This letter was written by Nathan Frederick Bohn (1842-1907), the 19 year-old son of William Bohn (1813-1893) and Catharine Frederick (1809-1871) of Berks county, Pennsylvania. At the time of this letter in 1863, Nathan’s father was the proprietor of a saloon and restaurant in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Nathan datelined his letter from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where he was apparently in the employ of, or in company with, his Uncle Joseph Bohn as a boatman on the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna was a major transportation artery for the movement of farm produce from Upstate New York and central Pennsylvania to eastern markets via Chesapeake Bay. We learn from the letter that Nathan has just completed his first visit to Havre de Grace at the mouth of the Susquehanna so we can surmise he had just begun the employment.
Nathan’s letter mentions seeing 4,000 Rebel prisoners pass through Havre de Grace, possibly on their way to Fort Delaware, and several thousand more on the way. These prisoners may have been captured during the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Lebanon [Lebanon county, Pennsylvania]
May 14, 1863
My dear father and mother, sister [Elbina] and brother [Richard],
I will let you all know that I am well at the present time and I hope that these few lines will find you all the same state of health. Dear brother, I will let you know that I received your kind and welcome letter on the 12th of this month of May and I was very glad to hear from you that you are all well.
And now I will let you know that I was a a place that I have never been before. I have been in haverdegrass [Havre de Grace] in the state of Maryland. I tell you that I seen a good lot of Nigger slaves at work but they look very hard and I have seen a new fashion of houses with the stove pipe out of the windows and no chimley [chimney] on the houses. I tell you, it looks funny to see that. And further, I will let you all know that 4,000 Rebels has passed through Havre de Grace that our men have caught and there was yet 12,000 on the road a coming but we had no time to stay any longer for we was unloaded and we had to start off for home for we have been one month and four days at this trip. But this time we needn’t to go to Havre de Grace. We must go home to Lebanon with this trip and so I want you to write as soon as you get this letter for if you don’t write as soon as you get this letter, why I won’t get your letter then, not until we come back from the other trip.
And so I want you to write as soon as you possibly can for I will send yours home [with] $12 dollars in this and then when you write, write in your letter whether you got my money or not. I would have sent you more, father, but I couldn’t. I had to pay $3.62 and a half for that gum suit where I got [it] and I had to get my boots soled and for that I had to pay 70 cents. And now I am going to buy myself a new straw hat and the rest I had to have for tobacco and to buy more when it is all [out] again. But next month I think I can send home $17 dollars for you father. And I can’t tell you when I will come home yet. It may be before long and maybe not until haymaking, but they are talking very hard out here about drafting again. But if they do draft, why I will come home as soon as I can.
And further, I will let you all know that we had very high water again out here on the Susquehanna River for there were two boats went down over the dam at Columbia and broke up to pieces, but the men all got out safe but two mules drowned and the flat [boat] broke loose up at the Nanticoke Dam. Six mules went down over the dam and they all six drowned. I tell you, that was hard to look at. And father, I will let you know that I seen Uncle Daniel Bohn up here at Lebanon with his boat. I was on his boat by him till 10 o’clock talking, and father, I wish you all luck at home—especially on the vote. I think if the weather gets right hot once, it will kill mother, or Old Katchen as Richard always says, very near again.
Father, I think you might better go and buy me two pair of summer pants for me till I come home once for I only got two pairs yet for the old pair is worn out and I got two have some. And go and buy stuff for me and let mother make them for me till I come home. I don’t know how soon I will come home again but before long if they are agoing to draft. Father, I like boating very well yet so far with Joseph Bohn. So no more at present time. From your son, — Nathan F. Bohn
Richard, I wish I had you our here by me on the boat. You Nutzerferquintten Ein hodenferquatch as mother always said. So no more, but only don’t forget to write as soon as you get this letter for I would like to know whether you got this money or not. Now only don’t forget to write and direct your letter this way:
Mr. Nathan F. Bohn
Lebanon Post Office
Lebanon county, Pa.
In care of Henry Hoffman