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Harrison M. Beardsley Civil War Letters

Twelve letters, 26 October 1861 - 16 August 1862, of Union soldier Harrison M. Beardsley, a member of Co. K, Fiftieth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, are addressed to his parents, John C. and Harriet M. Beardsley, at Herrick, Bradford County, Pa., and recount young Beardsley's opinions on the progress of the war, as well as his observations of coastal South Carolina. Several of the letters are written on patriotic stationery, including letterhead featuring the likeness of George B. McClellan.

Beardsley's first letter, written while aboard the steamer Ocean Queen, anchored near Ft. Monroe, 26 October 1861, indicates his uncertainty regarding the troops' destination and comments on fortifications and guns, including "the union gun" manufactured near Pittsburgh—"it is 15 feet long & 4 feet in diameter at the butt & will throw a ball weighing 450 lbs. 5 miles & knock a vessel into shoe strings." By 2 December 1861, the date of his second letter, Beardsley was billeted at Hilton Head. The letter carries a request for news from Northern newspapers—"we do not hear any war news at all except rumors & we can place no dependence on them," reports that he was recouperating from the measles, and complains of army food—"we get crackers or pilot bread & it is so hard you can hardly break it with an ax & coffee without milk & sometimes without sugar."

Christmas 1861 found the Fiftieth Pennsylvania at Beaufort, where the weather remained warm according to Beardley's letter of 24 December 1861. Bemoaning the fact that he was separated from his family, Beardsley quipped—"I guess I shall not hang up my stocking for Old Santaclaus dont come down here in Dixies land." The Union camp was rife with rumors of a cessation of hostilities, he wrote on 30 December 1861—"but (psha)!...I do not place much dependence in these camp stories." But such rumors were laid to rest two days later when Union troops skirmished with Confederates. Writing from Beaufort on 9 January 1862, the Pennsylvanian angrily objected to England's rumored support for the Southern Confederacy—"we can whip the Secesh three to one in a fair fight every time but we cannot do that with the English."

Of special note is Beardsley's letter of 18 January 1862 giving details of his daily regimen—"In the morning the first thing you hear is the Bugle, at 5 oclock & 30 minutes calling the Cooks to get up and get Breakfast, then all is silent again till 6 oclock, when the Bugle again sounds for roll call, then the Drums roll ten minutes in which time every Company must be formed & the roll called, & Woe! to the unlucky man that is not out to ans[wer] to his name, he is either marched before the Col. or else put upon extra duty, at 7 the drum rolls for breakfast, which general[l]y consists of bread, coffee, & fried pork, then at 8 oclock the drum rolls again for Guard mounting, at 9 is Company drill for an hour, at half past 10 Dress parade & battallion drill till noon, when we eat a pint of Bean soup & a little boiled beef & some bread & call it Dinner. Then we are at liberty till 2 oclock, then we have to go on Brigade drill till 4 oclock which ends the drilling for that day, at sundown we have supper, which consists of either potatoes or rice & coffee & bread, at 8 in the evening you hear the roll of that everlasting drum, accompanied by the order to fall into line for roll call, at fifteen minutes after 8, three taps of the drum when all lights must be extinguished."

A letter from Beaufort, dated 9 June 1862, suggests that the Federal government had placed overseers on area plantations to supervise blacks in the cultivation of cotton and other agricultural products for the government's use. Beardsley's last letter from South Carolina, 7 July 1862, once again conveys camp rumors—"We have just heard that McClellan has been repulsed at Richmond, if that is so, I do not know when or where it will end, it will be a terrible job to take Charleston, & when it is taken the 50th will be apt to have a hand in it." "We have innumerable skirmishes with the rebels," the letter continues, "they keep firing at our pickets, when our artillery will come up & shell them back when we will cross the river & burn their houses tear down their sand forts & batteries & decamp with cattle, horses, mules, niggers, & all sorts of property, then they will keep cool for quite a while, till they hear of some victory on our side, when they will get mad, & we go throug[h] the same lingo, again." The Fiftieth Pennsylvania left Beaufort on 11 July 1862 bound first for Hilton Head, then for Newport News, Va., where they arrived five days later.

The Pennsylvania troops expected to remain at Newport News for a month, Beardsley reported in mid-July, but he anticipated marching against Richmond soon thereafter. By the date of his 31 July 1862 letter they were under marching orders, their destination unknown. "I like this place better than I did S.C.," he wrote, "for it is not near as hot & we have a great deal better water." The final letter in the collection, 16 August 1862, was penned from Culpepper Courthhouse, Va., where the Fiftieth Pennsylvania had joined the 9th Army Corps, Burnside's Division.

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