1861: Edward M. Hollenbeck to his Brother

This letter was written by 25 year-old Edward M. Hollenbeck (1836-1900) from Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania. He enlisted on 20 June 1861 as a private in Co. H, 33rd Pennsylvania (a.k.a. 4th Pennsylvania Reserves).

After the war, Edward married a woman named Mary G. (“Maggie”) and made a living as a shipping clerk in Binghamton, Broome county, New York.


Camp Tenally Washington D. C.
August 27th 1861

Dear Brother,

This letter comes to you from quite a different quarter from what I expected my next would ….. I supposed we would be kept as guards much against our wishes. The orders came on the 25th for us to march at 6 o’clock parade. We received orders to hold ourselves in readiness to march in a moment’s warning. The next morning we packed up our knapsacks and waited for orders to strike our tents. The orders came about 10 o’clock. Our tents were struck and rolled up in short order. Then we waited for orders to march. We waited each man on his knapsack or where he found it most convenient from then till about 10 o’clock when the orders came. Each man shouldered his gun and left the old camp with high spirits marched down to the depot [where we] took the cars for Washington. [We] reached their 9 o’clock — quite likely the first time too — a great part of us. We tented for the night in a house kept for that purpose . We marched in, stacked our arms, unslung knapsacks, and was marched into a house close by and sat down to a table [where we] received our supper, 300 at a time, which consist of bread, pork, & hot coffee. When every man had eat[en] what he wanted, we went back and lay down for the night.

The US Capitol under construction during the Civil War

Awoke for the first time …. get a sight of the capitol. When daylight appeared it presented itself to view about 50 rods of there stood the building and as Billy said about New York [City], it is the most magnificent sight I ever seen. I went up as soon as I awoke hoping to get in to see the interior but was too early so I gazed about and saw what could be seen around the enclosure. There stands the statue of the father of his country in bold defiance to everything that the traitors can bring. The capitol is not yet done but it is a splendid sight on the outside but nothing compared with the inside that I have to regret I didn’t see for I may never have another opportunity to see it.

We fell in about 5 o’clock [and] marched on the side walk, placed our knapsacks in a pile, and to our relief there was wagons provided to carry them to for us so we had nothing to carry but our guns, canteens, and haversacks and cartridges. We marched through Washington over to Georgetown. There [we] stacked arms and rested for a short time [and] then commenced our march. Reached camp about 2 o’clock which is about 6 miles from Washington. We are in the enemies country now for a certainty for they are on all sides of us. The pickets are shot at most every night. There is here now between 10 & 14 regiments all from Pennsylvania. It is the object of Gen. McCall [to] have all the force of Pennsylvania in one body so then they can strike a blow. No other state will get the praise of it. I learned from a soldier that there is 180,000 men within a hour’s march of Washington and more coming in all the time. Last night there was all kinds of reports flying in camp. One was that Gen. Johnson had crossed the Potomac with 60,000 men and that our pickets had been drove in. Our officers [were] much alarmed about it. All of the regiments here about was ordered to hold themselves in readiness to march in a moment’s notice but everything is quiet here today.

The new guns that we was to get a month ago have not come yet to all of us. ¹ I Co. got theirs last night. The report has come that Johnson undertook to cross the Potomac last night and was drove back with a loss of 80 horses. No more at present for I must send this to the office now or lose the chance.

I wish they would send a few more men down like those that Cap. brought. Duty would not come quite so often. I can’t say where my next will come from but direct to D. C.

Give my respects to all the friends. Tell them to write. I should like to hear from them all. You will hear from me as often as convenient. Write as soon as you get this. If the enemy advance, we will be called on to fight at a short notice. The pickets of the enemy are seen within 6 miles of here. I remain your truly affectionate brother, — E. M. Hollenbeck

Address to Washington D. C., Care of Col. [Robert G.] March, Co. H

E. M. Hollenbeck. Excuse mistakes for it is wrote on a cartridge [box] and in haste.

¹ On 2 September 1861, Col. Robert G. March claimed that his regiment was variously armed — the flank companies with rifles, Co. K with the Harper’s Ferry musket, and the remainder of the companies (including Hollenbeck’s) with old, altered flint-lock muskets.



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