These two letters were written by George deCharms (1839-1862), the son of Rev. Richard deCharms (1796-1864) and Mary Graham (1803-1880) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It appears that George’s father abandoned his mother in the 1850s, leaving him at a very young age to try to supplement the meagre income earned by his mother and siblings. In the 1850 US Census, George was enumerated in his father’s household in Moyamensing Ward 2 of Philadelphia. His father’s occupation was recorded as “Welfare and Religious Services.” The children at that time included 14 year-old Sarah, 13 year-old Mary, 11 year-old George, 10 year-old William, 8 year-old Richard, 7 year-old Fideath, and 5 year-old Virginia. By 1860, Mary had moved her family to Cincinnati where George worked as a printer, and his sister Mary worked as a school teach and brother Richard was a law student.
At the age of 22, George enlisted as a private in Co. A, 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) on 20 April 1861. Enlisting with him was his brother Willie, age 21. The 6th OVI departed Camp Dennison for western Virginia, arriving at Grafton in modern-day West Virginia on July 2, 1861. The regiment next proceeded to Philippi and then to Laurel Hill, both in present-day West Virginia. The 6th helped additional Union forces to drive Confederate soldiers from Laurel Hill and pursued the retreating Southerners to Corrick’s Ford, where the Federals killed the enemy commanding officer, General Robert Garnett, on July 13, 1861. Following this engagement, the 6th marched to Beverly, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia), before moving to Elkwater in present-day West Virginia in August 1861. It was while at Elkwater that George wrote the first letter.
On November 19, 1861, the 6th departed Elkwater for Parkersburg, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia). The regiment next boarded steamers and sailed down the Ohio River to Louisville, Kentucky, where the organization joined the Army of the Ohio’s Fifteenth Brigade, Fourth Division. It was here that George wrote the second letter.
George would not long afterward arrange a transfer to the 54th Ohio Infantry where he would be made a 2nd Lieutenant and be one of five officers of the 54th OVI who were killed at the Battle of Shiloh. See—1864: Thomas Kilby Smith to Mary DeCharms.
These two letters were found in George deCharms’ pension file, offered as proof to the Pension Bureau by George’s mother that he supported her by sending home money to her.
Elkwater Camp [West Virginia]
October 16, 1861
I had intended to write to you before this but circumstances have prevented, so I take this my first opportunity for so doing though I hardly know what to say that will be of much interest.
No doubt ere this you have received my note through Captain [Marcus A.] Westcott in which was enclosed forty dollars. When you write, please acknowledge the receipt of it. as I said in my note, you can make what use you please of twenty dollars and the other twenty I want you to keep for I intend to save all I can of my pay for the benefit of us all when I return home when the war is over. Please don’t give any of it to Uncle because he can wait for what little we owe him. I mention this because if he knows I sent you any, he will not hesitate to ask for it. No doubt he will want you to pay what he lent Will out of it, and he has no right to do so out of my funds. Will and I will pay him what both of us owe, when the next pay day comes round. You need not say anything to him about it. However, I hope Father will not come to Cincinnati to make you miserable. If he does, don’t let him take or threaten you out of your money, and I think you ought not to let him come to the house.
We are very unsettled at present. Rumors are flying about camp that our regiment is going to Kentucky. How true it is, I do not know. I only hope it may be so. I don’t see how it is possible to stay here. The farmers around here say that it is impossible for wagons to travel the roads around here in the winter.
[Missing a page]
…with the 6th, and I shall endeavor to get out of it, for I don’t think his place can be filled.
I suppose you have seen an account of the battle [See Battle of Greenbrier River] that occurred near here a short time ago [on 3 October 1861]. Our regiment had not the honor of being there but yet it did not matter much for the fight was between the artillery alone. Capt. Howe of the regular army who was in command of Howe’s Battery there and which did most of the work there says, “All the armies in Europe might be a thousand years before they would experience as much heavy firing in so short a time.” This battery and Loomis’s [Michigan] Battery fired for two hours and forty minutes at the rate of a shot every three minutes. In that time, 1282 rounds were fired and every shot took effect.
The enemy lost nearly 400 killed while our loss was only ten killed and wounded. 1 The only effectual shot the enemy made was caused by a shell which they had not time to cause to explode by putting in the fuse, so busy were they kept at work. This shell killed two horses; also killed one of the men of Howe’s Battery and took off the arm of another man. I have heard military men say that the firing at Manassas Junction did not equal it in the amount of execution that was done. The 17th Indiana Regiment was ordered to charge but getting into a hot place, was obliged to retreat and some say in a cowardly manner.
Capt. Loomis paid our regiment and the 9th the compliment that if he had had us there, he could have taken the enemy’s works by storm. But he would not have trusted any other regiments in this part of the country.
Will tells me that my letters, on account of their length, have to be prepaid so I will quit as I have but one stamp. Will brought some out with him but they disappeared and I think I sent them home in the envelope I sent by Capt. Westcott. If so, send them out or take a half dollar out of the money I sent and buy the worth of that in stamps and send to me when you wish.
With love to all, I remain your affectionate son, — George
1 “Though the engagement was sharp and spirited, the losses were not heavy. Each side, however, magnified the loss of the enemy. Reynolds, who thought Jackson’s 1,800 men had grown to 9,000, reported the Confederate loss in killed and wounded was about 300. Not to be outdone, Jackson reported that Reynolds’ loss in killed and wounded “is estimated at from 250 to 300, among them an officer of superior rank. Our own was very inconsiderable, not exceeding 50 in all.” Actually, when the returns were all in, it was found that the Federals lost eight killed, and thirty-five wounded, for a total of forty-three. The Confederates had six men killed, thirty-three wounded, and thirteen missing; these turned up in Reynolds’ report as prisoners.” [Source: The Battle of Greenbrier River]
December 3, 1861
As you see by the date of this, I am now in town, partly to avoid extra duty I have to perform in camp on account of two-thirds of our regiment being absent, either here or in Cincinnati, which our officers are unable to collect together; many of whom I am afraid will never return unless some inducement is offered. In our company there was not over fifteen or twenty men and half those are now sick, who are here to do duty. They take as many men on guard out of the two or three hundred men present as they did when the whole regiment was on hand; so that those who are present have to stand guard all the time as was my fix.
The camp is on a plowed field and now since it has snowed, the mud is awful. The first night the regiment went out they had no tents so that most of the men came to town. Many of them go out and report themselves and becoming discouraged at the dreary look of things, turn round and come back to town. I am afraid that the Bully 6th has played out. Col. [William K.] Bosley will never get as much out of it as he has heretofore. I have regretted every time that Will and I did not return with you and Mary on the boat. We could have done it just as well as not. We might have stayed several days just as well as not for a great many have gone further than Cincinnati and returned, and nothing has been said to them.
If we had only thought of going with that Captain that took such a family to Mary to Gen. Buell, I have no doubt we could have got a furlough. Several mothers have got their sons furloughs in that way.
I have not heard anything from the old fellow yet. Julius Stewart has gone to Cincinnati and he said he would call on you all. I have had several chances to go home and wanted Willie to go with me but he thought it was not right to go without leave and I won’t go without him.
I hope Uncle will succeed in getting me a commission for I don’t think there will be much honor gained by staying in the 6th. General Buell says that he is going to make an example of this regiment and I have no doubt he will for he is a hard man. I am afraid he will send us on board ships to some garrison sp that we will have no chance at all. Mother, I wish you would send me a five dollars by mail or in a note by Julius. I thought I should not need any more than I retained but there are some things that I need and would like to have it if you can spare it out of that ten dollars I gave you. But if you need it very much, don’t send it for I can wait till next pay day.
Perhaps we may yet get a furlough. If not, give my love to all at home and to all the relations and remember me as ever your affectionate son, — George