1864: Charles A. Marvin to Mrs. Elizabeth Wise

This letter was written by 35 year-old Charles A. Marvin (1829-1898), the son of Tilly Marvin (1793-1864) and Camilla Clemons (1797-1837) of Tioga county, Pennsylvania. Charles was married to Olive Walker (1832-1913) in 1852 and had at least five children by the time this letter was written in 1864 while serving in Co. L, 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Prior to his enlistment in February 1864, Charles was a farmer in Cherry Flats in Tioga county. He mustered out of the regiment on 23 August 1865.

Charles wrote the letter at the request of an apparently illiterate comrade in the regiment to his wife, Mrs. Elizabeth (Snyder) Wise (1832-1880) of Hanover, York county, Pennsylvania. I discovered through census records that 18 year-old Elizabeth was living in 1860 with 20 year-old Michael Wise (Weise) in the household of his parents, Frederick and Catherine Wise of Hanover, Pennsylvania, in the 1850 and 1860 census. I also discovered that Michael had enlisted in April 1861 as a private in Co. G, 16th Pennsylvania Volunteers and that he died on 20 August 1861 from an acute attack of gastroenteritis. In filing for a widow’s pension, Elizabeth submitted a certificate of marriage by the justice of the peace dated 6 August 1860 that informs us the couple were finally married after at least a decade of living together when she filed a charge of “Fornication and Bastardy” again Michael claiming he was the father of their yet unborn child. Dragged into court, Michael agreed to marry Elizabeth which resulted in the marriage certificate. Elizabeth gave birth to the child on 3 November 1860, two and a half months after the marriage, and named him Charles James Wise.

For Michael’ service, Elizabeth began receiving a widow’s pension in the amount of $8 per month beginning on 20 August 1861 and an additional $2 per month for her son Charlie until he reached maturity on his birthday in 1877. In October 1864, we learn from pension records that Elizabeth resided in Littlestown, Adams county, Pennsylvania.

So who was the “husband” who “often speaks of you and his children” that Charles Marvin referred to in his letter? Could it be that Elizabeth had taken up living with another man out of wedlock? Under the terms of her pension, she would have had to forfeit her monthly allotment if she remarried and so she may, perhaps, have wanted to avoid marriage and to change her name. It should be noted that Elizabeth was also illiterate as she could only make her mark in pension papers so apparently the mystery soldier “husband” and Mrs. Wise could only carry on their correspondence through the courtesy of others.


Columbus, Tennessee
April 27, 1864

Mrs. Elizabeth Wise,

I now take the privilege of writing you a few brief lines to let you know that your husband is well and enjoys the blessings of good health. He seems to be a Godly man and often talks of you and his children. He seems to have a hope beyond the grave and he thinks that he will see you again, if not in this life, he will see you in the Kingdom of Immortal Glory.

We have left Nashville and come to Columbus some forty miles. This is a nice country. We are camped among the lazy poplar trees which are very large and nice indeed. The soil is good and a very rich country. He is a cooking for an officer and has enough to eat and does not have to work so hard as he did when he was at home at work at the stone business and seems to enjoy himself, and he is not obliged to go onto battle unless he is a mind to as long as he is cook.

There is a great many negroes down here in this country. They appear to be [a] harmless set of men and women.

We are tented close by the railroad and the cars are very busy carrying supplies to the army. There is a great deal of cursing in the army which seems to affect him a great deal. He does not like to hear it. I am cooking as well as himself and we have some time to talk with each other. He wants you should pray for him that his life may be spared to come home to see his family once more. He wants you to send him some postage stamps for they are hard to get here. You can send him one or two in each letter. He says that he received a letter from Charley Burns and he said that if I would write him, I should receive a speedy answer. I wrote him a letter but he thinks it was not directed right.

We are under marching orders and expect to move again right away. — Charles A. Marvin

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