Sunday, June 13, 2010


Alfred Bowers and His First Family

It is not known exactly when Alfred married his first wife, Mary, or when his children were born, but his son Elmer died while he was away. Life at home for wives and families was very difficult without a man to handle the heavier farming duties.

Alfred sometimes sent money home, probably by some means other than the mail, and other times he asked Mary to send him money.

Soldiers were instructed not to forage (or steal from civilians) for food, or to replace worn out shoes and clothing. Often, warm clothing was hard to come by. Considering the conditions endured by Alfred and other soldiers, it is amazing only 18 of his Company died over the two years recounted above. It was not uncommon for men to be released because of prolonged pneumonia or other diseases. Some suffered from poor health the rest of their lives.

Even though the letters Alfred wrote to Mary will be recorded on this blogsite in the future, I have written them into the text as well, so the information is legible.

Three letters to Mary during Alfred's service remain. The post marks on the envelopes are not clear, and tracing the battle sequences of the War Between the States more clearly identifies when they were written. Often there was a lapse between the writing and the postmarks on the envelopes. Many letters written from the front never reached home.

Alfred was camped at Fairfax Seminary in Virginia in February 1863, where some of the wounded were treated. He was on regular duty there.

He had taken up the pastime of making rings from cast off shells, and sending them home to relatives or selling them to his comrades.

He wrote to his wife Mary at home in New York from the Seminary. This letter was addressed to Loch Shelldrake, Sullivan County, NY.

"Dear Mary,

"Though you see that we have left Upton Hill, we are nearer the city than we were before. We are now between Washington and Alexandria. This morning we struck our tents and was on guard at the barn where the Colonel's and all the horses of the regiment were kept and when I came to camp it was a sorry sight, for it was stripped, and the old stockades and chimneys stuck up just as I expected it would look when we left. If the Rebs look as rough after going through our hands as the camp did, they will be worsted.

"But to go on with my story, we fell in and stacked our guns and loaded the wagons, then took arms and started. We marched 6 to 8 miles and fetched up at the above named place. It is a handsome place. Here some too tired for the night for when we got here we had to go to work and pitch our tents which took about until dark. Just as we got ours done, it commenced raining but it has not rained enough to do any damage and we are in hopes it will not until we get our camp pitched for we are on a level piece of ground and if it rains much it will be very muddy here.

"I received the letters with the dollars in last night but if I had known we was going to get some of our money so soon, I should not have sent for any. I have not got my money yet but it is in Trent Divine's hands so I can get it in the morning, and then I will write and tell you what I send.

"I have made a little draw of money besides that you sent and this is the way I done it. I made a small ring from a bullet shell? and sold it to Dr. Smith's boys for 10 cents. While on guard at the barn I made another something like this only not so nice and sold it for 5 cents and this is worth .50. I have one something like it on my finger, and I split off a small piece from it in trying to cut the heart on it. Abner paid me 15 cents of borrowed money so if I had not sent for money, I should not do it now.

"The man that enlisted, John S Yorks, was to our camp a few days ago and told C Herman that John was back to his regiment again and was fat and healthy and so if you have not heard from him this will be news to you. We are counted the defenders of Washington and they are now dividing their forces so as to give each division a certain boundary to defend.

"There was a brigade called the Pennsylvania Reserve, moved in near us and so we had to leave and we have orders to fix our tents as good as if we intended always to stay there, though we may move soon. The reserves was in the Fredricksburg fight Feb. 13th.

"I have just received $27.66. I will send you the allotment ticket and $500 and keep some by me, but use it sparingly, as though I had but little. We are going to move on by ground perhaps a half a mile on the other side of the Seminary.


Another letter with a postmarked envelope: Washington June 28. The company would have been in Washington in June of 1963., although it could have been written earlier.

"Murfrueboro Term, Jan (June?) the 6th, 1863.

Dear Mary, When last I wrote, I did not expect to address you from this place again. I will write again that you may hear from me.

"I enjoy good health at present and have a good appetite and enough to eat and am not overly taxed with duties and under those circumstances, don't you think I should be contented. I should be were it not for the many perplexities of camp life which one has to endure who tries to live a life of virtue and uprightness.

"But the views of the camp prevail to such an extent that a Christian seems to stand alone and bear all the derision and scoffs that his wicked comrades see fit to heap upon him.

"I am the only one of eight in my tent that makes any profession of religion, although there are two others that seem to be propelled of some good traits and one of them has commenced the year with trying to leave off swearing and the other to leave off tobacco.

"As for me, I have formed a resolution to improve my moral habits in every respect where I can discerne that I have erred in the former.

"I have finished a ring and have concluded that as Mother S (Sofia) has waited so long for hers it would not be right to put her off with one that has become a common article and will let her have this and endeavor to make another for you.

"The one I mentioned before had a bug on the same as this and he either eat the leaf up or crawled off with it for it cannot be found or I could supply you both. I am going to look for some shells soon.

"I don't know when we will leave here and I think you had better continue to send my

letters here as they will follow in case we leave. I have not received any yet since I came from home except the one you wrote at Mr. Smiths.

"I think we will get paid if we stay a week longer and I hope we may for it may be a long time if we are sent away before getting it.

The railroad is in order now and trains seem regular and I think it is time for me to get a letter from you. I begin to feel a bit anxious to know what your feelings are after a few days visit from myself.

"You have, no doubt, a greater anxiety, though, ever if possible, for my time to expire that I may return home and you may then hope the destinies of our country may not separate us again, which is also the prayer of your unworthy companion. Alfred Bowers.

He like the others of his regiment fought under Grant at Lookout Mountain, in Chattanooga TN. Alfred would have been around 26 at that time.

Alfred wrote a third letter, written on paper torn from the military Muster Register, on March 18, 1965 from Charleston SC. This was some time later than is recorded in the historic document recording the movements of Company C.

"Most letters I send will probably be on a similar sheet.

"Dear Companion,

You may think from the looks of this sheet that I am getting short of paper, but in that you are mistaken as I have plenty of good paper, though my envelopes are running rather lower than I desire. Nevertheless, I have enough for the present. If they fail the Christian Communion will furnish them.

"I have nothing of interest to write except that as usual I enjoy very good health, and have plenty to eat, drink and wear.

"With the exception of sugar, of which we have not been furnished for the last 15 days which constitutes a very important part of our diet, and coffee does not relish well without this necessary article. At first we were struck with the impression that the commissary was coming a game over us and selling our rations to the citizens by which they were realizing a large profit, but have since learned that this was a vague idea that came from the fact that regular organized troops fare no better and that sugar can not be found to any great extent in Charleston. Foraging has been denied? but chicken, turkey, ducks have played out and we are confined to what the soldiers have been pleased to term," sow belly and hard tack" which is considered the healthiest diet a soldier can eat, but a little less meat and more vegetables would, I think would be better for his health, besides a great deal more palatable.

"I don't hear from you yet though it appears that a letter should have gone and an answer returned before this as it cannot take more than seven days for a letter to go from here and the same to return and it must now 20 days since I sent to have directed here and no letter comes yet and as we may not stay here much longer, it would be advisable not to send any more until you hear from me again.

" The weather has been very wet for the last two weeks, and twice it has thundered, but at present it is some cooler and very pleasant and there are lots of pretty flowers in bloom and the trees are putting forth which brings to memory a thousand thoughts of days that are past. Hopes and fears at times make my nights seem restless, and sleep forsakes my eyes, but I trust in providence that in less than seven months more, these troubles will cease to haunt me and that I may lay my head down at night where there will be no danger of an enemy stealing upon me and arousing me from dreams of home and all its charms, to join in a scene of conflict, though I apprehend no danger here, yet there are so many flying reports that one cannot help but think of what might be his fate.

"I did not finish telling you about this writing paper and will now endeavor to do so. I was on guard one night when some houses took fire and in going in one of them after the roof was in a sheet of flame, I found a large roll of muster and payrolls which I took in my possession, and as no owner called for them, I cut four of them up yesterday and by the way have all the paper I shall need while in the service if I don't stay over the turn of three years.

"Things took a favorable turn at present for a final overthrow of the rebellion in many respects. One is that wherever our flag flutters, men are flocking beneath its shadow and readily acknowledged the hopeless condition of the rebels by taking the oath of allegiance and there have been so many crowding to the city of Charleston since its capture, that one man living in the city says he was not at the Marshall's office every day for about two weeks, and could not get an opportunity on account of so many from the county's being there ahead of him.

"The papers report General Lee's on the move to evacuate Richmond and that Virginia's troops refuse to leave their own state. Their supplies are cut off and what little they have will soon be exhausted. General Grant's confronting them and Sherman's in their rear, so if they don't make a break in one month more, they will, I think, be compelled to relinquish all hope of accomplishing the least of their desired purpose. I have some of their script just as it was printed, and send you a specimen.

"I have often thought of that little affair of having remarked to someone while after finding I could not get home in time to vote, I was impressed with the idea of turning and going back, and how you seemed to doubt my loyalty to you or rather thought that others would, but never took occasion to refer to it until the present.

"I might have said so, but if I did, it could only have been in jest. I never intended any such thing. But if you considered the matter as I do, you could not have blamed me even if had carried out the threat as I was furnished with free transportation for the purpose of voting and nothing else and I consider it disloyalty to my country to proceed on my journey other than the fact that I could not accomplish the object for which I had been furloughed, and if you would rightly study my character, I think you could not help but observe my main object to be strictly honest with my God, my country and yourself.

"Another of my attributes is to keep in my own heart the affection that I bear and not make a public show of it to become a laughing stock for the tattlers and others who feel disposed to immerse themselves in that sort of ridicule. I conclude by begging your pardon for any embitterment of your feelings caused by the above transaction and remain as ever, your affectionate husband Alfred Bowers.

Accounts of the war appearing in the New York Herald follow Alfred's letters, and add another dimension to the historic period in which he lived.

A quota of those in the service for each region of the country was met by a combination of volunteers, who were to serve for three year terms, and by conscription of men between 18 and 35, following March 1863. Well to do men could avoid being sent to fight by paying someone to go in their place or by paying $300 to an appropriate authority. In some cases, in a period after Alfred's Company signed up, other men were paid a substantial bounty for signing up, to assure there were replacement troops for those killed, wounded, sick or resigned.

This led to some men signing up for the bounty, and who took the money and ran.

Alfred was around 28 years old when the Civil War was over.

Alfred 's wife Mary and daughter Carrie died of scarlet fever a few years after the war was over.

They were buried in the same funeral, many years before he met Laura Starr, his second wife

and mother of six daughters.

Letters Alfred wrote to his first wife Mary, and New York Herald Pages which came to me through

my mother Ava are the basis for his Civil War experience. The news pages were obtained from t

he Library of Congress, and Page 8 contains an incorrect date line, probably because it was

a special edition R Zachary. Remarks © Ruth Zachary

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