Monday, May 6, 2013

Letters of Albert Liscom - Part 2

I finished transcribing the letters of Albert Liscom, Company C, 13th Mass Vols.  I took digital pictures of the original letters held in the collection of the Carlisle PA Army Archive, when I visited there in July 2012.

I've numbered 73 letters.  (Albert's son claimed there were 91 letters in the collection, so some appear to be missing).  There are about 3 or 4  more letters in the collection that are not written by Albert. Two are written by his Aunt Eliza, one by an Uncle William, one by a soldier named Frank, also in Co. C, (which describes the battle of Bolivar Heights) and an unknown note to 'father' dated 1857, signed Jacob.

One or two of the letters are incomplete, letters and a couple of letter scraps still need to be placed.

I have learned a great deal more about Albert and his family since my previous post about the letters.

His father, Levi was a piano maker who had years of experience making quality instruments with a New Hampshire firm called Dearborn Bros.  Mr Liscom was considering going on his own during the early war period, and Albert occasionally comments on his prospects.  The firm of Dearborn and Liscom was eventually formed.  I found a few items relating to the company along with a picture of one piano bearing the company name.  Albert's father was successful in his business venture and continued making fine pianos for many years.

Surprisingly, the letters with the most important information were the most difficult to transcribe. 

Consider this one.  He wrote over the top of the first page, but once I got to know Albert's hand, and his writing style, I was able to transcribe the faded words underneath, although it took persistence (& photoshop to adjust the contrast).  Of course it turns out to be one of the better letters in the collection.  He is writing from Front Royal about the failed Union  attempt to corner Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862.  Here's what it says underneath the cross writing:

Front Royal
Dear Parents & Sister
          I now take the first opportunity since we left Manassas to write to you for I suppose you are  beginning/starting  to wonder why you did not hear from me.  We left Manassas the next day after I wrote you from there and since that time we have been on the march continually not stopping more than one night [?] in  a place, we have been on[?] some[?] of the roughest  roads I ever saw.  part of the time we marched on the rail road (Saturday) [?] and part of the time on the dirt road and on what
might perhaps be called roads if the bottoms of them in some places had not fallen through.  When we left Manassas, we started on an expedition to try and cut-off Jacksons force and we have been pulled and hauled round among these mountains ever since but as yet our division have not had a chance at him yet...
This letter continues to describe some of the hardships of the campaign and to express contempt for the leadership of General McDowell the division commander.

I have also learned that Albert, had some serious health conditions. I stated in the first post on his letters that he was trying to get an honorable discharge from the service in the fall and winter of 1862, and that he would have done anything short of desert to get it.  I have since discovered a long letter to his father, written from Waterloo, VA, July 19, in which he describes some of his ailments:

" For a long time my teeth have troubled me a great deal.  I find it impossible to live on army rations.  I have to live on such light stuff as I can buy or cobble up myself and it is rather surprising to me how I live on what little I eat, about all we have for rations is hard bread & coffeee for breakfast & supper, for dinner we have salt junk boiled fresh beef or fried beef and once in a great while baked or stewed beans, very often there is no dinner at all, this is the way we live day after day.  I have long ago given up trying to eat salt junk, boiled beef I cannot
eat, and the beef steak I do the best I can with to get the juice and You may ask what I live on, well I hardly know myself.  Corn starch, rice molasses cakes, crackers & cheese, stuff that does not amount to much except to take away the money very fast without warranting good health to follow.  I have got about discouraged trying to live in such a way, my teeth are so far gone that I can hardly bite off a piece of soft bread.  There is not two teeth in my head that I can use, that come square together.  the only tooth that is of any service to me in biting, I expect every day will break off, it is more than half gone now, it is the one next to the eye tooth on the right side.  I cannot chew at all on the left side, my teeth are all broken off even with my
gums from the left side including the eye tooth and following round to the one next the eye tooth - (which has a large cavity in it) on the right side, there is nothing but the hollow stump)  The two teeth running back from the eye tooth on my left side are more than half decayed in fact I have not a whole tooth on my upper jaw.  I have not had any drawn out, all that I have lost - have broken off.  Do you wonder at my feeling hungry?"
In spite of all this, at the time Albert was insisting he wished to do his part honorably in the army.  His big complaint was that his division was kept out of the fighting.

"Last Spring when we crossed the river we expected ...that we were soon to meet the enemy and take our part in the struggle.  But how has it been ?  If that old sesesh Gen Abercrombie had not disobeyed orders, we should have been in that battle at Winchester. And then again if we had been with Gen Banks, where we belong, when he retreated from Winchester, we should have met the enemy there, for Gen Banks said in his speech the other evening that if our brigade had been with him, he would have stood Jackson until reinforcements had arrived.  But for all this we should have met Jackson at Front Royal if McDowell had not avoided it.  And thus it has been, marching from place to place, with nothing but the monotony of camp life."

(The reference to Abercrombie and Banks refer to March, 1862 when several regiments were remomved from Gen. N. P. Banks army, and placed  under command of Gen. John Abercrombie.  Gen. Hartsuff took command of the brigade in May)

These excerpts describe his health condition and discouraged morale. He seems to have had some kind of malnutrition or immune problems.   A few weeks later getting water for the company, he banged a canteen on his knee.  The knee bothered him so much he went lame.  He couldn't keep up during the hard marches of Gen. Pope's retreat..  He eventually fell out of the ranks in mid - August and went to a hospital in Washington.  His teeth continued to deteriorate, and his 'rheumatism' never healed completely.  Knowing he couldn't stand the harsh conditions of a winter campaign or camp he pressed for a discharge.  He eventually got it in mid 1863.

I'll post a bit more on the letters again.

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