1863: R. P. Douglas to Allen K. Rohrer

How R. P. Douglas might have looked
How R. P. Douglas might have looked

This rodent-nibbled letter was written by a Union soldier from Beaufort, South Carolina. He has mistakenly datelined the letter 26 March 1861 but I feel certain it should be later as this date is even prior to the fall of Fort Sumter. Beaufort was first occupied by Union troops in late March 1862 and only then by Rhode Island troops. The soldier mentions the near completion of a new wharf at Beaufort. That event, and the reference to elapsed time since the union occupation, suggests the date should be March 1863.

The soldier signed his name “R. P. Douglas” and he wrote the letter to his “friend,” Allen K. Rohrer (1845-1864), the son of Benjamin Rohrer (1821-1909) and Sarah McFarland (1826-1916). [Allen would later enlist in Company E, 169th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in May 1864 and die while garrisoned at Fort Ethan Allen, Virginia on 6 August 1864.] Allen grew up in Baughman Township, Wayne County, Ohio. My assumption while transcribing this letter was that R. P. was a boyhood friend of Allen’s from Baughman Township. And indeed, there is a Robert Douglas (b. 1841) in that township in the 1850 and 1860 census though he is living with other families and may have been an orphan. Unfortunately, however, there is no Robert Douglas appearing in Ohio Infantry units assigned to duty in Beaufort at that time. The only Ohio regiment I can find having spent some time in Beaufort in March 1863 was the 67th Ohio.

Clearly the author of the letter knew the Rohrer family intimately as he asks to be remembered to Allen’s parents and younger siblings — Joseph Rohrer (1850-1877) and Lucy P. Rohrer (b. 1856). There is an outside possibility that R. P. was a cousin who resided back East and belonged to a regiment from some state other than Ohio but cousins usually addressed each other as such and not as “friend.”

TRANSCRIPTION

Beaufort, South Carolina
March 26th 1863

Dear Friend,

I am now seated to a few lines in answer to a letter received a long time ago. I am a little ashamed to own it but never the less it is time. I hope you will look over my neglect and remember the circumstances I am in.

I am seated in my tent alone with a cracker box for a stand. Four loaves of bread are before me having just been brought in by the commissary. Scattered over the floor are several Secesh books, late papers, and at my right hand stand a jar [that] once contained five lbs. of butter but is now empty. Bad for us.

Gen. David G. Hunter
Gen. David G. Hunter

The company are out on brigade drill. I have a sore leg and can not go on drill. The past two weeks I have been out at the ferry on guard. I had a very pleasant time and the change agreed with me. I saw the rebels and had some talk with them, but I did not like the company. I returned the compliment but without success. They asked if we had any “whis” and that they would trade tobacco for some. I tried to find out what regiment they belonged to but could receive no answer. At the close of our conversation, I asked three cheers for the Union.

We returned to our camp last Monday. There is a report here that General [David G.] Hunter is coming here with 80,000 men to take command of this division of the army. We hope it is so. Then there will be something done. We are eager waiting for the word, “March.” The health of the troops here is good.

Beaufort looks quite different from what it did when Secesh owned it. Civilization seems to follow our army. The government is building a large wharf which is nearly finished.

The negroes are improving some in their dress. They can earn their own money and food by free labor. The plantations are being cultivated and suppose there will be as much raised as heretofore.

Discussion of New Wharf
Discussion of New Wharf

The weather is mild for the most part but we have had some wet nights to stand on guard. Last week we received oil cloth blankets from the state which will add to our comfort in wet weather. My health is pretty good and I hope I may yet live to see you all again.

I have plenty to eat and wear and our duty is not hard so that I have a pretty good time.

I give my best respects to you all — father, mother, Joseph, Lucy, and yourself, and accept this as from your friend, — R. P. Douglas

Please write again.


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