These five letters were written by Sylvester Francis Price (1842-1904), the son of Robert Price (1812-1887) and Rachel Skinner (1817-1902) of Amberson Valley, Fannett, Franklin county, Pennsylvania. Sylvester married Martha Diven (1839-1916) on 22 August 1861. At the time of the draft registration in the summer of 1863, Sylvester had not yet enlisted in the army though his younger brother Ambrose served in Co. L, 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry.
From the letters we learn that Sylvester was drafted in the fall of 1863 as a private in Co. H, 149th Pennsylvania. It seems pretty clear that he was a reluctant soldier—a democrat and an outspoken and unabashed racist. Sylvester wrote all of these letters to his cousin, Abraham M. Price (1847-1908), of New Winchester, Marion county, Ohio. Abraham married Lydia A. Hotelling (1852-1900) in 1872.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Camp at Paola Mills, Virginia
December 21st 1863
Mr. Abraham M. Price
It is with great pleasure I seat myself to address a few lines to you to inform you that I am well at present and hope these few lines may find you all enjoying the same blessings of health. You must not think hard of me not writing to you for I have not had time for I have been nearly all over Virginia within the last two months. I have had excellent health since I have been in the army. I will soon be three months in the service and I was only one week sick that I was excused from duty.
I got a letter from Brother Ambrose last week. He was in Camp Tyler near Baltimore, Maryland. He said he was going to his company the next day after he wrote to me. His company is at Scranton, Pennsylvania. He says he likes soldiering first rate. If he had to carry the knapsack on his back, he would not like it quite so well—especially if he had to march day and night as I have had to so. We have put up good winter quarters at this place but how long we will stay here I can not tell. The weather is quite warm here. It is a little cool at night. The frogs were hollowing down here last week.
It is useless for me to commence to write to you about my travels but if I live to get out of this infernal place, I will go out to see you and then I can tell you all about it. I have been in no regular engagements yet. I was in a small skirmish with the guerrillas some time ago. We have had a hard time about grub on account of the high water. We had nothing to eat for three days until yesterday. We got some beef and a loaf of soft bread. I guess we will get some hard tack and some of the Pittsburg Boar today. In a general way we get pretty good living. We get two large spoonfuls of sugar per day and 3 of coffee, one loaf of bread per day, and meat, rice, beans, potatoes and whiskey when it is stormy. Butter is 75 cents per pound, eggs 50 cents per dozen, pies 25 cents apiece, biscuits 50 cents per dozen, apples 10 cents apiece, chickens a dollar apiece.
I tell you, Old Virginia is a hard-looking place. You may travel for days and not see a fence. The Jerusalem travelers is the most numerous things that are found here—them and what they call woolies. The wood tics will get on a person and they have a kind stinger that they stick in a person and you can not get it out is so small that you can not see it and it will fasten and beat out.
I believe I have given you all the particulars. Please write as soon as this comes to hand. Nothing more at present but be assured I ever remain your cousin until death.
— Sylvester F. Price to Abraham M. Price
Write as soon as this comes to hand and direct as follows:
Sylvester F. Price
Company H, 149th Regt P. B. V.
in care of Captain George Washington Soult
2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 1st Army Corps
I belong to the Bucktails Regiment
In this I send my love to Uncle and Aunt and all my cousins.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Camp near Culpeper, Va.
January 18, 1864
Mr. Abraham M. Price
It is with pleasure I seat myself to address a few lines to you to let you know that I am well at present and hope these few lines may find you at enjoying the same blessings of health. I received yours of 1st and third on the 13th and was glad to hear that you were all well. Tell Charles and the women that I wish them a world of joy and happiness although I am here alone amongst strangers. I must say I like soldiering first rate but we have had a hard time of it. We have put up winter quarters three times. I think the war will not last long. The Rebel Army is altogether demolished. They are deserting and coming over to us every day. There was as high as 18 come over in one squad the other day. They drafted me for three years but from all accounts Congress will make the term only one year so that if God spares me you may look for me up there about the first of September.
I have five months of my time in now. Ambrose’ time will be out in about two weeks. The last account I had of him he was at Charlestown, [West] Virginia.
We only had one little shift of snow and it went away the next day after it fell. It is raining today very hard and the mud is pretty near knee deep. If I get out of Old Virginia once, I never want to see her again. I hate mud above all things. It is very sickly down here now. They took two of my messmates to the hospital the other day and the other one has not been out of his quarters for about four days and I think they will take him away in course of a day or two and then I will be by myself. There has been several deaths by smallpox in our brigade. It is very bad about Washington. For my part, I never had as good health in my life. I am that fat and lazy that I cannot get out of my tent unless the Orderly makes me. When I get home I never want to hear a drum. I am sick of the noise of them.
I cannot give you the markets for there is not a bite of anything in this country. I should have liked very much to have been up to have spent the holidays with you. They cannot make an abolitionist out of me. I am a democrat died in the wool. Last fall the speakers said that the people should vote for Andrew Curtain—the soldier’s friend. The only friends I can see in this country is my old kill devil and 40 rounds of blue pills.
I got a letter from my woman last night. She says that her and the little girl is well and getting along first rate but she thinks the time very long. She says that Old Abe and his greenbacks might go if I was only at home. A man in the army has not much pleasure. A nigger and a dog is the most privileged characters that have in this country. They can go anywhere they please. A white man is as good as a nigger here if he only behaves himself. Nothing more at present but remain your cousin until death — Sylvester Price
to his cousin Abraham M. Price
In this I send my love to you all. Write soon.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Camp near Culpeper, Virginia
March 29, 1864
Mr. Abraham M. Price
I take the present opportunity of writing a few lines to let you know how I am getting along and such other incidents as may come to my mind. Everything is quiet in this part of the army. We were reviewed the other day by Lieut. General Grant. Our corps and the Fifth have been consolidated. We have now about 66,000 fighting men.
The weather is very changeable—one day raining and the next clear. Soldiering is nice work when we are laying in camp but when we have for to march through the mud, it goes a little hard. But I stand it first rate yet. When I came out, I weighed 142 lbs. and now I weigh 159 lbs. By that you may know that it agrees with me in Old Virginia. The health of the army is good—no sickness of any account with the exceptions of bad colds. Lieutenant James E. Johnston has resigned. He was my lieutenant. Him and I was raised together and he was a particular friend of mine.
I received a letter from cousin Joseph Price the other day. He was well at the date of his letter. I think that I will have for to stay three years. It makes but little difference to me how long they keep me as long as they give me plenty of grub. We get plenty of soft bread and Pittsburg Boer to eat. We are getting some bounty jumpers nearly every day.
We have a sound old regiment. It is composed of a lively set of boys as ever lived and fear nothing in the shape of a rebel. The Bucktails gets the name of being a hard set of men but they are no harder than any other regiment of men. We have preaching every Sunday in the regiment and prayer meeting every night in our company. Our chaplain is a very nice man and is well thought of by the boys in the regiment.
I must bring my letter to a close for this time hoping these few lines may find you all enjoying good health. Please write as soon as this comes to hand. From your cousin, — S. F. Price
To A. M. Price
Direct as follows: S. F. Price, Company H, 149th Regt. P. B. V., 2d Brigade, 3d Division, 1st AC, Washington D.C.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Camp near Culpeper, Virginia
April 18, 1864
Mr. Abraham M. Price
It is with much pleasure I seat myself to address a few lines to you for to let you know that I am getting along and such other incidents as may come to my mind. We are still in our old camp but how long we shall remain here I cannot say for we are expecting a fight soon. The Rebs are showing a very bold front along the Rapidan River. There has been 6 or 7 camps pitched along the river within the last few days. We can see the damned buggers drilling every day but I think that by the first of June there will be none of them between here and Richmond.
There has been a great deal of rain here this spring and consequently the movement of the army has been delayed but it will not be long until we will make a forward movement.
Your truly kind and welcome letter of the tenth came duly to hand yesterday and I was glad to hear from you once more. It found me enjoying all the pleasures that the army affords which is plenty of grub and good health. When I came out I weighed one hundred and forty-two pounds and I was weighed yesterday and I weighed one hundred and sixty. I am getting so fat that I can hardly get around. I never had as good health in my life as I have had since I have been in the service.
You stated in your letter that there had been quite a riot up there between some soldiers and some citizens. The soldiers that are sticking around home are nothing but the off scourings of the army. A man is no soldier without he is a gentleman. It takes a gentleman for to make a good soldier, Those rowdies that are always gassing about home are the first to run when they get into an engagement.
You requested that I should send you my picture. I should gladly do so but from the fact that there is no chance for to get it taken as all the sutlers and citizens have been sent back to Washington. But if you want my picture, write to my brother Ambrose and he can get you one taken off the one that my woman has. I have got eight months of my time in so that I only have twenty-eight more for to serve Old Abe. Please tell some of my cousins for to write to me as I like for to get letters from my friends. I do not know their Post Office addresses or I should write to them. I think that I have given you all the news for this time. Please write a soon as this comes to hand. Please send me your photograph and some of my cousins. Nothing more at present but remain your cousin until death.
— Sylvester F. Price
to A. M. Price
Give my respects to Uncle and Aunt and all my cousins.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Camp on Jerusalem Plank Road, Va.
December 31, 1864
It is with pleasure I take the present opportunity of writing a few lines to you for to let you know that I am well at present and I hope these few lines may find you enjoying the same blessings of health. I had been sick in the fall and was sent to the hospital in Washington. There I received a furlough for twenty days. After I went home, I was not able for to return at the expiration of my furlough and the Doctor that was attending me extended my furlough for twenty days more so that I had 40 days at home. I returned to my regiment about one week ago. I wrote to you in August but received no answer. I also wrote to Cousin Mary A. Watts and never received an answer. Whether she did not think worth while for to answer it or did not get it, I cannot say. Tell Mary Ann for to write me soon.
The weather at present is quite cool and there is nothing going on worthy of notice. Everything is quiet along the lines with the exceptions of some cannonading on the James river near Dutch Gap.
I have not heard from home since I left. Brother Ambrose is in the western army. I have not had a letter from him since the 18th of August. The reason he does not write to me, I wrote him a pretty sharp letter for re-enlisting and he got his back up at me. If he had seen as much fighting as I have, he would not have enlisted again. I am sorry that we lost the election for we cannot expect anything but 4 years more war. For my part, I am heartily sick of the war and I do not see as the war is any nearer to an end that it was three years ago.
I saw a letter that my Father had received from cousin Joseph Price. He stated in one of his letters that he had been cheated out of 2d Lieutenancy. His time is very near out. I have about 20 months yet for to serve. I wish that my time was out so that I could get out of this God forsaken Virginia. When I was at home I was to see Uncle William Prices. They were all well when I was there. I put in a good time while I was at home but I was almost too lazy for to move around much.
For the present, I shall have for to bid you farewell, hoping for to hear from you soon. Be assured I ever remain your sincere and affectionate cousin, — Sylvester Price
to Abraham M. Price
Direct as follows:
Sylvester F. Price
Company H, 149th Regiment P. V.
Washington D. C.