This letter was written by a barely literate soldier—most likely a private—named William R. Steel, if I have transcribed his name correctly. He wrote the letter to his father who I presume was “Mr. Solomon Steel” as was written near the bottom of the letter. Unfortunately I cannot find any soldier who fits the profile of this soldier with a father named Solomon.
The letter was penned in early August 1862 but no location was given. Again I’m going to presume it was written in the East by a soldier who participated on the Peninsula Campaign but I might be mistaken. The hand writing is actually more suggestive of an Indiana soldier but I cannot find any early war soldier from Indiana with that name. There was a William R. Steel who served as a private in the 1st Indiana Cavalry but he did join as a recruit until 1863.
The letter was written on stationery with a lithograph of Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck who was named Lincoln’s General in Chief after McClellan’s failed Peninsula Campaign. The stationery was produced by the James Gates company of Cincinnati, Ohio.
The 6th of August 1862
I sit down to let you [know] that I am well at present and hope that you are the same. I got your letter the 4th of this month. You wanted to know if I was wounded or not. I was in the right leg below the knee but it is well now.
I guess I will get my discharge. My arm is very lame now.
This letter was written by Walter Lackey (1841-1898) of Philadelphia, who enlisted as a private in Co. K, 95th Pennsylvania Infantry (“Gosline’s Zouaves”) in October 1861. At the time of his enlistment he was described as a 20 year-old, 5’9″ tall, blue-eyed, light-haired printer. He was discharged with disability in June 1864.
The men of the 95th Pennsylvania had a long and glorious record of achievement on the battlefield. They wore an “Americanized” zouave uniform. Later in the war, they turned in their scarlet pants, scarlet trimed kepis, and tan gaiters, but the jacket, and vest still remained, and they wore the zouave jacket, and vest up until their regiment was mustered out at the end of the war. The regiment lost six field officers during the war: two colonels, two lieutenant-colonels, a major and an adjutant; this is the second highest total of officer casualties for any Union regiment during the war.
According to a notice posted in the Bridgeton Pioneer (New Jersey) on 21 April 1898, Walter “dropped dead at his home” in Philadelphia. He was only 55.
Other letters and diaries by members of the 95th Pennsylvania transcribed & published on Spared & Shared include: Joshua Thompson, Co. A/H, 95th Pennsylvania (Union/1 Letter) Samuel Clayton, Co. D, 95th Pennsylvania (2 Diaries) Edward Riggs, Co. K, 95th Pennsylvania (Union/1 Letter)
Camp of the 95th Regt. Penn. Vols. Near Warrenton, Va. October 24, 1863
I received your letter and owe thee an apology for not writing to thee before. But the truth is, I have not written to anyone but the folks at home. It is not necessary to tell thee all about our summer campaign to prove that it has been a severe one.
The last ten days has also been an eventful period to our army and may be the cause of a change in command of this army. It is rumored that Gen. Meade is about to be superseded by Gen. Dan Sickles. I have surmised for some time that such would be the case. The fact is, Gen. Meade is getting much too popular for that consummate villain H. W. Halleck. I can’t see what the President means by the course he is pursuing in regard to the army. My eyes have been opened lately by many facts in regards to officers which I had been led to believe were “loyal to the core,” but who are sympathizers with the rebels. It is a sad reality that our lives are at the mercy of such men. They are fully competent to command and as brave as the bravest, but their hearts are not in the cause.
I believe Gen. Meade to be brave and patriotic, and that our Corps General Sedgwick is also loyal, but there are division and brigade generals in our Corps who are wanting in patriotic motives. Our regiment is in the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 6th Corps, commanded respectively by Generals Bartlett, Wright, and Sedgwick.
Last week we evacuated the line of the Rapidan and fell back to Centreville without any loss to our Corps. On Monday we again moved forward and are now lying at Warrenton—a very pretty little place, but shows signs of decay which are the fruits of the rebellion. The inhabitants are of course “Secesh” in feeling, but they have a great liking for Uncle Sam’s “greenbacks.” They sell very high. For instance, yesterday I wished to buy a few cakes (having got tired of hard tack) and I went into town and bought a dozen for 50 cents. The cakes were about two inches in diameter. Cabbage sells for 30 cents a head, butter $1.25 cents a pound and everything else in proportion.
The rebels in falling back from Manassas destroyed all the small culverts and tore up the track of the railroad. Consequently our supplies have to be brought in wagons from Gainesville.
I feel very well satisfied with the result of the election in Ohio and Pennsylvania and hope that New York will not go astray.
There is no signs of the army going into winter quarters although there is some talk of it. We are today having a heavy storm and I suppose cold weather will follow. Give my regards to thy father, mother, and the rest of the family. I should be pleased to hear from thee at thy earliest convenience.