These seven letters were written by William Jackson Fraser (1835-1910), the son of Wm. J. Fraser (1801-1877) and Catherine McCollum (1802-1875) of New Ephrata [later renamed “Lincoln”], Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. William served initially in Co. C of the 195th Pennsylvania Volunteers (100 days Unit). These troops served from 24 July 1864 to 4 November 1864. Following this, William served in Co. B, 195th Pennsylvania Infantry (1 Year Unit) which was not mustered out until June 1865.
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
Camp near Williamsport, Maryland
August 6, 1863
This being such a pleasant morning, I could not refrain from devoting the few moments remaining before the departure of the mail to scrawling a line or two to you informing of our doings these few days past. The weather, however, has been so warm that the least we had to do, the better we were pleased.
On Monday we were out on picket again at “Dam No. 5” and an awful hot tramp it was too. We went out in the forenoon. and returned next day near noon. While out, I had the pleasure of a trip across the “Dam” in a flat bottomed row boat. I—as also the rest of the company—have more respect for the dam since crossing. It is several hundred yards wide and almost 40 feet deep. We visited the brick mansion and mill I mentioned before this as belonging to a rebel “Col.” named “Cotton.” It is “Coulson” ¹ [and] he is only a captain in the rebel army and [has] a brother—a private—in the same service. These two brothers were quite wealthy before the war with their widowed mother owning 1700 acres of land, a mill [the “Honeywood Mill”], 5 or 6 splendid mansions, etc. etc. The greater part of their property has been destroyed.
The first place we visited was the “house” [a.k.a. “Honeywood”]. ² Almost everything has been torn out and carried off as relics. All the bannisters of what was a fine winding staircase, the windows broken—the ropes and weights for hoisting the same cut [and] taken out. Almost every room had a fine mantle piece—the greater part of them have been thrown down and the trimmings, mouldings, etc. torn off. I could not resist the mania with which one is seized upon getting into such a place but had to prey off a piece and bring it off along with some sash rope.
We then passed along the river bank to the spring. The water is about the best I have tasted since leaving home. It runs out of the rock into several dishes scooped out among the stones which, by the way, are just as numerous as they possibly can be. You can form some opinion of the estimation in which the water is held when I tell you that before the war, the folks crossed the river in boats to fetch it for family use. Here in camp we have tolerable good water by going about half a mile and drawing it from a well 87 feet deep. The drain is continual from daybreak till late at night—besides a great quantity brought from a poor spring at the canal, equidistant from camp.
Yesterday a party of us got “passes” to visit “Clear Spring” at the foot of “South Mountain”—about 4 miles distant. It is a fine little town of 300 inhabitants before the war and the most loyal town in the state, having but six secessionists in the place and they are held in so little respect that they have no company to associate with. We had our shoes mended, groceries, &c. Shoe mending pays well here and more work than all their shops can do.
This being Thanksgiving, I do not expect to do much. I was detailed for camp guard for 24 hours from this morning but several failed to answer at roll call this morning [and] they were taken instead so that I am freed at least for today from that disagreeable duty. [Brother] Charles, ³ I suppose is enjoying himself fully while lionizing around town. We would be happy to see him. I told [brother] Anthony to write to write to you for money for each of us. It takes money when you are out—and good money at that—“greenbacks.” They fetch the things out of the farmers when all else fails.
I forgot to mention that Clear Spring is settled mostly by Lancaster county folks and one sees it immediately in the fine appearance of the farms & buildings. I hope you manage to keep in good health and attend to the business. From appearances, we may be kept out for the whole term and we may not. Time will show. We are all in fine health & spirits. There are several sick in the regiment. Ac occasional paper or letter would be acceptable. Give my respects to E[dwin] Musser and all other friends.
I am your son &c., — William
¹ William is referring to the home of Capt. William Brockenbrough Colston (1836-1919), the son of Edward Colston (1786-1852) and Sarah Jane Brockenbrough (1804-1890). According to his biographical sketch on Find-A-Grave, William B. Colston was born in Berkeley County, a direct descendant of the Colstons who owned “Honeywood,” an estate overlooking the Potomac in the northern section of the county. He was born on that estate in 1836. He was educated at the Episcopal High School near Alexandria, Virginia, and at the University of Virginia. He joined the Confederate Army, in a company of volunteers raised at Hedgesville in 1859, as a private. The company was known as “The Hedgesville Blues” and was recruited of young men from the northern section of the county and from around Hedgesville. The company became Company E, Second Virginia Infantry, Stonewall Brigade. William B. Colston became Orderly Sergeant; in 1862 he was elected First Lieutenant and in the spring of 1863 was made Captain, the position he held throughout the war. Wounded twice, once at the Battle of Kernstown and again at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and was confined to the hospital for eight months. He rejoined the Army and was in the Battle of Nine Runs [Mine Run], at which place his brother, Raleigh T. Colston of Berkeley County, was killed. William Colston was assigned to post duty at Charlottesville, but the inactivity was not in his nature, so he appealed to General Clermont A. Evans, commanding a division of Stonewall’s Brigade, for another post. On the way to Charlottsville to buy a horse, he was captured at Farmville and was paroled. In 1863, he was elected by the soldiers from Berkeley County, then in the hands of the enemy, as a representative in the Virginia Legislature, and served in that capacity for two years. After the close of the war, he was a farmer in Berkeley County until 1872 when he moved to Martinsburg. He was elected Magistrate in 1880; appointed Postmaster of Martinsburg in 1885-1889 by President Cleveland; and elected Clerk of the Circuit Court, 1890-1896. From 1883-1889, he was the editor of the Martinsburg Statesman. Another brother of Captain Colston was Edward, a private in the Second Virginia Cavalry, who lost an arm at Appomattox in 1862. He was an attorney in Cincinnati, Ohio.
² “Honeywood” was built by William B. Colston’s grandfather, English emigrant Raleigh Colston, who married Elizabeth—the sister of Chief Justice John Marshall. The residence was built on an estate overlooking the banks of the Potomac River. In the 1860 US Census, William’s mother still resided at Honeywood where the real estate was valued at $90,000 and the personal estate at $6,447.
³ William’s brother, Charles Fraser, had served in the 178th Pennsylvania.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Addressed to Mr. William Fraser, Lincoln P. O., Lancaster county, Penna.
Postmarked Baltimore, MD
Kearneysville, West Virginia
February 22, 1865
This being the birthday of the immortal Washington, the usual duties of the camp (i.e. “drill”) were suspended in part the better to celebrate the day. So I concluded to drop a line or two and in that way keep you posted as to our whereabouts, condition, &c. The first is indicated above, as no change has taken place in our location as yet. What may take place now since the regiment is about to be filled up and reorganized is only to be conjectured. And you may well believe there are any number of would-be wise-acres predicting what the future movements of this organization will be.
Our health—I am very happy to say—continues very good (thanks to a merciful Providence). I hope these lines may reach you all in the full enjoyment of that same inestimable blessing.
I suppose I should before going further say something about how the day was celebrated here. The officers of this post and a few invited from Martinsburg, as also the members of “our Glee Club”—of which we do not happen to be members—had an excellent dinner spread out in the warehouse building near camp used for storing “commissary stores.” The room was full of evergreen wreaths, etc., the likenesses of Washington, Jackson—“Old Hickory” of course, and Abraham Lincoln, each encircled with a wreath of evergreen. [These] embellished the room and I dare say were about as fit and suggestive as could have been chosen. Not having been present, I must repeat hearsay. I understand there was the usual complement of toasts drank and speeches made accompanied with music, &c. &c. These things over, the men in camp were invited in to eat up the remains. The invitation came while we were preparing supper [and] was given by one of the sergeants in so hurried a manner—and it was raining fast too at the time—that made us think it was a “hoax” so we paid no attention to it and by that means had none of the “goodies.” We do not care much, however, having plenty to eat of Uncle Sam’s provisions.
But enough of this. I received a letter from [brother] George on the 17th written on the 12th inst. in which he informed me of his having resolved in conjunction with Ed Foust to raise a company for the present call. I had noticed it in “The Daily Express” a few days before so that the surprise consequent upon such an announcement had worn down some. They have met with very great success indeed and aside from the inconvenience that I as well as you are put to by him so doing, I think it just about the very best thing George could have done. You may well suppose that we who have been out whilst the 100-days men were at home feel a little “cut” at the idea of them returning to us as commissioned and non-commissioned officers. We might add in the words of that farmer, “to rule over us.” Such is the fortune of war, however, and so there is no use of complaining. “What cannot be cured must be endured.” Two companies of these new men from Dauphin County came here this noon and were marched to the woods near the old toll house where we lay for some time. They are about as fine a looking set of men I have seen for a time—very few boys among them—mostly men in the prime of life. From all reports, we have to have thirteen companies in our regiment this time. How true it is, I do not know. The rest are expected here before this week ends. I cannot help being proud of Little Lincoln as it has again shown its loyalty and military spirit in sending almost every available man in response to this call for troops—the last I confidently think as the rebellion is fast going down. One stronghold after the other falls before the master strokes of the victorious Sherman. I would not be surprised to hear that Richmond were also in our hands before the end of next month. The rebels are fast being driven to the wall and I think they had better be looking around for that “last ditch” they spoke so much about some time since as there is a general concentration taking place.
I have just heard through Hacker’s that [brother] Anthony had been home lately. Through a letter from Samuel Fry, I learn of the death of our good neighbor, Jno. Mohler.
No more for the present. I hope to hear from home soon and in the meanwhile beg to remain your affectionate son &c. — W. J. Fraser
Co. B, Batt. 195th P.V., Martinsburg, West Va.
My love to all the family. Enclosed please find a photograph.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Addressed to Mr. William Fraser (Sen’r), Lincoln P. O., Lancaster county, Penna.
Postmarked Baltimore, MD
Camp at Kearneysville, Va.
March 7, 1865
Having a few leisure hours this morning, I concluded to devote them to writing a few hasty lines hoping they may reach you soon and find you in the enjoyment of the same good health and buoyant spirits they leave me in. As will be seen above, we occupy the same old ground we have been on for several months past. We all expected to have left here long since because of the military movements that have been taking place all winter and yet more so since the recruits for filling up our regiment have begun to arrive. They are all sent (by rail) past here to Martinsburg where it is generally understood we are to meet them for the purpose of reorganization. Thus far I have not had the pleasure of seeing more than one of them and that was Ben Hacker. He was here on a visit to his brother and nephew a few days ago.
Some of our boys were up yesterday to see them [and] found them all getting along finely (as could be expected) under the present circumstances. George and Faust had not then arrived. As soon as they join them, if we are not already moved up, I intend to go and see them. I do nor doubt the business appears rather rough to some of them [who are] coming out for the first time and at this season of the year, quartered among the barren rocks of Virginia. I understand, however, they have just as much soft bread and fresh beef as they can use and being called out into line at all hours of the night expecting to have a rub with the “Johnnies” is disagreeable enough to “the vets” and much more so to the “green uns.” Thus far the “rebs” have refrained from attacking our lines.
News just received last evening inform us of another success up the valley. ‘Tis said that Sheridan has succeeded in whipping the rebels under Early and capturing him and a large number of his men. This will be a good set-off to the unfortunate affair that befell us at Cumberland City a short time since. I mean the capture of Generals Crook & Kelley. Early’s prediction had rather an early fulfillment, had it not? Everything appears to be progressing very favorably in military matters though the rebels (i.e., the leaders) continue to indulge in their favorite past-time of “braggadocio” to keep up the spirits of their more ignorant and woefully deluded brethren.
I have just been detailed for wagon guard to go immediately so I cannot finish in time for today’s mail. Must do so tomorrow. I sent a small package to you by Sergt. Yeager who left here on Monday on a ten-day’s furlough. It is consigned to the care of Ben Wissler at Greider’s Hotel [in] Lancaster and contains a package of papers &c. marked what to be done with, a small quantity of coffee so you can try the article we use in the army. I consider it a very good article.
I received a letter from [brother] Anthony a few days ago stating that he had been home [and] found you all in good health. And what surprised me greatly, he said he found you engaged in the delicate operation of putting in a verge. I hope you succeeded to your own satisfaction. It certainly was a feat you had no idea of performing even some years back. I would not confine myself too closely to the bench, however. I am often plagued to tinker at some of the boys’ watches—a thing you know is rather puzzling without tools. They mostly are stopped by dirt getting into them. I had one to fix for our Orderly Sergeant. It flew back in the winding and some of the teeth of the wratchet were broken off and stuck fast in the wheels and pinions. It is a pretty good detached lever (new). I gathered up all the files in the company—all of them. I would have considered [them] entirely too large and in no way adapted to my needs or desires at home. I improvised screw drivers &c. and taking it apart, got it to work pretty well. You know how a mechanic feels when he succeeds with his undertakings so much beyond his expectations so I need not say more about it.
About the time we were paid (Feb. 5th) several customers made their appearance for the sole purpose of fleecing us on our money. Jews with all kinds of sham jewelry, pencils, gold pens, trinkets, and watches. They did not make anything off me, however. Some of the boys invested in watches at most exorbitant prices. There was one pretty old man—a watchmaker—who makes a regular business of visiting camps, outside of course, as citizens and traders are excluded and can get in only on special permission from the commander of the post. But to resume: He comes around when the men are flush with money, sells them watches—at high prices of course, comes around again when purses are empty and the money market tight, buys the same watches &c. at his own prices and awaits next “pay day” with almost as much anxiety as the boys themselves when he again appears, always realizing largely on his sales which are quickly made. I have such an abhorrence for these leeches on society that I would much rather help to drive them out of existence than to tolerate them about me, much less buy from them. I always think they should be seized and made do some service for the country. Most of them are strong, hearty fellows [and] abundantly able to stand the hard knocks but the jockies have no appetite or fancy for it but prefer swindling even the soldiers before taking some honest but harder mode of gaining a livelihood.
I hope the money I sent to the care of Ben Wissler has been received as also my “discharge from 100 days service” [papers] sent several days afterwards? Enclosed please find photographs of some of my friends. I hope the one I sent some time ago reached home safely as these, I hope, may also. We expected to hear of the money through Wissler’s but up to this time have heard nothing although nearly a month has gone past since. We expect to receive more before the end of the present month. All goes very well with us. The rebels admit the “confederacy gone up” and are trying to gain our good will—and perhaps husbands for their daughters. I know of one farmer with nine grown girls close to camp. By giving small sociable parties—kind of free and easys”—inviting the “bluecoats” who however are not so easily drawn in—not trusting the game fully—somewhat like the old rat and the cat in the meal tub—a fable with a very good moral—rather afraid there might be some danger concealed—a torpedo or the like. It goes to show, however, on the part of these belles that they have lost the hatred it was once their boast to entertain for the “Yanks.”
I believe I never told you that several of the richest secessionists about here were arrested sometime since and held as hostages for the safety of “[John VanMetre] Van Meter”—the man who shot the rebel horse thieves who attacked his house—an account of which I think I gave. Upon the intercessions of some two or three of their neighbors (Union men), they were liberated on giving bail in a considerable amount. What the sum is, I never heard, but it has a very good effect on the gentlemen. I must close else you might tire of reading. Hoping to hear from you at your earliest convenience. I beg to remain your affectionate son, — William J.
Co. B, Batt. 195th, Martinsburg, Va.
P.S. Give my love to all the family. The President’s inaugural address is short and good, is it not? Remember me to the Martins, Musser, Mr. & Mrs. Stober, and all other good, Union friends and acquaintances who may favor me with their consideration. — W. J. F.
P. S. Send me a few postage stamps if you can conveniently do so. 3 cents & a few 2’s.
P. S. We may again change our letter upon the reorganization of the regiment. The companies are lettered according to the date of the captain’s commissions. There is some talk of us becoming “A.” If so, I will apprise you of it it. In the meanwhile, direct as before, Care of Capt. [James] Ricksecker.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Camp at Kearneysville
March 21st 1865
Your kind letter of the 11th came to hand on the 19th and gave me much pleasure—greatly modified, however, by unpleasant reflections which I purpose making known to you ‘ere the close of this epistle, [but] first confining myself to the subject matter of your letter. I can assure you there is nothing gives me more pleasure than to hear that you are all getting along so finely under the trying circumstances with which you are surrounded. For my part, I am happy to be able to inform you of the continued good state of health with which I am blessed. This, coupled with the glorious news we are receiving from time to time of our military successes over rebeldom could not otherwise than rebder our spirits buoyant and hopeful.
The winter we have just passed through was very similar to yours. Much snow, ice, sleet, &c. and the citizens have often told us that the weather was colder than any they have experienced for years since. The snow left us in a freshet some time since and for about two weeks (no, only one) we have had most delightful weather. Everything promises and early spring. Vegetation is beginning to spring up making even these barren rocks look quite romantic—I might say beautifully so. The temperature—if it keeps on a little longer at the same rate of speed—will soon become rather oppressive.
Here let me state that the package sent me containing a pair of stockings and pulse warmers were received and are highly appreciated. Please accept my thanks. Should have been acknowledges sooner but was omitted when last I wrote. The package was about two weeks reaching me. Where the delay was occasioned, I am unable to state as the mails—as a general thing—make very good time. I am extremely glad to hear that you succeeded so well with the verge. It gives me like satisfaction to be able to say that “my job” is doing right well and that I had another almost as difficult—viz: pinning the hairspring of a detached lever (with a wooden pin, of course, and giving it the proper set. All doing finely too.
The forward movement of troops everywhere has withdrawn part of our forces here with us (i.e.) the Virginians who were engaged building this and other “blockhouses” about being erected along this railroad for its protection from guerrilla raids, thus imposing the duty of building—in addition to our picketing and guarding—making the duty almost continuous. We take consolation from the fact that it’s all for the flag and the good of the country.
On Friday, Jack and I were up to Martinsburg to see the new recruits. I had not been up since the last of November and therefore enjoyed the walk up & return very much. [Brother] George was in charge of a portion of the picket line around the town and stationed on the Charlestown Road. We succeeded in finding him, however, after a pretty severe hunt. He was in excellent health and spirits bearing the honors of is excellent position with all the meekness imaginable—notwithstanding he makes a pretty good officer. Before starting out on the hunt for him, we took dinner with the rest of the Lincoln boys. They were all well and in excellent spirits. Quite indignant, however, at the malicious lies in circulation about home (with reference to the officers delay in reporting). I presume [these are] so well known to you that it would be needless to repeat them here? In fact, I would not have introduced the subject at all but for the particular stress laid on them and the punishment threatened by the folks around Lincoln to be meted out to Lieuts. [Edwin I.] Faust & [George] Fraser in case they had delayed longer joining their command. Particular stress, I say, by that contemptible pup excuse for a man in a letter he wrote to me in George’s company— Sergt. Jno. Stuber. It is easily seen that he, being too much of a calf—a cowardly one too—so much so as to prevent him from going into his country’s service, yet is ever eager to seize upon an opportunity to discourage the families of those whose patriotism does not consist in the flaunting of banners and the use of big words of great sound but little meaning—those who have gone forth to battle for the right, leaving wives and children to the care and tender mercies of those whitewashed or rather galvanized Union people. Perhaps I am wasting ammunition upon worthless game? So I will desist with the request that you have no more letters written to me by him as I do not wish to place you nor myself under any obligation to him whatever. If it cannot be otherwise, a letter of Emma’s composition containing but a line or two would be much more acceptable than a ream of his finely worded but false, sickening effusions.
The postage stamps were received with many thanks. Yesterday I sent you a new paper or rather an old paper in a new dress—“The Baltimore American.” It is a very good paper and a staunch administration sheet withal. Please send me about five dollars by mail immediately. We were in expectation of being paid off soon again after the last payday. Had the assurance of the officers to that effect and therefore made ourselves rather shorter in money than we would otherwise have done. Keep an account of these things and I will take all the risks that it may be attended with sending through the mail.
Samuel Fry will do all the writing for you, I know. I received a letter from Sarah and answered the same a few days ago. I am happy to hear she is well &c. I have not heard from Charles or Anthony for a considerable length of time though I am looking for something from either before long. While I was in Martinsburg I was induced to sit for a few photographs, one of which please find enclosed herewith. I do not consider it a good picture but I send it anyhow, expecting to have some better ones taken ‘ere long. I must come to a close as the Taps for “Lights Out” will soon be sounded. Hoping to hear soon again from you with the news of your full restoration to health, I beg to remain your affectionate son &c. — William J. Fraser, Co. B, 195th P.V., Martinsburg, W. Va.
P. S. There is a very heavy rain falling while I write. — W. J. F.
P. S. I almost forgot to mention that we had a most excellent mess of mackerel—the first we ever drew. All that was wanting to make a perfection of it after parboiling was butter—an article that is not very plenty here at present. Virginia farmers, you know, never stood very high in the butter line/ Feeding their stock on wheat straw and very poor shelter if any at all from the cold and wet weather of fall and winter.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Camp at Charlestown, Va,
March 28th 1865
As I intimated in a few few lines written at the upper margin of a “Baltimore American” of the 23rd inst., we left our delightful quarters at Kearneysville on the 25th, going to Martinsburg for the purpose of joining the other companies (new and old) preparatory to forming the regiment. We left camp quite hastily and reached Martinsburg in good time and found the most of the boys enjoying excellent health and quite glad to see us. The questions some put to us as we entered camp were quite amusing—such as: “Did you’uns enlist for our regiment? Being invariably answered with: “No, it was you that enlisted for ours.” Many of us had the pleasure of sleeping with our friends in the new companies. All of “our bunk” were accommodated at Capt. [Edwin I.] Faust’s quarters.
The next morning, after several delays, we started for this place marching by nearly the same road that we took in going up (to Martinsburg). Some of the boys were in no very amiable mood thereat but you know that that made very little difference to those in command. We reached here some time before sundown—the Col. not wishing to march hard. The distance marched is about 16 or 18 miles and was quite fatiguing because of the great quantities of clothing carried by most of us. We were encamped outside or rather west of the town.
The country is very beautiful—all apparently one vast plain. Not a vestige of a fence to be seen and roads are run across anywhere. Wood is somewhat scarce. Good water, however, is plenty. This place is made more interesting from the fact of its being the place where “Old John Brown” was hung several years ago. If they did kill him, “his spirit” is still marching on.
Col. [William L.] Bear has command of us for the present, [Joseph W.] Fisher being absent at Martinsburg on a “Court of Inquiry.” I understand he is to have the command of a Brigade of which we are to form a part. The forces here are under the immediate command of Gen. Eagen (Gen. Hancock commands Department) and are kept under very strict discipline. Close to our camp is a camp of nearly a hundred “bounty jumpers” who are very closely guarded and will be sent to the immediate front before long. They deserted mostly from New York regiments—one of which [192nd New York] is to be in our brigade. I hope, however, it may prove untrue as I have no particular desire to be joined to the New Yorkers.
The new recruits are doing exceedingly well making great progress in drill, drawing praise—if it is unwilling—from the older troops. I think we will have a fine regiment after a short time, becoming a little more accustomed to each other. We are in very good health, have plenty to eat—drew very good, fresh bread and sugar—having three days rations given to us free—our time for drawing would not have arrived before the last of the month.
The weather is variable—quite March-like. Yesterday [was] disagreeable. Today very fine. Next I suppose we have rain.
Hoping these few lines may reach you in as good health and spirits as it leaves me. I beg to remain your affectionate son &c. My love to all the family. — W. J. Fraser
Co. B, 195th P.V.
P. S. I get over into [Edwin I.] Faust’s company [Co. G] nearly every day or evening. They are all getting along finely. — W. J. F.
P. S. Letters for this regiment should be directed as before—or to Washington D. C. and they will follow us.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
Camp at “Stevenson Station” near Winchester, Va.
Sunday, April 9th, 1865
Since writing to you from Charlestown, we have moved to this place—a country showing the effects of war rather more than most of the places we have been at yet. But before going further, I must acknowledge the receipt of your most excellent letter of the 25th received on the 29th and the opportune arrival of the V. Those V’s are excellent and almost indispensable companions. But to the letter. It gives me great pleasure to hear of your health and spirits as also that of the other members of the family. I hope it may ever be so. My health, thank God, continues very good.
It is scarcely necessary to say that I immediately saw that you had employed some other person to write for you. I am very glad of it too for I do not want to see anymore of that poor puke’s scribbling but I will desist at your request as I know very well that the old folks are excellent neighbors and have used me and you very well for which I feel under very great obligations.
But to return to Charlestown. On the evening of the last of March, we were ordered to be ready (i.e., the whole regiment) at daybreak next day (1st April) to go out on four days’ picketing along the Shenandoah river, to guard the fords and prevent the passage of the guerrilla bands said to be so numerous around there. After marching till noon in a round about course, we reached what is called Kabletown, about a mile or more from the river, whence the companies, after taking dinner (hot coffee, hard tack, & pork) were distributed to their respective destinations. We were on the extreme right and were taken some 3 or 4 miles along the shore to “Rock’s Fords” near Rocks Mill. Here we pitched out tents towards evening in a fine meadow and set to work making ourselves comfortable. Hunting up fishing tack;e among the negroes nearby, we set to work catching fish, pitched into some flour & corn meal found in the mill and soon had fish “slapjacks” & coffee, faring most sumptuously. The weather was very pleasant and spring-like—moonlight—and the river very high—beyond fording depth so that there was very little left to mar the pleasures of the place. We all enjoyed ourselves highly.
We were relieved on the 3rd by an Ohio Regiment rather soon er than expected and we were loth to leave the place, but orders are orders, you know. We reached our old camping ground just before sundown. Had to move our camp to another place so as to be with the division—only to leave it early next morning for Winchester—Hancock’s Corps to which we are attached being ordered to move on toward Lynchburg to check Lee’s retreat from before Grant’s and Sheridan’s forces—which by the by have been dealing pretty effective blows of late at the rebellion. We reached Berryville late in the afternoon. The greater part of the town which by the way must have been of considerable importance before the war—containing the remains of many very fine residences, nearly all deserted—occupied almost exclusively by the Yankee soldiers. The country we passed through is about the finest, I believe, can be met with in the “Old Dominion.” We went into camp at 9 o’clock P.M. a few miles outside of Winchester, broke camp early next morning (5th) and marched on to Winchester which we reached about 11A.M. Did not pass through the town. Rested awhile and changed our direction, going almost directly opposite to the course we had been going during the forenoon. We supposed that the change was caused by the good aspect of affairs further down the Valley—the news being very good. Went into camp at our present place at evening about 4 miles northeast of Winchester. We expect to leave here soon. Where to do to is idle to conjecture.
All surplus clothing is to be packed up and sent to Frederick, Maryland, for storage so as to make the men as light as possible. You should have seen the amount of clothing flung away on these few marches. It was astonishing. I noticed one man belonging to the 192nd New York—a very hard regiment attached to our brigade—who threw away until he had nothing whatever but blouse, shirt, cap & pants, being barefoot, with neither gun nor accoutrements. Many of our boys replacing their worn-out knapsacks with new ones cast away. Shoes were picked up too by a few of our company much to the relief of several bare-footed fellows.
Monday, 10th. Today it is raining very fast. The report is that Lee has surrendered with the remnant of his army. I am rather unprepared as yet to credit the truth of it. I must come to a close. George & I were out yesterday after dandelion and had a good mess of salad. All’s well. Write soon. Give my love to all. I am your affectionate son, — W. J. Fraser
Direct as before or Co. B, 195th P. V., Washington D. C.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER EIGHT
Summit Point Station, Va.
May 12th, 1865
Yours of the 29th came to hand and was read in due time. I am very happy to learn of your continued good health and spirits. ‘Tis scarcely necessary to add that I am equally so to be able to inform you that I am in most excellent health also. I perceive by your letter that you had not received my clothing sent to Rev. E. H. Thomas, Lancaster City, up to the time of writing. I saw a letter of a later day received by Jacob Wissler from his brother Ben saying that the clothing had come to hand—in what condition is not mentioned by him. I presume thought that all is right.
This is the day, I think, upon which Messrs. Foust, Irwin, Hacker, & others purposed starting on a visit to this camp, being advised of this intention on their part, I requested [brother] George, upon writing home for things to be sent with [Edwin I.] Foust, that he should include $5.00 for me. I dare say it came to hand in time to be attended to—if not, send it by mail please and keep an account of everything.
After a pretty long spell of rainy weather, we had a very fine day today and were inspected by Brig. Gen. Neal [Thomas Hewson Neill]—a fussy little fellow with red whiskers and numerous medals & decorations—and a belly on him indicative of a good liver. I was reminded somewhat of “Major Monsoon.” ¹ The inspection passed off very well.
Last Sunday our Division was reviewed by Maj. Gen’s. Torbert, Stevenson, & [Thomas W.] Egan. Everyone was favorably impressed with the appearance and carriage of the first named [Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert]. He is quite young in appearance, very fine black whiskers and mustache, mounted on a very fine white charger. He showed himself just one of the best horsemen. All passed off very well.
Drills, inspections, & reviews are the order of the day with us in conformity with orders from the War Department preparatory to discharging the great proportion of the armies in the field, while doing so being regulated no doubt by the reports made by the inspecting officers. What took most of us down was the order to provide ourselves with white gloves and not to appear without them upon state occasions, Dress Parade, etc. It caused no little merriment amongst the men when they were handed gloves so small— made apparently for women’s wear to cover our large, brown, greasy paws with—many no doubt wondering what their mothers would say of them were they to appear before them? But an American can become accustomed to anything—so the foppery is put up with or endured with a pretty good grace. The great trouble is to keep the gloves clean. But enough.
The camp is filled with rumors as to the disposition to be made of our and kindred regiments while reducing the army expenditures. We expect to take part in the Great Review to come off at Washington ‘ere long. No one seeing the present necessity for maintaining so large a force here in the Valley—the war being about over—the last wicked, dastardly act of the rebels being the assassination of our beloved President—the speedy end (too honorable, by the by) of the assassin and the summary arrest and arraignment of his accomplices—cannot be otherwise than gratifying to all right-minded men who have the welfare of their country at heart. I think the American people will be a little wary of rebellions hereafter—after such fearful punishment as they have had. We all hope the leaders may be reached and made an example of—and show to the world that we can raise immense armies, pay and feed them, put down a great rebellion, and punish the leaders. I say give them a good fall suspended by a rope around the neck. I think [President] Johnson will attend to them at the proper time.
While I am writing, Jack—who has been up to Foust’s (Capt.) quarters and heard a letter read informing us of a box on the road for us—or rather we have an interest in one—which is expected to arrive tomorrow. Sending boxes is rather a risky business just now as no one knows how long they may remain. I hope, however, we will be able to attend to this one. Reiterating the pleasure it gives me to say all’s well, I beg to remain your affectionate son &c. — W. J. Fraser, Co. B, 195th P.V., Washington D. C.
P.S. Give my love to all not forgetting the little folks Emma & Thomas, the Messrs. Martin. Write soon. I wrote to Anthony yesterday.
¹ “Major Monsoon” was a character from the 1841 book, “Charles O’Malley, the Irish Dragoon” (see Chapter XXXV). He was described as an “amusing old soak” whose appearance revealed his penchant for the bottle—his face being “a deep, sunset purple, which, becoming tropical at the tip of the nose, verged almost upon a plum colour.”