In today’s column, we are reading the handwritten letters of Capt. Theodore Howell, Allen Township and Northampton’s celebrated Civil War veteran.
Mr. Aaron Schisler, of the Schisler Funeral Home, has graciously shared these letters with our readers. These letters were given to Mr. Schisler by a grandson of Capt. Howell.
Theodore Howell enlisted in the Union Army, leaving a large family. Many men evaded the draft by a number of options that were allowed by the draft law, which we explain in this column.
Capt. Howell writes on Dec. 9, 1862:
I don’t think the people of Allen Township appreciate all we have done for them, as if to a draft instead of getting out with raising $2,400 nearly every man that would have been drafted would have an average of $300, $400 a piece, but as it is, they escaped the draft, and there are not many in the township thanking us for the trouble we went to getting the company organized. We serve our country without compulsion as a duty to our country.”
Here is the reason Capt. Howell questioned the fairness of the draft. The law allowed a drafted man to obtain exemption by paying a commutation fee of $300, which would last until a new draft was called. He then could hire a substitute to go to war in his place, thus obtaining permanent release from military service.
There were actually brokers who would find substitutes for wealthy draft dodgers. The law put the load on the poor man and gave special exceptions to the wealthy.
When Theodore Howell enlisted, he raised his own company by convincing many of his neighbors to enlist in the Union Army. Some locals who served were George Beil, Elias Snyder, Thomas Leh, Sgt. John Heberling, William Kuntz and Henry Miller.
May 1863, Capt. Howell writes:
A few lines to say I am first rate and rested after a long, hard March. Saw action. Happy to report Walter Rutman is not killed but severely wounded. He was brought across the river, taken to first division hospital. Curtis Stickland also wounded in left hip. Some of our company were taken as prisoners. They are in Richmond Prison.
Capt. Howell and the 153rd Pennsylvania Regiment received a message from Gen. George G. Meade to prepare to march north. Now both the Union and Confederate armies were marching to destiny. They ended in the small town of Gettysburg. Capt. Howell and his company D would then fight in the battle that would be the turning point in the Civil War and the United States.
In two weeks, Capt. Howell sees action at the Battle of Gettysburg.