Her stomach probably tied in a knot, sometime on Sunday, Dec. 21, 1863 a sister of Samuel Franklyn Parcher sat at a desk while writing her brother. Blood-soaked Fredericksburg was eight days past, and Maine newspapers had already published casualty lists. The sister (either Eliza or Mary) worried deep in her heart about “Frank,” whose name was not yet listed among the dead, dying, wounded, or missing.
The short (5-4½), hazel-eyed, and brown-haired Frank Parcher had joined the 5th Maine Infantry Regiment as a “1st Class” musician on June 24, 1861. Born in Saco in 1833 to Samuel and Eliza Merrill Parcher, the dark-complected Parcher had mustered in Portland.
Prior to attacking the Confederates defending Fredericksburg, Ambrose Burnside had created three “grand divisions” Right, Center, and Left), each containing at least two Army corps. Into the Left Grand Division (Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin) went I Corps and VI Corps, the latter bringing with it the 5th Maine Infantry (Col. Edward A. Scammon). The Saturday, December 13 battle cost the Union 12,500 casualties, including many Maine men.
Some were already identified, but relatives knew that dead or wounded men dropped through the cracks, their names often not appearing in print. In this pre-telephone (much less pre-Internet) era, a soldier could not mimic ET and “call home” and let the folks know that “I’m okay” — or not.
War focuses attention on those in harm’s way. Christmas 1862 came and went without word from Parcher. His sister did not know that he had already received her Dec. 21 letter, “in which you express great anxiety about my safety,” he summarized her concerns.
“You needn’t feel any alarmed if you don’t hear from me for a few days after such a time as we had at Fredericksburg, for we are so very busy that we hardly to stop to think of anybody outside of our camps,” he responded.
Did he flippantly dismiss her fear? No, not by a long shot. “I am well aware that at these and similar times our friends are worried and anxious to hear from us at once,” Parcher clearly understood his sister’s concern. He also explained that even when soldiers found time to write, outgoing mail could be hit or miss.
Parcher shared his recent movements. Rather than crossing the Rappahannock River prior to December 13, he had stayed on the Stafford County shore, “in a far better place from which to see all that was going on there, and in comparative safety.”
As for Christmas Day, William Franklin had “issued an order … relieving all soldiers from duty of all kinds except what was actually necessary for the public service, and all hands had the day to serve their own tastes,” Parcher wrote.
He made no reference to a Christmas tree, caroling, sleigh rides, or other mid-19th century holiday pastimes promoted in Currier & Ives’ lithographs. The 5th Maine lads “received an issue of one gallon of whiskey per company in the evening, and every thing went ‘merry as a marriage bell,’” Parcher quoted Lord Byron. “I spent the evening with Capts. [Robert M.] Stevens & [Samuel H. Pi[l]lsbury.”
He promised his sister that he would do better next time. “If we should have another battle I will try to write immediately after — but if I don’t[,] you needn’t fret, because I’m all right any how,” Parcher closed, signing himself “fraternally & affectionately yours, Frank.”
He survived the war and returned to his family.
Sources: Samuel Franklyn Parcher Soldier’s File, Maine State Archives; Samuel Franklyn Parcher to unidentified sister, December 28, 1862, author’s possession
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