Category Archives: New York Homefront

1865: Julia Moore to Merritt L. Pierce

How Julia might have looked in 1865

The following letter was written by Julia Moore (b. 1 May 1842), the daughter of Mason Moore (1808-1886) and Emily Stickle (1809-1887) of Schuyler Falls, Clinton county, New York. In her letter, Julia mentions her brother, Elvin Allen Moore (1840-1903) who enlisted in Co. I, 16th New York Infantry in May 1861 but was discharged a month later as being unfit for duty.

Julia wrote the letter to her hometown friend and neighbor, Merritt L. Pierce who was at the time serving in Co. L, 1st New York Engineers and encamped near Richmond, Virginia, where they would spend the entire month of June rebuilding the Mayo Bridge across the James River. Julia’s sister, Emily Miranda Moore married George Parsons Farnsworth, a veteran of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry who was discharged from the service not long after he was seriously wounded at Gettysburg.

This letter was found in the Plattsburgh historian’s files at Plattsburgh, New York. It was transcribed by Chuck Cockrell and provided to Spared & Share for publication.

[See also—1865 Diary of Merritt L. Pierce, Co. L, 1st New York Engineers]


[Schuyler Falls, Clinton county, New York]
[Early May, 1865]

Friend Merritt,

I have just received your letter. I had about given up the thought of hearing again from you, or while you remained in the South, but I fully pardon your tardiness in replying because I see it was impossible for it to be otherwise and a soldier’s time is not his own. I am glad your health is good. I fear I would not know you were I to meet you unexpectedly. I wish I could write you like this—“my health is good, never better”—and speak the truth, but I cannot. No, friend Merritt, I am in very poor health at present. I have been confined to bed most of the time for two weeks. Am somewhat better today. I have had some fever with slight cold. I think I should be quite smart in a few days, if I am careful.

[My brother] Elvin is much better now, but not able do anything as yet. The other two members of the family are well as usual, except Silas, who has his hands and arms poisoned very badly by the flax (flying) where he has been to work. The skin was completely covered with eruptions. He has been unable to work for several weeks. Is some better though now. Your people are well as usual. Your little brother was here the other day to get a library book. He is quite a “book”¬†boy.

There was great rejoicing here when the glorious news “Richmond is ours!” reached us. The late victories put the people in very good spirits. We had quite an exhibition and display of fireworks and firearms for two or three nights on the renowned hill of our imposing city, Morrisonville. But oh! Merritt—how soon the terrible news, “Our President, our chief magistrate, is laid low by the assassin’s hand!” The mass of people would not—could not believe it. Even after it was confirmed later in the day, they would shake their heads in an undecided, half-affirmative way, prone to disbelieve that such a great sorrow had come unto them. 

They were prone to disbelieve there was a being in the likeness of God whose heart was destitute of all human feelings and natural affection. How dreadful the thought! But it has been meted out of him according to his deserts. But the blood of the innocent will cry out against him in judgement. I am glad he [Lincoln] lived to see the bright of dawn of the day of liberty.

We think most of the soldiers will return home soon. We heard two Virginia Regiments are ordered to Washington to be disbanded. I hope it is true.

Merritt L. Pierce

Well, Merritt, I will try to finish my letter now. Should not have neglected it so long. Had I been well, I have not been able to write until today. I feel considerable better. It is trying to rain some. Hilla is at school (Miss Holcome’s) over on the plank—quite a long walk. Miranda and Carrie are at home this summer. They are not seperate much of the time. I overheard Carrie and Miranda speaking of nice times they used to have at parties e’re this dreadful war had made such a ravage and taken so many of our members. “The good old days (said Miranda), will they come back again?” “Yes (said Carrie), keep up good courage. They are close at hand.” And I am beginning to think so too. There is one I shall miss, oh how sadly. He laid himself on the alter of his country and perished nobly. I shall not wish him back for he is better off, I have reason to think, than in this cold selfish world. There is one consolation—we can see him again sometime if He wills it. It must be very pleasant indeed, so near that beautiful river. I am sorry that you have to work so hard. I fear you will be lonesome after you get home, being away from your comrades.

General Sherman is not in favor in the North just at present. Some will have it [that] he is slightly deranged. I hope it is nothing more serious than that. 1 What do soldiers think of proceedings relative to Johnston’s army? Or are the newspapers at fault? He is thought by some to be too aspiring for a citizen of the United States and one holding his position. He must be deranged. Certainly, if his ———?———- has been played out.

There has been a serious  accident happened in this place a few days since. Frank Sanborn had his right hand cut and mangled terribly by a circular saw in the foundry. It was impossible to save it. Dr. John Moore  took it off at the wrist. There was five doctors in attendance. It is indeed a very bad loss. Everybody is very kind to him and are taking up a subscription for him. It is thought that he will be helped to the amount of a thousand dollars. That will buy the tavern he is to move into soon and the rent of his new house will be sixty dollars per year. That, and his office (collector) will help him some. I think he will manage to get along very well.

Watson Hayes 2 was cut up very badly sometime ago by the finishing knives in the flax machine. If it were not for the timely aid and forethought of Silas, he would have been killed. It is thought, Silas flew to the gate in an instant and put it down the second time, but the savage knives had well nigh done their fatal work.

A deserter was arrested at the falls a day or so two since and sent down to the army. Resman, by name. I have forgotten if I informed you of my cousin Lester Moore’s death. He starved nearly to death in Salisbury prison. He came as far as New York City after his release and then there died. A letter was written to his father informing him of his whereabouts, but he did not receive the letter until some time after his death. Will Finn went down after his remains and he was buried beside his dear Mother. Elder Smith preached his funeral sermon. We knew naught his whereabouts and terrible suffering until it was all over. Oh, that it might have been in our power to relieve him! 3

I wish it was in my power to provide you with better food than hard tack. I should think you should need a new set of teeth every two weeks. I hope you will be home by the 4th of July. I passed my 23rd birthday last Monday (1st of May). Was sorry that the Dr. called and left some medicine that day. I should have mailed this sooner had I felt able to write. Please write soon. From your ever true friend,  — Julia [Moore]

P. S. Please give my best regards to Will, Edgar, & [?].

He that watches over you this far will still continue to protect the soldier boy and bring him safe home.

We just heard Sherman shot Grant. We think it’s a false report, of course. It cannot be true. That is to horrid to believe!

1 It is true that some detractors of Sherman maligned him in the press even at this late stage of the war, calling him a “Traitor” an a “madman” but these attacks were silenced rather quickly by President Johnson, General U. S. Grant, and others who came to his defense.

2 Lucius “Watson” Hayes (1847-1914) was the son of Reuben Hayes (1815-1891) and Caroline S. Scribner (1819-1899) of Plattsburgh, Clinton county, New York.

3 Lester K. Moore (1844-1865) was the son of Jacob H. Moore (1818-1870) and Martha Marsh (1823-1851) of Beekmantown, Clinton county, New York. Lester enlisted in Co. B, 96th New York Infantry in October 1861 and was carried as present on muster rolls until 27 October 1864 when he was taken prisoner. We learn from the letter that he was confined in Salisbury (North Carolina) Prison until exchanged and that he expired in New York City on 11 April 1865.

1862: Charles G. Coffin to Donald A. Pollard

How Samuel might have looked

This tag team letter was penned in July 1862 after the disastrous Peninsula Campaign and captures the disappointment and frustration of the majority of the folks at home in the Northeastern states of the Union. The letter was written principally by Charles G. Coffin but a page and a note were also added by George P. Brown and one other whose name was obliterated by a tear in the paper. It is believed that George P. Brown was a “clerk” in New York City and his home in 1862 was on 51st North Second Avenue. I was not able to identify Coffin.

They addressed the letter to their friend, Don A. Pollard in Baltimore. Whether he was a resident of Baltimore or only passing through there on a business trip or for some other purpose is unknown. It is my hunch that the men were either business associates or former college classmates.


New York [City]
Tuesday, July 15, 1862

D. A. Pollard, Esq.

I received your favor of the 6th current and now propose a kind of answer, but what kind, I cannot tell. To answer a letter properly, one must be in good health & spirits. While I am tolerably well, I am not in good spirits. I am not satisfied with the war prospects in Virginia. I consider the delay in occupying Richmond a most unfortunate matter. Much more of such kind of work or the lack of military talent in the operations on the Potomac and indeed throughout the last nine months of the war on and about Virginia has been one to do as little hurt as possible to the enemy. Such a weak & senile course must lead to ruinous results; nothing less than independence to the rascally South but ill will of Europe super added.

“For my own part, it seems to me that the parties in power have never thought of this war as anything more than a kind of riot. It seems as if they were fearful of hurting the feelings of the Rebels.”

— Charles G. Coffin, NYC Businessman, 15 July 1862

The ill will of Europe I do not value only as it is calculated to subserve the purposes of the rebels. For my own part, it seems to me that the parties in power have never thought of this war as anything more than a kind of riot. It seems as if they were fearful of hurting the feelings of the Rebels. Why had they not called out the 500,000 men that I have talked of so long and have marched without stop or hindrance throughout Rebeldom hanging every leader and his friends as they meet? It is of little use to put a large army on the Potomac to lie 5 months in idleness and then lead them out to be murdered.

Why had not the army been hurled on Manassas, killed & captured half the Rebel army and taken its cannon? Because there was wanted someone who had a spark of generalship in his composition which ours had not. Though I stand alone, my view of the proceedings of all the Generals is that they have been faulty. They have all declined & spurned the advantages that they had within their reach and the victories, so called, have been attended with results but partially favorable. Fremont first always, Hunter next, are the only two who seemed to start right and had they been met with the proper feeling by the Government, all would have been well. For the great lack of military skill, the Nation, notwithstanding its great sacrifices, is drifting towards the abyss of ruin of divided opinion.

I want Congress to remain at its post. I want some one hundred monitors built. I want instructions given to our generals to live on the enemy, kill & capture all they can, and set every negro free, granting a pass & pointing him to the North Star, inflict all the hardships that was will justify or excuse.

And I would hang Mayor Wood, James Wood (bery), Vandamningham, &c. at the corner of every street, and any woman who lent her sanction to the Southern Rebellion should find a dwelling place inside of some prison walls and all foreigners who supported the Rebel cause in any way I would compel to remain 40 miles above the water or leave the country.

I wish I could find some general who has military education with a spark of Napoleonic stir. Then I should have some courage as to results. This matter has made me too mad to write more. We are to have a demonstration today & I hope it will be a rouser. I shall lend my all to kill traitors to the country. All well & remain very truly yours, — C. G. Coffin

Our mutual friend whose name is at the bottom of the last page has kindly allowed me to scratch you one work after expressing my satisfaction that you are in good health and heart, I have to tell you that I do sincerely subscribe to the substance of all Coffin has just written. I have changed my opinion of McClellan. Think he has been much overrated, that he has every quality of the soldier except the very one we gave him most credit for—viz: General. The proof of this I find in the fact that it took him so long to find out that the Chickahominy Swamp was not the best base of operations. By this culpable ignorance, there has been thousands on thousands of lives and millions of property scarified needlessly. But I think I hear you exclaim, how egotistic of me to criticize the military moves of skilled & experienced military men. Perhaps I deserve this, but it is pardonable for us all to have an opinion. Is it not a little singular that the man (General Benham) should in his first movement with an independent command have so egregiously blundered. I should like to hear from you upon these points.

Yours &c. [signature destroyed by paper tear]

July 16, 1862

Friend Don,

Not agreeing entirely with the above, I leave “old time” to determine. The meeting spoken of by G. C[offin] was a big thing. Union Square and Sam Kellingers were full. Probably the most uninteresting news I can write is your work is all up, balances got—and all o.k. Your particular friends D.H. H. & Savage are hearty. Yours truly, — G. P. Brown

G. Coffin desires me to say that the only prominent man enquired after in the crowd of yesterday was John C. Fremont. — G. P. B.

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.

1864: Charles Gordon Austin to Zadok Baldwin Austin

This letter was written by Charles Gordon Austin (1814-1899)—a Canadian by birth—and his wife Pamelia Anna Tyler (1817-1897) of Rossie, St. Lawrence county, New York. Several of their children are mentioned in the letter, including: Benjamin M. Austin (1840-1885) who enlisted as a corporal in Co. C, 60th New York Infantry and transferred in November 1862 to the 6th US Cavalry; Elizabeth Tirzah Austin (1835-1909) who would later marry Charles F. Northrop; and Lucy Maria Austin (1843-1914).

Charles wrote the letter to his son Zadok Baldwin Austin (1837-1925) who enlisted on 7 August 1862 as a private in Co. F, 10th New York Heavy Artillery (106th New York State Volunteers). At the time of his enlistment he was described as 24 years-old, with blue eyes, light hair, and standing 5 feet 7.5 inches tall. Zadok mustered out of the regiment on 23 June 1865 with his company at Petersburg, Virginia.


Rossie, St. Lawrence county, New York
July 23, 1864

Dear Son,

Digital images of Zadok’s 1865 Diary & a transcript are available at the Auburn University Digital Library

I again seat myself to write you a few lines to inform you of our health which is tolerable good with the exception that I am troubled with the erysipelas. My face and hands have been swelled pretty bad but they are better now. Clarissa was sick last night but appears to be all right again this morning.

I received your letter Wednesday. I was glad to get it for it had been three weeks since I had had one from you before but I was sorry to hear that you were sick and in the hospital. The chronic diarrhea is a disease when it gets settled on anyone is hard to be cured. I think you had [better] try and get a furlough and come home. I think it would be better for you. It won’t cost you a great deal—that is, if you are able to come. write as soon as you get this and let us know how you are.

I received a letter from Benjamin last week Wednesday. He was well when he wrote. That was July 6th, 1864. He was twelve miles from Richmond. He said they would stay there a spell to rest their horses. I have received two letters from Tirzah since I write to you last. Robert is killed. He was out on a raid forty miles from camp when he was shot by a rebel through the neck and killed instantly. He was carried back to Newbern and buried. Tirzah is well and so is Priscilla and George Gibson. The folks in Hammond are well. Lucy is at home now and is well. I have not got your things yet. Write as soon as you get this. We remain your loving father and mother.

— Charles G. Austin & Pamelia A. Austin

To Zadock B. Austin

1862-64: Dwight Whitney Marsh to his Family

Rev. Dwight Whitney Marsh in later years

These two letters were written by Dwight Whitney Marsh (1823-1896), the son of Henry Marsh (1797-1852) and Sarah Whitney (1796-1883) of St. Louis, Missouri. Dwight had several siblings; those mentioned in these letters include, Calvin “Waldo” Marsh (1825-1873), Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Willard Marsh (1829-1882), and Clarissa (“Clara”) Dwight Marsh (1834-1899) who married Samuel Watkins Eager, Jr. (1827-1903). Dwight’s father was an attorney in St. Louis at the time of his death in 1852 at the age of 53.

Dwight was born in Berkshire county, Massachusetts, and graduated from Williams College in 1842. He studied theology at Andover Theological Seminary in 1842-3, and then taught school in St. Louis, Mo., from 1843 to 1847. He continued his theological training at Union Theological Seminary and graduated in 1849, after which he was ordained and sailed in December 1849 from Boston to Mosul, Turkey, as a missionary for the A. B. C. F. M. In 1852 he returned to the U.S. and married 19 October 1852 to Julia White Peck of New York City. He then returned to Mosul where his wife died in August 1859. He finally returned to the U.S. in 1860 and began a lecture tour on missionary life. He was married on 21 August, 1862, to Elizabeth L. Barron in Rochester and then accepted charge of the Rochester Young Ladies’ Female Seminary where he remained five years. While there, he also preached for the Wester House of Refuge. He then went on to serve in the pulpit of various churches in the midwest before his death in 1896.

Letter 1

Osburn House
Rochester, New York
Thursday, August 21, 1862

My own ever dear sister Lizzie,

I am very sorry that our marriage comes off so suddenly that you & Mother could not be present. I think of you all much. It is now about noon & we are to be married at 3:30 & at 9 shall be at the [Niagara] Falls if all goes well. We have a charming day & I wish you were here to share in our delight. How often in this life our affairs move differently from our anticipations. I think we are about to be happy; but only our Maker knows what trials of sickness or partings are in store.

We are in war times. I think I never saw a city so stirred with enlistment excitements as this day. A regiment has just gone & 15 tents are camped on the pavements in the very heart of the city & the roll of the drum calls not an ordinary crowd. At 3:30 stores are closed & the strength & enterprise of the city is at work & will meet with wonderful success. They will probably avoid any resort to drafting in this county.

Coming from New England here, having heard Parson Brownlow 1 here, I think I can safely [say] that the North is wholly in earnest & will give promptly all that the government asks. This interest grows with every friend that falls & does not for a moment falter at any reverse. This is a great country & I am getting more & more proud of it. Should you come from St. Louis here, you would breathe a purer air & feel a new patriotic thrill & exult in living where to be living is sublime. “In an age on ages telling.”

“We shall have no lasting peace till we are ready to do something in the name of God & liberty for the slave. There clanks our chain.”

Rev. Dwight Whitney Marsh, 21 August 1862

Lizzie, I hope you & Clara all all at home will not think that my heart loved you any the less for the happiness of my new relations. I think that I love each of our dear family with a true & abiding love. I want your sympathy & your prayers. At St. Louis, where tiresome abounds, you must feel sad & discouraged at times. We shall have no lasting peace till we are ready to do something in the name of God & liberty for the slave. There clanks our chain.

Do give my best love to Anna & Clara & Sam & Waldo & kiss the children. When shall we meet? I cannot go to St. Louis for the present. I shall have to go look after Charlie again, as soon as October 1st, if not sooner. I shall try to write more at length soon. I hope Katy will not forget “Uncle Dwight.” Remembrance to all friends.

Your ever affectionate brother, — Dwight

1 William Gannaway Brownlow (1805-1877) was a preacher in the Methodist Church and a Tennessee newspaper editor. A Unionist despite owning slaves himself, Brownlow criticized the Confederacy even after Tennessee seceded. He was briefly imprisoned by the Confederacy at the beginning of the war. After leaving the state, he began a lucrative lecture tour in the North.

Letter 2

Addressed to Mrs. Sarah Marsh, Care of S. W. Eager, Jr., Esqr., County Clerk, St. Louis, Mo.

Rochester, New York
Saturday, November 12th 1864

My own dearest Mother,

Your kind letter written just before election came yesterday & now we can rejoice & thank God together. This state and Nation are safe. God has heard the prayer of thousands of His creatures. He has been very gracious & to Him be all glory & praise. The world does surely move on towards the glad day when truth shall no longer be trampled down in the streets. The Nation, by God’s inspiring decree & influence, has asserted the heaven given rights to live notwithstanding rebels in arms & traitors at the polls would have assassinated the nation.

Rochester Female Seminary—pillars repaired in 1864

I am almost too happy in the defeat of the intriguer [Horatio] Seymour & hardly less in that of the weak tool McClellan. I think McClellan was a well-meaning little coxcomb—fooled to the top of his bent by larger and meaner men. The sun has set upon [Samuel S.] Cox & [Alexander] Long & poor Fernando [Wood] has not even traitors enough in New York [City] to elect him. All lovers of liberty & truth must rejoice in the result of last Tuesday’s election. I have some curiosity to know how [brother] Waldo voted. I hope that he is under good influences. I want very much from time to time to hear just how he is situated.

Lillie & Miss Eaton are well. Were they in the room, he would no doubt send love.

Our school continues full. We have about eighty. We had lately a singular case of theft by one of the girls of silver spoons & we were obliged to send her home. She was only fifteen & lived some thirty or forty miles away.

Please tell me any news of the dear ones in Racine. Love to them too if you write.

We have been repairing considerably. Clara will remember that the pillars in front of the house were very shabby. We have had them freshly covered and they look now very well indeed. We have expended over $200 in repairs since Mr. Eager & Clara were here & they would no doubt notice great improvement, This change has been essential to be decent.

Rev. Augustus Walker and his bride, Eliza Mercy Harding—Congregational missionaries to Turkey

Mr. & Mrs. [Augustus] Walker 1 of Diarbekir made us a very delightful visit of nearly a week—only it was too short. We put on Turkish dresses on Wednesday afternoon & the young ladies had quite a treat. One day the girls took a vote & found 58 for Lincoln to 12 for McClellan, & besides the teachers all for Lincoln.

Our city (I am sorry to say) gave some 80 majority for Little Mac. He must feel very small. Little Delaware was just large enough to vote for him.

Old Kentucky started wrong in this war (only half loyal)—that is, loyal with an if—and she has suffered & may suffer far more for it. I hope she will consult her own interests well enough to give up slavery. It is idle to attempt to maintain it longer & will only delay what is inevitable.

Please give much love to Waldo & Mr. Eager & all their families, kissing the little ones for me. Thank you for remembering & writing to me on my birthday. I see God’s hand more the longer I live & I hope am grateful for His goodness & love. Every affectionately your son, — Dwight

1 Rev. Augustus Walker and his wife, Eliza Mercy Harding, were missionaries to Diarbekir, Turkey, where they spent 13 years. They had six children, two of whom died in Turkey. Only one child, Harriet, was born in America during a furlough. In 1866 the Reverend Augustus Walker died of cholera in Turkey, and Mrs. Walker returned to America with their four children.

1864: Emeline C. Palmer to Orvin M. Palmer

This letter was written on 8 November 1864—Election Day—by 20 year-old Emeline C. Palmer (1844-1895) to one of her brothers. “Em” and her siblings were the orphaned children of William H. Palmer (1815-1863) and Lucinda M. Strong (1819-1861). In the 1860 US Census, the Palmer family (mother and father still living) were enumerated at the Wampsville P. O., town of Lenox, Madison county, New York. Em was married in 1858 to her cousin James Leonard Palmer (1822-1899). She mentions her infant son, Elton Lamont Palmer (1863-1948) in the letter.

I couldn’t find an image of Em but here’s an 1864 CDV of a young woman about her age wearing a style of dress that was popular at the time.

Most likely “Em” wrote the letter to her brother, Orvin M. Palmer (1842-1909), who was serving in the Federal army at the time. Orvin entered the service in August 1862 as a private in Co. B, 157th New York Infantry and rose in rank to 1st Lieutenant of Co. K during the war. He was taken prisoner at Gettysburg in the first day’s fighting but released not long after.

Em’s letter describes a three week trip she took in company with her cousin, Lucretia B. Palmer (1820-1907) and Lucretia’s husband, Leonard (“Len”) Abel Palmer (1817-1899) of Monroe county, New York. They traveled to New York City to do some sightseeing and visit relatives, and then on to Alexandria, Virginia, to visit Lucretia’s sister, Wealthy (Palmer) Gallup and family. While Em and Lucretia remained with the Gallup’s in Alexandria and did some sightseeing, Len made the trip to Fortress Monroe where he made arrangements to have the body of a young soldier who died at the hospital there sent back to his home in Madison county, New York. Em signs off by letting her brother know that her Uncle Elisha Palmer (1786-1867)—Lucretia & Wealthy’s father—cast what would be his last vote for “Uncle Abe.”


[Wampsville, Lenox, Madison county, New York]
Tuesday eve., November 8, 1864

Dear Brother,

I thought I would write a few lines to let you know we are living. Our folks got your letter while we were gone and Angie sent you paper and envelopes. I was very glad to hear that you had received those socks. I thought you would get them some time if I sent them by him. If you want some wool socks, we can send some but I do not know as it is cold enough to wear wool there.

When we were to Mr. [Asa] Gallup’s, 1 it was quite cold some of the time but most of the time it was warm enough to have the doors open. It was very pleasant while we were gone and here at home it rained almost every day. It rained the day after we left home, when we were in New York some—but not a great deal, and the day we got to Mr. Gallup’s it rained a little. All the rest of the time it was as pleasant as one could wish. We were gone not quite three weeks. We stayed in New York almost a week. We started from home Wednesday afternoon and got to New York the next morning, and went to Mrs. Gates. (Tip Randall). She is quite a grand lady now and her husband is a smart man we thought. Well, we stayed with them two nights and the first night we went to a theatre. The next next morning took a ride in Central Park, and Saturday went to Noyes [G.] Palmer’s. 2 Stayed there until Tuesday morning. Monday went to the ocean; went across the bay in a small sailboat. They call it eight miles across and we came back in little less than an hour—rather quicker than we could have gone with a horse I think.

Wealthy (Palmer) Gallup, ca. 1864, Photographed by E. W. Beckwith, No. 220 King Street, Alexandria, Va.

Tuesday morning we went back to New York and that evening started for Washington [D. C.]. We took the cars at Jersey City and we did not have to change at all. We expected to have to change two or three times at the least calculation. Well we got into the city about eight o’clock, I believe. The thing was to get a pass to go to Alexandria, We went to the Provost Marshal’s and after waiting until I was clear out of patience, we got one and started. We got there to Alexandria and the next thing was to find Gallup. When we talked of going last spring, Wealthy wrote us where to go to find where they lived. It was to Caleb’s brother’s. We went there [and] well, they were gone and the folks that lived in the house did not know where they lived or Gallup either. Well we did not know what to do. Len went out but could not find anyone that knew where they lived and finally he started and said he would see if he could find them.

Well Lucretia and I stayed in a house there and waited. (I had the sick headache. If you ever had it, you know how nice and comfortable it is.) I went to bed and went to sleep and slept until Len came back and I felt much better. by the time he came, it was raining. He told how he found them. He went along and kept enquiring and finally went to the house where they lived, and Asa and W[ealthy] were in Alexandria and he met them as he came back. Asa went and carried W[ealthy] home and then came back after us. Well we got there Wednesday and we did not go out much until Sunday, Then we rode out a little. Sunday afternoon we went over to Distribution Camp. We went through the hospital there. It looked neat and clean. There were quite a good many sick there. Monday, Len went over to Washington and got a pass to go to Fortress Monroe after Anson Cranson’s remains. 3 He got them and got started to come back Tuesday afternoon and got to Asa’s Wednesday about eight o’clock. We were not looking for him until the next day.

Soldier’s Rest in Alexandria, Virginia (ca. 1864). It was located near the Orange & Alexandria Railroad Depot. It was used as a hospital from 28 May to 4 October 1864.

Monday, Asa took Lucretia and I down to Alexandria to see the soldier’s burying ground [now the Alexandria National Cemetery]. It was quite a sight too. There are between two and three thousand graves and they were digging all the time. We went to the [Marshall] house where [Elmer] Ellsworth was killed but did not go in. The Soldier’s Rest is a nice place there but they do not allow anyone to go in there, I believe. We went past the slave pen too. I should not like to be shut up in there, I can tell you.

We started for home Thursday. Went over to Washington in the morning by way of the Long Bridge, stayed there through the day, and took the night train for New York. We went to the White House, Smithsonian and the Capitol. We saw more than I can remember but I suppose that you have seen them all and more.

We got into New York Friday morning and took the boat up the river. Got into Albany at about six o’clock, took the cars for Canastota, and got there between eleven and twelve. Stayed there the rest of the night and the next morning Len came home and sent L. A. down after us and we got home about three in the afternoon. We left Elton at home and our folks said he was good all the time.

Corp. James Roantree, Co. B, 157th New York Infantry. Later a 2nd Lt. of 43rd USCT & KIA at Hatcher’s Run

I think I have given you quite a history of our journey. I do not know whether it will be interesting to you or not. Uncle Elisha has been to election today and put in a vote for Uncle Abe. He wanted me to write. I believe the folks are all well as usual. Henry Fenzek is at home.

You wrote about some shirts. The cloth is $1.50 per yard and if you can get them for $12 dollars, I should think it would be as well as to have them sent. I should like to have some of those papers very well. I think I have written quite a good deal for me. You must excuse the writing. — Em

P. S. James Roantree is dead—killed near Petersburg. 4 It is a hard blow to his folks. He was with a colored regiment and after he went with them, it was quite awhile that they did not hear from him. His mother was almost crazy. They have sent for his body but it has not come yet as I know of. I forgot to say that Caleb lives in the same house with Gallup and his mother and Bettie. — Em

1 Em is referring to Mr. Asa Oran Gallup (1819-1865) of Alexandria, Virginia. He was the husband of Wealthy Philena Palmer (1831-1914) who was raised in Lenox, Madison county, New York, the daughter of Elijah Palmer (1786-1867) and Lovicy Davis (1792-1857). Asa died the following year at the age of 46. I believe he was employed as a teacher.

2 Noyes Grant Palmer (1822-1892) was the son of Stephen W. Pamer (1793-1879) and Huldah Palmer (1797-1882) of Lenox, Madison county, New York. In 1860, Noyes had his residence in Newtown in Queens county on Long Island. In 1866 he moved to Kings county to become the superintendent of the Cypress hills Cemetery. His obituary claims he once devised a method for forcasting weather changes.

3 Anson Booth Cranson (1849-1864) was a private in Co. B, 169th New York Infantry. He was just two weeks beyond his 15th birthday when he died of chronic diarrhea on 13 September 1864 in the general hospital at Hampton, Virginia. (The regimental records have him as being 18 years old when he enlisted at Troy in February 1864. But they also have him as being in Co. A and dying of wounds on 13 September 1864, despite what hospital records show.)

4 James Roantree, Jr. (1842-1864) served initially as a corporal in Co. B, 157th New York Infantry. He was wounded in action at Gettysburg and discharged on 8 September 1864 to accept a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. A, 43rd US Colored Troops (USCT). He was killed a few weeks later in the fighting at Hatcher’s Run on 27 October 1864. The following summarizes the movements of the 43rd USCT at Harcher’s Run: “With the corps, it marched for the Weldon Railroad, and in the action at that point, on the 19th and 20th of August, and at Poplar Grove Church, on the 29th and 30th of September, it was engaged, but fortunately suffered little loss. In the battle of Hatcher’s Run, on the 27th and 28th of October, it held the position of skirmishers in front of the Ninth Corps, and gallantly assisted in repulsing the repeated charges of the enemy. Two lines of breast-works which served an important purpose in the fight, were constructed in the face of a severe fire, by this regiment, for which it was highly commended. It was the last regiment to leave the field, covering the retiring movement. Its loss in the action was one officer, Lieutenant James Roantree, and seven men killed, four officers and eighteen men wounded, and one taken prisoner.” James has a (fallen) headstone in the Clockville Cemetery in Madison county, New York. Presumably his remains were sent home to his parents, James Roantree, Sr. *1813-1892) and Ann Ellis Pinckney (1816-1884).

1863: Susan (Walker) Burnham to Granville Fernald

This letter was written by Susan (Walker) Burnham, the 47 year-old wife of John Burnham of Busti, Chautaugua county, New York. The content of Susan’s letter gives us a back door account of the Battle of Fredericksburg experienced by her 25 year-old son, Charles N. Burnham (1837-1924) who served as a corporal in the 39th Pennsylvania Volunteers (10th Pennsylvania Reserves) during the Civil War. Charles was working as a printer in Warren, Pennsylvania, when he enlisted in May 1861 and was with his regiment until taken prisoner at the Battle of Fredericksburg and held captive in Libby Prison until mid January 1863. He was discharged from the regiment in July 1864 after three years service. Susan’s letter contains quotations from a large segment of a letter Charles had written to her of the fight at Fredericksburg and of his captivity.

The following account of the part played by the 10th Pennsylvania Reserves (39th Penna.) at Fredericksburg comes from Pa-Roots:

On the night of the 10th of December, the Tenth left camp with the Third Brigade, under command of Brigadier General Jackson, and proceeded to the bank of the river, three miles below Fredericksburg, where two pontoon bridges were speedily laid and a crossing was effected without loss. On the morning of the 13th, the regiment moved with the division to the point whence the attack was to be made, where it was formed, and was soon under a heavy fire of artillery; Soon the word was given to advance, and in the face of a destructive fire of musketry and artillery it swept forward and carried the enemy’s intrenchments; but failing of support the division was forced back and compelled to retire with great loss. The Tenth, in this engagement, was led by Lieutenant Colonel Knox, who won great credit for his skill and bravery. The loss was severe, being eleven killed, seventy-five wounded and fifty-one captured.

In her letter, Susan also mentions another son, 19 year-old Andrew Burnham, who served as a sergeant in Co. D, 112th New York Infantry and who was, at the time, posted at Fort Halleck in Suffolk, Virginia.

To read letters I’ve transcribed by other soldiers who served in the 39th Pennsylvania, see:
James Wilson Hanna, Co. G, 39th Pennsylvania (2 Letters)
James Wilson Hanna, Co. G, 39th Pennsylvania (1 Letter)
Ira Ayer, Co. I, 39th Pennsylvania (1 Letter)
William J. Mitchell, Co. I, 39th Pennsylvania (1 Letter)
Jairus Waid, Co. I, 39th Pennsylvania (3 Letters)
George W. Morris, Co. K, 39th Pennsylvania (6 Letters)


Addressed to Capt. Granville Fernald, Co. B, 23rd Maine Regt., Washington D. C.

Busti [New York]
January 21, 1863

Brother Granville,

I will devote a few moments this morning in writing to you for I have not heard a word from you since you wrote me when you first arrived at the seat of war and I would like very much to know where you are and how you like to be a soldier. Perhaps you would like to know something about us. We are all well as usual excepting [our daughter] Sarah. She has a slight touch of diphtheria. We are doctoring her pretty thoroughly and I am in hopes it will not prove to be serious.

I must tell you something about my boys in the army. Soon after the Battle of Fredericksburg, the sad news came to us that Charles was among the missing. We received a letter from Mr. H[iram] T[hompson] Houghton, a member of his company, giving us the particulars of the fight of Saturday, December 13th, stating that he thought Charles was a prisoner and that he also had a son [William Henry Houghton] among the missing. (They were in the Left Grand Division under General Franklin.)

You may judge of our feelings during a month of dreadful suspense and anxiety when a few days ago we received a letter from Charles stating that their division crossed the Rappahannock a little below Fredericksburg Friday, December 12th and Saturday 13th about 9 o’clock in the morning the fighting commenced and soon after, their Brigade was ordered to charge on the Rebs who were concealed in a piece of woods nearly half a mile from them. He says “away we went across an open field, the Rebs pouring grape and canister into us all the time and the men falling all around us, till some of us succeeded in reaching the railroad which was about 10 rods [@ 55 yards] from the woods when we were ordered to halt & commence firing. we went to work and succeeded in keeping the Rebs back about an hour when first we knew about 300 of us were surrounded and captured, which would not have happened if our Generals had sent in support as they ought to.”

They were then taken to the rear of the Rebel army and kept over night and the next day marched toward Richmond. They marched to Hanover Junction and then put aboard of the cars and arrived at the Libby Prison about dark, Wednesday December 17th. He says they were treated pretty well by those that captured them and by the Rebel soldiers generally, but those that never fired a gun nor smelt powder use them rather rough. The women especially seemed very bitter toward them and would frequently come out and sing out to them, “On to Richmond! On to Richmond, you black Du[t]ch you!” 1

They were put into a room (250 of them) 120 feet long by 50 wide where a streak of daylight was almost a stranger and kept half starved. All they had to eat was half a pint of rice and bean soup and a small piece of bread twice a day. He said he thought he had seen some hard times before but he had never seen anything like that. They remained there until the 9th of January when they were released on parole and sent to Annapolis, Maryland.

Charles was taken sick the same day they left the prison and is in the U. S. General Hospital at Annapolis. He wrote a line to us the day he arrived there stating that he had a fever but was not seriously sick and was gaining. I am in hopes he can come home. If he don’t, I think his father will go and see him.

Andrew is at Suffolk, Virginia. He is on detached service in Fort Halleck, is sergeant and has to drill a squad of 5 men four hours a day. He writes that he is well and like his place in the fort better than he did in the regiment. I think he makes a good soldier. Please excuse this poor letter and write soon and let me know how you are getting along. Yours truly, — S. W. Burnham

(I wrote to Mother today)

1 The “Dutch” was a reference to Germans which, by the time of the Civil War was used derisively and had almost became synonymous with the word “stupid.” I have not researched it but there may have been a number of Germans captured at Fredericksburg from other regiments.