The Letters of Private William Lucas, Co. E, 53rd Pennsylvania Volunteers

Pvt. William Lucas, 1861 (USAMHI)

Pvt. William Lucas, 1861

The U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has a wonderful repository of letters and images of the brave men of the 53rd. On a visit to the Institute in 1999, Marc Benedict and myself took the time to copy verbatim some letters from Private William Lucas of Company E.
The letters are exactly as Lucas wrote them, including his mis-spellings, mistakes in grammar and all. We hope you enjoy them for their honesty and give you an insight into life as a soldier with the 53rd, beginning in 1861!! – Joel Peterson, 1999


(no date)

Dear Mother,

I promised to write to you as soon as we got to where we were going to Camp Curtin. Our regiment did not leave until yesterday for Washington are travelled all afternoon & part of the night on the road to Baltimore we came there about 9 o’clock in the night & then we stayed in the cars until a morning & then we travelled passed through Baltimore on Sunday morning to the Washington Depot as we marched through the city, the citizens were waving their flags & handkerchiefs they gave us our breakfast & then we waited until ten o’clock & then we started for Washington again we came here about sunset on Sunday evening we stayed in the barracks over night we got our supper & then the 61st New York regiment came and stayed in the barracks with us until morning we got up & eat our breakfast & then I & some of our company went up to see the capitol it is the finest building I ever saw it is built of marble I went through part of it as we had no more time to spare or else we would of went through the whole of it when we came back to the barracks our regiment was ready to leave & then we put on our knapsacks &c &c & started for camp we marched about a mile from the city & then we pitched our tents which we call Camp Brooke it is all full of camp around here you had better not write me as an answer until I write you another letter we intend to move about a mile from here tomorrow to a healthier place we were to move today but it rained all ______(illegible) & then we ______ (illegible) it until it would dry off a little one of the men in Band died today they went this evening to put his corps on the cars to send him home You will please to give my love to Margaret Paris & all of them that ask about me I hope you will excuse me for not writing any sooner to you & for not writing all with ink the pen I had was so poor that I could not write hardly & then I took the pencil to write it I saw more colored people in Baltimore then white ones they behaved very nicely towards us I have been our in the cemetery several times since we are here for cedar boughs for our bed we have a fine bed & now are sleeping well in it it is the best bed I had since I left home I am well now I had a cold for several days I must bring my letter to a close now it is almost bed time now. I havent wrote any letters to Lib Wilson or Uncle Marks or Uncle Charles to yet but will write to them before long Nothing more at Present

Wm Lucas

Mrs. Margaret Lucas
Selinsgrove, Snyder County
Camp California Dec 1st, 61

Dear Mother

I now take the opportunity to drop a few lines to you I receifed your letter day before yesterday & was glad to hear from you we moved from Washington to Virginia on last Thursday two weeks ago & are encamped about 3 miles west of ALexandria it is very warm here in the day time only at night it is very cold you said in your last letter about me drawing my money at Harrisburg but we did not get our pay yet. I dont expect to get it untill the first of next month we are in the service over 3 months already as soon as is get my pay I will send it home we dre(w) our dress suits on last Monday there has nothing happened of much importance yet & as to getting a stove in our tent I dont think we will need one we have a fire place in now I have some money money yet for to get postage stamps but I cannot get them here you will write oftener I put of(f) writing for about a week ago on account of not getting any stamps & I have none yet & so I conclude to get it franked(.)
I am well at present you will direct your letter to camp California
Co E 53 regt P V
J. R. Brook Colonel commanding Frenchs Brigade
Gen. Summers Division Washington

nothing more at present from your Affectionate son
W. Lucas

(In the above letter, Private Lucas mentions drawing his dress suits. If you look at the image above, it shows Private Lucas in his Frock Coat (or his dress suit), so we can deduce by this that he got this image taken sometime after December 1 of 1861. Also from other parts of the letter like him mentioning that he had not received any pay yet give us another clue to the dating of the above image.)

Camp Calafornia Feb 16th, 62

Dear Mother

It is with pleasure that I set myself down to drop you a few lines to you I hope you will excuse me for my neglect of writing you a letter last week I now will give you a small history about our Picketing last week we had poor luck when we were out there was one of our men shot by carelessness of him self the sentinel that was on the post he had his piece at an order & was attempting to bring it to a shoulder when John Price the man catched it by the bayonet and drew it towards him & the hammer caught at the cartridge box & drew it up to not quite half cock & then the hole load of its contents went through his bowels & shot one of his little fingers of he lived one day & night he belonged to our company he is from Winfield Union County there was nothing elseI believe that is of much importance we went out on Thursday & came back on Saturday & on sunday I was on brigade guard & then I had no time to write to you except evenings I received two letters yesterday one from Mrs Wilson & and one of Robert Lucas they say they are all well Robert is teaching school this winter at spring creek schoolhouse & he says that he has only 5 weeks yet to teach & when he gets through maybe he will come to see me in the army he said in his letter that Cousin William Shields & three of his sister were up to visit them last week & Said they were all well & they had quite a pleasant time Mrs Wilson said in her letter that she did not hear from you since you were up there & she would like to hear from you how you are a getting along yesterday it snowed all day & night this morning it is a fine day the sun shines warm & melts the snow prety fast away there is non news about the war here at present I expect you folks have [heard] the news about the Burnside expedition of taking Roanoake Island & other places of their success I think if they keep on the way they will do pretty well I rec’d your letter when we were on picket & had no time to answer it before now if you please send me a few postage samps I write a good many letters & I only have a few yet & cannot get them in camp I had my picture taken the last pay day I am well at present Imust bring my letter to a close No more at present write soon again remaining yours W H Lucas

There is another of the same name in the regt & he might get my letters
I thought I would put another letter to my name

March 2 1862
Camp Calafornia

Dear Mother

I received your pleasant Letter a few days ago & was pleased to hear from you & there was one doz post stamps in all right we have marching orders & I have more than i wish to carry I have a pair of pants we drew new clothes yesterday & I thought I had better send some of them home so the following articles are in the box 1 pair of fine pants 1 pair shoes 1 picture & 1 penknife which I thought likely I wouldnt need I cannot pay the freight on the box so you will have to pay it I sent it by express I received a letter from W F Wilson the other day he say that they are all well and that things [ ] (illegible) old fashioned there is not much news here of any iportance I am well at present write soon & direct the letter to W H Lucas Co E 53rd regt P.V. Camp Calafornia Alexandria Va our mail boy he does not go to Washington for the mail he says the trip is to hard to go & come in one day so you will please & direct them to Alexandria Va nothing more at present

From your affectionate Son
W H Lucas

June 3rd, 62
Camp Near Richmond

Dear Mother

I thought it my duty to drop you a few lines & tell you that we had to march on Saturday afternoon & night on towards Richmond we came here within a quarter of a mile we heard a sharp skirmish with the rebels our men repulsed them with great loss we encamped in the edge of the woods for the night it was very raining through the day on sunday morning we marched into the woods about a quarter of a mile The rebels waited untill we got into it right & then they poured a volley of bullets into us We got orders to drop down Just before they fired on us we poured a volley of bullets into them which soon made room for our men There was one man in our company killed and our Captain was wounded during the first fire and one private wounded The loss in our Regt is 107 in killed wounded and missing

The battle lasted for about 4 hours It was a hard place to fight it was in the thicket so that we could not see them They were not more than 3 or 4 rods away from us when they opened fire on us THe first volley we gave them the wounded of their army cried for their firesides and homes: it resulted in our favor There was ten of their men killed to one of ours They had us surrounded on three sides There was no artillery engaged on either side it was a regular volley of musket ball all the time The balls passed over our heads in close proximity It is not known yet how many of enemy are wounded and killed they are not all carried to the hospital yet and the dead are not all buried I was out to the battlefield today It looks awful The ground all strewn with overcoats – knapsacks – haversacks and dead men and ammunition I escaped being hurt I will send you some Confederate money and some of their postage stamps They are quite different from our There are two bills one of “ten cents” and one of “fifty cents” and two postage stamps If you please send me some postages stamps I have only a few more of Uncle Sams stamps I am well at present Write soon and give me all the news I hope you will excuse me for sending you such a dirty looking letter we did not fetch our tents and knapsacks with us and then I had no chance get my clean paper then this I got it in the battle – fields today

No more at present I send my love to you and all inquiring friends Direct your letter the same as before I remain you affectionate son

W H Lucas

If you please Keep the things I send in the letter until I come home