1863: Unknown “Theo” to Sister “Hetty”

How Theo might have looked

How Theo might have looked

I have yet to figure out the identity of the author of this letter who signed his name “Theo” which was probably short for Theodore or Theophilus. It seems clear that Theodore was a native of Newark, New Jersey, and that he was probably born about 1840. He addressed the letter to “Sister Hetty” and there is also a mention of three other individuals who may have been siblings — Will, Nettie, and Adeline. He mentions his mother but not his father. Unfortunately there is no envelope to aid in the identification.

The letter contains a delightful description of the reception received by the 26th New Jersey Infantry when they returned to Newark at the end of their 9-month term of service. The 26th New Jersey saw action during the Battle of Fredericksburg and Chancerlorville. They were also involved in the first action of the Gettysburg Campaign where they were called upon to spearhead the crossing of the Rappahanock at Franklin’s Crossing. The New Jersey 26th was primarily composed of men from northern New Jersey. Company E was primarily German immigrants from Newark. They were mustered out of the service at Newark on 27 June 1863, just days before the Battle of Gettysburg.


Newark [New Jersey]
June 19th 1863

Sister Hetty,

I received your letter last Friday morning but was so busy all day Friday and Saturday that I thought I would wait till Sunday to answer. But Saturday night who should come in the store but George Kerper. ¹ He came from Reading alone so the good times I expected with my visitors didn’t come. As he was only going to stay till Monday, we couldn’t get up a spree. Sunday morning, something unusual, I was out of bed early and went to church with him. After church we met some of the boys and took a tramp around and then went home. I thought I would write in the afternoon but about two o’clock, Kerper came up home and we started down to the 1st Baptist Church to the Sunday School anniversary. But before getting there we met some of the boys, and as the weather was pretty hot, we concluded to take a walk instead. So we walked about looking at the style and gradually getting additions to our party till we numbered ten, when we went to [Theodore] Runyon’s office ² and sat till supper time. At night I went to church (of course) so you see I was pretty busy.

George was to leave Monday noon and said Sunday night that he would see us before he went, but no one has seen or heard anything of him since, so we suppose he made an early start Monday morning. And I shouldn’t wonder if he was in the army again.

Monday was a tremendous hot day and it was more than I could do to keep half comfortable doing nothing, let alone writing. It was the hottest day we have had yet this year. Every day since something or other has turned up to prevent me writing.

Today, the 26th [New Jersey Regiment] will be home. We have been expecting them for a week past and it was supposed by a great many persons that they would volunteer to serve in Pennsylvania. But at two o’clock this afternoon, the signal was given that they were coming. Twelve strokes on the tower bell repeated three times. The soldiers and firemen have turned out and everything looks like the Fourth of July. I have just come up from downtown. There is more excitement there than up here. The streets are jammed with people. Everybody who can scare up a flag has it out. The soldiers and firemen are on Military Park forming to escort them up to camp. On the upper park, they have a cannon to amuse themselves with when the regiment arrives. The last heard of them was at half past two when they were passing through Princeton so I suppose it will be six o’clock before they get here.

There has been quite an excitement here since the rebels invaded Pennsylvania. Several of the nine months New Jersey Regiments have volunteered for thirty days to go to Pennsylvania. The 1st Regiment has also volunteered and the companies are busy recruiting. Martin Provost’s company, ³ over Grant’s store, has their flags out and drums beating all day long. It looks like old times when the war first commenced. A great many of the boys are going — Tom and Ed Meeker among them. Neil [Cornelius] Mersereau is also going. I wish I could get off. It would be a nice little excursion. If I would go, Jack Baldwin and Jack Haulenbeck [Hollenbeck] would go along and we would have a nice little party. But it is no use talking. They are so foolish up home.

Nell got a letter from you yesterday morning. She answered it this afternoon. How do you like it out there? Was any of your bottles or crockery broken? Mrs. Agens got home a week ago. She gave a full description of your journey as far as she was with you.

Friday evening. The regiment has got in. They reached Chestnut Street about five o’clock where they were received and escorted up Broad Street to Military Park by the 1st Regiment and the firemen, together with the Common Council and a brass band. The show was said to have been very fine but I did not see it as the uptown folks had, as usual, to take the part of second fiddle. On Military Park, they were furnished with beer and some eatables, after which they were all dismissed to report at camp Monday morning. We were allowed the privilege of seeing Capt. [John H.] Higginson’s [Company I] and the Bloomfield companies march up to the depot as our portion of the show. The excitement was tremendous. The streets were jammed — just such a time as when the 1st Regiment came back nearly two years ago.

They are a rough looking set — black, dirty, and lousy. They are nearly all down on the government and declare that nothing will tempt them to go back.

The 1st Regiment expect to get off tomorrow. The companies are not near filled, however.

How are you off for strawberries? It is just the right time for them now and we have them in plenty. The cherries are getting ripe but they are not as plentiful as they might be.

I found Will’s money all right. We have put thirty-five cents more to it that Mother got by selling some old rags she found in your collection. We each put in a cent a week so you see his pile is increasing. We will soon have enough to put in the bank. I am beginning to have faith in Mother’s old doctor. She is getting a great deal better. I am doctoring with him myself for my throat. Mother would have him to look at it the last time he called. He says it is pretty bad, that I had not ought to have let it gone on so long without doing anything for it, but he thinks he can cure it. So I told him to go ahead.

Mother got that shirt pattern from Adeline and I sent it Wednesday along with the Sentinel. Let me know whether you get it regular. It is getting late and I am getting sleepy, so I will close up the crib and go home.

Write soon and I will answer immediately. Your brother, — Theo.

¹ George B. Kerper (1839-1913) served with the 128th Pennsylvania Infantry. He was born and educated in Reading, Pennsylvania. As a young man, he engaged in business in Newark, New Jersey, where he undoubtedly made the acquaintance of the author of this letter. While with the 128th Pennsylvania, George participated in the battles at Antietam and Chancellorsville. He rose from the rank of private to quartermaster-sergeant. After the war, he got into the tanning business and later in the transportation business.

² Theodore Runyon (1822-1896) was a United States politician, diplomat, and American Civil War brigadier general in the New Jersey Militia, serving with the Union Army at the Battle of First Bull Run. Runyon was a lawyer before the Civil War and mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Runyon served as mayor of Newark from 1864 to 1866. He had previously been city attorney and city counsel. 

³ Martin B. Provost was the proprietor of a tool-making store at 3 North Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey in 1863.


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