February 03, 2012

Thomas Covert, Letter #7

Seventh in a series of letters my great-great-great-grandfather wrote home from the American Civil War, exactly 150 years ago.

The first part was written on the 4th, but it was sent on the 5th.

Camp Dennison, Feb. 4th, 1862

My Dear Wife:

I now take this opportunity to write a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope these few lines will find you the same. Theres little or no news to tell you about. Our camp Capt. Myer had a little fuss in his Company yesterday, they went to Millford, a little town that is about a mile from here for the purpose of attending church but instead of that got drunk and came home and got into a fight amongst themselves so there officers put them in the gard house and there was one of Capt. Bartletts Corporals did something that he got put in the gard house for and today he was reduced to the ranks. It was at Dress Parade, so you see it was done before all the Companies. I was on Brigade Gard last night. We had four prisoners in the gard house to gard. One of them has been in about six weeks. He was put in for striking a Colonial of one of the Regements that is here in camp. I was mistaken about that Corporal being put in the gard house. He was not put in the gard house but reduced to the ranks, Feb. 4th. Well I suppose we are disbanded and will be at home or part of the Company will in the course of a month. All I know about it is this. The Captains of all the Companies told there men that the Assistant Agt. General fetched a dispatch to our Colonial & the Colonial was not at home & he told the Major that we were probably disbanded, so the Captain told the men of it and wanted them to think of it and make up in their minds how many of them wanted to go as Infantry. I dont know whether I shall come home or not, nor if we are disbanded I may go to work some place about here but I dont know yet what I shall do.

Charles Pinkins has been worse since I wrote to you. There is ten chances for him to die where there is one for him to get well. Horace Drew & Nathen Basset are taking care of him. Jim & I have got at work. I went down to Cincinnati to get leather but did not have much of a chance to see the place. I started from here at half past twelve P.M. and got back at Four O'clock. Nothing more at present.

Yours As Ever

T. M. Covert.

Six O'clock Wednesday Morning, Feb. 5.
Charles Pinkins is dead, he died at Four O'clock this morning. The Capt. is agoing to send his body home. His death casts a gloom over all the Regement. He is the first man that has died in the Regement. But if we were kept here till next May there would be plenty more that would die. Charles has had the best of care. We have one of the best Doctors that can be found and some of the best nurses.

T. M. Covert

Posted by benrosen at 03:08 PM

January 24, 2012

Thomas Covert, Letter #6

Sixth in a series of letters my great-great-great-grandfather wrote home from the American Civil War, exactly 150 years ago.

Camp Dennison, Jan. 24th, 1862

It is with pleasure that I now take this opportunity to write you a few lines in answer to your kind letter which I received yesterday. I was very glad to hear that you were all well. I am well and getting along well. The sun is shining and it is quite warm here today. I believe it is the first pleasant day we have had since we have been here, if not it is so long since we have had one that I have forgot it. I never found those cookies till yesterday that you put in my satchel. I was looking for Edies likeness, you forgot to put that in. I wish you would send it by Jim if you get this before he leaves and if not send it by Blood. As for our being disbanded, we know nothing about it yet. The Colonial has got back from Columbus but said he could not tell any thing more about it than he could before he went. I should wonder if we were armed and put in the field after awhile. Nothing more at present.

I remain as ever,

T. M. Covert.

I had not time to write more or I would. I have to go and drill.

Those are some pretty old cookies, right?

Do you think the likeness is a photograph? A drawing? A painted portrait (in a frame)?

Covert often makes some kind of distinction between "being well" and "getting along well". Perhaps one refers to physical health, the other to mood and psychology?

Posted by benrosen at 10:36 PM

Probably a daguerrotype or other early photograph.

Posted by: Karen Rosenbaum at January 26, 2012 11:02 PM

I think Mr.Covert is writing about a picture when said "likeness" but who knows for sure? a portrait in a frame would be too difficult to handle there.
A wonderfull letter anyway!

Posted by: Adidasi at February 2, 2012 11:44 AM

January 15, 2012

Thomas Covert, Letter #5

Fifth in a series of letters my great-great-great-grandfather wrote home from the American Civil War, exactly 150 years ago. The first part is dated the 14th, but it was sent on the 15th, so that's when I'm posting it.

Camp Dennison, Jan. 14th, 1862

My Dear Wife:

I now take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know that I am as well & getting along as well as could be expected. I was on gard last night & feel somewhat sleepy. The last time I wrote to you I told you that I liked this ground a good deal better than I did the ground at Warren but it is a week since than and it is the damdest muddy place I ever saw. It was all mud last night but is froze up this morning. Charles Babbock has got the measles but is getting better. He has been pretty sick. We have done away with the card playing in the Barricks. It was done by a vote of the Company. Almost every man voted to do away with it. We voted to do away with all profane language and to have dancing once a week. There is a great deal of talk about our being discharged here in camp but we do not know anything about it. The talk is that we will have to be discharged or go into the Infantry. I shall go as Cavalry or go home and not all in camp think the same way, but I dont think there is any truth in the talk of our being discharged. I have been vaccinated for the small pox and it is working well. I hardly think there is any small pox in camp, still there may be. I wrote you a letter last Monday but have not received any letter yet but have been looking for one for three or four days but it will be along before long. We are expecting our pay before long & than I will send you a letter that will make you glad & I hope it will be one or two weeks. Tell Edie I will fetch her something nice when I come home. Nothing more at present, But I remain as ever,

Thos. M. Covert

Jan 15th
I had this letter sealed up when I received your letter. I was very glad to hear from you & to hear that you were well. You must do as you think best about those shoes, for Edie forgot about it at Warren. You had better not make any payment on the place out of the first money I send you for we do not know how things will turn out yet.

Direct your letters To:

T. M. Covert
6th O.V. Cavalry,
Camp Dennison, Oh.
Care Capt. Bingham

I guess card playing and profane language are from the Devil, but dancing is divine. I wonder what kind of dancing they're going to do?

His daughter Edie is not very old at this time, I get the impression from later letters that she's no more than five or six; so the remark that she forgot about the shoes is curious. Did she go visit him at camp in Warren by herself, with a message about the shoes, which she forgot? If so, I hope it wasn't a big deal; it seems a lot to entrust a six-year-old with. Does it have anything to do with the lasts, inspets, bristles & peg flats in the first letter, the ones the Hack Driver was supposed to bring him?

Posted by benrosen at 09:31 AM

I think he means he was supposed to make a decision about shoes for Edie while he was in Warren, and HE forgot to do it. Edie can't be even as old as six, since as you pointed out earlier, he's only been married four years!


Posted by: Karen Rosenbaum at January 18, 2012 11:01 PM

Ah of course! He's just no great shakes at punctuation -- he means "...about those shoes for Edie; forgot about it at Warren."

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at January 19, 2012 07:44 AM

January 06, 2012

Thomas Covert, Letter #4

Fourth in a series of letters my great-great-great-grandfather wrote home from the American Civil War, exactly 150 years ago.

Camp Dennison, Jan. 6th, 1862

My Dear Wife:

It is with pleasure that I now take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know that we have safely arrived here. We started out Saturday morning at 8 O'clock and got here about 8 Sunday. Our quarters here are a great deal better than they were at Warren. We have barricks here and two large stoves in them. The building is about one hundred feet long and about 25 or 30 wide, with a stove in each end of them. They say that there is a few cases of the Small Pox in one of the Hospitals about one mile from here. There is as near as I can find out about Seven Thousand Five Hundred men in camp now and I tell you we have got a nice camp here.

There was two deaths in camp today, I do not know what Regement they belong to. One died with the measles & the other got poisend by drinking whiskee.. I lost my cap that you liked so well out of the car window yesterday. I went to look out of the window and my cap fell off just as it was always doing. The 2nd Ohio Cavalry leave here next week for Fort Leavenworth, Cansas. They are the Regement that was at Cleveland. I sent you five dollars by Mr. Barnard the morning. We left Warren I drew Eight dollars. I tried to get it fixed so that you could draw a part of my wages before we left Warren. I spoke to the Captain about it but he said that the Colonial was so busy that he could not do it then but I could have it fixed just as well when we got here. So I will get fixed as soon as we get straightened around. The Artillery were shooting at a target from one hill to another the other day when there was a man got in the range of the cannon and had his shoulder shot off. He died of the wound. And there was one of the Zouves went to steal sheep & the farmer see him and shot him through the heart, so I guess he wont steal any more sheep. The Zouves are real thieves any way. I have not got any shirts yet but will get some before long. It was as cold this morning here as it was at Warren when we left and I think colder but it is warmer now.

Jim stayed at Warren to take care the sick. Nothing more at present, but I remain,

As Ever

Thos. M. Covert

Direct your letters to:

Thos M. C.,
Camp Dennison,
6th O.V. Cavalry Regt.,
Care of Capt. Bing.

If you see Binghams Boys tell them to fetch you 2 bushells of Apples.

Write Soon.

Along with his grumbling, Covert has flashes of wit; I like the story of the cap -- presumably riding in a railroad car was novel enough that Covert wasn't prepared for the consequences of it falling off "as it was always doing" -- and of the Zouave who won't steal any more sheep -- and they illustrate two kinds of yarns Covert likes to tell -- ones where he's made a fool of, and ones where he can make wry pokes at the expense of those who offend his moral sensibilities.

Why are his letters sent care of Captain Bingham? Is it the officer's responsibility to distribute mail to his men? Is he the same Bingham whose Boys should fetch Phoebe two bushels of apples? Is he "the Captain" in his official capacity, but "Bingham" when it comes to matters back at home?

Posted by benrosen at 02:10 PM

Where did the Coverts live? Cleveland?

Posted by: Shoshana Rosenbaum at January 6, 2012 08:03 PM

I think the Coverts lived in northeastern Ohio, probably Geneva. I know some of my mother's family were buried in Geneva.

Posted by: Karen Rosenbaum at January 11, 2012 03:36 AM

December 03, 2011

Thomas Covert, Letter #3

Camp Hutchins, Dec. 3rd, 1861

My Dear Wife:

It is with pleasure that I sit down to let you know that I received your letter last night. I was glad to hear that you was all well, but sorry that you do not get along any better. I shall try to have a part of my wages paid to you monthly. The Captain has promised me the Saddlers place & if I get it, it will be a good thing for me & I hope that I shall get it. We have got our overcoats & boots & will have the rest of our cloths today & tomorrow. I can't come home till after then, but do not look for me till I come, for I don't know when they will send me. I do not feel verry well to day, but I hope that I shall feel better by tomorrow. I was on gard Sunday and cought cold & have a hard pain in my right lung, but I think I shall be well in a day or two. Tell Edie that I take her picture and look at it every day, and that I will come as soon as I can. I send you in this letter one dollar. It is all I have to send. You must excuse me for not writing more as I do not feel very well.

Yours As Ever,

T. M. Covert.

Dictated by Aviva to me on a Saturday morning in Basel, one hundred and fifty years, to the day, after Thomas Covert sent it.

Edie was his daughter. The themes in this letter -- homesickness, health problems, struggles to support the family financially while off at war -- will recur.

Posted by benrosen at 09:13 AM

Why was Aviva dictating this to you?

You should post photos of Thomas Covert, his wife Katie, and their daughter Edith.

Posted by: Karen Rosenbaum at December 3, 2011 09:27 PM

Aviva was dictating because I really wanted to post it 150 years to the day after he sent it, and I had the kids all day, and if I'd been trying to barricade myself off alone to do it they would have been sure to find a strategem to get me back out again. This way everyone was involved! :-)

There are some photos in the book you made... do you have electronic copies of them, or do I need to re-scan?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at December 4, 2011 08:41 AM

November 24, 2011

Thomas Covert's Letters Home

Right, so as part of the new plan to revivify the blog, I am going to be posting the letters that Thomas Meredith Covert wrote home to his wife Phoebe. One by one. Each -- with the regrettable exception of the first two, which I have screwed up already -- exactly 150 years after it was mailed (after the manner of Samuel Pepys's blog).

Thomas Covert is my great-great-great-grandfather. His daughter Katie's son Harry Freeman's daughter Jeanne was my grandmother. Covert ended his days in the town of Kinsman, Ohio, where my grandmother knew him. (In an odd bit of trivia for my little corner of the speculative fiction universe, Kinsman is the home town of Chris Barzak, whose wonderful first novel One for Sorrow is set in its fictional analog.)

I'm not sure what town Thomas and Katie called home in 1861, when he left to join the 6th Ohio Cavalry and fight for the Union. Covert was some kind of artisan -- maybe a cobbler; he talks about working as a Saddler, and in the Military Register (which I'll have to scan -- its iconography is fascinating) he's listed as Company A's Artificer. (I believe I've played that class...)

The letters tell a pretty fascinating story, which is one reason I'm posting them. They raise a lot of issues of history and politics and character. It's probably also some small public service to digitize them (what I have access to are Xeroxes of typescripts made from the originals sometime in the 1980s; the originals are at the Western Reserve Historical Society, according to this footnote). And perhaps I'll end up doing something fictionally with them? As Jed observed, "Thomas Covert, who lived in Kinsman. It sounds like the sort of story where everyone has a name that means something."

Anyway, here are the first two letters (I'll offer variant readings of possible typos in square brackets):

Warren, Nov. 8th, 1861

My Dear Wife:

It is with pleasure that I now take this opportunity to inform you that I am well & hope these few lines will find you all in the same state of health. We get along first rate in camp. Our Company is the best Company in camp. This is part of 4 Companys in now. Tell James to send me from 5 to 9 of them old lasts and my tow large insteps & you send those Bristtes & Peg flote[flats?] with them. Tell him to put them in a small bag & send them by the Hack Driver.
Nothing more, but write & let me know how you get along.

T. M. Covert

I would write more but I have to go to be in Camp at 8 O'Clock and it is most that now.

You can see why I think he's a cobbler, right? I find his immediate boosterism for A Company, upon arrival, to be rather sweet, typical of his boyish optimism (I don't know how old he is when the war begins; he's been married for 4 years, though).

Warren, Nov. 13th, 1861

My Dear Wife:

It is with pleasure that I now take this opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know how we get along. Our Company are all so as to be a round now. James Joiner got hurt a few days ago but is getting along now. I was swinging him and some one came up and twitched the rope and then run so we do not know who it was. Those night caps go first rait. We have a first rate place to sleep. I sleep with Orange Ball & Hoarche Drew. We have Pork Bread and Potatoes and Coffee to eat. I have not time to write now but I think I will be home next Saturday.

Yours As Ever,

Thos. M. Covert

How do you think they were swinging? And doesn't it sound like fun, aside from the jerk who wandered by and "twitched the rope"?

Posted by benrosen at 08:22 AM

Mmm, pork bread.

Posted by: David Moles at November 24, 2011 03:31 PM

It's first rait!

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at November 24, 2011 04:08 PM