Lot of 81 Civil War letters by Francis John King of the 42nd and later 190th Pennsylvania Infantries. King, an English expatriate, describes every aspect of soldier life in this extensive lot of articulate and thoughtful letters to his fiancee Martha, during his near four years of service. During the war, he was twice taken prisoner, the conditions in Salisbury Prison of which he published in "History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865" after the war.
Lot includes: 21 August 1861 letter, "…Orders to march, when all ready and in the ranks, some slaveholders came amongst us & took some negroes who had secreted in our files; by orders as they said of the adjutant. They took them up behind themselves on their horses & rode off with them. There was four I think. I tell you it looked hard to see the poor creatures forced away. We marched under a hot sun as far as Hyatt's Town & put up at Wildcat Camp. On the road some of the boys in other companies stopped at houses to get provisions. They were afterwards taken sick & it was found that they were poisoned & the people who sold the provisions were rank secessionists. Two of the boys died I believe & one of them from our regiment is very sick now & hardly likely to live…" A week later he writes, "…The man that was poisoned, although getting well, foolishly overloaded himself last night with corn & such victuals & this morning he was taken with such spasms in consequence & suffered intense agony. I could not look on without feeling great pity for the poor fellow…" The next day, "…Today the sick man died. Poor fellow. He is now out of his misery…"
On 10 September 1861 King writes a prescient letter, "…As I was going to creek this afternoon I crossed the line when some soldiers were firing their guns on a knoll & they were firing into the side whilst I was on the top, but one ball struck within a very few feet of me, for I saw the dust fly when it did strike…Now Martha, there is such a chance as you probably know, that I may never come back. I don't wish to hurt your feelings by referring to anything so painful. But I do want to tell you that if I die, I do so fighting for my country. But I may possibly be taken prisoner & in that case reported as killed. Now what I want is to impress on your mind the importance of not putting too much faith in reports, but until you receive official news do not give me up for lost. When I meet the foe, I trust my life in Providence and with the aid of a good gun, fight for 'The Flag' & 'down with rebellion'…"
From Camp Pierpont, VA 25 November 1861, "…We…finally reached the 'ground', which is just beyond Munson's Hill, about noon…The Genl [McClellan] & staff & Lincoln with his Cabinet then rode along the lines, greeted on by each regiment with cheers…I had a good view of the General, Commander in Chief, President Lincoln, Seward and Cameron. But Lincoln took my eye more than all the rest. Although not handsome he has a kind attractive expression on his countenance, which anyone seeing cannot help but revere him…"
From Bucktail City 26 December 1861, "…At 11 o'clock and very near Drainsville, we expected a movement for we pulled down a fence and were marched into a ploughed field; but it seemed to end in smoke for the Colonel led us on through a wood into another road; we marched here about a mile & stayed about fifteen minutes near a house from which we took a secesh prisoner & then countermarched. As we came in sight of the Drainsville road we heard the report of a musket & commenced to 'double quick'. We were drawn up in line opposite a brick house on a barren piece of ground & we here caught sight of a body of Rebel infantry who were firing on our troops. I saw one man who had been shot through the neck & the blood was running down his coat; this awakened me to a sense of my situation & a very queer sensation ran through me. We were marched up to the house and ordered to lay down. Lieut. Rice and a handful of men occupied the house & fired on the rebels from the chamber windows. The house lay between us & the rebels, so that they supposed we were all inside and kept up a fire of shot and shell at it; but almost all went over. Here while laying on the ground I regained my self-composure & what little fear had gained prisoner of me, left entirely. I lay with a perfect indifference as to my fate, with balls & shell whistling over our heads, one of which cut a limb off a tree very close by us; I was even surprised at my coolness. Col Kane proved a very tiger; he kept talking to us & would laugh when a ball struck anywhere around without hurting anybody. It was funny to see him. Finally our artillery was put to bear and then the noise. I never heard sweeter music in my life than when our battery was firing her 12 & 24 pounders. In about half an hour Col Kane told us we had now the opportunity we had so long been looking for & says he 'shall we give them a big licking? Shall it be a big licking?' Then we answered altogether & with a full determination, 'Yes.' Then says he, 'Rise and charge!' Up we got & going but a few rods, he pointed with his finger & says he, 'See that officer with a sad cap, do not let him escape.' I will not pretend to say how many guns were fired at him. We staid then about thirty minutes; loading our pieces while laying on our back & standing to fire, dropping immediately. I fired six rounds & my knapsack & canteen bothering me while loading. I threw them off & in consequence, lost them. The Rebels soon ceased to return our fire, so we were ordered to charge bayonets & take their battery. The enemy had been concealed in a wood all this time so we could not see them…We then were ordered to charge; but the woods were very thick, so we had to go slow and the line was necessary very uneven; we kept on about a mile & then halted. Then orders came for us to turn back, which the Col was very loth to do…When we first began to fire, Col Kane was wounded in the face with back shot…The Rebels did not come back to bury their dead even; so last Sunday our cavalry did it for them…"
From Headquarters Kane Rifles, Camp Pierpont, VA 30 January 1862 Bucktail City "…a stout man calling himself John C. Henan has been down to Washington on a spree. One morning five regulars surrounded him to take him to the guard house. He knocked one of them down, grabbed the fellows musket and whipped the other four…" On 1 March 1862, "…While living here this winter in peaceful tranquility, I have almost forgotten what it is that has brought me here; to kill and destroy human beings; and at times I can scarcely realize that I am really a soldier…" King was wounded and taken prisoner at Gaines' Mill, VA on 27 June 1862 for the first time and held in Belle Isle.
He writes from Alexandria, VA on 30 September 1862, "…We left A. under the impression that we were exchanged but since coming here it does not appear so…After a soldier has lost his knapsack containing his kit of necessities both for accommodation & comfort & been imprisoned, three months besides, there are many things necessary for his comfort & use that can be obtained only by money. For my part I am minus comb, toothbrush (which I always used in the service) glass, towels, writing material and a great many other things that government does not furnish…" King had indeed been released at the time.
On 9 January 1863, from Camp in Belle Plain, VA "…The fight at Fredericksburg was a most horrible battle. I am informed by eye witnesses that a portion of the field was covered with dead grass, which getting a fire from the exploding shells, burnt to death a great many wounded fellows who else might have lived. Horrible! Horrible! It makes the blood of a soldier even run cold when he thinks of the unutterable suffering those poor fellows must have endured…"
On 9 July 1863 he writes of the Battle of Gettysburg, "…we have been on the march every single day (except when fighting) for the last fifteen days…My feet have been blistered up, my neck chafed as sore as a bite, and my whole body one big ache all through…on the morning of the fourth I was with the regt in the extreme front. A battery played on us with shell but was soon silenced by our sharpshooters. We had seven killed among which was our Colonel, forty one wounded. Frank Bell was wounded in the foot making amputation necessary…We were up by daylight again and marched to Gettysburg & fought the same day. I helped to carry off a couple of wounded men going right in the rear of our regiment whilst it was fighting. I tell you the bullets whistled some so did the shot and shell…" On 21 July 1863, from near Uniontown, VA, "…You ask what my duties are during a battle? I have nothing to do; my orders are to stay in the rear and after the fight, rejoin the regt with all necessary book and papers. At Gettysburg I helped to carry off a couple of wounded men by doing which I was close to the rear of the fighting columns and in as much danger as I should have been in the ranks…"
On 4 August 1864, "…We were on picket…It was a while we were on that duty that the fort was blown up. I was roused out of bed at midnight the night before & had to go the whole length of the line afoot in the dark a distance of over a mile to give notice that the mine would be sprung also that an attack might be expected in our front…The explosion was…such a tremendous cannonade I never heard before; the discharge of so many pieces of heavy artillery at once made as much noise as the blowing up…" On 19 August 1864 at Weldon Railroad, VA King was once again taken prisoner. A letter from "Camp Parole" dated 18 October 1864 reads, "Madam, I take this pleasurable opportunity in writing these few lines to you to inform you…Mr. Frank King esq Sergt Major…He is in the Rebels' hands held as a prisoner of war. I was captured also and was confined with him in Libby Prison, Richmond, VA. We was kept there a short time when the Rebels transferred us to Bell Island. While there I took sick and was sent to the Confederate Hospital. Before leaving he requested me to write…to you and inform you of his whereabouts if I should happen to be paroled…I have since been paroled and as a young man of honor I considered to fulfill my promise…George Kosee / Section B Ward 40 / Camp Parole / Anapolis, MD". King was released in March of 1865. Lot includes 5 additional letters from King dated in the first few months after the official close of the war as well as several war-dated civilian letters addressed to Martha, copies of military records and excerpts from King's grisly POW memoirs. A fascinating lot that makes for a superb read. Near fine.