1863: Alexander Malcolm Dickie to Hugh B. Eastburn

This letter was written by Alexander Malcolm Dickie (1835-1886) who was an unmarried resident of Solebury, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, when he registered for the draft in June 1863. At that time, he gave his age as 28 and his occupation as “teacher.” Subsequent research revealed that he was a teacher at the Excelsior Normal Institute in Carversville.

Dickie — a conscript — served in Co. D., 45th Pennsylvania Militia which was led by Col. James T. Clancy.  This regiment was mustered into the service during the first week of July, 1863, and was discharged on 29 August 1863. The regiment was raised in response to the intelligence that a large rebel force intended to invade Pennsylvania which materialized and culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg. From this letter we learn that following that Rebel defeat, the 45th Pennsylvania Militia was used to suppress anticipated draft riots in the mining district near Reading, Pennsylvania.

In the Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary American Physicians and Surgeons edited by William Biddle Atkinson (page 665), an entry for Alexander Malcolm Dickie states that he was born in Washington county, Pa., on 3 February 1835, “coming of Scottish parentage; was educated at the State normal school, Millersville, Pa.; took one course of lectures at the med. dep’t of the University of Pennsylvania, another at Long Island medical college, and graduated from Bellevue hospital medical college in 1865; began and has pursued practice in Bucks county, Pa.” He married Amanda Fell (1843-1907) in March 1866.

Dickie wrote the letter to Hugh B. Eastburn — one of his students at the Excelsior Normal Institute at Carversville, Pennsylvania. 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 Normal Institute, Hugh taught at the Boys’ Grammar School and Central High School of Philadelphia for a few years until entering the law profession.

In the letter, Dickie mentions Lt. William T. Seal a couple of times. Seal was also an instructor and later principal at the Excelsior Normal Institute prior to being conscripted into the 45th Pennsylvania Militia.



Addressed to Hugh B. Eastman, New Hope, Bucks Co., Pa.
Postmarked Pottsville, Pennsylvania

Camp on a Mountain near Pottsville [PA]
August 1st 1863

My dear Hugh,

I suppose it is not your fault that I do not hear from you, nor shall it be mine if you do not hear from me.

You will no doubt know before reading this that we have left the border and been ordered to the interior. The citizens of this place were a good deal afraid of an outbreak and mob by the miners who have made threats of violence and we are told have been preparing to make trouble for some time. The citizens were glad to see us come and have have been very hospital, feeding the men with the best the town could afford. They say they are not afraid now. Guess they need not be. The 38th [Pennsylvania Militia] is here too. Their camp is about a mile from ours on the opposite hill. There is also a battery of rifled guns with our regiment. We are between Pottsville and Minersville. I believe the latter place is the habitat of the most dangerous fellows.

We may have some fun but perhaps they will be intimidated by the appearance of things and give no trouble. The draft will come off on Monday and continue, I suppose, until all are drafted. I imagine the greatest trouble will be to get these men out after they are drafted because they can crawl into their holes and if need be, pull the holes in after them whence they can only be starved out. But it may be that there will be little or no trouble about the matter. I presume we will stay here until the draft is over — perhaps a month, more or less.

We made pretty good time since we left Greencastle. We marched from there on Wednesday afternoon, came to Chambersburg in the evening — a march of 13 miles in about six hours. We lay down in a wheat stubble field in the edge of the town and went to sleep without pitching tents. I had my face washed the next morning about daylight before I was up. There was a heavy shower which made things exceedingly disagreeable. We marched up to the railroad about seven o’clock and got on board about 10. Came to Harrisburg about 3 P. M. and started for Reading about 7. Got there some time in the night and staid until 10 A. M. next day when we started again for this point. We were just about forty-eight hours on the way. Reading is quite a place — 26,000 inhabitants — several fine buildings. [Lt. William T.] Seal and I strolled over the principal parts of the city. Didn’t like it, however, well enough to buy it. The road from Reading up here is through a wild country affording much rather grand, but no sublime scenery.

Our camp here is on bad ground. It is steep and wet — marshy. Think we will move before long. We had a heavy storm last night. It rained most of the night and wound up with a grand finale. This morning about daylight, I never saw a fiercer storm. Most of the men were drenched to the skin. The water dropped in on me a good deal, but I managed to get along tolerably well.

[Lt. William T.] Seal is not well this morning. He has a sick stomach — if you can conceive what that is. He is not very ill but bad enough to feel considerably out of sorts. Most of our men are well. The captain [Abraham A. Slack] had to stop in the town yesterday. He has diarrhea. I believe every man in the regiment has had that but myself. It may come my turn before long. I a more afraid of rheumatism than anything else. My regards to all the folks. Goodbye.

— A. M. Dickie — conscript

We saw the 31st at Chambersburg. They are getting along pretty well [and] expect to get home soon.




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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