Recently historian Allan Arnold found an interesting letter at the National Archives in Washington D. C. while researching the pension files of soldiers serving in the 2d Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery. The letter was written by Capt. B. F. Smiley — a Captain in Company K of the “Provisionals” — and submitted on behalf of a soldier in that unit named John J. Milton who died on the battlefield in the Wilderness.
Allan found indications that false reports had circulated about Pvt. Milton suggesting that he had deserted his comrades on the battlefield but Capt. Smiley set the record straight when he submitted this affidavit on behalf of Pvt. Milton’s sister who claimed a pension following the war. It seems that Pvt. Milton’s father died in 1851 and his mother in 1856; thus leaving Milton’s sister with a legitimate claim to the pension as closest surviving next-of-kin.
The letter reads as follows:
State of Pennsylvania
County of Luzerne
On the 25th day of August A. D. 1866, personally appeared before me, E. B. Collings, Clerk of the Orphans Court, a court of record in and for said county and state, B. F. Smiley, a resident of the Borough of Pittston County and state aforesaid, well known to be a person of respectability and worthy of credit, and after being duly sworn according to law, declares that he was formerly Captain of Co. “K” Provisional 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, and that he was personally acquainted with John Milton, late a Private of this said company, who was killed in Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia, on May 7th 1864. That said John Milton, while in said service and in the line of his duty as a soldier, having straggled a short distance from his company, was picked up and put into the straggler’s regiment and taken to the front and killed in said battle of the Wilderness on the 7th of May 1864. That said John Milton was instantly killed by a Gunshot wound. That he has a personal knowledge of the facts set forth in the foregoing declaration and affidavit. That he resides as above stated and has no interest in this claim.
— B. F. Smiley
That young Milton “straggled” as he entered the fray of battle on 7 May 1864 is not surprising. Company records show that he enlisted on 21 March 1864. For Pvt. Milton, this was not only his first battle; it was his last. He had been a soldier for less than seven weeks.