The PX, 1863 style
A typical World War II PX in Europe
Veterans of the armed forces will recognize the significance of the two-letter acronym, PX. Short for Post Exchange, the PX was the name given to the base or camp’s mercantile store. There, a soldier could spend part of his paycheck on personal sundries, stationary and stamps to write home, refreshments and beverages, and gift items. During the Civil War, with the armies normally out in the field on campaign, the sutlers and merchandisers had to take their goods to where the buyers were. They hitched up teams of mules or draft horses, piled their goods and trinkets into wagons, carts, or buggies, and followed the armies into the field. Sometimes, their proximity to the front lines created problems for both the soldiers and sutlers.
Shortly before the Second Battle of Winchester (June 13-14) in the Shenandoah Valley, Union Major General Robert H. Milroy evacuated his lengthy train of supply wagon to protect it from capture by the oncoming Confederate corps of Richard S. Ewell. The train halted at Bunker Hill and parked to allow the weary teamsters to feed their horses and mules, and to allow the passengers and guards to rest. Their attention was drawn to a scout galloping down the road, bringing the alarming news that 2,000 Confederate cavalrymen were bearing down on the place. The wagon master hustled the teamsters to hitch the wagons and form into a column on the road. Once in place, he gave the orders to move out, and the procession arrived at a bridge over the Opequon Creek.
More than 300 Pennsylvania and Ohio infantrymen guarded the bridge, with strict orders that only army teamsters could cross until the last wagon was safely across. A Jewish sutler who accompanied the army had apparently missed the call to resume the march. He came running up on foot and attempted to scamper onto the bridge. When Private John C. Hoffman of the 87th Pennsylvania stopped him, the peddler desperately exclaimed in broken English, “Och, mine Got in Himmel! lass mir ga, lass mir ga! All mine goots in that train!”
Unconcerned that the merchant was separated from his sutler’s wagon, Hoffman obeyed his orders and firmly denied passage to the frantic man. Once the last heavy wagon had rumbled across the old bridge, Hoffman allowed the peddler to rush on. As he did so, he was murmuring, as if in deepest agony, “De Rebels git all my tings, all mine goots.” Down the first hill, and over the next, lumbered the wagon train, raising clouds of thick dust. The wagons disappeared before the Rebels came into view, and before the anguished sutler got across the bridge.