These letters were written by John Madison (1842-1862), the son of Anthony Madison (1810-1865) and Harriet Dick (1820-1862) of Pottsville, Norwegian township, Schuylkill county, Pennsylvania. Nineteen year-old John Madison was laboring as a blacksmith’s apprentice when he enlisted on 22 August 1861 at the age of 19 to serve three years in Co. A, 96th Pennsylvania Infantry. Most of the other young men, many of them foreign-born, who joined him in the regiment worked as miners and laborers in the coal mines of Schuylkill county.
The first three letters were written from Camp Northumberland which was the name of the regimental encampment during the winter of 1861-62. It was constructed on a wooded hillside two and a half miles outside Alexandria, Virginia. The regiment remained at this camp until 10 March 1862 when they marched to Manassas to discover that the rebels had retreated from their winter quarters there.
According to the regimental record, John died of typhoid fever in the regimental hospital established at the Berkeley Plantation near Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, following the Seven Days Battles, in which the 96th Pennsylvania lost men at Gaines’ Mill and Malvern Hill.
[Note: The copies of these handwritten letters and John’s tintype were provided to me for publication on Spared & Shared by Janet Madison Nolan. John Madison was her great-great uncle.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Camp Casey, Washington
November 18, 1861
Dear Father and Mother,
I now take up my pen to let you know that I received your letter on the 15th and was happy to hear from you all [and] that you were all well as this leaves me well at present. And [I] hope that the few lines may find you all in the best of health. And as for it [ ] in Baltimore, we had none. We had a pleasant time of it from the time we started from Pottsville till we landed in Washington and every time to present.
The weather is very cold this morning. We had an inspection of arms and barracks which were found in splendid condition and we got the praise of our Captain.
Boy, the latest news we see [is] that our great fleet is giving the rebels more than they bargained for. They have planted our good old flag where the rebel rag was torn down in the City of Charleston—where secession first sprang from. The flag today floats [and] will not only be found there but from every place it don’t, we will soon] see it again. And let every man meet a traitor’s doom who will again put down our nation’s emblem for which so many have fought and died for.
It is not probable that we will get into the battle [but] if we do, we will fight to the last. We will fall with our faces towards the enemy for ’tis glorious to die for your country. If it happens to be my lot not to meet you again in this world, I hope to meet you in a greater and better world where we know no cares or sorrows. We have our Bibles with us and we do not forget them.
So no more at present, but I remain your son, — John Madison
Give my love to all my friends.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
November 24, 1861
Dear Father and Mother,
I received your most kind and welcome letter today, and hasten to reply. You wanted to know [about] John Dentzler. He is quite well. There is nothing the matter with him. He had a slight cold but was over it in the course of a few days. He is now as well as ever.
It is Sunday today. This morning we had a splendid sermon from our chaplain which was listed to by most of our regiment. Dear Father and Mother, today we got marching orders. Where we go to, we don’t know. We are ordered to take two days cooked rations with us. I was trying to find out where we are going, but cannot. But as soon as we reach our destination, I will write to you. It is supposed we will march to the Upper Potomac to join General Banks’ Division.
I am very sorry that Mother is unwell. I hope and it is my prayer that she may live until I return which I hope will be at no distant date. The weather is very cold. We will have a snow storm I believe before.
News is very scarce so I will have too close. My love to Father, Mother, Brothers, and Sisters. Hoping to hear from you soon again, you will direct your letters to Washington and I will get them. No more at present but I remain your true and affectionate son, — John Madison
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Camp Franklin, Virginia
December 22, 1861
Dear Father and Mother,
I received your kind and welcome letter which came to hand in due time, and was glad to hear from you for as soon as the letters come in camp, we all run for a letter—but sometimes we run in vain. Father, we are again to move tomorrow about a half of a mile from our present camp. We have been very busy all the week for we had to build log cabins again. You ought to see us when we wash. You would laugh to see us play washerwoman. We have one day every week to ourselves to make ourselves comfortable. So you can see that there is no ladies here to help us to wash or to do anything.
We had rather a hard sight last week on Friday. It was the shooting of a traitor. It was hard but yet it was right for I say death to all traitors and let death be their doom—for that is what I enlisted for—to serve my country and for it I will die. For the land that I love have I come to its help.
On Wednesday I was about one half of a mile from the pickets and the day before that they shot at our pickets and drove them back and the rebels were drove up in line of battle to fight, but the pickets would not stand for that too strong for them. And last week there was thirteen of our men taken prisoners. They thought that the rebels was our men and the captain that was with them. Our men came to present arms to him and he came up to them and said “disarm yourselves, for you are our prisoners of war.” So you can see for yourself that we know not who is our enemy for they go about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. And our pickets went through their pickets last night and burnt down the houses and someplace I do not know the name of the place. I hardly know what to say, so I must bring my letter to a close.
But I almost forgot to tell you that I got the tobacco, So no more at present, but remain your son, — John Madison
Give my love to all the girls and boys and to all the rest of the family.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
January 1, 1862
Dear Father and Mother,
I received your letter in due time and was glad to hear from you all as we have just come in from picket and are very tired. We went out on Saturday at 8 o’clock in the morning and just got back. From Saturday to the present we had about 4 hours sleep for in the night we had to watch the guard for the rebels come up to our picket and take them away. But thank God, they did not get any of our men. We could see them everyday on their horses from where we stood. Everything was quiet till Sunday morning and then we heard a shot and we formed a line of battle and then we sent a dispatch off to the guard to see what was the matter with the pickets. I was about thirty yards away from the one they shot. It was some of the rebels trying to get through the picket to to get the center line.
Father you stated in your letter about the Journal—that James had sent it to me every week, but I did not see one of them. The Journal the boys get every week so we get it from one another. I would like to have the Christian Advocate now and then. Father, when you send me the box, I want you to get the receipt from the Express Office and send it to me as soon as you get it so that I can get the box. So I must bring my short and bad letter to a close. So I am pretty tired, so goodbye from your son, — John Madison
Give my love to all. And send some wine for Christmas and put it in a tin bottle about the center of the box. Direct this box to Alexandria, Co. A, 96th Reg. Penn. C. N. (Northumberland)
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
January 8 
Dear Father and Mother,
I received your letter today and was sorry to hear that mother is fretting about me for she has no need to for if she knew how happy I am, she would not, for we have plenty to eat and drink and wear and what more can we have in this world. Mother, I tell you the truth for I love my Savior and put my trust in Him who can help in every time of trouble. So Mother, I want you to believe me and do not fret about me for we will soon be home with you all for the war will soon be over. One good fight will put the rebels down. And Mother, I am very sorry to hear that William has been so sick but I hope that he may soon get better for I hope to see him when I come home.
And about the ½ of [Henry L] Cake’s regiment, it is all a lie for we all came into camp safe and sound. So you can see the false in the people.
And for the box, you need not send it for I think that the times is too hard at the present. But you can please yourself.
The weather is very nice here at present. We have had some snow but not much of it. So I must close for the present. In this you will find my likeness. And tell Mother not to fret about me for we are as comfortable as if we was at home for we have got 2 blankets.
From your son, — John Madison
Dear Sister, I received your letter in Father’s and was happy to hear from you all but sorry to hear that Mother and Willy has been so sick. But I hope that the Lord may soon restore them to health again—it is my prayer. And may God look in mercy from Heaven on those who I have left at home.
And for the money that you sent, I got it from Henry. And the gloves—I got them too. So I must close. We are the happy boys home.
From you brother, — John Madison
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
[Mid] January 
Dear Father and Mother [and] Jane,
Your kind and welcome letter was received in due time and I was glad to hear that Mother and William are a getting better and I hope and pray that they may soon be restored to their health again and that very soon.
We are all well at present but I think that a sutler’s powder would do us no harm for I was ago[ing] to take a good dose of salts for we have had two boxes this week already. So you can see that we wanted them pretty bad. But we think that it was pretty good of you to think of the sedler’s powders. So all the boys send you and Pap Rigg their best respects to all of you. We got the box tonight and I tell you, it was a welcome visitor. And Captain [Lamar S] Hay says that it was worth coming to a tent like ours—full of good things—so we think too.
[In a different hand]
Being as John is full of good things [to eat], he looks to your humble servant to finish this letter. The boys of our tent all send their kind regards to you Pap Rigg, Mrs. Hill, Pap Johns, & Mrs. [ ] Strichter. You will kindly remember each and every one of us to the kind folks mentioned. With wine we drank all your health and will always hold you in our memory as near and dear friends. All things [in the box] were in excellent and good order. And if Jeff Davis would come upon us this night, he would see we are well fed. We trust and pray the day is not far distant when we can all return to our happy homes. We know our day-star is glistening—our cause is favorable—and everything betokens that American will once more be free and before another 6 months have rolled over our heads.
Tell Kate Leib she should answer John’s letter. As we are all been eating so much and our boys feel like sleep, I will close.
Respectfully your son John Madison, per T. G. Houck
Please write soon. John sends his best respects to Aunt Jane.
Sergeant Thomas G. Houck died in Pottsville on June 8, 1863 from wounds received at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN
January 23, 1862
Dear Father and Mother in Christ,
I received your kind and welcome letter in due time and was happy to hear from you all for it makes my heart feel glad. The weeather is very disagreeable down here at present, for it has been raining for about 10 days which makes it very muddy to stand on guard. But we do not mind it very much for we are getting used to it—for we do not care much for the weather. We have had no drilling for about 10 days so you can see that we have not much to do.
We think that we soon will have a fight for our quartermaster has got orders to have 13 wagons ready for to march.
By last accounts in the papers, our cause is gaining a firmer and better hold in Kentucky and in fact all over. And when a move is made, the overwhelming forces of the North will sweep like a prairie fire and deal the secession its last and final blow, and will annihilate disunion. The Southern Confederacy has seen its best days. The people all wish to return under the protection of the stars and stripes. They have been led astray by men whose sole object is burn, pillage, destroy. The time is at hand when all volunteers times is expiring for they were duped into the rebel service for 12 months and promised that in that time they was to occupy all the cities north of Mason Dixon’s line. But they were promised—that is all. They have found out to the contrary. So might it be.
I must close with my love to you all. Please write soon. From your son, — John Madison
Write soon. R. Riggs sends his love to you all. Give my love to Uncle Thomas and tell him I have the dollar yet and ty to bring it home again with me. Give my love to Aunt Jane and tell her this is from a soldier in the war.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER EIGHT
February 10, 1862
Dear Father and Mother,
It is with the greatest of pleasure that I sit down to answer your letter which came to hand last night. I was glad to hear from you all again and that you was well but Mother. I was sorry to hear that Mother was laying so low but I hope when these few lines reaches you, she may be better. I applied for a furlough last night for to come home, but it will take a week perhaps for to get it for it has to be signed by General McClellan and sometimes it take two weeks—then he doesn’t sign them then. But I hope that he will sign mine but if you have not sent the note from the doctor when this reaches you, I want you to send it as soon as you can so that I can apply again, if he [McClellan] does not sign this one. And as for the money, I can get enough to come home and back again without much trouble. So you can send the note from the doctor and I will be home as soon as I can get a furlough.
The weather has been very fine for two or three days but how long it will last, I do not know. We is all well at present and hope that you may soon be as this leaves me—this is the prayer of your son. And if you want some money I will try to get you some when I come home. So I will trust to God to get home.
We had not been drilling for some time but we will have to start again as the weather has got fine again. I was at church yesterday but could not content myself this, for it is on my mind from morning till night so I went down in the tent and commenced a letter but all in vain. I could not drive it from my mind. Well, I hope that the time is not far distant when I will be able to be with you all again for all that we are waiting for is for the roads to get good for to haul the cannons over for the roads is very bad. They have got the roads from Bailey’s Crossroads out to Fairfax Court House laid with logs across the road for the cannons to be hauled over.
So I must close with my love to all and hope to see you all again.
From your son — John Madison
To my Father and Mother Madison, Pottsville, Schuykill County. Write soon.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER NINE
February 28, 1862
It is with sorrow that I let you know that my furlough has just come in this morning, and as it has been so long in coming in, I shall not come home for if I would, it would just make it worse than what it is. For since I cannot see Mother no more on this earth, I must trust in God so as to meet her in Heaven and may God help you all.
As soon as I got the letter that John Riggs sent to me with the notice that Mother had gone to rest, I went to the Captain and told him that Mother was dead. Then I want to get home, but it was impossible, so I think it is best for me to stay here and content myself the best way I know how. I am well at present and hope that these few lines may find you the same and all the family.
So I will close with my love to all. Goodbye.
From your son, — John Madison
Please write soon.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TEN
[Early March, 1862]
I set down to let you know that we are agoing to move and we have too much to carry so you will find a box at the depot or at the express office—I do not know which yet. It will be in Mr. Rigg’s name so you can tell him to look after it and I don’t want you to trouble yourself about me for I am well.
We do not know where we are a going to but it will be in a fight we think. So no more at present. Good bye.
From your son, — John Madison
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ELEVEN
March 15, 1862
It is with the greatest of pleasure that I sit down to let you know that I received your letter and also I was glad to hear from you and that you are all well as this leaves me the same at present as I feel pretty tired. We left Fairfax last night about 7 o’clock and marched into camp which is about 16 miles. We had to drill yesterday and then we got orders to march to camp again. And tomorrow we have got to go someplace again but we do not know where to yet. But we heard that we was to reinforce Burnside for we have got Manassas and intend to hold it. And if we reinforce Burnside, we will make them leave a little more than what they have done. It was good for them to leave Manassas for if they hadn’t, we would give them their last pill—they would be done for.
Some of the men saw Manassas and they say that the rows of our men lay there unburied. Some of the men went to work and buried them for it was a hard sight to see them lying there to dogs and crows to eat of them. It made the men [feel] more like running to them and whipping them but never mind, they will get paid for it yet.
So you see by this that we are back to our old camp again and that I am well. So I will close with my love to you. All the boys send their love to you all. So goodbye for the present. I’m hoping to hear from you soon again.
From your son, — Joh Madison
P. S. I don’t want you to put ink on the envelope around the edge unless it is for something grievous for I could hardly open it for I was trembling all over.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWELVE
[Late March 1862]
Dear Father and Brothers & Sisters,
It is with pleasure that I sit down to write a few lines to let you all know where I am at present. Well, I am at Fairfax Court House. It is all deserted. Everybody has left the place for they was afraid of the strong army which started on Monday for Bull’s Run. But we was disappointed when we hear of them leaving Bull’s Run. Our men have been out at Bull’s Run and seen it and all the bridges were burnt down somehow. So we have to wait until they get them built again. But we think in a few days we can go ahead for Richmond.
I saw a Rebel prisoner today that was taken yesterday. He looked hard for they have poor clothing to wear. But we will soon give them free if they think that they can whip us which I think they cannot for they do not like to stand to fight for they know that they are whipped. And I think in about a month, it will all be right again so we must trust to one that is mighty to save and strong to deliver so in God is our trust and Union is our motto. So conquer we must for our cause it is just and victory is ours.
So I must close with my love to all and I hope to hear from you soon.
From your son, — John Madison
P. S. Direct your letters to Camp Slocum, near Alexandria, Virginia, Fairfax, John Madison
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THIRTEEN
May 22, 1862
Your letter came duly to hand and I was glad to hear from you all. We are still on our way to the walls of the city [Richmond] and expect to have a battle there if they do not soon come to harm. But I think that the Southern Confederacy is pretty well played out and that the war will soon come to an end.
Yesterday we had a very hot march of about 10 miles for it is very slow work to move so many soldiers at once. We are at present about 12 miles from the City of Richmond and think that in a short time we can say that peace will be in our land. For the last month we have done some work. And if it continues so, we will not have it so hard after this battle is fought. I think it will not be hard to whip them here for we have run them so hard these last two weeks that they all feel like saying that it is no use of fighting anymore. And for Old Jeff, he has gone to some part unknown to us for he knows that he might as well try to get to Washington as to whip us for we are in the right and he is in the wrong.
This is a very fine country here and everything looks very nice. The cherries will soon be ripe and all the fruit will soon be good for use. I now close with love to all and hoping to hear from you very soon.
From your son — John Madison
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOURTEEN
May 26, 1862
Your very kind letter came dust to hand and of the same I was glad o hear yourself, with the rest of the family, were all well, as this leaves me in the best of health at present. Since writing to you we have got within one mile of Richmond and our pickets and the rebels stand in one field together.
Yesterday was Sunday. I think we marched about 4 miles. The weather is quite fine but sometimes gets a little warm and we think that we will have to work putting up forts and entrenchments which will take some time to get ready for the battle. And perhaps they will leave till that time.
You wanted to know whether I got two months pay here. They paid us $20 too much last pay, so that is the reason they stopped it at home. That was the time when I sent the $15 home to you and I kept $5 for to get some little things that I wanted, so that is all I can say about it at present. I do not know what to write about so I will close for now. With my love to all and hoping to hear from you soon again, from your son, — John Madison
P. S. I forgot to let you know how John Ballet is. He is well and hearty as a man can be.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIFTEEN
Headquarters 96th Regt. P. V.
Camp near Harrison’s Landing
22nd July 1862
It is my painful duty this morning to inform you of the death of John Madison. You know his parents well, I believe. You will do them a kindness to tell them that their son is decently buried ¹ and was cared for as well as he could have been at home during his illness. He died of typhoid fever this A. M. at 3 o’clock after an illness of ten days. He was a good and brave soldier and as such, his memory will be respected by his fellow soldiers.
Very respectfully yours &c., — Z[accur] P. Boyer
¹ Family and friends of John Madison had his body exhumed and returned to Pennsylvania. A local newspaper, dated 22 July 1862, recorded that, “The remains of John Madison of Company A, 96th Reg., who fought bravely during the recent battles before Richmond, and died subsequently, in camp, of fever, were interred in this Borough on Tuesday last. His company had great affection for Madison, and embalmed his body, besides paying all the expenses of sending it to his friends here. His Col. speaks in the highest terms if his courage and fortitude.”