Elmira [New York]
May 10, 1861
We arrived in Elmira this morning about 10 o’clock. Went from cars to T. K. Beecher’s Church. Marched into the church. Was full of men, satchels, blankets, &c. The stools were laid across the tops of the seats & some of the men were writing on them. One man had a board about three feet long on which he was writing. The church being full, we went into the basement of the same where we found straw beds large enough for one. ¹
I was on guard this forenoon around the yard to see that no one passed but those who had a pass. We marched down to a small eating house down by the depot where we found a table long enough for about one-third of us. We found a tin plate, knife & fork, a quart cup about ½ full of water waiting for us. “Beef stake”—yes, got it. Tough—Albany beef, I suppose. Good bread & potatoes & sausage (don’t know what they were made of). “Soldiers don’t have butter.” If laughing will make anyone fat, we are getting fat on what we had today noon.
The beds are strung around the room on the floor & some in the middle with men on them. Parker lays here by my side about half asleep, I sit up with a 5 quart pail between my knees writing home. One fellow has got a chair back. He has got a large wash pan & is writing to someone I know not whom.
Most of the boys did not sleep last night & had nothing to do but to carry on. We stayed at Owego last night. I went & stayed with Craft. One of the boys from above said he rolled off from the seat 2. All well, I guess. My head aches a little but not much. Feel fine. Give my love to all &c. There is a good many men marching this forenoon, some running & some walking. — Charles E. Bradley
¹ Beecher’s personal house is still standing across the road from Quarry Farm where Mark Twain summered and wrote Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn. Beecher also served as chaplain for the 141st NY Inf and later at the prisoner of war camp here. See link for church history. http://www.theparkchurch.org/history/ I think this would be the first letter to specifically identify where the early recruits were quartered prior to the barracks being completed. Most references simply state churches, store rooms, warehouses prior to completion of more permanent barracks, which we know where they were. I only know of one other identified location which was the 2d floor of the local barrel factory and that reference I believe was in the local city directory. The 1st 3 months in Elmira was controlled chaos. No barracks, mess halls or hospitals were in place when Elmira was designated as a recruiting rendezvous in April 61. Troops were fed at local eating establishments and in some cases the troops were given subsistence money by their commanders and allowed to spend it as desired.” [Source: private correspondence with Terri Olszowy]