1864: William Coulter Elder to Samuel Elder

Pvt. William Coulter Elder was just 17 years old when he enlisted in Co. C, 39th Iowa Infantry in August 1862. This tintype was taken at Benton Barracks near St. Louis by Photographer Enoch Long. William sits in front of one of the more iconic “Benton Barracks” backdrops but there were at least six of these with different scenes in his studio. This image was probably taken in 1862. (Mike Huston Collection)

The following letter was written by William Coulter Elder (1845-1911), the son of Samuel Elder (b. 1825) and Elizabeth Miller (b. 1828) of Cowanshannock, Armstrong county, Pennsylvania. In the fall of 1853, the Elder family relocated to Rippy, Greene county, Iowa. When he was only 17 years old, William enlisted as a private in Co. C, 39th Iowa Infantry. On 6 October 1863, William was given a promotion to 8th Corporal. He was severely wounded at Allatoona Pass on 5 October 1864 and mustered out of the regiment on 5 June 1865 at Washington D. C.

After he was discharged from the service, William returned to Iowa and then relocated to Nebraska in 1880, taking up a homestead two miles west of Wellfleet, Lincoln county, Nebraska. He eventually was elected as the first clerk of the district court and then became a judge.

When William was 65 years old, he was admitted into the Home for Disabled Soldiers at Hot Springs, Fall River, South Dakota, suffering from diabetes and having had his right leg amputated below the knee as a result of it. He had been living in North Platte, Nebraska working as a county judge. His wife, Mary H. Clark and a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was 16 years his junior. They were married at North Platte in 1898. William died on 6 March 1911 and was buried in the Ft. McPherson National Cemetery in Nebraska.

Artists depiction of the desperate Battle of Allatoona Pass where William was severely wounded defending Sherman’s supply line in October 1864.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Mike Huston and was transcribed, researched, and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Patriotic Letterhead on Elder’s Letter

Co. C, 39th Regiment Iowa Infantry Volunteers
3rd Brigade, 2nd Army Division, 16th Army Corps
At Gracey’s Trestle, Tennessee
March 9th 1864

Dear Father,

I received the letter you sent by Capt. Marsh last night & was glad to hear from you to hear you were all well. Well, you must excuse me for that lie I told about me going to get married. It was write for to match one that was sent to us last spring. Do not be uneasy about either of us getting married for there is no danger at all.

Well, as for [ ing], I will not let you sink. I sent 15 dollars to you a short time ago by mail—10 in one & 5 in the other. The next I sent I will send by express. I could have sent the other by express but did not know it at the time. Will you please let me know what I had better do. I can get fifty dollars if I want and pay it here. Please let me know whether I had better do it or not. I have spent a heap more than there was any use of but I will spend no more till you are out of debt. You shall not sink if you can sell Bill. Sell him to pay your debts for I can do without a horse for three more years. I know my promise to have broke it but I will not do it again.

Well, I must close for the present. I am well as are all the rest of the boys. Tell Aunt she must excuse me for that lie.

I am as ever your son, — W. C. Elder

Dear Sister,

I got a letter from you last evening asking for two dollars for to buy sheep with. Enclosed find the [ ] for that purpose. Try and learn all you can and write often. Well, there is no news here at preset. All the boys are in good health. I am in a hurry for once.

Well, do all you can for Father till I get home & you will oblige your Will. We had considerable of rain last night. Well, excuse bad writing and spelling. I will do better next time.

I am well at present. Very respectfully, your brother, — W. C. Elder

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