1863: Henry Clay Slyoff to his mother

This letter was written by Henry Clay Slyoff (1845-1864), the son of James Slyoff (1821-1879) and Elizabeth Schaeffer (1824-1879) of Philadelphia ‘s 17th Ward. Before the Civil War, Henry’s father earned his living as an engineer while Henry and his older brother Jacob Godfre Slyoff (1843-1882) were apprenticed in the book binding trade.

In mid August 1861, Henry enlisted as a private in Co. C, 81st Pennsylvania Infantry. Not long afterwards, Henry’s father enlisted in Co. B, 121st Pennsylvania. Henry’s older brother Jacob enlisted in Co. C, 20th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry (Emergency) Militia during 1863.

As far as we know, Henry was with his regiment through the Peninsular Campaign, shared in the decisive action by Caldwell’s Brigade at the sunken road at Antietam, suffered through the maelstrom in front of Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg (where 176 of the 261 men in the regiment entering the battle were casualties), and shared in the debacle at Chancellorsville. We know from this letter to his mother that Slyoff participated in the Battle of Gettysburg where his regiment helped thwart Longstreet’s advance in the wheat field late in the day on 2 July 1863, possibly saving the Army of the Potomac.

Although the date of Henry’s capture is not recorded, we know that he was taken prisoner sometime in the spring or summer of 1864—most likely in May or June at the start of Grant’s Overland Campaign. The company roster indicates he died at Andersonville Prison on 23 October 1864 of scorbutus or malnutrition. His grave number is #11365 but his name was misspelled as Henry “Syloff” on the burial register and headstone. 

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent.]

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During the war when paper was scarce, soldiers often wrote their letters on the inside and backs of a song sheet, such as Henry did in this letter. 


July 7th 1863

Dear Mother,

I received your kind and welcome letter and was glad to hear that you were all well. I am well at present. I seen Father on the 5th of this month and he is well and he send his love to you all and so do I.

Mother, we have had a big battle in Pennsylvania and we whipped the rebels very bad. They lost a good many men and so did we. The rebels lost a good many generals. We are on the march to catch them again. They are at the old battle field of Antietam again and I suppose they will give us another fight there.

Mother, the Pennsylvania farmers used the soldiers very mean after we got the rebels out of the state. The Maryland people are very kind to us. They can’t give us enough thanks for what we have done. They put the soldiers in good heart.

Mother, I received your two letters today—one dated June 16th and the other 22nd. They told us that the mail was captured. Tell Jacob I am sorry to see him [en]listed. He ought to have staid home for there is enough out of the family. Mother, I send my love to you and all the rest of the family. I send my love to grandmother and all of her folks. So no more at present but still remain your affectionate son, — H. C. Slyoff

Mother, tell George Roney I will answer his letter as soon as I get time. I am pretty tired. We have been on the march 1 month. No more, so goodbye.

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