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The first post of the New Year will introduce the Benjamin Barr letters.  As noted elsewhere on this blog and in our book, the Mount Joy Brass Band was enlisted into the 6th U.S. Cavalry in toto by Stephen S. Balk in 1861 as the regimental band.  They were apparently very talented, as the band was detached by Gen. Pleasonton for service at Cavalry Corps headquarters, and remained there under Gen. Sheridan through the end of the war.  One of the members of the band, Benjamin Barr, wrote at least three letters home to the hometown paper, The Columbia Spy, during the war.  Thanks to Vince Slaugh for bringing these to my attention.

Benjamin Franklin Barr enlisted in the 6th U.S. Cavalry on October 15, 1861, at the age of 23.  He was born in Columbia, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1837.  He was discharged at the expiration of his term of service at Strasburg, Virginia on October 15, 1864.

I have looked, but haven’t been able to find any information about the Bowery or Buck Beer.  Below is the first of the letters.


Columbia Spy     July 5, 1862         page 2

Headquarters 6th U.S. Cavalry,

In the Field, near Richmond, Va.,

June 22, 1862


Friend Spy,

None of the boys attached to the 6th U.S. Cavalry Regimental band has written one word to the Spy since their departure, so I take the liberty to do so. —

On the 28th of October, 1861, the Mount Joy Brass band, to which are attached three Columbia boys, viz: Barr, List and McAnall, was sworn into the United States service at Mount Joy and left for the war.  We are now encamped about eight miles from Richmond, close by a large pine woods, where the wood ticks are quite as numerous as the mosquitoes.  We are stopping to rest while Gen. McClellan is preparing a dose to be administered to the skulking scoundrels.

The invincible Sixth have been in the advance since the evacuation of Yorktown; we have been in several skirmishes and heard the whiz of shot and shell in close proximity.  The booming in front of Richmond foretells the downfall of the Rebel cause and its advocates.  This thunder is heavy and shakes the earth on which we lay.  Old Seth, or California Jo as he is called, is at his post picking the rebels from their guns with that coolness which he exhibited at Yorktown.  He is of the regular backwoods stamp: is about fifty years of age, his hair, which he parts in the centre, hangs down over his shoulders with very heavy whiskers which makes him look fierce.  He carries a Sharp’s rifle on which he places his dependence.  He is a hard looking chap — looks as though he has seen many hardships.  Your correspondent had a chat with him and heard him tell some very interesting stories about the rebels at Yorktown.  A hand, or anything that size, at a distance of a thousand yards is sufficient for his sharp eye, and it is very seldom he fails to hit his mark.  Jo has taken a dislike to the army of the Potomac on account of the “tarnal wood ticks.”

Mr. Editor they are worse than the itch.

They are about the size of a “bed-bug,” and when they get inot the flesh it is with great difficulty that they are extracted, often leaving their heads stick in your skin, which gets very sore.  We retire at eight o’clock thinking to get a good night’s rest: we are hardly asleep when away go the blankets and away goes the inmate.  In a moment the boys are all up to know the cause of the disturbance when we are told that a wood-tick is in the shanty.  Well, such faces you never saw.  You may know men aroused from their slumber would naturally d— the “tarnal critters.”  Our boys are healthy and enjoy soldiering very well.  There has nothing of importance transpired since the 14th of June.  At or about eight o’clock on the morning of the 14th, a messenger came galloping through the camp to Gen Cook’s [editor: Brigadier General Philip St. George Cooke, commanding the Cavalry Reserve] headquarters: in five minutes from his arrival the bugle sounded “boots and saddles.” Well, such flutter you never saw.

The report was that the enemy was in our rear, the command, “forward, Sixth Cavalry,” was given, so we struck off at a double quick towards Old Church, but we were too late, the rebels had gone by.  We laid there all night, and at three o’clock the next morning we were after them hot foot, but saw nothing of them, so we returned to camp on the 15th at three P.M., pretty well roasted.  After everything was fixed in its place, we partook of some refreshments which consisted of pork and beans, after which we took a smoke.  Whew! But it is hot!  We often wish for a glass of Bowery’s “Buck Beer.”  Everything is very quiet around here at present, with the exception of the booming of cannon at night, which keeps the boys gaping through the day from their loss of sleep.  There is a mail going out, so by-by, till the next time.