This letter was written by Harry F. Brower of Co. B, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (70th Volunteers). Apparently Harry also served later in Co. M.
It is believed — though I cannot yet confirm it — that Harry (b. 1843) was the 19 year-old son of Francis (“Frank”) Marion Brower (1824-1874) — an artist and actor — and his wife Louisa Banks (b. 1822) — an accomplished equestrianne — of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The family was enumerated in Ward 4 in the 1850 Census and in Ward 7 in the 1860 Census. This Harry Brower died single on 10 October 1865 from consumption and was buried in Woodlands Cemetery where his father is also buried. I can find no other Harry (or Henry) Brower enumerated in Philadelphia during this period of time.
“Francis (“Frank”) Marion Brower was an American blackface performer active in the mid-19th century. Brower began performing blackface song-and-dance acts in circuses and variety shows when he was 13. He eventually introduced the bones to his act, helping to popularize it as a blackface instrument. Brower teamed with various other performers, forming his longest association with banjoist Dan Emmett beginning in 1841. Brower earned a reputation as a gifted dancer. In 1842, Brower and Emmett moved to New York City. They were out of work by January 1843, when they teamed up with Billy Whitlock and Richard Pelham to form the Virginia Minstrels. The group was the first to perform a full minstrel show as a complete evening’s entertainment. Brower pioneered the role of the endman.
After a successful tour in the British Isles, Brower returned to the United States and teamed with Emmett and other blackface performers for a time. In the 1850s, he left minstrelsy to work in the Tom shows based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He returned to minstrelsy briefly as the decade closed and nostalgia for the old minstrel show came into fashion. In 1867, Brower retired from show business and opened a saloon.” [Wikipedia]
It is unclear who the letter was addressed to though we know her name was Sallie and lived in Philadelphia.
Camp near Washington City
September 6th 1862
I left camp yesterday for Washington where I am now located and glad enough I was to leave it for a more filthy, dirty place I never saw before. It was called the Post Hospital under the command of Col. [Jonathan S.] Belknap [85th New York Infantry]. All the sick and wounded soldiers from the army came there. They had all kinds of diseases, mixed together. We marched yesterday about sixteen miles to join the regiment and I take great pleasure in informing you that I am now with the regiment and had a good, hearty shake of hands with [George] Sellers ¹ & [Samuel Rakestraw] Colladay. ² We have not yet received our horse, sabre, lance, or pistol but expect them tomorrow.
I hear that [Stonewall] Jackson has crossed into Maryland. If that be true, it will cause us a little trouble. The rebels have given us thunder lately. We don’t occupy half as much Virginia as we did. Yesterday as our regiment crossed the Long Bridge, there was thousands of troops crossed with us. The whole army is on a retreat now. I hear there is an important move on the carpet now that I think will puzzle old Stonewall Jackson.
You ought to see [George] Sellers. You would not know [him]. Instead of the pretty boy that use to be walking around in his fine clothes. He is now as black as a nigger and as dirty as the devil, although I need not talk as regards dirt for it is impossible for to keep clean here. We have no tents to lay under but the open air. All the shelter we have got is our blankets and overcoats. We have one man in our company that had three horses shot under him in this last battle and amidst the fire of the enemy he went around the field hunting a horse and found one at last which he brought off the field in safety with himself.³ There has been all kinds of tales told to me about these late battles, the hardships the men had to go through, and everything that they could [say] to dishearten me — but I can’t see it. Yet for seeing is believing. I don’t think it is as bad as what the papers want to make it is, for it is Bully here now, although I suppose I will get enough of it very soon now.
If you answer this — which I would like for you to do — answer immediately as we will start away very soon now. Direct to Harry Brower, Co. B, Col. Rush’s Lancers, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Washington D. C. Don’t fail to write soon.
If you should come across Harry Bain either going or returning from Sunday school, give him my respects and tell him that yellow send his. He will know what that means. Mr. Sellers desires to be remembered to you. How does Old Phila[delphia] look, my dear child. I suppose it looks deserted. Has Drew or Mr. Byron enlisted yet? When did you see them last?
Today the Bucktail Regiment passed by where we are encamped. They looked very well. They were making remarks such as, “Look how dirty those fellows are.” Some spoke up and said wait until you get out into the service about three months and see how you will look then. Well, that is the truth for there is some without coats and some with their pantaloons tore up to the calves of their legs and bare footed at that. I have seen still worse but I can’t mention that to you. It is a pitiful sight though, I can tell you, to see some of them in the circumstances they are in.
I seen a funny but a miserable sight yesterday as I was marching on the road. I passed a miserable old hut put up with rough boards. It contained as ugly and as dirty and as miserable a looking Irish woman as ever I saw in my life. Finally there was an Irishman rode up that belonged to the first New York Cavalry. He entered the hut and I heard a cursing and swearing going on at a great rate. When I went over to see what was the matter, the Pat had a club in his hand while the other contained a handful of rotten herring. The Irishman raised his club to the old woman when she leveled him to the ground with a blow from a frying pan she had in her hand. The Irishman was drunk and as he mounted his horse, he went on one side and pitched off the other.
Give my respects to your Father and Mother, Mary, Em, and all the rest. I now must close. I don’t know when I shall have another opportunity of writing to you so goodbye until you hear from me again.
I remain your affectionate friend, — Harry F. Brower
Write soon. Let me know all the news of Philadelphia.
¹ George Sellers enlisted as a private in Co. B on 29 August 1861 for three years.
² Samuel R. Colladay (1842-1884), from Philadelphia, rose in rank from Corporal of Co. B to 2d Lt. on November 1863. He was captured at Beverly Ford, Virginia, on 9 June 1863. He was later promoted to 1st Lt. of Co. M and to Captain of Co. E.
³ This was probably the Battle of White Oak Swamp during the Peninsula Campaign.