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Nichol's Civil War Letters

Milestones Vol 30. No. 4

Edited by Roger Applegate
First of a Series


This summer, one of our members, Mrs. Alta Musgrave, approached the Foundation with a group of Civil War letters written by two of her ancestors, David Nichols and Robert Steel, while they were serving in the Union army during the years 1862 through August of 1863. David Nichols enlisted in Company "C" of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers and Robert Steel served in the 6th United States Cavalry, a unit of the regular army.

The surviving letters were addressed to Hampton Nichols and his wife, Sophia Steel Nichols, living here in Baden. Both men's letters were well written, and their words conveyed the mood of lonely soldiers facing adversity far away from their Beaver County homes. The talk is not always of great battles and heroism but of local gossip, the tedium of camp life and the prospects for peace. Where these soldiers wrote about a battle, and both saw considerable combat, they seemed to be trying to avoid frightening their correspondents by treating the subject lightly or by simply keeping the details to a minimum. Despite the momentous events in which they were involved, the one overriding theme that carries throughout all of the letters is their longing for the normalcy of their former lives, if only in the form of some everyday news from home. Sadly, when the war ended, one man would live to resume a normal life and one would not.

So that the reader may experience a rare glimpse of the Civil War as well as local Beaver County history through these soldier's eyes, we will print each letter in its entirety along with a short introduction describing the historical context in which they were written. This window into the past would not be possible without Mrs. Musgrave not only taking on the tedious and frustrating job of transcribing each of these letters, but also allowing the Foundation to make their contents publicly available through this Milestones series.

Officers of the 139th Pennsylvania Infantry.


The Civil War Letters of Baden Native David Nichols Letter No. 1, November 30, 1862


Shortly before the disastrous Union defeat at the battle of Second Bull Run in August, 1862, Baden native David Nichols enlisted in the Union army as a private in Company D of the 139th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Commanded by Colonel Frederick Collier, the regiment was organized at Pittsburgh and arrived many days after the Bull Run battle, not to fight but to bury the nearly 1,800 Union dead who had been lying on the field for almost seven days. Following this terrible duty, the regiment stood in reserve at the bloody battle of Antietam and saw only limited skirmishing action. Afterwards, the regiment went into camp around Stafford Court House just north of Fredericksburg in Virginia. It was during this lull in battle that we are privileged to have the first in a series of letters that Pvt. Nichols wrote home to his family. This particular letter is addressed to his brother Hampton Nichols and his sister-in-law Sophia Steel Nichols, whom he affectionately refers to as "Soffy."

Camp near Stafford CH
Nov. 30, 1862

Dear Brother and Sister,

I received your most welcome letter yesterday morning and was very glad to hear from you and that you was blessed with a young daughter. I would like to be at home a day or so and I would by [sic] it something nice. Hamp I had lots of fun yesterday morning. I got a letter from a certain young lady I will not mention her name but if ever I get home I will show you it. There was some of the awfulest talk in it I ever seen. I will tell you some of it. She told me that old Sally Hendrickson was to have another papoose. I don't know how true it is but when I see Hen Campbell I will have anny {sic} amount of fun.

We had Mr. Beighley over here. He eat supper and breakfast with us. Bill Carr and Hie Hendrickson are in the hospital. I don't know how long they have been there. I would like if you would tell me if there is any indications of peace. We hear all kind of rumors out here. We have not been amoving for some time. There was some boys over here out of the 61 P.V. and they said that General Burnsides and General Lee had gone to Washington to try and settle the war but I believe as much as I pleace [sic] about that. I heard that the French government and the Russian government were about interfering but my views of the mater [sic] is let them come and we will show them what the Yankee boys can do. All at present ­ only I want you to kiss my little niece for me and tell Mother I am well and little Jonny tell him if he don't soon sent me that letter that I will give him that liking (licking). My love to all enquiring friends and your hat full for you and Soffy from your affectionate brother
D. Nichols

Hamp I wish you would send me some papers as I would like to have something to read.
D. Nichols
Co. D 139 Regt. P.V.
Via Washington

I am writing to you on picket- post. Tom Lighthill is setting beside me and Ben Beighley is setting a little piece off against the but of his gun. We got the news that 2 of our companions died the other day. They were both from our company. I suppose that Pap told you that Ref Hill is dead poor fellow. I suppose he expected to go home again but we can not all come back. So farewell dear Brother and Sister.
D. Nichols

The Civil War Letters of Baden Native David Nichols
Letter No. 2, February 1, 1863

In this letter, David Nichols refers to General Hooker, the new commander of the Army of the Potomac. The former commander, General Burnside, was relieved of command following the disastrous battle of Fredericksburg in December.

Camp near White Oak Church
February 1st, 1863

Dear Brother and Sister,

I received your welcome letter on the 30th. It was dated Jan. 21st, it had been to the 137th Regt. And I was pretty bad scared for I thought sure you had enlisted in the Regt. I received a letter filled with writing paper and envelopes and I am very much obliged to you. Tell Mother she may look for a 20 dollar Greenback before long. We were payed [sic] 2 months pay and I will send 20 dollars home. The Paymaker told us we would be payed off again in almost three weeks. They owe us 2 months pay yet. The Provo got John Holsinger and them other chaps that tried to desert they got them near the Potomac river and they are now up at General Newtons head quarters and I think they will be sent to the Ripraps to work there time out there. I think it is to good for them only if they had Samuel Hendrickson and send them all together. I think it would be so nice. I suppose you know uwe have got a new General. Hooker is the man if he only Hooks all them Rebs on the other side of the River he will be a bully fellow. I must stop writing for the want of something to say. Give my love to all inquiring friends from your affectionate Brother.
D. Nichols

The Civil War Letters of Baden Native David Nichols
Letter No. 3, April 22, 1863

This letter was sent a few days prior to the Chancellorsville campaign between April 27 and May 6, 1863.

Camp near White Oak Church
April 22nd 1863


Dear Brother,

I received your letter some time ago. It was 4 days ago and I have not had time to answer it for we had to go out on picket and we stay on three days before we are relieved. We were payed off the day before we went out and I sent $40.00 home. I sent to Wm. Semples dry goods Store. The Lieutenant did not start till this morning and I sent a letter to Father telling him about it. The letter started three days before the Lieut. did. If he goes up (that is Father) and does not get it you can tell him the letter started three days before the Lieut. did. There is $150.00 in the letter and tell him to be carfrule [sic]and get it for that is not made every day especially asoldiering. Dear Brother if you are in need of money tell me and the next time we are payed off I will send it to you. The next time we are payed off excuse the big mistake that was a good joke Polk Beighley played, his Father in going to Myriland [Maryland] and [unreadable] his duck. If I was Mr. Beighley I would get hom another furlough. I guess I will quit for want of something to say only it is likely that we will have another fight before long for we have orders to move with eight days rations five in our knapsack [sic] and 3 in our haversack. All at present only give my love to Soffy and all inquiring friends from your affectionate brother.

D. Nichols

P.S. I have not got only one stamp Hamp and I must write another letter I will give you these three cent pieces back some time.

The Civil War Letters of Baden Native David Nichols
Letter No. 4, May 23rd 1863

This particular letter occurs following his participation in the battle of Chancellorsville (April 27 ­ May 6). In it, he describes his feelings while fighting and also describes a near mutiny over terms of enlistment in the regiment.


Camp near White Oak Church
May 23rd 1863


Dear Bother and Sister,

I received your kind and loving letter and was verry [sic] glad to hear from you and am verry glad to hear that all the young married men are still Union or for Union. You all should get together and give that Rail Roade boss a good coat of tar and feathers and learn him to respect the government and the cause we are fighting for and we have some pretty hard work of it sometimes. A fight is one of the most awful things you ever saw of heard of. While you are fighting, you care for nothing. Around you will see one fall here and another there but you care for nothing. I hated a great deal more when we were amarching up to the fight than I did to fight and after the fight it was heart rending to hear the cries of the wounded but in every instance the Rebs make the most noise and howl over there wounds.
The most serious thing has occurred ­ about 9 months reports. All the line officers held a meeting and they had a pretty hot time. They all say that we all have a right to go home and they swear they will go. The Col. says we will know in about five days. I am sorry for the field officers. If it is not so I would advise them all to resine [sic] and go home where they should be. If our Col. Had a come out in the first place and told us that we were three years on during the war or that we were nine months men as the case may be bth boys would a liked him a better for it. There is no use in anny of us asking him anything about it for h e would give no satisfactory answer. He turns it off by some if we don't go home the Regiment will be completely demolished and Col. Collier will have himself to blame. Please don't say annythng of this to Mother. All at present only give my love to all my friends from your affectionate Brother. D. Nichols

P.S. I got a letter from Lizzie Shanor the other night and she says you were about a starting out to see Gram Mother. You did not say annything to me about it.

Please answer soon David Nichols

Co. D 139 Regt P.V.
Via Washington

The Civil War Letters of Baden Native David Nichols
Letter No. 5, July 17, 1863

The regiment arrived on the battlefield of Gettysburg about 3:00 on the afternoon of July 2nd after a march of 36 miles from their camp near Manchester, Maryland. At around 5:00 that afternoon, the regiment was thrown into line and stopped a confederate assault with two volleys followed by a bayonet charge. The next day, on July 3rd, the regiment participated in another charge against the Confederates and was set up as the second line of battle near Little Round Top. Following the battle of Gettysburg, the regiment participated in the pursuit of Confederate forces as they retreated out of Pennsylvania. On the day that this letter was written, the regiment had halted and gone into camp.

Berlin July 17th 1863

Dear Brother and Sister,

I received your kind and most welcome letter a long time ago and I now take the opportunity of returning the compliment to you.
You must not get angry with me for not writing sooner for between working and fighting I have not had time to do annything at all and I have been a lying here for a day and I think we will lye here the balance of the day. I was in the fight at Gettysburg.
I want you to tell me how you spent the 4th of July. I spent mine in the line of battle and it araining since [unreadable] Skirmishers since. Some of the Rebs that we captured say that we are the most contrary set of men they ever seen for they said that we fought them to bring them into the Union and when we had them in the Union we turned around and whiped [sic] them out again and we told them the next time they came in to leave their guns behind them and we would not say annything to them.
Okay Hamp you no the hardship we have gone through we have marched from morning till the next morning and then rest 2 or three hours and march till night. I did not know what soldiering was till the raid in Penn and then we had to take it but we were satisfied with the hope of meeting the Rebs and meet them we did and a dear count it was to them for they lost one third of their army by it. Don't you think the War is about played out. I think it is for I don't see how it can hold out six months longer. I wish we could only capture Charlestown and then I think they would give up. I think I have written enough for today. If you see Sam Schofield tell him I will answer his letter this week sometime. All at present from your affectionate Brother
D. Nichols

P.S. Tell Mollie to rite to me for I have not got a letter from home for some time.

The Civil War Letters of Baden Native David Nichols
Letter No. 6, August 18th 1863

When this particular letter was written, the 139th regiment was camped near the intersection of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers near Fredericksburg, Virginia. In this letter, David Nichols refers to his brother Hampton being drafted and paying $300 to hire a substitute to serve in his place. This was a common practice during the war.

Camp on the banks of the
Rappahannock Aug. 18th 1863

Dear Brother

I received your kind and most welcome letter on the 14th past and was very glad to get it. I'm sorry to hear that you had to pay your $300 but I suppose you think you could pay as well as the rest of them but the draft passes Joe Lloyd. I would give one month's pay to hear of him a being crusified [sic] the mean whelp. If he would come out here he would get some of the Secesh nocked [sic] out of him. The boys would use him rough. I suppose you have all ready have heard about some of the Mississippi Rebels mutining [sic] and they packed up and started for home and Stewart's Cavalry was sent after them and they overtook them near Sneakersville and they had a fight there and they were overpowered and taken back. I think the days of Jeff [Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy] are numbered and theat he had better be getting his neck ready for stretching hemp. Hamp if I was in your place I would shoot that R.R. [railroad] overseer if he did not shut his mouth. If that Provo marshall does not have him arrested you go and report him to Major General Brooks and have him dismissed from the military service of the U.S. for he would not be fit to be an officer in the U.S. Army. You must excuse this short letter and I will write longer the next time and so ­ you ­ my little niece's picture. I would like to see you get one for I would not take 10 dollars for it. A kiss to her and my love to Soffy. From your affectionate Brother.

David Nichols