Medal of Honor Recipient Lt. John P. McVean, Co. D 49th New York Infantry Writes Home from Brandy Station, Virginia April 23rd, 1864 – “I HOPE THAT WE CAN GIVE THE LAST ACT THIS SUMMER. IN THAT CASE I WILL WITHDRAW FROM THE STAGE AND RETIRE TO PRIVATE LIFE.” – McVean would be killed in the battle of the Wilderness just over a month later
McVean enlisted at age 18 and 2 years later was awarded the Medal of Honor for action on May 4th, 1863 at Fredericksburg Heights where he shot a Confederate color bearer and seized the enemy flag. He then approached, alone, a barn between the enemy lines and demanded and received the surrender of a number of the enemy therein.
The letter is written on blue stationery in nice dark ink and is a full 8 pages in length. McVean is writing home to his sister:
- Camp of the 49th N. Y. S. Vols. Brandy Station, Virginia (No. 3) Sabboth Eve April 23rd, 1864
- Dear Sister Sarah, I am happy to say that your long looked for letter came at last. I should have gratefully have answered it at once but I have been waiting for something of interest to occur. (By the way have you answered Donald’s letter yet? He is in great anxiety.) Well as there is nothing new I must be satisfied to tell you what we are doing to kill time (which is our only “palatable” enemy just now). It is the same routine of Guard, Picket, Drill & Parade into the mysteries of which we were initiated in the maidenhood of our campaigning.
- To be sure we do get up an occasional pow wow or break down which only veterans know how to continue and appreciate. And then we are continually running across old friends or finding new ones, which goes a great way to dispel the monotony of camp life. Besides all this we have a rude but excellent little “brigade chapel” where we frequently hear some of the most earnest and talented ministers of the age who do not think it too much trouble to come down here for the benefit of us demoralized soldiers.
- But will you believe the majority concur in stating that it is their belief that there is really more honest Christians in the army of the Potomac than in the same number of men elsewhere. That will I hope be some consolation to you at home.
- We had a Corps review a few days ago which called vividly to my mind the first review I ever witnessed. It was at Camp Griffin over two years ago when “mid all the circumstances of Glorious war” we “Northern Mudsills” were first “trotted out” to show our shape and make all enough wonder. Well it seems that we made a good show then but the stock was not durable AS THERE IS NOT MORE THAN 1/6 OF THAT CROWD LEFT.
- BUT THERE IS ONE GREAT CONSOLATION. WE KNOW THAT MOST OF THEM DIED MEN, WHICH BUT FOR THIS WAR, THEY WOULD NEVER HAVE THE CHANCE OF PROVING. OUR CORPS MADE AN EXCELLENT APPEARANCE, THOUGH IT IS THE SMALLEST IN THIS ARMY, HAVING DONE THE MOST HEAVY AND SUCCESSFUL FIGHTING.
- I WAS A LITTLE DISAPPOINTED IN THE APPEARANCE OF GENL. GRANT. HE IS A MUCH SMALLER MAN THAN I THOUGHT AND SEEMS TO CARRY THE LEAST MITE OF A “MASKED KNAPSACK” BUT HE SEEMS TO BE A PRETTY “LEVEL HEADED” CHAP FOR ALL THAT. But he has got into a box now where his mettle will be tested and the country can soon judge whether he is worthy of its confidence.
- For my part, I have grown a little skeptic in regard to “horseflesh” and won’t place confidence in any until it is proved, but take us here as a crowd and we are about as good as ever. Perhaps not so enthusiastic but more determined and ALL THE “KNOWING ONES” SEEM TO THINK THAT WE “ARE GOOD FOR OUR WEIGHT IN WILDCATS” AND THAT OUR WORST ENEMY IN THIS COUNTRY IS MUD.
- In regard to brother Parker’s visits, I do not think there is any rule of etiquette which can be made to apply to his case. In my opinion the means of aiming creatures to their true allegiance to the supreme power are as various as the characters engaged in the business.
- I wish you would send me “his shape” to look at. I could then judge better. Really I do not remember him. You know we do not use any but the Christian name in this country so it is difficult for me to remember any other. However I am obliged for the interest he takes in our welfare, but I know that you are altogether worthy of every true soul’s devotion.
- I wrote a letter to mother and the little girls this afternoon. I am very uneasy about dear mother. I hope though that she is getting better. I wish my circumstances were such that I could add to her comfort in some way, but IF I LIVE MUCH LONGER I WILL BE OF SOME USE PERHAPS. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO GO HOME NOW AS THE CAMPAIGN IS ABOUT TO COMMENCE. [Note McVean would be killed in the Wilderness in a little over a month later, May 5th, 1864.]
- A rain storm which has been threatening us for the last two weeks has just concluded to come down and that right smart. It will probably keep coming for a week or so. It is my opinion that we will do no heavy fighting for a month or so to come at least. Perhaps not then.
- THE PUBLIC WILL HAVE TO BE CONTENT WITH THE “SIDE SHOWS” UNTIL WE GET A “GOOD READY” TO RAISE THE CURTAIN ON THIS THE GREAT DRAMA OF MODERNTIME. I HOPE THAT WE CAN GIVE THE LAST ACT THIS SUMMER. IN THAT CASE I WILL WITHDRAW FROM THE STAGE AND RETIRE TO PRIVATE LIFE.
- Although the Colonel has established a military school here and he puts us through as though he expected to have us follow the business through life. The boys here have hit on a good way to kill time in camp. They advertise in the Waverly or some other firstclass paper for correspondents and the letters come tumbling in by the bushel. We have letters in the Regt. from every town, city, village and college in the lexicon almost and some out of it. The most of them are clever and sharp. All down on citizens who might be in the army and are not and all now combatants generally.
- One of the boys was caught cutting off a horse’s tail which he sent to one of his unknown correspondents as a lock of his own hair. That is only one of the thousand tricks they are playing on them. The graceless scamp – eh?
- You did not tell me anything about my friends in Buffalo. Tell me all about them this time. You must give Mrs. Col my best regards. I wrote to Mr. Col some time ago and he has not deigned to answer me. Next time I will write to his better half. I have no objection to your reading my letters to her, but I think she might squander a few minutes in writing to me occasionally.
- You must tell Mattie that I don’t think I can have gained more than eighteen or twenty pounds this last week on account of my uneasiness as she did not answer my letter. I had a letter from Herbert last evening. He tells me that Willie Bust is dead. Poor Willie. It makes my heart ache to see so many of my old acquaintances depart so young for the unknown regions.
- I hope that the most of them adopted the proper chart on this earth to guide them on their precious journey. I want you to send me all my family pictures and all the pictures of my friends you can get hold of. Tell them that I miss good society in this godforsaken country. I wish I had about 2 dozen of my own here to trade off amongst my comrades. I could then get them all but they are afraid I’ll neglect to give them one if I get theirs first and I’m afraid so too.
- I am anxious to hear from Persia and do you believe it Katie has not written one word to me since I left home. I cannot imagine what I have done to deserve this. Perhaps though she may be ill or has forgotten me. I hope it is the latter. If so just remind her that I am still permitted to encumber the earth. Give my regards to all. Kiss Annie and May and little Allie. Tell them I’ll be round some sun, cheery day to take them all picnicking. [top of front page] Ask little Willie Joe if he would go hunting some fine day with your affectionate Brother (Excuse Brevity) Peter.
McVean signs the letter with his middle name of Peter, what sister Sarah liked to call him. A wonderful letter for the Medal of Honor or 49th New York collector.
#L4-23-64 NY – Price $950