SOLDIER LETTER GROUP - SERGEANT WILLIAM STRAWBRIDGE, 104th PENNSYLVANIA INFANTRY

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Item Code: 801-390

Group consists of 52 letters written from Strawbridge to his mother, dating from 4/28/1861 to 9/22/1864, while serving with Co. “G”, 1st PA Infantry [4/20/1861 to 7/27/1861] and with Co. “H”, 104th PA Infantry [9/22/1861 to 9/30/1864]. Written in a mix of pencil and ink, these letters generally run four pages, on paper usually lined. A handful are moderately fragile, and a handful have been taped along fold-lines. Roughly a quarter exhibit patches of splotchy ink, and a few are faded, but all are legible and intelligible: in VG condition overall. Included is a photo of Strawbridge in later life, ca. 1910.

William Strawbridge was a resident of Reading, PA when he enlisted on 4/20/61 as a Private, mustering in to Co. G, 1st Pennsylvania Infantry; mustered out at Harrisburg, PA on 7/27/61. He is shown as a resident of Bucks County, PA when he re-enlisted as Corporal on 9/22/61; on that date he mustered in to Co. H, 104th PA. Listed as a POW, date & place not known; promoted to Sergeant on 11/21/62. Mustered out on 9/30/64.  Documentation shows that after the war he returned to Reading, and filed for an invalid pension on 7/7/1892 and 2/19/1907. He died on 10/11/1920 and is buried in Charles Evans Cemetery in Reading.

Posted on findagrave.com is a clipping from the 12/10/1863 edition of the Reading Times which suggests that Strawbridge was at least considered for a Medal of Honor for ‘gallant conduct during the Siege of Charleston’, however no evidence was found that it was ever actually awarded to him.

While Strawbridge addresses all letters but one to his mother--living in Reading, PA--many include tail end mini-letters addressed to brothers James and John, and to a Mr. Kilpatrick, is obviously a family friend. Although the Sergeant’s spelling and syntax are slack in spots, the reveals himself as an accurate reporter of events, and more literate than the average enlisted soldier. One Strawbridge spelling tic, and one to watch for is his tendency to substitute the word “where” where he means “were.”

The chief strength of this grouping is its size and the fact it covers Strawbridge’s three year enlistment from start to finish—(including earlier enlistment with the three-month 1st PA Volunteers.) Then too, read one after another, these 52 letters have a cumulative, rolling punch; conveying the texture of camp and marching life as no single letter or small letter grouping ever can. At the same time, it should be added that the letters very little battle content, for in truth, the 104th PA was lucky and got off lightly in most of its battles. Except for skirmishes at Savage Station, VA, during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, and except for the Battle of Secessionville and the Assault on Battery Wagner during the 1863 summer campaign against on Charleston, SC, the 104th saw little serious action during Strawbridge’s 1861-64 enlistment. During the war 104th PA lost 70 men killed and mortally wounded, and 115 by disease for a total of 185.

In his first letter, 4/28/ 1861, from Camp Little York, PA, Strawbridge ventures the following remarks: “…I will now give a few particulars of our camp. We left Harrisburg saturday night April 15th att 10 O [clock] in cars for Cockeysville about 14 miles from Baltimore. We arrived about 10 O’clock Sunday morning and camped. Their spies from Baltimore where [were] around us all day. Some told us that Baltimore was armed and prepared to meet us. We where [were] on the watch all night for the traitors. Once we thought we would have to fight for sure. We were called to arms about 6 times during the night but all passed off well……We have received a full rig of Uncle Sam’s Uniform 1 coat 1 pair of pants 1 pair of shoes 2 pair of drawers one cap and we will get a overcoat.” This opening letter includes the following line, which echoes the military boredom that all U.S. vets have felt at one time or another. To wit: “I would have wrote sooner but I was waiting for something to write,” He closes his second letter with a line calculated to boost up his mother’s morale: “We are all in good spirits you need not feel uneasy as that is not very encoursing [encouraging] for we are in a good Cause.”

Following the disbandment of the the 90-day 1st PA Infantry, Strawbridge enlisted in the 104th PA and by January 1862 was disembarking with the Burnside expedition in North Carolina. By May however, the unit was back in Virginia, passing through Williamsburg in support of McClellan’s Peninsula campaign. In July 29th letter, Strawbridge includes the following passage recounting his brief experience as a Confederate POW captured at Savage Station: “I send you these few lines to inform you that I am well. I suppose you heard of my being sick. I was taken sick and sent to a place called Savage’s Station a place along the Richmond Railroad 9 miles from the City. I was sent their about the 28th of June. Then we were taken prisoner by the Rebs and sent to Richmond Last Friday we were exchanged then took cars to Petersburg hanged cars for City Point then our transports took us to Fortress Monroe then back to Newport News. I do not know when we will be sent back to our regt’s.” There is splendid accommodation here and we get good fare we got very short allowances in Richmond I was glad when I got away from there. I suppose you have troubled yourself very much on my account but I hope if you get this you will rest Easy give your self no trouble for I am alright.”

Following the ’62 Peninsula Campaign, the 104th was posted at Gloucester Point, VA, across from Yorktown. Here they spent the winter of ’63-’64, and is was from here that Strawbridge expressed his opinion concerning recent draftees and the buying of substitutes by the rich—“Well, I see by the papers that they have commenced to Draft in Reading and I see it has hit some the poor Class. The rich men is drafted will try and get substitutes to go in there place it would serve them right if they could not get any.”

By the spring of 1863, the 104th PA had left Gloucester Point to participate in coming campaign aimed at reduction of Charleston, under the command of General Gilmore. In his July 13th letter, Strawbridge reports movements of his regt. and other Union units to James Island, just prior to the battle of Sucessionville, July 16, 1863. On a night march his reg’t was fired on by enemy and then by a Union regiment in the rear—“…as soon as [enemy] firing commenced, the 52nd Regt. which were in the rear of us fired a volley into us not knowing the road was crooked and strange to say not a man was hit but the bullet whistled very close, but several were hit in the clothing…” In describing a Rebel attack Rebel attack on the 15th, Strawbridge notes that “Regt. on picket was the 54th Mass (colored). They fought well they had several killed & quite a number wounded.” The remainder of his July 21st letter details movement to Folly Island and discusses the forth coming prospects in attacking Battery Wagner, while taking note of Lee’s defeat in Pennsylvania and the surrender of Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

Of Morris Island Pickett duty, Strawbridge’s August 16, 1863 letter has this to say—“Our regiment has been on picket three times. We have to march six miles from our camp to the rifle pits. The picket duty is pretty ugly. The pickets cannot be relieved until after dark so that the enemy cannot see us or they could see better how to shell us—but they keep up a continual firing about the time the pickets are changed. It is close by the beach where we go in so going in and out is the worst. When are in the pits we have some shelter to get under when a shell comes at night we can see them come. They when they are near we get under shelter—if there is any—most every day some get killed or wounded. So ar our regiment has been very fortunate none has been hurt. I think before a great while General Gilmore will be ready….The troops here under Gilmore have great confidence in him and that Charleston will fall. The Rebels fear him. They know that he took Fort Pulaski and think that Sumpter will share the same fate….”

Following the Union reduction of Ft. Wagner and Gregg, the 104th PA remained at Morris Island, SC, through the spring of 1864, shifting to Hilton Head in May, then being transferred briefly to Florida, before being ordered back to Washington. During this stretch, Strawbridge mentions an action in which “our colonel was wounded in the hand. Our surgeon was captured…we had one man killed in Company G, but the papers don’t mention it. This is a very lucky regt.” [**Indeed it was. What a difference between the 105th PA, which suffered 384 fatalities 104th’s 185] Back in Washington, Strawbridge remarks it “looks strange to see hills again” and finds the northern water “splendid” and “something new for us,” after the “brackish” water down south.

Finally, on Sept 22, 1864, from Ft. Scott, VA—(three years after enlisting in the 104th PA)-- Strawbridge writes his mother that “we will turn in our guns & accoutrements tomorrow morning at least they tell us so. We will have about 30 men to go home, a pretty good squad….You need not answer this letter, for if all goes right I well soon have the pleasure of seeing you & the rest of the family……..I remain your/ Affectionate Son/ William Strawbridge”

Fine grouping. These 52 letters, from start to finish, the three year enlistment of the honorable Sergeant Strawbridge of the 104th PA. Each letter in protective plastic sleeve, within a vinyl black, ring-binder folder, with a minimal amount of research material. Invites further research.    [jp/ld]

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