PENNSYLVANIA INFANTRY AND CAVALRY SOLDIERS’ ARCHIVE FROM THE WALLACE FAMILY: SOLDIER LETTERS, ARMED TINTYPE, RARE BLAKESLEE CARTRIDGE BOX FOR THE SPENCER, ETC.

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This grouping contains 25 camp letters from eight Pennsylvania soldiers, along with miscellaneous covers, and minor post-war pension correspondence:

Benjamin Wallace, Co. “D”, 11th PA Cavalry (15)

David Wallace, Co. “A”, 165th PA Volunteers / Co. “G”, 200th PA Volunteers (3) William Wallace, Co. “D” 21st PA Cavalry (1)

Thaddeus Mahone, Co. “A”, 165th PA Infantry / Co. “D”, 21st PA Cavalry (1)

Frank Ditslear, independent Artillery / Co. “A”, 165th PA Infantry (1)

Frank Shoemaker, Co. “G” 126th PA Volunteers (1)

John Keltner, Co. “D”, 11th PA Cavalry

John W. Mahon, Co. “G”, 205th PA Vols. (1).

Along with miscellaneous covers, brief post-war pension notices and notes. All in protective sleeves, enclosed in a black vinyl ring.

The above soldiers constituted a network of friends, brothers and cousins hailing from Green Village, Franklin County, Pennsylvania (near Chambersburg). Sergeant Benjamin Wallace provides the bulk of the letters with 15 written to his brother Henry, sister Mary, and mother—followed by three from his younger brother David, and one from youngest brother William. The others are from five Wallace Green Village comrades—demonstrating that Civil War was indeed a family and neighborhood affair, not only for “Johnny Rebs” but for Billy Yanks” as well.

As for their regiments, Benjamin Wallace and cousin John Keltner mustered into the 11th PA Cavalry in 1861 and went the distance, with Keltner being captured at Ream’s Station in 1864 and sent to Anderson Prison, which he survived. Their unit saw hard service during McClellan’s 1862 Peninsula Campaign and along the ’64-65 Petersburg line. Benjamin was promoted to Corporal as October 1862 with a reduction back to private March 1863, and then a promotion again, this time to sergeant in May 1864.

Three of them mustered into the 165th PA Infantry, a 9-month regiment that saw little action and was mustered out in Gettysburg in late July 1863, with two of the three re-enlisting—David Wallace in the 200th PA Infantry and Thaddeus Mahone in the 21st PA Cavalry (wounded in action at Hatcher’s run --11/3/1864).  David had brief service in the 2nd PA before going into the 165th and later the 21st PA Cav. William Wallace joined Mahone in the 21st PA Cavalry. George Shoemaker’s 126th PA was engaged at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and Mahon’s 205th PA engaged along the 1864-65 Petersburg line.

The major soldier correspondent is Benjamin Wallace, both in bulk and the quality of his commentary of camp l. Perhaps the most interesting letter in the collection is his July 15th 1863 letter to his sister Mary querying the effects and impact of Lee’s Gettysburg campaign on the folks at home in Green Village near Chambersburg—evidence that his and his mates’ deepest thoughts were always of home. His prose, spelling and grammar are rough and unpolished (as are they all), with sharp observation, gritty and to the point.

In sum, a magnificent set of Civil War soldier correspondence.

As the size of the file is too large to include here, please click here to view a PDF file of the transcribed letters.

With this substantial letter group come two pocket-size testaments, an 1831 Sunday School book, “Scenes of Daily Life,” distributed by the “Sabbath School Book-store” in Boston, and part of another book inspirational collection of maxims. One of the testaments is printed by the American bible society, dated 1864, and has William Wallace’s name in it and is typical of those carried by soldiers. The rear cover is loose and it is missing a few pages at the back. The second is dated 1860, also printed by the American Bible Society and has David Wallace’s name in it. The 1831 dated Sunday School book has Henry Wallace’s name, and the fourth lacks a title page, but is a collection of maxims and advice, lacking the rear cover and some unknown number of pages following page 222. The name “John” is written in ink inside the front cover. There are also two loose poems clipped from newspapers.

The archive also includes two photographs. One is an uncased quarter-plate tintype showing an armed cavalryman from the knees up. He wears a fatigue blouse and a forage cap with its brim turned up so as not to cast a shadow on his face. His carries a cavalry saber and wears ac regulation issue saber belt with 1851 pattern plate. He poses resting one hand on the pommel of the saber at his hip, slightly leaning against it. The photo is very clear. The saber slings attached to the scabbard are visible and the saber can clearly be made out as an 1840 pattern. The photographer has lightly gilded the wreath on his belt plate, the guard of his saber, and the two visible buttons of his sack coat. The image has some dust, but is very clear and has mat, frame and glass. Some rubs around the edge of the plate show it once had a mat with an oval opening.

We think the image is most likely Benjamin Wallace for two reasons. First, because of the large number of letters from him in the archive. The soldier does not show any rank insignia and published records indicate Benjamin served as a private only from his enlistment in August 1861 to a promotion to corporal in October 1862. But, a note on his service posted on a gravesite listing, however, seems to be based on the bimonthly muster rolls and indicates he was reduced to the ranks in March 1863 and only promoted again in May 1864, when he went directly to sergeant, leaving him much more time to be photographed without chevrons, even if he merely had not yet sewn them on.

A second factor is the presence in the archive of a rare Blakeslee “quick-loader” cartridge box for the Spencer carbine. David’s regiment, the 21st PA Cavalry seems to have been armed with Gallagher carbines when it was remounted for cavalry service in late 1864. Benjamin’s unit, the 11th, on the other hand, is known to have been issued Spencer carbines early on 29 September 1864, and given Benjamin’s longer service in a mounted unit, all the way to August 1865, he had much more chance to be issued one of these boxes.

This the is the ten-tube “cavalry style” Blakeslee as advertised in the company literature, made and marked by Emerson Gaylord, one of just two contractors for Blakeslee boxes to government. Devised by Colonel Blakeslee of the 1st Ct. Cavalry, allowed Spencer armed cavalry troopers to carry 70 rounds of ammunition on their person that could be quickly poured into the buttstock magazine of the carbine, increasing its already impressive rate of fire. The top and hinge are intact. The latch tab is broken across the fastening hole. The seams of the body are excellent. The color and surface are very good, with a few rubs along the edges and some pressure dents, but no real finish loss except on the upper portion of the latch tab from flexing. The shoulder sling loops and chapes are in place and tight, and the belt loop is present. All ten magazine tubes are in place. One shows a slight dent on the lip, otherwise they are fine. The Gaylord markings on the front of the box are sharp and fully legible. The stamping clearly reads, “Blakeslee’s cartridge box / U.S. / pat’d Dec. 20.1864 / E. Gaylord / Chicopee / Mass.” Gaylord had November 1864 contract for 2,000 of these boxes, and contracts for an additional 10,000 in December and 10,000 in March. Despite these numbers, they are eagerly sought after to accompany Spencers and are very hard to find.

Lastly, the group includes a cased sixth plate ambrotype showing a young man in civilian clothes from the waist up, wearing a large bowtie, patterned vest, white shirt and open coat. The dress looks prewar, though not by much, and he bears a strong resemblance to the soldier in the nose, mouth and ears, and we are tempted to identify him as Benjamin also, but since we are dealing with several brothers close in age, we hesitate to identify him positively. The case is thermoplastic and bears a raised floral design on the cover. The cover glass of the image has a diagonal crack, but the ambrotype plate itself is fine and the two seem stable in the mat and frame.

Most groupings like this have been broken up over the years. This one offers the now rare opportunity to understand its parts in the greater context of the soldiers’ family and community.   [SR/JP]

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