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    John Stackenwalter, 178th PA Infantry and Porter Line, 17th PA Infantry Archive. A group of fifteen war dated letters, from John Stackenwalter of the 178th Pennsylvania Infantry, dating November 9, 1862 to September 6, 1863. It should be noted that throughout his letters, Stackenwalter uses multiple spellings of his last name and there are multiple spelling and grammar errors. Along with three additional letters by Stackenwalter's cousin, Porter Line of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry. There are also three other war dated letters from three other men. One may be Stackenwalter but he has signed the letter "John Stagenwalter" of "Co. C 17 Pa Cav"; it is possible that after he was mustered out of the PA 178th Infantry in 1863, Stackenwalter joined the 17th PA Cavalry to serve with his cousin (We found a John Steigenwalt in that company who enlisted August 23, 1864). Most letters measure 5" x 8" and are written on patriotic stationery.

    In his letters, Stackenwalter wrote home describing a soldier's life and various skirmishes that the 178th PA were involved in. One such letter, dated January 4, 1863 describes his life at the Yorktown fort. Confident of the fort's strong fortifications he wrote, in part: "...We are now in Yorktown in the fort and I like it good...last night we got marching orders at eight o'clock in the evening, the rebel cavaliers did brave our pickets...It was about four thousand men together and it was so still that you can hear a pin fall but they didn't come near enough yet but I aint cared they cannot take our fort. We have about 12,000 men in our fort and many cannons for to defend us...and we have five gunboats on the river and we can have soon more here if we want more...I want you to let me know about the drafted men. I heard yesterday that they took it two times through the Lancaster Court and they lost it two times and they said we are free now, but I cannot believe that. Now I wants you to put it in your letter if we are free or not..."

    A month later, Stackenwalter wrote again about intermittent rebel attacks on the fort. His letter from February 8, 1863 reads, in part: "...I let you know that we get some Rebels every now and then yesterday they brought in five Rebel cavalry men and horses and on the other side of the river they said they had a whole company of Rebel cavalry guarded that they will bring here...it is expected this place will be attacked before long but we aren't sure yet and we heard great firing last night I suppose it was up at Williamsburg or fort about 12 miles from here..."

    By April 1863, the 178th PA had moved to Williamsburg and were in a standoff with the Confederates, with the historic town of Williamsburg in between. In a letter dated April 28, 1863, Stackenwalter, stationed at Fort Magruder, describes the tension in the opposing lines, which were so close to each other that they would easily communicate between enemy lines. It reads, in part: "...We moved out of Yorktown on this side of Williamsburg. It is about twelve miles from Yorktown. The rebels are close to us. Our camp is on this side of Williamsburg and the reb camp is on the other side of Williamsburg. We are only two or three miles apart. Our picket and the Rebel picket can talk together. General Wise from Richmond was close here for to take this Fort here but he missed it. He did promise to take our fort and he failed. Now he is reduced into ranks the rebs put General Hood in his place. We expect every morning an attack from him. When Wise was here the confusion was not much and I reckon when Hood come here he can't do much more..."

    Two weeks later, from Camp Columbia, Stackenwalter took the opportunity to describe the successes of the Union army, particularly those of General Hooker at Fredericksburg. The letter, dated May 13, 1863, reads in part: "...We are at the old place yet near Williamsburg and it might happen that we must move further up closer to Richmond and it is reported now that the rebels did [illegible] Richmond and our General Keys is in with his army but Gen. Hooker did retreat from Fredericksburg but he is on the way back again for to make another attack but our men done well with them last battle when they did fought our men did capture a heap of men..."

    During the fall of 1864, Stackenwalter's luck ran out, and he was captured by the enemy and imprisoned at Libby Prison. Thankfully, he survived the experience, despite being wounded, and wrote a letter home on February 7, 1865 after his release. Written in an unknown hand it reads: "St. John's College / Annapolis MD...I was captured at Bunkers hill the 16 of Sep. was taken to the Libby Prison at Richmond then to the hospital where I remained till last Sunday morning when with over a thousand others I was paroled and after a three days sail reached here this morning at day break. Was slightly wounded in the shoulder but am doing well. Am in quite comfortable quarters and hope soon to be able to take a furlough and make you a visit. Beside the wound I am very well. Would like you to write me as soon as you can. Let me know how you are getting along..."

    Also included are three war-dated letters from Stackenwalter's cousin Porter Line of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry. In two of the letters, Line writes to his uncle about the capture of his cousin. The letter dated December 1, 1864 reads in part: "I must tell you about John. The last I heard of him was the night he was captured, and I did not hear of him since, but as soon as I hear anything of him dead or alive I will let you know..." And just three weeks later, Line writes again to assuage some of his uncle's concerns. The December 25, 1864 letter from "Camp 17 Cavalry" reads in part: "Dear Uncle I received your kind and welcome letter a few days ago and was glad to hear from you that you are engaging good health at the present...Christmas is dull with us here...Also you would like to know if John's pay can he get if he should not return you can get every dollar that is coming to him from the time he was mustered...to the day he was captured but if they hold him as a prisoner it can't be got till he is exchanged but we did not hear anything of him since he was captured. Also I will let you know that our cavalry went out on a raid last Monday and they have not returned yet..."

    The archive additionally includes five of Stackenwalter's post-war letters dated 1866-69 from Louisiana, which appear to be written in numerous different hands. There are also numerous original transmittal covers, some decorated with patriotic art.

    Condition: Letters show various degrees of wear, soiling, and toning. All with the usual mail folds. A few small separations where folds created weaknesses. Overall good condition.


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    May, 2019
    14th Tuesday
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