Allison-Antrim Museum

Joseph A. Davison


When I began the Soldier’s Story column in 2012, the focus was on the letters written by the young men of Greencastle and Antrim Township, who served in the Civil War during 1862 and 1863.   These letters are part of Allison-Antrim Museum’s Civil War collection.  The column also included the letters of Samuel North, Mercersburg, also part of the museum’s collections.  From a private collection, the September 3, 1862 letter written by Joseph A. Davison was included in the Soldier’s Story column.  Davison’s service to his country, though, started more than a year before he wrote the 1862 letter.


Twelve days after the beginning of the Civil War, Joseph A. Davison, Antrim Township, enrolled in the Union Army, on April 24, 1861.  He was 23 years old, 5’11” tall, with brown hair and gray eyes, with a dark complexion.  His occupation was “clerk.”


On June 22, 1861, the 6th Pennsylvania Reserves (35th PA Regiment) was organized at Camp Curtin, with Company D comprised of Franklin County men.  Camp Curtin served as boot camp for enlistees, where they learned how to handle arms and served on guard duty.  Company D was armed with Harper’s Ferry muskets.  Orders were received on July 11 for the regiment to be ready to march on July 12 from Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, to Camp Biddle, near Greencastle.  From July 12 to July 22, the 6th PA Reserves was stationed at Camp Biddle, during which time Maj. Hershberger, Chambersburg, continued to drill the men.   From Greencastle the men were transported to Washington City.  After arriving in Washington, all the men, including Davison and those in Co D, were mustered into the 6th PA Reserves on July 27, 1861.  Davison was mustered in to Co. D and was given the rank of 1st Sergeant and a year later, on August 1, 1862, he was promoted to first lieutenant.  The 6th PA Reserves saw action in many of the major battles of the Civil War, including Antietam, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spottsylvania.  Although his regiment fought at Antietam, Davison was at home recuperating from a fever (most likely typhoid), which he contracted while on the Peninsula.


During the battle of Gettysburg, Lt. Davison was in charge of his company at Little Round Top.  On July 2nd, 1863, Co D helped defend Little Round Top and prevented Longstreet from taking that very strategic hill.  Davison was next promoted to the rank of captain on September 19, 1863.


April 1864 would have been the end of Davison’s three-year enlistment but he agreed to continue his service to the Union.  For gallant conduct at the Battles of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania Court House, Davison received the brevet rank of major.  On April 25, 1864, he was assigned to detached duty and became brigade inspector of the 1st Brigade, after which he served an additional one month and 15 days.  Joseph was discharged on June 11, 1864.  The following year, on March 13, 1865, Davison was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel.


Joseph Alexander Davison was born on January 13, 1838, the son of Abraham Smith Davison and Sarah Latta Davison.  Abraham was a half-brother of James Davison.  Joseph went to the Chambersburg Academy, where he received his education.  He married Anna Mary Taylor, daughter of John W. Taylor, a former sheriff of Franklin County.  They had four children: Charles Meade (1865 – 1953), Smith L. (Spanish American War veteran), Robert Francis (1870 – 1957), and Maud M. (1872 – 1956).


According to “When War Passed This Way,” page 343, Joseph worked as the manager of a warehouse, after the war.  The Davison family was living in the Borough of Greencastle during the 1870 US Census.  Their real estate was valued at $2,000 and their personal property was worth $1,500.  Joseph was 32 years old and, at that time, was working as a Railroad Clerk.  He was an active member of the Presbyterian Church and, in the community, was a member of the social organization called the Knights of Pythias.


Decoration Day (today’s Memorial Day) was always held on May 30.  It was “the” day designated to remember all Civil War veterans.  In Greencastle and Antrim Township, the events for Decoration Day were originally arranged and sponsored by the Knights of Pythias.  The first commemoration in Greencastle was c. 1871, sometime after Cedar Hill Cemetery was opened in 1870.  In a May 23, 1905 article in the Echo Pilot, written by Milton A. Embrick, Embrick wrote, “I am carried back to the first official Decoration Day under the auspices of the Knights of Pythias Lodge, when Colonel Joe Davison, as chairman of a committee, selected William Patton, M. D. Reymer, and the writer as the orators; comrade Reymer for the Reformed graveyard, Patton for the Cemetery, and the writer for the Lutheran graveyard.”   In 1884, the Corp. William H. Rihl GAR Post #438 took over and conducted the Decoration Day ceremonies for the first time.


Not unlike thousands of veterans, the war, specifically the Peninsula Campaign, took a severe toll on Joseph’s health.  Joseph A. Davison died at the very young age of 41 years, four months, and 13 days, on May 26, 1879, four days shy of Decoration Day.  He is buried in Section M, Lot 2, Cedar Hill Cemetery, Antrim Township, Franklin County, PA.  Anna did not apply to receive his pension until 15 months after Joseph’s death.  The pension record is dated August 18, 1880.


Anna and her four children were still living in the same home on North Carlisle Street in 1880, as they did in 1870.  Charles was the eldest child and at the age of 15 he was the man of the household and was working as a clerk in a hotel to bring in money for the family.  Ten years later, Annie M. Davison was enumerated on the 1890 Veterans Schedule as Joseph’s widow.


Mary Anna Taylor was born on February 3, 1838.  She was 62 years old during the 1900 US Census.  She was living in the Madison Street home of her widowed sister-in-law Martha (wife of John Davison), and her daughter Emma Y. (1869 – 1959) and son John G. (1882 – 1971).  Mary Anna’s father was born in Pennsylvania but her mother was born in Ireland.


Mary Anna Davison’s footstone does not give the year of birth or death.  I have not been able to find a death certificate, so I surmise that she died between June 15, 1900 (date of the census) and 1906.  Pennsylvania did not begin recording and keeping death certificates until 1906.


The extant letters written by Davison were written to his mother, Mrs. S(arah) S. Davison, and his Uncle James Davison.  154 years ago, in Davison’s letter, written from Camp Tenally, near Washington, to his uncle, who lived “near Chambersburg,” he wrote about the high prices of fresh vegetables and fruits.  Peaches and corn are in season now in 2015 as they were in 1861.  “There are some of the finest peaches in this neighbourhood that I ever saw.  but the only way to get them is to steal them for they wont sell them for less than one Dollar ($1.00) a Peck for anything like good Peaches.”    He also described the destruction of land, in order to fortify and protect Washington City.  Within seven hours, seven to eight acres of wooded land was cleared.  Farmers’ corn fields were destroyed and their crops were lost.  The area, which was chosen for Camp Tenally, was populated with secessionists but it seems their political views suddenly changed upon the arrival of thousands of Union soldiers.   Davison’s letter, written in pencil, was dated Sunday, September 8, 1861.  The transcription of Davison’s letter follows.


Bonnie A. Shockey, president

Allison-Antrim Museum, Inc.



Camp Tenally

 Near Washington

Sunday, Sept 8th 1861

Dear Uncle:-

          I am very happy to acknowledge the receipt of a Box most delicious Provisions from Aunt Margaret for which she has my most sincere thanks. There is no such a thing as placing a value upon a Box of Provisions such as that was. true we are at the head of the market for vegitables [sic] but every thing is so very high in price that a soldier cant well afford to buy many. I was asked 16 cts a head for very small heads of cabbage and the tomattoes [sic] that Aunt sent would cost 75 cts or $1.00 and every thing else in proportion. There are some of the finest peaches in this neighbourhood [sic] that I ever saw. But the only way to get them is to steal them for they wont sell them for less than one dollar ($1.00) a Peck for anything like good peaches! The Penna Reserve corps has thrown up a large Fortification immidiatily [sic] in the rear of our Camp. They are Mounting [sic]11 heavy canon [sic] upon the Battery now.  I understand it is calculated to hold 2000 infantry beside the 11 guns. The Fortification is situated on a large Hill [sic] and commands a view of the county in all directions for 3 or 4 miles. When we came to this camp there was a woods of some 7 or 8 acres directly in our rear, but as soon as they commenced throwing up the Fortification this woods was ordered to be cut down. Well it was commenced about 8 o'clock in the morning and before 3 o'clock in the afternoon every tree was level with the ground. then there was a Small woods in front of us that Somewhat obstructed the view and it had to suffer the same fate. Now we have a good view to the Potomac which is about 2 ½ or 3 miles distant. Whole cornfields that was in our way at all were cut of(f)[sic] and of course destroyed. I should never desire a large army to encamp near a farm of mine if I was so lucky as to have one. For what they dont [sic] destroy they will steal. There were quite a number of reported seassionists [sic] in this neighbourhood [sic] before we came here, but now they are all Strong union men. But there are Some of the Strongest union men here that I ever Saw.  but they were not raised about here. They are from Massachusetts, I took breakfast and dinner with one last Thursday when we were out on Picket, that was really wild on the Subject. He has been ordered to leave the neighbourhood [sic] 3 or 4 times, but he Says that if they pay him for his Property [sic] he will leave but if they do not do that he will let his bones whiten on the sand before he leaves.

          I am very glad to hear that you and Cousin Hugh Contemplate [sic] a visit to this part of the country. I assure you that.




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