1864: William J. Mitchell to Parents


How William might have looked

This letter was written by 29 year-old William J. Mitchell (1835-Aft1910), the son of John Mitchell (1807-1882) and Margaret Johnston (1799-1885) of Armstrong Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania.

William served as a musician in Co. I, 39th Pennsylvania Infantry from 1861 to 1864 and then reenlisted as a veteran and was transferred to Co. K, 191st Pennsylvania for the remainder of the war — also as a musician. In the letter, he mentions tenting with John H. Stutz and Cyrenus F. Rockwell who also served as musicians in the same regiments. Moses Mitchell — probably a cousin — also served in these regiments, though not as a musician. At the time his letter was written, just after these men returned from veterans furlough, they were still members of the 39th Pennsylvania. They were transferred to the 191st Pennsylvania on May 31, 1864.

William mentions two siblings in the letter — Samuel Mitchell (1828-1874) and Mary Mitchell (1840-After1880). Samuel married Eliza Shadle (1830-1928) in October 1851 and had at least four children by the time his letter was written.

It appears that William eventually became a minister; in 1910 he was enumerated in Lexington, Johnson County, Kansas.

[Note: The letter is signed “your affectionate son Will” without any other indication as to the author’s identity and there is no regimental affiliation mentioned or an accompanying envelope. I have determined the author’s identity from clues in the letter.]


1850 Census in Armstrong Township, Indiana Co., PA


Manassas Junction, Virginia
March 28th 1864

Dear Father and Mother,

Your kind letter of the 24th inst. came to hand today. I was glad to hear from you, and learn of your welfare, and also glad to hear that Samuel’s children were getting well.

Since I last wrote you, we left Harrisburg (15th inst.), came on to Washington the same day. I had a very pleasant time visiting schools that afternoon. The teachers and scholars were very glad to see me. In the evening I visited several families with whom I had become acquainted last Spring while we were in the city, and with the young folks (girls of course) attended a rehearsal of concert performances of one of the Female Grammar Schools of the city.  The performances of the evening were very good. They had many patriotic airs. There are four families (Methodists) in the city with whom I have become very well acquainted. They are very nice families. They requested me, whenever I come to the city, to make their houses, for the time being, my home. Don’t you think that they are kind?

Well, next morning we took boat for Alexandria. Here we had to lie over until the next day for transportation. I got a pass and went to see Joseph Fulton. He was very well and very glad to see me and hear from home. I had quite a pleasant visit with him.

Next morning we took the cars for Manassas Junction where we arrived in safety about noon of same day. We found everything as we had left them. The boys were well and glad to see us back again with them, and it seemed home-like to get back to the regiment. We were sent to Brigade Headquarters to do duty. We had to build “shanties” and were busy for several days, but we are in our new houses now & “we’re gay and happy still.”

Since our arrival, there was been some heavy cannonading towards the front, but all is quiet now. We were under arms for 36 hours expecting a Rebel raid, but they didn’t come. All is quiet now. A scouting party of 250 will start from here in about an hour (10 at night) to hunt up [John Singleton] Mosby. Many troops go to the front daily.

We had quite a snowstorm here about a week ago. It is very pleasant now, but there is the appearance of a storm abrewing.

What do you think of Father Abraham’s late call for 200,000 more troops?

Send me a pamphlet I had intended to bring along with me entitled, “Women of America” or some such name. What did you think of my pictures? What is Armstrong Township doing in regard to filling up their quota for the late call? Did you deliver those pictures and what did they think of them?

I heard of Gettie McCoy’s death a few days ago. I was sorry. Gettie was certainly a fine girl. I hope she is gone to a better world than this. I sincerely empathize with the family. I had forgotten, I believe I have written you since before this since our arrival here. However, it makes no particular difference. Telling some of the same things twice will do no harm. What Co. is Kesner Mitchell in? How is Nixon Coulter? ¹ I send in this some photographs. What do they think of my Album?

Write soon and give all the news. Give my regards to all. I have some more nice pictures which I will send home in a few weeks. Has that microscope come to hand yet? Nary one of our company got married whole at home. Moses is tenting with me, Stuntz, and Rockwell. ² He is well & he wrote Mr. McClelland in regard to his money, etc.

Write soon giving all the news. So now farewell for the present.

From your affectionate son, — Will

Mary, I have not room for anything for you this time. By-bye, — will.

Send me those photographs that I ordered at Indiana [Pennsylvania]

¹ James Nixon Coulter (1839-1865) was the 25 year-old son of Samuel and Sarah Coulter of Young Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Nixon served in Co. G, 63rd Pennsylvania Infantry. He died of disease on 9 April 1865.

² Cyrenus F. Rockwell (1840-1865) was taken prisoner at the Battle of Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862 and later paroled to rejoin the regiment. He died on 7 February 1865. His parents were Lyman K. Rockwell (1811-1891) and Miranda Willard (1808-1885).

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