These six letters were written by Sgt. Charles Fraser (1839-1914) of Co. B, 178th Pennsylvania Infantry—a nine-month’s unit that mustered out of the service in July 1863. Charles was the son of William Jackson Fraser (1801-1877) and Catherine McCollum (1802-1875) of Lincoln, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. He wrote these letters to his older brother, William J. Fraser, III (1835-1910).
Also mentioned in the letter were their younger brothers, George Wilson Fraser (1841-1912) and Anthony Robert Fraser (1844-1920), the latter with whom he later served in the 186th Pennsylvania. Charles practiced the wheelwright trade in Lancaster county before and after the war. 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.
It should be noted that Charles’ handwriting was somewhat below par for a Union infantryman and this transcription has been substantially edited to improve the reading and understanding. Images of the original letters are attached.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
February 6, 1863
Dear brother William,
I received your welcome letter on the first and read it with pleasure, finding that you all are well at present and enjoying the winter very well. And we did enjoy the same when we got the box. We got the box in the 4th and the two Mellingers ¹ opened it before we were all ready. J[ohn] Stuber was on guard but came to the tent before it was dealt out but I thought he was not satisfied but stayed still, he was, but I think he was the same as I was. I am very thankful for what I got but I ate all that I got from the sharings at once so you can think that the Mellingers divided it. I was wondering that they did not open my two bags but they did not attempt it or else it would of been a fuss with them and myself. I opened the two bags and found everything in very good condition and I thought if I would be at home, I would have some more of them mince pies and apple pies and butter and sausages, apples. But I am very thankful for everything. I did not expect the half when I heard that you are a going to send a box. But I have plenty. I gave Lieut. Musser some of the apples. He said if we ere only at home, we would have them a little plentier. He thanked you for them. He and John Stuber, Jerry Steely, John Martin of Reamstown, [and] John Stauffer is the only ones that get anything of me for they do the same to me and such men I like. If Mellinger’s want another box sent, do not put anything in for me. If you do send anything, you and Stubers or Steely or anything for Edwin Musser, put it in with theirs—not anything with Mellingers for they are not satisfied if they get all and such people I do not like. They are not liked with anyone in our company. You can judge for yourself.
I and George and Anthony write together still. I wrote to them last week but did not get an answer yet. But I expect one before long. They were all well when I heard last of them and hope that they are all along and so you all so. I am well at present and enjoying soldier life very well as long as I am well and I hope I may stay well for the 6 months that we have to stay yet. I have a notion of putting something in of these 15 hundred negroes but Lieut. E[dwin] Musser said that he would do something for them. I must tell you something of the prisoners that the pickets brought in here—some black and [some] white. One of the white [ones], some of our men asked him why that he did leave himself taken prisoner. His answer, “there are enough back to warm the wax in your ears” —ours.
Old Jess Pannabecker did come out here this evening. I think that he will have meeting here one of these evenings. We have had snow and rain out here this week. It is bad weather for us but even it is on the way. We did not drill any but dress parade at 4 o’clock, if it does not rain too hard. I think you see in the papers something of our regiment. I received those papers that you sent to me and you wrote in your last that you thought the war was nearly over but I do not think so here.
No more at present but tell Mother and sister Mary that I thank them for all that they sent to me. In particular for the pies and sausage, apples, and butter for butter is worth 40 cents a pound and for the mint jelly. I thank you all for all you sent me. Tell Emma to eat right much sassick and learn to read and write till I come home if I have that luck.
Write soon and tell me how things are going on. I send my best respects to all that inquire about me and tell them to write and I will try to answer if I can. But I have a very poor time to write letters unless it is raining or snowing. It is getting late and I must go to bed. Good night. Read this to Mother and Mary. Write soon. Direct as before. Yorktown, Va., Co. B, 178th Regt. Col. Johnson
From your kind brother, — Charles Fraser.
Good night to you all.
¹Private Martin H. Mellinger (1837-1918) was the son of Israel Mellinger (1814-1892) and Mary Susan Harnish (1807-1883) of Ephrata, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. I believe Pvt. Jacob B. Mellinger was his cousin.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
February 19, 1863
Dear Brother William,
I received your letter in the 18th inst. and read it with pleasure, finding that you are all enjoying good health and so I am too. It is very bad weather. It is raining almost the whole week and when it is not raining, it is cold. Some days it is like spring. It changes almost every few days but I stand it very well. I have not felt anything of rheumatism and I hope I will not get sick in the army for I have seen that they do not take care of a man here like they do at home. I have seen a many a poor soldier buried. The artillery [company] buried one this afternoon. ¹ They have another way of burying here than at home. The artillery—they have 10 men in front of. They carry their guns at secure arms and then they have six horses hitched (with three riders) to a cannon and six to a ammunition wagon. They have the dead and a flag wrapped around the coffin and the preacher and the other men on behind and when they come to the graveyard, they take off the flag and put the corpse into the grave and fire the cannon three times.
The grave is at the place where Cornwallis surrendered to Washington. They have six posts like our porch painted black and white. I was at the house where Cornwallis used to live. It is a old house. The cellar is used for a horse stable and in the upper part, there is Black Legs Country Bands. There is a nice apple orchard and peach orchard—all young trees. It is about 2 miles outside of the fort. It is a curious old style. ²
I must tell you that we have new Enfield rifles here and I think they will be given out to our regiment tomorrow. They are in boxes yet. I think they will be handier than these old muskets and anyhow lighter.
And about Mahala, you wrote she is getting in her mother’s way. I think she has been in that way this long time. I think Kate was not better than she is but Katy, I heard she is married and I hope she is contented now and has everything plenty. But i have seen some of Lieutenant Musser’s letters about the old preacher’s daughter—that is, about you and her and dan and Frances. I think you fellows could not do better if you wait till doomsday.
We have a chaplain in our regiment—an old humpbacked grey-headed preacher. He is one of Sarah’s kind. He is a pretty good talker. He is 70 years old. He was along with the Pennsylvania Reserves. He is a pretty cute man, I think. He has a long white beard. You know how the most of the bearded men are. You have them plenty down there. He reminds me of old Pfoutz at Middlecreek. His name is [Thomas Poage] Hunt. ³
I received a letter from George and Anthony a few days back. They are all well and enjoying good health. George wrote to me that this war is to make us more contented when we get together at home and make us acquainted with God and serve him a little better than we did when we were at home. I think you will do pretty good in a half day if you read these two sheets. I think I must stop and it is roll call. I send my best wishes to all. Tell Mother that I have not been as well in my life as I am here yet. No more at present. Give my best respects to all that inquire of me. Goodnight to you all. I am very thankful for them postage stamps that you sent me. Write soon again and it will get an answer.
Brother Charles Fraser
We are a going to hit the birds with one stone. I and Lieutenant Musser is sending two letters in one envelope. I will put a little ring in this letter for Emma while she is such a good scholar that I made while it is raining. I have a few more but they are not finished yet. I must close by bidding goodnight.
¹ The artillery units serving with Major General Erasmus Keyes at Yorktown in February 1863 included Batteries F & H of the 1st New York Artillery, the 8th New York Independent Battery, Batteries E & H of the 1st Pennsylvania artillery, and Battery M of the 5th US Artillery.
² More research is needed to understand the location and description of this site near Yorktown.
³ Rev. Thomas Poage Hunt joined the 178th Pennsylvania at Yorktown, Virginia. He later served as chaplain of the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery where he was affectionately known as “Daddy Hunt.”
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Fort Yorktown, Va.
April [?], 1863
I take my pen in hand with pleasure to write you a letter. In the letter that I received from you last evening, you stated that you thought that I did not care of writing to you. It gives me pleasure to read of home and so is it to write home, but I tell you that we have no time—sometimes just that evening that we receive your letters from home—and we have not got as many things to write of. But I think I have done my duty in writing to you. And another [thing], you can just sit down whenever you wish to write or feel like writing. But here is is just so drill is the only thing that is done—whenever the officers feel like it. And then soldiers [must] fall in and at double quick, and if a officer goes to General [Erasmus] Keyes, and it suits the old general to have a review, why then he sends orders to the colonels. And if it happens that it is in the forenoon, why then you can judge dinner at supper all together and been marching the whole time, and then go to work and write a letter pretty tired. Or perhaps it rains when we are out. Then you must clean your gun and dry your clothes. Sometimes you can judge that a man does not feel like writing, but I have not forgotten you nor will I forget you as long as I can think of you and all the others.
I think you have fine times at home just now. It is a time of the year that I used to like to be at home—everybody at the movings and sport aplenty. But we had sport here today and yesterday our whole regiment—without those that went skirmishing—were sent out for some pine trees to plant about our camp. We had 12 or 15 dogs along—some hounds—and after being out a short time in the think pine and brush, the hounds started a hallowing and the lot of dogs after them and soon they were after a rabbit and the hallowing and running and falling over the brush and the dogs after just as if there was a fox chase. You can judge what kind of noise it was and sport. After running awhile, the dogs caught the rabbit. We took him home and as soon as we had him, the dogs started another one and the whole crowd after again, hallowing so so that the poor rabbit did not know where to creep. But we got tired and thought it was time to hunt some trees. We seen also a great sight of partridges. I almost caught one. I tell you, we fellows did not know how we should go ahead for we were all free and all as wild as we could be [with] none to command us so we done just as we wished. The noise cannot be matched very easy.
There were 100 men sent out of our regiment on a skirmish about twelve miles from here—the near cut, but they went on a gunboat about 30 miles, I think, they had to go so far around. They went up the Ware river. They got up to a few buildings and then the gunboats [stopped and the men] got off and run up to the house and to the barns and set the barns a fire, burned wet corn, and everything that they could not take along & handy. After all was in flames, the rebel cavalry came. And then our men and the gunboaters charged and fired into them. They had taken 3 of our men prisoner but our men went towards them yelling and with pleasure took them 3 back again. After running and firing one round, and a few shells from the gunboat, the rebels turned on their heels and away they went faster than they came. There was a great many wounded for some of our men seen the blood on the ground but did not get any of them. Among this crowd was Lieut. Edwin Musser, John Stuber, Mart[in] Mellinger, Ebenezer Killian, and 2 Wineholds and the others I think you do not know. When the charge was to be made, Lieut. [Musser] was about. One of the men was not just there [so the] Lieut. took his gun and was the foremost man in the crowd. After the rebels left, our boys went after the turkeys and ducks and chickens. There was none left there anymore. John Stuber brought two fat chickens. Killian brought a turkey, Weinhold two chickens and another one had ducks. The whole regiment done very well for the first time and all [were] ready to go again. They fought this time already. Each wanted to go in some company. They fought this skirmish through very well. You can hear more of this from Stuber for John put all of it in his letter.
You wrote of coming out here and George Becker to you can come here very easy for there are always some of this regiment’s friends here. I think if you would come down here, it would give you much pleasure and also we would be very glad to see you to come or if you bring more along, it is all right. Anyhow, try it.
Samuel Martin wrote to Lieut. [Musser] that there is another box to be sent. I and John Stuber, Jerry Steely, and Lieut. E. Mussy want to have ours sent together in one box and then we know which is ours for we can share with each other and let the Mellingers send theirs together and then we know which is ours and let them fight with themselves and do not send anything for me in the box that the Mellingers have a share in for if we would give them all, they would not be satisfied. And put some of Becker’s rye in it for me a saltpeter. Direct to Lieut. Musser and then it will not be opened. Send some butter and apple butter. Anything that you wish to send but do not forget to send some saltpeter and rye or gin for I think that has kept me from getting stiff and butter and apple butter and anything else that you wish to send and you need not be afraid of it being opened if you direct it to Lieut. Musser for he has got before some rye in his boxes and all will be right. From your brother, — Charles
I send my best respects to all. Write again and I will answer yours as soon as I can. No more. Goodnight.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Camp near Fort McGruder, Virginia
April 22, 1863
As I promised you in my last letter that I would write to you in a few days, I take my pen in hand to do so. I wrote the last in a hurry just so you might see where we are and are still at the same place, laying on the ground—sometimes in the mud and sometimes in the dry right alongside of the road which leads to Yorktown and this fort. We have only our gum blankets to cover over. Our houses are about like the dog houses at home. We would be glad to have a house like some of your dogs at home but it will do very well. We have the cold a little but we are getting used to anything. It was something new for us to lay out when it rains. We are still all on our feet and just as happy as you are at home in your houses. Hard crackers is still the old saw—is the go for speck belong to crackers or else a man could not get them to slip.
Rebs are not very plenty just now. We can see their pickets but they are still drawing back from Williamsburg. Some of our men that were on picket yesterday went over the lines at a house [and] got books, blankets, overcoats, and all kinds of household chickens, turkeys, and all that was worth taking along. They brought into our camp. It is not allowed to do so but they done it on their own hook. It was at the outskirts of Williamsburg.
Our pickets are within a rifle shot of Williamsburg and are still moving further out. I think they will be put into the town before Sunday if the Rebs keep moving back. I cannot tell whether out regiment will stay here or not. The talk is that we are to go back to Yorktown and another regiment is to relieve us which I do not know but it seems rather queer that they do not send our tents. [The] Colonel telegraphed to General Keyes to send our tents up if he intends to keep us here but he did not send the tents and the report is that he wants to try to get another regiment to take this place and take us back to his camp right in front of his house where we were before we came up. The tents are still empty. It looks as though he might do something of the kind. Our quartermaster department is still at Yorktown and very unhandy. Everything is to be cooked there and sent up here. I have to see that our company gets their share.
You wrote as though I had quit the quartermaster business but you must not think that for I would not quit it if a man would pay me. I need not stand guard nor any other duty. The Fifth Sergeant has to do this and I would be a fool to quit it. I have some of the best times when the weather is nice. I have nothing to do but to see that everyone gets alike and have to see to get it from the quartermaster. I might of had Second Sergeant at Harrisburg but I did not want it and if I would of took it, I would be Orderly Sergeant now for our orderly [James Watt] is sick at Harrisburg yet—if not discharged. He was Martin Fry’s substitute. I took Fifth Sergeant on account of standing guard. I knew what I was doing and do not want anything else. It just suits me, I think. It has kept me of getting sick or rheumatism.
We received the box which was sent in Lieut. E. Musser’s name. It came to hand on Sunday evening and just in time. Rations were very short. Everything was in fine order and was received and shared out with pleasure. Everyone was very well satisfied with what he got. The segars, combs, pencils, thread, licorice, and everything that was to be shared was done so—the Melligers not getting much.
Tell George Becker that I thank him for sending that old rye. Tell him that if I ever get to live till I see him, I will satisfy him for his doing so a useful favor for me. And about the other things sent for me, I thank each of them that sent them. Everything was received with pleasure. Your likeness that you sent in the letter—we all took a look at it. All thought that it looked very pale but it makes some difference. We fellows are all getting pretty dark. Some days it is very warm and some very cold. Nights [are] always cold. Tell all that I thank them for sending what they did. In particular, George Becker for that is the only thing that was wanting. The razor I received also at the time that the box came.
I and John Martin took a walk to the cavalry camp that the rebs burned. Horrid looks the place—horses and mules all burned and shot, sabers and pistols, carbines, guns, and everything else was destroyed and stolen. Some trunks were burned with a great deal of money and watches. I found a piece of a watch case. I think the other part was all melted. This piece was pretty near melted also.
We are all well within us. Some of us have the cold a little. Lieut. Edwin Musser sends his best respects to you hoping you [are] all well. If you write, direct your letter [to] Co. B, Bloody 178th, Yorktown. I got a letter from George a few days ago. They are all well and so am I. Hoping you [are] all the same. Send my best respect to all that enquire of me. Tell them to get out of the draft if they do not think themselves ashamed of themselves.
From your well-wishing brother, — Charles Fraser
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Camp Columbia near Williamsburg, Va.
May 28, 1863
Dear Brother William,
I take my pen in hand to scratch an answer to yours of the 24th which I received last evening and was glad to receive it, I think more so than you, for you know that I cannot write just whenever I get a letter from home. Sometimes we are just about to start out for picket and then some other time we have to go along with a train of wagons for to move bridges and some families into our lines and so then a man gets tired, sometimes also wants to sleep or rest. And then besides all, we drill once in the forenoon and afternoon, keep our guns clean, and everything washed so that you need not be ashamed of yourself, be ready for any kind of call, and fall in in a moment’s notice and go on picket every three days—that is sure. [And there is] inspection of tents every Sunday and our clothes besides the arms. So you must excuse me for not writing sooner. It is not the same with you at home.
And the question that you ask in your letter about taking the advantage of my brothers, I did not think of any such a thing and so I do not know what to write about it but I mostly always think of Old Mellinger whenever I write to you and the boys you know. Yet when you and I had a notion of going to war with Shultz and Musser and Old Mellinger was at Stuber’s store, we were talking about the war so Old Mellinger began and said that Albert should not enlist for there are nothing but gamblers and all the bad boys and men were gone to war so he should stay at home. But it was just after two brothers of ours had gone so I commenced to tell him that my brothers are not worse than his boys or he ever was so then you take care of each other and do not allow such talk about your ears for I will not take anything off no Mellingers of that kind nor of anybody else. I do not care for anybody if they do not want to talk sensible to me. Why they need not talk anything to me.
I think that will do for this time about that question. But here is another that I cannot understand. That is about Reverend Gerhart. I seen the letter that you wrote to Lieut. Edwin Musser about your old preacher and then I seen in a paper that he wants to find out who gave him that disgrace. It is almost a shame for the old man to be found out if so to be a Copperhead. I would of not thought any such thing. I wonder whether Emiline is a Copperhead too or not. But I am afraid no one knows. But I hope they may all be clear of such cursed thoughts of our army—hoping now of his friends, if so, to follow him like they did. And I have wished many a time to have him here instead of our old fool—as you might call him.
I must tell you that we have nice not weather here and dust plenty when we travel from picket from the other side of Williamsburg. But I must tell you that this little town is full of flowers, roses, and everything looks well within the town. But [there is] no one to take care of them. Anybody that wants to take any along, why he goes and pulls off till he has as many as he wants.
We have been hearing heavy cannonading yesterday and night. No one knows where it was. Everything is quiet about here just now. We are all well and hope you [are] all the same. I must close for the mail is about leaving but send my best respects to you all hoping to hear from you soon again. I send my best respects to all inquiring friends. No more.
Tell Anthony that I will write to him next week if all goes right and I am well. I heard that he was a going to California after mules so Stuber wrote to Musser a few weeks ago. I do not know whether is is true or not.
From your brother, — Charles Fraser
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
Camp Columbia near Williamsburg, Va.
June 7, 1863
Dear Brother William,
I take my pen in hand to answer yours of the 5th inst. which I received this evening and was glad for it seeing that you are all well—as well as I am well. But I had a mosquito sting right in my left eye and my whole face was swelled. One eye was entirely shut but all is well again. I think it was one if the ones that some said that they had seen before on picket. There was a flock came along the picket line and the men thought they were rebs and halted them but they came too swift for the picket and flew over him. He said that some were three to five inches long. I was about half asleep when this customer stung me or else I could tell you a little more of the mosquito question. But anyhow they are [more] troublesome here than the gray backs for our rest.
Our regiment—besides the pickets—-were out on a scout about six miles near Jamestown. The 5th P. V. Cavalry were at Jamestown but the rebs had left—spiked a heavy gun and left it behind. Jamestown is about ten miles from here. The cavalry were too far ahead of our sand trotters (as the cavalry call the infantry). They met our fellows and told them that the gray backs have left. I do not know how soon we will all move forward for there was an order read that all the soldiers that have their wives here shall send them back as far as Yorktown. I think it meant to send them home. There are two brigades at Yorktown that came from West Point [Va.] on account of sickness. It is a very sickly place for it is in between two waters that are pretty much still water and a very swampy place too. You must of seen an account of it in the papers.
Our camp is very healthy yet, but if we are marched a few days, there will be many a one left behind. No one knows which it may hit.
You wrote of passes to come out here. None is allowed to come here now. So is the orders I wrote to you of getting a pass. But at that time, perhaps you might of got one. But just at the time [I wrote], they stopped it. I seen Lieut. Edwin Musser writing a letter to Alfred Shaeffer. I told him to write too of coming out here that it was stopped and I see in this that Al told you. And about you taking the rifle and slinging the knapsack, I would rather see you not drafted and none of the others, George and Anthony. I hope you may have the luck of being drawn last as you were when I was drafted. And about going as a substitute, do not leave your mind make the time short and take a few hundred. I think about 15 hundred a year would try our mind but not less. [I’d] rather go voluntarily. [To] go as a substitute in an old regiment, I would not do at any price for they will black guard you and try to steal everything of yours. Do not leave yourselves fooled by the moves. Aaron Edwire was so very anxious to be drafted when I was. I think he will not be the same this time. I am afraid he will not go. Tell him to do as I did.
I would like if you would write to me how this draft is to be. I seen an account of drafting for two years but some say the drafted men are to be put into the old regiments. Some of the substitutes are an easy of being drafted for it seems as though it is clearing two—the man that sent the other. I think one ought to be in the draft and no rich could get clear for three hundred dollars. I call that law a ruin to our army. When it is to be drafted, give me the whole description of the drafting and enrolling.
The four postage stamps came just in time for I had just been pretty near out of them. The two papers that you sent were received at the same time and all was read with pleasure/ I suppose you did not send anything that I did not get.
And about the Reverend Gerhart, it would be a pity if everything were true—that he is a Copperhead. But I hope not for I would like to see and hear him preach in the church in Lincoln when I get home, if I should have that luck for the time is short that we are to be free of service of Uncle Sam. You can see a little of camp life when you look at the sheet with stains of the falling rain and lying out in the mud. But everything is lovely. We are all well. I have your photograph andI would like if you would tell George and Anthony would send theirs to me. I would like to see old scared soldiers. Tell them to do me that favor and try to get their photograph taken and send them to me. I send my best respects to all my friends. Tell them that I am gay and happy still. I stop by thanking you for the postage stamps. Lieut. [Musser] sends his respects to you all. Also Stuber and Steely. I close by sending you my best luck for not to be drafted.
From your affectionate brother, — Charles Fraser