1863: Daniel H. Harter to Adam Bright

Harter’s Headstone

This letter was written by Daniel H. Harter (1843-1934) who served in Co. D, 148th Pennsylvania Infantry. Daniel mustered into the regiment on 28 August 1862. He was wounded in the fighting at  Chancellorsville on Sunday morning, 3 May 1863. According to “The Story of Our Regiment” edited by Joseph Wendel Muffly (p.632), Charles F. Speaker and Daniel Harter were hit by the “enemy’s shot” that came into the breastworks occupied by the 148th Pennsylvania early in the day. “Speaker had to be carried away but Harter remained with the company.” According to the regimental history, Corp. Daniel Harter was wounded in the shoulder at Chancellorsville. Following the battle, Daniel spent several months in a hospital. He wrote this letter from the Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia. From the letter, we learn that he had just returned from a furlough home so he had probably recovered from his wound and put to work as a ward nurse at the time. He was transferred to the 59th Company, 2d Battalion Veteran Reserve Corps on 19 November 1864 where he remained until war’s end.

Daniel married Druzilla Mensch (1839-1912) in 1869 and took up farming in Green Township, Wayne County, Ohio.

Daniel sent the letter to his friend, John “Adam” Bright (1845-1925) of Aaronsburg, Centre county,  Pennsylvania. Adam was the son of George Bright (1811-1898) and Sarah Bauer (1820-1904). Adam became a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church and eventually moved from Pennsylvania to Kansas.

Chestnut Hill Hospital (a.k.a. Mower USA General Hospital) outside Philadelphia

Addressed to Mr. Adam Bright, Aaronsburg, Centre County, Pa.

Chestnut Hill Hospital
Saturday, October 31st 1863

My dear Friend,

We as human beings find that every year is a new year and every day is a new day like nothing that ever went before or can ever follow after. No books, no systems, no forecast set of rules can provide for every case, for every case is a new case. And we must meet life’s unforeseen difficulties and unexpected disorders by that inexhaustible fertility of invention which belongs to those who live to God first hand. Now as we have to set out and meet these unforeseen disasters, it becomes us to lay aside things that are past and no more to return, and make arrangements to meet things that are to come in the future providing they befall us, we might be prepared to meet them in such a manner as may be of most value to ourselves and also to others.

There are many things which we ought to do, but carelessness of ____ or of our times which brings us to leave many things behind and undone. Remember that by nature our hearts are inclined to that which is evil; that we are apt to walk in the ways of our hearts, and in the sight of our eyes; and seldom consider that if we are once to leave this house of clay, whether we are prepared to stand up and give a strict account before God on that great judgement day, and ___ all know that life has its fading surely.

We speak and think of it with sadness jus as we do think of the Autumn season. But there should be no sadness at the fading of a life that has done well its work. If we rejoice at the advent of a new life, we welcome the company of a new pilgrim to the uncertainties of this world. And why should there be so much gloom when all these uncertainties are past, and life at its evening wears the glory of a completed task.

In the army as well as at home, temptations will rise and if not resisted, will lead into sin. In order to do this in the easiest way, is to think that it is better to resist the first temptation than to satisfy all that will follow after. There are many who think they are in the bloom of their youth; that the time allotted to them is but of little value; that the future will bring the time when they can lay aside all that which is evil, and follow after things that are spiritual; and that their danger is not so great as the soldier’s who is out in the service of his country! And are not aware that they are as apt to be cut off in their bloom of life as well as old folks or the soldier upon the field of battle. Therefore, we cannot appreciate too high the value of time because it is but short at the longest, and it is not a thing which will wait on us, but will carry us farther and farther on toward the unseen future. Our design is to be one of Christ’s followers; we desire to escape God’s righteous judgement upon us for our sins. We comfort ourselves with the thought that there is an abundance of time to make our “election sure.” But alas! if we do no repent of our sins, that time never comes, and upon this, as upon everything else, we shall look back in our last moments and wish we could recall the time that we have so foolishly wasted. But we cannot do it, but must go to give an account to the Being who will reward us according to our deeds that we have done whilst here upon earth.

Since I have enlisted in the service of my country with others, the disasters were invisible to us that we had to meet with. And since that, many of my fellow companions were cut off by sickness and by the foe. And surely it was uncertain to me whether I should ever be permitted to return home and restore the warm hand of friendship to those who were near and dear to me. However, I am thankful to God that I have been once more permitted through His mercy to return and see my friends and especially my parents who have taught me from my childhood up to pray and to refrain from doing that which is evil. I have enjoyed myself very much in those twenty days, but I was sorry to see that there was so much party spirit among the people at home. I do not know whether it was so before I left, but I thought it was higher and more enthusiastic than ever before. Why even the young children were fighting on the street about politics. Besides, old men & women, I found, were not on very good terms, merely on account of political affairs.

If this war is sent for a chastisement for us (as I believe it is) the people of the North should try and join more together every day but instead of that, they are going apart. And as long as the people will not get more united, we can never expect peace.

Well, the changing of my subject might be of more importance to you. I am back again at my old place where I can enjoy myself very much. My ward is filled up again with sick and wounded soldiers. And while I am writing, they are all around me. Some are playing cards. Some are making rings out of old bones. Some are busy with the needle and thread in making pockets in their coats while some are reading novels and the rest are sleeping. Perhaps you might think that a soldier would not enjoy himself here. But I am more contented that I ever was at home. We rise in the morning a little after daybreak. We then wash ourselves and make our beds. Soon the call for breakfast we hear and off we go to one end of the ward where there is for each man one cup of good bread, some butter (which is sometimes so strong that it almost turns a person’s stomach). After breakfast, we wash our dishes and clean up the ward for inspection which is generally at 9 A.M.

For dinner we get Mutton soup, sometimes beef and potatoes, and cold water. And for supper we have tea and butter or cheese. We have plenty to eat but somehow it don’t taste quite as good as it used to before I was at home. I am always busy at something. I got to school houses every day — two in the forenoon and two in the afternoon. I study grammar, geography, arithmetic, reading, writing, and spelling/ The books are all found and everything that I need. All that I have to do is to study and by doing this, I can pass my time with pleasure. And besides, we have two hours bible class every day. And in the evening we have either preaching, prayer meeting, or Temperance meeting.

In conclusion, I am happy to day that I am well as far as worldly pleasures extends. Hoping this will find you all enjoying good health, I would like to ask you one question, but you see my sheet is full and so I will close by requesting you for an answer providing you think it is worth answering. And by so doing, you would oblige your affectionate friend.

— Daniel H. Harter, Co. D, 148 P. V.



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