Sample letters from Thomas Lucas of Greene County, Pennsylvania to his wife Letty
NOTE: Thomas Lucas is with the First Pennsylvania Cavalry, which has set up its winter camp at a site in Langley, Virginia where the CIA is located today. They named it "Camp Pierpont." The soldiers are periodically assigned to picket duty, which means being posted outside the camp to be on the lookout for the enemy. Mrs. Jackson's home was about 3 miles from camp; it was used as a headquarters for soldiers who were assigned to picket duty in that area. When not on picket, soldiers returned to camp.
Oct. 13th 1861
We had quite an adventure all around today. Just as I finished my letter, McCall's orderly came over post haste after Company F. I tell you there was a little the quickest time made a saddling ever you saw. We reported ourselves immediately and the first detail he made was for a corporal and one private who could not be bribed to take charge of two prisoners and take them to the provost marshall in Washington City and turn them over to him. Lieut. Rea called John Jones of Greensboro and myself to take care of them. Upon inquiry of Gen. McCall, we found it was the mother of Jackson, the murderer of the lamented Ellsworth, and her brother. What the charges were I did not learn, though I did learn that she, a short time ago, poisoned a lot of soldiers and that he is an accomplice in crimes.*
As soon as I started, he detailed Jonah with a squad of ten to hunt some cattle that had broken away. They traveled up towards the Great Falls right in the enemys country and brought them in safe, while the balance of the company followed the General beyond our outposts on a scouting party where they had the extreme pleasure of seeing a party of rebel pickets.
You may look out to hear from the Ringgold boys now [Thomas's company]. I guess our position as body guard is a sure thing. We are still under orders, holding ourselves in readiness to follow the old gentleman wherever he leads, if it is the very jaws of death. The old fellow is a perfect gentleman and his soldiers all love him. They make a practice of cheering him wherever he goes.
No more at present, but remain yours affectionately Thos Lucas
Tell me in your next how often you get letters from me. I write twice a week regular.
Letty J. Lucas
* NOTE: On May 24, 1861 24-year-old Elmer Ellsworth became the first Union fatality of the Civil War when he was shot by James Jackson [Bowman, 1983]. Ellsworth was a colonel who had led the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry across the Potomac River into Virginia earlier that morning from Washington, DC and quickly occupied Alexandria after very little resistance from the Virginians [Botkin, 1960]. On their way to the telegraph office in Alexandria, Ellsworth and several other soldiers, including Corporal Francis Brownell, saw a Confederate flag flying over a hotel. They entered the hotel, went upstairs, and took down the flag.
Jackson, the hotel proprietor, had often vowed to defend the flag. He was asleep when Ellsworth arrived, and the hotel clerk sent for him [Anonymous, 1862]. Jackson brought his gun and waited on the stair landing. As Ellsworth descended the stairs with the flag, Jackson shot him, then turned to shoot Corporal Brownell, but instead Brownell shot and killed him [Botkin, 1960].
Jackson was buried near the home of his widowed mother, Jane Donaldson Jackson. A friend of Jackson [Anonymous, 1862], later wondered if his mother "has been permitted the peaceful possession of her home since the Yankees extended the lines of their protection(!) around it ... The torch has been ruthlessly applied to many a lately peaceful and happy home in that neighborhood, and it may be that this, for the sake of the associations that encircle it, has met the same fate ... and that old mother may now be an outcast and a wanderer, as many are."
In an appendix note, this author wrote, "Since writing the foregoing we have learned that the mother of Jackson has been "gallantly captured" by a crowd of Yankee soldiers. Suspecting that she had been sending food to our [Confederate] pickets in her neighborhood, relying for their belief on the testimony of one of her run-away negroes, a party went to her house one night and tried to entrap her by passing for Southern troops. She discovered their treachery, and told them in plain terms what she thought of them. A few days after they took her prisoner and forced her, though sixty-seven years old, to walk several miles before they would get a carriage for her. At the same time they took Mr. Moore, an old gentleman, her half brother, and Mrs. Stewart, her daughter." [Anonymous, 1862]
The Jackson House on the Leesburg Road,
Fairfax Co., Via., Nov. 22nd, 1861
We are today situated on the pike leading to Leesburg on picket duty. We occupy as headquarters a house belonging to Mrs. Jackson, the woman you remember that I conducted to the city some time since as a prisoner. She owns a tolerable good farm here and has a very nice house to live in, but I dont know where she is now.* I havent heard from her since I took her to the city. She is also mother of Jackson, the man that shot Colonel Ellsworth and who was one of the most unruly secessionists in this vicinity.
There is a couple of old colored folks live along our line here. The old man is free and his wife is a slave. He says he pays her master who is a secessionist thirty two dollars a year for the privilege of having her to live with him. The old lady is a very nice looking old lady, and bakes pies and boils eggs for the soldiers. She says she "likes de Union people best" because they pay her for everything they get and the other people take what they want and tell her "dey pay her next time dey come."
There are some men here who make loud professions in favor of the Union and no doubt some of them are sincere, but it is hard to tell who to trust in this country. One man told me that he lived near Hunter's Mills on Lipocock Creek, had left home after the Bull Run battle and had never got back yet, and was afraid to go until our troops take possession of that country again. We were at that Mill when we were out on the Dranesville expedition and found the rebel pickets stationed there.
One woman told us there were only two men in the neighborhood, that they all had been ordered out in the militia, that a great many favorable to the Union had gone north and the rest had gone to the southern army. Her husband had gone north and she hadent seen or heard from him since July. This is only a specimen of the way they have to live in Old Virginia at the present time.
* NOTE: James Jackson's friend wrote [Anonymous, 1862] that Jackson's mother and her half-brother and daughter "are now in one of the Washington prisons. They took all her negroes which could be of service to them, and gave the others away. They destroyed her furniture, and appropriated a quantity of house-keeping stores which she had laid up."
On November 20, 1861, Mary Chestnut wrote in her diary [Woodward, 1981] that Jackson's mother, "a poor old body, over eighty years old," had been marched to Washington. Woodward notes that "in My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule in Washington , Rose O'Neal Greenhow recalled that the elderly mother of James Jackson was for a time imprisoned in Mrs. Greenhow's home." Woodward reports that federal records make no mention of such an incident.
In Camp, Nov. 23rd
You may see by the heading that I have got back to camp again, pretty tired, too. I have been in the saddle incessantly for twenty four hours and slept about fifteen minutes during that time, and that on a board a yard long, laid up on the bank of the road, but I think I will be able to make it up tonight.
I received your last letter today and perceive by a close perusal that you have, amongst other things, heard that we were starving as well as sick. Well, I suppose that the only thing that grinds some people is that we are not all sick or starving. It is an old saying, I believe, that the thought is father to the lie, and I think it is applicable in this instance because people must wish it so or they would not circulate such unfounded falsehoods. However, the only denial of the matter I shall make at the present time shall be thus: I send you my likeness along with my messmates, and I think our very faces will refute the villainous liars, whoever they may be. I was both lucky and unlucky this morning. In the first place, I found a quarter-- that was rather lucky. But it wasent very long until some one stole my haversack and all my dishes, and I considered that rather unlucky. All this happened while on picket. No more at present, but remain Yours Affecti... Thos Lucas
Headquarters at the Jackson House,
Fairfax Co., Via., Dec. 2nd, 1861.
Thy faithful chronicler is on picket duty again today at the Jackson house. It is raw and cold, but I am perfectly comfortable. We have a good, warm fire in the house, and my duties call me out only about one hour in four, and that is occupied in relieving and posting the sentinels. A corporal dont have to stand sentinel, consequently I get clear of standing guard at all time. But when on picket duty, I dont get to sleep any in the twenty-four hours, but I am in the house most of my time today.
There is one of Mrs. Jackson's slaves here, a little fellow about seven years old, that is quite an original character. He sang a secession song for us, and showed us how his master done when drunk, and a great many other monkey tricks.
We caught two rebel soldiers today from the 6th Louisiana Regiment stationed at Centreville. They were without arms and tried to pass off for deserters, and maybe were. They had grey uniforms of very poor material, cotton goods the style and texture of all their clothes, they said. They had no overcoats at all. They were taken by Jesse Hughes alone who, by the way, is a good soldier or he would have retreated from them, not knowing whether they were armed or not. But our company is made up of such mettle. It stands A No. 1 in the regiment and deservedly, too.
At the Jackson House, Fairfax Co., Via., Dec 20th, 1861.
Once more I seat myself flat on my foreside full length on an old door in this old secession rendezvous to pencil you a few lines. Two brigades from McCall's Division have just passed out towards Leesburg on a foraging expedition, and most conspicuous among them was the Greene County Rangers in full force with Wm. Grooms right in front and George Huston driving the ambulance wagon. Company F of the 1st Cavalry was not honored with a trip today but we were sent out on a scout yesterday, Lieut. Davidson says to clear the road for the whole division.
Well, I have just been out to the Difficulty Bridge, the extreme end of our picket line. The third brigade had an engagement this afternoon five miles beyond the bridge in the vicinity of Dranesville. None of the Greene County boys were in it, though; our company is on picket. The Rangers I saw after the fighting was over. The firing lasted about an hour, and was pretty heavy. We have not heard from them yet and dont know what they did.
I suppose you will be very much pleased when you hear that we were not in the battle and think it was a very lucky circumstance, but we dont look at it here in the same light. We regard it as being rather unlucky, and some of our boys are grumbling considerable because they happened to be on picket today.
The wagons are just returning, laden with hay and corn. A file of soldiers just passed with three prisoners taken from the 3rd Alabama. It is no use talking, the rebel soldiers are too poorly clad to stand a winter campaign in this climate. I have seen several of them and I have the first private soldier to see yet that was decently clothed. No definite news yet from the battle, but presume there was not a great deal of damage done on either side. You and the rest of the Carmichaels friends will be satisfied to know that none of the Greene County boys were hurt, because [they were] not in the action. You may rest assured, however, it was not their fault, for the last I saw of the eighth they were going on a double quick, and Company F was fast enough on picket duty.
Dont forget to write soon and let me know how you are a getting along. No more at present.
Yours Affec... Thos Lucas
Letty J. Lucas
Camp Pierpont, Via., Dec. 21st, 1861.
Saturday night is again here, and I am pretty sleepy, being on picket duty last night and dident get to sleep any. The soldiers were passing in nearly all night from the field of battle. A good many stayed with us all night at the Jackson House, being too tired to go on to camp. About one third of the Division had marched out to Dranesville and back again after twelve oclock noon, a distance of twenty five miles there and back.
It was a pretty bloody affair. The rebels' loss was 60 killed and 19 wounded; there is no doubt but their entire loss runs up to 150. Our loss was 12 killed and 10 or 15 wounded. I saw our dead and wounded and the rebel's wounded brought in. They carried the poor fellows in on litters and left them in a room with us. One was wounded in the hip, and the other one in the side. Another one walking in was wounded in the shoulder, and I carried his musket along our picket line for him.
Another old man, about 60 years old by the name of Hornish that knew your folks and married a sister of George Kerr's wife, came in completely worn out and tottered over onto some blankets. I went to the spring and got some water for him to drink and made him some coffee, and he soon revived up. He was only worn down, was not in the battle at all.
My health is very good and the health of the company is very good. No more at present.
Your Affec... Thos Lucas
Letty J. Lucas
Camp 1st Pa. Cav., Feb. 7th, 1864.
This Sabbath evening finds me seated to pen you a few hasty thoughts. I have passed this day very pleasantly reading my "Banner and Bible," and also in listening to a very instructive discourse by one of the indefatigable workers of the Christian Commission. I did not learn his name. The "Banner" is a paper I get from Chaplain Beale by exchanging the "Advocate". I get six copies of the Advocate weekly for distribution and of course keep one copy myself. So you see that I have two first-class religious newspapers to read weekly.
Between my papers, book, and preaching, I have truly passed the day pleasantly, and I know nothing that would enhance or continue that pleasure more than trying to interest you for a few moments. But that is a very desirable end that I hardly know how to get at-- the old monotonous role of camp duty-- not even a stray waif in the shape of a letter to glean a bit of fresh news to break the dull monotone of camp life.
How, then, will I interest you? By carrying you back in memory's recollections through the many labyrinths of the past or, perchance, attempt to lift the mist veil of obscurity and speculate on the probabilities and prospects and hopes of the future? But no. The past is filled with pleasant memories only, and let it rest in peace. If it were in our power to lift the dark veil with which All Wise God has curtained the future, for what harrowing sights, what heart-rending scenes of blasted hopes and cherished affections, what sorrows and afflictions might crowd before our sight in the dark lane of future events. No, God has curtained the future from the wistful and prying eyes of poor mortal man.
But we live for the future. When the heart sickens and the spirit sinks and dies beneath the scorching waves of adversity, hope bright and buoyant, with expectations of future, bids the drooping heart shake off its fetters and act and work and live that future happiness may be attained.
As ever Your Aff Husb "Tom"
P.S. I am sending two or three scraps I wish you to preserve. One, lines on the death of Sergt. Humiston, who was killed and found on the field of Gettysburg and nothing to identify him but a picture of his wife and three children, which was advertised and eventually led to his identification. They are very touching and simple.*
* NOTE: Humiston of a New York infantry regiment was killed at Gettysburg. His body was identified after the newspapers published the photograph of his children which was found in his hands.
Back to book preface
Back to home page