A Christmas Letter to His Sister

Monday, Dec 23, 1861 – From Camp Lyon
Civil War Soldier Howard G. Affleck wrote to his sister, Harriet:

I have been thinking all along that I would be permitted to spend the holidays with the “loved ones at home” but owing to the changes in my prospects I suppose I will have to forego that pleasure and make the best of it out here. All the boys in our tent are invited down to Columbus to a Christmas dinner at Nick Allender’s cousins. If it is possible to get out of camp, we will all accept the invitation, and I understand that the Capt designs taking the whole company down on that day. So you see that we will likely have a good dinner – as good perhaps as we would get at home; but then there will be that constant wandering of our thoughts to old Bridgeport, to keep us from enjoying ourselves as we would in the midst of the happy family circle there. But I have made up my mind to bear these things as a philosopher and soldier should. I wish you all “a merry Christmas and a happy New Year”, and hope you will not pain me by thinking, even for a moment, of refusing this small offering* which I send as a token of brotherly affections.  ….Write soon

A Christmas Gift
To Harriet
From her brother Howard

*A ten dollar gold piece

War in the good old days

Had a great day at the Historical Society. I’ve transcribed many letters written home by Howard G Affleck (along with his mother’s introduction, and most of a letter written home by Dr. Affleck when he visited his son at Philippi. West Virginia, after the early battle fought there.) I am struck, reading these letters, with realizing that things haven’t changed much over the years. The bad stuff: substance abuse (whiskey), friendly fire, supplies mismanagement, looting, empty promises. The good stuff: care packages from home, soldiers helping each other, civilians helping soldiers, soldiers helping civilians, leaders expecting and demanding honorable behavior, and a family’s love.

I know, some of these seem contradictory. With many characters mentioned in these letters Howard saw almost any imaginable behavior during his military career.

wishing for “happily ever after”

The past two weeks have been full of successful research. Last week I read bits and pieces at the Dayton Metro Library, while photographing 100s of letters. This week I sat and transcribed letters sent home from the war. While working I have gasped in amazement, had “aha” moments when I found missing “pieces of the puzzle,” laughed at amusing incidents and shed a few tears over sad passages. Anyone who’s been following my adventures knows the outcome of Howard G Affleck’s life, as I’ve known for years. Yet I find myself reading these letters, rooting for him to make different decisions, in hopes of a happier ending. Does anyone else do this when they already KNOW the ending to a story?

His Sorrowing Mother

Yesterday I spent 4 hours at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, transcribing a journal in which my 3rd-Great-Grandmother transcribed the letters written by her son Howard Gladstone Affleck while serving in the Union Army. His last letter was to inform his mother that he’d been injured. A musket ball in his knee led to his death about a month later. As intro, Mary Howard Affleck wrote: “His letters have been preserved, and although, while in camp, or on the march, especially during the time he was in the three months service, he had few facilities for writing, yet so thoughtful and loving was his nature, that a week seldom passed without bringing one, or more, to the anxious ones at home. Many of them were written with a pencil, and have become so dim as to be almost illegible. With the hope of preserving them, and believing that in after years they will be perused with interest by his surviving relatives, they are here transcribed by his sorrowing mother.”
I doubt she had any idea these letters would be read with interest 151 years later.

Howard G Affleck

Howard G Affleck photoYesterday I left Dayton, for Uniontown, Oh. I spent the night with my mother’s only remaining cousin. We had a wonderful time sharing memories – mine of his parents, and his of my mother and grandparents. We went through an album of old pictures, and I was delighted to find that he had a picture of Howard G Affleck – the young man who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Shiloh.

I was especially surprised to find a picture of my grandfather’s maternal grandparents. Gottlieb Heil lived in Bridgeport, OH and had a butcher shop in Wheeling WV. His Catholic wife did not approve of the budding romance between their daughter, Mary Katherine, and the young man at the other end of Patterson Run. One Sunday, Mary Katherine set off, ostensibly for church, and met up with John G. Patterson – they eloped, were married and eventually had 4 daughters and 1 son. Every time a child was born, Katherine Heil would march up the street, knock on the door and announce “so I hear you’ve had another bastard.” Other than that, she never spoke to her daughter, or to any of her grandchildren from that marriage.