Letters included in the pension file often contain some very personal information. Surely few match those written by the Irish Brigade’s Samuel Pearce to his wife Margaret. The correspondence details not only the railroad man’s initial efforts to avoid the draft and use of an alias, but also provides a unique and intimate insight into the couple’s relationship. Samuel candidly discusses his concern for Margaret as she is about to go into labour, fondly recalls his love for her through memories of their first child’s birth, and expresses his disappointment at how she treated him on a visit home. Unusually, he also openly discusses their sex life. Readers should note that the final letter in the sequence contains language and content that some may find offensive. (1)
Samuel Pearce worked on the Baltimore & Ohio railroad when he met Margaret McDonald around the year 1857. The couple were married in the English Lutheran Church of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on 9th October 1859; their first child– William– was born on 2nd October 1860. Samuel did not rush to volunteer at the start of the war. Instead he stayed with what he knew, working under the direction of the U.S. Military Railroads commander, Herman Haupt. It was late 1863 when he wrote the first letter below to his wife. She was due to give birth to their second child at any moment, and Samuel was anxious for her wellbeing. Denied a furlough to go home, Samuel’s worries were exacerbated by news that his name had been drawn in the draft. Hopeful that the railroad authorities would secure an exemption for him, he nonetheless cautioned Margaret not to mention it to the neighbours.
Forgive me for not writing sooner
Sept the 5 1863
I received your letter on last Tuesday and was very glad that you was still well but I wood feele a great [d]eal better if you ware over your truble and well again and then I wood be contented but now I cant rest at night for thinking about you I think that I can see you laying in bed sick as the night that you had Willia[m] when I com in the roome and stood in front of the bed and you put your arm around my neck and kissed me I shall never forget that time but I hope by the time you receive this you will be over the worst of your trubl and not have as hard a time as when you had Willia[m] and when I get home again I will hug and kiss you for to make up for the last time when I was home But if you get it very sick let me know at once I am still running at night I have not been very well for the last week but I feele a great [d]eal better I did not work for 4 days and I wanted to get a furlow for a five days but thay wood not give me one the superentendent told me that he wanted all of his men that has been drafted to stay at work with him that thare wont be any truble about it if thare is any truble at home about it let me know and I will get a letter frome him dont say anything to the nabors about this if thay ask you tell Genl Haupt has made arrangement with the sectary of war to leve us ware we are for the me[n] on the RR is getting very scarce since the Draft give my best respct to all of my old frends and kiss William for me and I will return it to you again if I can get a place for you in town to stay awile after you get right well again I want you to com down for it wont cost as much for you to come here as it [is] close for me to com home I will bring my letter to a [close] but remane your effectant Husband S.H. Pearce
Write as soon as you receive this and tell me how your belly is. (2)
As it was, Margaret had given birth three days before Samuel had written the letter. The couple’s second son John had arrived on 2nd September 1863. The next letter in the file is written some 6 months later, on 29th March 1864. By now Samuel’s circumstances had changed considerably. He was in Alexandria, Virginia, a newly recruited member of the 116th Pennsylvania Regiment, Irish Brigade (he had mustered in four days before). His railroad employment had not in the end provided an exemption; arrested by the Provost Marshal, Samuel was allowed his freedom only on the condition that he would enlist. This letter was the first news that Margaret received of his new profession. Samuel wrote home that his enlistment didn’t really matter anyway, as he felt his wife did not think much of him.
march the 29
I take the presant opportunity of writing you a few lines I am well at presant and hope this will find you and the children the same I supose it will not be very pleasant for you to here whare I am at presant but thay got me at last I was running on the Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne Road and some body found out whare I was and I was arested and the prov[ost] marshall said if I wood enlist in som Penn Reightiment he wood let me go and I thaught that wood be the best thing I could do for I could not com home any how and I was all the time in truble and now thay cant arest me again so I will try it as will for if I did not go now I wood of have to gone some time and I think this is the best time now for thare will [be] a very large army this Spring thare is no end to the troups coming in I joined the 116 Penn R Comp I our Company is doing gard duty at Alexandria I dont know when we will joine the Reightiment I got $300 local bounty and will get $300 more government bounty if I stay long enough I sent you 2.75 dollars by exppress I kept 25 for I had to buy some things when you go for the money as for a bundle for I sent my overcoat and pants home donts wory your self about me for I am not much acount to you any haw I have no more to write this time when you write direckt your letter to Samuel Price Company I 116 Pennsly Volenteers Alexandria Va
S. H. Pearce
Write as soon as you get this and tell me wether you got the money and bundle
I will write before wee leve Alexandria (3)
Just over a week later Samuel was writing home again. The final letter in the file was clearly penned in reply to Margaret’s response to the previous correspondence. She had not taken the enlistment well and had done nothing but cry since his letter had arrived. Samuel sought to reassure her that he was relatively safe in the pioneer corps, and expressed a hope that if he could get through the summer he would get back to the railroad. He elaborated on his comments of the previous letter (and clearly is also addressing Margaret’s response in which she said she was faithful to him) by explaining how they arose because of the way Margaret treated him when he was last home– a passage which includes unusually explicit references to their sex life. Despite his unhappiness, Samuel reiterated his love for her; he closes by telling Margaret that he had enlisted under the name ‘Price’ instead of ‘Pearce’ to secure the bounty money– he was worried that if he didn’t use an alias the fact that he was drafted might deny it to him.
Camp near Culppeper
April the 8
I received your letter yesterday and was glad to here that you was well but am sory that you take it so hard about me but try and content your self for the summer and then I will try and get detailed on the R. R. I dont think that I am in much danger for I was detailed out of the Company on monday and put in the Pinere Corps so I wont have any fighting to do as long as I am with it you speak of being true to me I never thaught any thing els of you for I know that you dont like fuckn very well and I dont think that you want any other man to do it for you for I think I alwaise gave you as much as you wanted but I think you apeard very coull [cool] towards me when I was home for I thaught you thaught more of your neabors than you did of me or else you wood [have] stayed up stairs with me more then you did when I asked you to wash my blouse you growld about it and you left me go away [with] dirty draws and stockings I thaught the way you apeared that you did not care wither I went away or not that is all the falt ever I found of you for I love you and all ways thaught that you might of been a little more loving to me when I cam home for it was not often that I cam hom to see you you say you don nothing but cry since you received my letter I have don the same thing about you for thare is hardley a minit that passes over but I think of you and what you wood do if I was kiled but if the war dont wind up this summer I think I can get out of it next winter so keep in good hart and I will do the hest I can and will write when ever I can get a chance we have a good [d]eal of work to do around camp building houses for the officers the resan that I told you to direckt to Price is that I inlisted in that name for I was afraid that thay might find out in the Regihtment that I was drafted and then I wood not get any bounty so when you write direckt Samuel P. Price Company I 116 R P. Volenteers Alexandria Va I wish you wood get me 2 woolen shirts of some kind for I cant ware the government shirts get something that wont shrink and get me 2 0r 3 pair of cottan stockings and some smoking tobacco and send them to me as soon as you can no more at presant but rmane your effectant Husgend S. H. Pearse
Dont forget and direct any letter to S. H. Price (4)
Samuel Pearce did not stay in the pioneer corps. Two months later he was in the ranks of the 116th Pennsylvania when they found themselves caught in a withering fire during the Battle of Cold Harbor on 3rd June 1864. Struck in the lower left thigh by a bullet, he was carried from the field and ultimately to the 3rd Division Hospital in Alexandria. He died there of septicemia on 12th July. Samuel was buried in Alexandria National Cemetery, where he rests in Plot 2934– his headstone bears the alias under which he enlisted.
Despite their extremely personal content, Margaret handed these letters to the pension bureau, as their reference to Samuel’s alias provided evidence that established her as the rightful widow of ‘Samuel Price’. She received a pension for only a short period; her marriage to James Rementer in 1866 saw her lose her entitlement to it. Although her firstborn son William did not survive, her second son John did, joining three half-siblings by Margaret’s second marriage. John, whose imminent birth Samuel wrote of in 1863, would later say regarding him: ‘I do not remember my father. I understood that he was shot at Cold Harbor and died in the hospital from the effects of the wound. I was raised by my mother until I was grown…She re-married James Rementer. I grew up to consider him my father.’ Widowed for a second time in 1876, Margaret did not seek to reactivate her pension until 1911. She passed away at the Philadelphia Home for Veterans of the G.A.R. and Wives in Philadelphia on 3rd December 1924– fully sixty years after her first husband. (5)
* None of my work on pensions would be possible without the exceptional effort currently taking place in the National Archives to digitize this material and make it available online via Fold3. A team from NARA supported by volunteers are consistently adding to this treasure trove of historical information. To learn more about their work you can watch a video by clicking here.
(1) Samuel Pearce Widow’s Pension File; (2) Ibid.; (3) Ibid.; (4) Ibid.; (5) Ibid.;
Samuel H. Pearce Widow’s Pension File WC63690.