Education

Letter from Alfred Penny to his parents; September 12, 1861


Historical Context
When the American Civil War began in 1861, citizens of both the North and South had no idea how long the conflict would last. Many Northerners, including the Union army leaders, envisioned a three-month war that would quickly bring the South back into the Union. The assumption that it would be a short war, coupled with a surge in patriotism, led thousands of New Yorkers to voluntarily join the army. The men of the Penny family were no exception.

In 1860, the Penny family consisted of seven members: Elijah, Jane, Archibald, Alfred, Eugene, Charles, and Louise. They lived in the town of Southeast in Putnam County, New York. Elijah, the father, and the two older boys, Archibald and Alfred all volunteered to fight for the Union in 1861. The letters, census records, and military documents all provide a glimpse into one New York family's experience during this time of national unrest.
Essential Question
What impact did the Civil War have on individual citizens, families, and local communities?
Check for Understanding
How does Alfred feel about his military service based on the evidence in this letter?
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Letter from Alfred Penny to his parents; September 12, 1861 , New York State Library, NYSL_SC11836_Alfred_Penny_letter_18610912
Document Description
Letter from Civil War soldier Alfred Penny to his parents, 1861.
Questions
  1. What is Alfred's current duty?
Transcription
Camp Darrow Sept 12th 1 OC AM HeadQuarters 2nd Regiment Picket Guard on the Potomac and Monocraca River Father & Mother Dear Parents Since I wrote to you last my company has been detailed as a Pickett about 6 miles above Poolsville on the Potomac where the Monocraca River empties into it. Our regiment camp is at Poolsville and we have another camp for ourselves out here. It is now about 1 1/4 OC AM and I am here in my tent alone when the company went down to the river on pickett this morning they detailed myself & 6 men as a guard on the Pickett camp and it is raining awful hard and it has since noon, at 8 1/2 OC PM tonight I had to march about 2 miles in the rain and mud to carry the [countersyn] down to the other Pickett & cavalry & artillery. they have made a ma[s]ked battery out of 2 pieces of artillery on a high hill near here. The Artillery belongs to the 9th Regiment. I have got to keep awake all night so as to call for relief every 2 hours. I am sick and tired of soldiering in this way. I am as well as a drowned rat. I am going to apply for a discharge or else a transfer into the 9th regiment as a private. I was down to Jim Crane's post this afternoon he is stationed on the canal [tunnel] over the Monocraca and he undressed and jumped in the canal and it was fun for him he is a good swimmer. We can see the rebels sometimes come down near the river and then run away after, as soon as they see us, the sentry is "Holering" for relief that job is done for 2 Hours longer and it ain't raining new for it pours down. it has been very hard work for me to get any stamps until today. I got a few down here. If you ask any of the farmer here how far it is to any place they will say, "it is a right smart distance I reckon" or I calculate it is about 5 miles down there. the nigars all say yes indeed if you ask them if their owner is a "Sece" WE call all the nigars "Sawwbae" and that makes them show their "Ivory" Yes Indeed it does Masser I suppose that I have written to you twice the number of letters that you have received. I wrote to Phillip and Walter the other day but I have not got any answer yet, Hoping this will find you both enjoying good health I now bid you good bye Give my love to Grandfather and Mother and the Girls Yours respect Corporal A. C. Penny Co E 2nd Regiment Washington D.C. Col. GWB Tompkins follow the regiment "I reckon it rains right smart" AC Penny