This letter was written by Robert Atkins (1844-1914) who served as a private in Co. D, 127th Pennsylvania Infantry and later in Co. B, 191st Pennsylvania Infantry. His military record also indicates that he served in Murray’s Independent Company, Pennsylvania Cavalry, and in Co. D, 31st Pennsylvania Infantry. [Note: his military records are sometimes filed under the name Atkinson]
Robert was born in 1844 in Philadelphia, the son of Irish immigrants Daniel and Sarah Atkins. His obituary states that he was a retired store keeper of the Lucknow Shops and that he entered the service of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1880. The obituary claims that Robert fought in the Battle of Bull Run and that he was a member of GAR Post 58.
Robert married Louisa Jane Hocker in August 1865 and together they had at least twelve children while residing in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.
Robert wrote the letter to Olivia A. Steele, the wife of Joseph Steele who served with Atkins in Co. D, 127th Pennsylvania Infantry and later in Company B of the 191st Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Both Adkins and Steele re-enlisted as veterans in May 1864 and with the remnants of 11 regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserves organized into the 190th and 191st Pennsylvania Voluntary Infantry Regiments (originally designated the 1st and 2nd Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteers). These two new regiments comprised the 3rd Division of the V Corps commanded by Gen. Samuel W. Crawford and participated in the attacks on, and siege of, Petersburg.
A widow’s pension record reveals that Pvt. Steele was among those men in the 191st Pennsylvania Infantry captured on 19 August 1864 during the fight at the Weldon Railroad and taken to one of several confederate prisons. By the time the survivors of these prisons were delivered to Camp Parole at Annapolis, Maryland, most of them had lost half their body weight and were not capable of recovery even with doctor’s care. The pension record states that Steele died on or about 21 February 1865 while enroute from Salisbury Prison to Richmond to be exchanged while a prisoner of war.”
From the pension file we learn that Joseph Steele was married to Olivia A. Williams (1840-18xx) in Harrisburg on 17 February 1859. Olivia later married Thomas B. Maines on 29 December 1868, a clerk residing in Cleveland, Ohio. Joseph and Olivia had two children: Clara E. Steele (born 27 April 1859) and Annie Steele (born 28 June 1861). It is believed that Joseph Steele’s father was named James.
February 14th 1865
Dear Friend Mrs. Steel[e],
It is with pleasure that I drop you a few lines to let you know that I received your kind and welcome letter and was very sorry to hear that you are sick. Thank God for his kindness to me. I have good health at present.
You stated in your letter that you wanted to know if I were sure that Joe is paroled. It is as far as I know for we [illegible] that Joseph Steel, Co. D, 191st Regiment P.V.V. was paid by the paymaster at Washington but it did not state whether he was sent to Camp Parole or not, or to the hospital — I can’t say. But as far as I can and know, he was sick when he was paroled. I now send you the truth as far as I know about him.
I was very sorry to hear that he was sick in one way and in another I was glad to hear that he was paroled and was free from the D[amned] Rebels. I hope and trust in God that he will never be caught by them again. There is one thing that I would like and that is I wish that he was here for I miss him very much since he was captured for he was like a brother to me. I wish that you would write and see whether he is in Camp Parole or not and if you find that he is, I want you to write and let me know. I will send you the address.
and if he isn’t there, I can’t tell you where he is.
Dear friend, we have had a very hard time of it since the 5th of this month. We have been fighting and marching and building rifle pits the whole time until today. We have got into camp today and is putting up winter quarters but I can’t say how long we will stay in them until Old Grant orders us out of them to hunt for the rebels, but I hope and trust that won’t be again until the warm weather comes and then I don’t care how much he moves for we will be able to stand it. The weather is so cold here that we can hardly stand it. Between the cold and the smoke of the fires, we are very near dead but I hope that it won’t be long anymore.
This is all at present so goodbye. You must excuse my writing for we haven’t got any ink just at present. So I’ll bring my letter to a close by sending on my love and best respects to you and all inquiring friends. You write soon.
— Robert Atkins, Co. B, 191st Regiment P.V.V., Washington D.C.