1865: George Keller to Sister Jennie

This letter was written by a soldier named George to his sister Jennie. The letter was written from Bermuda Hundred, Virginia in March 1865. It seems pretty clear to me that the author was in the infantry as he was struck by the novelty of eating a meal below the waterline of the a Union gunboat and the caliber of one of its two large guns. Additionally, he speaks of the possibility of being “returned” to the defenses of Washington D. C. so he must be from a regiment that previously had duty in the Nation’s Capital.

The only key to identifying the soldier is a reference to photographer Henry Rosenstock of Bloomsburg, Columbia County, Pennsylvania, which suggests that the author was from Bloomsburg or vicinity. There were various regiments raised with recruits from Bloomsburg — the 28th, the 58th, the 103rd, and the 136th Pennsylvania Infantry, but none of them were posted at Bermuda Hundred in March 1865, and neither did they have duty in the defenses of Washington D.C.

In researching the names of infantrymen from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, there is one soldier that appears to be the most likely candidate. This was George Keller — a private in Co. F, 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery (112th PA). This regiment had extended duty in the defenses of Washington D. C. until the spring of 1864 when they were used as infantrymen  in Grant’s Overland Campaign and by March 1865, they were posted at Bermuda Hundred. Unfortunately, George Keller’s family tree isn’t well documented on Ancestry.com so I can’t confirm the author had a sister named Jennie but I think it likely.


Defenses Bermuda 100, Va.
Bermuda Front
March 10th 1865

Dear Sister Jennie,

I received your second letter this evening. Both of them please me so much that I cannot help answering tonights although it is near 12 o’clock now,but no difference. When a letter is worth reading, it is worth answering, so I will try to answer but it won’t be as good as yours, I know. You say if I don’t like long letters you will make them shorter. Well I hope you may never make them any shorter than the first one. But double if you can.

Well, Jennie, I cannot find out who that young lady (Sallie) is, or where she lives or anything about her. I think I have seen her some where, or somewhere else, but can not think where it was. But no matter, she hain’t so bad looking, is she? She had no more of her name in her letter than what she has on the photograph (Sallie). In regard to your phototype, you wish me to give my opinion of it. Well, it is this (without flattery), I think the one I have in my Album is the best as it looks more like the original. It looks young as it ought to look.  But this one makes you look old & poor. Besure, it looks like you some, just enough that anyone that ever knew you could tell it was meant for you, but you are better looking than that picture. Why if Rosenstock ¹ keeps on taking such as that, he will someday be prosecuted for counterfeiting. Indeed, I think is a very poor counterfeit. If mine are no better, I will be sorry. But he cannot make much of a mistake on mine so I have the best of him there.

Our friend Mr. Hitchcock I have not seen since we came back. We but seldom get to see each other as we lay so far apart, but as for the photograph and letter, they will be all right. But let them rest easy until the Album comes. Then I will tell you what I wish to do. I tell you he is a fine, young man, and from a respectable family and by what I can understand pretty wealthy. But that matters not. By the talk I am using, you may think perhaps that I am thinking of matrimony but not so. I don’t want you to marry yet, and when you do, I want you to have a good man — one that will use you well, and one that you can treat well as a good and faithful, loving wife should. Well enough of this. I sent $3.50 to Rosenstock about two weeks ago for 12 photographs and have not heard anything of him yet. Jennie, you can send them all to me and then I will send to those that I really owe to. But you shall have one. Charlie would like pap or some if you that can spare the time to go and get about 10 for him. He says he will more than pay back what they cost.

We expect our pay on the 15th of this month for sure. The Pay Master is here somewhere. Well, it can’t come too soon to suit me for my little debts are haunting me all the time. I cannot rest easy until they are all on the square.

The talk is again that we are to [go] back to Washington again. Maj. Gen’l [Christopher Columbus] Auger, I believe, offered two of his best regiments for ours. He says he wants ours back in the defenses again. The talk is that the two regiments are on the way here. I wish it was the truth and nothing but the truth. Perhaps it is do who knows.

Monitor Saugus at Aikens Landing, James River (1865)

Well, I will try it again. Since I began this scribbling, I have seen a good deal. I have been on board the gunboat Saugus. It is built after the style of the Monitor and carries two large guns — one weighs 41,330 and the other 41,310. The smallest one of the two I crawled into. I went in so far that I could not get out myself. The boys caught hold of my heels and pulled me out. I wanted to say that I was in the gun that knocked (or helped to) Fort Fisher in a mess. They are awful guns.

Union officers on board the Atlanta after her capture from the Rebels

Then we got in a boat and rowed along side the large Rebel ram Atlanta. The Captain wanted us to go aboard so we went nearly all through her. She is a very large craft, built just like the old Rebel Merrimack. We stood out on deck in sight of the Johnnies and in range well, I might say, under the Rebel Howlett House Battery and played the Star Spangled Banner, Hail Columbia, and Yankee Doodle, and several more airs. But the Johnnies did not care to shoot at us. I guess they don’t want to waken up our gunboats for they are a rough plaything when once set to going.

Well, I was up on the lookout or signal station that is 130 feet from the ground and we have to go all the way by ladder. I could see the spires in the City of Richmond. I could see a rebel boat quite plain with the naked eye. Then I looked through the glass and could see them exchanging prisoners. I could see very plain the Rebel gunboat that out boats sunk while we were home on furlough.

Yes, we had supper on board the Saugus so we can say we eat several feet under water. We had toast, good bread, and splendid butter, good tea, good cream, canned peaches, stewed peaches, sardines. We had a very good supper and a pleasant time. Tonight I think we will go down to the hospital. We have not been down there for two or three weeks. and I am getting hungry for a good pie.

Well, I guess I have written about all the foolishness I can think of and given you all the other news for the present. I conclude with my best wishes for your future welfare. My love to all and a good share for yourself. I am as ever your brother, — George

The Bermuda Hundred Signal Station

¹ Henry Rosenstock, Bloomsburg, PA (1861). Boyd’s PA Business Directory. 



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