During the Civil War, the 56th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment was not formed out of Northumberland County, nor was it composed primarily of men and boys from the Shamokin-Mount Carmel area.

According to Bates' History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, soldiers in the 56th PVI, specifically Company D, were mustered into service primarily from Luzerne and Philadelphia counties.

Nevertheless, among the men mustered in at those counties was Jacob Crist, a Shamokin resident. Bates' does not list his date of recruitment, but if a letter to his family is any indication of when he joined the Union Army, it was probably in April 1861, a month after President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers to crush the Southern rebellion.

Crist's descendants remain in the Shamokin area. Henry Linton, Coal Township, is Crist's great-great nephew, and provided a copy of his letter.

Among first in battle

The 56th PVI remained in the service of its country for the duration of the war, until its soldiers were mustered out in Philadelphia on July 1, 1865.

Crist was among the 90,000 men in the Union Army who fought at Gettysburg. Under the command of Col. J. William Hoffmann, the 56th PVI was part of the First Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac and was among the first troops on the field of battle July 1, 1863, and also one of the first regiments to engage the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Like almost every soldier, North or South, who lived and fought in that long ago war, there were brief moments of battle and terror followed by long periods of marching, drill and boredom. During one of those "quieter" times, Crist found time to write his family a letter home. In it, he wrote about what was going on with him, his concern for his family, things about people he knew, but most of all, the desire to come home and be with his family.

The letter

The following letter from Crist was written from his regimental camp near Pratts Point, Va., on Friday, March 13, 1863.

"Dear Wife,

I received your letter dated March 3 (1863) on last Tuesday, but I did not answer it immediately as I thought perhaps, I could get the privilege to go home on a furlough as I had the promise that if there was any one go out of our company went I should go first. But I may still have little hope yet to come and see you as there is talk of granting more furlough, and I will try my best to come and see you and the children.

"There would be no difficulty to get a furlough was it not for those rascals who when they are trusted to go home break their oath and stay at home, thus depriving honest men from seeing their families. If I should happen to get a furlough, I would join my company, on its expirations, if I was but able to be carried to it.

"Bill (?) and the other man is not in our company but belong to Company G (?) in our regiment, but they are not here and have not been with their regiment these seven months. They are great soldiers if they do all their fighting from home I suppose.

"I am sorry that Sammy is no better, and I am anxious to hear how he is getting along. I am very anxious to see him. I am glad the rest of you keep so well. I am enjoying good health.

"John and Frank Reed got their boxes and they was in pretty good order. I had the pleasure of eating some of their contents but it is no use sending one anything, it would spoil before I got it. The two Reed boys are well and all the other Shamokin boys. Frank and John sends you their respects. I received a letter from my mother on the 7th (?) and she and all the rest was well. We are just beginning to see and feel our winter (?) as it is very cold today and it was snowing pretty fast this morning. We have rain or snow every day and night. We had thunder here the other night.

I will now close by sending you my love. Remember me to all the children hoping I be with you soon.

I remain your loving husband,

Jacob Crist

Write soon, direct as before."

He'd never return

Crist would be among the first to fall at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, and is buried in the national cemetery there.

He, like the more than 7,500 other men on both sides who fought and died there during those three days of combat, never saw his family again.

Letter history

Jacob Crist's final letter has been in the Henry Linton family, Shamokin, for generations. Linton is a descendant of Crist through his mother.

"The letter has been handed down for generations," Linton said. "I remember taking it with me to grade school when I was a child and showing it to the class. I've had the letter in my personal possession since I was 25."

Linton also said that occasionally, the letter will be brought out, read and discussed with Civil War buffs and family members. According to Linton, the furlough Crist hoped to obtain and wrote about in his letter was, as far as he knew, never granted by the military.