In Their Own Words: Soldiers Reflect on Life as Christmas and the New Year Approach During the U.S. Civil War


Personal Letter from Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, Commanding Officer of Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (14 December 1862)

Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin, Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (circa 1862, public domain).

Beaufort, So. Ca.
December 14, 1862

Dear Friends,

This is the last letter you will receive from me dated as above. For some time, our Regt. has been ordered to Key West again and we leave for there tomorrow. We are even now all packed up and I am writing amid the piles of rubbish accumulated in a five months residence in Camp. Gen. Brannen [sic] expects to go North and his object evidently is to get us out of this Department so that when he is established in his command, he can get us with him. If we remained here Gen Hunter would not let us go as he is as well aware as is Brannen [sic] is that we are the best Regiment in the Department. Although I do not like the idea of going back there, under the circumstances we are content. At all events we will have nice quarters easy times, and plenty of food. But for my part I would rather have some fighting to do. Since we have become initiated I rather like it. At Key West we will get none, and have a nice rest after our duties here. I will take all my men along – not being compelled to leave any behind. Direct my letters hereafter to Key West, Fla.

I supposed the body of Sergt Haupt has arrived at home long ere this. When we left Key West [Last?] Oyster & myself  bought a large quantity of shells, and sent them to Mrs Oyster. If we got home all right [sic] Haupt was to make boxes for us. He having died, you and Mrs Oyster divide the shells, and you can take [two illegible words] and give them to our friends. Some to Uncle Luther [sp?], Jacob Lawk [sp?], Louisa Shindel and all friends. I can send some more when we get to Key West if they want them.

Arrangements are being made to run a schooner regularly between here and Key West, so your boxes sent to us will follow us. Neither Mrs Wilsons nor yours has been received yet.

I think I will send a box home from  here containing a few articles picked up at St. John’s Bluff and here. They examine all boxes closely but I think I can get some few articles through. The powder horn bullet pouch and breech sight I got at St. John’s Bluff the rest here. I will write, as soon as we get to Key West. Let me hear from you often. With love to all I remain

J. P. Shindel Gobin

P.S. Get Youngman & [illegible name] to publish the change of your address.


Letter to the Sunbury American Newspaper from Henry D. Wharton, Musician, Company C, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (published 10 January 1863)

USS Seminole and USS Ellen accompanied by transports (left to right: Belvidere, McClellan, Boston, Delaware, and Cosmpolitan) at Wassau Sound, Georgia (circa January 1862, Harper’s Weekly, public domain).

[Correspondence for the AMERICAN.]
Letter from the Sunbury Guards,
December 21, 1862.

DEAR WILVERT:– Again at Key West. On Monday, December 15th we left Beaufort, S.C., on board the Steamer Cosmopolitan and proceeded to Hilton Head, where Gen. Brannen [sic] came on board to bid farewell to his regiment. Capt. Gobin addressed him in a neat little speech, which the General tried to reply to, but his feelings were too full and tears were in his eye as he bid the old word, ‘Good Bye.’ The boys gave him tremendous cheers as he left the vessel and the Band discoursed sweet music ‘till he reached the shore. The members of our regiment felt badly on leaving his command; but the assurance that we will soon be with him, in another department, makes them in a better humor; for with him they know all their wants are cared for, and in battle they have a leader on whom they can depend.

On the passage down, we ran along almost the whole coast of Florida. Rather a dangerous ground, and the reefs are no playthings. We were jarred considerably by running on one, and not liking the sensation our course was altered for the Gulf Stream. We had heavy sea all the time. I had often heard of ‘waves as big as a house,’ and thought it was a sailor’s yarn, but I have seen ‘em and am perfectly satisfied; so now, not having a nautical turn of mind, I prefer our movements being done on terra firma, and leave old neptune to those who have more desire for his better acquaintance. A nearer chance of a shipwreck never took place than ours, and it was only through Providence that we were saved. The Cosmopolitan is a good river boat, but to send her to sea, loadened [sic] with U.S. troops is a shame, and looks as though those in authority wish to get clear of soldiers in another way than that of battle. There was some sea sickness on our passage; several of the boys ‘casting up their accounts’ on the wrong side of the ledger.

Fort Jefferson, Dry Torguas, Florida (interior, c.irca 1934, C.E. Peterson, photographer, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

We landed here on last Thursday at noon, and immediately marched to quarters. Company I. and C., in Fort Taylor, E. and B. in the old Barracks, and A. and G. in the new Barracks. Lieut. Col. Alexander, with the other four companies proceeded to Tortugas, Col. Good having command of all the forces in and around Key West. Our regiment relieves the 90th Regiment N.Y.S. Vols. Col. Joseph Morgan, who will proceed to Hilton Head to report to the General commanding. His actions have been severely criticized by the people, but, as it is in bad taste to say anything against ones superiors, I merely mention, judging from the expression of the citizens, they were very glad of the return of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

The U.S. Gunboat ‘Sagamore’ has had good luck lately. She returned from a cruise on the 16th inst., having captured the English sloop ‘Ellen’ and schooners ‘Agnes,’ ‘By George’ and ‘Alicia,’ all hailing from Nassau N.P. The two former were cut out in India river by a boat expedition from the Sagamore. They had, however, previously discharged their cargoes, consisting principally of salt, and were awaiting a return cargo of the staple, (cotton) when the boats relieved them from further trouble and anxiety. The ‘By George’ was sighted on the morning of the 1st, and after a short chase she was overhauled. Her Captain, in answer to ‘where bound!’ replied Key West, but being so much out of his course and rather deficient in the required papers, an officer was placed in charge in order that she might safely reach this port. Cargo – Coffee, Salt, Medicines, &c. The “Alicia,’ cotton loaded, was taken in Indian river inlet, where she was nicely stowed away waiting a clear coast. The boats of the Sagamore also destroyed two small sloops. They were used in Indian river, near Daplin, by the rebels in lightering cargoes up and down the river. There are about twenty more prizes lying here, but I was unable to get the names of more than the following:

Schooner ‘Dianah.’ assorted cargo.
“         ‘Maria.’           “             “
“         ‘Corse.’           “             “
“       ‘Velocity.’        “             “
“  ‘W.E. Chester.’  sixty bales of cotton.

Woodcut depicting the harsh climate at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida during the Civil War (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Key West has improved very little since we left last June, but there is one improvement for which the 90th New York deserve a great deal of praise, and that is the beautifying of the ‘home’ of dec’d. soldiers. A neat and strong wall of stone encloses the yard, the ground is laid off in squares, all the graves are flat and are nicely put in proper shape by boards eight or ten inches high on the ends sides, covered with white sand, while a head and foot board, with the full name, company and regiment, marks the last resting place of the patriot who sacrificed himself for his country.

Two regiments of Gen. Bank’s [sic] expedition are now at this place, the vessels, on which they had taken passage for Ship Island, being disabled, they were obliged to disembark, and are now waiting transportation. They are the 156th and 160th N.Y.S. Vols. Part of the 156th are with us in Fort Taylor.

Key West is very healthy; the yellow fever having done its work, the people are very much relieved of its departure. The boys of our company are all well. I will write to you again as soon as ‘something turns up.’ With respects to friends generally, I remain,

Yours, Fraternally,
H. D. W.


Excerpts of Diary Entries from Henry Jacob Hornbeck, Private, Company G, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers (December 1863 and Early January 1864)

Key West, Florida (circa 1850, courtesy of the Florida Memory Project).

December 1863. The workers at the fortification in Key West demanded back pay and a raise in December; their rate was $1.40 per day. The town had some excitement in December as a spark from a railway locomotive set the mess hall on fire, burning it to the ground; and nature retaliated with a violent storm, which caused heavy damage, putting the railroad out of service.

Friday December 25th. …. rose at 3 a.m. & proceeded to Slaughter House, had two Cattle & two Sheep cut up and served to the troops. Conveyed Fresh Meat to a number of citizens this morning, being Gen’l Woodburys [sic] gift, then had breakfast. Went to Fort Stables, had the horse fed, visited Mrs. Abbot in Fort Taylor, also Mrs. Heebner, from both of whom we rec’d Christmas Cakes & a drink, which were excellent…. We took dinner at Capt. Bells at 2 p.m. which was a splendid affair. A fine turkey served up, and finished up our dinner with excellent Mince pie, after the dinner we again took a ride about the Island, took the horse to Fort Stables and returned to office. At 5 p.m. a party of Masqueraders (or what we term in our State Fantasticals) paraded the street headed with music, a very comical party. Took a walk tonight, Churches finely decorated. Retired early at ½ past 8 p.m. Weather beautiful….


January 1st Thursday. Rose as usual. After breakfast, went to office, kept busy all day on account of many steamers lying in port, waiting to coal. After supper took a walk about the city with Frank Good and Wm. Steckel. Heard music in a side street, went there and found the Black Band playing at the Postmaster’s residence. The Postmaster then called all the soldiers in, and gave us each a glass of wine.

He is a very patriotic man and very generous. I believe his name is Mr. Albury. We then went to barracks and retired.

January 2nd Friday…. After breakfast, work as usual in office. After dinner took a horseback ride to Fort Taylor…. Retired at 9 o’clock. Weather cool.

January 3rd Saturday…. Received our extra duty pay this afternoon. Purchased toilet articles. After supper went to the camp, took a walk about city, then went barracks & retired. Latest reports are that Burnside was defeated with great loss and the Cabinet broke up in a row. Retired at 10. Weather fine.

Sunday January 4th…. After breakfast, washed & dressed. After dinner John Lawall, Wm. Ginkinger & myself went to the wharf. I then returned to barracks and P. Pernd. E. Crader and myself went out on the beach, searching sea shell. Returned by 4 o’clock. I then cleaned my rifle. Witnessed dress parade. Then went to supper. After supper went to the Methodist Church, heard a good Sermon by our Chaplain. Retired at 9 o’clock.

Monday January 5th…. After breakfast went to office, busy, wrote a letter to Reuben Leisenring. At 11 o’clock the U.S. Mail Steamer Bio arrived from New York, having come in 5 days, papers dating 30th inst. The reports of a few days ago, are not confirmed, therefore they are untrue. She also has a mail on board.

Tuesday January 6th…. Received no letter yesterday, very small mail for our regiment. Busy all day in office. After supper, Wm. Smith, Allen Wolf & myself took a walk about the city, then went to barracks. Retired at 10 o’clock. Wrote a letter this afternoon to Uncle Ebenezer, sent him also by mail a small collection of sea shells. Weather fine.




1. Gobin, John Peter Shindel. Personal Letters, 1861-1865. Northumberland, Pennsylvania: Personal Collection of John Deppen.

2. Hornbeck, Henry Jacob. Diary Excerpts, 1862-1864, in 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story. Retrieved online 1 December 2017.

3. Wharton, Henry D. Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1868.




A Thanksgiving Message from the Past: Abraham Lincoln

Thanksgiving, November 1863 (Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, 5 December 1863, public domain).

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.


The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State


* Notes: According to Lincoln historian Roy P. Basler, “The original draft of this proclamation has not been located, but a letter from John G. Nicolay to John Hay from New York, April 1, 1864, relates that ‘the Mss. of the President’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, which was written by Seward and is in his handwriting’ had been sent by the State Department to Leavitt Hunt ‘to be sold at the Fair.’”

The proceeds from that and other Sanitary Fairs raised millions of dollars funds in support of the aid rendered by the U.S. Sanitary Commission to sick and wounded Union soldiers and their families.

Nicolay, a German immigrant, served as one of two private secretaries to President Abraham Lincoln.

The paragraph formatting used for the reprinting of the proclamation (above) was taken from the formatting used for the publication of the proclamation in the 17 October 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly.



1. Basler, Roy P., editor, et. al. Collected works, vol. 6. The Abraham Lincoln Association/Springfield, Illinois. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953.

2. Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1863: A primary source by Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Nast. New York, New York: The Gilder Lehman Institute of History, retrieved online 1 November 2017.



Faces of the 47th Project Honors History-Making Civil War Soldiers from Pennsylvania

First Lieutenant William Wallace Geety, Co. H, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1864-1865.

A tantalizing new video released by 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story just opened an important new portal to the 19th century for Civil War enthusiasts, teachers, students, and genealogists.

Faces of the 47th is part of a larger, ongoing initiative to document and raise public awareness about the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry – the only regiment from the Keystone State to fight in the Union’s 1864 Red River Campaign  across Louisiana. The video presents the photographic and illustrated images of more than two dozen men who fought with the all-volunteer unit between 1861 and 1865.

“Each one of these images holds the potential to help family history researchers feel closer to their Civil War-era ancestors while also enabling teachers, students and Civil War enthusiasts to deepen their connections to one of the most painful chapters in the American narrative,” explains Laurie Snyder, managing editor for the project. “By ‘putting faces to the names’ on military muster rolls, we’re bringing history to life while also paying tribute to those who fought to eradicate slavery and preserve our nation’s union.”

The photo digitization project received early support from Thomas MacEntee, founder of High-Definition Genealogy, via The Genealogy Fairy™ program, which enabled Snyder to locate and digitize photographs of key members of the regiment. Among the images preserved in this initial collection are the faces of a regimental chaplain, musicians, prisoners of war (POWs), military surgeons, and officers and enlisted men who were grievously wounded or killed in combat, as well as several men who became inventors, leading business executives and elected officials in and beyond Pennsylvania after the war.

George Dillwyn John (third from left; formerly, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers), Grand Army of the Republic gathering, Will Robinson Post, Illinois, c. 1926.

“At the time I applied for the grant, there were hundreds of photographs tucked away in public libraries, historical societies, universities, and private family history collections from Maine to California and Michigan to Louisiana. Most had not yet been digitized and might have been lost for all time had Thomas MacEntee not provided the support he did when he did,” said Snyder. “More work still needs to be done, of course, because there are photos still not yet scanned, but the project took more than two dozen giant steps forward with just that one grant from Thomas. He’s a hero in my book.”

Other significant support for the project has been provided by the Burrowes and Wasserman families.

About the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers

Joseph Eugene Walter, Regimental Band, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, c. 1861.

Recruited primarily at community gathering places in their respective home towns, the soldiers who served with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were primarily men of German heritage whose families still spoke German or “Pennsylvania Dutch” more than a century after their ancestors emigrated from Germany in search of religious and political freedom. Still others were recent immigrants from Germany, Ireland and Cuba. Formerly enslaved black men who had been freed by the regiment from plantations in South Carolina and Louisiana were added to regimental rosters in 1862 and 1864.

In addition to fighting in the battles of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield, Pleasant Hill and Monett’s Ferry/Cane River during the Red River Campaign, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers also engaged in the defense of Washington, D.C. in 1861 and again in 1865, following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln; the capture of Saint John’s Bluff, Florida and Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina (1862); the garrisoning of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas, Florida (1863); Union Major-General Philip Sheridan’s tide-turning Shenandoah Valley Campaign (1864), including the battles of Berryville, Opequon, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek; and provost (military police) and Reconstruction duties in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina (1865). Most were finally released from duty when the regiment formally mustered out on Christmas Day in 1865.

Learn More and Support

To learn more about the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers and lend your support to this historic initiative, visit the website of 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story, and follow the project on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.




Celebrating the Fourth Far from Home

The city was gaily dressed in flags, and the prettiest thing of the kind was that at the guard station, under Lt. Reese of Company C. Five flags were suspended from the quarters, with wreaths, while the whole front of the enclosure of the yard was covered with evergreens and the red, white, and blue. The Navy had their vessels dressed in their best ‘bib and tucker’, flags flying fore and aft, of our own and those of all nations. It was a pretty sight, and in a measure paid for the fatigue of the boys on their march. At 12 noon, both Army and Navy fired a national salute of thirty five guns. – Henry D. Wharton


The 1863 Fourth of July celebrations in Key West, Florida likely resembled those captured in this image from January 1880 in which former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and General Philip Sheridan arrived at the Russell House on Duval Street (Florida Memory Project, public domain).

The 1863 Fourth of July celebrations in Key West, Florida likely resembled those captured in this image from January 1880 in which former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and General Philip Sheridan arrived at the Russell House on Duval Street (Florida Memory Project, public domain).

It was the Fourth of July, 1863, and the native sons of Pennsylvania enrolled for Civil War military service with the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were stationed about as far from home as they could possibly be. The men serving with Companies A, B, C, D, and I were stationed at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida while those assigned to companies E, F, G, H, and K were toughing it out at Fort Jefferson, the Union’ remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas. The men from D Company had only just returned to Key West from Fort Jefferson a month earlier.

But life was not all about duty for the Keystone Staters in 1863. According to historian Lewis Schmidt,”July 4th fell on a Saturday, and the celebrations began at Key West at 9 AM when the five companies of the 47th stationed there were reviewed by Gen. Woodbury before the regiment’s office. Immediately after inspection, the regiment marched in a ‘street parade through the principal streets of the city in the heat of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the dust almost suffocating.’ After which each ‘detachment was taken to their quarters, dismissed, and then to enjoy themselves as best they could.'”

Henry D. Wharton, a member of Company C known for his detailed letters to his hometown newspaper, the Sunbury American, added, “The day passed off pleasantly, all seemed to enjoy themselves.” Afterward, said Wharton, “the city was as quiet as could be expected.”




1. Letters from Henry D. Wharton, in Sunbury American. Sunbury: 1861-1865.

2. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.



47th Pennsylvania: Civil War-Era Recruiting Flyer

47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: Civil War-Era Recruiting Flyer

This Civil War-era recruiting flyer documents the service of the 47th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida and Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Florida – under the leadership of Tilghman Good, as well as the premium and bounty added to standard pay to inspire more men to volunteer. Men of the 47th needed to be willing to risk not only disability or death at the hands of Confederate troops and other hostiles, but an early end from dysentery and typhoid due to Florida’s harsh, disease-ridden conditions.