1863: Joseph Shipley Newlin to Thomas Shipley Newlin

The Keystone Battery

The Keystone Battery

These letters were written by Joseph Shipley Newlin (1839-1898), the son of Thomas Shipley Newlin (1792-1878) and Katherine White (1808-1882). Joseph enlisted as a private on 7 August 1862 for one year, serving with Hastings’ Keystone Battery, Pennsylvania Light Artillery. He was mustered out of the battery in August 1863, as anticipated in this letter. He later accepted a commission as 2d Lieutenant of Keystone Battery A which served for 100 days from 12 July 1864 to 20 October 1864.

Shortly after it was organized in August 1862, the battery was ordered to the defense of Washington D. C. They were ordered to Fort Ethan Allen and then sent to Union Mills, near Warrenton, Virginia, where they drilled and awaited action. They remained at Union Mills during the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, but were ordered to take the field when it became clear there was to be a general engagement near Gettysburg. The battery was placed on rail cars and reached Gettysburg during the battle but were held in reserve and played no part in the battle. Following Lee’s army to Williamsport, the battery was placed into line of battle but no attack was made and Lee crossed the Potomac into Virginia without opposition. The battery’s first engagement took place days later at Snicker’s Gap but it was really nothing more than a minor skirmish.

A passport issued to Shipley years later recorded his height at 5 feet 10½ inches and with blue eyes.

J. Shipley Newlin was the Valedictorian of Central High School of Philadelphia in July 1857. The 1860 Philadelphia City Directory lists J. Shipley Newlin as a parter with his father Thomas Newlin and John Fernley in the Newlin, Fernley & Co. Hardware Store on 337 Market Street.

1863 Letter

1863 Letter

Addressed to Mr. Thomas S. Newlin, Philadelphia
Postmarked Washington D. C.

Warrenton, Virginia
July 28, 1863
Tuesday 10 A. M.

Dear Father,

A mail at last! the first since the 4th of July reached this camp this morning bringing over 800 letters for the Battery and 15 for me. I have had a feast, I tell you, and coming as it did when a day of perfect rest had put us all in good humor — it was truly welcomed. I first handled all the familiar envelopes with loving tenderness and [ar]ranged them in rows do that I could read them in the order that they were written. Then I commenced. A letter from Mary written when you supposed we were quietly plodding along at Camp Berry — then two or three anxious ones about my silence when I was worrying about not being able to write as much as you not hearing. Then letters written after hearing from me at Middletown & Harpers Ferry and last of all, one dated July 24th last Friday which seems very late. I have read them all now including one from Annie at Coldenham, one from Aunt Mary at Fishkill, & one from John Richards postmarked Frederick, Maryland.

I wrote to you yesterday letting you know of Mont’s unexpected arrival. We immediately gave him quarters, devoured two or three newspapers that he brought with him, and then gave him the story of our marches and adventures. He looked so pale to us that I could hardly believe he had been away only a little over two weeks. On my enquiring of him how the boys looked, he said, “We looked bronzed & weather beaten to the last degree — ragged, tired out & completely played” and so indeed we were. If the bugle had sounded boots and saddles then, every man who could stand would have been at his post ready for a 20 mile march but when an orderly rode up with the welcome news that the 3rd Corps was to halt for two or three days rest, food & clothes, we were all jubilant.

Railroad communication is open to Washington. A full supply of rations came down yesterday & we were busy broiling pork and cooking coffee most all day in order to secure a good larder in case we moved before night. We are all well rested now — refreshed by a plunge in the creek and three or four good meals and funny enough and anxious to be off again after Lee. I don’t want to go until tomorrow for my feet are not entirely well & one more days idleness would be acceptable to them.

Lee is supposed to be trying to break through the mountains somewhere. He has but two more chances. Our Corps has headed him at Ashby’s, Snicker’s, Manassas & Chester Gaps, at all of which points the Battery has been in the front. The 6th Corps is below us and the only two passes left to the enemy — Thornton’s & Swift Run Gaps — are secure.

Since we left Frederick we have lost 22 horses, about 20 men sick, a waggon, 4 horses, and 2 men taken prisoners so that we have now fit for duty only just about enough men & animals to work the battery on a pinch and many of these are so worn out that they could not stand a day and night’s consecutive march. Since the 8th of July, I have travelled over 187 miles on foot generally through a mountainous country and bad roads — five times all night & so dark that we couldn’t see the guns behind which we marched. During the whole time I have not had an hours sickness unless being faint & exhausted from hunger can be called sickness, and have never lost sight of the Battery nor straggled away from my piece.

During the next 10 days of our service, we may be pushed as hard as ever but I am inclined to believe that our campaigning is about over and that we will go home from Warrenton. We will not leave the Army of the Potomac until the 7th of August so that you may expect me home on or about the 10th. Visions of the little house among the apple trees come across me every hour upon the march and I can hardly realize that in a very short time I may be among my own people enjoying home scenes and what I long for now more than I ever did in my life — a season of perfect & entire rest. Whatever happens between now and then, I am prepared to bear cheerfully & patiently but I am afraid I would be terribly disappointed if August passed without landing me and my knapsack among the peaceful shades of Spring Hill Station. ¹

Father, I am much obliged to you for getting me that little note of commendation from the Editor of the A___ Cook — their correspondent — but I hardly need it. Jo Cook is an old friend and schoolmate of mine and if I see him I will hardly want a note of introduction. No doubt it is the same fellow that was in the 2nd class below me at the High School. Sandy-haired Joel Cook — a little fellow, sharp as a briar, and a great McClellanite. McDevitt, correspondent of the Press is a high school boy too & I know him well. I saw him the other day at Sharpsburg…..[remainder of letter is missing]

¹ Spring Hill Station was a depot on the former Pennsylvania Railroad West Chester Line. The area is now known as Secane, a small community in Delaware County.



Camp Barry Artillery Depot in Washington D. C.

Addressed to Mr. Thomas S. Newlin, Philadelphia

Camp Barry ¹
Washington D. C.
August 4, 1863

Dear Father,

We were furnished transportation from Warrenton Junction on Saturday and arrived at Camp (after spending a day & night on the tracks in Washington) on Monday. Application for mustering us out has been sent to the War Department and it will probably be but a short time before we are ordered to report to Philadelphia.

It is impossible now to tell at what hour or even upon what day you may expect us. I will endeavor to let you know by telegraph just as we are starting. From the present aspect of affairs, I should think we would be at home on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning but everything depends upon the action of the department in regard to us.

The Secretary of War intimated to our officers yesterday that the government might conclude to keep our guns & pay the City of Philadelphia for them as they were in need of Parrot Batteries. If this proves to be true, we may turn them over ammunition and all without any trouble of unpacking our chests but I would much rather go home with our pieces.

They had one of those foolish reviews of the batteries at Camp Barry yesterday and three men were thrown off the pieces, run over and killed. ²

I see Richard Marshall has escaped the draft. Today our Ward goes through the mill. May of our boys now in the service and reported in the lists of those drafted & I supposed I will draw a prize tomorrow. that can be easily fixed however.

I met Isaac Newton & his son Bolton yesterday. Bolton remarked, “You are just leaving the service as I am entering it. I have my commission as Captain in the Commissary Department.” I might have told him the perquisite of that office are a comfortable bed at Willard’s Hotel, nothing to do, and as many greenbacks as his conscience will allow him to pocket. This he calls soldiering. But I suppose somebody must have the office and I would rather march & sleep by my gun with $13 a month, hardtack & pork, than wear two bars on my shoulder & never see a line of battle.

I will have a good deal to tell you when I get home. I wish you was all at Briarwood. As the time draws near, we grow more anxious to be off among our ow people & a few more days will I hope see us there.

I had a letter from Annie at Fishkill yesterday. I do not think I could receive anything from you written after this reaches you. Until Friday, au revoir, — Shipley

¹ Camp Barry was the U. S. artillery depot in Washington D. C., named after Major William F. Barry.

² The artillery review by Major Gen. Heintzelman was conducted on 3 August 1863 at 6 P.M. on the artillery drill grounds on East Capitol street under the command of Brig. Gen. H. F. Barry, Inspector of Artillery. Thirteen different field batteries (78 guns) participated. Newspaper accounts of the review called it a “fine spectacle” and a “highly creditable affair” but limited in scope to a review due to the intense heat. Even so, a large number of spectators were present. There was no mention of any fatalities in this review.


3 thoughts on “1863: Joseph Shipley Newlin to Thomas Shipley Newlin

  1. Thank you for having this information on Joseph Newlin available online. I have just inherited his Civil War diary from my mother, who had found it in an antique shop in the 1970s. It is in mint condition with his name fully embossed just inside the diary in a gold print. Wonderful to now have found some information and will continue to look into other records on him. Most fascinating fellow!


      1. Yes, Griff!
        Thank you so much. I do not possess the diary that you apparently have (letter(s) you just posted online here. I have his officer diary in which he is largely describing rather boring, but relevant, details of supplies, etc. necessary to keep his Company well fed and so on. Love to see more of anything you have written by him posted here where I can check back on it. Don’t suppose you have any photos of him?
        I read some information about his years as a judge, post-Civil War, and he is described as quite an “elegant man in appearance”. I am assuming he was of some breeding, as some of his allied family are/were large property owners in 19th and 18th centuries in Wilmington, Delaware and even Virginia (the Newlins and Shipley lineages). It is the first time I’ve read about a man in the Civil War that didn’t see much action, however.
        Thank you, in advance, for any more information you may have in regards to his letters. Where did you happen to get his diaries/letters?
        Robin Kincaid


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