Collection Title: Lt. Col. Thomas S. Bell Papers

Collection Number: Ms. Coll. 173

Dates of Collection: 1861-1862

Extent: 1 box, 22 folders; .5 linear feet

RepositoryChester County History Center, West Chester, PA

Language: English

Project Archivist: Margaret Miles Baillie


Thomas Sloan Bell was born on May 12, 1838, in West Chester, Pennsylvania to Thomas S. and Keziah Hemphill Bell.  The Bells had five children and Thomas was the third son.  His sister Caroline married Dr. Goodell, who was a missionary in Constantinople.  Both his brothers, Joseph and William, served in the Civil War.  William eventually published a book on a trip he had to Alaska.  Information on his other sister is unknown.

Thomas attended West Chester Academy in his formative years.  He was commissioned an aid-de-camp to the Major General of the third division of Uniformed Militia of Chester and Delaware Counties on March 11, 1858.  On October 31, 1859, he was appointed paymaster of the same and made major adjutant.  He was admitted to the bar on April 4, 1859, and had a law office with his father on 28 N. High Street in West Chester.  His father was a well-respected judge in the county who was also a delegate to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention in the 1830s and an associate judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

As a Lt. Col. with the 51st Pennsylvania Volunteers, Thomas saw action at the Battle of Roanoke Island; Newbern and Camden, North Carolina; the second Battle of Bull Run; South Mountain and Antietam.  The letters in the collection start with the date of April 20, 1861, and they record in great detail Thomas’ thoughts and military movements throughout the time period until his death on September 18, 1862, by the bridge at Antietam.  He occasionally made ink sketches of people or locations which are either on the letters or separate sheets of paper.  There is an excellent drawing of the location of the 2nd Division, Burnsides’ Corps, near Newbern, NC, in folder 21.  


The letters in the collection record in great detail Bell’s thoughts and military movements throughout the time period from April 20, 1861, until his death on September 18, 1862, by the bridge at Antietam.  His occasional ink sketches of people and locations enhance the collection.

Collection Scope:

The collection spans the years from April 20, 1861 to December 19, 1862.  The collection consists of correspondence, individual sketches, receipts and two photographs.

Information For Researchers:

  • Access: Collection is open for research.
  • Publication Rights/Terms of Use: For permissions to reproduce or to publish, please contact the Librarian of the CCHC library.
  • Preferred Citation: Lt. Col. Thomas S. Bell papers, 1861-1862. Ms. Coll. 173. Chester County History Center Library. West Chester, Pennsylvania.
  • Acquisition Information: Donated by Mrs. William S. Freeman on July 29, 1942
  • Processing History: Processing and finding aid prepared using DACS by Margaret Miles Baillie, 2009

Collection Arrangement:

Manuscripts are arranged chronologically. 

Related Material:

– CCHC Clippings Files

– CCHC Diary Collection.  January 1, 1862 – September 14, 1862. Diary includes several sketches and “Soldier’s Pocket Manual of Devotions,” dated 1861

– CCHC Photo Collection

– CCHC Museum Collection for Thomas S. Bell military items

Collection Contents:

Box 1 – Correspondence 1861- 1862

Folder 1 – Correspondence, April 1861. Three letters.

Three letters to his father in which he talks of preparation for war by the troops at camp and pleads with his father to turn to God.  His father is living in Philadelphia at 2125 Green Street with his daughter and son in law.

Folder 2 – Correspondence, May 1861. Seven Letters.

Seven letters to his father.  In the letter dated May 27, he tells of secessionist feelings in New Castle, Delaware, and the troops sent to police the situation.

Folder 3 – Correspondence, June 1861. Seven Letters.

Seven letters.  Receives news of his father’s death from Uncle Joe Hemphill.  June 16 is his first letter which reports military action.  June 18 letter mentions Harper’s Special artist sketching them.

Folder 4 – Correspondence, July 1861. Six letters.

These letters tell of the troops movements into Maryland and Virginia.

Folder 5 – Correspondence, September 1861.  Two letters.

These letters are addressed from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Folder 6 – Correspondence, October 1861. Six Letters.

These letters are addressed from Camp Center at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Folder 7 – Correspondence, November 1861.  Three letters.

These letters are addressed from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Annapolis, Maryland.

Folder 8 – Correspondence, December 1861.  Seven letters.

Six of the letters are addressed from Camp Union near Annapolis, Maryland. One is addressed from City Hotel, Annapolis, Maryland.

Folder 9 – Correspondence, January 1862.  One receipt and thirteen letters.

These letters are addressed from Annapolis, from aboard the schooner “Scout” as it sails along the coast from Annapolis to Hatteras, and a letter from William Bigler addressed from the Senate Chamber. Included on the reverse of the January 9, 1862 letter is a detailed map of Pamplico and Albemarle Sounds of Roanoke Island, NC.

Folder 10 – Correspondence, February 1862.  Eight letters and one envelope.

These letters are addressed from on board the schooner “Scout” in Pamlico Sound, Camp Burnside on Roanoke Island, Camp Jordan on Roanoke Island, and Cantonment Burnside on Roanoke Island.  There are two drawings of ship and battery positions.

Folder 11 – Correspondence, March 1862. Six letters.

The letter dated March 15, 1862 is written on Confederate States of America letterhead. The letters are addressed from on board the schooner “Scout” and various encampments around Roanoke Island and Newbern, North Carolina.

Folder 12 – Correspondence, April 1862.  Five letters and one report.

The report, which is dated April 23, is about the battle at Newbern, N.C.  The letters are addressed from various camps around and at Newbern, N.C. 

Folder 13 – Correspondence, May 1862.  Five letters.

The letters are addressed from Camp Franklin at Newbern, N.C.  

Folder 14 – Correspondence, June 1862.  Six letters.

The letters are addressed from Camp Franklin and from Newbern, N.C.  

Folder 15 – Correspondence, July 1862.  Three letters.

Letters addressed from aboard a ship, and from Camp Lincoln at Newport News, Virginia.          

Folder 16 – Correspondence, August 1862.  Four letters.

Letters addressed from Newport News, VA, Falmouth Station near Fredericksburg, VA, and Warrenton Junction.

Folder 17 – Correspondence, September 1862.  Two letters.

The letter dated September 10, 1862; Brookville, Maryland, is the last letter Thomas’ family received from him.  The other letter is addressed from near Alexandria, VA.

Folder 18 – Correspondence, October – December 1862, to Dr. William Goodell. 

Four letters (and one envelope) to Dr. Goodell, Thomas’ brother-in-law, relaying information about Thomas’ actions and death at Antietam Bridge, Maryland.

Folder 19 – Correspondence October 1862.  Letter to Joseph McClelland Bell from Uncle

Joseph Hemphill giving a report of Thomas’ death.

Folder 20 – Resolution, 1862, by members of the Bar of Chester County regarding Thomas’ death.  Envelope included.

Folder 21 – Sketchings.  Three ink sketchings by Thomas S. Bell.

Sketchings are of a Zouve of the 53rd NY Volunteers, December 18, 1861; Draft showing Relating positions of the camps of the 2nd Division, Burnsides’ Corps, near Newbern, NC and “My quarters at ‘Camp Reno’ Newbern, NC” May 31, 1862; and “My quarters at ‘Camp Union’ near Annapolis, Maryland, December 6, 1861.

Folder 22 – Portraits of Thomas S. Bell, Jr.

Two photocopies of portraits from the CCHC photo collection.