“You Dream Every Night That I am Home”

You Dream Every Night that I am Home: Letters from a young Civil War soldier to his wife in Eckley, a town in the anthracite coal fields of northeastern Pennsylvania

This book has the transcribed real-life letters written by John Williamson to his wife Hester over the course of a few months from 1861 to 1862.

John was a 22-year-old mule driver in the coal mine and newly married to Hester when he enlisted in the Union Army in the fall of 1861. He lived in the coal town Eckley, now the site of Eckley Miners’ Village, an open-air museum that’s 8 miles east of Hazleton and 18 miles north-west of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

John wrote dozens of letters to Hester. In his early letters he described life in military camp, the food, and his fellow soldiers. Hester was pregnant, and he expressed concern for her well-being, as well as his other family and friends back home.

John was a member of Company K of the Pennsylvania 81st Volunteer Infantry. They had their winter camp in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from Washington, D.C. John wrote about how cold it was, the restlessness of the men, and about having to break ice on the water to wash their clothes. He became sick and spent time at the military hospital.

As the winter ended, Company K became involved in military engagements, and as part of the Army of the Potomac fought in the Seven Days Battles on the Virginia Peninsula. John was killed on the sixth day of those battles, at Charles City Crossroads. He is one of the “not accounted for.” His baby daughter Matilda was 3 months old at the time of his death. When she was a teenager, Matilda was one of the signers of Mary Boyd’s autograph album (the focus of the book “Coal Country Connections“)

John’s letters take the reader from Eckley to training camp in Easton, Pennsylvania, then through Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Baltimore, Maryland to the site of a military encampment on the east side of Washington, and on to the site of winter camp in Alexandria. John and the other members of the Pennsylvania 81st were then transported by ship down to Fort Monroe near Hampton Roads and Newport News, Virginia, from where they marched up the peninsula to Yorktown, and on to what would be John’s final battles.

The author and her husband followed John Williamson’s journey to visit and photograph the places he wrote about. Those photos, as well as several Civil War era images and photos are throughout the book. There are also several battle maps showing the positions of the Pennsylvania 81st Infantry.

You Dream Every Night That I am Home” is 8 1/2 x 11 and 456 pages, with color images. Besides Amazon, it’s also available at the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton, the Luzerne County Historical Society in Wilkes-Barre, the gift shop at Eckley Miners’ Village, and Sellers Books + Art in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

John Williamson