1862: John McLaughlin to his Aunt

The only thing I know for certain is that this letter was written by John McLaughlin. There were numerous Union soldiers by that name and several alone from the state of Pennsylvania where I believe this soldier was from. Since the author wrote the letter to an aunt who seems to have been on the cusp of moving from “Old Mifflin” [Mifflin County, Pa.] to Indiana, I looked for McLaughlins in that county and found a McLaughlin family residing in McVeytown. This was the family of Daniel M. McLaughlin (died 22 April 1857) and his wife Mary Catherine (Hedler) McLaughlin (1802-1881). In the 1860 US Census. Catherine was enumerated as the head of household with two sons, John (b. 1838) and Daniel (b. 1841).

I was able to confirm that Daniel enlisted in Co. K, 49th Pennsylvania Infantry who became ill during the Peninsula Campaign in June 1862 and was in the hospital at Savage Station when he was taken a prisoner of war on 29 June. Before he could be returned to his regiment, he died at Richmond on 27 November 1862. It isn’t clear where Catherine’s other son, John, was at the time—whether he was serving in the army or not. In any event, I don’t believe he was the author of this letter. My hunch is that Catherine was the recipient of the letter. [David’s pension record informs us that his father and mother were married on 18 December 1823 in Waynesboro, Franklin county, Pennsylvania.]

At first I thought the author might be the John McLaughlin of Pottsville, Schuylkill county, Pennsylvania who enlisted on 23 September 1861 at the age of 20 in Co. G, 95th Pennsylvania Infantry (Gosline’s Zouaves) to serve three years. This soldier was a miner before the war. But in the third paragraph of the letter, he mentions receiving new uniforms that were not Zouave uniforms and though Gosline’s Zouaves replaced their baggy pants with trousers, they maintained their Zouave jackets throughout the war.

Though I cannot confirm it, I’m inclined to believe this letter was written by the John McLaughlin who served in Co. C, 53rd Pennsylvania. Following the Battle of Antietam, this regiment drew new shoes and clothing to replace the faded blouses, coats and trousers worn by most since the previous winter. While it may have been rumored they would be given Zouave uniforms, they were not. Unfortunately I cannot find any evidence that this regiment was encamped near Alexandria in early October 1862, however. The regimental history implies they were still in Maryland.

[Transcribed by Stacy Cookenour/edited and researched by Griff]


Camp near Alexandria, VA 
October 4, 1862

Dear Aunt, 

I now take the opportunity to pen you a few lines to let you [know] that I have not forgotten you yet. Well, Aunt, since I last saw you I have seen some ups and downs in this mundane sphere but then I’ll not complain. This folly talks of cloudless skies. I should feel thankful that I have got along as well as I have. I have. I have went through nine hard fought battles and never had blood drawn but once and that was by a shell hitting the ground in front of me and scattering the dust and pebbles among us, knocking a piece of skin off my thumb. I have had some bullets through my clothes. May they always take the clothes in preference to the flesh. Both Abraham and George McLaughlin 1 have fell victim in this war. I have heard nothing about them since I heard that they was dead. If you knew what regiment Uncle David’s Joseph is in, and what company, let me know. 

Aunt, I think you had better stay in Old Mifflin this winter where there is plenty of coal to keep you from freezing and not go to Illinois where they have to depend on corn cobs for fire till next spring when I may go along if this war is over, for you know I’ll be going out West to look at my 160 acres. But without joking, if I am spared through this war, I am going to take a trip through the West.

There is nothing of importance going on here. We have to go on picket every fifth day and on working duty the same and some camp duty to perform, such is about the routine of our life at the present time. We have got a new suit of clothes but not a Zouave one as stated, but we may have to take the Zouave dress yet. The brigade in general, I believe, do not want it. I was at Alexandria yesterday. Matters and things are very dull there but then tis Autumn—the season of rapid decay, which may account for it. People never seem to me to be so genial when old winter is coming on as in the month of May. Why it is, I know not. 

But I must close for the present. I want you to write and let me know all about Illinois—its soil, its stock, its birds and last though not least, its pretty girls.

Your nephew, — John McLaughlin

1 I believe that George and Abraham McLaughlin are the same two by that name who both served in Co. C, 105th Pennsylvania—a company that was recruited in Clearfield and Clarion Counties, Pennsylvania. George McLaughlin (1826-1862) died on 11 July 1862 of wounds he received at Fair Oaks, Virginia, on 31 May 1862. Abraham died at Philadelphia on 25 June 1862.

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