These five letters were written by 1st Lt. Edwin Musser (1838-1918) of Co. B, 178th Pennsylvania Infantry—a nine-months service regiment. Edwin enlisted on 17 November 1862. On Dec. 5, the regiment left camp for Washington, was ordered to Newport News, and thence to Yorktown, where it was posted during the winter. In April, 1863, the regiment went to the relief of the troops at Fort Magruder, who were attacked by Gen. Wise, and in June joined in an expedition to Charles City and Providence Ferry (described in letter 5) and the movement toward Richmond, which skirmished with the enemy at Bottom’s bridge on July 2. After returning to Washington its term of service expired and it was mustered out at Harrisburg on July 27, 1863.
Edwin was the son of William Musser (1808-1860) and Susan Ream (1812-1884) of East Cocalico, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. In the 1860 US Census, Edwin was enumerated as a resident employee at the hotel of Samuel G. Hacker in Ephrata where his occupation was given as “Master Saddler”—a trade he learned from his father.
Edwin wrote the letters to his friend, William Jackson Fraser, III (1835-1910), the son of W. J. Fraser (1801-1877) and Catherine McCollum (1802-1875). William would later serve as a sergeant in Co. B, 195th Pennsylvania Infantry. William’s brother, Charles Fraser, served as a sergeant in Co. B, 178th Pennsylvania with Edwin. William identified himself as a “watchmaker” in the 1860 US Census, following the trade of his father—an early-day “clock maker” in Lancaster county, having learned the trade in Philadelphia from Solomon Park.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
February 6, 1863
Your brother [Charles] is in my quarters writing a letter to you and he requested me to write a few lines to you whereby I will let you know that we are still in the city of Yorktown and are all enjoying good health. I suppose you have plenty of sleighing in your parts. We haven’t had any yet and we would sooner not have any. The less snow we have, the better we like it. We had very little of it so far.
I heard that the old party was at Mr. Becker’s some time ago with the exception of me. I would like to have been there to spend the evening with my old companions. I suppose Rev. Mr. Gerhart and Mr. Meckley will lose their daughters before long. All I have to say to it is that you couldn’t be better matched. Tell Daniel not to get married until I get back as I would like to be at his wedding or at least have some of the cake.
I just heard that our fleet had a hard time of it at Charleston and that nearly the whole fleet was destroyed. It looks rather dark on our side at present. I hope through God’s aid, the bright side may turn up again before long. As yet we have had no fight yet and from what I can hear of the men, they are well enough satisfied if we don’t get into one. I hope they will all do their duty should we be called on to chase the rebs. Although we are the best drilled regiment here, I should not put too much trust in them. I used to have a better opinion of them than I have at the present time.
I wish you would come to see us sometime and to see our nigger Jim. He is a good cook. He can make corn cakes, potato cakes, slap jacks, oyster fritters, &c. He is worth at least 2,000. If you want one, let me know so that Charlie and I can get and train him a little for you. There are about 1200 of the colored sex here. But enough of this. I know that it would not suit you to have one sitting aside of you to repair old clocks. I must come to a close as I suppose you are getting tired of reading nonsense.
Give my best wishes to your father & family. Remember me to Mr. Roth, Kafroth, Shaeffer, Stober’s, Hackers, and alll enquiring friends. No more at present.
I remain your friend, — Lieut. E. Musser
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
February 19th 1863
Your letter of the 16th is at hand and read it with pleasure. You cannot imagine how happy we feel in the Army to hear from friends and home. Them papers—I am very much obliged to you for them. I see that the affair at Charleston comes out better than the first report. It looked rather dark when we got the news. Thank God that the bright side has turned up again. I hope the next blow that will be struck may give the Rebels such a blow to make them come to terms and give up their leaders so that we may have a good time in stringing them up which won’t be too good for them. I would like to see the guilty suffer.
In my last [letter], I wasn’t alluding to our company in not doing their duty. I honestly believe that they will all do their duty should they be called on. But there are men in our regiment who said that they would desert the first fight we would get into and by some not sticking to their post, may discourage others. Should we get into battle, rest assured that Company B will try to do their duty.
On the night of the 9th, we were called out twice. The first time was between seven and twelve o’clock. We formed a line of battle on the color line when out good little Colonel gave the command, “right face,” and marched us to our posts along the ramparts. We waited there about half an hour but no Rebels appeared so we got orders to march back to our quarters. The men had just got to bed when the alarm gun fired again. We got up and took our position and were there till two o’clock. as before, no enemy appeared [and] we were ordered back again to our quarters and had a good sleep for the rest of the night. the cause of the alarm is as follows. A soldier at Fort Magruder, ten miles from here, got outside, and having too much spirits in him, which made him feel plucky, commenced firing at the fort with his revolver. The sentinels gave the alarm and fired signal rockets which was repeated by other signal stations until it came to Yorktown which roused the whole camp. Whiskey is a great curse to our army although I take drink occasionally, but I use it for medical purposes and I have some of the good old rye that I got from over home. You know where I mean without mentioning the name.
I hope that the church is well attended with the rest of my class but thank God and our good Rev. Gerhart that I was brought to light before I left home. Should I not see you and the rest of my companions in this world, I hope I am prepared to meet you all in heaven. There are many ways to lead a man to destruction in the army. I hope and pray to God that He will lead me in the true path and never let me turn from it. I believe that we are fighting for a holy cause but at the same time we should be prepared to meet our redeemer, not knowing what time we may be called into eternity from whence no man returneth.
About your wedding, you had better not throw it away too far nor be scared at the ‘callico’ being too high. I know (and would not say so if I did not mean it) that she will make a better wife than any Lady that you went to see. I always thought she was next to —-. And as to Dan, I don’t believe that he will leave your place next spring. And if he does, he ought not. I believe that Miss Mecklys whole heart is in him and it would surely be a hard stroke for her should he leave her set. I don’t believe it would be right and I told him many a time before I left that if he had no intention to marry her, he should stay away and not deprive her of other company.
In regard to shedding tears for Miss Titzman, I would have to try it with onions. I suppose I will leave that for you and Mr. Gunkle as the latter in particular was a favorite of hers, but I think you would sooner shed tears for Miss Bubb. I heard that she was married to the gentleman from up the country.
I hope you will do justice to that Patriotic young man (Mr. R.). The best thing you could do with him is to ride him on a rail the first time that he comes to Lincoln. If the rest of the Ephrata boys and myself was there, we would help to do it as we seen it done in Harrisburg and know how to do it. I don’t think he is any better than a substitute dealer and therefore ought to be treated likewise. I suppose he comes to town with his uniform, rifle, and sword in that he bought last fall. If he is afraid to use it, he would better make Uncle Sam a present of it so he can say that it was used to crush this rebellion. But enough of this. You may get an opinion that I think you ought to be in the Army but I say no. You have three brothers in the field which is enough and you have parents that are getting old who will soon not be able to see after things themselves and you are the only one left to do it. Would it not be for them, I would say come and help us. I know you would not say no, but come. At the same time, you ought to study tactics [as] we know not what may turn up that it might be of use to you. I knew very little at first [but] by hard studying and practice, I am so far that I am not afraid to take charge of the company any time. And your brother [Charles] is as well drilled as we have a man in our company. I always try to get him along to drill the awkward squad. Him and me can get along better than any of the other sergeants.
I suppose you know his duties. He has no guard duty to perform which saves him from being out at night. He has the rations to draw and the Captain told me today that we could not have made a better selection. As yet he has had no rheumatism. Should he get it, I will do all for him that’s in my power. Also for the rest of the Ephrata boys. So far we had very little sickness in our company and we will thank God if it continues. I have gained 13 lb. since we are in Yorktown so you can think that I am hearty.
I will give you a short sketch of our commanders. Our Colonel [James Johnson]—I think there is no better in the Army. When our nine months are up, we will drill with any regiment in the field that has not been in the service longer. Our Brigadier General [Richard Busteed]—I have nothing to say and dare not say what I would like to. He is a lawyer from New York and never was in service before so you can form your opinion of him. Major General [Erasmus D.] Keyes is as good an officer as we have in the field and he has proved it in the battles before Richmond. There is a rumor that we are to cross the river to take the place of a Delaware regiment that is stationed there. They can’t place confidence in them and they are deserting frequently.
I must come to a close as space will not permit to write more. Remember me to all inquiring friends. Yours respectfully, — Lieut. Edwin Musser
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Addressed to Mr. William J. Frazer, Lincoln, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania
Postmarked from Old Point Comfort, Va.
Camp Columbia (near Williamsburg, Va.) ¹
May 23rd 1863
Your interesting letter of the 20th came to hand this evening and shall answer it immediately. Our company is out on picket [and] having nothing to do, I thought of spending my leisure moments in conversation with you. As I will be on picket tomorrow, it might go three or four days before I will have another opportunity and while on duty I might get a letter from home which I would have to answer first. You well know that home goes ahead.
I am happy to hear that you are so well pleased with patriotic course. The 178th has taken in memoration of the Battle of Williamsburg. Would I have the education, I would let some of the Copperheads at home hear from me through the papers, but as it is, I must be contented till I come home. Here or at home, if I am called on to help to crush this cursed rebellion, my deeds shall show my sentiments. I am sorry to hear that the Reverend shows a little disloyalty. If it is true, take the right course and politely tell him to stop preaching—at least in your church. I hope he may prove his loyalty before there is a disturbance raised.
I would like if you, George, or Anthony, would visit us, or all of you. It would give us much pleasure. I don’t think you would have any trouble, at least to get to Yorktown. Once there, you would have no difficulty to get a pass to visit us as the Major of our regiment is Provost Marshal of Yorktown, but you would have to walk about ten miles which I think would be a warm job for you. The weather is very warm through the day. In fact, a little warmer than we like it. There would be no way to get here unless our teams should happen to be in Yorktown for provisions and then you would not have a very agreeable ride.
So Dan don’t like his place? He would better take Mam down to Reading. He then might enjoy himself better. News are scarce here. Everything is quiet. There was an accident happened to one of the men in Company E. He is from Manor township, Lancaster county. This morning when the relief went out on picket (he being out and not relieved yet), he was standing near a stack of arms. From some cause or other, the stack fell [and] one of the guns went off, hitting him in the hand. The doctor had to take the three fore fingers on the left hand off. He is doing well this evening. I heard that it was through carelessness that it happened. His name is [Pvt. Jacob] Wissler. He is a poor man and has a family depending on him. I always caution our boys to be careful. I often wondered that so few accident happened.
I seen in the papers that the Copperhead were trying to spoil the reception of the 122nd but failed in the attempt. As yet them letters of A. B. Shaeffer have not come to hand. Please give him my respects and tell him that I received no answer yet.
I thought of writing a long letter this evening but the mosquitoes are rather bad this evening. It keeps me busy to attend to them so you will have to excuse my short letter this time. I will try and do better in my next. My best wishes to George, Anthony, your Father, Mother, sisters, and all enquiring friends. Remember me kindly to my folks at home. Write soon. I am always happy to hear from you. Your letters are never too long for me to read.
I am well. So is [your brother] Charlie and the rest of the boys. No more at present. I remain yours, &c. — Lieut. Edwin Musser
Excuse scribbling & mistakes
¹ The 178th Pennsylvania marched the 12 miles from Yorktown to Camp Columbia (near Williamsburg) near the end of April.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Addressed to Mr. William J. Fraser, Lincoln, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania
Camp Columbia, Va.
June 4th 1863
Yours of the 1st came to hand and was read with pleasure. You need not be afraid that your letters are not interesting to me. There is not one of my correspondents write as interesting letters as you—with one exception, which I need not tell as you know it is from home.
So Derding has married. Well, the draft will stand a chance to get a husband which is best of all. What do you think of the match? I think it could not be better. I had a letter from a young man concerning a certain Isaac that he was in town every evening and on Sundays all day at a place where there are two innocent young ladies. What is he there for. No doubt you know as well as I do. I have cautioned them many a time but if they don’t want to take a friend’s advice, I can’t help it. I thought it was no more than right to give them a good advice being I lived at the place and they would have done anything for me that I asked. I should be very sorry to hear that they were led astray—not that it would benefit me any, for that you well know it could not. I wish you to keep it to yourself as it might create bad feelings among the family.
I suppose A. B. Shaeffer has my letter ‘ere this in answer to his one. I wrote to him to tell you that Gen. Dix issued an order prohibiting citizens from visiting this department. I am sorry for it as I would like to have seen you or your brothers come to see us.
We had a hard battle on the 2nd. No one was killed. After knowing the particulars, you will see how it happened that no one was killed. I will commence and tell you that it was a sham battle. The 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, one section of the artillery, and our regiment took Fort Magruder, but of course it contained Union troops. We advanced on the fort from one side through holes, brushes, and cut down trees. As soon as they commenced firing on us from the fort with cannon and musketry, the command was given down, when every man dropped on the ground, but not to stay down. Not long [after], you could hear the Colonel give the command, “forward march.” No sooner than the command was given, every man was on his heels. we advanced gradually, one time up and fired (about as soon as they seen we were up, “bang” went one of their cannons). We were down again before the second cannon was fired. We kept on advancing slowly to within forty or fifty yards when the command was given to charge. You then could hear some yelling while on the charge. That ended the fun for us. Although my shirt was wringing wet, I enjoyed it. So did the men. I think it is useful exercise as it learns the men to keep cool should we happen to get into an engagement, which may happen here someday.
The artillery and cavalry attacked the fort on the other side. Not seeing how they acted, I can’t say much about it. I heard that they captured all the pickets that they had out from the fort. No doubt they had a good time of it. We are practicing every other day with blank cartridges. But enough of this. You may get tired of reading such stuff. As I had no other news, I thought of giving you a short sketch of it.
I suppose you have seen in the papers that our troops evacuated West Point. They are lying at Yorktown. I heard today that two regiments were coming up here. Whether it is true, I can’t tell. A person dare not believe half of the camp rumors. They evacuated that place on account of sickness. In fact, it is very little benefit for us at the present time. I don’t believe that the Rebels will trouble us just now. I think they have their hands full in other quarters.
Charlie [Fraser], myself, and the rest of the boys are well. I often wondered how we stood it so well this far. We are at present encamped at the healthiest place on this Peninsula.
I have given you all the news at present so I will close for this time, hoping to hear from you soon again. My best wishes to all inquiring friends. Yours truly, — Lieut. E. Musser
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Addressed to Mr. William Fraser, Lincoln, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania
Camp Columbia, Va.
June 14th 1863
Your interesting letter came to hand today and was read with pleasure. Since my last we had quite a stir here. No doubt you heard ‘ere this that Keyes is on a move up towards Richmond. His headquarters are here at present. Being out on a scout (the particulars I will give before I close this letter), I don’t know the number of troops that are sent ahead or the number that are here. We have enough here to warm the wax in the ears of as many rebels as they are able to send against us.
I will give you a short sketch of the expedition we were on. The night of the 10th, between three & four hundred of our regiment, and four companies of the 139th New York and the 40th Massachusetts Regiment, started for the Jamestown Island—a distance of about ten miles. We were to meet the gunboats there. For some misunderstanding, the gunboats were not about when we came to the island [so] we countermarched and came back the same night. When within half a mile of Williamsburg, we halted and waited for orders. We laid there all day and about dark we got orders to start again for the island. This time the gunboats were there. We laid there in the ground “having nothing but gum blankets along” till morning. We are used to it that we can sleep by having a board to lay on and the soft side of a stone for a pillow. No doubt George & Anthony have given you the particulars how soldiers have to sleep sometimes.
I am getting off the track. We got on the boats in the morning and went up the James river five or six miles, then turned in the Chickahominy [and] went about the same distance when we came to a halt and landed, and then struck out for the country as hard as we could and went about seven or eight miles. We still seen [enemy] cavalry pickets ahead of us, but having no cavalry along, we captured only two of them. They belonged to the 10th Virginia Cavalry.
We then returned. The order was given to steal—or rather take—everything that would be of any use to the Confederacy. We captured some eighteen horses and mules, the same number of cattle, six or eight shotguns—some of them double-barreled, [and] a good lot of tobacco which was dealt out to the men that were along. The Colonel told me that he had about one hundred dollar’s worth which he dealt out to the men in our regiment. We returned to the boats about three o’clock in the afternoon, got on board, and started for the Island. Staid there till next morning, then struck for camp and arrived about one o’clock, pretty well tired out you can think. Marching fifty & sixty miles—most of it at night—is pretty tiresome. I almost forgot to say that our company was not along, they being on picket.
I will stop off with this. No doubt the particulars will be published in the papers. We were right in the enemy’s country without losing a single man. ‘Ere this reaches you, we may be out again as I heard today that we were to start out on another expedition tonight or tomorrow. I will let you know all about it in my next if I live to get back.
I see Gov. Curtin is about raising troops for the defense of the state which I think ought to have been done long ago. Would it not be that the loyal men had to suffer, I would like to see a few thousand Rebs make a raid into Pennsylvania and take horses, cattle, &c. and burn barns of those who are working against our good government. It might bring them to their senses but as it is, I think it’s best to defend the state at all hazards as the innocent would have to suffer with the guilty.
I am pretty tired and would like to rest so I will close for this time by letting you know that the Lincoln soldiers and myself are well at present. My best wishes for yourself and all inquiring friends. Remember me kindly to the folks at home.
I remain as ever yours, &c., — Lieut. Edwin Musser
Write soon. I am always glad to hear from you.
Camp Columbia, Va.
June 15, 1863
I was too late to have my letter mailed so I thought I would write a few lines more. I seen in the papers that the Pennsylvania troops are called out and I am offered a position which will be gotten for me by a particular friend of mine in Harrisburg. He has been with our regiment while we were lying at Yorktown. I got acquainted with him there. For the present, I can’t say whether I will expect it or not. I will have to see to other things first. I can get as good recommendations from our Colonel as any officer in the regiment. The man that intends getting the position for me is well aware of it. He is also a particular friend of the Colonel’s.
The cavalry brought in three bushwhackers yesterday. They were taken by the troops that are in the advance of us. One man “on the advance” was killed and a few wounded by bushwhackers. If I had the doings of the, I would hang every one of the bushwhackers.
No more at present. Yours truly, — Lieut. Ed