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Title pageAbout the Letters

Cuddy, John Taylor.


Unpublished, 1861-1864.

John Taylor Cuddy volunteered to fight for the Union at sixteen in his hometown of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He served in Company A of the 36th Pennsylvania Infantry from June 5, 1861 until his death in a Confederate prison in September 1864. During his service, the teenaged soldier wrote his family diligently, and the present collection displayed here comprises 77 letters Cuddy wrote from various locations throughout the north and south to his family and friends in Cumberland County. (Some of these letters were composed on army stationery bearing a variety of patriotic letterheads.) He was educated enough to read and write, but much of his spelling was phonetic. Nevertheless, his description paints a vivid picture of a young and initially naïve young soldier thrown into the American Civil War. His regiment saw significant action at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and the Wilderness.

In these letters, Cuddy describes not only his actions and experiences in the war, but also represents the political and emotional feelings of young Union soldiers of this conflict. His earlier letters of 1861 and 1862, while in training at Fort Wayne and in fall and winter camps in Great Falls, Maryland and Langley, Virginia, display an earnest desire to defeat the rebels and teach them a lesson. In Cuddy's wretched grammar and spelling, the letters indicate a touching faith in God and Union. By the early summer of 1863, however, the eleven months spent in camp play on the will of the young infantryman who declares himself tired of the war and hoping for its end. In June 1862, as part of the Fifth Corps, the 36th was heavily engaged in the battles around Gaines Mill and Mechanicsville and suffered heavy casualties. Cuddy's response in letters home was one of relief and confidence that if he could survive three heavy encounters, he could come home unscathed. Action at the late summer 1862 Battle of Antietam followed for the 36th, although Cuddy may have been on leave when it was fought. As events balanced out the unit's earlier inaction, the regiment fought bravely and well in the losing cause at Fredericksburg in December 1862.

Cuddy's letters in the new year of 1863 reflect the exhaustion of men already counting down the days of their three-year enlistment. Cuddy's own words are reflective of much of the popular response in the North to President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863). In scathing tone, the teenager predicted a long war now that "the rebels is fighting for ther rites." In the same letter he hopes strongly that the division will go home to recruit replacements, hinting that many of the early enlistees, including Cuddy himself, were weary of war and would not return from any home assignment. A long period of relative inactivity protecting the national capital did not improve morale. Cuddy and his parents tried to arrange a home leave, enlisting the help of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. Though granted, permission for the furlough was forgotten in the turmoil of the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania in June 1863. Cuddy and the 36th remained in Washington, reduced to anxious letters home to find news of the course of Lee's advance. In April 1864, Cuddy and his companions were tantalizingly close to their final days as soldiers when the 36th was ordered to join Grant's attack towards Richmond. In the ensuing Battle of the Wilderness, the entire regiment - just one month before the end of its enlistment - was cut off and captured. There were no more letters home from the teenaged veteran. After privations in Andersonville, the notorious Georgia prison camp, he was moved to the prison camp in Florence, South Carolina. There he died of illness and malnutrition on September 29, 1864, eighteen days before his twentieth birthday.

Cuddy's letters provide a valuable window into the experience of Pennsylvania citizen soldiers in the American Civil War. John Cuddy was young, not yet well educated, and filled with the excitement of his opportunity to defend the Union. Thousands like him filled the volunteer regiments of the Commonwealth immediately after the war was declared. The letters between he and his family take the reader through the rigor of training, the boredom of camp, the wonder of new places in young eyes, and the thrill, exhaustion, and ultimate disillusion of deadly encounters on the battlefield.

Researched and authored by John Osborne, Ph. D.

Page created: July 28, 2003                                            close window