Letter from Galbraith Mahaffey, from Camp Pierpont, Dated November 6, 1861

Galbraith Mahaffey one of eight children of James Mahaffey and Margaret Galbraith, was born in Ireland in 1843. The Mahaffey family would emigrate to the U.S. in 1850, originally settling on a farm in Butler County, PA. The family would then move to Allegheny City where James would die in 1855.1 With his elder brothers Robert and William, Galbraith enlisted in the Iron City Guards, which would become became Co C of the 9 th PRVC. William would be killed at the Battle of Gaines Mill. Robert would perish at the Battle of Antietam which Galbraith would miss due to illness. In late September the eldest of the Mahaffey brothers, James, would receive permission to visit Galbraith in the hospital at Sharpsburg. Galbraith would recover sufficiently to return to duty and would serve out the term of his enlistment. In addition to his brother Robert, Galbraith mentions four other members of his mess in the letter. John Stoner Snively and Adam Bright would serve their full enlistments and muster out of Co C in Pittsburgh on May 11,1864. Joseph Snively would be killed in action at Second Bull Run. Thomas H. Hunter would be discharged in January of 1863 as the result of a wound suffered at South Mountain.

After muster out, Galbraith would return to Allegheny City, where he would marry Nancy Duncan in 1870. According to the 1880 census, he worked as clerk and resided in Allegheny City with Nancy and their sons. By 1890 his health had deteriorated to the point that he was awarded an invalid pension and residing in the Pennsylvania Soldiers and Sailors Home in Erie. Galbraith would pass away on February 12, 1899 and be buried in the Soldiers and Sailors Home Cemetery in Erie. The letter was written to Galbraith’s brother James Mahaffey Jr from Camp Pierpont.2

Nov 6/61,
Mr. James Mahaffey

Dear Brother

I just received your kind letter the day before yesterday and was glad to hear that you are all well. We are still lying in camp and no more show for a fight than when we was in Camp Wright or in Camp Wilkins. We are very wet weather here at present and mud about knee-deep which could be very agreeable to us (or any other man) if we was once used to it. You may think we sleep rather cold in tents this time of year but if you do you are mistaken. We have dug a flue under the tent from one side to the other which is covered with stone. We keep up a good fire all day and let the fire go out at night. Then shut up the fireplace and chimney on the oven style which keeps the tent both dry and warm. You wanted to know in your letter the names of the boys in our mess. They are as follows J.S. Snively A.S. Bright (Joseph Snively alias Ike Partington) T. H. Hunter Robert Mahaffey mother to Ike, and myself.3 The above named Gents are named the good for nothings or mess N o 6. Each one of the crew takes a turn in the heavy parts such as carrying wood and water or keeping order in the mess. All together we have as good a time as any other mess in the company. You thought you would poke some fun at me about Miss McClelland well the news was what I expected to hear for some time so it did not give my nervous system such a shock as might’ve been expected. But I guess there is enough of my old girls left yet to pick out one to suit my taste. Mary Connerton for instance or any other one that has three or four houses because I will be too lazy to [illegible] about the [illegible] I am done Soldiering. Ike and his mother are about having a row about a paper that mother says Ike lost somehow or other. Ike thought best to retreat outside the tent till the siege is over. Things has cooled down and Ike has returned marching to the tune of Hail Columbia when the old woman threw a tin cup at his head. Ike now gives up the fight in favor of his mother and peace is again restored. I have been stopped several times since I began to write by Rose somethings the same as the above. The reason we call Joseph Snively Ike Partington is he has an awful big carpet bag which he carried since he left Camp Wright. Well we called Bob Mrs. Partington his mother. Ike and the old woman has a row pretty often to keep up the fun. This is the third letter I have written to you and I have only had one from you. As it is getting late I must come to a close. Bob and William John sends their love to you all give my love to mother, Jane, Mary, Mag., Annie, Mrs. Patterson and all the rest of my friends. Nothing more at present, But Remain your Affectionate Brother

Galbraith Mahaffey

  1. Allegheny City would be annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907.
  2. James would not serve in the military. The youngest of the five Mahaffey brothers George would attend military school and serve as a Lieutenant in Co I of the 25th United States Colored Infantry.
  3. Ike Partington and his aunt Mrs. Ruth Partington were characters created by Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber in a series of books and beginning in the 1850s. Ike and Ruth are often credited as being the inspiration for Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Aunt Polly. Shillaber’s books would be transformed into a successful play in the 1880s.