George Augustus Howe letters, 1861, 1864. Belpre Home Guards and 148th Ohio Infantry; 22 letters (7 in Belpre Home Guards; 15 in 148th Ohio).
George Augustus Howe served in the Belpre Home Guards at the start of the Civil War, and enlisted for a second stint in the military when he was inducted into the 148th Ohio, a hundred day regiment. Neither unit can be counted among the military elite of the Civil War, and neither have left a significant record, but Howe's experiences are more representative of the typical union soldier, and perhaps because he is an intelligent, opinionated man and a good writer, his letters leave a strong impression of one man's war.
Like many militia units in eastern Ohio, the Belpre Guards were called up in the earliest days of the conflict to guard railroads and bridges as the Union army was being pieced together from scratch. After serving with the Guards for the summer, Howe apparently returned to civilian life until three years later, May 1864, when the 148th Ohio was organized at Marietta from the 46th Ohio National Guard (Washington County) and 26th (Vinton County). The 148th served their brief enlistment at Harpers Ferry, Washington, D.C., and White House and Bermuda Hundred.
For a man with such a slender military record, Howe was an unusually avid soldier. Writing from Belpre in May 1861, he seemed to be busting with pride over the Home Guards and ready to enter the fray: "We have got a grand rifle company of young men. There is also a large company of Silvergreys Car Company had a grand time night before list burning Jeff Davis in effigy. I supposed the war excitement is increasing rapidly throughout the whole county...." Yet by August, when other companies were being federalized and sent to Virginia, but the Guards remained in "Camp Miserable" guarding the railroad and Howe drifted away.
Howe's letters while in the 148th barely skip a beat from his early-war letters, setting the same optimistic tone and eagerness for soldiering. The series of 15 letters begins when the 148th passed over the devastation of the old battle field at Bolivar Heights before arriving in Washington, where there was an abundance of food and a side trip to the capitol building. It is little surprise that Howe was pleased. After this interlude, however, the regiment joined Benjamin Butler's entrenchments near Point of Rocks, Va., situated between the twin centers of conflict in Richmond and Petersburg. The reaction at his first sight of a colored regiment was considerably more positive than most of his comrades (" don’t think I ever saw a nobler set of fellows in my life, are well drilled and the Brigade Commander says they are all fight..."), and he reacted to the first experience of seeing a bombardment with aplomb: "I tell you what, it sounds grand to hear the cannons roar, especially when in a good cause." Yet Howe was an unusually sympathetic man and was deeply affected by the carnage: "I feel our men were using them, But alas! How much suffering it brings not only on the rebels, but on our brave boys. I feel for the poor soldier as I never felt before. I have seen ambulance load after ambulance returning from the front, loaded down with poor fellows wounded in every way imaginable. It is heart rending to see them, but yet they feel as warlike as ever, and many of them hope soon to join their comrades again in the deathly strife, believing that victory is ours...."
After his first taste of battle, Howe's feelings grew harder. On July 2, 1864, he wrote home from Bermuda Hundred to say he had "seen the elephant," but was still confident "that by the time our hundred days are out that the rebs will be whipped and that soundly too..." Three days later, however, he complained about news accounts the disparaged the performance of his regiment. "The boys say they want you to mark the person that started the report that we were ordered out and wouldn’t go but threw down our arms," he wrote. "We intend to see tho [sic] him when we get home, and I imagine he will be handled rather roughly. I can say our boys layed in the rifle pits for 8 days, and the rebs were firing away at us with all their might. The shell came in our camp very often, but none of us were hurt. We have seen the elephant, I assure you, and are not afraid to meet him again if need be. Why should we, I consider we would be doing our duty...."
Howe keeps up a running commentary on his family's farm and the demands of farm work in his absence, and lambastes the copperheads at home attempting to run off the men helping his father farm. "I don’t care how many threats they make, but let them undertake to carry them into execution if they dare. One hundred days will be out after a while, and we hope to return, and then they will have to fess. The government have us employed to clear up the ods and ends in the rear, and we think if things continue as begun, we might as well commence the work in Belpre as any where else… Tell Pa not to mind what the Copperheads say but keep as many contrabands to work as he wants and protect them too. They think by making threats they can scare him, but he needn't be afraid, they dare not undertake to drive them away...."
During the last couple of weeks of his enlistment, Howe was confined to hospital at City Point with a minor foot injury, remaining optimistic about defeating the Confederacy and taking Petersburg and Richmond and about the performance of the "colored" soldiers, adding a rather strange personal twist: "There are a great many new recruits arriving here every day under the last call of the President. I saw quite a squad from Washington County all of them colored…. I expect to bring a colored boy home with me to raise. It is the captains waiter. He appears like a smart boy and I think (and so do others) that he will be a first rate fellow if rightly trained. He is about the size of Willie Beurd. He will be a useful boy on the farm and will save you a great many steps. There has been several trying to get him to go with them but he says no. he intends to go home with Corporal Howe. He does any thing I wish him is very kind and seems to know his place well..."
One letter written on printed ballad by Henry C. Work, Brave Boys Are They: Dedicated to the Sisters of Our Volunteers, with elaborately engraved head depicting a cavalry engagement.
It is quite uncommon to find correspondences either from home guard units or hundred days men -- much less both -- and particularly uncommon to find such correspondences that are so extensive and literate. Unusual content with interesting details of the life of a surprisingly active and motivated soldier. Expected wear with some starting at the folds, age toning. An attractive opportunity.