The Letters of Pvt. Amos Anon
Private Amos Anon is a literary curiosity. His letters have only recently been discovered by our own Harry Dierken, which is in itself notable because of the huge and continuous amount of Civil War scholarship performed by historians since the war's end more than 125 years ago. Why has it taken so long for these letters to come to light? Why now?
Private Anon remains anonymous, and a thorough search through the Official Records contains no mention of this erudite soldier. In the absence of records, we can only speculate what kind of man he was. He seems to be a loyal pen-pal of his "Friend Fred," who also remains unknown and whose letters are our only evidence of Pvt. Anon's existence. Pvt. Anon's powers of observation seem to be especially acute, and the impression one gets of Amos is that of a well-meaning innocent, cast adrift in a situation beyond his understanding. Faithfully recording all he notes of interest to his friend, he gives us a valuable glimpse into the world of the common infantry private of the Civil War.
Three discovered Amos Anon letters follows. Perhaps future research will uncover more of Amos Anon's work! - Jonah
At Camp Nr.
I was in Baltimore recently and while there went to an armory on regimental business and saw some companies for a new regiment being trained. I don't know what regiment it was because no one would talk to me and everyone looked at me like I was strange. To be honest they were kind of strange themselves.
For one thing, they had on strange uniforms. They wore blouses that resembled shirts with large pockets. These were tucked into their pantaloons. These also had large pockets but way down on the sides of their legs so they'd have to bend over to get something out of them. I saw one of them do that very thing. The bottom of their pantaloons were tight around their boots, not tucked into their stockings like we sometimes do. Most of them wore black boots with a lot of laces, but there were some who wore soft white bootees made out of cloth and what looked like white underwear. Some of these men didn't have blouses and wore their underwear shirts like they had just gotten out of their blankets.
These uniforms had a funny color, too. It was a mixture of green and brown and black. Taken all together they looked like they had been dipped in a pickle vat and came away with leaves and parts of pickle stuck to them.
You should have seen the funny hats the NCOs wore. You would have died laughing at them. They had flat brims all around, not turned up and a greenish-brown color. They were dented around the crown so that they came to a point in the middle at the top.
There was an officer there, too. He had on a knitted shirt over his regular shirt the same color as the NCO's hat. I knew he was an officer because he had little straps on his shoulders but going in the opposite way from shoulder straps, and bars on his straps.
They had a Vivandiere there too but without a ladies skirt and dressed just like most of the privates. I tried but she wouldn't talk to me.
The strangest thing bout this regiment was that there were blacks mixed in with the white soldiers. Now maybe that's something they'd do in Massachusetts, but it struck me to see it in Maryland.
Taken all together, this was a very strange regiment and I don't know what they were all about. But I sure felt better when I got out of that place. I hope I don't have to go there again.
Well Fred, tell me some news in your next letter, since I remain,
Your good friend,
Pvt. Amos Anon (signature)
Army of Observation
Free State of Maryland
I hope this finds you and yours well. All's well here. At present its quiet but you never know what deviltry the rebs may be up to, so we have to be always on the alert. Let me tell you what they tried since the last time I wrote to you.
I have this pard who seems to have a never ending supply of spirits and since he often shares some with me I have taken a natural liking to him.
One night, before tatoo, we were having a tip and he told me about a strange machine the rebels had which he had herd about from a darkey. He tried to describe it to me but I just couldn't get my mind to concentrate on it very well. I suppose I had a bit too much of the cork. There too the darkeys are always makin up stories that you cant believe so I didn't pay much mind to it. By the morning it had gone out of mind completely.
Soon after, during a morning roll-call, the Adjutant called me out for a detail. I had to take a wagon up to Poolesville to get some new signal flags and other things the Regiment needed. He called out my pard to go along with me as shotgun since we would be carrying mail.
We got to Poolesville and picked up the things we needed and then headed for Edwards Ferry to drop off mail to a detachment from the Regiment that we had there on the canal. After, we looked around by Conrads Ferry. There we pulled the wagon into a cut field and made a bivouac for the night.
After dinner my pard got his bottle out of his traps and we sat by the fire till it was all gone, there being no tatoo. It was late when we turned in. The sound that woke me up next morning seemed at first to be coming from some place inside my head.
It was like a single blade, steam-driven sawmill just about where the blade gets to binding and squeeling. I sat up but the sound was still all around us, but there wasn't anything in that field but my pard and me and the mules. They were busy running around in circles where they were tied to the wagon pole so I knew they heard the noise too. Then I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye and looked up, and there I was looking at the strangest sight I ever hope to see, right overhead. I untangled from my blanket in two shakes and jumped to my feet.
Moving through the air right above us was this machine thing. It was shaped like a triangle, a kind of kite lying flat in the air and in the back there was another kite only this one was smaller and standing upright. The whole shebang was made up of colored cloth stretched on a frame. A bunch of sticks and wires hung underneath and in the middle of it all was a man.
My pard had come awake about when I did and now he was shouting "that's it, that's it." Then he yells at me to shoot the son of a bitch. But I couldn't do nothing but stand there and gawk while that thing moved over the field and disappeared behind the trees. I was so excited I was shaking and my heart was thumpin while my pard kept asking me why in hell I didn't shoot it. Of course he didn't shoot at it either but I didn't tell him that. I just told him I didn't have my musket handy. Pretty soon though he says "its rebs" and I dive on my musket thinkin some of Mosbys men has come across the river but he says "that thing, its the rebs."
Well I saw the man in there but I didn't think about him maybe being a rebel. I was about to mention this to my pard when I heard that noise start up again and here it comes, back over the trees.
I had calmed down by now so I ran to the wagon and got out my musket and took a bead on him. I lead him a little, like when you shoot birds, and let fly. Nothing happened. I forgot to cap.
I fumbled a cap out of my box, got it on the nipple and threw my musket to shoulder just as he disappeard over the trees again. We waited at the ready for a long while but he never came back.
So now I've told you and you probably think I'm crazy. But I had to tell some one and since I wont be there when you read this I wont have to here you laffing at me.
My pard told a fellow in the regiment and now nobody will speak to him. They think he makes up tall tales. I'm the only one who knows he's not a looney.
Well Fred, until the next time, I'm still
Your good friend,
Pvt. Amos Anon (signature)
June 30, 1863
near Thurmont, Maryland
It's been awhile since I've written so I hope this finds you well. I'm sending this letter free since I'm all out of money and stamps, not having been paid in over three months. I hope you won't mind paying the post when it arrives.
I have an interesting story to relate to you which I hope you won't think I've invented.
A few days ago my Brigade crossed the Potomac into Maryland and our squad was sent out as flankers to the West. Somehow we got mixed up, which is easy to do because of the mountains here abouts, and we found ourselves crossing the old battlefield at the Antietam. It was getting dark with no moon in sight and we had been hiking cross lots since dawn so we bivouacked near the white church. After boiling coffee we rolled up in our blankets and were sleeping like babies.
Sometime during that night I awoke to notice a strange light on the hill nearby where there had been no light earlier. I quietly slung my bayonet and cartridge box, picked up my musket and went up the hill to investigate. The light was coming from a large colored box, about the size of two long coffins standing on end. There was a mist all about and sitting near the box was a roly-poly fellow. He was leaning back in a chair with one leg crossed over the other and his hands were crossed over his belly. He wore a dark green suit, a kind of uniform, I thought. On his heat was a stiff straw hat with dents all around so that it came to a point at the top center. It was decorated with a leather band with a little chain in the front and its brim was wide and flat. The fellow had a funny kind of mustache that curled down around his mouth and ended in some straggly hairs under his chin.
I lowered my musket at him and asked who he was, thinking he might be another strange-looking rebel. He ignored my question and without changing position said "This is my battlefield; I'll ask the questions." Just like he owned the place. I wondered what kind of creature he was. He didn't look like any local farmer and the only other creatures that owned that part of Maryland lay under the old mounds with the wooden markers, there scattered about.
As I pondered this he began shelling me with orders. "Unfix your bayonet - no bayonets allowed here." "Show me your watch." "Show me your spectacles." I started to fumble out a pair of reading glasses I had taken from a dead Johnny at Chancellorsville in hope of making a trade for something I needed when he says, "This will cost you a dollar." I told him, "I don't have a dollar, I'm a Union volunteer and haven't been paid in three months." "Well," he says, "since you're a volunteer you can come in for nothing."
I thought I had said something right for once and that he was warming to me but just then he lifted a heavy thick book, like a family Bible, to his lap and stuck his nose down close to it. "Now here's the rules of this place," he says, rattling out a list as long as a division in line of battle. "You must wear kersey pants and a dark blue coat the same colors as the samples in the back of this book." "No wrist watches permitted." I didn't know what these were but it sounded like a good idea to ponder. He kept reading from his book: "Can't fire a musket with an original part on it." "Your ramrod must be tight enough in its channel to support your musket when it is supported by the same." "You're only allowed one campfire and that in the fire ring across from the Dunkard Church." "You will not loll about under the trees and you will never remove your shirt."
On he went with his nose deep in the great book. I thought, he's forgotten that I'm here so while he's at worship with his rules I'll skedaddle.
I backed away ever so slowly and kind of faded into the mist until I was certain he couldn't see me anymore. Then I turned and ran lickity-split back to camp. I was almost there when my foot caught on one of those rock ledges that stuck out of the ground there abouts and the last thing I remembered was sailing through the air and hitting the ground, on my head.
When I opened my eyes I was staring into the misty dawn. I was stiff and cold and my heat hurt. I would have thought I had arrived at the Great Beyond but my head told me different. I found my musket and staggered back into camp.
I was lucky, for when I arrived there my pards were still sound asleep. If they had seen me stagger into camp they would have accused me of partaking of an overdraught of "tangle foot." I sure didn't tell them of my adventure.
I'm not even certain it happened. Maybe it was all a dream that happened in my head after that fall I took. Yet its taken a strange hold on me. Maybe someday I'll have the same experience or dream, whichever it was, and I'll look back on it and think, that's "day jae voo."
Well, Fred, I have to stop writing this letter now because we have the rebs on the run and our brigade is about to move out after them.
Don't forget to write to me sometime and tell me the news.
Until then, I remain,
Pvt. Amos Anon
For those of you who don't get it, in his letters Harry is describing the following (in FIRPER):
1) Watching modern-day reservists at drill in the Baltimore armory.
2) An ultralight flying by.
3) A rather imperious park ranger at Antietam Battlefield Park. (Ted Alexander, to be specific. The one "Larry" Burgess Cook sued, in fact.)