Robert Bell letters

I hope all my readers had an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.  I was quite busy until today and didn’t have much chance to post anything, so I’m back in the saddle.  We had dinner Thursday at my parents’ home here in my hometown – with my sister and her husband, who live in Columbus, Ohio.  I only get to see Lisa and Bob twice, maybe three times a year, so it is always especially nice to spend time with them.  They are also very interested in historical topics, so we had some great conversations about the Stuart’s Ride book as well as my upcoming projects.  In April 2007, I will be in Columbus to speak to the Round Table and also a local elementary school.  By then, Lisa and Bob will be in their newly-built home, and I’ll be the first to lay claim to their new guest room!

This past Saturday, I received a long-awaited treat in the mail.  The previous week, while I was in Gettysburg for a couple book signing events, I was made aware of a privately-published collection of over 100 letters by Robert Bell.  Bell raised, and was captain of, the Adams County Cavalry Company from in and around Gettysburg.   The company was officially formed just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, and was part of the force that met Confederate General Jubal Early’s advance on the town on June 26, 1863 – I’ve made a couple posts on this topic previously.  Bell turned out to have been a prolific letter writer during the war, especially after his company was made Company B of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry after the battle.  Bell was then promoted to a major in the regiment, with Lt. Col. William Boyd commanding.  During the last two years of the war, Bell was intermittently temporary commander of the regiment and the brigade.

A small local publisher in Gettysburg named John Horner (a collateral Bell relative) recently published the 117 letters that Bell wrote to his family during the war.  My copy of the collection arrived on Saturday to my delight, and I spent a couple hours that afternoon going through them.  Bell’s letters provide great primary source material for the June 26 event, as well as the death of one of the privates in the company, George Washington Sandoe.  Sandoe was shot and killed that afternoon by a trooper of Elijah White’s 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry that was traveling with Early (specifically John B. Gordon’s brigade).

As I’ve mentioned here, I’m currently working on an article for Gettysburg Magazine on the June 26 event, which will also be worked into a new book project that Eric Wittenberg and I are doing on all cavalry operations during the campaign.  Bell’s letters have never been used in a new work before, so they will open up a whole new world for this topic as well as adding greatly to the scholarship of the final two years of the war, camp life, the regiment, etc.  I’ve sent a copy of the letters to Eric, who will find good useful information about Col. Boyd as well (Eric is working on an article about Boyd’s exploits during the campaign).

As I’ve said over and over, I’m constantly surprised by the amount of primary material that continues to surface all these years later.  Bell’s letter collection has been in the caring hands of Bell descendants in Hunterstown, and they made them available to Horner for publication.  These letters provide an enormous amount of new material for the study not only of June 26 and his cavalry company, but also of the battle, the campaign, local history, the balance of the war, and many other related topics.  They offer wonderful insight into so many events like these types of letters so often do, and we’re very lucky that the family has permitted them to be published and made available to scholars and students.

I look forward to finishing this article and seeing what it will eventually add to the scholarship of the early days of the Gettysburg Campaign.  I also know that I will be able to use the contents of these letters in many future projects.

Published in: on November 27, 2006 at 11:54 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Where can I find a copy of the Bell letters published by John Horner? I reviewed your book Plenty of Blame on Amazon-keep writing please. Its a pleasure to read and purchase really good books such as yours and Eric’s. Thankyou James McCorry Palatine, Illinois

  2. Hi James,

    We saw that review, and thank you very much for it! I’m very gratified that you enjoyed the book. Eric and I are just beginning to pen a 3-volume work on all cavalry operations during the Campaign, so please watch for news as that progresses.

    For contact information for Horner, just email me at and I’ll get it to you.

    Thanks James!


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