This letter was written by Sgt. John J. Shaffner (1838-1923), the son of John Shaffner (1810-18xx) and Mary Metzger (1812-1889) of Upper Darby, Delaware county, Pennsylvania. Shaffner served in the Keystone Battery which was first deployed in 1861 and performed service in the field until after Gettysburg. A second enlistment was opened in 1864 and Shaffner served in Battery A.
In December 1862, a record of the deployment of Pennsylvania’s Independent Batteries reveals that the Keystone Battery was at Union Mills, Virginia, with six 10-pounder Parrott guns. At that time, the battery was commanded by Captain Matthew Hastings and was assigned to Casey’s Division (part of the Washington defenses).
John wrote the letter to his younger brother Charles Shaffner (1846-1907).
Union Mills, Virginia
February 27, 1863
Yours of the 21st is before me. I received the three papers yesterday but not Harpers Magazine for March. It is out and I hope may soon be sent. [My sister] Mary and [her husband] Levi [Lukens] both owe me letters. As they read my letters which I write home, I suppose they think it is not necessary to write me, so as to hear from me in return. But letters are always welcome to a soldier and if they are not received regularly, a great deal of grumbling is heard among them. Our mail is brought to Alexandria by the government. From there we pay three men for bringing it to this place. Each man in the brigade pays 20 cents which will pay all expenses to the 1st of May making 4 cents per month — a very small sum, but one which should not be paid by soldiers.
One of our men who was sent from a hospital in Georgetown to the convalescent camp saw Clayton Super ¹ there. He has obtained his discharge and was waiting for the necessary papers before he returned home. Clayton told the man he used to hunt bull-frogs with me. William Garrett ² had been down to see him. I suppose he was sick, discharged from the hospital, and sent to that camp, and being unable to join his company on account of disability, obtained his discharge from the service.
Enclosed you will find an Indian arrow head found by one of our company. I think it is flint. One of our men caught a pole-cat [skunk] in his rabbit trap. The question was what was he to do with it? If he left it out around camp, someone would hear from it. He solved the difficulty by drowning it. It left its smell, and as the Irishman says, you can feel the smell of it all around the neighborhood.
We had a very heavy rain last night which took most of the snow. Bull Run is higher than ever. The railroad bridge over it is impassable. The weather is quite mild. Birds are singing and bullfrogs are to be seen. The long dreary winter will soon be over and spring make its appearance.
Tomorrow is muster day. We are mustered every two months for pay. The pay comes afterwards at the option of the government. We put on our good clothes and in full dress uniform are inspected by an officer high in command. As it is very muddy, we intend going over to headquarters on horseback. As we haven’t a horse for each man, we will mount two on each horse. As we have to climb a pretty steep hill, I think somebody’s good clothes will be spoilt by sliding in the mud.
The captain returned about two weeks ago.
I am sorry you did not take the prize at school. Was there any partiality shown? Perhaps you were deserving of it.
Last night our battery was ordered to harness up as the General expected some trouble for the 1st [Pennsylvania] Reserves. He took their arms from them and placed them under arrest. Today he had them on fatigue duty. They say they do not care if they never get their arms back. Charley Markley ³ has not yet returned. He expected to get a furlough and I suppose has gone home.
We have very beautiful sunsets at this place. It looks very beautiful going down behind the mountains, which present a very deep blue color and a very marked appearance on the horizon. There is a halo around the moon tonight. Ask mother if it doesn’t mean more rain.
Love to all. Good night. Your affectionate brother, — — John
¹ Pvt. Clayton Super (1819-1891) served in Co. G, 106th Pennsylvania. The 106th was organized at Philadelphia in the fall of 1862. They were attached to Baker’s Brigade, Sedgwick’s Division, Army of the Potomac. Until March 1862, they had limited duty on the Upper Potomac. Clayton was discharged on a surgeon’s certificate on 11 February 1863 (his 1890 Veteran’s Schedule states he had a buck shot wound to the hand). In 1860, Clayton was a farmer in Upper Darby Township, Delaware county, PA. In 1850, he was enumerated with his older sister Rachel Super, and his mother Hannah (Kirk) Super (1781-1854) in Upper Darby.
² William H. Garrett (1837-1913) was the son of William H. Garrett, Sr. (b. 1809) and Hannah C. Super (b. 1809). William served in Co. D, 124th Pennsylvania (9-months’ Service). He mustered in on 9 August 1862 and mustered out on 15 May 1863.
³ Charles A. Markley served as a sergeant in Co. E, 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry (30th Volunteers).