1862-63: Alfred McClay to Emily Ryner

These letters were written by 16 year-old Alfred McClay (1846-1863), a private in Co. E, 114th Pennsylvania (Collis’ Zouaves). Most of the letters were written in the weeks before the Battle of Fredericksburg during which he received a gunshot wound to the right thorax. The wound was initially characterized as “slight” and it was presumed by all that he would recover. He was sent to Harewood Hospital in Washington D. C. where he seemed to improve but periodic episodes of bleeding prompted the attending physician to attempt the removal of one of Alfred’s ribs. He died not long afterwards on 24 January 1863.

Alfred was the son of Aaron K. McClay, a journeyman house carpenter in Philadelphia at the time of his death in November 1848. Less is known about his mother Margaret. She appears to have died prior to 1850. Alfred’s only sister, Mary McClay (1847-1865), was enumerated in 1860 in the household of her Uncle Joseph Davis Wood (1811-1899), a produce dealer in Philadelphia’s 29th Ward. Curiously, Joseph was married to a woman named Margaret Clay (not McClay).

Alfred wrote this letter to Emily Ryner, his aunt and adoptive mother. She was the wife of John Ryner and Alfred lived with the Ryner family at 1010 Lemon Street in Philadelphia for part of his formative years.

[Note: the image of the soldier in the header is NOT Alfred but it shows the uniform of the 114th Pennsylvania Zouaves; the image is from the cover of Military Images Magazine.]


Letter 1

Camp Crossman
September 9th 1862

Dear Mother,

I take a little time to write to let you know that I am right well and wish you all the same but I am very sorry to say that I wrote you a letter on last Wednesday as soon as we arrived here but through a certain misfortune I don’t suppose it reached you and that was this. As soon as we arrived here, I was put on guard and had to write between times. The next morning when I came off guard, [John E. L.] Pinto and the Lieutenant were in such a hurry to go to Washington that I hadn’t time to direct it myself [so] I gave it to Pinto and he said he would write the direction when he got to the city but instead of taking the direction Lemon Street, he took it 1010 South Eleventh Street and I didn’t know it till late yesterday and now the letter is lost.

After we left Philadelphia about 9 o’clock Monday morning, we were welcomed all the way along the line to Baltimore by the cheering of soldiers, the waving of hats and handerchief, and flags by the citizens in every direction but we met with a sad accident at Newark Station. After we had gone about two miles beyond Newark, we had to back the train. One of the largest men [Mordecai Ryan ¹ of Co. F] in the regiment fell off the top of the car as the passenger train was passing and had both legs cut off bellow the knee of which he died soon after. It was reported there was another man killed on the road.

We arrived in Baltimore twenty minutes before five o’clock. We started right off for the next depot to to to Washington. After we had gone a short distance, it began to rain very hard and us soldiers were soaking wet and the streets were flooded from curb to curb. We halted for about 10 minutes and went in the large stores on East Baltimore Street until it slackened off a little. We formed in line again and marched off but we had not gone two squares before it rained harder than I ever saw it rain before. At last we reached the Depot and went under the shed but we might as well have been outside for it was full of mud and water and wet hay, and besides, it was full of soldiers—-the Corn Exchange [118th Pennsylvania Regiment], the 142nd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers and a great many companies that had been waiting a long while for transportation. Our First Lieutenant found out we could get some supper right opposite in the Union Refreshment Saloon [so] he formed our company and marched us over where we had bread, cheese, and coffee.

We went back a little refreshed and took up our quarters in the shed. I seen Joseph Tibben of the Corn Exchange Regiment that night and Alfred Lyman the next morning. They were both right well. They fared a little better than we did because they arrived there long before it rained. I sat down on the rough cobble stones in the wet resting against a bale of hay with my blanket wrapped around me. When I awoke up on Tuesday morning, I was cold and chilly but thank God the sun rose bright and clear and I had a chance to dry in the warm sun.

About 8 o’clock we got our breakfast at the same place which was the same [fare] as before. After breakfast as I thought we had plenty of time yet before the cars started, I would look around and see something of the city. After winding around one corner after another, I found Federal Hill. I ascended the hill to the gate of the fort where I gained admission. As I never seen a fort before, it was a great curiosity to me inside of it. I seen a great many large guns—what I call peacemakers, some nice brass pieces, and 6 or 8 of those things what Theodore calls washtubs which I think if Baltimore would ever kick against Uncle Sam again, she would be in ashes in a short time. Off the fort I could see over the whole city and surrounding country and I could also see Fort McHenry in the distance on the Chesapeake Bay as the fort commands a view of the whole. I then went back to the depot very well satisfied with what I had seen.

About half past twelve we started on the train for Washington. The Scott Legion Regiment [20th Pennsylvania Infantry] was on the same train with us. We reached Washington after being detained on the road for some time between 10 and 11 o’clock as near as I can tell. Tuesday night we all stacked our arms and went into the Refreshment Saloon to get some supper but a poor supper it was—a small piece of bread and a cup of coffee. But we must not think hard of this but we must take into consideration that when we go to defend our country and our families, that we cannot get the luxuries of an ice cream saloon in Philadelphia, but we must save our country first and then we will get all of those good things when our noble work is done.

After supper we took up our quarters in a better place than what we had in Baltimore. We had a nice large shed all enclosed with a dry board floor. Here we had a good rest. The next morning when I got up, I was greatly refreshed. I washed myself and then started off to see what I could see of this grand city. I went up to the Capitol to the door of the right wing. I went through the grand hall, through a great many rooms, and around many corners. The Bucktails [13th Pennsylvania] who came in the city late that night were quarters in the Capitol. I then went upstairs into the dome [rotunda] which they were fixing for a hospital which is a splendid place. There is some handsome paintings on the wall of the different battles of the [American] Revolution and of some of the great men such as Washington, William Penn, and others. Afterwards I went to the Senate Chamber which is also a handsome place which they are fixing up for a hospital. Then I went back and joined my regiment and then we got our breakfast, which was the same as our supper with one exception—we had good fresh meat.

Capt. Francis Fix, Co. E, 114th Regt. Penn. Volunteers

Our Colonel [Collis] got orders to move to Fort Slocum about 5 miles from the city. We started about 10 o’clock and reached here about 4 Wednesday afternoon. We pitched tents right off in a large field on the top of a large hill nearly in a direct line between Forts Slocum and Totten. But I am sorry to say it is a bad camping ground for water as we can hardly get water sometimes fit to drink. Our captain [Frances Fix] says it is the worst place for a camp he ever saw and he has seen a good many camps. There are ten forts in a line guarding the District of Columbia at present. They are building a fort called Fort Massachusetts mounting 84 guns. Every morning we can hear the reports of heavy artillery to the southward in the direction of Washington.

In Saturday morning one of the men in Company H, while cleaning his revolver, one of the barrels was accidentally discharged, the ball passing through his pants tearing them to pieces but didn’t graze the skin and went into the ground. In the afternoon, Corporal [John] Bell ² of Co. B while cleaning his rifle in the company’s avenue, there was one of his own men standing in front of him a short distance going through the manual of arms [and] not knowing the piece was loaded, he aimed at his [Bell’s] head and pulled the trigger, and to his surprise the gun went off, the ball striking to the side of his nose and blowing out his left eye. He was taken in charge of the doctors and on Sunday morning early he was taken to the hospital and was soon after reported dead.

On Saturday we got marching orders to be ready to move at any hour. That night we got orders to proceed to Frederick [Maryland], about 15 miles distant on the Baltimore Pike where there was a battle fought on Sunday morning between 10 and 11 o’clock in which the rebels were defeated and given back to Winchester by the 12th Illinois Cavalry. We struck tents Sunday morning about 6 o’clock and got 60 rounds of cartridges. We did not carry our knapsacks—only our blankets and haversacks. With our guns loaded, we started on the march about 8 o’clock and proceeded northwards to the Baltimore Pike. Here we found the old tired and worn out veterans of the last great battle at Bull Run straggling all along the road. I talked with a good number of the boys of the different regiments that were in the fight. They told me that some of the regiments went into the fight with 500 or 600 men fit for duty. One of the drummer boys of the national guards told me that on Saturday night that there was but 150 men reported fit for duty.

We reached Rockdale within 3 miles of Frederick when we got orders to go back to proceed to Arlington Heights. We had considerable trouble for we had to wait a long while sometimes as the road was completely blocked up with infantry , artillery, cavalry, and baggage wagons for many miles. It was Burnside’s Division of forty thousand men, King’s Division, and others. We had to knock down the fences and go through the fields. As we were going through the fields, I saw General Burnside. The General stopped Col. Collis and asked him what he was marching that way for. He told him he was ordered back to go to Arlington Heights and he showed him his order. He looked at him and said in surprise what 114th Regiment from Pennsylvania, of which the Colonel replied yes. He said that it was a splendid regiment and that he never saw a regiment march better.

We reached our old campground about 8 or 9 o’clock Sunday night where we were drawed up in line and the Colonel made a few remarks in which he praised us very much. We rolled ourselves up in our blankets and slept on the ground as our wagons couldn’t get here till the next morning. In the morning, the Colonel told us to pitch tents and that he would not take us away from here until we got every cent of our bounty money as there is a great dissatisfaction among the men. After we struck tents that Sunday morning and were going to march, there was about 200 men stacked their arms and left and said they would not march with us until they got their bounty. The Colonel went after them to coax them back but they would not and it was said that our Colonel fairly cried about it. On Monday afternoon there was but 8 privates left in Co. D. On Monday, the Colonel [Collis] went to see the Secretary of War and afterwards got full power to go to Philadelphia to get our money. It is reported that they have a great many of the men in Washington under arrest that left on Sunday and Monday morning. The Colonel has not returned Wednesday morning 8 o’clock. This is all I have to write at present.

Please write soon and direct your letters to Alfred McClay, Co. E, Captain [Frances] Fix, 114th Regiment P. V., Washington D. C. or elsewhere.

Please let Mary and the rest of the folks know where I am and tell them to write to me and that I will write to them as soon as I possibly can and I wish one of you to see Mr. Hall and tell him that I want to be remembered in the Sunday school and church and tell him I would like him to write to me. And if you could write a note to Mr. Hewit at the laboratory and tell him I am sorry I haven’t had time to write to him. Do not send me any box until I tell you how to send for it might be lost. When you write, please send me a postage stamps.

Very respectfully yours, — A. McClay

¹ The company roster indicates that Pvt. Mordecai Ryan was “accidentally killed at Newark, Delaware, date unknown.”

² Corp. John Bell died of wounds received accidentally at Washington D. C. on 8 September 1862.

Letter 2

[Note: The following letter remains in a private collection and I have only been provided with a partial transcript to include with Alfred’s other letters.]

Camp Prescott on Arlington Heights
Sunday morning, 1 o’clock, September 21, 1862

Dear mother,

…On last Wednesday we got orders that we were relieved of the defenses of Washington and were to proceed to Fort Lyons in Virginia. We left Camp Crossman on Thursday morning with the band in front playing the good old tune of, “We are Marching Along.” Generally when we march, they always start off with that tune. The sun was very hot but it was not dusty as it had been raining a couple of days. We were paraded through the principal streets of the city and were viewed by thousands of soldiers and citizens. We passed the President’s Mansion but did not see Uncle Abe and we passed the great Treasury Building, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Washington Monument, but we suffered severely. We had everything we owned strapped around us. A great many of the men gave out on the march. Some dropped down in the ranks and if they would not have given us rest when they did about three hundred yards from where we are, I would have dropped myself as I was nearly give out.

Since we have been here, I have not been fit for duty. I have been suffering severely with the ear ache. My face is swelled so that I am not able to eat anything but soft ginger cakes that I get from the sutler soaked in coffee. The rations we get now is hard crackers, fat bacon, and coffee, but I am not dissatisfied with anything for I expected all these hardships before I am done. But I will put my trust in God and He will make my troubles light…

…the regiment is not to be disbanded. Ninety-six of those men that run away were captured by the provost guards and were brought in on Wednesday evening while we were on dress parade. It is true that the regiment hasn’t got any drums. It was reported that the drum major and eleven men were captured by the rebel pickets while they were trying to get away from…

We are encamped on the top of Arlington Heights along the breastwork in the advance. Today seems more like a Sunday to me than any day since I have been in camp. It is as clear a day as I most ever saw as we are on top of the hill and the woods is all cut away. We can see the Capitol and all over the city and for miles around. They say there is 10,000 men in the vicinity. We can see camps all around Washington. Everything is is as quiet today as at church time in the city.

We have beautiful sunsets here. The clouds seem to be all colors and at night it is a beautiful sight just to stand on the breastwork after the camp[fires] are lit up. You can see thousands of lights on the hills and in the valleys and over the Potomac in and around Washington. It looks better than any illumination that I ever saw.

When we arrived here on Thursday night there was tents already pitched for us. The Scott Legion had just left the same tents and went over to the other side of the fort on the hill to the left of us….he said the Corn Exchange Regiment was in the fight at Harpers Ferry and run away…

We got orders to be ready to march at any moment with 100 rounds of cartridge and to have five days rations in advance. Today there was 250 men out of our regiment sent to Fort Richardson to dig rifle pits…

I want you all to pray for me that I am not led away from God by the many temptations of camp life…and that when I am called upon to fight for my country, that I may stand up like a true patriot as a shield for my country. And if it is my fate to fall in battle, that I may fall in the arms of Jesus and be carried home where there is no war or rumors of war, or so sickness, no sorrow, and no death, but we shall live in happiness for ever and ever.

— Alfred McClay

Glimpse of letter with corresponding transcript

Letter 3

September 27th 1862

Dear Mother,

I received your letter of the 23rd last night after dark and was very glad to hear that you were all well. I told you in my last letter that I was sick but I am better now. I reported myself for duty on Wednesday morning but my ear is still a little sore inside but don’t hurt me.

I received the package you sent me on Thursday afternoon and got everything that you sent me and was very glad to receive them indeed. You ask me how much I would like you to give to the church. Indeed, I cannot tell. I will leave you to decide it. You know how much you want for your own use and how much you can best spare for the church. Whatever sum you give I will be perfectly satisfied with. You say that the church is at a loss for men. No doubt it is so these kind of times but it is my earnest prayer that the church will never go down. If you see that lady again that told me about you, you can tell here that John Tucker has been well (he was one of the party that run away but was brought back) this morning. I told him I would write him a letter but he didn’t say yes or no. I am very glad to hear that Ben [Craigmile] and Theodore are on the road home. How nice it would be if the whole army could put their arms away and go home. But perhaps the day is far away.

You say that Emily [Craigmile (1861-1931)] would like to see me. I hope we will both live long enough to see each other again. I am very glad to hear that she can walk alone. No doubt it is so that she is in all manner of mischief. I wrote a letter to Mary [Craigmile] on Tuesday night and told her that we were going to move the next day but I didn’t know where. But after I sent the letter I found out that the whole regiment was to go out on picket on Wednesday morning. We got our great blue overcoats. We formed in line early in the morning and I tell you what it is, we looked gay with our new coats. We started off with the band and drum corps ahead and went back the road from Arlington Heights. The band left off at a short distance and then the drum corps struck up. When we got back about half a mile where some of our men were stationed on the inside picket and didn’t know that we got our coats, they asked what regiment it was when someone replied that it was the forty eleventh Smith’s Island and many other names. For the first three miles all the way back to Bailey’s Crossroads it was nothing but one big hill after another, just like the Schuylkill Hill opposite to Rockdale and such a poor, deserted country you never saw. Here and there a house with the sides all knocked in and nobody living in them and nothing but weeds and briars growing—no vegetation anywheres.

We went about two miles beyond the Crossroads and then struck off on a by-road to the left. Our company had 5 posts besides the Lieutenant’s headquarters. Each post had 5 men and 1 corporal which made the watch easy. I was on the reserve force and kept with the Lieutenant all day. The woman in the house close by said she would like to have a guard over the potatoes and corn patches to keep the soldiers from taking them so he placed 4 men over them. These 4 kept the others away but they went and got a big kettle somewheres and cooked her potatoes and corn and helped themselves and some of us bought fresh apple pies which went very good. But when the guards asked her for something to eat, she wouldn’t give them any and then the Lieutenant took the guards off and left her to take care of things the best she could.

In the afternoon there was a very heavy shower and we all put our blankets together and made a tent under a big chestnut tree. Our officers shared the same as the men. All of the officers were with us but the Captain. There was one thing I almost forgot. When we arrived there, the adjutant has a big bottle of whiskey in his saddle bag. He handed the bottle around to about a dozen of us. They all drank but the 1st Lieutenant [Henry M. Eddy] and myself and then he took an awful smiler himself. He is a nice jolly fellow. He always speaking cheering words to the men when they are marching. There is a new man [Joseph S. Chandler] with us now. He is Major. I don’t know who he is.

That night it was awful cold and if we wouldn’t have had our overcoats, we would nearly freeze. The next morning at sunrise we crawled out from under our blankets shivering like dogs. The Lieutenant went over to the house and bought some coffee and sugar and then we got a boiler and boiled on the fire we made some good hot coffee. In a few minutes we seen two of the men coming from the cornfield with about a bushel of corn in their big overcoats. We went and borrowed the woman’s big wash kettle and boiled it but didn’t tell her what we wanted with it. Some of the men of the other companies caught rabbits and chickens, some whole hams and apples and some even milked the cows. About 10 o’clock we were relieved by the 5th Michigan and returned to camp on Friday morning. We packed our knapsacks and went back the road about 1 mile. Pretty soon the rest of the brigade came up. We are in Robinson’s Brigade. The Scott Legion [20th Pennsylvania] is with us.

We sat in the field until about the middle of the afternoon when they gave us tents. They are like hen coops—only two men can sleep in them and when we march, one of us has to take one half and the other one the other half. There is only about 5 or 6 yards of sheeting muslin in the whole of it and whenever we pitch them, we have to make poles. This morning the Major [Chandler] took about 250 of us to dig trenches. He marched us around one hill after another for about two miles and then brought us back without doing anything. Last Sunday they took the same number to Fort Richardson and they had to work hard all day but I was not with them that day.

You talk about sending me a box but don’t send me anything for I have got such a heavy load now that I can hardly carry it. When Ben and Theodore come home, tell them to write to me. I got the letter you sent with the Chaplain yesterday morning just as we were falling in line to march. I send my love to you all and I want you all to remember me in your prayers. This is all I have to say at present. Goodbye for awhile.

From your ever loving nephew, — Alfred McClay

P. S. Please excuse bad writing and mistakes as I had to write in a hurry. I would like you to save all of my letters so that if I should live to come home, I can read about what I seen.

There is one thing yet before I send the letter. I saw in the papers that the Corn Exchange Regiment [118th Pennsylvania Infantry] was in that big fight [at Shepherdstown, West Virginia]. Among the list of killed I saw the name of Henry A. Dick ¹ of Co. B from the laboratory [and] among the missing [was] Joseph R. Tibbin ² of Co. A—the man that often came up to church last winter that belonged over to Frankford Baptist Church. And in the list of wounded of Co. I the name Eph. Layman. ³ This is the company Alfred Layman is in. I would like you to let me know if it is him but I hope it is not. And I would like to know something about William Kephart and the other men that went away from the church. Joseph Tibbin is the man that I was going to enlist with in the Corn Exchange Regiment but I think that it was the doings of an all wise God that I am here for I might have been killed or wounded but I don’t know what troubles I am to meet with here.

¹ Pvt. Henry C. Dick was killed at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on 20 September 1862.

² Pvt. Joseph R. Tibben was wounded at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on 20 September 1862.

³ Musician Ephraim Layman died 21 September 1862 from wound received the previous day at Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Alfred Layman survived the war.


Letter 4

Camp Prescott Smith
Below Arlington Heights
October 6th 1862

Dear Pap,

I received your kind and welcome letter this evening and was glad to hear that you are all well. I am very well at present and hope that when you receive this, you will all be the same. I received a letter from Mary last week stating that Mother was very sick but I am very glad that she is well again. I also received a letter from Theodore yesterday morning and I am very glad to hear that they got home safe and had such a good time of it. It is as Theodore says—a soldier has some very hard times and some very good ones.

I received a letter from Mrs. Edwards stating that Ephraim Layman lost his life in the last battle [at Shephardstown] and Mary said in her letter that Alfred Layman was killed and when I saw the name in the paper I thought it out Alfred and yesterday I went over to see John Hall I the Scott Legion and he told me it was Alfred’s brother. John is right well. You tell me in every letter that Emily is always calling me and you say that you hope the day is not far distant that she can look upon me instead of my picture but I am sorry to say that I think the day is a long ways off. That talk about making peace but they can never make peace as long as there is so many traitors in our army. Tonight the adjutant read the President’s Proclamation to us on dress parade but it will take till next January before we know for certain what will be done. But before we make peace they way the rebels want to have a Congress of their own, I say let the North stick out to the last man. I am ready to go to battle tomorrow if we are called upon. I enlisted for the good of the country and I will fight and die for it. I know that if I fall, I will fall in a noble work and I know that Jesus is my Savior.

Lans Sunday we had a brigade review and last Wednesday they had a grand review of the 1st Division of the 3rd Corps by Gen. Heintselman at Bailey’s Crossroads. I was not with them that day as I was on guard last Friday. We had a battalion drill and practiced firing in the different forms. I was in the front rank and when the man behind me fired a piece of the cap went through both shirts and stung me in the shoulder a little like a bee. We fired about 20 rounds blank cartridges apiece and I tell you it went first rate.

Last Saturday morning they took the regiment out out on picket. We left camp about 7 o’clock and our company didn’t reach its post till 10 o’clock. The Major took us out on a quick march all the way from camp to the first crossroads beyond Bailey’s which is5 miles without any rest. He give us rest while he posted a couple of companies on the left of the roads. We then struck off to the right a short distance and then took across the fields for several miles to Fall Church. They took us through bushes. They posted all the men they could inside the bushes. Talk about farming hills. I could never want to live on a plantation down here. It is the hilliest and stoniest ground you ever saw. Every once in awhile you would see one of us tumbling over a bog stone down the hill. The sun was very hot and our overcoats was like sweat boxes. My underclothes was wringing wet and when we stopped, I got cold and chilly. Our company was posted in a thick bushes. We had nothing but a cowpath to go through. We had seven posts. I was in the 6th post from headquarters. The other time we were out I got at headquarters. There was a nice big creek of elegant water. There was a cornfield and two apple orchards not far from my post. We had 5 men on the post. I was on one of them [and] acted corporal. After dinner two of the men went out foraging and brought in 45 ears of good sugar corn. We boiled about two dozen for supper. When they got back, I went out towards a house to get some salt. I followed a path that led through a swamp and up a big hill through a pine wood that was so thick that a man couldn’t go through. When I got through the pines, I came right into an orchard, I met one of our men with some salt. I got about half a peck of apples and went back again. I stewed a lot of them in a mess pan to put on our bread at supper which went first rate. Our sergeant took enough coffee and sugar for all the men for supper and breakfast and I tell you we lived high when we go on picket. We get a loaf of bread apiece now every morning for supper. We had bread, corn, stewed apples, and coffee and for breakfast we had the same.

We kept our arms stacked through the day until 7 o’clock at night, then got the countersign and kept a regular watch until 5 o’clock in the morning. About 7 o’clock it rained very hard. It wasn’t my turn then so I got under a shed of cedars  what the other pickets had made and kept dry. When I went on at 9 o’clock, it had stopped raining and was pretty light by the moon. The corporal and the men kept close together in case of danger. We had to walk up and down the path of 60 yards. We had to keep a good look out as the posts were a good ways apart. Our sergeant came around just before 11 o’clock to try the men on guard. He has on a pair of white leggings that come way up to his knees and had his coat sleeves rolled so as to make himself look like a ghost. I saw him when he was about 15 yards off. I challenged him thus, “Halt, who comes there?!” Bringing my gun to an arms apost as we usually do, I had it loaded too. He replied, “Friend,” with the countersign. I called out, “Advance friend and give the countersign.” He came up and give  it within 4 paces of me, then brought my piece to a shoulder arms to leave him pass. He thought he would try to get my gun but he wasn’t quite sharp enough. He says to me, “How do you come to an arms apost?” I brought my piece to an arms apost again to show him. He says, “Let me show you how to do it,” and he reached out for my piece but I dragged back on him and exclaimed, “No sir!” He says that is right and passed on. He tried 7 men that way and got 4 guns out of the 7 but he didn’t report them. He scared one man pretty near out of his wits. He stood in the bushes along the so as the sentinel couldn’t see him when he within twenty paces he stepped out suddenly before him in the path, the sentinel called out, “Ha, ha, ha, halt, oh mercy, how you scared me, Sergeant. The Colonel came around with the grand rounds about half past 3. He asked our corporal what he would do if the rebels shelled the woods. He said he would try to get us out quick. The Colonel told I’m he should put his men behind stumps and then the shells would not hit us and if cavalry come, we could pick them [off] and if infantry come, to fall back to the reserves and charge on them.

There is a man in the guard house now that he took his gun from him while he was asleep in his post. He belongs to Co. C. The man that was drum major up at nice town ran away with the skedaddles and wss brought back. They marched for two nights behind the band in front of the dress parade with a barrel put on him like a base drum with both ends knocked out. There has been two soldiers buried within a week of some of the regiments around here close by in a graveyard. When they were buried, their comrades fairly shed tears for them and it made me feel sad to think of it when the band would play so solemn.

We have not got any money yet since we got our bounty and my 4 dollars has run out. I would like you to send me a dollar if you can spare it in the next letter and some postage stamps. There is three of us in the tent and we have made it up to throw in an equal sum and buy butter. We can get excellent butter in one pound cans for 50 cents.

You can tell Ben that Pinto has gone to Philadelphia yesterday with a party of others to recruit for the regiment. This is all I can write now as I have to go out ons advance guard this morning. I hope you will always remember me in your prayers.

Goodbye for awhile. I remain your affectionate nephew, — Alfred McClay

P. S. Please excuse bad writing and mistakes as I had to write in a big hurry. It is now Tuesday morning.

Letter 5

Camp near Poolesville, Maryland
October 13th 1862

Dear Mother,

I write you a few lines to let you know that I am well except I feel a little tired yet from the march. I have not received an answer yet to my last letter that I wrote after I received Pap’s letter of the 3rd inst. but I expect one in a day or so. We have had a long march but have arrived safe. On Friday night we were ordered to pack knapsack and be ready to march at 9 o’clock that night. At 9 o’clock we got orders to strike tents in about 2 minutes. Every tent was down. It was very dark and cloudy. It rained pretty hard through the night. Five minutes afterwards an order came not to march until 4 o’clock the next morning. We thought there was no use pitching tents as we had to move so soon so I rolled myself up in my blanket and put my rubber blanket over it. At two o’clock the drum was beat and up we jumped. We got our breakfast and two days rations. We got a loaf of fresh bread and the rest in hard cracker.

At 4 o’clock the whole brigade formed in line and started off. The road was very muddy some places. It was over shoe tops but we have got our leggings now and they kept our feet dry. We crossed the bridge at Georgetown and passed through  the town. Coming through the streets on the rough stones bruised my feet so that I could scarcely walk. At last we got on the turnpike that leads direct to Poolesville. It [took] very near all day. It was pretty cool too. We reached Rockville about half past 4 that afternoon after marching 18 miles. We encamped in a fair ground that night. After we would sit down to rest a few minutes and then get up, we [could] scarcely stand on our feet. The Captain said that my knapsack was 3 times as heavy as it ought to [be]. My woolen blanket—part of it—was soaking wet and my piece of tent was wet which made it very heavy. Each one of us carried our own piece of tent. The Captain seen that I was pretty near give out and that I tried my best to get along. He carried my gun over 2 miles for me but I hung on and got up to the regiment as it stopped. Hundreds of men gave out and straggled all along the road. Some of the men throwed away nearly everything but I held on to everything but one blue and white shirt. The road was strewn with every kind of articles that the men throwed away.

I slept pretty sound at Rockville on Saturday night but was awful stiff when I got up. At 2 o’clock we were awoke up again and got our breakfast and started off again at 4 o’clock Sunday morning. The Adjutant told Captain that the rebel cavalry was all around picking [up] stragglers. When we come through Georgetown we heard that Stewart’s Cavalry had made a dash on Chambersburg, Penn. and captured it and they said we were going after them. Every place we went through the people remarked that our regiment was the finest troops that had passed that way. There was a fight somewhere along the Potomac on Sunday morning and nearly all the troops were ordered away from Poolesville to go to battle. When we got about halfway to Poolesville, they put us on a forced march for fear the rebels would cut us off. Col. Collis ordered the men to throw something away so as to lighten their knapsacks. They marched about 8 miles quick step without resting. There was three of our sergeants of the old company straggled behind and thought I would stop with them. They said it was about as hard a march as they ever had and they had a god many. There wasn’t half the regiment together when they stopped at camp.

We had a battery on the advance. Our regiment came next and 4 regiments behind us. The baggage wagons were in the rear. They hurried up the wagons as fast as they could for fear of being cut off. It is 20 miles from Rockville where we are now. We reached here about half past 3. We were here about one hour when we got orders for a light march. We were not to take anything but our accoutrements—our haversacks and canteens, and our rubber blanket if we had it. The brigade marched toward the Potomac on a quick step for about 5 or 6 miles. We expected to have a fight but the enemy got across the river. We took all the ambulance wagons along with us and the artillery. We laid down in the road in a have rain and slept an hour or two, then we marched back and reached camp about 11 o’clock, making a march of 48 miles inside of 43 hours.

We are all in good spirits at present and don’t entertain much fear about the enemy but we are all pretty tired. We expect to remain here 2 or 3 days.

Dear Mother, don’t forget me in your prayers so that I may not be led away from God by the temptations around and if I should fall in the defense of my country, the blessed Savior will take care of me. Give my love to all the folks. This is all I have to say at present so goodbye. I remain forever your loving nephew.

— Alfred McClay

Letter 6

Camp near Poolesville, Maryland
Sunday, October 19th 1862

Dear Mother,

I write you a few lines to let you know that I am right well and hope these few lines will find you the same. I received your most welcome and heart-cheering letter of the 9th inst. last night about 8 o’clock and it made my heart leap fr joy to hear that you we well for I haven’t received my letters since we left the other camp at Arlington Heights. Some of the men got their letters Saturday night when we stopped at Rockville to rest that night while on the march but there was none for me. After that we didn’t get any mail till yesterday but when they come, there was a pile of them. Some of our men got 7 letters. I got one from Mrs. Edwards and one from Mrs. Eastwood of the Sunday school. John Tucker got his 30 dollars but I don’t know whether he got the 25 or not—what he had spent foolishly long ago. I answered Mary’s letter but I don’t know how it is. I haven’t received any answer yet. I wrote my name and residence and the company and regiment I belong to on both sides of my bible.

You talk about sending me some butter. Dear mother, I would like to have some very much but don’t send me anything for I don’t think I could get it now. The sutler can hardly get enough eatables now to furnish the men. I have got 2 pairs of drawers, 4 stockings, and 1 undershirt and a blue one. I had to throw two shirts away but I will get along very well for clothes. I am very glad to hear that Mr. Hall has got well again. Give my love to him and ask him if he won’t please to write to me. Then I will answer his letters.

I am very sorry to hear that Mr. Mayhew is sick but I hope that he will soon be well again. Give my love to him and tell him to write. I am very happy to hear that Robert Early is still alive but sorry to hear he has got it so hard. I have asked many soldiers in his regiment but they could not tell me anything about him so I give him up for lost as his regiment is all cut to pieces.

I wrote you a letter last Monday telling you about the march. We were woke up on Saturday morning about 2 o’clock, packed up and started at 4 o’clock, heavily loaded with muddy roads and a little rainy but when we get out awhile we don’t mind anything. We get so tired that we lay down anywhere at all in the rain or anywhere else. We marched 18 miles to Rockville on Saturday and rested that night. We were woke up at 2 o’clock Sunday morning by the long roll and started again at 4 o’clock just about as tired as when we stopped. That night the Adjutant reported that rebel scouts was all around us cutting off stragglers. When we got about half way to Poolesville, they put us on a forced march. The Colonel ordered the men to lighten their knapsacks. They marched the regiment the last 8 miles at a quick time without a moment’s rest. Hundreds of the men gave out. Some didn’t get up till the next day. They kept the wagon train just as close as they could to the brigade for fear of being cut off. We reached our present camp late that afternoon after marching 20 miles.

Just before dark we started out after Stewart’s Cavalry towards the Potomac. We reached the canal about 5 or 6 miles from camp but the rebels had crossed the Potomac. We laid there a couple of hours and then come back to camp which place we reached at about 11 o’clock Sunday night making 48 miles in 43 hours, which they say took Baxter’s Zouaves 4 days. We rested on Monday. About 3 o’clock on Tuesday morning we were roused up again. The cry was as usual—the rebels are coming. We snatched our guns and accoutrements and fell in line in short order and started for the canal with 6 regiments infantry , one company of cavalry, and 6 twelve-pounder guns. We reached there just as the peep of day. We stayed there till about half past ten o’clock. While we were lying there, a dispatch carrier came on a full run with dispatches. There was a small tunnel under the canal a short distance ahead but he didn’t know it. He had to get across the canal so without stopping his horse, he made one plunge into the canal. The horse was completely covered with water and came out safe on the other side and went down the canal like a streak and was back in a few minutes. We went through the tunnel and got in mud and water up to our knees. We went down the tow path about 6 miles but we got too far. We came back a short distance and was placed on picket right on the path where the horse went. The canal was on one side and the Potomac on the other. There was an island in the river and we could not see the Virginia side. It was reported that the rebels were in force on the other side but we could not see any for the woods.

In a couple of hours we were ordered back to camp and the 141st Pennsylvania Volunteers and the Scott Legion picketed the river. The 141st come in this morning. We expect the Scott Legion tomorrow morning. We have heard heavy firing at different times since we have been here. On Friday I was on patrol guard at one of the farm houses close by to capture all persons without passes. They give us dinner, supper and breakfast. They was four of us. They give us some of the old fashioned corn cake which went fine. I had some of the sweetest and best tasted boiled ham I ever eat. We had butter, apple butter, biscuits, cider, tea and coffee. It was right side of an apple orchard and we got as many as we could eat. We caught 7 men—all stragglers that are caught now are sent to Harpers Ferry to work on the entrenchments. At night we slept in the corn crib.

The nights are very cold now. There is frost in the mornings. I had no blanket with me and I could hardly sleep my feet was so cold. They had a machine there like a telegraph wire on poles about 200 yards long to draw water from the spring house to the kitchen by a bucket on the wire and a rope to it. Today more than half of the regiment went to church at Poolesville but I could not go. The reason was this—all those that were on patrol guard on Friday had to do Police duty around headquarters.

Today when the church bells sounded this morning, I thought I was in Philadelphia but instead of that, I was far away from it. I don’t know what I would do to keep up courage if I didn’t receive such good letters from home. The more I get, the happier it makes me. But in my bible and in my God is my trust and only trust. Dear Mother, we have been brought into the field of operations and may expect to be called upon at any moment but whenever we are brought into action, I hope and pray that I may serve my country nobly and that I may never run away before the foe. I will pray to God to give me a steady hand and a noble heart and to preserve me from danger and hope that you all will do the same. I saw Jones Wood today. He says he has wrote home. He has been sick for 3 or 4 weeks. This is all I have to say at present so goodbye.

From your loving nephew, — Alfred McClay

P. S. Please excuse bad writing and mistakes. I thank you kindly for the $1 you sent me and the stamps.


Letter 7

Camp near Poolesville, Maryland
October 28, 1862

Dear Mother,

I received your kind and welcome letter of the 21st inst. last night and was very glad to hear that you were all well. As for myself, I am very well indeed. I suppose you mean Edwin McDonald when you speak of Eddy Donnelly. I hope that if he does soon get his discharge from the world that he will find a world where there is no sorrow or sin. You ask me about Alfred Lance. I don’t like to write about anybody but when I do, I will assure you that I will always tell you the truth. As for us sleeping together, I don’t know. I think he must have dreamt it for he would never slept with me or me sleep with him. And as for prayer meetings, we have never had any except a few sermons that I have told you about. As for John Tucker, I think I told you the particulars in my other letter. As I told you before, he was one of that party that we term the skedaddlers. He got his $50 but didn’t get the $25. What he got, he spent foolishly. I am glad to hear that some certain persons have been drafted and those that say as much that they will desert, I hope they will meet the doom they deserve.

I will write to Mr. Hall as soon as I can now. I have been waiting a long while for a letter from him and I have had so many to write that I can hardly get time. I answered Mary’s letter before we left the other camp and haven’t received any answer yet. I wish you would find out the reason. You say you will send me some shirts if I want them. I have made a requisition for some things already. I am quite comfortable as far as clothes are concerned and it costs so much to send a box that I don’t think is worthwhile. Some men got boxes last week and had to pay 50 cents for them. Then they opened them, they had been so long coming that there wasn’t 50 cents worth in some of them. One thing I would like to have is a good strong and warm pair of buckskin gloves. These you could wrap up in paper and send by mail. I guess you could send them with about a quarter’s worth of stamps on them—maybe not so much. Pinto got a couple of heavy woolen shirts once with 53 cents worth of stamps in them.

A toy figure of a member of Collis’ Zouaves holding the state flag described in Alfred’s letter.

There is some talk that we are in Burnside’s Division and that he is fitting out an expedition to go to Texas but I don’t know whether it is so or not. Last Friday our brigade was reviewed by Brigadier Gen. Stoneman commanding the division. That Thursday when we came off of picket, we had the state flag of Pennsylvania presented to us by Adjutant General Thomas. It is the stars and stripes of handsome silk with the arms of the state in the corner and 114th P. V. in the middle. The name of the battles that our regiment is in are to be printed on this flag—that is, if we ever fight any battles. The Scott Legion & the 141st P. V. got a flag presented to them the same as us.

Last Sunday morning our brigade was inspected some of Burnside’s staff. It commenced to rain when we went out and it wasn’t very pleasant standing there in the rain so long but that wasn’t the worst of it. It didn’t only rain but poured nearly all day and all night and it was very cold. Our tents wasn’t of much use. Even some of the officers big tents blowed down. On Sunday night we got orders to be ready to march at 4 o’clock yesterday morning with three days rations. We were woke up about 4 o’clock. After roll call I laid down in my tent again. I didn’t much more than get down than a strong wind come and blowed the tent over me like a streak and I couldn’t fix it again but we didn’t start. After daylight the Captain treated the whole company to a drink of whiskey and I think that I was about the only one that didn’t drink in the whole company. Other captains treated their companies and got a good many drunk. In Co. K the men got at fighting. It cleared off about 11 o’clock. Then I was put on patrol guard and stationed at the same house I was at before. They give us some roasted chicken for dinner yesterday and some soup today. I am in their corn crib at present writing the letter.

Last night they got orders at camp to be ready to march this morning at 7 o’clock with 4 days rations. The battery and a regiment of cavalry from up the road somewhere passed a little after daylight on the road to the Potomac. At 7 our brigade followed them but I think they will be back in a day or so as they left us behind and all the officer’s baggage and tents. I am the only one of Co. E left behind. I am sorry to say it but I am at my post doing my duty. I hope that I may hear from you soon and don’t forget to pray for me. This is all I have to say at present. My fingers are getting so numb that I can hardly hold the pen. So goodbye.

I remain happy and cheerful through all my troubles and hardships by putting my trust in Jesus. Your loving nephew, — A. McClay


Letter 8

Near Leesburg, Virginia
Saturday, November 1st 1862

Dear Mother,

I write you a few lines to let you know that I am right well and hope these few lines will find you the same. I received your kind and welcome letter of the 27th early yesterday morning and was very glad to hear that you were all well. You say in your letter that it was very stormy on last Sunday. I don’t think that it was any worse than it was where I was although I wasn’t there to see it. About 8 o’clock the whole brigade went on inspection and it just commenced to rain, being very cold. It rained all day sand all night until Monday morning between 10 and 11 o’clock. I didn’t go outside of my tent from about 2 o’clock in the afternoon until 4 o’clock the next morning.

Sunday night we got orders to be ready to march at 4 o’clock in the morning with 3 days rations in our haversacks. We were called up at 4 o’clock, raining very hard and the wind blowing. We went out to roll call and then I went and laid down in my tent. I hadn’t much more than got down than a strong wind came a blowed the tent over me and I could not fix it afterwards. We got ready to march but no orders came. It didn’t only rain but poured down till after ten o’clock. It was my turn to go on guard so I asked to be put on patrol guard so as I might be stationed at a house and I got my wish. 4 of us and a Corporal stayed there all day and then went to headquarters. I went down to get my blanket at camp when I received your kind letter of the 21st inst. an answered it the next day and sent it to Poolesville by a citizen. I don’t know whether he will post it right or not. If he don’t, it won’t be any loss as there was nothing in it but writing.

On Monday night I rolled myself up in my blanket and slept by a fire in the open field the next morning the ground was a white with frost as if it had snowed. I went down to camp to get my breakfast when I saw they were getting ready to march. They gave us 20 rounds more of cartridges making 60 rounds and rations for 4 days. They started at 7 o’clock with the battery and 1 regiment of cavalry from Poolesville ahead towards the Potomac but I could not go as the patrol guard had to wait for the wagons.

I was sent back to the house again with the others that was with me and stayed there till Monday morning 11 o’clock when we were drawed in and the train of wagons started while we were at the house. We had good living—plenty of corncake and some roasted chicken. On Tuesday night we got some of the slaves to bake us a corncake and I tell you they baked us a socken big one. I got a good bit of information out of the darkeys concerning the rebels while they were at Poolesville. They said if we would have got to Poolesville that Sunday morning 10 o’clock instead of the afternoon, we could have trapped Gen. Stewart and his cavalry. But you see they are too smart for us. I saw the woods they encamped in one night when they first came into Maryland about one month ago. The man that owned the woods had three sons in the cavalry and they stayed at his house all night. They stole a stack of hay, 1 horse, and a couple of hogs from the place that I was at.

On Tuesday we expected to hear of a fight from our brigade every moment. Then the news came that they crossed the river safe and encamped 2 miles ahead. They had to wade the river and they said that some of the shortest men got in over their heads but it was not so. Some few fell down while crossing, then they got in over their heads, but no other time for the water wasn’t deep enough. They made a bridge across the locks of the canal and then went down about half a mile to White’s Ford where we crossed the river. I didn’t like the idea of going through the water but it had to be done as the wagon master couldn’t let anybody on the wagons. Some of the men to show what they could do so they waded the river with all their clothes and had no dry ones when they got across but others had sense enough to take their pants off and wade. I took my shoes and stocking and pants off and waded it in my drawers. The water was awful cold. I got in above my knees. The stones hurt my feet so that I had to put on my shoes before I got half way across but I had another pair of governments in my knapsack so I was all right.

The river was about three hundred yards wide where we crossed and it was a long, cold wade but when I got on dry clothes, I felt bully. I reached the camp in the middle of the afternoon but they hadn’t any tents pitched. There was two fine stacks of wheat. We took one of the stacks and made beds out of them. The men told me that they laid on their arms on Tuesday night expecting an attack every moment but they were ready to receive the rebels at any time. The battery was in position and there was the whole of the 1st Division of the 3rd Army Corps, 13,000 men and a battery of 12-pounders on the Maryland side on a big hill to cover our retreat. On Thursday afternoon I went down on the canal with 11 others and a sergeant to load wagons. I had just cooked my dinner but had to leave it behind. We had to load all kinds of provisions. There was a barrel of sugar broken open. We were pretty hungry so we dived into the sugar yesterday morning. The regiments were mustered in for pay but I don’t know when we will get paid off.

At noon we got 2 days rations. First rate fresh beef and pork, coffee and sugar, and hard crackers. The the whole division started for Leesburg 5 miles distant. When we got with half a mile of the town, we unfurled our glorious banners to the breeze. When we entered the town, the band struck the tune, “Brothers, will you meet me?” We marched through the town by fours in splendid order. We were ahead of the whole division. There was not a smile upon anyone but the darkeys. They run from every direction, cheered and waved their hats and handkerchiefs at us. They say there has been no Union troops through here since the 3rd of September. We are about ¾ of a mile below Leesburg. We stopped along a big worm fence side of a corn field. In about half an hour you could hardly tell that there was a fence there, or a corn field only for the stubbles. We took the corn to make beds as we haven’t had our tents pitched since Tuesday or no orders yet to pitch them. The fence we took to cook our suppers.

This morning at quarter past 4 o’clock, we were woke up silently and drawed up in line of battle. We were ordered to load our guns and remain as quiet as possible. I don’t believe you could have heard us ½ square off. Co. F was sent out as skirmishers. They went through the woods ahead of us but couldn’t see anything. We laid there till daylight and then dismissed. When we dismissed, the Captain said to us, “Boys, perhaps you think this work is all foolishness but I suppose you are all aware that we are soldiers. I have done this many a time.” He said that it is rumored that 2 companies of our cavalry were captured last night by the rebels. He says the cavalry will advance in the night within speaking distance of the pickets and then just before daylight dash in upon a regiment or brigade and cut them to pieces before they are aware of it, so it is best to get up early in the morning and be ready for them.

I was told that our cavalry broke open a house in Leesburg where the rebels had watches and all kinds of valuables deposited.

We are nearly on a line now between Forts Johnson and Beauregard, once occupied by the rebels but now by our troops. The whole Army of the Potomac is now making a grand move southward and we are pushing the enemy before us. We are just 40 miles from Winchester now.

I am glad to hear that there will be no drafting in your precinct and also happy to hear that Emily has not forgotten me. I would like to have her little picture if I could get it. You told me in your letter that my aunt was telling you about her some. I don’t know who you mean without it is Aunt Rebecca. If you see Mr. Hall, I wish you would tell him to excuse me for not writing sooner as we have been on the move so much that I have not had time. But I will write as soon as I can. I received a letter from Aunt Margaret and from Mary which I will answer today if I possibly can. I feel very happy at present trusting in God that He will take care of me.

Your true loving nephew, — Alfred McClay

Direct your letters as before.

Letter 9

Camp in the woods and rainy on the road to Fredericksburg, Va.
Thursday, November 20th 1862

Dear Mother,

I write you a few lines to let you know that I am right well and hope these few lines will find you the same. Also to let you know that I haven’t received any letters from home since the day after we crossed the Potomac into Virginia which was dated October 27th and one from Aunt Margaret and sister Mary dated October 26th. I answered your letter November 1st and Mary’s November 2nd. I wrote to Theodore November 2nd and one to Aunt Margaret November 9th and one to Mr. Hall November 10th but haven’t received any answer yet to any of them. I gave an account of the march over hill and dell through Virginia passing through Leesburg through the towns of Mt. Gilead, Middleburg, White Plains, Salem, up to the camp in the woods near Waterloo. I asked Aunt Margaret to please let you see the letter containing an account of the marches as it saves me a great deal of time and paper as both are very scarce.

We have captured some prisoners and horses and have got a good many things by foraging parties of the secesh. On November 7th it snowed very hard nearly all day. We marched a couple of miles and went into the woods and stood in line of battle for a long while, knapsacks and everything, still snowing until we got so cold that we had to make fires but we had to be careful and not make big ones so as the Rebs couldn’t tell where we were. The artillery went to the front on a hill. In a short time, as we were sitting around the fire, some of the men cooking meat, and one thing or another, all at once we were startled by the stunning report of one of the pieces. The boys all jumped up expecting to be taken into a fight almost every minute. For seven times boom went the gun but they soon found out their mistake as the troops we fired on knew that we were Union troops and they raised a white flag. It was some of our own cavalry. The shells bursted all around them but by the Providence of God, not a man was hurt.

We laid in the woods. till Monday. Our rations run out on Saturday night and she should have got crackers on Sunday morning but didn’t get them till Monday morning. Some of the boys had hardly anything to eat all day but I had enough left to satisfy hunger till supper but the worst of it was what crackers we got for 3 days on that Monday had maggots and worms in and one man in our company found a little mouse in one of the crackers which he took and showed to the quartermaster. This may seem doubtful but it is a perfect fact. I always thought I had a good stomach but they almost put me against eating crackers. But we have had very good ones since that time on Monday.

I had just finished Mr. Hall’s letter and were just falling in for a battalion drill about half past 3 o’clock when we got orders to pack up. The 8th Pa. Cavalry came in retreating and the whole train of baggage wagons. They reported that the whole of Jackson’s army, 60,000, was only 4 miles out. The cavalry and wagons came dashing down the hill heater skelter as if the whole rebel army was after them. The Rebs had burnt the bridge over the creek as they retreated and as we only had a small rough bridge one wagon run over into the creek nearly killing the horses. We were ready in a short time and begin to advance with skirmishers thrown out. We went up the hill about 2 miles and a half that night. Our company was sent out in the outpost on picket. They trust the dangerous posts to our company more than any other. It must be because we have got good officers. It is next toileting the largest company in the regiment. The Captain was in Col. Bohlen Regt. and the 1st Lieutenant and 4 sergeants are all out of the old company of Zouaves.

On Tuesday we saw the camp of thousands of troops in our rear. On Last Saturday afternoon we left the hill and came back about 3 miles, then struck off to the south. We camped in a pine woods and stayed there till last Sunday morning when we marched about 4 miles and reached Warrenton. That night it commenced raining. Monday morning, long before daylight, the army commenced to move. They moved by the left in front making our regiment the very last. We were the rear guard of the whole army going in the direction of Fredericksburg. The whole army is marching in three columns—one column by the way of Waterloo, another by Sulphur Springs, and one by Fredericksburg. On Monday we marched till after dark—pretty rainy. We reached some railroad and our regiment was quartered in the station that night. The next morning we started again and stopped about 4 o’clock, still raining and very muddy. We stopped on a hill close by some stacks of straw. We had pretty good beds that night but the worst is water is pretty scarce and generally what we doin get is very muddy. On Wednesday morning we started again and late in the afternoon we stopped in a large woods. We stayed there on Thursday and Friday and it did rain awful hard. Our tents blowed down in the night and nearly all of us got wet.

On Friday evening I witnessed the burial of one John Erdman of Co. D from Philadelphia. He was buried close by the road beneath a beautiful cedar. He was married just about one week before he left the city. Yesterday morning Saturday we started again on the march and a hard time we had of it. The roads were awful muddy in the starting off. Our medical wagon upset right in the middle of the road. Many places the roads were so bad that we had to go through the fields a great ways. We kept on the road to Fredericksburg till we got within about 5 miles of it when we struck off to the left in the direction of Stafford Court House and went a round about road. We are now within 2 miles of the city and can see it off a hill. Last night we didn’t stop marching till long after [dark] and it was very cold. We couldn’t find any water or no sticks to put up our tents. This morning we had to go full one mile to get water to cook our coffee but in a short time we moved further ahead and we are now camped right aside of the creek. Me and my comrade have got our tent boarded up and are pretty comfortable at present.

It is now about 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon. It is pretty clear but the wind is cold. The boys have been thinking about winter quarters for a long while but I think it will be some time yet & if my life is spared till Christmas Day, I have an idea that I will eat my Christmas dinner in the City of Richmond. We have such an army now that I think it won’t have to run back to Maryland again. There has been a great change. Burnside as know has McClellan’s place. There was many a sad heart in this army when we heard McClellan was removed. I am glad that Philadelphia gave him a reception that is due to such a good man but perhaps Burnside may do some great work before New Years. Everything is in a fair way for it now.

People talk about things being high, you say. In the City down here. they scarcely get a smell of coffee or sugar. What coffee they get is 75 cents a pound. I traded some coffee off one day to a poor woman for some worn cake and she was very glad to get it. I received your long looked for letter this morning dated November 11th and I am very happy to hear that you are all well. It is the first letter I have received since October 31st. I also received one from Mary dated November 9th which I will endeavor to answer yet today. Mr. Hewitt has never answered my letter yet and I would like to know where he is.

We have not been paid off yet and we don’t know when we will be. I would be very happy indeed to receive Emily’s likeness. Also I would like you to send me a good strong pair of gloves with cuffs to cover the wrists. You could send them by mail. Any other way I could not get them just now. I am very glad that Emily still remembers me so I would lice to see her again. I will have to bring my letter to a close. I still remain as happy as can be expected of a soldier at such times by putting my trust and hope in the Savior. This is all at present. So goodbye.

From your ever loving nephew, — Alfred McClay

P. S. Please excuse this writing as my fingers are pretty numb.

Screen Shot 2020-03-06 at 6.04.36 AM
Addressed to Mrs. Emily Ryner, 1010 Lemon Street, Philadelphia, Pa.

Letter 10

Camp near Fredericksburg, Va.
December 5th 1862

Dear Mother,

I write you these few lines in answer to your letter of the 30th which I have just received stating that you were all well. I am not very well at present as I have had the diarrhea and a heavy cold for this last week but I think I am getting better now. I had just finished Mary’s and Ben’s letters when I received yours and one from my sister Mary of the same date. You say you begin to think something is the matter if you don’t get a letter for so long. Never worry about [that]. Sometimes the letters get miscarried or else the mail is delayed for several days.

I am very glad to hear that you are having such good times up at the church. It would do my heart good to go there once more but I think the day is drawing nigh when I can enjoy the privileges once more. I received the fifty cent note you sent me. You think that I don’t get the stamps. I get the stamps that come in the letters that I receive. The reason why there is not always stamps in the letters is because sometimes I see a chance to buy something and then I use the stamps for money. You mustn’t think that I don’t get enough to eat. We don’t get the best of living or don’t draw our full rations, but I will be satisfied with what I can get. I have stood many hardships and I think I can stand as many more. I don’t get quite as good living as when I lived at Uncle’s but I don’t mind the hardships anymore here than what I did there. Here I can have some peace. There I could not.

I wish you would tell me in the next letter whether you sent the gloves by mail for if you didn’t, I cannot get [them]. And please tell me when you sent them. We expect to get paid off this week or next. I won’t send the money home right away as I ain’t for any other way [to send it] than by mail. I will send a part of it at a time in the letters. I will write a letter for John Tucker when I get [a chance] if nobody else does. It is not so about 2 companies of the Scott Legion being captured. They have laid within half a square of us for a long while and I didn’t hear anything about one of our Lieutenants being shot.

You say perhaps I may be in that battle that is to be fought in a few days. There is no signs of fighting. Dear mother, I wish to be remembered in your prayers that I may not be led away from God by temptations that are thrown before me. God is the only true friend I have got down here. Him I can trust at all times. This is all I have to say at present so goodbye.

From your ever loving nephew, — Alfred McClay

P. S. Please excuse had writing and mistakes. It is stormy, cold and disagreeable—snowing, raining and hailing at different times, and freezing as it comes down.

[in pencil at margin on first page, “I may be in that battle that will be fought in a day or two.”]

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Addressed to Mrs. Emily Ryner, 1010 Lemon Street, Philadelphia, Pa.

Letter 11

[Note: This letter was written by someone other than Alfred. The handwriting suggests another soldier.]

Washington D. C.
December 18th 1862

Dear Mother,

I take this opportunity of writing to you to let you know that I am in the hospital at Washington. Dear Mother, last Sunday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I got wounded at Fredericksburg and was sent to Washington. I came last night.

Dear Mother, I got wounded slight in the side. I don’t feel very ill. It is only but a flesh wound. Dear Mother, I have no more to say at present but I would like to be home at Christmas if I could.

I close in sending my love to you all in the kindest manner. No more at present but remain, — Alf[red] Mc[C]lay

Direct to Harewood Hospital, Washington D. C., Ward A

Letter 12

Harewood Hospital
Washington D. C.
December 22nd 1862

Dear Mother,

I write you these few lines to let you know that I think I am a little better than I was a few days ago but I am not able to be about. Yesterday morning Uncle Joseph Coleman was to see me and he gave me your kind letter which made me glad to hear that you are all well. I asked the doctor about getting me transferred as you wanted but he gave me no satisfaction. I believe they send the wounded north to their own states as fast as they get able to walk. They were to send 200 from this hospital 3 or 4 days ago and today they talk of sending some more.

I guess in the course of ten days or two weeks probably I will be able to be sent north. I don’t hardly think that you could get me transferred as they are very busy and I am not well enough, If it would not be too expensive, I would like to have somebody come and see me. A couple of days ago I was removed out of the tent into wooden barracks where there are better accommodations but I am still in the same hospital. They say that all the soldier in the hospitals will get mustered for pay on the last day of this month. No doubt that I will get paid off pretty soon. This is all I have to say at present so goodbye and write soon. Direct your letters the same as before.

From your ever loving nephew, — Alfred McClay

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Addressed to Mrs. Emily Ryner, 1010 Lemon Street, Philadelphia, Pa.

Letter 13

Harewood Hospital, Washington
January 2nd 1863

Dear Mother,

I write you these few lines to let you know that I received your kind letter of the 30th late yesterday afternoon and I was very glad to hear that you were all well. Also to let you know that I felt better yesterday and today than I have since last Sunday. Our doctor has been sick for 3 or 4 days and has been unable to attend to us. We have been looked after as regular by the other doctors as we ought to have been. Yesterday afternoon, just before I received your letter, the doctor sounded me and examined me closely. He says I am getting along pretty well. He says that at first my wound was pretty dangerous but it is alright now. He also said that I have got the palpitation of the heart. I asked him what was the cause of it and he said it was from hard marches. I asked him if he thought I would be fit for service again. He didn’t say yes or no but asked if I would like to have my  discharge. I told him yes and he said that I could get it but I won’t say anything more about it as you don’t want me to.

There was a man told me yesterday that Congress passed an act that all soldiers should be sent to their own states as soon as they were able to walk. They sent a great many cripples away this morning but many of them was not fit to go.

I was glad that Pap came down to see me last Sunday and that he brought me those jellies. I have eat the tumbler of currant jelly and I guess I will about finish the tumbler of strawberry today. That strawberry jelly was most excellent. I only wished I could get some more like it. They have been giving us bread and butter instead of toast this last 4 or 4 days. The bread is very good but the butter is almost strong enough to lift me out of bed. I bought some butter for myself yesterday and today I have made out to raise myself up in bed without help.

I wish you would tell Mary that I am too weak to write to her but that she can find out by you how I am getting [along].

Dear Mother, there is an old lady here—the one that Pap gave my things to to keep. She does a great deal for me and I think that I light to give her something for what she has done for me. In your next letter I wish you would say what I could give her as you know better than I do what should be best. I wish you could let me know in your next letter whether Mr. [William S.] Hall or anyone is coming down to see me. I would like somebody to come if they could. We were mustered in for our pay last Wednesday and the doctor put my name down to get my descriptive list to draw my back pay.

Give my love to Mary and all the folks and write soon. This is all I have to say at present so goodbye.

From your ever loving nephew, — Alfred McClay

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Addressed to Mrs. Emily Ryner, No. 1010 Lemon St., Philadelphia, Penna.

Letter 14

Harewood Hospital
January 11th 1863

Dear Mother,

I take this present opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know how I am at present. On last Saturday on Sabbath I was able to walk about but last night my wounds commenced to bleed and I am very weak today. Tell John Wood that I would like he would come and see me. The doctor says that as soon as I am able to be transferred yp that hospital, he will have me transferred. We expect to be paid off on next Wednesday. My wounds has bled a great deal and the doctors has performed an operation on me today.

From your affectionate nephew, — Alfred McClay

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