Pvt. Harris Henshel was a young German-speaking Jew in the 40th NY Regiment. He and most of the Army of the Potomac were camped in middle Virginia, waiting on Lee to make his move. In the meantime Henshel wrote a letter to his mother – written in German but translated here in English. As he was writing these words, Lee was already on the move but the Federals didn’t realize it yet. And by the time they did, a day or two after this letter, Lee was leading his Army of Northern Virginia in a mad dash north, leaving the Army of the Potomac eating his dust. Henshel and his comrades chased Lee’s army at ram-speed in a three-week foot race across Virginia and Maryland before the two armies finally met at a place called Gettysburg.
Camp near Potomack Run, June 7, 1863
The Dear Mother,
I received your dear letter of the 1st the evening before last and I write again according to your request. On the same day I also received a letter from Morris and one from Isadore. I wrote a letter to you on the 1st of this month in which I told you of the joining together of our regiment with the 40th and begged you for my sake and Escher’s sake not to be worried. God is everywhere and we will come home happy and healthy with his help. We have marching orders again and could leave our camp any minute. I am sorry that I wrote you about a “Bonz,” but perhaps I will still get it because it is possible we will stay here longer. If you have not yet sent it, I will give up on it. Our present camp is a very nice one and every day I have an opportunity to bathe in a nearby brook. I visited Escher last Monday. He was healthy and happy and sends you a hearty greeting. Since then I heard that his regiment had departed. Don’t know for certain.
because I am not presently permitted to leave camp. Because of the negligence of our officers we were not fully paid this time and God knows when we will receive something again. I’m sorry that my friend Schwegler had sketched such a dark picture of the soldier’s life for you. It is not so black, dear mother. I am happy that my friend Staeke had visited you. I have written to him in the meantime. You will be able to read my handwriting with some difficulty, dear mother. I have given up writing in Jewish and it goes so slowly. My health is seemingly good and I hope to hear the same of you and the others. How are brother-in-law Marx and his family doing – and uncle and his family? Greet them all right heartily.
I ask you to write often and don’t be alarmed if you perhaps do not always hear from me. A soldier on the march does not always have the opportunity to write. I would have answered Isadore’s letter at this time if I had more time. However, he’ll have to excuse me. The weather is hot. Yesterday we had a thunderstorm and rain.
But now I must close with a reqeuest for an answer soon and sign myself your son.
Address: Private Harris S. Henshel
Co. E. 40th Reg’t. N.Y. Vol.
Dear mother: Write me whether you still receive support money.
Pvt. Henshel was killed 25 days later when his unit fought at the base of Devil’s Den on the 2nd day of Gettysburg. He is buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery under a tombstone with his name misspelled and his unit incorrectly showing the 140th NY, not the 40th NY.
Posted by Jack Kunkel
(Letter translated by Paul Jackson for some relatives of Pvt. Henshel)