William Willey to Waitman Willey, April 29, 1861

    Source citation
    William Princeton Willey to Waitman Thomas Willey, April 29, 1861, Carlisle, PA, Willey Collection, West Virginia University Special Collections.
    Date Certainty
    Holly Bowers, Dickinson College
    Adapted by Don Sailer, Dickinson College
    Transcription date
    The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print. Spelling and typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

    In consideration of the character of the forces men that now constitute the armies that have been made up here, I think it would rather be a helping to the country to have a short war.

    Dickinson College

    Monday April 29th, 1861

    Dear Pa,

    I received your letter this morning, and was indeed gratified to hear that you had got safely home and also to learn your wish in regard to my remaining at college. I have not seen Dr. Johnson since the receipt of it, and do not know whether he has received your letter. I will see him before I mail this. I did not receive your letter written from Richmond till Saturday last, and had become quite uneasy. The reports were that the Union men had to flee for their lives after the ordinance of secession was passed. [Sherad Clunens?] came up through Harrisburg and it was through him that we received the report. Does the pledge of secrecy prevent you from revealing your own vote on the ordinance.

    Since my last letter the excitement here has abated to a considerable degree. At the arrival of the trains there is generally some excitement but there is a very apparent reaction in the state of feeling. I suppose you have no idea to what extent the excitement prevailed here during the greater part of last week. Several of the roads being torn up and bridges burned, this was made the great thoroughfare between the South and West. Volunteers for Harrisburg and Washington were flooding the road continually, as many as twenty cars of troops would pass in one train and they would cheer, and make threats against the south and Jeff Davis, they resembled a body of ravenous wolves, or fugitives from an insane asylum. Every description of cars, from passenger to cattle and coal cars were loaded with troops. On Monday night about 2 o’clock the report came that a southern army had was marching in this direction, that they had burned Hanover, Papertown [Mount Holly Springs], and other small places beyond here, and were coming to Carlisle to take possession of the barracks, and burn the town. In about an hour the streets were alive with people. Women half dressed running through the streets with their children, men with their arms, asking the direction of the army, and before long the country people began to come with butcher knives and rusty shot guns, and I believe some of the Dutch women were clinging to the immortal broomstick. All the bells in town were ringing their loudest peal. Two persons have not yet recovered from the effects of the excitement. It was altogether the most exciting and ludicrous scene I ever saw. A few sensible citizens finally succeeded in showing the absurdity of the report and quiet was restored.

    Every shanty in town is now obliged to show hang out the stars and stripes. A mob threatened the college, and we had to hoist a flag. The Southern students received anonymous letters limiting their time here, and for a time we could not walk the streets without being harassed with threats and nicknames. A committee waited on a few who had been heard to make expressions against the north, and told them if they valued their lives to put out, they accordingly did so. McCants and myself are about the only students from the south that are left. We have nothing to fear. We were told by several of the best citizens that we would not be molested, they said we had acted as gentlemen, and they would ensure our perfect safety. I don’t think either of us have an enemy in town. They rather compliment us on remaining at college and being quiet.

    Dr. Johnson has just left my room, he gave me the letter and draft you sent him. He is very glad of the determination to stay, and says he was not deceived in thinking me possessed of sufficient stability not to be frightened off so easily. He is trying hard to keep up the college, has sent printed circulars to the parents, and says he will keep up the exercises if only three students remain. There are only about twenty left. I do not know whether any more that have left will return, two or three have. It is very lonesome. My chum leaves tomorrow, but the advantages for those remaining will only be better. It seems as though the fates were against my graduating since this affair occurred, but I am determined to give them a hard battle. I have no desire to go home, and as long as you will permit me, I will be here tugging away.

    There is much distress in Baltimore, a great many families have passed through here from there, on their way north, having been driven out of house and home. I believe affairs are becoming better there now. They will not suffer any one to pass over the line without examining their baggage. With one woman was discovered a trunk full of powder. They emptied it and started her on. All the women of Carlisle are busily engaged in making clothing for the soldiers. The South will find the North more determined than they suppose. In Carlisle the prominent desire seems to be that of getting a hold on Jeff Davis. Each man declares his intention of preserving an extra shot for him. McCants and myself stopped in a barber shop on our way from supper the other evening, and we had not been there long before the shop was filled and surrounded by a crowd who had noticed us enter, and came to question us a little. We expected rather rough treatment from them at first, but they told us we had nothing to fear, that they knew us to be gentlemen, and they believed the only gentlemen students we had from the south. They only wanted to tell that one from S.C. what they intended doing with Jeff Davis when they caught him, and the sentence they pronounced was not light. This party was part of a military company, that have now gone to serve against “Jeff.”

    Carlisle looks almost deserted. They have run the negroes off, except those they killed, and sent to the penitentiary.

    Last night the largest hotel in town was entirely destroyed by fire. Several made narrow escapes. There was one family taken out of the window of second story while the flames almost enveloped them. One man hung from a window in the third story until his hands burned to a crisp and then dropped, he will recover.

    I have not time to write more. I hope you will excuse the haste with which this has been written. I will write as often as I can. Don’t entertain the least fear for my safety. I feel just as safe as if I were at home, and I think I would be sensible of danger if there was any. We have nothing more to fear from rowdies. They have gone entire as soldiers. I have many friends here whom I don’t think would be influenced by political feelings.

    Give my love to all and tell them to write often. William

    [Transcriber’s Note – This sentence was written sideways in the left margin of the first page:] Don’t fear that I will be so foolish as to express sentiments disrespectful to the north.

    How to Cite This Page: "William Willey to Waitman Willey, April 29, 1861," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/36044.