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    Letter group by a soldier who died in Andersonville

    Union Soldier's Archive of Letters by Private Peter M. Holden of Company B, 12th Regiment Pennsylvania Cavalry. Seventeen letters, various lengths (mostly 3-4 pages written on bifolia), 5" x 8", mostly from Harpers Ferry, Virginia, dating from April 5 to June 26, 1864. Holden writes to various members of his family about the daily routines of camp life, lack of horses and firearms, and the occasional skirmish (one of the letters is written on a patriotic song sheet with an image lithographed and printed by Charles Magnus). Most notable in the group is a letter from Samuel T. Ford to an uncle of Holden's letting him know of Holden's death in Andersonville. A poem commemorating his death is also included.

    Peter M. Holden served as a private in the Company B, 12th Regiment, Pennsylvania Cavalry (113th Volunteers). His service lasted approximately three months: he mustered in on March 31, 1864 and was captured on June 29, 1864 and sent to Andersonville prison in Georgia. He died from disease on October 9, 1864, one of almost 13,000 men to die at the prison.

    Holden's first letter was written to his sister Sarah on April 5, 1864, from a camp near Harper's Ferry, where his regiment was attached to the Reserve Division of the Department of West Virginia. He reported on a skirmish with Confederate troops: "about a hundred of our men went out on a scout they mit [sic] about five hundred rebels...the rebels captured twenty of our baggage wagens [sic] loaded with grain." About the middle of April, Holden's regiment moved to Camp Davis, near Sandy Hook, New Jersey, where they were without adequate arms and horses. In an April 25 letter to his sister, Holden reported that they were still without an adequate number of horses. "There is about twelve hundred men in the 12 cavalry and only about two hundred horses. I think we will stay here till we get horses and arms." While waiting for arms and horses to arrive, Holden and his fellow soldiers follow the daily routines of camp life. "We have to black our boots and clean out our tents every morning."

    By early May, the 12th Regiment was back in Harpers Ferry, where Holden wrote a letter to his mother on May 6, 1864 of event concerning a group of Confederate soldiers dressed in disguise as black women. "The rebels is getting prety [sic] thick around us. There was six of them dressed up in wimens [sic] clothes and came into harpers ferry and passed for nigers [sic]." By the end of the month, horses finally arrived but not all the arms that were needed. In a May 23 letter to his sister, Holden mentioned that he received "a good hors [sic] only he is prety [sic] small. The whole of our regiment is here now we haven't got any arms yet....There was a hundred rebels came within 2 miles of here. Last night we sent out a squad of men them that had arms. They caught 3 without any fighting." While Holden wrote of the difficulty of obtaining an adequate supply of arms, he reported in a June 4, 1864 letter that, as far as he was concerned, there was plenty of food to eat. In a June 15 letter, Holden wrote that he had "just got in from Saber Drill. It is the first time i [sic] ever drilled with a Saber." On June 25, four days before he was captured by Rebel troops, Holden wrote his mother from Harpers Ferry that he was "well and hearty" and that he was participating in picket duty, which "takes fifty men out of our regiment every day. They divide up into three parties 1. 2 and 3 the first party goes on first and stands 2 hours and then the second and so on. So you see we have to stand five hours on post and four off."

    In the archive is a letter from Samuel T. Ford in Mill Village, Pennsylvania, to Stephen Holden, uncle of Peter M. Holden, dated December 23, 1864: "I take the liberty to wright [sic] you a few lines to ask a few questions concerning a young man by the name of Peter M. Holdin who is supposed to be a Son of your brother Thomas Holdin. This Peter M. Holdin was taken prisoner on the 29th day of June 1864 and was taken to Andersonville in Georgia and thare [sic] kept until about the first of October and then he was taken Sick and died and when he found that he must die he requested that his parents Should be informed of it and as a promisr to a dying man I Samuel T. Ford will try to fullfil [sic] that promise and thaire fore [sic] I wright [sic] you those lines to ask you if you have a nephew by that name and if you know of any one of that name....Please let [sic] me know if you know eney [sic] one by this name...."

    The last document in the archive is a four-stanza handwritten poem, 5" x 8", "Composed on the death of Peter Holden" by a friend of the Holden family, Emma Odell, for Holden's mother.

    Condition: All of the letters have horizontal folds and exhibit varying degrees of weakness at the folds, particularly at the intersections. Overall, the letters are in good condition. Together with nine postal covers, eight of which are cancelled and seven with postage stamps, and an engraving, 15.5" x 10.25", of Andersonville National Cemetery that appeared in the October 7, 1865 issue of Harper's Weekly.

    More Information:

    The 12th Regiment, Pennsylvania Cavalry (113th Volunteers) was organized in Philadelphia from December 1861 to April 1862, when it was ordered to Washington, D.C. The regiment was attached to several Union Army units, including the Military District of Washington, to September, 1862; the 4th Brigade, Pleasanton's Cavalry Division, Army Potomac, to October, 1862; Averill's Cavalry Command, 8th Army Corps, Middle Department, to November, 1862; the defenses of the Upper Potomac, 8th Corps, to February, 1863; the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 8th Corps, to June, 1863; Pierce's Brigade, Department of the Susquehanna, to July, 1863; McReynold's Command, Dept. Susquehanna, to August, 1863; Martinsburg, West Virginia, Department of West Virginia, to October, 1863; the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, Department of West Virginia, to February, 1864; the Reserve Division, Department of West Virginia, to July, 1864; the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, West Virginia, to August, 1864; the Reserve Division, Department of West Virginia, to January, 1865; the 3rd Infantry Division, West Virginia, to April, 1865; and the Cavalry, Army Shenandoah, to July, 1865. The 12th Regiment was mustered out of service on July 20, 1865.

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