Lou's Place in Cyberspace
LETTERS TO AND FROM THE FAMILY OF
GEORGE R. HARRISON
The following letters we written by George R. Harrison to his family back home in Centerville, New Jersey.
Centerville was later named ROSELAND and is in Essex County, New Jersey
George Harrison's father Rufus F. Harrison, had a hand in changing the name since he was postmaster for awhile.
The Roseland Historical Society, particularly Mr. Robert Bush, gave me access to these family letters, and Mr. Richard Leonard, former Mayor of Roseland, provided the final letter which described how George Harrison was killed. I greatly appreciate the kind help of these and other members of the Roseland Historical society who aided me in my research when I was a member and resident of Roseland.
That letter, which confirmed what I was only able to speculate when I wrote the story "Then Let The Hurricanes Roar", arrived on the day I was leaving Roseland after having sold my home there after 18 years.
That letter was like a hand reaching across time, and telling me, confirming, that the location and time of death which I could only speculate by research, was accurate. My speculation was not just a lucky guess, but confirmed by a letter from George Harrison's Commanding Officer!
At that moment, I felt I had received a gift, and "goose bumps", as if George Harrison was standing there thanking me for telling his story.
My initial interest in the Harrison Family was originally inspired by 3 old Ledger books found in the attic of my Roseland home. This led me to research the age of the house and then the Harrison family. When I found the Harrison's had lived in that house and a son was killed in the Civil War, my previous interest in the Civil War made me determined to find out what had happened to George R. Harrison and where and how was he killed..
The result was the story I call "THEN LET THE HURRICANES ROAR"
George R. Harrison, and his family.
And the letter describing his death at the Battle of Antietam.
Camp Carmar Sept 3, 1862
The thirteenth regiment New Jersey Volunteers is now encamped on the Sacred Soil of Virginia. We left our home at Newark on Sunday last, and at six in the evening we were beyond the limits of New Jersey on the western side of the Delaware and within the bounds of the long remembered state Pennsylvania. We made a halt at Philadelphia were we received with a kind reception. We had a glorious good supper furnished by the city. We stayed at the City till 9 in the evening and then we marched to the station and was soon ratteling over the ground toward Maryland it being dark I did not see any of the country to any satisfaction. But it was just light when we got on the border of Maryland.
We arrived at Baltimore at 8 and got breakfast and at five we got started once more for Washington to which pace we arrived at ten in the evening. We got our supper and then made our bed on Uncle Sam’s barracks. In the morning the first obstacle that caught the glimpse of my eye was the towering Capitol. I went through it from top to bottom but I cannot tell you how it looks, it would take you fifteen minutes to go around it.
The next place I visited was the White House. It is about one and a half miles from the Capitol, I got inside old Abe’s house and was received in the reception room, a room especially for visitors. One of the window curtains cost three hundred dollars. I also saw the house where Dan Sickles lived, and the tree Keys leaned against when Sickles shot him. After seeing to my eyes content I returned to the Barracks and found the regiment ready to move to Alexandria. We crossed the long bridge in the afternoon and then we were invaders on the sacred soil of Virginia. We marched about three miles from the bridge and then the road became completely blocked by the army wagons going to Washington. We halted and waited for them to pass. At the period of two hours we got orders to countermarch. We are now encamped near Arlington Heights. We have a good camp ground, good water and plenty to eat, and nothing to do. Who would not be a soldier! I ran across Jared Williams. He is encamped close to us. We are close to the road that leads to Fairfax about fourteen miles from Fairfax and four from Washington. We passed the house where General Lee lived when we were on our march. There are several houses around our encampment but they are all desolate. I have ten dollars to send home and a ten dollar bill which I shall have to keep for I cannot get it broken. We may not get our pay in six months at a time now and if it is so I shall want it. I must have some money down here. I have bought a knife and some shirts. This letter is written from the back of my tin plate.
(Probably Sept. 9, 1862)
The thirteenth New Jersey regiment has recrossed the Potomac and marched about (unreadable) five miles and a jolly old march we had.
We started at dark on Saturday night. We had three days grub given us which composed of all the sugar, coffee, crackers, smoked beef and boiled meat.
We marched about 8 miles before we got the order to halt. We rested half an hour and then advanced onward in a northwesterly direction in the state of Maryland. We halted about one o’clock on Sunday morning and marched in an open field to spend the rest of the night in sweet sleep and merry dreams. I slept close to a white oak tree in order to escape the dew as much as possible. I had scarcely got in deep slumber before I was aroused by the noise of the drum which signaled me to fall in and pursue my journey. We marched about one mile and then halted in another field and slept til sunrise, got some breakfast and then pursued on with a hurrah. We marched till noon and then halted and rested till very near night. But one thing I could not help noticing and that was that our largest ablest bodied men fell out, and the regiment did not muster five hundred men. We marched two miles further on and then halted once more to rest, the heavens our shelter. We had a fine nights rest and in the morning we pursued our march and about nine halted as we expected to be drawn up in line of battle and have a chance to make our fourty rounds of lead somewhat lighter. But not so as we expect to pitch tents soon. There has been four pigs brought in camp today and a number of chickens. Thus lives the soldier and a gay life it is and no mistake.
If the government does not bring this war to a close with the fresh six-hundred thousand troops they never will. You cannot form any idea how many troops I have seen pass regiment after regiment division after division. And cannon without number.
I sent one letter home previous to this with ten dollars inside it was directed with a pencil and I have felt kind of doubtful wether it went through or not. I now understand that we are going to march again in the morning. To what place I do not know. I have seen a great deal in a short time more than you have seen in your life. Who wouldn’t be a soldier? Tell Court* that I wish he was along and that I will write as soon as possible which will be next mail perhaps. The sun rises natural here and it is no warmer than it was in old Jarsey.
I worked three days in the entrenchments in Virginia soil while I was there the rebels was about four miles from us but where they are now I do not know. But one thing I do know and that is they cannot hold their position long close where we are encamped for there are nearly two hundred thousand troops very close at hand. The nine months troops are coming very fast. But when J.W. gets down here with his three hundred rebels won’t he give him a warmer. I have seen Charley Bush since I have been down here, he sends his respects. Wrote as soon as possible and be sure to direct your letters to Washington, care of Captain Beardsley, Co. D 13th regiment. My best respects to all.
George R. Harrison
Company D, 13th regiment.
* Probably Courtlandt Condit, a resident of Centerville, New Jersey and a friend.
Centerville, Sept.12, 1862
Your mother, Clarra, Fred, William Henry, all send their love to you with the kindest wished for your welfare and thankful for the letter that you sent them which came to hand rather tardily on account of its lying in the Livingston post office some days before it was forwarded to its destination. Direct your letters to Caldwell hereafter and William Henry will see them immediately as he is tending store for Marcus.
I suppose you think of home occasionally and we will try to keep you posted as to how we are getting along. William Henry thought he preferred the store (uninteligble line here) so he went this week Tuesday. Thus being deprived of another I sold my mules and harness for $245. I took a yoke of oxen in part payment. Yesterday I went to N.Y. and brought a couple of Irishmen to help me along with my work.
I wish you could have been at Caldwell the Sunday Evening that you were in Philadelphia and heard Dr. Sprague’s sermon delivered to Cap. DeCamp’s Company of volunteers. He gave them so very good advice and I think it was very kindly received. Perhaps I can give you a short synopsis of his discourse that will be of benefit to you although I am satisfied that some of the besetting sins innumerated the force of your former instruction will be a sufficient guarantee for your safety through them.
His first point was to take care of yourself, take care of your health, take care of your morals, take care of your Christian profession, take care of your brother patriots, take care of your country.
His second head was, How to take care of cleanliness, abstinence, never taking the first glass, never using the first profane word, never gambling for the first time.
His application you can imagine for yourself. To all of which I could heartily respond Amen, Amen.
Now George, let me say to you to take care of your health, be careful how you eat and how you drink, how you are clothed, how you sleep. Keep dry, keep clean. You will have to be exposed to hardships in many forms, bear them cheerfully, and without grumbling, fight the battles of your country manfully, heroically, but don’t be foolhardy, rash, and inconsiderate.
We expect to hear good tidings from the 13th Regiment. All agree that it is the best that left the State and I know that there were thousands of hearts as you passed from camp to the cars through Newark offering up their silent prayer to father in Heaven for your safety and welfare. A joyful day it will be when our noble volunteers return to their home to receive the gratitude of a grateful people. Successful or otherwise in putting down this diabolical rebellion the men who have volunteered in their country’s service will live in history and in the hearts of their countrymen whilst the (unreadable) of Jeff will be forgotten in their infamy.
I told you before you left that you would have a good opportunity to improve in writing and composing letters. The letter you sent us was very good, very well written and very well composed. The spelling also. It had been read by quite a number of your friends and it is yet going the rounds, you said the first obstacle you saw in Washington was the towering capitol. I guess you could have formed a different word for obstacle that would have conveyed your meaning a little better.
You say you have plenty of time and nothing to do, perhaps when you get this it will keep you occupied for a time reading it. Write often for we want to hear from you every week. The last day I saw you in camp I searched Newark to find an India rubber blanket without success it was too late in the afternoon and I expected to have seen you again and got you one. If you haven’t one yet and want one perhaps I can send you one by express.
Camp Frelinghysen has quite a different aspect now than when you left. There are over 2000 volunteers in its inclosure and thirty buildings.
(several names of volunteers are listed here) Centerville is most deserted.
I have written this letter in haste and you will excuse one who is interested in the welfare of his dutiful son.
Rufus F. Harrison
This note appears on the bottom of this letter copy-
"Grandpa was a member of the N.J. Legislature around this time, too. Perhaps you know he was a judge and was known as Judge Harrison. I remember him as a very old man. He was 89 when he died-a fine person"
Camp on Mereland Hights
Oct 1st. 1862
It is a painful task you ask me to perform but I should have done it before had not Henry Harrison of Caldwell promised to have written and give you the particulars of your sons death and owing to the many duties I have had to perform I have in a measure neglected it though I have by no means forgotten the face we have so suddenly been called to part with. Your son was one of the most reliable men in the company, always in his place and I deeply regret the loss of such a member though we cannot (I am sorry to say) feel amid these exciting scenes feel what we have really lost in losing such men as he was and young men of strictly religious character are exception in the army but what is our loss is surely his gain.
He went into the first engagement and came out safe and in the second is where he was missing near the close which lasted more than an hour. I say missing because I did not see him fall but some of the men say they saw him fall shot in the head. There is a meer shadow of hope for they may have been mistaken. We were not permitted to go on the field the next day as the rebel sharpshooters were picking off men that came into the woods were we fought and in the second day his body could not be found weather he had been buried by the burying party is the question that I cannot settle in my own mind and we were hurried away to this place so that I could not go myself and look for him and one other though it remains in the same mistry. I used every exertion to get permission to go and look for them and it was not until the morning we left there that I could get permission and this just as I got two or three men picked out to accompany me we got orders to march immediately so I had to leave though much to my regret and after remonstrating with the colonel all however to no avail the brigade moved and our Reg. Had to move with it. I was entirely alone with my company, my Lieut. was sick at Frederic and the orderly Sargent was badly wounded in the first engagement so you will see that it was impossible for me to watch the movements of all and could not see every man who fell as I said before there is a possibility of his being yet alive though if he was he would certainly get word to you some how. I do not want to rob you of this hope though I think there is little doubt I have had to send in my returns to the headquarters of the Reg. and have reported George among the killed. God knows my heart I wish he could have been spared but he doeth all things well and in him let us trust.
As to your getting his body I do not know where or what to say. I believe if he was buried on the field his grave marked it would not be a very hard matter to find it but if on the other hand he was badly wounded and carried off and died somewhere else it might take a week or perhaps a month to discover his grave.
As to his clothing everything except what he had on was left at our camp near Rockville. I expect the knapsacks for the regiment will be brought up this week and if you desire it I will send his to you.
With much regard I remain your obedient servant.
G A Beardsley, Capt.
Co. D 13 Reg. N.J. Vols.
P.S. Any other information that I can give will be done with great pleasure.
NOTE: The above letter was in response to a letter sent by Rufus F. Harrison to his sons company commander inquiring about his death and the location of the grave of his son George R. Harrison after the battle of Antietam, which occurred on Sept. 17, 1862. George R. Harrison was 18 years old at the time of his death.
George A. Beardsley was the original recruiting offices for the 13th Regiment and it was he who ran the original advertisement in the Newark Daily Advertiser to recruit troops for the regiment. The advertisement ran on July 19th 1862.
The following remarks followed the hand copied original letter from which this was taken-LAR
"You will notice many rhetorical errors in the above but I copied it as it was. You may see the original of this and the others when you come to Jersey.
Grandpa Harrison spent a great deal of money to locate Uncle George’s grave but with no success. However his knapsack and I believe some weapons were sent home.
I believe you know that my dad, your grandfather, was born after the Civil War and was named after this George R. Harrison who was killed in the battle of Antietam.
Perhaps you know too, that Grandpa Harrison was a very prominent citizen of this section and many biographical sketches were written about him. I remember him well-a grand old man. He died when I was nine years old.
I had the genealogical data traced back to Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Colony and also to Sir Richard Harrison, First Mayor of New Castle, England.
If you re interested I can also give you much data on the family connection with Thomas Edison on my mothers side. The Harrison’s also tie up with the Edison’s thru marriage. The Edison’s originally came from this town before going to Nova Scotia and thence to Ontario. It’s an interesting history.
Why am I going on like this?
Grandpa Harrison was a member of the N.J. Legislature too.
I have several of his railroad passes dated 1865.
The above notes, were written to one of his children, by the son of the second George R. Harrison, who was born November 14, 1862. At the time of Rufus F. Harrison’s death in 1907, the writer states he was nine years old, making his date of birth 1898. – LAR.