1861: Cassie to Jennie

How Cassie might have looked

How Cassie might have looked

The identity of these two correspondents have not yet been discovered but it seems pretty clear that the author — a young impressionable girl who signed her name “Cassie” — was residing in Union (or possibly Menno) Township of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania in 1861. There were only two villages in Union Township — Mechanicsburg and Belleville — and the people and places mentioned in Cassie’s letter suggest she resided in or near the latter village. It appears that Cassie lived with her Mother and “Pa” and she also mentions a “Sallie” and a “Wil” who were probably siblings; she may have also had an older sibling named Samuel who no longer resided with the family but lived in the county, possibly hired out on a nearby farm.

The town of Belleville was located on the banks of Kishacoquillas Creek in Union Township, named “Greenwood” originally after its first settler — a blacksmith named Joseph Greenwood. When a post office was established there in the 1850s, the town name was changed to Belleville. The village boasted two churches in 1861 — the brick Presbyterian Church (erected in 1860) and the frame Methodist Church (erected in 1844). Both churches are mentioned in this letter.

Cassie’s letter is a detailed description of the departure from Belleville of the “Greenwood Fencibles” — a company of volunteers organized by Capt. William G. Bigelow during the summer of 1861. They marched out of town in late September 1861 and were attached to the 45th Pennsylvania Infantry as Company C.

We learn from the letter that the “Fencibles” attended services held in their honor at the Presbyterian Church at Belleville on the morning of 26 September, at the Methodist Chapel in the afternoon, and again at the Presbyterian Church in the evening. Several members of the company and the community are mentioned in Cassie’s letter.


[Friday] September 27th 1861

My dear Jennie,

Where shall I begin to relate the many things I want to say this evening — the greater part of them things which I could talk over with so much more satisfaction to us both than is possible to give in writing? How very glad we would have been to have had you with us yesterday! I think it was the most solemn day I have ever known. And certainly it was one of the saddest in the experience of some of our neighbors. The time for the departure of the Greenwood Fencibles had been changed again & again that they might have their company filled, till at last this day was fixed upon, their number being about eighty-three. They were assembled at Greenwood [Belleville] on Tuesday [24th] & Wednesday [25th] that they might observe yesterday [26th] & the meeting being a Union one, it was agreed that they should be invited to attend the service in a body.  Accordingly, the front pews on each side of the middle aisle were set apart for them & they were marched in file to the church door where they parted — one side of the column going up the right & the other at the left. Meeting at the middle aisle, they came up double again & separated in taking their seats. Every pew in the church was full & a number of benches in the aisles.

Mr. [Robert B.] Moore ¹ opened the meeting with prayer, singing of the 60th Psalm (so appropriate) & read second chapter of Joel. After these, he read the President’s Proclamation & made some introductory remarks. In the intervals between the addresses we had singing & prayer by members of all the churches. After Mr. Moore, Mr. [James] Williamson spoke & I think it was one of the best efforts I have ever heard him make. It was so appropriate, so patriotic & so touching. Several of the soldiers were in tears & I wondered how anyone could refrain from weeping at such a picture as Mr. Williamson had drawn of our present national condition. Mr. Williamson was followed by Mr. [Moses] Floyd. I believe I liked his speech but it had more of a political cast & was somewhat historical so that I did [not] wholly understand it.

A meeting was appointed at the Methodist Church for three o’clock & at our church again at night which was particularly for the soldiers & which they were requested to attend. Mr. Moore then closed the meeting & the company left in the order in which they came & we soon heard the roll of the drum.

Wil & Sallie & I went down at night for we could not think of staying away. The house was as full as in the morning. The first address was by Mr. [Samuel] McDonald which was very good. The next by Mr. Heck. It also was exceedingly good. In both of these the soldiers were particularly addressed. Some of them looked very solemn & others just as though they had steeled themselves against it. John McFadden ♠ looked very sad. Mr. Moore then addressed them in a very tender & solemn manner & dedicated the company to God in prayer. After this, some one of the company rose. He seemed to be a stranger but I think an officer, & made a few remarks, thanking the people in behalf of the company, for the interest which they had manifested in them, begged an interest in our prayers when they were gone, & assured us they they were willing to sacrifice everything — even life itself — if they might hand down the government to succeeding generations as it had been handed to us by our fathers. I was glad that they had not gone sooner. Such appeals as were made to them, both to the Christian soldier & the ungodly! & such earnest prayers as were offered in their behalf, must I think result in good. I do not think there has been a company sent away with greater solemnity.

We have known very little about the war until now, but we will miss these. Yesterday was such a day as we had never seen. How little we thought of such a day when our church was dedicated last winter. I guess Addy McDonald ♣ would go with them. He was with them all day yesterday & we heard that his parents had given their consent finding that he was so determined. I think his mother must be in great trouble for she was not out at all — nor the little girls. Their drummer boy is not near as large as Addy. He is a Wise. ♥

They are going into the regiment in which James Beaver is Lieut. Col. But O! haven’t they had a terrible day to go to town. It has rained & stormed incessantly since daylight this morning. Poor fellows! they are soon called to experience some of the trials of army life. Wil went with the spring waggon to take some of them down & will not get home tonight. I suppose when he comes home we will hear something more about them. John & Richard Young both went. Don’t you think they are doing their part? I expect Aunt’s folks will have a great charge of John’s family, though he tried to get things fixed so that they could get along. But his wife has so little management.

Capt. William G. Bigelow

Capt. William G. Bigelow

James Bulick ♦ sold off all his stuff & took his wife to her friends. We have never heard from John Hollowell. Can’t think why it is. We are sending to the city for Testaments for our company. They are to have the Psalms bound in. Captain [William G.] Bigelow is to be up next week & take them to them. I will have to try & get some money tomorrow if spared & well.

Well, I believe I have told you the most interesting things concerning the company & it is time I would tell something of home & civil life. What miserable postal arrangements we have in this country! We never got your last week’s letter till last night. It had been eight days coming. We went to the Office for it five times. The one you wrote yesterday morning came down last evening & we got them both last night on our way to church. And you were so long getting ours — it is too bad to have such irregularity.

It has ceased raining since night but it storms terribly. I had three full-blown dahlias & the ___ this evening broke down the upper bench. I think we’ll have to dry apples after this. Last Sabbath evening, just at dark, Dave Millionen with all his family & Mother along, came in on us — had been at preaching in the Sem. in the afternoon. Mr. Moore preached there & baptized Mr. Davenport’s baby. Dave’s [family] stayed till after dinner on Monday & took Sallie down with them & Wil went down to Rob’s for her yesterday morning & brought her up to church. Mother is going to Beaver to live with her maiden sister — has purchased a house in town. Samuel was here for dinner on Saturday.

The dysentery is nearly all over the valley now. Bub Williamson has it pretty bad. I was there on Tuesday. I did not hear a word of them going away. Mrs. Williamson was busy canning tomatoes. Mr. Williamson thinks he will apply for a chaplaincy. The parsonage is going up rapidly. Mr. & Mrs. Moore are snugly quartered at Mrs. Wills now.

Wil only finished seeding on Wednesday. I’m afraid this rain will spoil it. The army worm is destroying the wheat down the valley. We got the calf vealed Monday evening. So we have another cow to milk. Barbara Zook [wife of Simon Zook] came home Tuesday evening. Her grandmother Yoder is not expected to live. We took up a collection last day at Sabbath School for the Children’s Church & got 38 cts — more than half of which we gave. Don’t you think we had best return the money to the donors? We think of closing a week from next Sabbath. So few come now — none worth keeping it up for. You ought to come next Sabbath to say your catechism.

Here is mother just come in with the other Dahlia. Now I have not one left. I wish I could send you one. They are so bright. The grapes are very good now but I feel almost afraid to eat them.

Sallie has not been at all well since she came home. The rest are well. Mother sends you a bushel of love & Sallie a bushel & a peck. Papa & I consider ours immeasurable. I suppose you will be for making Camp Huntingdon a visit someday, & it seems to me if I had a good opportunity I would do so too. It certainly would be worth while to see that much of soldier life. The clock has struck eleven. I am left in the big kitchen all alone & I too must go to bed. I may have time to write a line in the morning.

Saturday morning. Sallie is a great deal better this morning.

I expect we will have a visit from Mr. Frost ‘ere long — don’t have many tomatoes now. Ponto [?] is growing very fast & is perfectly unmanageable in the morning. They think Mary Ann Allison is improving a little. It was announced in church Thursday night that Sheriff [David] Muttersbaugh was found dead in his bed that morning. Here is Papa & I must stop instantly. — Cassie

¹ Rev. Robert B. Moore was called to the charge of the Allenville and Belleville congregations in 1860 and served until the fall of 1866.

♠ John McFadden enlisted as a private on 19 September 1861 and died 17 June 1864 of wounds received at Cold Harbor on 3 June 1864.

♣ Addie McDonald enlisted on 31 August 1861 and was wounded at Petersburg on 31 July 1864. He was promoted to sergeant, and later to lieutenant before mustering out with the company in 1865.

♥ William J. Wise enlisted on 9 October 1861 as a drummer boy. He mustered out with the company in 1865.

♦ James M. Bulick enlisted on 25 September 1861 as was commissioned a lieutenant. He was discharged on a surgeon’s certificate in January 1863.


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