemetery in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania.

Represented to be a photograph of J. C. McMunn’s unit but the uniforms look post-war to me.


Camp Distribution
Near Alexandria, Virginia
September 17, 1864

My dear Wife,

How strange it seems to address you by that title having so long been accustomed to call you my dear Rachel.

Well Rachel, it is but a short time since I wrote to you from City Point. I suppose you have not received my last letter yet. I wrote to you on Monday and left that hole of desolation for two nights and one day down the James River, up the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River. We landed on Thursday morning at Alexandria and them after marching about four miles on foot, we reached the place at which we are at present sojourning. What length of time we will remain here it is is impossible for me to say but I think not long.

It is a pleasant place here — everything nice and clean, the rations already cooked and a table to eat at. We get nothing but bread, meat and coffee but we will not starve while we get that. The only reason why I wish to get to the regiment is that I may have an opportunity of hearing from you at home which I can not do while we are moving about. We may move tomorrow or next day.

James Altman and I bunk together. We both enjoy excellent health and enjoy ourselves generally very well. Oh, but it would be a pleasure to spend a few hours with you, my loving Rachel, but it will be a long time yet ‘ere our lips can meet in one long welcome kiss. But we must be patient. There is a good time coming. I always want to hear that you are enjoying yourself.

I told you in my first letter that I had sent my money home with Doc. Well I wrote to him yesterday instructing him to pay my debts and give you the remainder which will be but small. I spent about twenty dollars coming out here. We had to pay five prices for everything we got to eat while on the road. I bought two shirts for ten dollars in Baltimore.

Well Rachel, I must soon close. I will write to you as soon as I get to my regiment and let you know where to write. I think we will have a nice time when we get there.

When we get there, if there is no prospect of being moved from there, I will try and procure books and devote my leisure hours to study. But to use a common expression, I must not count my chickens before they are hatched. If you see any of my father’s folks, tell them you heard from me. I must now bid you goodbye.

Your loving husband, — John

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