Rarely had the arrival of the Chaplain given so much joy to the men of the 96th Pennsylvania. By all accounts, Pastor Samuel F. Colt of Pottsville was a rather dour man, with preaching that did not inspire many soldiers to piety.
Yet, on December 9, 1861, he received a rousing greeting from the citizen-soldiers of the regiment.
The regimental chaplain had been on a weeks’ long leave back in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. He taken ill while the regiment had been encamped at Washington, DC in November and returned to Pottsville to recover. While there, he had preached a Thanksgiving sermon on November 28 at his Second Presbyterian Church, but had also seen to the cares of his soldiers in the field by making adamant requisitions of the civilians on the home front.
He had found great success by working in partnership with the Ladies Relief Society of Pottsville. As he began preparations to return to the 96th Pennsylvania’s new encampment near Alexandria, Virginia, he had been given a box filled with items for the soldiers in the field. The Miners’ Journal gave the exhaustive list in its December 7 edition:
40 comforts, 10 blankets, 29 pillows, 30 pairs pillow slips, 30 wrappers, 5 talmas, 25 canton flannel shirts, 10 flannel shirts, 28 night shirts, 41 pairs drawers, 24 sheets, 43 pairs stockings, 53 towels, 10 hair cushions, 8 pads, 14 feather cushions, 22 pairs slippers, 12 pocket handkerchiefs, 10 boxes of salve, 6 papers of pines, 21 dress shirts, 3 combs, 3 papers of soaps, 2 bundles of cloths, 17 magazines, 1 Gleason’s Pictorial, bound.
The clothing, quilts, and other goods for the troops were not the only items of goodwill being passed along by Chaplain Colt. The ladies of Pottsville also sent him back to the front with three full barrels of sauerkraut, a delicacy beloved by many in the hardscrabble mining communities of eastern Pennsylvania. It doubled as a food known for its dietary benefits and likely bolstered regimental health.
Colt arrived in camp on a beautiful, warm day. He distributed the “large box of dry goods, such as quilts, blankets, sheets, etc., for our Hospital” to the medical team of the regiment, recorded Assistant Surgeon Washington Nugent.
Surgeon Bland published a letter in the Miners’ Journal later in December, thanking the women of Pottsville for “noble and patriotic gift” of hospital supplies. “The donations for Hospital purposes are most acceptable. Nothing will add a great charm, nor inspire more hope in the sick, than thought of some familiar association from home, or some present from a kind friend. In this connection, I am happy to say, the general health of the Regiment has been excellent, and still continues so,” the young surgeon wrote.
The most exciting gift, however, went to the regimental quartermaster, Charles Sailor. Three barrels of sauerkraut were to be given to the men of the regiment for dinner that evening. He wrote home to describe the reaction of the soldiers to their delicious, rare rations.
Headquarters, 96th Regt., P.V.,
Camp Franklin, Dec. 11, 1861,
Permit me, in behalf of the officers and soldiery of the 96th Regiment, to return our sincere thanks to the kind friends in Pottsville and vicinity, for the very welcome and truly acceptable present of three barrels of Sauerkraut, which arrived safely in camp a few days ago. It was, indeed, a welcome visitant, for apart from its well-known excellent power as a prophylactic against that pest of camps, the scurvy, it was hailed by our community as a luxury.
Although not endowed with the keen perception of the creature which “snuffeth the battle afar off,” our boys had a lively sense of the treat that awaited them, and many an eye grew brightly as the dinner hour approached. Each man received his quota, and many grateful hearts returned thanks to the kind donors as the cabbage disappeared.
I again say to our kind friends at home, that we will ever bear them in grateful recollection, and, by an earnest effort at well-doing in the cause for which we left you, try, in some degree to merit the very many sets of generous friendship and approbation you have been pleased to manifest towards us.
Quartermaster, 96th Regiment
It appears that the dinner of December 9, 1861 had something of an impact on the surrounding regiments in the Second Brigade of General William B. Franklin’s division.
In his recollections of his services in a neighboring regiment, Assistant Surgeon Daniel M. Holt described his unflattering opinions of the 96th Pennsylvania. He called the regiment a bunch of “Saerkrout illiterate lunk heads.” It seems he likely his opinion was a common one, for the 96th Pennsylvania gained a reputation as a hard-fighting unit both on the battlefield and off.
The dinner on December 9, 1861 provided a brief taste of home for the men of the 96th. The following day, they returned to the task of preparing their quarters for a long winter of training near Alexandria.