Two letters

There are two letters on a single sheet of paper, the first from Portman and the other from Chester Beebe. Both men address the letter, “Dear Sister.” Beebe, having married into the Portman family, also addresses his sister-in-law, Harriet Portman Lewis, as sister.

Both Gideon and Chester are upset with a young man named Leslie Salisbury who has apparently refused to volunteer for the army. Gideon calls him a coward and possibly disloyal. Chester says he can’t consider this his country if he won’t fight for it. Curiously, after writing that he has little to say about Salisbury, he spends most of his letter talking about him.

Beyond his comments about Leslie Salisbury, Chester has little to say. They went to Chicago to see a regiment set off for the fighting; he received a letter from his sister Marissa who is fine; and he probably won’t get home for a visit until spring. He does mention that he is a musician – he plays a fife – in the unit.

Gideon, on the other hand, offers a lot of details. Although he’s under the weather, he’s anxious to see action against the secessionists. The regiment, which he considers the best in the army, does not have uniforms or guns and has not yet been paid. The nearly 1000 men in the unit are physically big mechanics, that is, manual laborers. He asks again for George’s address which he has lost. Finally, he wants the “pretty girls” to know he’s fighting for liberty.

[Note:  Portman dated his part of the letter as November when it was actually December.]


Illustration of Major General George B. McClellan on the letter written December 10, 1861

    Camp Douglas Novem 10, 61

                Dear Sister


It is with pleasure that I sit down to answer your letter  I am well except a bad cold and headache but after all I think I will get along in the hopes that I shall soon have the chance of shooting a sesesh but I dont[sic] know how soon that will [be] for we have not got our uniforms yet nor guns or pay although our reg. numbers 962 men and it is the cream reg. of the union it is composed of the largest men mostley[sic] all mechanics, there was a reg. left here yesturday[sic] for St louis, now I want you to tell Leslie that I think that he is Cowardley[sic] or not loyal to the union  I have got the blues to day and cant[sic] think of any thing to write but I will try and fill up my paper.  The boys are moping[sic] out the barucks[sic], now I have forgoten[sic] Georges adress[sic] and want you to send me it  you see I had a lot of letters and thought I would burn them up and then I forgot the adress[sic]  now I send my love to all enquiring friends and especialy[sic] some of them pretty girls and tell them I fight for libberty[sic] or death


from your Affectionate brother

                                G.E. Portman



A return letter on the same piece of stationary is from Chester Beebe

Tintype of Chester Beebe with his fife

                                                                                                                                Dec 10 1861

 Dear Sister

I received you letter last Thursday and was very very glad to hear from you and hear you was well  We are well and harty[sic] as bears  we went down to the City yesterday to escort the Douglass brigade the mud was ankle deep and the watter[sic] was all over the mud  So you may guess we was some muddy when we got back. I want to say little about Leslie Salisbrey[sic]  it dont[sic] look very well neither for me to say what I think on the Subject but I guess I will tell leslie if he is a man he had better try and let the World know it by enlisting to help the Country  it is not his if he dont[sic] help preserve and if his girl has got any good common Sense She will tell him to go and fight with the rest of us wont[sic] she.  It is hard to part with a friend for any boddy[sic] but if they Should Say I cant[sic] go they would go to smash the whole of us in my oppinion[sic]  There is no likelyhood[sic] of our leaveing[sic] untill[sic] Spring from Chicago  John Whaley has gone home on a visit he will be here Thursday night if nothing hapens[sic]     I got a letter from Marissa Sunday  she was well as ever  So was all of the rest      I am fifer in this Regt  it is easyer[sic] than it is to be a private  No more at this time  Good Bye  your Brother Chester Beebe

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