The following letter was written by Pvt. Thomas Neely (1836-1864) of Co. E, 87th Pennsylvania Infantry. This regiment was organized in September 1861 and was assigned guard duty on the Northern Central Railroad from the Pennsylvania line to Baltimore, Maryland, until May 1862. Though undated, this letter was probably written early in 1862. At the bottom of the letter we learn that the regiment was posted at Philopolis. That village doesn’t exist today; the area became known as “Sparks’ Switch” or simply Sparks. Thomas did not survive the war; he was killed in action on 22 June 1864 near Petersburg, Virginia.
Thomas was born in Ireland and from his handwriting we can tell that he had a limited education. His father was David Neely (1800-1871) but little else is known about him. He mustered in at York, one of the many men from that county who were of Scotch-Irish or German descent.
For more on the 87th Pennsylvania, I urge readers to see Dennis W. Brandt’s book, “From Home Guards to Heroes” available at Barnes & Noble or as an e-Book. The following image comes from that book:
Headquarters 87th [Pennsylvania] Regiment, Co. E
My dear friend,
I inform you that I am well at present time. I hope you enjoy the same. Now I let you know how I’m getting along. I’m getting along bully. We live here like a king. We have plenty to eat and drink and good sport. It’s been too wet this while past to drill but we go out and shoot deers and foxes and so on okay. I tell you, we live independent down here. We live fat rat & saucy. They nearly all have the Virginia heartburn. If you don’t know what that is, you’ll remember if you tear two holes in your trouser seat. That’s Virginia heartburn.
I met with a sad mistake. I and a lot of fellers got to cutting up on a little sleigh and run down the hill and fell off and tore all my harness off myself. A whole lot of girls [were] standing a piece off laughing themselves crooked. More than that, we have great fun with the Maryland darkies. At night on guard, we still halt them and make them come in our shanty and make then dance before we let them go.
Now I want you to let me know something about Elizabeth and tell her to write to me if she please be so kind and let me know how she gets along.
We lay between the creek and railroad, do them little guarding, and see nothing but hills ad hollers. God damn my pen. It won’t write worth a damn ad I am as nervous as a hog when she comes out of a pruch [?] pile into a puddle hole. Now write me a letter and tell me something new. If you live too lonesome up there that you don’t hear any news, make some good news yourself and send it down. I hear nothing new from up there or wo where else. I like to hear something new. If you are too mean to answer this, I’ll kick every booker [?] of yours if I come up there. All too lazy to write. I been writing all along and nobody writes to me. We had a party at the factory and I shouldered a calf and carried it home and we had a feast of it. No more at present time. So good bye for this time.
Direct your letter to Thomas Neely, Philopolis, Baltimore county, Maryland in care of Capt. Myers.
Answer this letter as soon as you get it.