Actual Letter Written by “California Joe” (Truman Head) After He “Retired” to California in 1864 – He Writes His Old Comrades of Co. C, 1st Regt., Berdan Sharpshooters!
This 4 page letter written in ink is written by one of the great “folk heroes” of the Civil War. Private Truman Head was a member of the 1st United States Sharpshooters led by Col. Hiram Berdan. Truman was born in Otsego, New York in 1809. When gold was discovered in California he headed there and found a gold mine! In 1861 when the Civil War broke out he headed back east, and because of his shooting skills was accepted by Col. Berdan. Over the winter of 1861-62 he purchased his own Sharps rifle which was the envy of his comrades.
The first widely distributed story about him began to circulate during the siege of Yorktown, Virginia. Newspapers credited him with shooting the first Rebel in the siege. He single handedly kept a Rebel cannon crew from firing their 32 pounder from his perch in a hollow tree.
Late in 1863 Joe began having difficulty with his eyes due to frequent use of the telescopic sight attached to his rifle. He determined to take his appeal to the highest authority in the land, and boldly addressed a letter to President Lincoln: “Mr. Lincoln: – I have done service to the country, and my eyesight is ruined doing duty. I would like to be discharged. California Joe.” Shortly thereafter, he received his discharge.
Now to our letter, it is headed, “Chrystal Creek Mountains, Shasta Co., Cal March 25th, 64.” Here is that great content as he writes to his old company:
- Company C, I wrote you a day or two ago. Since that time I have been up into the mountains. Stayed all night at Col. Joe’s dirty old cabin. I think if you could see him in his present situation, few of you would wish to change situations with him.
- Old Joe feels uneasy when I showed him the letters Field and Garrison wrote me stating how many of his old companions in arms had breathed their last and left their clay cold cage of souls on bloody fields.
- Old Joe limped around his cabin, took down his rifle, looked at it, said I, “Joe, you don’t think of returning to the army, do you?” “By the Eternal Real God of Battle clashing arms & soul dying moans,” said Joe, “if it was not for a wide ocean between & I knew the day the boys were going to battle with the slave breeding woman and child selling foe, lame & blind as I am, I would join the rank and file and make a rifle to avenge the death of my fallen companions.”
- “Joe”, said I, “that is only wind. You have had enough of it as well as myself.” “I know,” said Joe, “I never loved fighting but it makes me feel all over in spots when I hear that the boys have so many of them been killed and wounded and some of the tattered remains has enlisted again who are in youth while I am old and could not be robbed of but a few years of life if the slave breeding & hell hounds did kill me.
- “Joe,” said I, “own up. Does not the fear of being shot prevent you from going for more than laymen’s kindness and broad ocean between?”
- Joe scratched among the long hair on his head for an idea or a bite and said, “If the fear of being shot prevents me from going and it is found out, I shall be nominated as Chairman of Ways and Means to escape the draft on the Democratic Confederate ticket and presume I can command your vote.”
- “Joe,” said I, “let us talk of something more agreeable. How about that investment that you made with your money in Philadelphia when you went into the army?”
- “I am glad you have mentioned the thing,” said Joe. “When you write to Company C again, I want you to inform the boys where they can make a good investment of their loose change. Phila. Walnut Street, Wharf, G. B. Bloodgood. I will give you his picture now that I wish you to send to the boys as some of them may be wounded and taken to Phila. Then they will not be mistaken in whose hands to place their loose change.”
- “On what terms,” said I, “does Mr. Bloodgood take special care of soldiers’ money?” “Well,” said Joe, “mankind is uncertain and often change their mind as fashions. I cannot tell you what special care Mr. Bloodgood may take of soldiers’ money. All I can tell you is what care he took of mine. I left a mint certificate with him of a few hundred dollars. Had I of fallen, the money should of gone to the widow and orphans of my Regt. When I returned he said he had done nothing with the money as he had more of his own than he could use to advantage. Lo and behold, after he had drew the gold from the mint, presto, it changed into something green paper when gold was only between 30 and 40 percent premium. In short he only charged something over one fourth of the whole amount for its safe keeping.
- The writer of Pollock’s Course of time must of been once a soldier and left money with some one to take him home if he was so lucky or unlucky as to live. The verse I do not remember but speaking of the Bright polish of modern times compared with the rusty vulgar robbery of antiquity.
- He says man now meets his fellow traveler on the highway of life, politely salutes him, politely stabs him, politely takes his purse, politely bids him adieu.”
- “Joe,” said I, “you had $60,000 in Phila.” “Sixty thousand devils,” said Joe. “When you find an old hunter and trapper with $60,000 you will find a copper head governor that will not excite a riot to murder sick niggers and oppose the draft or to draw thousands of troops from pursuing Lee to put it down.”
- “Well,” said I, “Joe, shall I send this picture to Company C?” “Certainly,” said Joe, “if I am too flint-hearted to help the boys fight any more, I wish to inform them where they can have their money taken in. It may be advantageous to the Army at large as I presume the Gent would accommodate the whole army on the same terms.”
- Old Joe is not making any thing in the mines and the game is scarce where he lives up in the mountains and if he was not afraid of getting shot, he is nearly fool enough to return to the Army as he is tickled as a boy since Grant has been placed at the head of the Army.
- Joe says he believes Grant will drive the Rebs tails up this summer or chop them off a little behind the ears. Boys, God bless you, but I fear powder and lead and strong arms would help you more. Truman Head
The letter is in fine condition with only minor staining. A wonderful piece of American folklore.
#L3-25-64 – Price $1,595