In April 1917, a loose floorboard revealed a letter written in the days after the Battle of Antietam

As William Pickering and his family did some spring cleaning in April 1917, they made a startling discovery in their home at 901 East Dewart Street in Shamokin, Pennsylvania. As one of the children worked, he lifted a loose floorboard and discovered a letter written 55 years earlier on the Antietam battlefield.

Newspaper Letter

The Mount Carmel Item described the letter as being “in an excellent state of preservation, the writing being plainly legible despite the half century that has passed since it was written.”

Addressed simply to Luther, the letter’s author was Private Sylvester Hower of Company A, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves.

“The letter… will bring back vivid recollections to those grizzled war heroes who participated in the stirring scenes of ’61 to ’65,” wrote the Item, “and will prove especially interesting at this time, when the country is on the verge of a titanic conflict with Germany.”

Hower’s unit fought across the northern end of the battlefield at Antietam on September 17, 1862 in an area that later became known simply as “The Cornfield.” On that section of the field, more than 8,500 men fell killed or wounded in the early morning hours of the 17th. Private Hower refers to the carnage in his letter, which is copied in full below:

Camp near Sharpsburg,

September 30, 1862

Friend Luther:

I take this pleasant opportunity to answer your kind letter, which I received today. It found me in good health and I hope this will find you the same.

We had a rather hard battle at this place on September 17, and on Sunday we had a battle on South Mountain. I have been in four battles since I wrote you last. Joseph Raup is killed. He was killed September 17, 1862. The battle was the hardest that has been fought since the war. More troops were engaged than ever were engaged before. I tell you, you ought to have seen the battlefield the next day. The ground was covered with the dead. There were many killed on both sides. The rebels are at Winchester at present.

I tell you the old cannon balls flew around my head worse than the devil and the musket balls went zip zip around my ears. I thought they would take me, but they all missed me.

The battle of Bull Run was damn hard. We had nothing to eat for three days and three night, and half the time no water to drink.

Well I must bring my scribbling to a close for I must cook my supper. We have nothing to cook in but our tin cups. You ought to see how we cook here in camp. It would make you laugh.

Well Luther you must write soon for I like to hear from there. I have seen hard times this summer. The nights are getting very col and we have no covers, but I think we will soon get some.

Goodnight Luther. Write soon. Direct as before.

Sylvester Hower.

Private Sylvester Hower mustered out of the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves in 1864. He died on February 28, 1917, only a few weeks before his Antietam letter was rediscovered in a Shamokin attic.

Hower
The grave of Sylvester Hower in Catawissa, PA (Find A Grave)

The letter and the story of its discovery was published in the Mount Carmel Item on April 4, 1917, two days before Congress approved President Woodrow Wilson’s request for a Declaration of War against Germany.


Featured Image: Sketch from Harper’s Weekly showing the battlefield at Antietam where the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves went into battle; published October 4, 1862.

10 thoughts on “In April 1917, a loose floorboard revealed a letter written in the days after the Battle of Antietam

      1. All of the info I have is from what I found at the Columbia County Historical Society, Newspapers.com, and family information. He was injured during the war, but recovered, as you see from his date of death. He was a dedicated family man, as was his son, his grandson, and on down the line. And I’m sure before as well. The Howers are a tight knit family.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Sylvester is my 2x great grandfather. My grandmother’s mother was Ann Hower (Lorhman). In 1968 she gave to me a letter written by Kersey , Sylveters 1/2 brother, after the battle of Antietam. I still have it

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s amazing! If you’d ever want to share it’s contents, we’d be happy to write about the letter! – Jake

        Like

  1. Letter from Kersey Hower to brother Sylvester.

    Sunday 2
    September 21, 1862

    Dear brother,
    I take this pleasant afternoon to write a few lines to you. Iam well and pleasant and hope you are the same. I have been in four battles since I rote to you last and was in the hardest battle that was fought in this war..
    Had a narrow escape…just glad to be alive with al the minie balls flyinv around…Kunkle is killed by a cannon ball. The ground was covered with the dead. The rebels wil never get into Pennsylvania.
    Kersey

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s incredible! Do you have any photos I could use if I share it?

      How would you like to be credited if I post this? Thank you so much for sharing this! – Jake

      Like

  2. Kersey’s letter to brother Sylvester
    Sunday 21
    September 21,1862

    Dear brother.

    I take this pleasant afternoon to write a few lines to you. I am well and pleasant and hope you are the same. I have bin in four battles since I rote to you last
    and was in the hardest battle that was fought in this war…had a narrow escape .It’ just great to be alive with all the minie balls flying around. Kunkle is killed by a cannon ball and the ground is covered with the dead. The rebels will never git in Pennsylvania.

    Kersey

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s