1863: John Brown Holloway, Jr. to Eve Margaret (Painter) Holloway

John Brown Holloway, Jr.—his image, his drum, and his letter of 20 January 1863

This letter was written by John Brown Holloway, Jr. (1836-1923) from the winter camp of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteers near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Holloway joined Co. D, 148th PV as a drummer ¹ in August 1862, served for the duration of the war, and was discharged in June 1865. He was born in Aaronsburg, PA in 1836 and died on 5 January 1923 in Burbank, OH. He was the son of John Brown Holloway, Sr. (1810-1876) and Eve Margaret Painter (1810-1907).

Holloway married Kate A. Stover (1842-1921)—most likely the same “Kate” mentioned in the opening paragraph of the letter. The “Maj. Stover” also mentioned was undoubtedly Major John Hubler Stover (1833-1889) of the 106th Pennsylvania, part of the famed “Philadelphia Brigade.” Major Stover was also from Aaronsburg, PA.

The letter was penned by Holloway on 20 January 1863, just as General Burnside launched his now famous, “Mud March.”


Near Fredericksburg [Virginia]
January 20th 1863

My dear mother,

Major John H. Stover, 106th Penn. Vols.

I have once more seated myself to write you a short letter. I was just over at Maj. Stover’s quarters to fetch some things that he brought from home. Kate sent me some apples, cakes, apple-butter, cherries, and sausage, which are now lying at my side. I suppose they will taste good if we get them fried. I am sorry to say that we must eat them right up for we are on the point of battle. Tomorrow morning I think it will begin. The batteries are moving in all directions and everything is in motion and in a bustle. If only we will be victorious and make a step more towards the closing of this wicked war. 

Oh! how many poor beings who are now lively and having glorious and cheering thoughts of home and friends, will be in eternity before this reaches you—and perhaps I will be among them. But I am putting my hopes and trust in God for he can keep and protect me. And if it is my lot to fall upon the field, I have the hope that my soul will take its flight to a better place than this, where I expect to meet you and father and all my brothers and sisters. Tell them all to prepare themselves for this good place. I hope I am not forgotten by you in your daily prayers.

I received Father’s letter and will answer it if I am spared. I have nothing special to write. I am well and in good cheer considering my circumstances. Make yourself no trouble about me. I will write as soon as the battle is over if I am spared and can put a letter in the mail. Direct your letters as before. I suppose they will reach me. I now bid you all an affectionate farewell—perhaps for the last time. May God protect and bless us all and at last save us in His kingdom is the prayer of your son, — J. B. Holloway

The troops are moving past our camp in solid columns for hours and there is no telling when they will be all. — John

Holloway’s Drum

¹ The drum that Holloway carried while serving in the 148th PA was sold recently at auction. It was described as having a plain metal body with a post-war stylized script label applied that read, “148th Reg’t, PVI Battles Engaged in Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Bristoe Station, Mine Run, Wilderness, Po River, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Totopotomoy, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Strawberry Plains, Deep Bottom, Ream’s Station.”  An interior label in script read,  “J.B. Holloway Co. D, 148th PVI.” It was sold with a pair of 16.5″ and 15″ drumsticks as well as a 7.5 x 6″ journal, 138 pps in length, housed in marbled boards, representing a copy or “updated” version of Holloway’s diary kept between August 25, 1862 and June 8, 1865. Holloway was described as “a good correspondent, and had no trouble describing the 148ths involvement at Chancellorsville (great content), Gettysburg, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse. His journal entries for Gettysburg included: 

July 1. Left camp…marched through Uniontown came through Tawny Town and arrived within a few miles of Gettysburg…passed the ambulance which was carrying the body of Gen. Reynolds. People along the road when we march are very kind supplying us with water and things to eat…. 

July 2. The morning we formed in line of battle. Not much fighting till about in the afternoon…Col. Cross of the 4th N.H. commanding our Brigade was mortally wounded and suffered so severely that he begged for some one to shoot him….he died during the night. Capt. Forster of Co. C. our Regt. killed.

July 3. Pretty heavy firing began this morning but did not continue long. The hard fighting began in the afternoon and continued til night. The struggle was a fearful one though I think we gained a victory – saw the most wonderful artillery duel of the war – being on high ground where I had a good view. The work was awful – Pickett’s charge. 

After Gettysburg, the 148th saw heavy action in May and June 1864 when Holloway was a participant in the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse. Perhaps because of his position – while not in the line of battle he served behind the lines serving in field hospitals – Holloway was a careful observer of the numbers of wounded, dead and dying, and faithfully records the carnage after each major battle.

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