Henry P. Beckwith

Henry P. Beckwith was born January 26, 1842, in New York, the son of Peter (1806-1896) and Sylvina (Griswold, 1809-1898).

Henry’s parents were married sometime before 1830, probably in New York and they moved to Pennsylvania from New York sometime between 1838 and 1842, eventually settling in Michigan. By 1850 Henry was living with his family in Grand Rapids Township and attending school, and by 1860 he was working as a farm laborer and still residing with his family in Grand Rapid Township (in the area near the junction of Leonard Street and the East Beltline now known as Beckwith Hills).

Henry was 19 years old and still living in Grand Rapids, probably with his family, when he enlisted in Company K on May 13, 1861. He served for a time as a company cook.

Henry wrote a series of letters to young lady friend in Grand Rapids, Catharine Hamilton. From Fort Lyon on December 3, 1861, he begged to be excused for having not written earlier. “[Y]ou must not think,” he wrote, “I have forgot you for that is not the case; how can I forget you with whom I have had so many happy hours; and have spent so many happy school days with, but those happy days have long been passed never again to be recalled; but we must hope for the best and all will come around right in the last. I should like to be there this winter to go to school with my old school mates once more. I have not forgot the old times I used to have there. Mead will not be there this winter to have singing schools so we can’t have any more fun going to them, but should I ever return to old Michigan again I hope that I will enjoy some good times with my old friends, . . .” He noted that he was well and that he found the life of a soldier rather pleasant. “[S]oldiering agrees with me first rate better than I expected it would last spring when I enlisted. . . .”

On December 16, 1861, he wrote from Camp Michigan warning Catharine that if he were back in school “you would not learn anything nor I either, for we should carry on so. If we did learn anything it would be something else besides our lessons and then our darling little darling of a schoolmam as that is her name would have to whip us and that would make us feel bad.”

Apparently in an earlier letter Catharine had mentioned that she missed sleighing with him, for on December 31, 1861, Henry wrote “You said you hadn't had any sleigh rides this winter and you said you wished I was there to go with you and I wish I was there too. I should have a good time. I can tell you I should take the hind end of the sleigh and get a pretty little girl in with me and then I should have a good time. Tonight is New Years’ eve but I can't come down to your house tonight as usual but I shall have to be contented with my present condition; but next year I maybe have to have some good old times again.”

By February, Henry had heard very little from Catharine, and in a letter written on February 12, 1862, he admonished her for not writing. “It has been a great while since I have heard from you and I don't know but you are dead as you would have wrote to me before this time. The last I heard of you you had cut your fingers pretty bad. I hope that they have got well by this time so you can write to me and let me know the news and what is going on there this winter. Catharine I want you to get your likeness taken and send it to me and I will get mine taken and send to you in return. Well Catharine I would like to [be] there to take a good old sleigh ride with the girls of old Grand Rapids. I think I should enjoy myself as well as the most of you. But fortune may favor me and permit me to live through this war to return back to my native home once more. And then absent friends will receive the weary soldiers with double ardor after they have won the battles of this country's flag, that flag that floated for the last 76 years in peace and harmony over every city in the United States until within the last nine months when the southern Confederacy declared war against the north.”

He finally heard from her by March 9, 1862. He wrote back on March 20 describing the Regiment’s recent movements from Camp Michigan to Alexandria and then by transport boat to Fortress Monroe. “I liked the voyage first rate. We had a nice time. It was the first time I ever sailed on the salt water. Where we shall go from here I don't know. We shall probably go where we shall have some hard fighting to do. I was glad to receive that likeness of you. I think it is a very good one. I am very much obliged. I didn't expect it so soon.”

On June 22, 1862, he wrote from Camp Lincoln, near Harrison’s Landing on the Virginia “Peninsula”, again to scold Catharine for not writing. “I haven't heard from you in so long a time, I am afraid you are sick or something. It is one of them fine pleasant mornings in the month of June. the sun shines clear and pleasant such is the morning that I should like to be where I could have a nice morning ride or walk with some loved friend and not be turned out three or four times in the night expecting the Enemy are coming on us with all their fury to crush us with their strength; but they have got to work some more cunning plan than they have yet worked. We shall probably have another fight in a day or two, which will tell the story which party shall possess the Great Confederate Capitol the hall of the rebels. Now Catharine you must write as soon as you get this and let me know how your health is this summer and how the health of all the folks around there.”

From Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, he wrote on July 21, 1862, noting that he had just received a letter from her dated July 14. “I don’t see what made you learn to be a milliner. I guess it was so you could be a city lady. Well you must stick to it and you will do well for it is a good trade for a young lady to learn. I suppose you had a nice old time the Fourth, but it was too bad that you had the sick headache. Well I had the same old kind of a time that we have every day. We did not have any girls to have a gay old time with as we should if we had been at home the 4. If it was any different from any other day we should not know what to do for all the days are alike with a soldier.”

Now it was Catharine’s turn to admonish Henry for not writing her.

On August 24, 1862, Catharine wrote from Grand Rapids, “[I]t is a long time ago since you wrote to me and I have neglected to write until now and I cannot find [time] to write about now only just to tell you that the folks are well that haven't gone to the war. I suppose that we poor girls will have to live [the life of] old maids on account of the war the men are all a going to be killed off. I am here all alone, they have all gone to meeting and left me and I am so lonesome I don't know what to do so I thought that I would write to you. . . . Your mother and father was down to our house today to ask me when I heard from you, they said they hadn't had a letter from you in two or three weeks and they didn't know what had become of you. . . . There are a great many sick with the fever.”

Henry was shot in the chest and died, on August 29, 1862, at Second Bull Run. On February 13, 1863, George Powers of Company K, and a good friend of Henry’s, wrote Catharine (or “Catie” as he called her) from Camp Pitcher, Virginia. “I understand,” wrote Powers, “from a letter from Sarah that you would like to have me send that picture that I got out of Henry's knapsack after the Battle of [Second Bull Run] and you would send me one, and as I have just returned from the hospital I will send it which I shall expect one in return in a very few days. I would of sent it while I was in the hospital but the picture was at the Regiment. I will also send one of Anna Thompson in his knapsack and pocket. You can tell Anna that Henry had his pretty one that she sent him last winter in his pocket when he was killed, so I could not get it.”

Henry was presumably buried among the unknown soldiers whose remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery. No pension seems to be available.

In 1890 his father Peter was still working a farm in Grand Rapids.