1862: John F. Gettys to William Worst

Corporal Nailer, 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry

Corporal Nailer, 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry

This letter was written by trooper John F. Gettys of Company F, 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry. John was from Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. He enlisted on 23 August 1862.  On October 12, 1863, the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry found themselves at Jefferson, Virginia, on the south side of the Rappahannock. At daylight, Confederates attacked their positions, with heavy skirmishing continuing throughout the day and eventually the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry moved up to support their comrades from the Keystone State. During this fighting a detachment of the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry dashed across an open field, forcing the Confederates to abandon one of their positions in an unoccupied house. The troopers captured the dwelling and repelled repeated attacks throughout the day. The Confederates reinforced their position and by early evening the troopers were cut off and could not escape across the river. The 13th Pennsylvania had lost 163 men, the majority captured by the overwhelming Confederate forces.

John was taken with other troopers captured in this engagement  to Pemberton Prison, a large tobacco warehouse, in Richmond. A fellow prisoner [Michael Dougherty] from the 13th Pennsylvania wrote in his diary on 1 December 1863 that the  prison was a room containing 300 prisoners, kept in a space of 30 by 90 feet, lying all over the floor. They were treated ‘more like hogs then men’ and they were packed so tightly that it was impossible to move around. To pass the time the half-naked soldiers spent much of the day catching lice, with mealtime offering the only distraction. The rations they received were often paltry- on the 9th December the men received only two biscuits and four ounces of pork each. As conditions worsened a large proportion of the prisoners began falling ill, and were removed to hospital. The 12th December was Dougherty’s two month anniversary as a prisoner, and he already estimated his weight loss at 25 pounds. Those who became sick could not lift themselves from the floor in the cramped conditions, and risked the additional injury of being trampled by other inmates.  The stench from the prison grew to proportions so significant that the Richmond papers claimed it endangered the health and the lives of all in the City, and it would be well to remove those “Lincoln hirelings” to where scant fare and cold weather would reduce them in number; consequently they were removed to Bell Isle. The exposure of this open prison in wintertime was more than John Gettys could take. He died at Belle Isle in Richmond, Virginia on 10 March 1864.


Camp Carroll, Co. F, 13 PA
October the 26, A.D. 1862

Dear Brother-in-law, Mr. William Worst,

I take up my pen in hand to let you know I am well and that [I] got one of your letters since I enlisted and was very glad to hear from you. And I got one letter from brother Benjamin L. Gettys and was very glad to hear from him and that they were well. I must soon answer it too. This is the fourth letter that I wrote to you, I hope you will answer it. I look every day for a letter from you.

It is raining very hard here tonight. I must turn the soft side of my bed up tonight — the soft side of the board. I have traded my horse on a younger horse. He is a fast one — a yellow ______ young horse. He can run and jump the other horse that I had trade me off ridden to water and back. It broke my back nearly but I can ride good now. My back was sore a long time but I can stand guard now though I don’t like to do it.

I wrote a letter to Henry Donner and got no answer yet. I hope you are all well at this time. Got a letter from brother George P. Trimmer and was very glad to hear that they were all well at present. The boy had the whooping cough. They’re all well. He says that we have a good cause to fight and a glorious flag to fight under/ I think so too, He says he don’t know how soon he must go too. He says he is making coffins for the hospital in Philadelphia. He thought about us good as I could done it. Getting late. Nothing more. But remain your friend, — John F. Gettys

Direct your letter to:

John F. Getty in care of Captain Samuel Speese, Co. F, 13th Pa. Cav., Camp Carroll, Baltimore the same as before

Tell mother not to fret about me. I will come home sometime this winter. Send me a box of provisions of butter, apple butter, and apples, and apple pies. If you can buy the Express, you can send it. It cost only 75 cts.


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