“Remove the Stigma” – A Civil War Soldier Writes to Save His Reputation

In Civil War units bound closely together by familial and geographic ties, the sting of accusations related to actions during service of one’s country could have far-reaching effects.

It was fears for one’s reputation that led Private Stephen Gribben of Company K, 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry to write this letter to the editor of his hometown newspaper, the Pottsville Miners’ Journal. 

Camp Northumberland, VA.,

96th Regt., P.V., January 16th, 1862

Editors Miners’ Journal – I have observed in your paper of the 11th inst. that my name is inserted as a “Deserter” on the published muster roll of Co. K. When the Regiment left Pottsville, I went along and was quite content and willing, and as I went out at Sunbury, to fill my canteen to treat the boys, I was left behind.

I wrote twice for a pass to get on the cars, and I was told to wait a few days, as the Captain would be home recruiting, and I could then come along. I did go, and am now serving as a private. I feel that I am unjustly dealt with by having my name marked a deserter, for filling my canteen. You will please insert this to your next issue, and remove the stigma.

I remain, yours respectfully,

Stephen Gribben

P.S. – My friends all live in Schuylkill County, and I intend to live there again after the war is over. I ask no office but what I have – a “high private in the rear rank,” to fight for liberty and the country.

The charge of desertion rightfully brought anxiety to the mind of Private Gribben. He had watched in early December 1861 when a deserter had eight bullets put in his chest as a result of such a charge. That his officers and the editors  at the Miners’ Journal would label him as such inspired righteous anger.

Fearing for his future, Gribben sought to clear the air and detail the reasons why he may have been wrongfully labeled. The Miners’ Journal did right its wrong and published Gribben’s letter in full in its January 25, 1862 edition.

Gribben successfully managed to write his way out of hell. (I couldn’t resist)

Private Stephen Gribben earned a medical discharge on January 24, 1863.

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