All posts by Griff

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

1861: Unidentified “Henry” to his Mother

Unfortunately the letter and the envelope it was mailed in became have become separated in the past making it impossible to identify the author of this letter who signed it only as “your affectionate son, Henry.”

Because it was written on “Pennsylvania” patriotic stationery and given that he author mentions Company H in the letter, my assumption is that he served in that company in a Pennsylvania Infantry regiment but I have not been able to identify the regiment that was posted at Seneca Mills, Maryland, on that date.

Perhaps a Spared & Shared reader will be able to figure it out and let me know. We know his parents were living, that he had a brother named Al, and probably some sisters.


Seneca Mills [Maryland]
Camp Seneca
November 18, 1861

Dear Mother,

Your letter dated the 13th was duly received and I was glad to hear from you. Today our new uniforms come and Co. H goes on picket duty to the river. It is very cold here and we will move this week to Washington.

In regard to my spending so much money at the sutlers is well understood. We have had so much picket duty to do and our food has been so bad that I had to buy chocolate and the common necessities that a person in our situation must have on such a short notice. But drop all that, I shall send every cent of wages hereafter to you to help you along and fo without these little things and try for once if I cannot subdue this habit of spending money.

Tell Al I will send the pipe Thursday or Friday by Adams Express and will pay for it. Father wrote me the same day you did and says he sends me with the regimental blankets two English blankets which I am very thankful for. I received also a letter from Lewis Coffin the same date and was very glad to hear from him and will answer it today. Give my respects to all my friends and Mr. Souder. Father has sent a good many blankets to the regiment and has done well.

Thursday is Thanksgiving. I don’t know ho it will pass here but I hope you will enjoy it and have a good dinner. I congratulate Al on his 22nd birthday and hope he will accept the pipe as my present to him as it is all I can send him but I hope it will no be long before I will be able to give him something better.

Give my love to the girls and tell them to write. Hoping this will find you all well, I remain your affectionate son, — Henry

A happy Thanksgiving to you all. — Henry

1862: Martin Conley to Samuel Welles

I couldn’t find a photograph of Martin but here’s a cdv of Russell Levan who served in Co. D, 131st Pennsylvania. Posted on Civil War Faces by Ryan Lindbüchler in July 2013

The following letter was written by Martin Conley (1831-1906) of Co. D, 131st Pennsylvania Infantry, a nine-months regiment that was formed in the fall of 1862. Co. D was recruited primarily in Northumberland county—Lewistown and vicinity. Martin was among those who enlisted at Lewistown and served from August 12, 1862 until 23 May 1863. During this time the regiment participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg, Burnside’s Mud March, and the Battle of Chancellorsville. The regiment lost during its service 2 officers and 36 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded ,and 1 officer and 44 enlisted men by disease.

Martin was the son of James Conley and Sarah Delilah Lepley—all born in Ireland and emigrated to the United States about 1850.


Camp near Warrenton [Virginia]
November 13th 1862

Dear Friend Sam,

I seat myself down to answer your most welcome letter which was duly received today. This letter found me well and enjoying the pleasures of war. I hope that those few lines may find you all enjoying the greatest of pleasure that life can afford.

You stated that Thomas was shot at the Battle of Antietam. I had not heard that Thomas was killed until I got the letter. It made me feel very sorry when I heard it. In the army, it is very hard getting along. Since I have been in the service, I have seen some pretty hard sights—men lying over the [battle] field and no attention paid to them at all. I heard that John was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel but I heard since that he was going to be Colonel altogether. I hope he is. I would not care if they would promote me to be something else than privacy.

“I have not been in a battle yet nor don’t want to get in one vary soon. The reason i don’t want to get in one is because they shoot at a fellow. But if i have to i will do all i can for my courntry.”

— Martin Conley, Co. D, 131st Pennsylvania, 13 November 1862

I have not been in a battle yet nor don’t want to get in one very soon. The reason I don’t want to get in one is because they shoot at a fellow. But if I have to, I will do all I can for my country.

I wish I was there to get a share of those potatoes and turnips. I well believe that I would be well fed. I would like some apple butter too for i know it is nice. I will tell you what we have to eat. It is hard crackers and black coffee and a little meat and sometimes bean soup. It is pretty hard living for a fellow thats had good living all his life time.

Sam, I want you to get me a good pair of boots made and send them to me. I suppose sevens would be about right. We need them pretty big for we have mud and water to wade. We have been marching for about a week.

We left Sharpsburg on the 31st and are still under marching orders. I tell you that march set pretty hard on me for I had a big knapsack to carry. But I got along as well as I could. I did not get the money for them clothes and if you can get it, I wish you would. The clothes was too cheap, I know, but I can’t help it. Try and get the money for me if you can. I told you I would be back, Sam, but if I live in six months, I will come if that suits you. You know I can’t come sooner for I am under Uncle Sam and he won’t let me go soon.

I must bring my letter to a close for it is supper time. I got a letter from my sister and if I don’t happen to get home, you can send my money to my sister. When I get paid, I will send you the rest of my money. This is the directions how to write to my sister. Bridgeport P. O., Widen River, New Jersey. Her name is Lurensa Robbins.

Answer soon, — Martin Conley

[to] Samuel Welles

1861: Joseph M. Mathews to Richard Gregory

Two members of the 51st New York Infantry, both are in full uniform standing at attention with bayonets ready. Enhanced buttons and belt plate. Camp scene in background.
(Raynor’s Auctions)

The following letter was written by 23 year-old Joseph M. Matthews who enlisted on 2 August 1861 at Kellogsville to serve three years in Co F, 51st New York Infantry. Joseph was mustered in as a corporal in October 1861 and promoted to a sergeant in April 1862. He rose in rank to 1st Sergeant of his company on 14 March 1863 and reenlisted as a veteran in November 1863. He was killed in action on 6 May 1864 at the Wilderness, Virginia.

The 51st New York Infantry was organized at New York City under the command of Colonel Edward Ferrero—the hard-drinking dance studio instructor who incredibly rose to the rank of Major General and was best known for his unbecoming conduct at the Battle of the Crater. This letter was penned from Camp Burnside where the 51st was attached to Reno’s Second Brigade and being readied for Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition.

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


Addressed to Mr. R. Gregory, Auburn, Cayuga county, New York

Headquarters 51st [New York] Regiment, Co. F
Camp Burnside [Annapolis, Maryland]
December 15, 1861

Dear Friend,

With pen in hand I write you a few lines. I am well and hope these few lines will find [you] the same. I have written to you once since I have been here but it appears that you have not got it or you have not wrote to me so I think I must write you once more.

Well, Rich, I have not much news to write—only we won’t stay here long but will move further south where we expect to be in a battle soon. Some say in two weeks but I think not so soon.

Yesterday the 14th we had a General Review. We was reviewed by General Foster and it was as nice a sight as any I seen. It was in a large field. The 51st New York was counted the best drilled regiment in the lot. We marched past the general column front the first time around in quick time. The second time in double quick time. The 51st is in the Second Brigade and second on the right of the brigade and I think General Foster will put us in the First Brigade. If he does, the [better] but it don’t make much difference where we are so we fight [ ] and so I can get a shot at Jeff Davis and if I do, he must fall [even] if I have to fall after him.

But I don’t think this war will last long. What do you think about it? But what does the folks at the North think about the war? We don’t get any news here—only we are afraid we won’t see any fighting. But if we don’t, we will think it a hum bug.

Well, Rich, I have acquainted with one of your cousins here. He is in the band. His name is [Edmund C.] Gilbert from Butternuts. The whole band is from thee and we have the best band in the division.

Well Rich, I suppose you are in the poultry business this winter. If you are, just send me a duck so I can have one for New Years’ Dinner.

Well, Rich…I must close and go to church. Give my love to the family…Direct to Corporal Mathews, 51st Regiment NY S. V., Company F, in care of Capt. [Francis E.] McIlvaine, Annapolis, Maryland

Write as soon as you get this but tell Mc___. .. Tel Lib to write &c. Goodbye. Yours, — J. M. Mathews

to Richard Gregory

1864: Judson Wayland Oliver to Edwin M. Stanton

I could not find an image of Jud dating to the time he was in the Civil War but here is one of John H. Simpson of Co. C, 39th Massachusetts Infantry (Photo Sleuth)

The following letter, addressed to Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, was penned by Judson (“Jud”) Wayland Oliver (1832-1908) of Co. E, 39th Massachusetts Infantry. As he states in his letter, he was taken a prisoner of war near the Rapidan River on 10 October 1863 and held in prison on Belle Island in Richmond through the winter of 1863/64 until exchanged after five months. After more time regaining his health in Union hospitals, he was returned to his regiment where he remained until taken prisoner again in February 1865 at Hatcher’s Run. He was exchanged not long after and mustered out in June 1865.

Judson was the son of William Oliver, Jr. (1795-1880) and Lydia Neagles (1810-1890) of Somerville, Middlesex county, Massachusetts. He was married in 1853 to Sarah Fessenden Hobart (1836-1878) and was the father of two children born before the Civil War began; three more after the close of the war.

Prior to Jud’s capture in October 1863, the 39th Massachusetts had spent the entire previous year performing guard duty in the defenses of Washington D. C., on the upper Potomac River, and near Harper’s Ferry. They were advanced to the Rapidan river and posted there in August and September 1863, but were pulled back to join other commands for the Bristoe Campaign. It was during this retreat from the Rapidan that Jud and the others in his squad were captured by rebel cavalry.

A rare Confederate photograph taken in the field shows tents where Union prisoners of war were housed on Belle Isle, an open-air prison located on an island in the James River across from Richmond. The photographer, Charles R. Rees, took the image from a high point on the island; in the distance, at center left, is the Capitol.


Somerville, Massachusetts
July 20th 1864

To Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War

I enlisted in the military service of the United States in Co. E, 39th Regt. Massachusetts Volunteers in August 1862 and served to the best of my ability without punishment, reprimand, or reproof until October 11th 1863 when with ten others of our regiment I was taken prisoner by the rebels. I was paroled and arrived at Annapolis, Maryland, from Richmond, Va., on the 24th of March last, having been in prison at the latter place five months. The names of our party who were captured are:

Sergt. Richard J. Hyde, Co. E
Corp. George W. Bean, Co. E
Private Henry Howe, Co. E
Private Washington Lorett, Co. E
Private Joseph W. Whitmore, Co. E
Private Francis J. Oliver, Co. E
Private Judson W. Oliver, Co. E
Private Samuel M. Perry, Co. D
Private J. T. Churchill, Co. G
Private Jno. A. Mead, Co. K
Private F. Norton

The circumstances of our arrest are as follows. With the exception of Mead and Churchill, we had all been out on picket duty near the Rapidan River, Va., and on the evening of the 10th, after dar, we were ordered by Capt. Brigham who was in command of our post, to fall back to the reserve picket, a distance of a mile or more. We marched in good order as directed by Capt. Brigham. When we arrived at the “reserve,” there was considerable noise and confusion. The night was very dark and what officer was there in command, I do not and never did know. There was a general talk among the men (but I heard no order) that we were to “fall back to our regiment camp, get rations, pick up our knapsacks, and such things as we had left there, and follow the regiment which had marched in the direction of Pony Mountain the afternoon before. The whole picket force numbering as I understood one hundred and fifty men did fall back to the camp—a distance of two or three miles—in much disorder. There was much noise and no attempt at military order to my knowledge.

When our squad under Sergt. Hyde arrived at the camp, there was great disorder and confusion. It was about midnight and extremely dark. Some were leaving in squads and others arriving, some trying to find their knapsacks, &c., and many hurrying off without them. So far as I know, there was no attempt to enforce order or discipline by any officer in command. I heard no order whatever from any such officer after the order from Capt. Brigham to “fall back to the reserve.”

Sergt. Hyde appeared annoyed at the want of order and objected to our squad’s recklessly hurrying off as many did, without “picking up our luggage, getting our rations, and starting fairly.” Sufficient time was taken for this purpose and when by aid of lights our luggage had all been selected from the mixed mass, our rations taken, and the men refreshed with coffee, Sergt. Hyde ordered us to march, the hallooing of those who had already gone, being still within our hearing through the woods. Privates J. T. Churchill and John A. Mead were still at the camp with us, but had not been on picket duty. Mead had been left by the regiment in charge of the rations as he said, and Church had been left behind with a written permit to “follow the regiment as best he could, as he was sick.”

I had been sick all the day before and had on that account been excused from duty on that night by Capt. Brigham who had given me medicine when I turned in early in the evening. This medicine affected me disagreeably and I was quite sick and exhausted when we arrived at the camp. I had wrapped myself in my blanket and laid down on arriving there and one of my comrades searched out my luggage for me.

When Sergt. Hyde ordered us to march, I at once told him he would have to leave me as it was impossible for me to go. I was too sick and Church said the same. He appeared perplexed and disappointed at this, and he and others spoke of carrying us along, but on account of the strange route through the woods, this was decided to be impossible in the darkness of the night. Sergt. Hyde then inquired of myself and Churchill if we felt that we would be able to go on after sleeping and resting till morning, and upon our answering in the affirmative, he said, “then we will not leave you but we will all lie down till morning, and then take you along somehow.” We did all stop till morning ad after the rest and refreshment, started off together. But after traveling several hours and getting near to the regiment, we were captured by the rebel cavalry who took us to Culpeper and from there to Richmond.

While we were at Culpeper, Private Charles A. Spaulding of Co. G of our regiment was brought there a prisoner and was taken to Richmond with us, but where or under what circumstances he was taken, I do not know. He was not on picket duty to my knowledge and he was not of our party till he was brought into Culpeper the day after we were captured.

Our privations and sufferings in Richmond (from which Private Henry Howe died in December) were probably as extreme as those of an of our Union prisoners. I was sick and considered beyond the hope of recovery for some weeks in February and early in March and on getting out of the hospital but a short time before being paroled, I learned that the rest of my comrades of the 39th Regiment except Mead—who was also paroled—had been sent to Columbus, Georgia. Since I was paroled, I have been in the hospital at Annapolis and Annapolis Junction, Maryland, and Mason Hospital [in] Boston, and a furlough and “Pass” till the present time. Myself and unfortunate comrades are branded on the return rolls or “reports” of the regiment as “Deserters” and this as I am informed for the reason that we did not leave the regimental camp and follow the regiment more promptly.

I have nothing to add to what I have already said in regard to those circumstances and the want of military order and command except to declare that insubordination or wrong doing was wholly and entirely foreign from the intent and purpose of anyone of us. From what we heard of the requirement of the picket force (in absence of any actual order), we were fully impressed with the belief that to collect and carry along our knapsacks and spare luggage was but to do our duty and that to recklessly hurry off without taking this property was to violate our duty. This was Sergt. Hyde’s honest feeling in the matter and he so avowed in presence of some who left their knapsacks behind, and I most solemnly declare that I believe he would have started with his squad and followed the regiment that night, after having collected the luggage as before described, but for the impossibility of taking Churchill and myself along with them. I feel that my sickness and that of Churchill was really the cause and the only cause of the others remaining till morning, and that while it was the feeling of humanity which induced Sergt. Hyde to remain, neither that nor any other impulse or motive would have induced him to violate any known military order.

Our hardships, privations, and sickness in Belle Isle prison, grievous as they were, were mild compared with the sufferings of myself and comrades in the feeling that we are branded as the worst of criminals and our dependent families thereby deprived of all legal aid and support. I refer with confidence to my company officers, and to the entire regiment for the previous good conduct of our squad and our standing as dutiful, trustworthy soldiers, and I respectfully pray that we may be relieved from this reproach and disability, and restored to our former standing and position in the regiment, so far as this charge is concerned.

—Judon W. Oliver

In the presence of Charles S. Lincoln [Justice of the Peace, Somerville, Mass.]

1861: Jehiel Rayner to William Henry Rayner

I could not find an image of either Jeheiel or Frederick but here is a tintype of Russell Towsley who served in Co. C, 7th Michigan Infantry wearing his early war uniform (

The following letter was written in part by Aaron “Jehiel” Rayner (1841-1919) of Co. B, 7th Michigan Infantry. The other part was written by Frederick R. Searl (1843-1874) of the same company.

Jehiel was the son of John Raynor (1804-1879) and Emily Meech (1817-1873) of Mason, Ingham county, Michigan. He enlisted in the 7th Michigan on 22 August 1861 and was discharged at Petersburg, Virginia, on 22 August 1864 after three years service. His 1919 obituary states that Jehiel saw “much active service, being engaged in a number of important battles such as Fair Oaks, Antietam, Gettysburg, and numerous smaller engagements. While in the service he had many close calls, but was never seriously wounded, although his horse was killed under him at Spotsylvania.” [Not sure why an infantryman would have been riding a horse unless he was on a special detail.]

Frederick R. Searl was the son of Elisha Randal Searl (1809-1879) and Martha Hurd (1815-1862) of Mason, Ingham county, Michigan. He enlisted with Jehiel in August 1862 in Co. B, 7th Michigan and was wounded on 31 May 1862 in the Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia. The would was so severe that his right arm had to be amputated, necessitating his discharge for disability on 18 July 1862. He died twelve years later.

The letter was addressed to Jehiel’s older brother, William Henry Rayner (1836-1905) of Mason, Ingham county, Michigan.

This letter was written from Camp Benton on the Maryland side of the Upper Potomac. The 7th Michigan was brigaded with several Massachusetts regiments known as Lander’s Brigade. It was penned just two weeks prior to the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Fortuitously, the 7th Michigan did not participate in this federal disaster because it was deemed “unfair to put them into battle with the poor arms they had.” These “poor arms” were converted Belgian flintlocks that were very unreliable and inaccurate. Before the end of the year they were provided with Springfield rifled muskets.

To read another letter written from Camp Benton by Roger Noble of the 7th Michigan Infantry written on 28 October 1861, see Roger Noble Letter-October 28, 1861. MSU Libraries.


Camp Benton
October 7, 1861

Dear Brother,

I have been quite unwell but I am getting a little better. I think I have seen a great curiosity in my journey. I have seen almost everything. I cannot tell you much about what is a going on here but I will tell a little about it. Last week there was twelve cannons all firing at once down by the river. That was a great sight for me. We expect to be called out every minute.

The guards shot twice the other night. The [ ] wouldn’t give the countersign so they shot but [did not get] him. There is more sick in our company than in the rest of the regiment.

Dear brother, I would like to come home and see you all but as it is, I can’t come.

Our water [is] just like crick water. That is one thing why there is so many sick here.

Mother, I wish you would send me a few newspapers. Give my best respects to all of my friends, — Jehiel Rayner

Friend William

I have an opportunity to write to you. There is no news here only that we expect to join the Michigan Brigade at Munson’s Hill. The rebels throw shells over this. The nearest they came to [us] is a half mile. I am glad that you are Orderly Sergeant for I think that you will like it. The rest of our boys are out on Battalion Drill. Our battery shelled a rebel mill across the river. The officers correspond from here to Washington with sky rockets. They have the same countersign in every brigade and when a guard deserts his post, there is three sky rockets thrown up and the countersign is changed.

I expect that you have got through seeding but the farmers haven’t begun out here yet. It is very warm here. There hasn’t been but little rain out here. The railroad is guarded all the way from the Maryland line to Washington. The night that we stayed in Washington there was fourteen hundred stayed in one room.

Write to me and let me know how all the folks get along. Give my respects to all enquiring friends. — F. R. Searl

The Corps Badge of the 7th Michigan Infantry from later in the war.

1862: Sanford Troop to Kinyon Terry

I can’t be certain of his identity but I believe this letter may have been written by Sanford Troop (b. 1832), a native of New York State, who’s brother was a merchant in Mt. Pleasant, Henry county, Iowa. They were enumerated together in the same household in the 1860 US Census at Mt. Pleasant. Perhaps he was a buyer for his brother’s store which would explain his knowledge of commodity prices and the necessity of his traveling around Iowa.

He wrote the letter to his cousin who I believe was Thomas “Kinyon” Terry (1834-1900 of Norwich, Chenango county, New York. Kinyon was married to Lucy “Elvira” Gleason (1842-1866) in 29 August 1861 in Broome county, New York.


Iowa City, [Iowa]
January 5th 1862

Dear Friend Kin,

Many weeks have passed since I wrote to you, yet you have never been forgotten. And now, without making any apologies, I will endeavor to reply to you last favor.

My letter to Elvira was perhaps as acceptable to you as her, & as you are both one, you may not think that I deserve a real chastising after all. I have been to Mt. Pleasant since writing to Elvira but they would not let me stay long so I’m again on my errand of mercy, destined to Monticello, Davenport, Dubuque, & McGregor. The weather has been beautiful and the traveling good & I feel thankful that I have been so wonderfully favored. Today it is snowing and we have the promise of sleighing. I suppose you have already been favored with sleigh rides as good perhaps as when I lived near you. I have had but one sleigh ride and that was on a sleigh drawn by oxen on bare ground & uphill at that. I made it pleasant, however, from the fact that a jolly number was in company with me.

I should like to know what you are doing. I have not heard from the East in a long time. Perhaps it is owing to my own negligence in writing. If you do not think me wholly unworthy of a letter, I should like well to hear from you & the friends. I know not whether Libbie is at home or away. If Olivia has a melodeon or piano, I have a beautiful piece of music that I would like to send her. You will please tell me. It has been published only about three weeks. Composed & arranged by an intimate acquaintance here in Mt. Pleasant, it was played at the Good Templars Supper a few evenings since, held at the City Hall in Mt. Pleasant with great applause. Mt. Pleasant is quite a place for amusement & something is most constantly going on to make it lively. The 4th Regiment of Cavalry are yet in camp and adds, I suppose, to its liveliness. 1

I find the farmers rather disheartened & well they might while stock and produce remain at the present prices. Beef is now selling at three dollars, pork at two dollars, corn at ten cents per bushel, and other grain in like proportion. At Washington ( a business railroad town), these that I mentioned are the current prices at present. Yet we are hoping for something better than this. How soon they may be realized, I know not.

Kin, I have not much news to write you today, but if I find something between here and Dubuque that I think will interest you, I will write you from that place. I would like to meet you now & have one of those good old chats. When will that time come? I am alone today, yet I am not lonely for I have become hardened and accustomed to this kind of life. When I leave Mt. Pleasant, it is very unpleasant, but in two or three weeks I forget it during my business hours. But when the day is past & I am quietly retired for the night, my thoughts go back to the land of my younger days. I think how pleasant they were. But now it makes me sad and lonely so I try to forget them.

Kin, you well know that if our leisure hours are all taken up, it serves to hide & dispel the little sad thoughts & troubles that arise. I must write you a few words more & then bid you goodbye for the present. you must write me ad tell me about all your folks at home. My best regards to them all. Give the sincere sentiments of your cousin, Sanford

[to] Kinyon

1 Co. D of the 4th Iowa Cavalry was raised in Mount Pleasant and the regiment was still encamped outside of town in January 1862. Sgt. (later Captain) Lot Abraham served in that regiment. I transcribed all of his war diaries on a website entitled, “My Own Dear Lot.” Here is the link to his diary from January-March 1862.

1861: Luther H. Winship to Elizabeth (Hinman) Winship

I could not find an image of Luther but here is one of Reuben Hendrickson of Co. F, 27th Indiana Infantry. He was wounded on July 3rd at Gettysburg and killed at Resaca, Georgia in 1864.

The following letter was written by Luther H. Winship (1841-1861), a wagoner in Co. C, 27th Indiana Infantry. (His name appears as Windship in company rolls.) The 27th Indiana was organized at Indianapolis and mustered in on 12 September 1861. They were transported to the Upper Potomac where they were attached to Stiles’ Brigade, Banks’ Division, of the Army of the Potomac.

Luther was the son of Martin L. Winship (1800-Bef1860) and Elizabeth Hinman (1805-Aft1861). In the 1860 US Census, Luther was enumerated with his 53 year-old mother and his 28 year-old sister, Catherine M. Winship in Ninevah, Bartholomew county, Indiana.

Unfortunately Luther did not survive the war; he didn’t even survive the year. He died on 29 December 1861 at Frederick, Maryland. He has a grave marker in Haw Creek Cemetery at Hope, Indiana, but whether his body was actually buried there is unknown.

Luther’s letter includes a great description of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff which took place on 21 October 1861. Contrary to a long-held traditional interpretation, the Union launched attack did not come from a plan by McClellan or Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone to take Leesburg. The initial crossing of troops was a small reconnaissance. That was followed by what was intended to be a raiding party. To make matters worse, Stone was not advised that McCall and his division had been ordered back to Washington. Though the 27th Indiana did not participate in the battle, Luther—with the regimental wagon train—was on the Maryland side of the Potomac not long after the battle and was an eye-witness to the treatment of wounded survivors who were being attended to in a Maryland church turned hospital.


Mud Creek, Maryland
October 27th [1861]

I have not had time to write for several days before for we have been moving for the last week. We started from Camp Hamilton [at Darnestown, Maryland] last Tuesday [the 22nd]. Have been out to Edwards’ Ferry and the Lord knows where and tonight we are within two miles of our old camp on our way [to] someplace else. We have had a hard time of it, you better believe, but it is over. Our wagon master got out of the road and we drove a day’s drive out of our way and it left the regiment without anything to eat for two days right in sight of the Rebel army and within bomb distance of them but the boys killed hogs, cows, and took roasting ears and lived fat—only they had no tents. We had plenty to eat with us but didn’t take time to cook it. [We] drove for 48 hours and only rested four. I ate raw bacon and bread and drank water with one exception—when we stopped to feed.

But enough about our own suffering. You will see before this about the regiment that was murdered here a few days ago and I will send you the straight of it if I don’t. It crossed the river by itself and was to be reinforced but it rained so it could not be done. It went into the slaughter pen unconscious of this fact against 8,000 men and fought till one third of them bit the dust when they retreated for an island [Harrison’s Island] in the river but there was not boats enough for them and some attempted to swim and they fired on them in the water and there was 150 of them that sunk to rise no more, either from lead or drowned. Those that did get through said the most was drowned so at least one half of the regiment is gone.

Union soldiers carry the body of Colonel Edward Baker as they retreat during the fighting at Ball’s Bluff.

Colonel [Edward D. Baker] is dead. Lieutenant-Colonel had his leg shot off. I seen him myself and a hundred more that was wounded. The floor of the church they were in was slippery with blood. My heart was sick as I passed amongst them giving them water and then that could eat some of my own scanty store of provisions. I seen any amount of men pass our camp that night naked that had swam the river and what few of us that was there made coffee the whole four hours we laid there for them. Although I had not slept for the longest time I ever went, [I] was not sleepy then at all. I must close for we have to march in the morning early and I must sleep. — yours son.

Mother, I am well. One of our men shot one of his mess mates yesterday accidentally.

I must tell you how I spent my last or next to last 20 cents today. As I came along by a garden that had cabbage in it—the first I have seen since I left home—and I asked the lady how she sold it and she said as long as I was a soldier, I might have it for 8 cents a head and I took two at that and four light biscuits at a cent apiece. There were a cheap dinner for a fellow that lives on crackers.

We are now on our road towards Washington City but don’t know our destination. After we get settled, I will write you the particulars of this march and this fight of which I spoke.

I haven’t had any news from [home?] since the 12th. Think [it] rather strange for we get the mail two times a week at present. Excuse bad writing for I have to write on my knee tonight. Give my love to all my friends and be careful not to anyone else. I remain your unworthy son, — L. H. Winship

To my mother.

The man that got shot was on picket on the river and the one halted the other but he did not hear and he thought he was a rebel so fired a shot through his head.

1861: John Gaylord Wells to Catherine (Griswold) Wells

The following letter was written by John Gaylord Wells (1821-1880), the son of William Wells (1786-1825) and Catharine Griswold (1792-1880) of Hartford county, Connecticut. He was married in 1847 to Emily A. Cornwall (1823-1900) and their daughter Gertrude Leland (“Lela”) Wells was born in 1851.

In his letter, written on Christmas day 1861, John confesses to his mother that he was a “slave” to his work. “I enjoy business, consequently enjoy life for business is my life,” he wrote. This single statement reveals much of John’s character. Not only did he not celebrate the holidays himself, we learn that he had not seen his wife and daughter in six months. The Civil War had begun which created opportunities for entrepreneurs like Wells. His obituary, published in New York and Connecticut papers, indicates that he was the originator of patriotic envelopes (and stationery such as the one he wrote this letter on) which became a robust business in the first year or two of the war.

An example of one of John G. Well’s patriotic envelopes from early in the Civil War.

Wells began his career learning the printer’s trade in Hartford, Connecticut. He is credited with inventing “elastic type for printing on hard substances” and several other “ingenious contrivances.” However, much of his time and earnings were spent in patenting and defending his patents. Following the Civil War, Wells published his own book entitled, “Every Man His Own Lawyer” and advertised it as a complete guide in all matters of law and business negotiations. It sold over 800,000 copies in the U. S.

In January 1878, he sprained his ankle in stepping from a curbstone causing an injury that eventually led to its amputation. He never fully recovered from that injury and he died in January 1880.


New York [City, New York]
December 25, 1861

My Dear Mother,

Your kind letter was duly received. I have been extremely busy or I should have written you before. Today is Christmas and of course a holiday for the people—all business is suspended for today except slaves like myself. I know no holidays. You ask where I dined Thanksgiving. I will tell you—in my office on pen and ink. I wrote all day until about 9 o’clock in the evening and then went and bought an oyster item for my Thanksgiving dinner. This is as good as you can expect a slave to receive. I have spent today in the same way and expect to dine in the same way.

I enjoy good health for which I have occasion to thank God. Further than that, I have not much to give thanks to anyone for. I enjoy business, consequently enjoy life for business is my life. I suppose I ought to be thankful that I have a chance to make a slave of myself—perhaps I cannot tell whether I am or not.

I have not heard from “Fannie” since she left here. Think she might write me. Tell William I have a horse, wagon & harness I would like to sell him. Will sell him the whole establishment for $100. Would not sell the horse for $250 if I had any occasion to use him. Want money more than I want a horse on expenses.

How is William’s health this winter? How is sister Fannie, Cornelia, children and all? I am still at the same old place but after the 1st of January, shall be at 106 Fulton Street. Shall thereby save about twelve hundred dollars a year in expenses and probably do as much business as my business is mostly by mails and expresses. Emily and Lela are still at Morrison but I have not been there for six months or more. She is at the store occasionally. I have nothing of interest to write. Yours affectionately, — Jno. G. Wells

Wells’ letter was written on patriotic stationery that included this large “Panorama of the Seat of War” map printed on the inside of the folded sheet. Note that under the title it reads, “Entered according to act of Congress by John G. Wells, corner of Park Row and Beekman Street, in Clerk’s Office of District Court for Southern District of New York.” This same map was marketed by Wells in 1861 as a stand-alone folding map measuring 15″ x 9 ” although instead of portraits of Winfield Scott and George McClellan in the upper corners, it was sold with images of Commodores Silas H. Stringham and Andrew Hull Foote. See “Early Pocket Map.” This same stationery (without a letter written on it by the designer & marketer himself) is available for purchase at Gosen Rare Books for $750.

1851: Charles Mulligan, Jr. to Millard Fillmore

President Millard Fillmore

The following letter was penned by a self-professed “well wisher” of President Millard Fillmore who advised him that his life was in danger. There were men of “true steel,” he warned the President, who opposed the Chief Magistrate’s stated political position in support of the recently passed Compromise of 1850—with its odious Fugitive Slave Law—and his avowed determination to enforce it with the full force and might of the federal government. Though he personally opposed slavery, Fillmore “had no sympathy for the slave, for free blacks, or for the northern whites who did have sympathy for the slave.” 1 Fillmore’s defense of the omnibus bill was rooted in his belief that it was the only possible way for the Union to be preserved. He rightfully predicted that it would appease the Southerners but he miscalculated the firestorm it would cause in the North. Where once the average Northerner heard little and cared less about slavery, suddenly it became everyones business and an incendiary topic.

In Amherst, Massachusetts, where this letter was mailed (if not written), the majority of the Whigs shifted their allegiance to the Free Soil Party platform and joined in passing a series of resolutions that included an outright rejection of the notion that citizens should be compelled, by the Constitution, to engage in slave catching or suffer a penalty in failing to do so. A plethora of court cases challenging the law throughout the major Eastern seaboard cities dominated the papers and the daily citizen chatter on courthouse steps.

I have searched without success to find any citizen by the name of Charles Mulligan, Jr.—not only in North Amherst but in Massachusetts—who may have actually been the author of this letter. It is my conclusion that the name was fabricated and that the letter, offered to the President under the pretense of coming from a friend, was actually written by someone who opposed the President. The alleged threat of spies, looking for an opportunity to kill the President if he did not back down from his position in support of the Fugitive Slave Law, was not real, in my opinion. I believe it was only a rather crude and ineffectual attempt to intimidate Fillmore. 

Whether Fillmore took the threat seriously or not is difficult to say. No American President had been assassinated up to that date though there was a half-hearted attempt on Jackson’s life in 1835. It seems he took it seriously enough to send the letter back to the deputy post master of N. Amherst asking him if he knew who mailed it. Curiously, he wrote this enquiry in his own hand.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Amherst [Massachusetts]
February 26th 1851

President Fillmore
Dear Sir,

Excuse the liberty I take in addressing to you these few lines & take me if you please to be your well wisher while I say to you that I accidentally became aware that it is a notorious fact that by a private meeting in this vicinity, thy life is deliberately premeditated in case you say one word more in favor of that (as they call it) black slave till 2 & accidentally, as I before said, I find it to be a notorious fact that eight able-bodied men of true steel (as men) have been chosen to leave for Washington City tomorrow morning as spies to lay in wait for your life in case another move is [made] to favor slavery & only write you this short epistle that you may look out for them.

Yours very respectfully, — Charles Mulligan, Jr.

[docketed at bottom of letter in Fillmore’s own hand]

To the Deputy P[ost] M[aster] at North Amherst

Sir, Can you inform me who wrote the above. Respectfully yours, — Millard Fillmore

Washington City, March 2, 1851

1 Millard Fillmore: The American Presidents Series: The 13th, by Paul Finkelman, page 102.

2 I don’t understand the use of the word “till” here unless there was actually a slave named “Till” who was subject to the Fugitive Slave Law. I could not find any reference in the newspapers that would clear up this confusion. I’m inclined to believe that the author left out a word or two inadvertently.

1863: Richard S. Thomas to Hannah Jeffrey

An unidentified Union soldier, possibly from an Indiana Regiment, wearing a faux zouave jacket
(Will Griffing Collection)

The following letter was written by Richard S. Thomas (1839-1864) of Huntington, Indiana, who enlisted as a recruit in Co. F, 13th Indiana Infantry on 13 September 1862. He was killed on 10 May 1864 in the fierce hand-to-hand combat that ensued when the regiment was attacked unexpectedly by two Confederate brigades led by Major General Robert Ransom while on an expedition to cut the line of communication on the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad (see Battle of Chester Station).

Richard addressed the letter to his cousin, Hannah Jeffrey (1838-1886), the daughter of Willis Jeffrey (1807-1886) and Zilpha Achsah Thomas (1811-1865) of Mount Etna, Lancaster township, Huntington county, Indiana. She died unmarried at the age of 48.


Addressed to Hannah Jeffrey, Mount Etna, Huntington county, Indiana

Camp Suffolk, Virginia
April 30th 1863

Dear Cousin,

I have nothing of importance to write but I concluded I would write a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and well. I have no doubt but you have heard before this time that we had a few rebs in our immediate neighborhood and that we have been giving them a Lincoln pill occasionally and that they have been returning the compliment with Jeff Davis drugs.

On the 11th inst. there was one hundred men went out in front from the Old 13th to feel of their pulse but we had not advanced but a short distance outside of our pickets till we found our patients was prepared to give us a warm reception. We exchanged shots with them for about an hour but finding them too strong for our small force, we returned to camp with a loss of three men wounded. Barney [Bernard] Conron, our 2nd Lieutenant, was amongst the wounded and has since died. We sent his body to Huntington.

“Our regiment…made a charge into a piece of woods where the skirmishers said the rebs was drawn up in line of battle but they was either mistaken or else when we raised the hoosier yell and went in on double quick with bayonets fixed, they thought it was more than they could stand and skallyhooted out of that in a hurry for when we got there, there was not a greyback to be seen.”

Robert S. Thomas, Co. F, 13th Indiana Infantry, 30 April 1863

On the 24th we went out in force on another road and had a little fight. Our regiment was on the right and made a charge into a piece of woods where the skirmishers said the rebs was drawn up in line of battle but they was either mistaken or else when we raised the hoosier yell and went in on double quick with bayonets fixed, they thought it was more than they could stand and skallyhooted out of that in a hurry for when we got there, there was not a grey back to be seen. I shall not attempt to give any particulars as you will get it sooner and more correct in the paper than I could give if I should try.

Our company was out on a reconnoissance yesterday up the Jericho Canal, or rather the Dismal Swamp Ditch. We was about three miles above our outpost pickets and did not see anything nearer like a rebel than mud and water and canebrakes. we went till we had to wade mud and water knee deep and the further we went, the worse it got. We talk of going again tomorrow in skiffs and if we do, we will go through to Dremen [Drummond] Lake unless the rebs stop us before we get there.

There has not been any fighting for several days except by the sharpshooters. They are popping away every day but I don’t think they are accomplishing much. There is more or less artillery firing every day by our men. They are shelling the woods to keep the rebs from planting their batteries. The cannonading has ben pretty heavy for an hour or two over on the river. I think perhaps they are trying to blockade the river again.

A person that did not know anything about war and would see our fortifications and number of men and the amount of artillery we have here, they would think the whole Southern Confederacy could not whip us. I think myself it will take a good portion of them.

Well, I guess I have gassed more now than you will care about reading and I will quit for the present. Lesel [?] and Sam Williamson sends their best respects and Sam said he would like to hear from you.

Yours of the 28th of last month come to hand in due season and was read with pleasure. Give my compliments to all my friends if any there be and write soon. As ever, your cousin, — R. S. Thomas

[to] Hannah Jeffrey