Sgt. George W. Nolan exclaims, “In a hog’s ass!”

How Sgt. George Nolan might have looked in 1864

How Sgt. George Nolan might have looked in 1864

George W. Nolan was the son of Joseph and Eve Ann Nolan who resided on East Washington Street in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  George enlisted as a private on February 26, 1864, for a term of three years, in Co. C, 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery. He was later promoted to sergeant and survived the war, but he could not survive a heart attack that struck him down while in post-war Petersburg, Virginia, while still in the service. He died on 16 November 1865 at the Fairground Hospital in Petersburg.

In seeking a “mother’s pension,” Mrs. Nolan submitted the following letters to the Pension Bureau as evidence of her son’s service and, in particular, to highlight passages in the letters pertaining to his enlistment bonus and service duty payments. While fulfilling the intended purpose, Mrs. Nolan unwittingly preserved fragments of her son’s service — and that of his unit — which might have otherwise been lost. Below are the remnants of these letters that remain in the pension files. [Note: some sources spell the name Noland.]

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On Picket, Chapin’s Farm, Va.
October 21st 1864

Dear Father,

I received yours of the 17th and was glad to hear from you and to hear that you was well. I am the same. Today is pay day. we get paid up to the first of September. I will get $196.16. I will express 175 dollars home and us boys will make out who will express it to and write and let you know where to get it but I think we will express it to Col. A. K. McClure. I think he would be as good a man as we could get to express it to.

All of the Chambersburg boys are well. Simon [Nolan] will draw $185.16 and the rest of the Chambersburg boys will draw $175.16 cts.

They fired a salute yesterday evening in honor of Sheridan’s victories in the [Shenandoah] Valley. I was glad to hear that Joe Kale was still alive but the people at home have got a great deal better hopes of the war coming to a close than the soldiers of the Potomac and the James have. I was up to see the 11th Cavalry day before yesterday. The rebels must have got some good news yesterday too for the done a great deal of hallowing last night and our boys would set up an awful yell and then things would be as quiet for awhile as if they was not a man left in the state of Virginia.¹

Our regiment will give a big Majority for Little Mac if we get any chance to vote but somebody is cheating a good many out of their votes by robbing the mail. This army vote is more a fraud than anything else. The 11th Cavalry will give a good majority for Mac and Old Abe won’t run as well in the army as people think he will. ² I don’t believe they want to take Richmond or they would run an army in on the Finchburg Rail Road and take that and fortify that and…

¹ The Regimental history records that, “on the 19th of October, 1864, cheering in the Confederate lines was heard, followed by an artillery salute, which, shortly after, their pickets said, was for Jubal Early, who had won a great victory over General Sheridan. Towards evening of that same day cheering was heard along the Union line, descending from the right, each successive command taking it up in turn, the Second Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery participating therein, not knowing for what reason until the guns of the Union troops belched forth with “shotted salute,” when along the line came the shout: ‘Little Phil’ knocked the stuffing out of ‘Jubilee’ Early!”

² The Regimental history says that an election was held on November 8th and that the Second Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery gave 167 majority for President Lincoln over General George B. McClellan (“Little Mac”). “The polling was done by the men at headquarters of each Battery respectively, and the majorities of each were all in favor of President Lincoln…”

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Fort Burnham
October 26th 1864

Dear Father,

I take the present opportunity of dropping you a few lines to let you know where I am. We are at Fort Burnham, formerly Fort Harrison, on Chapin’s Farm.¹ The troops have all left here with the exception of our regiment and the 55th Pennsylvania Infantry. We was left here to hold this line of works and all the rest of the troops have been sent to the left. They will be a big battle on the left tomorrow but we won’t get into it without the enemy makes an attack at this part of the line.

I have sent you one hundred and seventy-five dollars by express and will send you the receipt for it in this letter so you can draw it and I want you to send me some postage stamps for they are something scarce here and are in demand.

The rebs seem to have smelt the mice and are all on their works looking over at us but we ain’t going to go over to attack them. If they pay us a visit, they will get a warm reception.

I will bet I have written twice before this to you within the last couple of days and was compelled to write again today and send you this receipt so I think I will soon come to a close and await an answer. I have not received Call’s or Lib’s letter up to this date and don’t believe they have it started.

I am in the service 8 months today so the time is passing by quite swiftly. The boys are all well and think that it is pretty near time they will give us the branch we enlisted for. No more at present.

Write soon, — Sgt. George W. Nolan

Battery C, 2nd Artillery Pennsylvania Vols., Washington D. C.

¹ Battery Harrison was located about five miles southeast of Richmond and about the same distance from Aiken’s Landing. It was renamed Fort Burnham in honor of Gen. Burnham who was mortally wounded while leading his men in a charge on this position on September 29, 1864. 

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[Undated letter]

…of our girls but have not received none from them as yet and ought to have answered long before this time.

The Dutch Gap Canal will soon be finished and therefore stirring times again. Part of our corps was away up on the right of the line on a reconnaissance but did not find any heavy force of rebs and they seen all that was to be seen and returned again.

I will close for the present. I remain your affectionate son, — Sgt. George W. Nolan

P. S. I have a first rate mess — Dan Gelwick ¹ and Samuel Cromwell,² David Dunkinson,³ & myself. Write soon and see Young Yeager about that. Tell the girls to answer them letters if ever they want to get another letter from me. Tell Will to write and give me his directions.

¹ Daniel B. Gelwick enlisted on 24 January 1864 and was promoted to Artificer 17 June 1865. He was mustered out with battery on 29 January 1866.

² Samuel F. Cromwell enlisted 30 October 1862 and was discharged 29 October 1865 at the end of three years’ service.

³ Daniel R. Dunkinson enlisted on 24 February 1864 and mustered out with battery on 29 January 1866.

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Redoubt Carpenter, Va.
December 13th 1864

Dear Father,

Redoubt Carpenter

Redoubt Carpenter

I take my pen in hand to drop you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope these few lines may find you enjoying the same blessings. I am on guard today and it is pretty cold. This is the first cold snap we had this winter but I suppose you had several cold days up there.

They are heavy fighting going on fast now down toward Petersburg but they are no danger of us getting a hitch at it.

I don’t believe that they will be any chance for a furlough this winter and I think you might as well take that watch of mine and do the best you can with it and get me a good strong watch and a good timekeeper and send it on any way that you think the best or you might send it with Leonard Yeager.¹ He belongs to my company. He is at home on a sick furlough. He lives on the southeast corner of Washington and Water Streets.

Soldier's quarters at Chapin's Farm, 1864/5

Soldier’s quarters at Chapin’s Farm, 1864/5, Library of Congress

Day before yesterday, the rebs made a couple of charges on Fort Burnham on Chapin’s Farm and tried hard to retake it but they were repulsed with heavy loss. We have very good quarters and are nicely situated. Have no picket duty to do so I don’t care much if they keep me here until my time is up. The last of this month is muster day and about the 10th or 15th of January we will receive four months pay and then I will send you sixty dollars and you can pay fifty on that house and by the first of March I will have another Bounty due me.

Yesterday we made apple dumplings for dinner and short cakes for supper. We are living high, you had better believe. For three days we had nothing to eat for the Commissary sergeants took and sold our grub and pocketed the money. So they was complaints laid in and Col. [William M.] McClure sent for the boys and has them under arrest and put a couple of others in their places and now we have got our grub again.

I will tell you to send me some postage stamps. I told Ed Dunkinson to tell you but maybe that you did not see him for I will put my last stamp on this. I have written to every…

¹ Leonard Yeager enlisted 17 February 1864 and mustered out with battery on 29 January 1866.

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Bermuda 100
March 26th 1865

Dear Father,

I take the present opportunity of dropping you a few lines to let you know that we were paid off today and they was some big cheating done here by the Sutler. He cheated me out of 12 dollars and a half for they was four months pay that I was to get — that would be $80.00 dollars. $31.75 cents was to be taken off that for clothing drawn over what I was allowed and that would leave $48.25 cents and $12.50 cents of a Sutler’s bill which would leave $35.75 cents and I only got $22.55 cents so I blame the Sutler for doubling on me and if I ever catch him I will take the worth of it out of his hide and I will keep twelve dollars with me and send ten to you and you can do as you please with it. Perhaps we will be paid in about six weeks again. Then I will draw 50.00 dollars of my Bounty. Then I guess I will get four more months pay so think if everything goes as it ought that the war will be over by the 4th of July and then you can bet that they will be a grand reckoning of affairs between the sutlers and soldiers and also the officers and their men.

Sutler's Tent near Petersburg

Sutler’s Tent near Petersburg

Everything is very quiet at the front at present. It is beginning to rain and looks as if we would have a good deal of wet weather here. As news are very scarce, I will have to give you a short letter. They are a good deal of talk of all the sutlers going to leave the Army and that the Government was going to issue tobacco to the Army. It would be one of the best things that the Government ever did for these Sutlers impose upon the soldiers awful for they know that the men must have a great many things that they keep and they ask four or five times the prices. Durn my eyes if the men would be right they would hang them all to the nearest tree and get rid of them. Well, I guess that I might as well bring my letter to a close. I will express ten dollars to you in a day or two so you can look for it. No more at present but remain your affectionate son, — Sergt. Geo. W. Nolan

Batty. C, 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, Washington D. C.

Write Soon.

The Rebels attacked Fort Hell and Fort Sedgwick in front of Petersburg this morning. They came in as deserters until they got about three thousand men and turned on the garrison and captured them. The Ninth Corps charged and took 2500 prisoners. 500 North Carolinians threw down their arms and surrendered without firing a shot. We have possession of the Fort again.

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Bermuda 100
March 29th 1865

Dear Father,

I seat myself to let you know that I am well and hope when this reaches you will find you the same. I was down to City Point yesterday and expressed 10.00 dollars to you and I will send you the receipt in this.

Adams Express Co. Receipt

Adams Express Co. Receipt

General Sherman was there. Grant, Sherman & Sheridan, Mead and President Lincoln went up to the left on a special train and by tomorrow they will be some big fighting done down in them parts. Grant gave Sheridan 100,000 — one hundred thousand — men to work between this Army and Sherman’s. The campaign is opening again. The rebels still continue to desert and everything is against them. I look for some hard fighting to be done now in a few days and that will bring the war to a close. They are receiving about three thousand of a reinforcement daily at City Point.

They are a great many niggers coming down here at Bermuda and Aiken’s Landing. I don’t look for any fighting at this part of the line without the enemy makes an attack on our works and nothing would please our fellows better for there is artillery enough along our lines to hold it without any infantry.

Black Union Soldiers at Aiken's Landing, 1865

Black Union Soldiers at Aiken’s Landing, 1865

There is good news from all quarters and I hardly think the war will last until the 4th of July. That is the general opinion of the majority of the Army. Sheridan’s army has been passing here for two days and nights and has all passed now. They looked well with very few exceptions. They had an awful lot of played out horses. He had about 30,000 mounted men. The rest of the army was artillery and infantry. He has a strong army and if he uses it as well as he did his small one in the [Shenandoah] Valley, the rebs will come to terms.

That watch that you sent me only runs for 12 hours at a time. I have to wind it up every morning and evening or it will stop.

I got a letter from Will Chenowith the other day. It was mailed on the second of the month and did not get it until the 27th. He had it directed to the Army of the Potomac so it had gone all through that Army before I got it….

I remain your affectionate son, — Sgt. Geo. W. Nolan

Headquarters, 1st Brigade, Bermuda Front, Va.
2nd Pa. Heavy Arty., Washington D. C.

Write soon. The gunboats has just opened fire on the James [River] — can’t say what at.

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Petersburg, Virginia
April 10th 1865

Dear Father,

Houses showing signs of shelling in back of muskets stacked in Petersburg, 1865

Houses showing signs of shelling in back of muskets stacked in Petersburg, 1865

I received your welcome letter and was glad to hear from you and to hear that your health was improving. I am well. Hope this may find you all the same.

We are now laying in Petersburg and the city looks the worse for the war you better believe. They are still a few houses that our shell did not strike but they are very few. Petersburg is a place three miles square. It has 23,000 inhabitants, so they tell me. The news are the best if true. Gen’l Lee surrendered with his Army to Gen’l Grant. I suppose they will go through here tomorrow ¹ so I guess the war is a played out game.

I am still at Brigade Headquarters and have a good house to live in… It began to rain early this morning and still keeps it. I was in the city [of Petersburg] yesterday and heard a secesh girl singing farewell forever to the Star Spangled Banner. ² I said in a hog’s ass. She did not sing anymore but went in the house. I have not seen her stick her head out since.

A popular tune in Dixie

A popular tune in Dixie

I am glad that you received them 10 dollars that I sent you, I am glad that Ben has got some place that he don’t need to bother himself so much to make his points. I am glad that you got that judgment revived for I guess I will be home in about a month now. Well let them go through court. It will be all the same and I suppose it will be better in the end. I guess in a few days that you will get use to living in the country that you would not live in town. They are no grain sowed in this part of the country. The trees have been in blossom for two or three weeks.

Lee has gone up and surrendered all his army to Grant unconditionally. They fired a salute at City Point last night…

¹ The Regimental history says the regiment was ordered to duty in the Freedman’s Bureau and billeted in Petersburg. Confederate troops, homeward bound, passed through the city in the days immediately following.

² Farewell Forever to the Star Spangled Banner was a song with multiple verses but the chorus went: 

Farewell, forever! The Star-Spangled Banner,
No longer shall wave o’er the land of the free!
But we’ll unfurl to the broad breeze of heaven
Thirteen bright stars around the Palmetto Tree.

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Prince George Court House, Va.
September 3rd 1865

Dear Brother-in-law,

I seat myself to drop you a few lines to let you know that I am well… We have been paid iff but I could not make my points to pay you them 10 dollars that I have got the loan of from you, but the rumor is that we will be paid in about a week again and as soon as we do, I will send you that money..

They are some talk of us being mustered out soon but I think we will be kept until next spring… They were a couple of robberies committed between here and Petersburg on yesterday. I got on a horse and Major Holman.¹ We were both dressed in citizen’s clothes. We started after the robbers — they were four in number. I took one road; he took the other. I run my horse until I thought he would not drop dead in under me. I rode two shoes off him that were put on the day before so you can bet I was worse than the flying dutchman.² He fell twice with me — once in the level road and once in  ditch. That time he fell on my ankle which makes it feel a little lame but not of any account. I got to the outskirts of Petersburg 15 minutes after they passed and rode all through the city but could not get any trace of them.

Well, tell mother and Pap I am well and write soon. I remain your friend and brother-in-law, — Sgt. Geo. W. Nolan

Battery C, 2nd Pa. Veteran Artillery
Petersburg, Va. via Washington D. C.

¹ Major Jesper Harding Holman (1838-1881) was wounded the Battle of the Crater on 30 July 1864. He was “struck twice in the side and at the elbow” just as he entered the crater. At the time of this letter, Major Holman was serving as the Assistant Superintendent of the Freedman’s Bureau in the vicinity of Petersburg.

² Used here as a figure of speech, the Flying Dutchman refers to one of the most celebrated match horses in British thoroughbred racing. He raced for four seasons between 1848 and 1851.

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The Regimental history says that the body of George W. Nolan was buried in Petersburg but was recovered and returned to Pennsylvania for burial at Chambersburg on 23 November 1865.

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