Thursday, December 6, 2007

A One Of A Kind Soldier Letter From The Civil War

When doing military history research you always hope you come across a great find, well here is one a truly wonderful letter written by the Surgeon of 20th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Dr. Charles H. Haeseler who resided in Schuylkill County during the war and had a practice in Pottsville. Dr. Haeseler entered the service in Capt. T. S. Richards Cavalry Company on July 2, 1863. On the 10th, while his company lay at Harrisburg, he was commissioned Assistant Surgeon and assigned to the 20th Pa. Cavalry Regiment, Co; John E. Wynkoop. Dr. Haeseler had medical charge of the regiment during its six month service. His care and attention to the command as the surgeon, was highly appreciated, that the members of the regiment presented him with a fine handsome sword.

Charles H. Haeseler Surgeon 20th Pennsylvania Cavalry…6 Months

Springfield, West Virginia
December 16, 1863

Dear Journal; I have always liked you, but never realized your sterling worth as much as now, that your weekly visits bring me tidings from the community I love so well. In one of your late numbers I have read Mr. Torrey’s beautiful little poem mid associations that added a peculiar charm to it. Imagine a dilapidated Virginia log house, whose sash less windows closed over with thick canvass, admitting daylight of a kind only whose spectral solemnity almost frightens me. But now it is night and my quarters is illuminated partly by the dim flames of a candle, and chiefly by the burning logs in a huge hearth, for stones are fabulous productions hereabouts. On the floor by my side are lying, in sublime disregard of all taste and sobriety, my associate Assistant Surgeon, the Hospital Steward, and several nurses-male nurses, if you please sleeping, perchance dreaming of the devoted wives, “heroic maids” they left in goodly homes. Implements of war are scattered all around, and my eyes in glancing along the logged walls that modestly surround me light upon sabers, pistols, carbines, saddles, bridles, boots, blankets and all the garniture of cavalry warfare in indiscriminate profusion. A military blanket box is the table on which I am writing and a cracker box my chair. Thus it was when I read that “God is with the right” And then I drew my seat before the blazing fire in the hearth, solemnly smoked a cigar, and watched the flame with its beautiful ultramarine base, ascending in sig zag turrets of bright ochre from the scarlet embers of the burning pine. With this before me and the poetry in my soul, I thought of home. The home whose peaceful inmates were happily wrapped in quiet slumber-and the poetry whose author was imbibing inspiration from dreams of other visions. Do you know dear Journal, I think that all of the comfort that soldiers have, thus scattered from their homes and friends, aside from that derived from the consciousness of doing their whole duty-is in these quiet reveries; these solitary musings of the soul with the spirit abroad of those we love. But a truce to the sentimentalism! Yet if I do not bolster my letter plentifully with thoughts from the army, it will be but a small production, for important news are scarce in this vicinity.
Our regiment was ordered to this place from Sir John’s Run about two weeks ago. Our march was over a tract of the enemy’s country, a distance of about sixty miles. This Springfield is a small nest of unscrupulous rebels, in whom I could excite no charitable feeling for the suffering sick under my charge; but had to accommodate them as best I could in this miserable hut, without any of the little attentions and delicacies which I see in the Journal, the good ladies of Pottsville lavish so kindly on the soldiers here. Indeed it fills my heart with joy whenever I read of their benevolent actions, and I feel proud to call attention of everybody to them. God bless the ladies everywhere, who are thus devoted to the soldiers. In centuries to come their deeds will be alluded to as the most sacred of all the associations of the infamous rebellion. We are engaged here in scouting about the country, as we say, “in the front”. This morning a hundred of our men led by the gallant youth Capt. Singheiser, returned from five days scout. In which they marched about ninety miles in the interior, destroyed an important furnace to the rebels, captured eight mules, some horses, and at least of all, about a dozen lean, miserable, hungry looking Butternuts. The furnaces destroyed was the Columbia furnace which the soldiers of our army had no time reached heretofore.
In about two weeks our term of service will expire though there seems to be a strong disposition with a large portion of the regiment to reenlist for three years. A remarkable fact, and one much worthy of mention, is that though the regiment has had quite a number wounded in guerilla fights; was exposed last summer to undergo forced marches during the very wet weather that we had after the battle of Gettysburg, followed by a protracted heated term in July and august, during which the men suffered greatly form dysentery and diarrhea; though they were encamped during the entire Fall on the banks of the upper Potomac, a country much infected with malariuos minsums, causing an abundance of intermittent and other fevers; though we never had less than a hundred and fifty sick to report at the end of each month, yet we had not had a single death to mare the pleasures of our friends at home. I don not think there is another regiment in the service, that had served six months and can say the same itself. And as one of its medical officers. I feel an indescribable joy and satisfaction at this fortunate result.
W have among us a character so decidedly unique and original, that – as he may not have another opportunity to shine in public print, I will give him the benefit of a big notice. Old Pete is the only name that our regimental Farrier is known by. He is a German by birth, and sixty seven years of age. He arrived in this country about the time of the Florida War; joined our army then and has been in ever since-a period of about twenty one years. He was in the Texan and afterwards in the Mexican War; serving in the latter regiment commanded by Jeff Davis. He has been through the whole Peninsula campaign in Virginia during the rebellion. He was wounded at least a dozen different times. Once at the Battle of Buena Vista, a Mexican shell took a portion of his skull away leaving a cavity in his head into which I have laid the ends of two fingers. At one time in Florida, an Indian rushed upon him with uplifted tomahawk, and struck for his head; but missing that descended upon his left hand while Pete was charging bayonet on him, cutting the hand almost in twain. I asked Pete how he got rid of the Indian. “Got rid of him?” said he with broad accent, “Why I did run the copper colored rascal through mit mine bayonet, dats how I got rid of him.” At another time a Mexican was lying on the ground feigning death during one of the battles. Pete gave him a kick and passed on; but had not progressed far when a shot from the Mexicans musket grazed his leg. He immediately turned around upon the enemy, and did not give up the pursuit till he had dispatched him too. He served in the battles before Richmond as a gunner under General Doubleday, who thought a great deal of him. But poor Pete’s mind is at times a little weak, from the effects of that injury to his brain at Buena Vista, though his general health is as good as ever. He was never married, and probably never will be, as he likes the soldier’s life for its own sake. It has become his business his trade, and he would be the unhappy fellow outside the army. At night he lies down on the ground, no matter what kind of weather, wrapped up in his overcoat, without any other shelter. He said to me one day, when I asked him about his heath, “Oh, I feels always good when I drinks no whiskey. Mine head is a little weak, but I knows everything what I dos when I drinks plenty cold water; aver when I drinks shuts one leetle whiskey, den I bees right away one damn fool.”
Unfortunately, however, Pete is just weak minded enough not to resist the temptations at al times and occasionally gets very top heavy. Aside from this he is as great a hero as many a one who are exploits are recorded on the pages of history. The other day I was pained indeed, to find this old man after all the service he rendered to our country; after all the honorable scars he had received in its defense had been ruthlessly thrust in a common guard house, for trespassing on the exclusive privilege of commissioned officers-the privilege of getting ,”tight”.
Another quaint genius among us is Bellford, the one armed private. He lost left arm in one of the battles of the rebellion, and was discharged. His home is in Virginia, some twenty miles from here. He asked to be taken into the regiment as a guide, and as he was said to be well acquainted with all the country hereabouts, he was accepted. He does not appear to have the remotest idea of any such thing as fear, for he frequently rides out by himself beyond the outpost of pickets, and scouts about the country infested with guerrillas and bushwhackers with perfect abandon. His ear is as quick as a hawk’s and any noise he hears, or the remotest glimmer of a light he sees, he will drop his horses bridle and take his pistol instead, letting the horse go quietly along; guided only by his knees, until he discovers the source of his alarm. Every now and then he comes back with several prisoners. A few days ago he alone – this one armed man, brought in six armed rebels as prisoners of war. When he came across them, after having ascertained their number he immediately advanced on them calling back to an imaginary force behind him to “Charge !” The Rebs hearing this command, at once there down their arms and gave themselves up, and he marched them in front of him into our camp with the greatest imaginable nonchalance.
After all there is a great deal in this soldier life that is very attractive; and although its tediousness and monotony grow heavy on a person at times yet how many thousands are there who after having returned from it to civil life, soon become anxious and impatient to don again the uniform they were so eager to put off. And they grow square shouldered and fat withal. Do you know, my dear Journal, that I am just finding out what a scientific thing this soldier’s fare is? The men who invented it ought to have a patent, a leather medal, and the everlasting gratitude of mankind. Coffee and “Hard Tack”, bacon and bean soup. “I doff my sandals as I tread before you!” You see, we grease the lining of our stomach with a piece of fat bacon and that fortifies it against the sharp edges of the hard tack. Well, after we drink the coffee, these angular pieces will keep floating and dodging about on it making the old stomach believe it doesn’t want anything more. Then at noon we feast on bean soup, the thin portion of which being generally absorbed by evening, we drink more coffee; this swells the remaining beans up again, and fools the stomach with the idea of being satisfied till morning. Now I appeal to the good sense of everybody, whether this isn’t a capital invention. So simple too, withal, and so perfectly consistent with much of this dear world of ours by observing a system of such splendid deception.
Another discovery that I have made in this my military life, is tin relation to sleeping on the floor instead of a bed, and here are the arguments in its favor. In the forst place, you cannot fall out of bed and break a limb; secondarly, no evil minded person can hide under the bed by day and come out at night to steal your purse; thirdly, no possible emergency can make the slats break or the rope tear, fourthly and lastily, you are always ready to take up yur bed and walk. Now, if I have not convinced you the utility of a a soft floor for a bed, and your elbow for a pillow, then I will incontinently knock under.
Charles H. Haeseler

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