John Fletcher Hamlin Awareness

John Fletcher Hamlin

Who was John Fletcher Hamlin?

John Fletcher Hamlin (6/16/1843 ‑ 7/3/1864)
by Judith Schaechter (JFH’s great, great, great grand niece)

John Fletcher Hamlin was the youngest of Comfort and Eunice Hamlin’s eight children and the only one living at home when the U.S. Civil War started. Comfort Hamlin was a farmer of modest means — he owned a farm in Sugar Grove, PA, of about 100 acres that he had expanded to include a gristmill and a sawmill. He was not known to be in debt. Eunice Stebbins Hamlin supplemented the family’s income (at least during the Civil War) by weaving. John Fletcher had three older brothers, one of whom died at age 25 in 1855. He had four older sisters, one of whom died before he was born in 1834. His sister Elizabeth is the author’s great, great, great grandmother.

On May 29, 1861, Fletcher’s older brother Sylvester enlisted for three years of service in the PA 1st Rifles, Company D in Warren PA, and on August 23, John Fletcher enlisted in the same company. He had turned 18 in June. Mark Reinsberg refers to the recruitment of Company D in “A Bucktail Voice: Civil War Correspondence of Cordello Collins.” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 48 (1965) as “the elite company recruited by Captain (eventually Brigadier General) Roy Stone known as the ‘Raftsmen’s Guard.’ The marksmanship of a hunter, the hardiness of a lumberman, were the standards for enrollment in this Warren County group.” About the entire regiment he says: “Few…won higher honors, and none wore as many designations. It was known, variously, as the Kane Rifle regiment, the 1st Rifles, the 13th Reserves, the 42nd Infantry P.R.V.C., must most universally as the Bucktail.” The Bucktail Regiment fought in many of the major battles of the war including the Peninsula Campaign, 2nd Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, days two and three of Gettysburg, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.

In March 11, 1862, Sylvester was dismissed on a surgeon’s certificate “because of Pthisis Pulmonalis, a predisposition to which ex-isted prior to enlistment.” John Fletcher stayed with the regiment until his three years of enlistment was up. He was discharged on December 23, 1863, and reenlisted in the 190th PA Infantry as a veteran volunteer. At the time of his reenlistment he was 20 years old, 5ft. 9 inches tall, light complexion, blue eyes, and light hair.

Patriotism was at a fever pitch in the Union at the beginning of the Civil War. For someone like John Fletcher Hamlin, joining the army would be an expression of patriotism, but also a way to see the world for the first time and earn needed money for the family. At the beginning of the war, a paramount concern of many volunteers was that the war would end before they had a chance to fight. In terms of discipline and practice, they knew almost nothing about what it meant to be a soldier and they learned as they went. Camp life was characterized by long periods of drill and tedium. For a naive and religious farm boy from the backwoods like John Fletcher, some of the diversions (gambling, swearing, prostitutes, etc) must have seemed shocking— at least at first. He was a devout Methodist and concerned with having a chance to worship while serving in the infantry. The letters of Cordello Collins quoted by Reinsberg supports this: “We have pretty happy little meetings here in my tent. I am pointed a clase leader of our little meeting. We call it the name of Christon Soldier. The[re] is 5 in the Class of us: Gorge W. Chase, Gorge W. Gates, Fletcher Hamlin, Frederick Knup [Knopf].” A second mention by Collins says: “I can lay the sweet potatoes and butter down to a pritty good advantage. But Fletcher Hamlin can beat me eating”.

John Fletcher was granted a furlough sometime in early 1864. He went home to Sugar Grove and family notes indicate he had a premonition of his own death “so he stayed 30 days and 3 days grace.” Who knows if that really happened, but after all he’d seen, including the death of his friend and tentmate, Cordello Collins, it wouldn’t be surprising if he quite acutely felt the gravity of his situation. On June 16, 1864, right after his 21st birthday and shortly after he returned to duty, John Fletcher Hamlin was shot in the head at Petersburg, VA. The rifle ball broke his skull. He was carried unconscious from the field and placed in Hospital #21 near Richmond, VA. Apparently he revived enough to speak, but soon after, on June 28, 1864, he died from his wounds.

The Hamlins sold their farm in 1868. It seems likely they intended to rely on John Fletcher’s help, at least for a little while, as he was the only son remaining at home. His mother, Eunice, later applied for mother’s pension (see below) in 1881. Several letters he wrote during his service were included as part of this application and are transcribed below.

— Judith Schaechter

Letters of John Fletcher Hamlin

Camp 1st Rifles, Sept. 17, 1863
Dear Mother, Father and Brother,
“I received a letter from Sylvester this eavning and haisten to reply. I have not time to write mutch now but will prosead to buisness. We are now between Culpepper Cort House and raccoon ford on the Rappadan river and they wer figthing all day about 3 or 4 miles from hear prety hard. We are drawing cartridges this eavning and I expect to hear the whiz of miny balls before tomarrow night but do not be uneasy about me for the Lord is with me and if I fall, rest asured that I am prepared for the grate change which all must come to wheather it be on the battle field or by [illegible] as at home.

Pray for me, that I be able to hold out to the end. Poor Cordello Collins is dead of his wounds, it is hard but true but he is [“better off”- has been scratched out] in heaven for he was a Christian every inch of him and he had time to think before he died. We have no Colonel, Colonel Talor (Captain Co H) was killed at Gettysburg and our Leut. Colonel Niles Commands the regt. He was wounded thare in the leg. Well the candel is most out and I must quit but tell me in your next where Williamn Sharp lives good by.”
From your brother and sone
J. F. Hamlin (his signature)

Dear Father Sept 20th
“A [illegible] more of yesterday and I have a chance to send you some money by express. I will send you $10.00. I will have to keep some for my own use and I want to peddle some and keep my self in spending money. The fight we expected seems to be post poned though the rebs are right in front of us, we can see the smoke of their camps this is all good by”
J. F. Hamlin (his signature)

N. B.
“tell me in your next what kind of paper you have we have ilustrated papers hear and if you will send stamps I can send them to you.’

Camp 1st Rifles at Bristoe Station, Va. March 9th, 1864
Dear Mother
“I reseaved your welcom letter day before yesterday and was glad to hear from you also to hear that you are all well that is more than I can say of my self. I have got what the docter calls the Mumps. but I have had the mumps once before havent I, I cannot quite remember but I think so, one of the other boys had the same diseas and he had a hard time of it but he caught cold and that made him worse. yesterday was the first I felt of it and went to the docter this morning and he excused me from duty. I should have been on guard duty today if it had not been for that. you aught to have seen me when I was eating my breakfast this morning. I could not open my mouth only about an inch and it hurt me to chew the worst way, you wanted to know if I had sent my muster in roll to William Blodget, no but I sent him a certificat from Capt Hasard” [included in pension file] “our Division mustering officer (the same man that mustered me in and signed my furlow) certifying that he had mustered me into the service of the U. S. as A Veteran Volentier and that I was credited to the township of Sugar Grove Warren Co. Pa. I sent it nearly 2 weaks ago it mus be thare before this or else it was lost, my box has not made its appearance yet I expect it has been smashed open on the road. I was a fol for not hooping it. thare is lot of boxs come hear that are hooped tight and well nailed that are busted open and another thing, I did not direct it right. I should have directed it to Bristow Station instead of Alexandra. now Mother I must tell you some good news and that is that when I came down hear I did not know as thare was but one singl professes of religion in the whole division besides myself but now I have the names of 17 young men set lone who meat regularly twice every day when not on duty at Chapple of the Christian Commission for the purpos of Worshiping God. The Chapple tent was put up in Saturday febuary 27th, it is crowded and lots stand outside everynight. the preacher is A Baptist but I cant tell the diference betwean him and a Methodist. He is a good man any how thare is no mistake thare was eleven 11 mourner forward last night and thare was three converted night before last, one of them was George Gates one of the boys that made a profession last winter when I was in the Battery. Well Mother I thank you for your advice you may rest asured that I shall try to do my duty both as a soldier and a Christian. I have meny trials and temptations to contend with but the worst enemy I have to contend with is my own deseatful hart. pray for me mother when it was well with you that I may be ever found at my post doing my duty with an eye singely fixed on the crown and to the Glory of God.”
From your sone
John F. Hamlin (his signature)

“O Mother I like to have forgot about the shanty, I am in another mans shanty that is home on a furlow but I have got to build one prety soon”
J. F. Hamlin (his signature)

“I send you my picture.”
Camp at Bristo St. Va, Sat night the 6th 1864
Well hear I am Mother at last in Camp again the regiment is just where I left it at Bristo Station. I got through without any trouble except the loss of my watch and revolver which I had stole from me (but not that little revolver that I had thare for I traided that one for another larger one and gave $8.00 to boot) when I was asleep in a travern in Washington and I suppose that the felons would have taken my money to if he could have found it but I had it in the inside pocket of my vest. I got back with just $21,_6 cts the first thing that I took notice of in ariving hear was the roar of artillery they are fighting lik fun out in front the 1st and 2nd Corpes are acrost the Rapadan well this is all i will write at the present so good by mother.”
John F. Hamlin (his signature)

Found next to this letter in the pension file was a discharge paper from the General hospital, Union Hotel that appears to be dated 1862.

Camp near Spotsylvania Ct. House April 1st
Camp at Ramsey Station May 12, 1864
Dear Father,
“I take this opertunity to wright a few lines to you to let you know that I am still alive and well and enjoying myself first rate both in body and in soal. I write a letter to you some time since and have reseaved no answer yet I also wrote to Brother Haskins and have herd nothing from it and one to Libs and no answer. I haint mutch time to wright as the mail goes out soon. I have a 9 nine days hard fighting and we wer in everyday. I have fired about 500 rounds of Cartridges at the rebels and they have throsed a great meny at us but they haint hit me yet and I hear on order or official report that General Butler has carred the works at Ft. Sarling and had possession of Peters Burg and that General Avril had [illegible] the East Tenesee Railroad and that the 2 Corps had captured 28 pieces of Artillery and 8 thousand prisoners and old Lea was backing out as fast as possible if thats so the rebels are plaed out. this is all I can wright at present so good by.”
John F. Hamlin (his signature)

Camp in the Field 8 miles from Richmond June 1st 1864
Dear Mother,
“I take this opertunity to wright a few lines to you and to lett you know that I am still alive and unhurt but am not well. I have the Diptheria verry bad but I am some better than I was yesterday. Robert Knier in going home. I can send it by him and it will go safe. Mother, I shot a Rebble night before last as they wer charging our rifle pits and after the fight I went out to him (my shose wer all wore out). I pulled off his shose and put them on and searched his pockets and found $28.65 cts in rebble scrip and $3 1/2,00 in gold and silver ($1.00 in silver and $2 1/2,00 in Gold). I am still striving to serve the Lord with all my heart. Robert is in a hury so I must close now. I get B. [illegible) letter some time ago and had an answer wrote and lost it good by.”
John F. Hamlin (his signature)

This was his last letter home as he was wounded (gunshot wound to the head) June 16, 1864 and died June 28, 1864.

The following note was found in his personal effects, it was probably written during battle at Petersburg, VA .:

“Pleas let it be known that I lie in the Lord he is my rock and my refuge this I wright as we ly in line of battle for I feal that should we engage the enemy, I am liable to fall. I wright this for a testamony to any that as I hope for hapyness hearafter and in the presence of almighty God I do solemnly declair that I am saved and excepted of him and that I feal his love in my poor heart and am ready to die if necessary and that I am a member of the Methodist E. Church and have been for about 9 years. I also am a member of the Christian Union formed at Bristoe Station, Va last Winter.”
John Fletcher Hamlin (his signature)
a member of
D Co 1st Rifles
P. R. V. C.
or Old Bucktails
3rd Brig, 3 div, 5th Corp

His mother received two letters from George W. Chase that informed her about her son’s death:

Camp 1st Rifles P. R. V. C.
Near Petersburg Va.
Monday July 4th, (1864)
Mrs. C. Hamlin,
“It is with feelings of great pain that I write to inform you that your son John Fletcher Hamlin is no more, he was wounded on the 17th ult. and last night we recived news of his death he died a firm believer in the blood of Christ which cleanseth from all sin and I am assured he in a better world than this. I will send some of his papers in this.The rest of his things I will send the first opportunity. He was one of my best firends and I hope one day to meet himin haeven.”
Truly yours,
Geo. W. Chase (his signature)
Co D, 1st Rifles P. R. V. C.

Camp 1st Rifles P. R. V. C.
Near Petersburg July 24 (1864)
Mrs. C. Hamlin,
Dear one,
“Yours of the 19th is before me John Fletcher was struck by a rifle ball in the head which broke the skull when he was taken back it supposed he was dead and his things were taken from his pockets. when we got him to the hospital Dr. Humphreys thought he might stand some chance of recovery. I should liked to stay with him but could not, he was not sensible while I was with him but afterwards we heard he was better and could speak. We did not hear of his deth till the noght before I wrote. I have given his things to James Knolton Sece (sp. ?) whose time is and to take to you. you will probably get them before long.”
Truly yours
George W. Chase (his signature)

Pension File of John Fletcher Hamlin. Appl. # 267,872; Cert. # 304,472. United States National Archives.
Robertson, James I. Jr, Tenting Tonight; The Soldier’s Life. Alexandria, VA: Time Life Books, 1984.
Reinsberg, Mark, “Descent of the Raftsmen’s Guard; A Roll Call” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 53 (Jan. 1970).
Reinsberg, Mark; ed. “A Bucktail Voice: Civil War Correspondence of Cordello Collins.” Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 48 (1965).

John Fletcher Hamlin’s service record:
Enlisted as a Private on 12 August 1861 in Company D, 42nd Infantry Regiment Pennsylvania.
Transferred Company D, 42nd Infantry Regiment Pennsylvania on 04 June 1862
Transferred in Batty B 1st Light Artillery Regiment Pennsylvania on 04 June 1862.
Transferred Batty B 1st Light Artillery Regiment Pennsylvania on 24 February 1863.
Transferred in Company D, 42nd Infantry Regiment Pennsylvania on 24 February 1863.
Transfered to 190th Co. D, Dec. 1863.