This letter was written by James Cornell Biddle (1835-1898), the son of James Cornell Biddle (1795-1838) and Sarah Caldwell Keppele (1798-1877). Maj. Biddle wrote the letter to his cousin—and fiancee—Gertrude Gouverneur Meredith (1839-1905), the daughter of William Morris Meredith (1799-1873) and Catherine Keppele (1801-1853). William M. Meredith was a distinguished leader of the bar in Philadelphia and served as the Secretary of Treasury (1849-50) during the Zachary Taylor administration.
James began his military service as a private in Co. A, 17th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He enlisted on 25 April 1861 and mustered out after three months on 2 August 1861. It was while serving in the 17th Pennsylvania that he wrote the following letter.
On November 1, 1861 he was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in Co. C, 27th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Promoted to Captain and commander of Co. H on November 1, 1862. He was soon tabbed to served on the staff of Major General George Gordon Meade, performing that duty from May 1863 through the July 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, and through the end of the war. On November 5, 1863 he was discharged from the 27th Pennsylvania, and was promoted to Major and Aide-De-Camp, US Volunteers. He was brevetted Lieutenant Colonel, US Volunteers on August 1, 1864, for “faithful and meritorious services in the field” and Colonel, US Volunteers on April 9, 1865 for “gallant and meritorious services during the recent operations resulting the fall of Richmond and the surrender of the insurgent army under General R.E. Lee”.
See also—1862: James Cornell Biddle to Gertrude Gouverneur Meredith transcribed & published on Spared & Shared 3 in August 2013.
June 19th 1861
My Dearest Gertrude,
I have just received yours & Colby’s letters of the 14th inst. I was very anxious to hear from you as I had not heard anything since the 13th and felt quite relieved at the contents, hearing that you were so well. I think Colby’s idea with regard to our movements may be correct as we have fixed our tents & have everything arranged as if it was a permanent thing, but as I have told you, there is no telling from one minute to another where we may be.
Three of our companies have gone to the Potomac as a guard to two pieces of artillery & I should like very much to go myself. This is a horrid place for an encampment. We have but one tree on our ground & an army of pigs must have been here before us as the ground is all rooted up. If it should rain, it will be a regular mud puddle. A detachment of three [men] from each company have been detailed to pick off the secessionists from the other side of the river. I was told this morning they had driven a party away from a cannon & prevented them from taking it away.
I was again on guard last night at a spring preventing any person [from] poisoning it. It has generally been the rule that after being on guard all night, we had the privilege of going where we pleased, but this morning the Colonel had us all drawn up & told us we were the guard of the camp and none of us would be allowed to leave our muskets so that we are now all huddled round this one tree.
We received the Baltimore Sun of Monday which mentions the evacuation of Harper’s Ferry. They say a good many of them have gone to Edwards Ferry 5 miles from here and that now they have a force there of some 7 or 8,000, but it is not likely they will attempt to cross the river. Neither will we do so if such is the case. This is a horribly dull place & the sooner we get out of it, the better I shall like it.
I was very sorry to hear Cassie is still so miserable. I think a little change of air will be of service to her. My darling Diddy, this is the 19th & it is less than one month till my time is up. I shall be too much rejoiced for anything to be with you once more. I think this war is not going to last a very great while as I do not see how the secessionists can hold out against such odds.
Tell Colby [that] Col. [C. P.] Stone is in command of this division. 1 He is quite a young man—not over 35. General Scott thinks a great deal of him and I like him so far as I have seen him. Colby mentions he is going to see our Flags. I wish we had them with us. Col. Patterson told me he would just as soon not receive them till our return as they would get soiled but if we are to gain any honor, I would rather have it under the new colors. The band have been playing almost all the morning. It is a great addition to our camp.
I intend taking a nap, dear Gertrude, as soon as I finish these few lines to you. You know I always was a sleepy head and last night I only had three hours sleep. What would you think of my taking one of Aunt Latimer’s blankets and sleeping all night in the lawn in front of the house, wrapped up in it? I can assure you, that would be a luxury in comparison with this as there the grass is nice & soft, and here is is full of holes and very little grass. I can imagine Aunt Latimer’s consternation at such a thing & yet I was never better in my life.
I am sorry to hear Miss Margaret Price is a secessionist. I think Baltimore is as bad if not worse than any city in the Union They all profess to be Unionists here, but I think it is principally owing to our presence. They say all kinds & sorts of stories were originated with regard to us before our arrival, but they have found out they were all untrue since we have been here.
I should like very much to meet Tom’s and your Uncle Sullie’s regiments. I was in hopes of seeing them but now I do not know how it will be. I hear the President is going to recommend the calling out of 500,000 troops in addition to those already enlisted.
I have just taken a peep at your photographs. I can read your feelings exactly. I know, dear Gertrude, you are very much attached to me and likewise that I am to you & I am sure we will lead a happy life together. I have always had the feeling we were fated for each other. The day of my return will be the happiest day of my life. I often think I have so much more to look forward to on my return than most of those who are away. There were a very few letters in the mail this morning & I have had dear knows how many inquiries as to how my letters were directed. I believe there is another mail expected into camp this afternoon. Do you know my own dear Gertrude, there has not been a mail that has yet arrived without bringing me a letter from the one I care most for, of all & everything in this world.
I have been afraid they would put in the papers all kinds and sorts of rumors with regard to our movements as I do not believe they know anything more of us than we know of what is taking place in the world. It is a joke of Abbie Bache’s the advertisements we have seen in the papers for recruits. “Able bodied, unmarried men wanted for the Army, fine chance for study, &c.” John Hewson & all are well. Osy [Oswald] Jackson inquired after you all & particularly Cassie. He requested me to send his regards to you all & referred to the pleasant breakfasts he had had with the gals previous to our departure.
The New Hampshire men have gone to the Potomac & report shooting some 5 or 6 secessionists on the other side of the river. I could see them quite plainly the day I was there. It is said there is a large force of Federal troops within one hour’s distance from here, but where they are I do not know. The New York 9th & the Washington Volunteers are three-quarter of a mile below us.
I heard some rumor of George Cadwalader’s 2 being suspended on account of some negligence, but I do not credit it. You see so many false reports in the papers at such times as these.
It is now only 10 o’clock and the day seems very long. We now get up between 3 and 4 and someone remarked in Philadelphia he could not sleep in the afternoon but here he could sleep all the time. It makes a great difference being in the open air all the time.
This last week has flown by very fast to me as we have had considerable to keep up the excitement. I now have finished all I have to say. Tell Ma she must not expect me to write as your letters will answer. I always let you know all the news. Give her my love as well as Katy, Grandma, your father, Cassie, Effie, and all with a great deal of love to yourself.
I am yours devotedly, forever, — J. C. B.
1 The 17th Pennsylvania Infantry was ordered to Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland, on 10 June, 1861, and was assigned to the Seventh Brigade, Third Division, Army of Pennsylvania, under the command of Colonel Charles Pomeroy Stone, 14th United States Infantry, by Special Orders No.96, Paragraph I, Headquarters, Department of Pennsylvania, Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia, on 10 July, 1861. Col. Stone was reportedly the first volunteer to enter the Union Army, and during the war he served as a general officer, noted for his involvement at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in October 1861. Held responsible for the Union defeat, Stone was arrested and imprisoned for almost six months, mostly for political reasons. He never received a trial, and after his release he would not hold a significant command during the war again.
2 Gen. George Cadwalader was in command of Fort McHenry. See Lincoln and Taney’s great writ showdown.