According to newspaper articles published in December 1861, there were only four infantry regiments at Camp Curtin being raised at the time—the 57th Penn, the 101st Penn., the 54th Penn., and the 56th Penn. Only the first two of these were nearly full and about ready to be sent to the front. The only name of those mentioned in the letter than is recognizable is Lt. George Supplee who served as the 1st Lt. in Co. I, 57th Pennsylvania Infantry. I could not find any of the enlisted men’s names in this company, however. Perhaps their company was split up and reassigned to fill out the other companies. There was a Thomas Hamilton in Co. F, for example.
I could not make out the signature at the bottom of the second page—if in fact it is a signature.
[Near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania]
December 8th 1861
Dear Brother and Sister,
When I last wrote you I did not expect to address you again from Camp Curtin. The Colonel went to see the Governor and then he was ordered to remain in camp till each of his companies were filled to the number 83. We have now 11 companies in the regiment and by breaking up one, will fill the rest above that complement.
We were ordered out of camp yesterday and have to leave tomorrow afternoon or Tuesday. Where we are going, I don’t know, but will leave this week for certain. I have no particular news that would interest you. Since my last we had the painful duty of sending two corpses home out of our company and three out of the regiment. They were very rugged men when they first came. they all leave families behind them. It is still sickly. Five out of our company are in the hospital, two are dangerous, 12 others are unable to do duty.
Thomas Hamilton has been poorly for the last three weeks but is some better. [First] Lieut. George Supplee has had the quinsy. He took it the day after he came to camp, was very bad. He was taken to the city [and] is well now but looks slim after starving a week. Going home was the cause of it. The rest of us are well. Some are getting as fat as hogs. William Zah has gained 16 lbs. I have 8. So I suppose that you would not believe me if I did tell you that we did not get enough to eat. But a great many complain.
Last week William Zah and James Elbert and myself went in the mountains in pursuit of apples and persimmons. The latter I never heard of till I came to camp. They grow in the mountains and are cultivated by some of the farmers. They are larger than crab apples, are not good till they have been frozen once or twice. They they get very soft. They have a sweet taste. They are very delicious. The tree grows taller than the apple.
We saw the nicest farms and barns that I ever beheld. The barns look like some splendid mansions. Oh! but the farmers do hate the soldiers and not much wonder. Some of the soldiers draw more from the farmers than they do from Uncle Sam, particular in the line of chickens, turkeys, sheep, hogs, cabbage, potatoes, and all such dainties as these. But I must say to the credit of our company that they have not brought one thing into camp that was stole. But few can say that. Some of the boys boast that a rooster can’t crow within four miles of camp. Not infrequently will two or three boys of a company break guard and bring in 15 or 20 chicks and a couple of turkeys. It is diverting to hear some of the farmers tell their stories about the way they are treated by the soldiers. They told us “Dat when de come, we gives dem apples, and suppers, and den dey go away and steal mine chickens and gobblers already.” We got a good supper and were invited back.
We were all through the [illegible] the Capitol [of Harrisburg]. Oh! but this is a nice place. Here is where the rich and wealthy are buried. Monuments and tombstones are here that cost 4,000 dollars. We visited the Insane Asylum and was all through it. Oh! it would pay a man to go 200 miles to see this building. There are 258 inmates. Oh! but they are kept as nice and clean. No city hotel is kept nicer. They are very obliging. They do their washing by steam and heat the house the same way.
But I am spinning this longer than I intended. Simeon Cameron, Secretary of War, was in camp on yesterday and it is reported that he ordered this camp to be evacuated in two weeks on account of the sickness and that they need this camp in Kentucky more than here. I can’t vouch for the truth of this rumor but the Colonel has ordered us to be ready to [illegible].
I will drop you a line when we stop. We have had very pleasant weather for the last week.