Life as a new soldier – June 1863

Francis B. Wallace was a newspaperman from rural Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, a mountainous coal mining region northeast of Harrisburg. His paper was appropriately entitled the Miner’s Journal, and it provided regional coverage from its offices in Pottsville. When Confederates threatened Pennsylvania and Governor Andrew Curtin called for troops, Wallace and several of his employees at the paper enlisted in what became the 27th Pennsylvania Militia. He provided periodic reports for his readership.

Here’s an excerpt from one of his early letters to the newspaper, covering his first days as a rookie soldier at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg.

There are arrivals of troops daily, both from New York and Pennsylvania; and it is enough to make a Pennsylvanian blush for his State, to see the manner in which New York sends her men into the field. They are splendidly organized and are as fine a looking body of men as can be found. Our militia came here in “rags and tags,” and, until they don Uncle Sam’s uniforms, look but little like soldiers come to defend their own State. 

We have all kinds of Camp rumors, but they cannot be traced to any reliable source; but I am told that Camp rumors are the most uncertain things in a soldier’s life. We have had several Rebel prisoners, and one suspected of being a spy, in the guard house here. They are the most forlorn and God-forsaken looking creatures I ever saw – ragged, dirty and lousy; they have little or nothing to say; but nevertheless, seem to be perfectly contented with their situation. 

On Sunday morning last, Rev. Mr. Austin, Chaplain, preached to the soldiers. I did not go to hear him, as the weather was rather damp, but I have heard his sermons spoken of in the highest terms. In the afternoon, our Company was called out to receive their arms. We have the Springfield Rifle musket, an excellent arm, carrying a ball a distance of 800 yards. Thus far, I have looked in vain for a copperhead among the soldiers here. There is not much danger of their arming here until the Rebels get possession of the Capital, when I suppose they will rush en masse to receive their dear southern brethren, who have been so badly treated by the Northern abolitionists. 

Camp life is not altogether devoid of amusements. There is one kind which was quite common in Camp Curtin – a man would get into a blanket, held by fifteen or twenty men, and they would throw him up into the air fifteen or twenty feet. The man while in the air would turn about in all manner of shapes, reminding a person of an acrobat in some circus. He is caught in the blanket again as he comes down. 

The position of our Camp was one of the best for observation on the hill. Everything of importance that was going one came under our immediate observation.”

Little did Lieutenant Wallace realize that he and his men would slog into Maryland in a fruitless pursuit of Bobby Lee following the Battle of Gettysburg, and these untrained soldiers would suffer from illness, exposure, and the hardships of being sent off to war with just three days of training. Luckily, they saw little combat, other than a skirmish at Wrightsville, PA. 

Categories: Civil War anecdotes | Leave a comment

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