1863: Rhoda Ogden (Edwards) Breed to 2d Lieut. Henry Atwood Breed

This letter was written by Rhoda Ogden (Edwards) Breed (1805-1867) to her son, 2d Lt. Henry Atwood Breed (1842-1914) of Company F, 155th Pennsylvania Infantry. At the time the letter was written, the 155th Pennsylvania was on the march through the hot, dusty roads of Virginia in pursuit of Lee’s army on its way into Maryland and Pennsylvania. On 15 June, the 155th was at Manassas Junction.

In the letter, Rhoda repeatedly expresses her desire for her son to resign his commission and return home now that her husband — George Breed (1799-1863) — is dead. In the 1860 census, George’ occupation was given as “hardware merchant” in the Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania area.

Henry Breed served with the 155th Pennsylvania from 22 August 1862 until 3 October 1863 when he was discharged on Surgeon’s Certificate. — three months after the Battle of Gettysburg where his regiment played a key role in turning back the Confederate flank movement at Little Round Top on 2 July 1863.

Recruits from the Pittsburgh area organized at Camp Copeland from September 2–19, 1862, into the 155th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Edward J. Allen served as the first colonel. After initial training and drilling, the regiment moved via train to Washington, D.C. where it joined the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division of the Union Fifth Corps. It moved to Sharpsburg, Maryland, after the Battle of Antietam and then first saw combat in December 1862 at the Battle of Fredericksburg, where the color guard suffered very high casualties in an ill-fated assault.

Unidentified soldier in 155th Pennsylvania
Unidentified soldier in 155th Pennsylvania

During their first years the regiment wore the regulation uniform of the Union Army, but about the time of Henry’s discharge in 1863, the regiment, along with the 140th New York and 146th New York, received Zouave uniforms. The three regiments were each given a different style Zouave uniform that varied in color. The 155th Pennsylvania received a unique Zouave uniform in a style never before created. It consisted of a French blue (not dark blue) Zouave jacket with yellow trim featuring very large yellow “tombeaus” (a stylized false pocket on the front of the jacket). A departure from the usual styled jacket was an inside false vest. A red Zouave sash with yellow trim, French Blue Zouave pantaloons, a red Zouave fez with yellow trim and a dark blue tassle completed the uniform. Slight variations in jacket styles can be seen in the unit’s regimental history entitled “Under the Maltese Cross” published in 1910. The 155th Pennsylvania along with the 140th New York and the 146th New York became the “Zouave Brigade” in the Army of the Potomac’s Fifth Corps. The brigade would later grow with the addition of the 5th New York Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

After the war, Henry married Frances Cornelia Bidwell (1844-1928) and became a real estate agent in Pittsburgh.

1863 Letter
1863 Letter

Addressed to Lieut. Henry A. Breed, Co. F, 155th Regiment Pa. Vol., Col. [Edward J.] Allen, Washington D.C.
Postmarked Pittsburgh, Pa.

Oakland [a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA]
June 15th 1863

My Dear, Dear Son

I begin to be afraid that I shall have to give you up and yet I can’t bear to. We want you so much. You know Richard knows nothing about gardening or the care of the place. I have a man that works better and is more industrious than John Brown but he vexes me a good deal. We have plenty of strawberries now and we want you here to help eat them. They almost choke me when I think of you  as I always do. You know Richard has not had many for years and it would do you good to see him eat. If we could see you eat too, how happy we should be. But I must be patient and submit to whatever Providence lays upon me. God is good and to Him I try to commit myself and my dear children and especially my soldier boy. I feel as if he had covered you all over in two battles and I will hope for and expect you home.

I have had you home many a night after hearing the cars, and those beautiful Sabbaths. How much I think of you and wish I knew whether you were a Christian. I believe that Christ died for you and for me. Have you given your heart to him? Have you loved him who first loved us? How small a return for such love.

It is six weeks since we buried your dear Father out of our sight, and it seems more like six months — it seems so long. I dream of him almost every night but only to make me feel so bad for I always see him as he was the last week dying, dying. The girls went out yesterday with Philena and Sarah and planted myrtle and sowed grape seed on their graves. We want you here to talk about it. I am not in favor of a monument. I think nice head and foot stones are the nicest but I want you children to be pleased. Sallie is of my mind. I guess we shan’t do anything till you come.

My dear, you shan’t pay the hundred dollars that your Father paid for your office.

The place looks beautiful. The roses are all out and it is so pleasant, but our hearts are sad and I feel feeble and so weak. But I have been to church today and how I did wish you were there. The sermon was on God manifest in the flesh and received up into Glory. Mr. Johnson is such a delightful man in every way. He takes an interest in you, always asks for you.

We had no rain here for more than four weeks and everything was dried up, but Thursday we had a delightful rain so that we are out of danger. The fruit all promises well. We want you here to pick off some of the peaches and grapes. The pears are not too full, I think.

Monday morning

Oh how you must miss your Father’s letters. We all mean to have you hear often from us but you know how busy we all are. This morning we had breakfast at six and Sallie and Emma and Dave went up to the strawberries and this afternoon they will preserve them or all we don’t eat. We have peas now too. How we do wish you had some.

I am so glad that you and [Capt. Edward] Clapp ¹ get along so well and that you are so comfortable. I am a going to send all the old carriages away to auction. I think if you come home and want one, you will want a different kind of carriage.

Evening. I had written so far when Richard came home and brought Mr. Johnson to dinner and they told us there was great excitement in town. A meeting had been held Tuesday evening about the rebels coming here — that they were at Chambersburg — and this morning all the factories and foundries and works of all kinds were stopped to have the men work on fortifications. And they are now at work on Heron’s Hill and out at Turtle Creek. ²  I will send you what is in the Gazette about it. For my part, I can’t feel afraid but I think we should be prepared to give them a suitable reception.

Sallie and Mattie have gone over to Mr. Dickey’s. Mrs. Dickey has a young daughter but they have gone to see Jane Dickey who is the sickest. She has had a very bad cold and Dr. Simpson says she is in a critical condition. Laura is up here his afternoon. We can sympathize with each other. The last hours of their Father and yours were much alike. Can you believe they are both gone? But you will when you come home as I hope you will soon.

Dave got your note of the tenth today five days.

Dear son, do write often for I am so foolish but you are a good boy to write. Mr. Johnson said he intended to write you today.

Affectionately, — your mother R. O. B.

¹ Capt. Edward E. Clapp was killed in an assault on Laurel Hill in May 1864. The museum at Carlisle has a photograph of Capt. Clapp:  RG98S-CWP29.70 Seated portrait of Capt. Edward E. Clapp, Co. F, 155th Regt., Pa. Vol. Inf. He is pictured in uniform.

² An article published in the TribLive News on 16 June 2013 claims that as many as five earthen forts were constructed in June 1863 near Pittsburgh. The following is an excerpt:

“Forts were located on Mt. Washington, Squirrel Hill, the South Side, Greenfield, Stanton Heights and Garfield. A couple of “clear remnants” of the old North Side forts remain, said [David] Grinnell [secretary of the Allegheny City Society].

Fort Brunot, located at what is now the Pressley Ridge School on Marshall Avenue, was a small fort with a powder magazine built on the hillside of the McKeever farm.

Although most of the fortifications were circular and intended to house cannon and other weaponry, Fort Brunot was square.

“It had a high wall and a bit of a trench around it,” Grinnell said. It was one of the few forts actually completed, the society’s research showed.

The remnants of an earthen works believed to be Fort Childs remain in Spring Hill, he said. Fort Kirkwood, built in Millvale, was in sight of the Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville, which was turning out 40,000 bullets a day for the war effort.”

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