Thomas William Dick was born on October 27, 1839 in Wheatland Township in southeast Indiana County, Pennsylvania. He was the second son of Ulster born farmer and tanner James Dick and his second wife Mary Stewart Dick. He was educated in the common schools of nearby Armagh and became a local teacher. A few months after casting his first presidential vote, for Abraham Lincoln, Thomas volunteered in defense of the Union. He mustered as a private with Company H of the Twelfth Pennsylvania Reserve Corps on July 24, 1861. He spent some time recruiting in central Pennsylvania before rejoining his unit during its extensive campaign service with the Army of the Potomac. He was promoted to sergeant on December 14, 1862. A year and a half later, he was wounded slightly at Spotsylvania, Virginia during the Battles of the Wilderness. He received his first injury, in fact, just over a month before he and the rest of the regiment mustered out at the end of their three-year enlistment. The 12th fought in many of the important engagements of the American Civil War, including Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness, losing 181 men to battle and disease.
Thomas Dick was twenty-one years old when he enlisted in Indiana County on July 24, 1861 in a group that was to be mustered into the Union Army as Company H, 12th Pennsylvania Reserves. Private Dick wrote to his parents, siblings, and friends, and this collection includes thirty-one letters written between May 1861 and May 1864. The quality of the handwriting varies, seemingly dependent upon the time and opportunity Dick had to write, and the writing paper ranged from simple folded sheets to ornate patriotic and regimental letterhead. Letters were written both from camp and the field, and they span a period in which the 12th Pennsylvania Reserves engaged in some of the most intense fighting of the war, including Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness.
Many of the early letters describe camp life, as the nervous yet motivated soldiers waited for their first experience of battle. In August 1861 the 12th joined the defense of Washington, D.C. at Camp Tennally. We see in some detail how the armies trained, rested, and wintered in camp; Dick writes of augmenting his quarters with pine log floors, stoves, and furniture. He considers his own health and comfort to be excellent, does not complain in the least about the food, and once, while writing, describes the shouts of the men outside “engaged in a game of ball.” Camp life also enhanced the optimism and patriotism among the inexperienced men. Dick wrote his father that he would certainly be happy to be home, but that he was “contented” in camp and “could cheerfully offer up my life that rebellion might be crushed out from our midst” (Sep. 15, 1861).
As a part of the Third Brigade under Brigadier General E. O. C. Ord, the 12th took part in the morale-raising, but insignificant, victory in the two-hour battle at Dranesville on December 20, 1861. Dick described his first experience of being under musket fire as a “queer sensation.” Following the battle, he observes enemy dead closely for the first time, and is disgusted at some of his fellow soldiers’ looting the bodies. With Washington, D.C. safe for the winter, and a few other small Union advances in the early spring, the men in camp are encouraged. Dick has the time and willingness to discuss with his family broader ramifications of the war, commenting on the fallout from the Trent Affair that saw Britain protesting the seizure of Confederate diplomats James Mason and John Slidell from a British mail packet in the Caribbean Sea. Dick worries that Britain will side actively with the Confederates and muses that “this little family struggle” might result in a divided Europe, a world war, and “terminate in the revolution of the entire world.” Dick supports Lincoln’s melioration of the issue, further stating to a friend that, with the rebellion dealt with, the Union could “defy the world” (Dec. 24, 1861).
The heavy fighting during the following spring began truly to test the men of the 12th Pennsylvania. They were part of McDowell’s march on Falmouth, and later were engaged in the battle of the Seven Days near Richmond, Gaines Mill, and Malvern Hill. Thomas Dick apologized for the gap between his letters due to the fighting marches. (This collection includes no letters written during the entire month of July 1862.) He does relate the interesting story of four comrades whom guerillas had captured early in the campaign and who were, in late July, exchanged and returned to their units. They told of the kindness of the ladies of Richmond but reported very poor conditions at their camp at Belle Isle near the city (Aug. 1, 1862).
The summer and autumn saw some of the heaviest fighting of the war, and at Gainesville, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg the 12th lost heavily. Worse for Dick and his comrades was the sense that lives were being lost in vain. Dick had been open earlier in both his praise and disdain for his generals, in July calling his brigade commander Truman Seymour “cool and brave as Napoleon” and his divisional commander George McCall “dull and stupid as ever.” (Jul 6, 1862) After the demoralizing setback at Fredericksburg, Dick was unrestrained in his commentary on the Union leadership. In a long letter to his parents in January 1863, he gives a detailed description of the battle, saying of the pivotal attack on the heights above the town that “any person of common sense with no military ability would know it was impossible to take that position.” The despairing young soldier goes on to write, “no wonder our army is discouraged, we have been slaughtered for nothing” and “I never felt so lonely in my life as I did after the battle [with] the last of my messmates gone.” (Jan. 8, 1863) Later he wrote to his brother and demonstrated the continuing popularity of the replaced Army of the Potomac commander by saying bitterly that the Army had done nothing “since little Mac was taken away from us and in my opinion never will.” According to Dick, McClellan was the only Union leader who could match the Confederate generals (Feb. 2, 1863).
Promoted to sergeant, Thomas Dick spent some time in Pennsylvania attempting to fill the ranks of what he called the “miserable remnant of the gay old division” (Feb. 2, 1863) He did not demonstrate much enthusiasm to return to the front, and much of the talk in the regiment by then was in regard to the date that they would be discharged from their three-year service. He was in Harrisburg for the second inauguration of Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin, and then returned to camp in March 1863. There is a significant gap in the letters during the period of the Gettysburg Campaign, though the 12th was heavily involved in the battle on Round Top. The letters recommence with Dick again recruiting in Pennsylvania in late July. He is able to travel to Gettysburg in November to the dedication of the national cemetery where he met “Father Abraham.” Interestingly, Dick confirms the observations of many historians in that he does not mention Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, but he does remark that Edward Everett “made a fine speech” (Dec. 3, 1863).
Dick and the 12th were back in action in the Rapidan Campaign in May 1864, including fierce fighting in the Wilderness and Spotsylvania battles. The Pennsylvania troops, many nearing the end of their enlistment, suffered heavy casualties. Dick writes to his sister that he is well, but fails to mention that he had been slightly wounded at Spotsylvania two weeks before. This communication is the last in the collection.
Thomas Dick declined re-enlistment feeling that his family did not wish it. He may also have been disappointed that he had not received a commission. He mustered out with the regiment on June 11, 1864 and returned to Armagh to enjoy a long and productive life.
Returning home, Dick took a course, probably in the classics, at the well-known Elder’s Ridge Academy, and then in the spring of 1865 he began studies in the law with local attorney William Banks. He was admitted to the bar in Cambria County, Pennsylvania in November 1868 and located his practice in Ebensburg. He extended what was to become a lucrative career into insurance representing the Hartford, Aetna, and Phoenix. For many years he sat on local school boards, headed area Presbyterian Sunday Schools, and was active in the Ebensburg post of the Grand Army of the Republic.
In October 1867, he had married Johnstown native Miss E. Lucie Kern, a graduate of Pittsburgh Female College. The couple had four sons and two daughters. Thomas William Dick died in 1924.1
THOMAS W. DICK, an attorney and well-known business man of Ebensburg, Cambria county, Pennsylvania, is a son of James and Mary (Stewart) Dick, and was born October 7, 1839, in Indiana county, Pennsylvania. Ireland was the ancestral home of the family, from which country James Dick, the father, emigrated when but seven years old. He located in that part of Indiana county, now known as Wheatfield township, where he spent his life, gaining a livelihood in the pursuits of a farmer and a tanner. He was first married to Miss Graham, and this marriage resulted in the birth of two children: Robert G. and Annie. His second marital union was with Mary Stewart, and resulted in the birth of the following children: John S., now deceased; Thomas W., Mary E., Wallace B., who is in the real-estate business in Topeka, Kansas; Lucy A., and Samuel S., a farmer, of Indiana county, Pennsylvania.
Thomas W. Dick received his early education in the common schools of Indiana county, Pennsylvania, principally in the village of Armagh. After gaining a good elementary education, he followed the profession of teaching for two years. At this time the rebellion threatened to disrupt the Union, and in order to better serve his country, Mr. Dick enlisted as a private, in 1861, in Company H, Twelfth regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteers. He served three years, the greater part of the time in the capacity of second sergeant. Mr. Dick fought with the army of the Potomac, and although slightly wounded in an engagement, he was never out of service on account of his injuries. During seven months of his army life, he was in the recruiting service in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, spending a large part of this time in York, Columbia and Harrisburg. Mr. Dick took an active part in the battles of Drainesville, Mechanicsville, Seven Days’ fights, Second battle of Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam and Fredericksburg, Culpepper Court House, Battle of the Wilderness and Cold Harbor. After returning from the war, Mr. Dick entered Elder’s Ridge academy, Indiana county, Pennsylvania, at that time a prominent institution of learning. He remained there until the spring of 1865, when he began the study of law with William Banks, Esq., of Indiana. Completing a thorough course of law, he was admitted to the bar in Greensburg, Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, in November, 1867. In the autumn of 1868, Mr. Dick began the practice of his profession, and in 1871, in connection with his law business, he devoted part of his time to the insurance business, representing some of the old-line fire insurance companies, among which are the following: Aetna Insurance Company, of Hartford, since 1873, The Hartford company, of Hartford, and the Phoenix company. He is secretary and treasurer of the Protection Mutual Fire Insurance company, of Cambria county, Pennsylvania, organized in 1857.
Politically, Mr. Dick is a staunch republican, and has served as burgess of the borough of Ebensburg. Having been a teacher, Mr. Dick still takes a warm personal interest in the public schools and is at present an active member of the Ebensburg school board.
He is a member of the John M. Jones Post, No. 556, G. A. R., of Ebensburg. He is a consistent member of the Presbyterian church, holding the honored position of elder.
In 1867 Mr. Dick married Lucy E. Kern, a daughter of George W. Kern, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. This marital relation resulted in the birth of the following children: John B., a deliveryman in Vintondale, Cambria county; George K., who married Celia McCue, of Montana, and is in the employ of Butte, Anaconda and Pacific railroad, in Anaconda, Montana, where he now lives; Margaret M., the wife of John I. Bowman, of Grapeville, Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania; James S., an assistant in his father’s office, and also pursuing the study of law; Carl W., who is attending school, and Bessie G.2
Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.
- Source: Researched, authored, and edited by John Osborne, Ph. D., and James Gerencser of Dickinson College.
- BIOGRAPHICAL AND PORTRAIT CYCLOPEDIA OF CAMBRIA COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA COMPRISING ABOUT FIVE HUNDRED SKETCHES OF THE PROMINENT AND REPRESENTATIVE CITIZENS OF THE COUNTY. ILLUSTRATED THE UNION PUBLISHING COMPANY, PHILADELPHIA, PA. 1896.