1862: Unidentified Aunt to Hugh B. Eastburn

This letter was written by an unidentified aunt of Hugh B. Eastburn (1846-1915). Hugh was the son of Moses and Mary Anna (Ely) Eastburn. He was born on his father’s farm in Solebury on 11 February 1846. After attending the Excelsior Normal Institute, Hugh taught at the Boys’ Grammar School and Central High School of Philadelphia for a few years until entering the law profession.

The letter was written from the village of Orion in northwest Illinois. It contains a description of her journey with two other women from the vicinity of Bucks county, Pennsylvania, to Henry county, Illinois. On the train between Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and Elmira, New York, she spoke with two officers — one of whom was Major Edward P. Chapin who would lose his life a year later in the assault on Port Hudson.


Addressed to Mr. Hugh B. Eastburn, Meadowside, New Hope, Bucks county, Pennsylvania
Postmarked Orion, Illinois, June 12

Orion, Illinois
June 11, 1862

My Dear Nephew,

Although I have written to mother three times since I left home, I thought I would write thee a few lines this morning as tomorrow the mail leaves. I miss the daily mail much but one can get accustomed  to almost anything. today it comes in and I hope to hear from home. I feel as if I was a great way from home. I am in a direct line about one thousand miles. The way we came, I suppose, was twelve or thirteen hundred.

We had a delightful trip in coming. The little episode at Port Clinton not interfering with our pleasure although it disarranged our plans, and it instantly occurred to me as the widow said, “that we can’t calculate with any degree of certainty what is going to happen.” We had a very pleasant ride to Williamsport, only it rained hard all night and we missed the delightful scenery between there and Williamsport. We had a gentlemanly conductor which beguiled the time for I could not sleep in the cars. Sister and Mary Louisa would take quite good naps. In passing through Danville, the furnaces looked beautifully [and] presented in the dark the appearance of a city on fire. We got our tea before we left Port Clinton. Were I going to take this trip over, I think I should make more preparation for going without regular meals. We went right to bed as soon as we got to our journey’s end/ We were sorry as we had to stay so long at Williamsport that we could not see it but if we had not been anxiously looking for the cars to arrive, it rained so hard and constantly that we could not go out. Of course we had to content ourselves with what we had with us for our dinner which a very small portion answered for me. We got some ch___ at Port Clinton but it was not very good.

Major Edward Payson Chapin

At twelve, the cars came in sight and we were glad. They had on them some wounded soldiers. I sat right behind a wounded Major and we had quite a good deal of talk. He was from Buffalo and I think said he belonged to Col. Ellsworth’s company. He was wounded at Hanover Court House. ¹ Their company suffered very much — about every fifth man killed or wounded. He was shot twice and carries a ball in him now. Said it was probed about six inches but it could not be found. He was off of his horse at the time. He said when first shot, he thought he was killed for he thought it passed clear through his bowels. The engagement lasted an hour & a half. There was one or two others of the company with him. He said he rode in an ambulance which was very uncomfortable and was taken to a floating hospital where he saw the first lady he had seen for a long time and then he said what good it did him. She washed his face & hands, dressed his wounds, and provided him with clean clothes when he turned over and went in a good sleep — the first he had had after he was wounded. And then he turned around and looked me in the face and said, “Oh, what a noble work you ladies have been and are doing for our soldiers.” We had much talk and I thought of thee, my dear Mary [   ]. I knew thee would have been so much interested in hearing him talk. He was in hopes to be able to return in three or four weeks. He had his servant with him. He left us at Elmira [New York].

There was also a Colonel of one of the New York Regiments in the cars who came back and talked with him. He was at Winchester and he told me the women — he could not call them ladies — shot sixty of his men. He said they were perfect fiends. His countenance looked as if he could have shot them with a right good will. He lost two horses from under him but was not wounded. He said his most intimate friend was shot five times in the head by those fiends in the form of woman. ²

When we left Williamsport, we were in hopes of going through to the [Niagara] Falls without stopping but we found we could not go any farther than Rochester and when I found the kind of company we were in, I was not sorry. From Canandaigua to Rochester they were mostly emigrants and rough kinds of people. There was but one car so we had to be all together. Lizzie thought we would leave in the first train from Rochester but I told her we had better wait for the Eight or half fare service train and get in better company which we did. When we got to Rochester, found it very dry. They said they had not had any rain for four weeks and we had been traveling for twenty-four hours in rain. It was dry at Niagara also. My traveling companions expressed themselves perfectly delighted with all they saw there and Mary enjoyed it exceedingly. She rode over the [suspension] bridge in a carriage and walked back on the railway part.

The suspension bridge at Niagara Falls had two bridge decks — one for carriages and one on top of it for trains.

I have not seen anything or place since I left home that would induce me to change my home. All are very kind here but their ode of living is so entirely different from the East or what I have been accustomed to. I know it never would suit thee. I don’t think it any improvement upon our way. The one thing here is to raise corn for which they can’t find any market and thousands of bushels are spoiling. Still they are putting in more and more this spring. Some are not done planting yet. They far, very carelessly here but I think we in the East work so much too much. My idea is did they here do a little more, they would be more comfortable, but I have come to the conclusion that “sich is life” here and they all like it. Yesterday we went over to William’s far, about seven miles from here. It is a nice situation but wants much yet to make it comfortable which he says he is going to do. He is the same old William as when in East. I want thee to write to me. The ink is too poor for anything and when I go to some store, I will try [to see] if better it to be had. I don’t know that thee can make out to read this for the paper seems greasy and ink poor.

Love to all. Let me hear from thee every week. From thy affectionate Auntie.

¹ The author’s comprehensive description of her conversation with the wounded officer tells us she was talking with Major Edward Payson Chapin of the 44th New York Infantry — otherwise known as “Ellsworth’s Avengers.” The 44th New York played a prominent part in the action at Hanover Court House on 27 May 1862 where they lost over 30 killed and 400 wounded. Edward P. Chapin of Buffalo mustered into the 44th New York Infantry as Captain of Co. A in August 1861. He was promoted to Major in January 1862. He recovered from his wounds sufficiently to return to his regiment and subsequently promoted to Lt.-Colonel. He later became the Colonel of the 116th New York Infantry and was killed while leading is men in the first assaults on the Confederate works at Port Hudson in May 1863.

² The author does not mention the name of the New York Colonel but it may have been Col. Dudley Donnelly (1824-1862) of the 28th New York Infantry whose regiment claimed to have suffered many casualties when marching back through the streets of Winchester in May 1862. Col. Dudley was from Lockport, New York. He was mortally wounded at Cedar Mountain, Virginia and died in August 1862. “When the Union army was retreating through town during the First Battle of Winchester, the civilians, but most particularly the women, uttered the vilest language, hurling at them anything that came to hand. Then they began shooting from their windows or yards. Any of a number of soldiers were killed by women firing at them. One cavalryman, wounded in the foot, sat on a doorstep. The woman of the house opened the door and asked him if he could walk. “No,” he told her. Could she see his pistol she asked. Innocently, he gave it to her. She put it to his head and told him to get off her doorstep. As he tried to limp away, she shot him in the back. That night, several young soldiers took a vow to punish the women of Winchester for murdering their comrades when they returned.”


Griff View All →

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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