Washington Township woman recounts the Gettysburg Campaign and the 87th Pennsylvania
Cannonball reader Jim Brown is a long-time collector of old Civil War letters. He recently read my piece on the Amish and other conscientious objectors in York County, Pennsylvania, during the war. It reminded him of one of the letters in his extensive collection, which he was kind enough to transcribe, edit a bit for clarity of sentence structure, and then forward it to me to share with our readers.
Dear Mr. Mingus,
“Just finished reading your wonderful piece in “Viewpoints” about the Amish during the Civil War. Thanks for writing it; I learned a lot.
As a long time collector of Civil War letters, I immediately thought of a letter in my collection from an Amish (Pennsylvania Dutch ?) lady describing what the farmers were doing as two great armies advanced into Pennsylvania only to meet at a little town called Gettysburg. The letters date is June 26, 1863.
I must warn you that it is somewhat difficult to read. Many words are spelled phonetically and I have included punctuation for easier reading. It is transcribed exactly as it was written. It’s most interesting to read what they were doing with their farm animals to hide them from the rebels.
I hope you enjoy it.”
With Jim’s permission, here is the fascinating letter from Phebe Angeline Smith, who lived in Washington Township in northwestern York County. Members of the Smith family were visited by the Rebels during the Gettysburg Campaign. Mrs. Smith writes to her sister on June 26, 1863, the day before the Confederates begin streaming into western York County on multiple roads from Adams County.
1876 map of Washington Township showing Asahel Walker’s farm and Israel and Phebe Angeline’s nearby farm.
June the 26, 1863
Most cherished sister
This being a verry wet day and I have my baking dun, I thought I could not put my time to better use that to take a chat with you so in they first place is to tell you that we are all ingoying they blessing of good health which I hope you have that same privilage to enjoy. we have had verry fine growing wether this last two weeks which is chearing to all hearts as we had sutch a drye smoky time for about two months which showed all apearenses of hard times. our saviour onely knows what is to become of us of this world as they people seams to be getting more and morr wicked every day.
well sister dear is thare such exciting times out thare. it appears that thoes suthern people are braking over and still drawing thare force onward to our country every day but we hope they will soon be checked. thare is a grate armey and they report says two armeys are or ware yesterday laying six miles to they right of Getisburg stile drawing this way. wonderfull excitement amongst they people. they manolevner (manuever) and all round on down to Bragtown are hurrying thare stock out of they rebels reach. thare is strings of horses goes they state rode over a quarter of a mile long.
thare was over a hundred lodged in they bridg over here. they neighbours round here was going to start a way with thares but have made up thare minds to wait a day or so. Lewis Larue brought his paps horses down yesterday going on down to cross they river over into Lancaster is whare they are nearly all aiming for as thare has bin a proclimation sent on I think by they govener that they men are (not) to take thare stock across they river till he can send men on to clear they rebels out.
we heard that they had got as far as Pietersburg yesterday but that has bin contradicted as it was a lot of our own soldiers. thare is so many reports that not half is true. they truth is thrilling enough but they reports far worse. It was first reported that they ware 90 thousand strong but it has bin reduced to 60,000. we cant tell whether that is corect or not. they report says that they take all of our boys and men that they can get and press them in thare army.
they have taken all they colored people old and yong from Chambersburg and take all they clothing they can get. they tok 5 hundred barrel of flower (from) one mans mill. thoes suthern simpathisers are copperheads, as they call themselves, are getting out of thare way as fast as our union men. they wardent afraid till thare was one man wanted they rebels to leve him cuple his horses as he told them he belonged to that party so they general orded him and his horses to be taken. he sayed thay ware worse than they union men. I hope that wiil as well as other cases cool that party down for they are traters to thare country and also to they south. thare is nearly all of our neighbors have joined them but they are beginning to see thare folly.
I hope you don’t think that I have eny thought that Thomas belongs. so far we all have a better opinion of him than that. thare is better domocrats about here that don’t belong than does. Father says he don’t want to have anything to do with eny that belong to sutch a party. I don’t want you to think that I am so partial to one party. for thare is good democrats as Americans but I do think it is a sin to turn traters to ones own country and wish our country to be destroyed and our men all cut up. it is they traters that have caused this war to last so long.
It is sed that they Suffolk Malitia have all gon to Harrisburg preparing to have a battle wharever thay meet they enemy. I hope they will get along well and unhurt though if they must go to they battlefield at all it will be better in our own country than so far off for then thare friends can see after them but oh it is to hard to think of. what day they enemy may be on hare we don’t know but I hope this wont be thare battle ground but we cant tell whare it will hit but they say it will be soon.
well sister I received a (letter) from brother Garret on last week. he was wel. it seams to do him so much good that we all write to him so often. he sayed he had got a letter from you which was grate satisfaction to him. his little gurl that is they babe is verry poorly and we cant trust to go down to see it on account of this awfull rhumor. we ware aging to go today and we don’t trust for we cant tell how soon our homes will be in daingoar (danger). I hope this war will soon be over.
now I must tell you they awfull news and hardships of our 87 boys (87th PA Infantry) thare. Captain Wells Farow (Farrah) was killed. they ware surrounded by they rebels and had no other way than to fite thare way through and poor second lutenant Micle Slothower killed. he was first wounded then killed. they report is that Perry Mahr sayed that when thare was one wonded they enemy would run thare bayonets throug them an kill them. it is sayed that Psriats brother was taken prisoner also Jake Stuthow killed, Andrew Smith wonded and many others that regiment sufferd badly. they report is that thare is only about 60 slipped clear. thare is some come home that run off and traveled through they mountains four days without a bite to eat.
well sister I supose you would like to read something mor chearing than thoes awfull news but I could not print all they reports that we have heard on six sutch sheets of paper. it is best to always view they brightest side of sutch reports. they best is hard enough.
you wanted to know why Lidia Jane don’t write. it is thoug neglect far as I can tell. she often talks of writing. they live in they end of they house that brother Galt had lived in and Mary Ann went down to stay with her people till Galt comes back if he is spared. she took some corn and flower and meet and one two horse lode of things sutch as they childrens crib and cradle and dotry and bed and so Larue expects to move away as soon as Galt comes back if we are not disturbed bythey rebels. don’t let thoes things trouble you for it don’t disturb our minds. we all hope for they best. they last comfort is that they cant mor than take our lives if they do get this far but our soles they cant get but we are not troubled about them come yet.
I run down and got Jos. Vale to go to see what news he could find, he came home last knight stating they rebels was not nearder than Gettisburg so we can rest easy. Jos. has only one boy and perhaps it will be all they ever will have. Israel came home last knight to see if I was friting and so he went back to work again. he is working at Harbolts mill about 3 mile. father and mother is not alarmed yet. they are both failing fast. I think mother is they worst some days. they seam right well and others not. fathers old complaining goes against him a good bit. he also is troubled with they kidney disease troubles him a good bit.
sister thee know best but I think thee will never have mor satisfied with out dear old parents here after that this fall if thee can anyway make it suit to come to see them as life is unsertin and they are old. as for Lewis farming they thought and father advised them not to go so deep in debt as to commense farming (and it would suit for Lewis to farm for father but I don’t want to say anything more). he is of a wondering mind. aunt Lydia is still living. she seam tolerable. well this summer we have not heard from uncle Enoc for some time. we burried old John Setter wife about two weeks ago. she suffered long.
well, I will half to close. it is time for me to go and feed. I have fine luck with little chickens this summer. my garden looks well. I have cabage, they leaves are larger than a 75 cent bucket. it is lurning to head fast, beans to cook, also potatoes. I have some planted that theo sent to get they cook nice. them yams never come up this spring is time growing and how does your sweet potatoes doe. I helped father at they hay last week. him and Lidia Jane and I hawled they most of thare hay.
I think thare will be but little fruit at my kind. corn looked very backward but this is fine growing wether hare. maybe corn plenty yet. don’t let yourself be troubled about this war. If we are still in mor daingour I will write soon. I for my part don’t feel uneasy for thare is a grate force of our men at Harisburg. I only hope they wont mite them anywhere about here to have thar battle ground. they neighbors are all well far as I know of. thare has not bin a time for two year that it was as healthy as now.
well now I think I will half to close and hope you will write soon and tell all they news so I bid you a heart felt farewell for this time.
from your well wisher,
Phebe Angeline Smith
Copyright 2009, Jim Brown, used by written permission.
Here is some additional information that I recently found about the lady who wrote the letter Jim shared with me. Phebe Angeline (Walker) Smith was born on May 3, 1838, in Washington Township. She was a member of the Warrington Friends Church, but records indicate she withdrew her name when she married out of the order. She was a daughter of Asahel P. Walker. She was married January 7, 1858, to Israel B. Smith.
Four days after Phebe wrote the letter to her sister, her own family met the dreaded Rebels.
Her father lost a 9-yr-old bay mare, 9-yr-old bay horse, 2 halters & straps to J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. Son-in-law Israel Smith was moving them to safety when he was overtaken after going 1/2 mile from Walker’s farm. Walker later filed a damage claim for $351.50. (York County Border Claims, State Archives, Harrisburg).