1862: John Francis Meichel to Alexander W. Simon

One of the patient wards at Mower Hospital near Philadelphia

One of the patient wards at Mower Hospital near Philadelphia

This letter was written by John Francis Meichel (1841-1909), the son of German emigrants George Jacob Meichel (1813-1851) and Emily M. Druck (1816-18xx). The 1850 U.S. Census reveals that George Meichel was a dentist. John was a Philadelphia printer, with an office at N E 3rd & Race and a home at 723 Wallace in 1867. He seems to have also been a member of American Entomological Society in Philadelphia. John married Katherine Hauck (1844-1926), the daughter of German emigrant John Hauck. Later in life, the John and Katherine resided at Church Lane, above Chew Street in Germantown (suburb of Philadelphia).

John wrote the letter to Alexander W. Simon (1839-1902), a native of Alsace, France. He may have been the same 17 year-old Alexandre Simon from France who arrived in New York Harbor on 19 December 1854 with his 19 year-old brother Pierre Simon aboard the American ship “North Wind.” Alexander enlisted in the U. S. Army (2nd Cavalry) in March 1858. His military record indicates that prior to enlisting, he was employed as an “ice cream maker” in Philadelphia. He stood 5’11” tall, had hazel eyes and brown hair. He remained in the service until May 1863 when he was discharged near Kelly’s Ford, Virginia with the rank of Sergt. Major in the 5th U. S. Cavalry — apparently never receiving the commission as an officer he sought. I believe that Alexander returned to Philadelphia where he worked as a business clerk/merchant. In the mid-1860’s, Alexander married Cecelia Wingert (1843-1922), the daughter of Joseph Wingert [or Wingerd]  (b. 1804), an iron refiner in Philadelphia.

The letter includes a sketch and a description of the Chestnut Hill Hospital (Mower U.S. Army General Hospital) in the fall of 1862. It operated from January 1863 through May 1865. Designed by John McArthur, Jr., the hospital was built on 27 acres seven miles north of the center of Philadelphia opposite the Chestnut Hill track of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. The hospital had fresh water from the nearby Chestnut Hill water works, gas lighting, and indoor plumbing. For a great website showcasing photographs by John Moran of the hospital taken during the Civil War, see Mower General Hospital.

Mower Hospital as it looked at the end of the war (from nearly the same perspective as G's 1862 sketch)

Birdseye View of Mower Hospital as it looked 1864-65 (a similar perspective as J. F. Meichel’s 1862 sketch)


Addressed to Mr. Alexander W. Simon, Chief Bugler 5th U.S. Cavalry Regt., U.S. Army

Chestnut Hill [Hospital]
October 9, 1862

Dear Friend,

My long delay in not writing has no doubt created a little surprise, but you will soon see that I have been very busy. We will move in town next week, and having to look around for a residence took up a great deal of my time, but I bumped up against a house (Mrs. Wireman’s old house at 6th and Buttonwood) ¹ where we had fixed up a little. Then for the moving time and being very busy at the Office makes things look a little exciting for awhile until all is in order.

I am very glad that you have succeeded so far in search of your commission, not because you did not try hard enough and you could never get any time to have a talk about it yourself. It is what I always told you — keep cool and all will be right yet.

Is there any news of importance in and about Washington, as we don’t have any news at all here except the local and mighty few military. It seems everything is at a stand still. You seem to have good luck since you have gone to Washington getting so many positions offered to you is a thing that does not occur everyday.

Near Chestnut Hill at a station called Mermaid, they are building an immense hospital a description of which and also the plan, viz:

aaphchest1 - Version 3

J. F. Meichel’s October 1862 sketch of Mower Hospital shows only 11 “pavilians” or “wards” for sick & wounded soldiers. When completely built, there were 47 wards.

The letters “a” are the buildings for the wounded and sick soldiers — “d” is the apothecary where the medicine is kept and compounded — “c” is the surgeon and doctor’s quarters — “R” is a railroad which conveys the wounded to the different houses and also the provisions. It is beautifully situated. The black dots in the centre are the gas lights and there will be water in every apartment — also gas. As the Philadelphia and Chestnut Railroad runs by the place, it will be very convenient for the soldiers to go to town or take a trip up and down the road. It is intended to hold 3,000 comfortably, having iron bedsteads and good cover. The supposed cost is estimated at $75,000.

Write soon again as I am anxious to know how you are getting along. We all send our best respects to you and hoping you are in good health.

I remain your sincere friend, — John Meichel

Ladies buttoned silk boots attributed to Henry Wir

Ladies buttoned silk boots attributed to Henry Wireman of philadelphia

¹ The 1856 Philadelphia City Directory lists the residency of Henry Wireman at 6th and Buttonwood in Philadelphia. His occupation was given as “ladies’ shoes.” Henry Wireman (1811-1886) was a German emigrant. His wife’s name was Mary (1811-1878).


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