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Monday, February 11, 2008

Crossing the Potomac with William: a soldier's story

The year was 1889. Thomas Cowey was recalling he and his older brother William's experiences during their time as volunteers in the Civil War twenty-eight years earlier. Thomas had been asked to aid William's application for pension by providing a statement in his own handwriting explaining how his brother had been disabled during his time in the military.

The result is a treasure of a document for the Cowhey family history collection. In his own words and his own handwriting, Thomas told about he and his brother's march to Williamsport, Maryland with volunteer Company I-16. There they had faced the Potomac River, finding themselves in water "up to [their necks]". Forced back by the enemy, they waded back across the river a second time. That wasn't the worst of it for the men of 1-16, notably poor William. The night found them having to sleep uncomfortably in their wet clothing. To add insult to injury, the company found themselves having to cross the river again the following day.

According to Thomas' statement, William did not take the discomforts of military life too easily. Troubled by the night in damp clothing and the trials of Civil War life, he found himself diagnosed with rheumatism by the "regimental doctor". According to Thomas, he never was the same again.

You can read Thomas' entire statement in the document below (click on the image to view it up close). If you have trouble reading that, see my transcription below. I have included Thomas' many mispellings as is. His errors in this full-page statement (which is actually only written as one very, very long sentence) make it even more enjoyable to read the story of he and his brother's uncomfortable night near the Potomac.

Pottsville, Pa.
December 6, 1889
to the Commissioner of Pensions I make this statement of how William Cowhey contracted the Rheumatism while in the service with me in company I. 16 Pa volunteers we left Harrissburg and Marched from thare to Williamsport Maryland and thare we had to cross the Potomac we had to ford it and the water was up to our neck and when we got to the virginia side we was driven Back by the Enemy and we had to wade Back and then sleep in our wet close all Night and then we got reinforced by doubles Battery and we waded Acrosed again and when we got to A small town called Bunker Hill near Martinsburg William Cowehy comenced to complain of his limbs hurting him and the Next day he could scarsely walk and the Regimental Doctor treated him for Rheumatism and after he was mustered out and came home and went bact to his work Railroading he could scarsely get on and of the cars and to my Knowlege he often had to lay of for months he was that lame from the affects of this same Rheumatism.

Thomas Cowey

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