Follow along as I document the process of writing Hattie’s War
From the start, I dreamed of finding Hannibal’s letters. I knew it was a long shot and had pretty much given up hope. Besides, the letters were not something critical to Hattie’s story, at least that is what I thought. Then, through a bit of serendipity, a breakthrough occurred in July of this year. I had been corresponding with a distant relative Judy who I am related to through Charlotte Wickham, Hannibal’s wife. William Wickham Sr, Charlotte’s grandfather, was the first white settler of the southern Seneca Lake region in upstate New York. The Wickham family has a long history of reunions and has a certain pride in the family’s status in the area. My mother and her sister attended a summer reunion picnic some years ago. COVID put an end to the annual event and after getting an email stating such it also mentioned a changing of the family historian and keeper of family records. I was glad to hear that since the previous one was of no help and not particularly responsive.
I took that as an opportunity to email Judy one of the women mentioned in the email. I told her what I was up to and that I was looking for any info about Charlotte and Hannibal. She was very prompt in getting back to me and eager to help. One of her messages mentioned a woman who might have some information on Hannibal, maybe even letters. She told me she had contacted the woman and told her what I was looking for. A week or so later she said wrote me all excited saying the woman in question was my cousin Lois Phelps Brown! Lois and I haven’t seen each other in over 50 years. Apparently, Lois was in the process of moving and would be in touch with me once she was settled. I couldn’t believe that I actually might put my hands on Hannibal’s letters.
I was home visiting my parents in upstate NY in August and told my mother about what had happened. She said that out of the blue she got a postcard from Lois indicating her new mailing address. I immediately composed a letter to her and dropped it in the mail. A week or so later I got a letter from her. She was of course surprised to hear from me after all these years. She said she did have Hannibal’s letters. Her father Donald Phelps had given them to her shortly before he died. Lois told me that her husband of many years Rich had died of COVID early in the epidemic and she had moved in with her daughter in the Cobleskill area of New York State. The letters were in storage and she promised to send copies at some point. I was thrilled but disappointed that I would have to wait. Lois was still reeling from the loss of her husband, I had to remain sensitive to her plight.
During that trip home I dropped in on my mother’s sister to see what materials she might have since she and my mother had split the family archives of photos and such. I had my scanner with me and proceeded to scan a bunch of old family photos. She gave me a CD that a distant family member she had corresponded within 2008 about family genealogy. She told me she didn’t have a CD drive to read the disc and told me to take it and send her anything worth keeping once I back to the west coast. When I opened the CD at home I immediately noticed a file: Transcript of Hannibal Howell Letters. I couldn’t believe it, there it was, a Word doc transcription of his letters. At the time, I had no idea who made the transcript. Did Lois do if wondered? I sent Lois an email and she replied that indeed she had made the transcript but was uncertain how the woman had gotten ahold of the document. I thanked her profusely for her efforts and once again mentioned how much I’d love to have a copy of the originals. We wrote back and forth a few more times exchanging tidbits of family history. I think we both enjoyed getting reacquainted.
In early October I emailed her and told her I’d finished the first draft of the book and had included one of Hannibal’s letters from her transcription. I once again mentioned how important having copies would be to the book project. A week or so later she wrote and asked for my address.
Below is a letter Hannibal wrote in Feb 1862 from a place called Pratts Point near Washington DC. I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to see his handwriting. Simply amazing.
Note: the letter’s greeting, “Dear Brother” is not addressed to one of Hannibal’s brothers but to Mortimer Lafayette Wickham ( see the envelope), one of Charlotte’s brothers.
Pratts Point on the Potomac
Feb the 5 1863
yours of the 14th ult came to hand …..one day behind Charlotts of 25th haveing been delayed somewhere and allthough Iwrote to her yesterday yet Iwill answer yours as I make it a point to answer all letters promtly and as you have given me a list of prices on some of the most nessiary articles for the subsistance of man and beast I will give you a list of prices of some of what the soldier pays for the luxuries of life whole sale and retail butter fifty & sixty cents cheese thirty & forty cents potatoes one dollar fifty to two dolors per bushel 25 cents for eighteen sometimes we get them a penny each or a peace apples have sold as high as eighteen & twenty dollars per barrel when we first came here now we get them from six to ten dollars per barrel from eight to ten for twenty five cents they have been sold from five to six for that price for common newspapers ten cents each the Clipper occasionly five cents in regard to the number of troops in this region I cannot teell the 23 Regtis not in this brigade it was in this Division till a week or two ago it is on Detached Duty at the Point or Landing acting as patrol guards at present one mile distant from us our Brigade canoists of the 76 & 25 N.Y. Vols, 56 peen. Vols & the 7th Indiana Vols our Coloniels name is Wainwright a strict Disciplinarian an honest upright cool headed man brave in batte not verry well liked by hiis men. Green was discharged and sent home he has not shot any om since he shot McNett that I have heard of McNett is a Captain in the 93 Regt N.Y. Vols a splendid appearing officer I have seen him on several occasions this R:egt acted as head quarter guards for Mclelan a long time for ration we got get hard tack or Mclelan Crackers pork salt & fresh beef sugar coffee rice be!ans & once & a while molasses today for the first time for number of mon1ths a loaf of fresh or soft bread a week or two ago two or three potatoes each and a few lbs of flour each there has been a cast iron oven sent to the Brigade lately and Iexpect we will get soft bread occasionly if we dont get to moveing forward in regard to how Ibuisy myself Iwill tell you in the first that I am on detached Duty fromm the Regt acting as Brigade Guard this is composed of 36 privates B corporals one lieutenant divided into three reliefs go on duty in regular succe!ssion on once rn three days haveing three posts to guard most of the time gen. Quarters, officers horses and the Brigade comisaries occasionly an extra post or two when three post we are on guard six hours out of the 24 each this is for genieral when 4 post eight hours when on a march it is our duty to arrest straglers from the Brigade allso prisoners for offenceses they have commited in there respective Regt are placed in our charge till they can have a trial by being divided up in three reliefs we are on duty one day and off two this gives us a little time to prowl around …………………. ………………………………..as they have roll calls and drill hours each day wich we do not have but we are sujected to more guard dut)r than they aside from this, wash my shirts cook a little and since I have got pay Igo out occasionly and peddle paper envelopes and occasionly prise packages of the one day this week I bought 45 for 19 cents wholsale prices and sold for 25 the retail price envelopes I get for for twenty and sell twenty five of the stamp of wich this is inclosed in. In this way I make out to keep myself in posteage stamps envelopes paper and get some extras without spending much of my wages . Gen Wadsworth your candidate for Gov is our Division Gen, our Brigade gen name is Gavin, Doubleday was placed or promoted as Division Ge1n in the Penn Reserves and I hear he has since been called to Washington to act as Millitary Gov this is the post Wodsworth filled last year in regard to my opinion about this war I think it a destructive one in every sence of word and it is also a wicked rebelion and will be put down or die down sooner or later I cant say when though circumstances alter cases Slavery is doomed and it seems it had to be done in this Iam glad of one thing seeing we must pass the winter here and that is this that ………………… am fit to give Virginia the full benefit of it in the roonn of Maryland Uncle Sams boys are making some splendid clearings by the of way building corduroy roads log shanties and keeping themselves in fuel you must immagin that two such vast and opposing armies must be destructive to alIthis great region of country as they are constantly shifting from place to place we are some ten or twelve miles from Fredericksburgh and so great was the change that had taken place between the few weeks that …………………………………….in moves we made in the ……………………………we hardly knew………………………………. in regard to the …….. feeling of the soldiers they are mostly sick of it and hopeing it will close soon rather divided as to the manner [?] some dont care what …………… they can only get out alive ………………….myself Ishould hate to se the confederacy become a natiolity Ithink it cannot nor will not it is thought by a great many that when three points are carried wich must and will be as our government seems bent on puting forth every posiable exertion to carrie them that when they are the rebs will sucumb those three are Vicksburgh, the region of Norfolk, Va and Fredericksburgh, I believe I now have answered all your enquiries the best I know how you mentioned something about comeing down though I should be happy to see you I will now bring this to a close
No more at present yours & so forth
PS raining this morning Feb 5th I am goin on guard duty this moment all well