Letters Written to Henry A. Bitner 1861-1863
From originals in the University of Virginia Special Collections Dept.
Digital collection prepared by the Electronic Text Center
These twenty-two letters were written to Henry A. Bitner of Shippensburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, between May, 1861 and May, 1863. The letters were donated by Bitner's great-grandson, Jack Bitner, of Mt. Gretna, PA, in April 1996.
This collection contains letters by six correspondents: Alex Cressler, David Daihl, Thad Donely, William Kindig, William Martin, and David R. P. Shoemaker. All but Cressler served with the Union army, and all comment on a range of war experiences, from watching Union soldiers parade through Chambersburg to being taken prisoner by Confederate troops, from fighting Confederate soldiers to chatting with them across the Rappahannock River.
In many of the letters, the correspondents demonstrate a persistent interest in and longing for their home of "old Southampton," the township in which Shippensburg is located and which bridges the boundary between Franklin and Cumberland counties. Bitner and most of his correspondents were neighbors in Southampton, as the 1860 Census data indicates. With these letters, then, we develop a sense of a community of young men--how they addressed each other, what activities they enjoyed, what they joked about. Among the activities that they celebrated were eating fresh Franklin apples, attending "singings" and spelling bees, and flirting with the "Ladies of old Franklin" (Martin, August 20, 1862).
When the Franklin County Census was taken in 1860, Henry Bitner was a nineteen year-old working on the family farm in Southampton. His family was fairly prosperous, given that his father claimed $10,000 in real estate and $1500 in personal estate. Between 1860 and 1862, Bitner moved to the town of Shippensburg, only a few miles from his boyhood home in Southampton. Like his friends Alex Cressler, David Shoemaker, and William Kindig, Henry Bitner was a teacher. In August of 1862, Kindig congratulated Bitner on "getting the same old school to teach again." By March of 1863, Bitner was receiving congratulations of a different sort: for getting married (upon first hearing the news, Shoemaker wasn't sure if his friend was joking, and he lamented "losing you from among the noble fraternity of Batchelors").
In the following table, we present the basic information that we have been able to learn about Bitner and his correspondents from the 1860 Census of Franklin County. The dwelling and family numbers are the numbers that the census taker assigned to each household that he surveyed; numbers that are close to each other suggest that the homes were close in proximity. (David R. Shoemaker is not included in this list because we have not been able to confirm his presence in Franklin County in 1860; at this time he may have already been living in Ohio, where we know he was working as a teacher in 1861.)
|Last Name||First Name||Age||Occupation||Township||Dwelling #||Family #|
|Martin||William||19||Farm Hand||Southampton Tshp.||182||184|
|Cressler||Alex||21||Teacher C.S.||Southampton Tshp.||183||185|
|Bitner||Henry||19||Farm Hand||Southampton Tshp.||189||191|
|Deihl||David||21||Farm Hand||Southampton Tshp.||195||197|
|Donnelly||Thad||23||Iron Moulder||Southampton Tshp.||237||240|
|Kendig||W. H.||22||Teacher||Borough of Orrstown||283||288|
By consulting military records in addition to census records, we have been able to fill in our descriptions of Bitner's correspondents:
Alex Cressler: aka "Ellic" wrote to Henry A. Bitner between May and July of 1861. In the 1860 census, he is listed as a 21 year-old teacher living with his family in Southampton township. Between 1860 and 1861, he moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. We have not located any military records about Alex Cressler, suggesting that he never enlisted in the Union Army. However, in his letters to Bitner he wrote detailed reports of the military activity in Chambersburg during the early days of the war and articulated his strong support for the Union cause.
Note: We believe that the letters signed by "Ellic" were also penned by Cressler. The handwriting, as well as the style and tone of these letters, are remarkably similiar. We surmise that "Ellic" may have simply been a nickname.
David Fogelsanger Daihl (May 26, 1839-October 17, 1909): When the 1860 census was taken, Daihl (listed as "Deihl") was working on the family farm in Southampton Township. Daihl enlisted twice in the 77th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company A: first on March 21, 1861 in Pittsburgh and then nearly a year later on March 3, 1862 in Chambersburg. At the time of his enlistment, Daihl is recorded as having brown eyes, dark hair and a fair complexion; his height was listed at 5'9. Daihl quickly moved up the ranks, being promoted to corporal on August 1, 1863, and to sergeant on November 1, 1864. Wounded in action at Nashville, Tennessee on December 16, 1864, he returned to active service by September 1, 1865 and was promoted to first sergeant. He reached the rank of first lieutenant on October 4, 1865. Daihl is buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.
Thaddeus "Thad" A. Donely (January 5, 1837-October 19, 1883): According to the 1860 Census of Franklin County, Donely worked as an iron moulder and lived with his father and siblings in Southampton Township. On August 10, 1862, he enlisted as a private in the 130th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company D. The regiment, which was committed to nine months service, was commanded by Colonel Henry A. Zinn, and James Kelso served as the Captain of Company D. The 130th Pennsylvania Volunteers participated in engagements such as Antietam and Fredricksburg. On May 21, 1862, Donely was mustered out along with the rest of his company. He is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, Shippensberg, Pennsylvania (Shippensburg 271).
Note: There is some disparity in the spelling of Thad's last name. He himself spells it "Donely," but in the 1860 Census of Franklin County it is spelled "Donnelly." Likewise, in Samuel Bates' History of Pennsylvania Volunteers it is spelled "Donelly," while in Shippensberg in the Civil War it is spelled "Donally" in one place (p. 125), "Donnelly" in another (p. 271).
William H. Kindig (? 1838-October 2, 1862): Kindig wrote to Henry A. Bitner in July and August of 1862. The 1860 Census of Franklin County lists him as a 22 year-old teacher (spelled "Kendig") living with his parents and siblings, two of whom were also teachers. He enlisted in the 107th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company B on April 5, 1862 in Orrstown, PA. In June he was temporarily assigned to Battery C for a month. In July he was returned to Company B and he began to write to Bitner. Kindig died on October 2, 1862 of wounds he received at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 (Bates, Vol III.) Shippensburg in the Civil War records his burial in Bethel Cemetery in Orrstown, Southampton Township, Franklin County.
William J. Martin (July 10, 1841-November 2, 1912): According to the 1860 Census of Franklin County, Martin worked as a farm hand for Conrad Plasterer, a prosperous farmer, and lived near Bitner, Cressler, and Daihl. On August 10, 1862, Martin enlisted in Company D of the 130th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He deserted on September 18, 1862 (History of Pennsylvania Volunteers). Martin is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.
David R. P. Shoemaker: Although Shoemaker is not listed in the 1860 Census of Franklin County, evidence suggests that he lived there for at least a short period of time. As he wrote to Henry Bitner, "Your letters will always be very welcome, as coming from a locality where I have spent a very short portion of my life, and from a friend who I learned to esteem" (April 9, 1862). It is likely that Shoemaker knew the Bitners through his uncle and aunt Conrad and Lydia Kyner, who were neighbors of the Bitners (their dwelling number was 185, while the Bitners' dwelling number was 189), as well as through Alex Cressler, who also refers to Conrad Kyner as his uncle and is thus likely to be Shoemaker's cousin. Shoemaker may also have been a student of D. Albright, a theological teacher in Montgomery Township, Franklin County; a D. O. Shoemaker, aged 27, is listed as residing with Albright in the 1860 Census.
By 1861, Shoemaker was teaching in Darke County, Ohio. On November 4, 1861, Shoemaker traded a ruler for a gun when he enlisted in Company E of the Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He served as a corporal in the company. On September 14, 1862, Shoemaker was taken prisoner while participating in a charge on a Confederate battery during the battle of South Mountain (see his letter of October 18, 1862). After a grueling march from western Virginia to central Virginia, Shoemaker was taken to a prison in Richmond, where he fell ill. Eight days later, he was released and taken to a Paroled Prisoner's camp in Maryland. By February of 1863, he returned to active service. Shoemaker remained with the Eleventh Ohio until he was discharged on January 15, 1864.
We found the resources provided through the Valley of the Shadow site most useful, particularly the census, military records, and newspaper pages. When using the search engines provided through these pages, it is best to experiment with different possible spellings; for instance, we were not able to turn up census information on David Daihl, but searching for "Deihl" yielded the results we were after.
We also made use of the following books:
Burkhart, William H., et al. Shippensburg in the Civil War. Shippensburg, PA: Shippensburg Historical Society, 1964.
Butler, Samuel. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1870.
Horton, Joshua H. and Solomon Teverbaugh. A History of the Eleventh Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Dayton, Ohio: W.J. Shuey, 1866.