Monthly Archives: May 2014

1861: Capt. Ira Ayer to Sarah Cecilia Ayer

This letter was written by Capt. Ira (“Ike”) Ayer, Jr. (1836-1903) of Co. I, 10th Pennsylvania Reserve Corps. He was the son of Ira Ayer (1802-1889) and Julia Mariah Wadsworth (1808-1861) of Erie County, New York. He wrote the letter to his sister, Sarah (“Sade”) Cecelia Ayer (1842-18xx) who became a school teacher. The letter was written less than a month after their mother’s death on 14 August 1861.

The following biography of Ira Ayer comes from a book called, Martial Deeds of Pennsylvania, by Samuel P. Bates (1874):

Capt. Ira Ayers

Capt. Ira Ayers

At the opening of the Rebellion, he [Ayers] was a student of Allegheny College. Without waiting for authority he called together his fellow students, and having had some training in the Sixty-seventh militia, of which his father was Colonel, commenced drilling them. Though earnest in his appeals his company failed of acceptance, until the Reserve corps was authorized, when it was mustered as Company I of the Tenth. He was first in action at Dranesville [on 20 December 1861]. He seems to have had a poetic appreciation of valor; for when General Ord, who commanded in the battle, came galloping forward, leading Easton’s battery into action, he thus records his impressions: “Just then Ord came dashing up. `Make way for my artillery,’ he shouted, and without slackening his speed dashed by, while his `war-dogs’ followed close behind. The General was an old artillerist, and knew well how to value this arm of the service. The scene was, I think. the most animated that I witnessed during the war. He was mounted on a beautiful bay, and as he rode up, his eyes flashing fire and every lineament of his countenance betokening courage, his presence inspired all with confidence.”

In the battle of Beaver Dam Creek [Battle of Mechanicsville] he was sent forward with his company to occupy the skirmish line, and remained in this advanced position during the entire engagement, the regiment acquitting itself in the most gallant manner. “About ten o’clock,” he says, “the roar of artillery had ceased. In our advanced position we could hear distinctly the movements of the enemy, and the cries and shrieks of the wounded and dying, as lay where they had fallen or were being moved from the field.” In the battle of the following day, at Gaines’ Mill, he received a gunshot wound in the right side and a severe contusion of the right arm. “Colonel Warner,” he says, “mustered the regiment on the 30th, and I shall never forget the glow of soldierly pride with which he commended the company’s bravery, and viewed its thinned but still compact ranks.” And now came the change of base, with infinite discomfort to the wounded and worn-out soldiers. But a place of rest had not been gained before the enemy attacked, now at Charles City Cross Roads. The Reserves felt the first shock and were terribly scourged, but suffered no diminution of gallantry. In the Seven Days of this contest Captain Ayer’s company lost more heavily in killed and wounded than any in the division. As it was the representative of one of the prominent colleges in the State, the fact may be regarded as significant.

At [Second] Bull Run, Captain Ayer received a severe wound. Passing over this field nearly a year afterwards the recollection of the battle were brought vividly to his mind and he thus wrote to a friend: “A little farther on we came to the scene of our last year’s operations. There is the very field where we lay, Thursday night, August 28th [1862], all day under a hot sun, covered a little from the enemy. This was near Groveton. Yonder is the wood where our regiment made a charge to take a rebel battery, but without success, and there is the field where they shelled us after dark, throwing their missiles very accurately, but, as it happened, without effect. That was Friday evening, the 29th; and there is the field where our regiment stood picket the same night. Passing on a little farther we come to the house hear which we lay Saturday, before we were ordered into the engagement. But here to the right is the very spot where the regiment fought. There fell Captain Hinchman, of Company A, and it is said that he is buried in that little rail enclosure. Here, too, fell Tryon and Pearl; and Phelps, out Lieutenant, a bold and dashing officer, was shot through the breast. No better men graced the ranks of the Union army. On this same ridge the rebel bullet struck my arm, and another went through my hat. The former made a sad hole in my canteen, causing all my cold coffee to run out. The boys in going over the field to-day found what they asserted to be the self-same canteen; but they were mistaken, for I carried it off with me.” His wound was a severe one, fracturing the left forearm.

At Gettysburg, while reconnoitring, he was fired at by two sharpshooters from an unexpected quarter, but was not hit. Turning suddenly back, a third shot was fired, which just grazed his side, making a deep abrasion, and would have done certain execution had it not been fired at the instant of his turning away, carrying him out of aim after the missile had actually left the piece.

He had been promoted to the rank of Major on the 18th of October, 1862, and on the 18th of December, 1863, was advanced to Lieutenant-Colonel and placed in command of the regiment. When it entered the Wilderness campaign it went with the free step and resolute mien of the best trained and organized soldiers. It had not penetrated far before the old foe was met. In a letter dated May 6th, the second day of the battle, he says: “Our division had been rapidly ordered forward, preparatory as was supposed to a charge upon the enemy’s works. I was leading my regiment my regiment into line when hit by a bullet from the one of the enemy’s sharpshooters, which passed through the large bone of my leg, causing a very painful though I hope not dangerous wound. I was compelled to leave the field at once, which I did after exhorting my men to do their duty.”

For more than a year after the Reserve corps had completed its period of service and been mustered out he was disabled. He was brevetted Colonel for this action, and was warmly complimented by Generals Crawford and Fisher. Only by wounds, however, was he kept from the field, possessing a good constitution and actuated by real patriotism. In person he is six feet in height, well formed, and of fair complexion. At college he manifested a strong liking for mathematics and natural science, and later in his course for lingual studies. Strictly temperate–of tobacco and spirituous liquors abstemious–he was little affected by temptation, as the habits of youth are strengthened and firmed by time.

Colonel Ayer was married on the 21st of December, 1863, to Miss Jennie James, whose mother had, during the war, ministered at the bedside of many sick and dying soldiers, evincing a patriotism as sincere and fervid as the man who bore the musket and met face to face the foe. She watched at the side of one of the brave men of Ayer’s company, Edwin B. Pier, a scholar of promise, and after his death wrote a most touching letter, descriptive of the Christian fortitude of the departed young soldier. When Ayer next visited Washington, he called upon the family to tender his acknowledgments for the kindness shown his beloved companion-in-arms, and then for the first time met the daughter. The acquaintance ripened into esteem, and finally resulted in their marriage. At the close of the war, Colonel Ayer settled in Virginia, and now resides at Norfolk, where he holds a responsible position in the civil service of the General Government.

This letter is datelined Camp Tennally which was near Tennallytown, D. C., northwest of the nation’s capitol. The 10th Pennsylvania Reserve Corps had been bivouacked there since 1 August 1861, guarding the northern approaches to the city.

1861 Letter

1861 Letter

Addressed to Miss Sarah C. Ayer, Evans Center, Erie County, New York

Camp Tennally [northwest of Washington D. C.]
September 7th 1861

My Dear Sade,

It is a warm and very pleasant day. A light breeze is spring up from the North driving fleecy-hazy clouds across the sky, and fanning your brother’s brow as he pens this missive to his absent and loved sister. Sister; imagine for one moment your Ike’s strong arm around your neck and feel the impress of his kiss upon your check. Though friend must be separated far from friend in this world, how blest that that sweet union off his spirit can never be broken which so softens and sanctifies life. Were it not for this, I should have no sisters now — no Father — no Mother. As it is, Mother yet lives to me; sisters are often near me; and the influence of a beloved father is ever surrounding me. Let me tell you how glad I was for so faithful an account of our sainted mother. I am not surprised, dear Sade, at your temptations during the trying hour. It is perhaps but natural that reason should arise and shake herself and clamor for admittance to those portals which faith alone can enter. Are we not firm; do we not say, “Reason; thou can’st go no farther: thou hast naught upon which to plant thy feet: stand back and let bright pinioned Faith bear on my hopes.” We need not wonder to find ourselves enshrouded in clouds and darkness. But experience, dear sister, will strengthen us in the exercise of faith and enable us, if we seek earnestly for so high a state of grace, to ever live in the sunshine of a glorious hope.

Brig. Gen. George A. McCall

Brig. Gen. George A. McCall

It is generally felt, I believe, both in the army here and throughout the North that we are on the eve of a great battle. We have received an order from Gen. McClellan this evening to have two days rations in haversacks and be ready to start at a moment’s warning. This looks significant as I think there is very little cause to suspect an advance on the part of the rebels. Next week, I think, will be fraught with stirring events. This afternoon Gen. [George Archibald] McCall’s Brigade to which we are attached was reviewed by the Secretary of War. They made a fine appearance and I believe will do good service.

I am learning to live as comfortably in my tent as at home. Indeed, it is a very pleasant mode of life. The reveille and tattoo are beginning to come as a matter of course, just as the crowing of the rooster in civil life. My health is for the most part excellent. The severe cold which hung to me so long I am entirely free from. I never was more grateful to be relieved from any illness than from it.

Your plans, dear S., entirely meet my approval. I doubt not they are dictated by divine and filial love. Can you doubt for a moment that you will not prosper in every way in pursuing them? Have you a fear even that you will not succeed? Where is thy faith, loved one? Look to the lives of the great and good in all ages. They, like you and I, had to overcome foes from without and within. And yet it was only by these conflicts that their souls became strong. Dost thou have trial? Let thy faith mount upward as on the wings of the eagle. Let it bear thee to that world of eternal day. Behold then thy Savior, the ever blessed comforter. Claim his promises. Get strength by communion with the Father. With thine eye upon the star-decked throne and the swaying scepter, go forward to battle. Nothing can harm thee so thou dost not falter or delay. Adieu for the present. Love to all.

Yours ever, Ike

1863: Rev. William Adney McSwain to Gov. Milledge Luke Bonham

How Rev. W. A. McSwain might have looked

How Rev. William A. McSwain might have looked

This letter was written by Rev. William A. McSwain (1814-1866), the son of Charles McSwain (1786-1848) and Luraner Washburn (1794-1845). McSwain was converted and joined the Methodist Church in 1831; was licensed to preach in 1836, and entered the South Carolina Conference in 1838. He served on the following circuits: Pleasant Grove in 1843; Rutherford in 1844-45; Union in 1846-47, and again in 1854; Neuberry in 1848. and again in 1855-56; Black Swamp in 1849-50. In 1851-52 he was pastor of Trinity Church, Charleston; in 1853 of Spartansburg station; in 1857 tract agent of his Conference; from 1859-62 presiding elder on the Cokesbury District; in 1863-64 pastor of Ninety-six, and in 1865 of Laurens Circuit. He died Jan. 7, 1866.

Rev. McSwaim wrote the letter to the South Carolina Governor Milledge Luke Bonham on the day he buried Thomas Spearman Powers (1795-1863). Powers died on 1 November 1863 in Newbury County after retrieving the body of his youngest son, William Thomas Powers (1843-1863) who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga. The letter is an appeal to the Governor to release Powers’ son-in-law, John Lawton Fennell (1822-1896) from military service so that he might remain home to safeguard the Powers family and manage their plantation in South Carolina. Fennell was the husband of Mary Frances Powers (1827-1911). He enlisted in Co. F, 2nd South Carolina Infantry.


Ninety Six, South Carolina
November 2, 1863

My dear Gov. Bonham,

This note will explain itself. Your old friend Thomas S. Powers died yesterday. I have buried him today. He came to his death doubtless by a trip to Chickamauga after the remains of his youngest son. He has left a widow and three orphaned single daughters. And a married daughter and her four infant children cared for like his own family because the husband and father, John L. Fennell, was a volunteer in the army, though for eighteen months over the conscript age, then thirty five. Said J. L. Fennell is now at home on furlough, unable to do military duty at all, badly affected with rheumatism. And I respectfully suggest to you, and even petition, in view of the facts and circumstances in this case, that application be made to the Secretary of War to have said Fennell indefinitely furloughed or some other arrangement that will allow him to stay at home as the only protection available under six miles, the distance at which the next son-in-law lives. I had rather put two men in the field then take one out. But Fennel can do nothing in the army and will be of great service at home as the only person that can look after twenty-three negroes and overlook about two hundred acres of excellent land up to this time in a fine state of cultivation.

Very respectfully and sincerely yours, — W. A. McSwain

At present preacher in charge of the Ninety Six Circuit

1865: Caleb Ely Lee to Parker

This letter was written by Caleb Ely Lee (1835-1912), an assistant engineer in the U.S. Navy serving on board the Steamer Philadelphia on its way from New Bern, North Carolina to Washington D. C. at the time.

The following biography of Caleb E. Lee was lifted from, The History of Rock County, Wisconsin © 1879, p. 880:

Caleb Ely Lee

Caleb Ely Lee

Caleb E. Lee, Lieut. of Engineers U.S.N., Sec. 12; P.O. Evansville; born Nov. 19, 1835, in Crawford Co., Penn.; came to Wisconsin with his parents in 1847, and worked for his father till 1853, when he went to Janesville and learned a mechanic’s trade with the Western Novelty Works; in the spring of 1856, he went to Minnesota, and worked at his profession as engineer on the river and in a sawmill; in the fall of 1858, he went to New York City and followed his trade till April, 1861, when he received the appointment of Third Assistant Engineer; U.S.N.; in January, 1863, was promoted Second Assistant Engineer, and in January, 1865, First Assistant Engineer, now called Past Assistant Engineer, with the assimilated rank of Lieutenant; from the 3d of May, 1861, to the 16th of June, 1865, Mr. Lee served continuously through the war; he was on the U.S.S. Anacosta, on the Potomoc River, on picket duty principally, but they fought and silenced the rebel battery on Atacquia Creek; he served on the Pocahontas, under Admiral Dupont, at the taking of Port Royal, S.C., in the fall of 1861; went on this station till the following summer, fighting several engagements along the coast; in the fall of 1862, they joined Admiral Farragut’s fleet in a blockade off Mobile, Ala., where they captured several blockade runners; on the Tacony, he served under Admirals Lee and Porter with the North Atlantic Squadron; fought both engagements at Fort Fisher, and was at the surrender and retaking of Plymouth on the Roanoke River, N.C., and was on blockade duty on the Albermarie and Pamlico Sounds; he returned with this ship to Boston, Mass., which went out of commission at the close of the war; in August, 1865, he joined the U.S.S. Wasp, at Philadelphia, and went with the Brazilian Squadron, visiting the whole east coast of South America, the Falkland Islands, the west cost of Africa, from Cape Town to the Congo River, St. Helena, etc.; he returned home in the fall of 1868; in the spring of 1869, he was ordered to the Mound City Navy Yard, Illinois, for iron-clad duty, remaining there and at New Orleans for two and one-half years; in the fall of 1871, he joined the U.S.S. Pensacola, at San Francisco, cruising on the west coast of South America; in September, 1872, he was sent home from Panama, sick, and was on sick leave till the fall of 1875, when he joined the iron-clad steamer Mahopac, at Pensacola, Fla., but in three months was sent home by medical survey; in December, 1876, he was placed on the retired list, and is at present living on his farm of 280 acres, in Magnolia Township, Rock Co., Wis.; he is a member of Lodge No. 32, Chapter No. 35, Masons.



Steamer Philadelphia off Roanoke Island
May 11th 1865

My Dear Parker,

The note book came through all right.

We left New Bern Tuesday evening and arrived here this morning. The old tub is very slow. Won’t make over six knots under the best circumstances and with a strong head wind, we can hardly keep steerage way on her. However, I guess we will get through to Washington by the 4th of July or thereabouts.

Acting Ensign Milton Webster

Acting Ensign Milton Webster

The officers of the craft are Acting Ensign Milton Webster, commanding; 2nd Asst. Engineer C. E. Lee and acting 3rd Asst. Thomas Lee of the tug Gamma ¹ and two surgeons stewards — one going to Norfolk with sick sailors on board; the other going home.

I have been rather under the weather — as the expression goes — for two or three days past, and last night it came to a head by causing me to throw up all that was inside of me. This morning I feel much better but rather weak. Will be all O.K. by night I guess.

Tell Mr. Dukehard ² I got Eggleston to send him a barrel of lime as I knew the ship was about out.

I left your trunk at the storehouse in care of Eggleston who said he would either send it up to you or keep it until the ship came down.

If you see Gregory of the Shamrock, tell him to let you have the naval congressional pamphlet I lent him and if I can get another over at Washington, you may keep that. If not, I want you to send it over to me.

My regards to all. Yours in affliction, — Lee

¹ Gamma was built in 1863 as steamer R. F. Loper at Philadelphia, Pa.; purchased there 3 June 1864; renamed Gamma, but was also called Tug Number 3 and Picket Boat Number 3Gamma was assigned as a picket boat in the James River, Ens. Henry F. Curtis in command. She arrived at New Bern, N.C., from the James River 3 April 1865. Placed at the disposal of General W. T. Sherman’s quartermaster, she served in the sounds of North Carolina until close of the Civil War. She was sold by public auction at New York 25 October 1865 to D. Trundy. Redocumented as merchant steamer Peter Smith 13 December 1865, she burned at New York 9 May 1893.

² Possibly First Asst. Engineer Thomas M. Dukehart of the U.S. Navy.

1862: John Binney Gould to Barton

How Rev. Gould might have looked

How Rev. Gould might have looked before the war

This letter was written by Rev. John B. Gould (1824-1908), the son of Rev. Robert Gould (1794-1864) and Rebecca L. Binney (1796-1858). John graduated from Methodist-affiliated Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut in 1846. His brother Thomas Lincoln Gould also attended Wesleyan University (Class of 1850) but died in the fall of 1847 while in college.

John Gould was married to Caroline Elizabeth Denison (1825-18xx) of Mystic, Connecticut, in April 1847. He served a number of Methodist churches in New England, including Marlboro (CT); Marshfield (MA); Quincy (MA); East Weymouth (MA); Edgartown (MA); New Bedford (MA); New London (CT); Norwich (CT); Fall River (MA); Chestnut Street in Providence (RI); and Bangor (ME).

Rev. Gould wrote this letter while serving as chaplain of the 11th Rhode Island Infantry during the Civil War. At the time, the 11th Rhode Island was encamped near Minors Hill, southwest of Washington D. C.

Drawing of Minors Hill in 1862 by Pvt. Morris

Drawing of Minors Hill, Va. in 1862 by Pvt. Morris


Minors Hill
November 21st 1862

Dear Bro. Barton,

We are having a severe & long continued rain storm & as I can do little else I propose to spend the hours writing to friends I have left behind. I have thought of you often & intended to write, but have found the hours to pass so swiftly that I have written to but few except my own family. We are still upon the hill top & I fear shall be compelled to remain till spring. We are on the outposts in this direction about three miles from Lionsville. The enemy are not at present near us, but fearing one of Jackson’s raids it is considered necessary to keep this road to Washington well guarded.

Minors Hill lower left; Chain Bridge over Potomas upper right.

Minors Hill lower left; Chain Bridge over Potomas upper right.

Two days ago, we were ordered to have three days rations cooked. Had shelter tents given out & were ready to move at a moment’s warning. The boys seemed pleased at the prospect of a change, but it has rained ever since & “all is quiet along the Potomac.” We may move any day, our position depending upon the movements of the general army. I fear that this rain may impede Burnside in his progress. It would be sad indeed if the rainy season should come on & the mud caused all operations to cease. Burnside’s appointment is popular with us as hosts of the soldiers are very impatient at their long delays. The rebels are always ready but we must make long tarry to get ready for a battle. All these delays only give the enemy a chance to learn our plans & bring their forces together to checkmate us.

We have been very anxious to join the expedition under Banks which we suppose is going to Charleston. I should like much to be be in at the death of that city.

We have a fine regiment & our general says many very flattering things to us. I know that few chaplains have so easy an opportunity to carry out their plans as I do. However it is not home & I would not remain here a day as a place for pleasure. It is not to be compared with the pleasure to be derived for the pastorate of a N. E. church. It is an important position for someone to fill & I do not regret the step I took in coming. We have social meetings three times a week & find many excellent men ready to sustain them. I hope you prosper in Chestnut Street. Let me hear from you as to movements at home.

Kind regards to all. Yours truly, — J. B. Gould

1864: Eliab Washburn Murdock to Silas Packard Maxim

How Eliab W. Murdock might have looked

How Eliab W. Murdock might have looked

The author of this letter was Eliab Washburn Murdock, the son of James and Ruth (Washburn) Murdock. He was born May 13, 1820, in Hebron, Maine. He married Sarah Ann Goodridge Banister in September 1848. Sarah, born March 18, 1816, was the daughter of John Goodridge of Boston and the widow of Samuel Bradley Banister of Boston. The Murdocks lived in Paris, Maine, where Eliab became owner of a grist mill. They had three children: Edward Wesley, Pauline Caroline, and Frederic Augustus.

Eliab Murdock enlisted as a private in the 17th Maine Regiment, Company F in August 1862. He was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863 when Stonewall’s flanking attack cut off the 17th Maine — known as the Red Diamond Regiment — from the remainder of the Corps inflicting heavy casualties. He re-enlisted in the Veteran Reserve Corps (formerly called the Invalid Corps) in August 1864 and was discharged in November 1865 as a corporal in Company D of the 1st Regiment of the Corps.

Sarah Murdock died on April 16, 1876 and Eliab Murdock died on June 1, 1877.

Eliab’s Civil War letters to his wife are housed at the Raymond H. Fogler Library at the University of Maine.

Murdock wrote the letter to Silas Packard Maxim (1827-1884), the son of Capt. Silas  and Hannah (Packard) Maxim of Paris, Maine.


Rush Barracks
Washington D. C.
August 27th 1864

S. P. Maxim
Dear Sir,

I received your dispatch today. It was delayed by being delivered through the P.O. I replied to it although I felt embarrassed in so doing. The parties referred to in my letter to T. C. Cushman had disposed of themselves during the week. Many soldiers belonging to Maine have re-enlisted in our Corps and were allowed their own selections of town to which to be accredited. An Order was issued by the War Department today requiring all re-enlisting hereafter to be accredited to their original towns. This arrangement has broken up competition between the re-enlisting agents and I think it just. The prices paid here for men re-enlisting by our Maine agents has varied from $3.00 to $5.00. I have been offered the latter sum myself to re-enlist for three years but declined to alienate myself from my own town. I hope you will be able to fill our quota without resorting to such high bounties. If, however, men are required by the town at such prices, I wil myself re-enlist in the present emergency. Such arrangements are made by the War Department that all necessary papers can be made here to insure the safety of the transaction. For instance, men re-enlisting can receive the State Bounty ($300) here as soon as mustered in and can receive the town compensation on producing sufficient vouchers that they have re-enlisted and been properly accredited &c.

You would oblige me much by writing me how you succeed in filling our state quota and the bounties paid &c. and in return I will at all times give you any information which lies in my power of matters pertaining to our common interest.

Very respectfully your obedient servant,

E. W. Murdock
Co. D, 1st Regt. V. R. C. [Veteran Reserve Corps]
Washington D.C.

P.S. The man referred to in my dispatch today is eligible to accredit to our quota and I think can be depended on if required before the 3d day of next month. — E. W. M.

1864: Rebecca M. Twining to Lucetta (Hammond) Lashier

How Rebecca Twining might have looked

How Rebecca Twining might have looked

This letter was written by Rebecca M. Twining (1842-1900), the daughter of Henry Clifton Twining (1809-1866) and Chloe Hickok (1810-1874) of East Smithfield, Bradford County, Pennsylvania. The family was enumerated in Owego, Tioga County, New York in 1860, however. The Twinings had three other children besides Rebecca though two of them died young.

We learn from Rebecca’s letter that the Twining family has not heard from Rebecca’s only surviving sibling, John Henry Twining (1845-1864) — a corporal in Col. Berdan’s 2d Reg. U. S. Sharpshooters — for several months, leaving them to wonder if he is dead or being held in a Confederate prison camp. John initially enlisted at age 16 and served two years in Co. C, 105th Pennsylvania Infantry before re-enlisting with the Sharpshooters. John was reported missing in action on 6 May 1864 in the Battle of the Wilderness, most likely killed, though six months later the family still had no confirmation of his death. Apparently they never got it.

Rebecca addressed the letter to her cousin “Lucetta.” I can’t find any Twining family members by that name but one of her cousins, Dr. Franklin Lashier (1838-1905) was married to Lucetta Jane Hammond (1841-1924) in October 1861 and I suspect she was the recipient of Rebecca’s letter. The Lashier’s resided in Broome County, New York.


East Smithfield, [Bradford County, Pennsylvania]
November 4th, 28th, 1864

Dear Cousin,

I received your letter in due time and was very glad to hear from you again and glad to hear you were well but sorry the baby was so out of health and hope he is better for it must be very bad for the poor little shiny to be sick and can’t tell how it feels. I always pity children a great deal more than I do grown people such as you and me.

Your letter found us usually well. I say usually well and I might as well say that as anything for we are never well. Shut is mother and I. Mother’s health is good for her, but her hands are very bad and I am quite out of health with my poor head. I don’t know but it will run away with me to Dixie yet in search of my lost brother. We have no tidings of him as yet and it is very doubtful whether we ever shall. Still I am in hopes we may.

I wrote a letter to General Butler about three weeks ago and asked him if he would be so kind as to let me know if he had seen or heard of such a prisoner as John. I was advised to do so in hopes he might have seen or heard of such a fellow seeing he was Commissioner of Exchange of Prisoners. I thought perhaps he might have a list of names of those that had died and those that were prisoners now but it seems he knew nothing about it for I received  an answer last Saturday. The substance of it was printed and read thus: Headquarters Department of Virginia and North Carolina. In the Field, Va. Nov. 8th 1864. Miss, I am directed to inform you in reply to your communication of the 1st instant that in consequence of military operations at present in process, no boxes can be forwarded to our prisoners in the hands of the Rebels, nor can any information be obtained as to their whereabouts at present. As soon as possible every effort will be made to obtain the release of all our prisoners. very respectfully, your obedient servant, — L. R. Shaffer, Capt and ______.

Probably it was done under the direction of Butler. Still I don’t know any more about John than I did before and probably they answered it the best they could. It was all printed but a few words. I presume they keep a lot of such letters on hand all the time to send to those that write to them. I am very sorry I could not learn anything in regard to John, but what can’t be _____ has to be endured I suppose. But it is pretty hard in this instance. Still there are thousands, I suppose, can tell the same story almost and I am no better than they are and I try to hope for the best. Yet it looks dark ahead.

Yet I am in hopes this dreadful war will close by spring seeing Abraham seems to be the man that is to save our country and I think he is just the man for the times — the very man to be President. I am right glad election is over for I don’t hear the Copperheads hiss as much as I did before and it has been and is still my good luck to stay at a Copperhead’s house the most of the time sewing. They furnish me with all the sewing I can do and I do more than I ought to for it is just what I hadn’t ought to do. It hurts me to sew so much. Still I want to do all I can seeing I have no brother to get me anything.

There was a pedlar stayed here last night that said he had been to Owego to see that fortune teller about a brother of his that had been missing since the 23rd of June. She told him he was wounded and a prisoner so I suppose she would tell me the same about John if I should see her. But if you will let me know if Lib gets a letter from Charley in two months. I will have to believe she knows something and may come and see her but if Lib don’t get a letter, I shan’t put any confidence in that woman. I shouldn’t want her to tell my fortune for it comes along plenty fast enough, but I would like to know what she would say about John very much.

I wish I has some of your chestnuts.

They draft here this week again. They drafted some weeks ago but so many got clear they have to draft again to make up the quota. Ephraim Gerould ¹ was drafted the other time and he got a substitute for $850 and feels quite poor over it, but I guess it won’t break him. But it is very bad. He would have went if it hadn’t been for his mother’s being so old and he was all her dependence.

Please tell Grandpa I am very sorry he is so poorly and I would like to come and see him but hope he will get better so he can come and see us by another summer. If he gets very sick, will you let us know. Please give my respects to all and write soon.

This from your cousin, — R. M. Twining

Father is at home now.

¹ Ephraim Gerauld (1835-1881) was from Bradford County, Pennsylvania. He was the son of George Gerould (1789-1853) and Bathsheba Beals (1792-1874).

1863: Capt. Russell Peter Twist to Nannie E. (Foreman) Twist

This letter was written by Capt. Russell Peter (“R. P.”) Twist (1827-1906) who enlisted in the 16th Ohio Light Artillery in September 1861 as a First Lieutenant. He was promoted to Captain on 17 May 1863, and mustered out at Camp Chase (Ohio) in August 1865.

The following summary of Capt. Twist’s war experience come from the History of Wyandotte County Kansas and its people, ed. and comp. by Perl W. Morgan. Chicago (1911). It is probably an account submitted by the family.

twistTwist enlisted in Company E, Sixteenth Ohio Volunteers, April 14, 1861. He served as a sergeant three months, and then recruited the Sixteenth Ohio Battery. Was elected its Captain, and retained command until the close of the war. He was in all the engagements of his command. Was in the battle of Phillipi, and chased the rebels from Bealington to Carrick’s Ford, marching forty miles and wading Cheat River sixteen times in a single day. Battery left Springfield, Ohio, September 5, numbering 106 men; arrived at Cincinnati the same evening. Mustered into United States service the same evening. Left Cincinnati the same evening for St. Louis. Arrived there on the 7th, after many changes, severe marches and much suffering from sickness, fatigue, poor water, short rations, etc. The battery having marched through Missouri and Arkansas, and joined the Army of the Southwest, under command of Gen. Curtis, were in the engagement of Cotton Plant, Ark., where 140 confederates were killed. After two expeditions up White River, the battery embarked at Helena on transport for Milliken’s Bend, April 12, 1863. Joined Gen. Grant’s army and marched through Louisiana; crossed the Mississippi River at Bruinsburg, and by forced marches arrived in time to take part in the battle of Port Gibson. Fought the enemy here the afternoon of their arrival until dark, and as night closed round, the enemy retreated. The battery expended 350 rounds of ammunition in this afternoon’s engagement. His battery was also in the battle of Champion Hill, and finally took position in the rear of Vicksburg May 21, and did good execution through the siege, expending 6,594 rounds, dismounting seven guns, with a loss of but two wounded, and had the honor of throwing the last shot into Vicksburg from the land batteries.They went, after the fall of Vicksburg, to Jackson, Miss., and were under fire five days without loss. They were in active service during the entire war; wore out one set of guns and made considerable use of another set before they were mustered out August 2, 1865.

R.P. was the son of Peter Twist (1794-1842) and Kate Beardsley (1795-18xx) who came to Ohio when R. P. was only ten years old. He ran a machine shop at Yellow Springs for six years until he was burned out and then moved to Springfield, Ohio. He was married at Springfield in June 1851 to Nancy (“Nannie”) Evaline Foreman (1833-1875) and together they had at least six children between 1852 and 1867. After Nannie’s death, R. P. married Willahamina Kern and had five more children.

Though R. P. appears to have been smitten with New Orleans and devoted most of this letter to persuading his wife to visit him there and possibly relocate in the Mississippi delta after the war, it never happened. R. P. eventually moved to Wyandotte County, Kansas.

1863 Letter

1863 Letter

Addressed to Mrs. Nannie E. Twist, Vienna Cross Roads, Clark County, Ohio

Headquarters 16th Ohio Battery
Camp at Brashear City, La.
November 25th 1863

Mrs. Nannie E. Twist
Vienna Crossroads
Clark County, Ohio

My Dear Wife,

I have just received your very kind and interesting letter of October 22d and I take pleasure in answering it at my earliest convenience. You can’t tell how glad I was to get this letter for it was the first I had had from you for along time. I don’t think it is your fault that I don’t get letters oftener from you. But we are away from our Division and have been for two months and all our letters go to the Division before they come to us. That makes them about one month behind the time. But this time I succeeded in getting hold of our Division mail and taking our letter out as the mail went through here. So I was fortunate enough to get a large mail and get a good letter direct from you. I was so glad to hear that you were all well. But you did not say a word about coming out to see me this winter. You can’t think how close I watch every train that comes in thinking you may come but am as often disappointed.

I have just returned from New orleans where I have been absent for three days on business. I watched every boat that came down thinking I would see you. We are still here at Brashear City and how long we shall remain here it is hard to tell. When we came here, we expected to take the ship for Texas but it was found that heavy draft boats could not come over the bar to get up here this low stage of water. So now they are sending all the army back to New Orleans to take there for Texas and we will go that way I expect now.

You don’t know how bad I have wanted you to come out this winter and make me a visit and how much I have regretted that you did not come. We have been idle now so long and it seems a pity that you could not come. Almost all the officers that had wives have had them come to see them and they have had pleasure times and I seem to be the only one that have been denied the privilege. And I have been so situated too that I could not come home for they took my officers away from me so that it has been impossible for me to get any. And then if I could get away, I could not get more than 20 days and I would have to make my connections first rate and was no time to get home and stay one night in that time. And I have bitter enemies that would take advantage of the least thing to have me court martialed. So if I should be absent one day over my time, I might be dismissed from the service. I will not put myself i the power of any scoundrel seeking positions over another’s downfall. They are trying some 100 officers or more for staying home over their allotted time so you see my situation about coming home. I would make any reasonable sacrifice to see you if I could do it honorably, but you would scorn as well as I to submit to dishonor to get to see you. I shall avail myself, rest assured, of the first opportunity to come home. But in the ,meanwhile I shall look very anxiously for you on every arrival. And if you don’t come, I can’t blame myself of not having pled sufficiently with you to come for I have done all I could.

I don’t know whether you had better start until you hear further from me or not, if you have not already started. But if you will take courage enough to come on to Texas if you come on here and find me gone, then I would say come on any time. You would be perfectly safe in finding me at any time if you would come to New Orleans and inquire for me at Headquarters of Chief of Artillery or of Major Davidson. They are always there.

We may remain here long enough for this to reach you and for you to come and see me here but I can’t tell/ But you would be safe to come at any time this Winter for if I am gone you can easily find that out at New Orleans and follow me for we will not go off of public conveyance this winter. It would cost you some more to come by New York but probably you would feel the safest. I should feel safe in traveling on the river. You would always find a letter in the Post Office in Custom House, New Orleans, from me directing you where to find me. But you would find plenty of officers would direct you where to find me. It would be such a comfort to see you and then twould be such an interesting trip for you.

I suppose you have the oranges I sent you with Lieut. Dawson and have them all eaten up by this time. I have brought a barrel of them with me from New Orleans — nice sweet ones too. I wish you were here to help me eat them. How well I would like for you to go with me into some of these large fine orange orchards. Oh you would be so delighted down here to see the sights in this pleasant Southern climate and you would be so delighted to spend a few months here. I have entirely fell in love with this country and your consent I expect will be all that will be wanting to make this our future happy home.

Brashear City, La.

Brashear City, La.

I don’t like Brashear City at all but I do like this climate and I admire New Orleans the most of any place I was ever in. I think I would like to live there if you would be contented to live there with me. And ’tis just the place — or will be at the end of the war — to make money. And then if you wanted to farm, this is the country to farm in where you can plant fall and spring and let your cattle run to pasture all the year. Do come down while I am here and see this country for yourself and then I will leave it entirely with yourself to say whether we shall live in our Northern home or here where we can have fruit, flowers, and vegetables all the year without hot bed.

As I passed over the road and while I was in the city, I saw all their gardens, fresh and nice as in July with us. Nice young radishes, turnips, & onions. Also peas all out in blossom. So were potatoes tops. And all the markets were full of all kinds of fresh vegetables. And then the gay flowers I saw that only bloom in a Southern sun. How I wished I could send you some of the rich and very beautiful bouquets that I saw in the French Market. How you would open your eyes to visit this Great French Market — the greatest and the gayest on the continent. This alone would pay you for your visit here.

It seems to me that I can’t give up the idea of your not coming. You need not have no fears of this climate on the account for I believe with the exception of Yellow Fever, tis a healthier place than Springfield and the Yellow Fever is about done for in New Orleans. They have not had one case for the past two summers and scarcely for the past seven years. With proper care, New Orleans can always remain clear of it. All the citizens are the picture of health while up in Arkansas every [one] looked sickly. I talked with men that had lived at New Orleans for 20 to 30 years and never had a day’s sickness. We have not had one man get sick here by fair means. I never had better health than I have had here while I believe if we had of remained up in Arkansas, I should have died.

I am now writing in my tent at ten o’clock at night without fire and feel comfortable and it is the coldest night that we have had all fall. I believe I have told you all the news and will close for this time. Direct your letters to me —  Capt. R. P. Twist, Care 16th Ohio Battery, New Orleans Louisiana — and then they will come direct. Remember ,e kindly to my many friends and believe me,

Faithfully & Sincerely, your loving husband, — R. P. Twist, Capt.



1864: Unknown woman to sister Jane

"I am all alone with no one to care for me"

“I am all alone with no one to care for me”

This unsigned letter was written by a woman who described herself as “big and fat” and who felt as though she had “no brothers, sister, nor friend” but the sister to whom she addressed her letter. If I interpret the relationships correctly, we learn that the author of this letter has been called to the household of her brother Hiram to help care for her brother’s household — which includes their aged father — while he (Hiram) serves a three-year enlistment in the Union army. Others in the household include Hiram’s wife, Lide (sometimes short for Lydia), his daughter Atell (whom the author despises), and Atell’s younger siblings. Judging from the content, I would guess that Atell is about 12 or 13 years old.

I have not yet been able to determine which regiment Hiram was a member of; we only know that he volunteered early in 1864 (not drafted), and that he was at Fortress Monroe when this letter was written in April 1864. He may have been garrisoned at the fort or have been part of the troops that were being amassed there under General Butler’s command for his spring campaign against Richmond.

Sunday, April 17, 1864

My Dear Sister,

If there is a person in this world that is dear to me, it is you. There is no person that I can tell my troubles to that sympathizes with me as you do. In fact, I feel that I have no brothers, sister, nor friend, but you. I feel as though I was all alone with no one to care for me except for my work. I can work and dig my life out and when I can’t work any more, I expect those that I have done the most for will say you are nothing but a trouble to me and you must go to some other place.

Jane, you may think strange when you read this but if you knew my feelings you would not wonder at it. I don’t take no comfort except when I am asleep. I knew it would be so when I came here but it seems as though father did not want me to take one minute’s comfort if he could do anything to hinder it. You know I never wanted to come here and when Hiram came after me I told him I did not want to go but father said he should come whether I did or not so I had to go for they would not have him unless I went to take care of him. I suppose they wanted me to do their hard work and let their great lazy lout of a girl run the streets. I can’t bare the sight of her. And then I think that I have got to live here with her, it seems as though it was more than I could endure.

I shall be glad when it gets warm weather. Then I can go out in the fields or woods and be alone for it seems as though the young ones would make me crazy. I don’t have no time to read or write nor rest Sundays for we have to have three meals as much as we do any other day. Atell will lay a fit until breakfast is ready. Then she will crawl out and begin to snap and snarl the rest of the day when she is not running the streets. If Lide don’t see trouble with her before three years, I shall be very much mistaken and I shan’t pity her a bit. She might make her behave a little better if she tried. Lida is so ___. She is around and works the most of the time at light work. She can’t do no washing. I am big and fat. I can wash and scrub. It don’t tire me to work.

Lide has three letters a week from Hiram. He is in the fort at Fortress Monroe. He was not very well the last he wrote. He had a bad cold but nothing serious. He likes soldiering first rate. He says he would not not be a drafted man for all the money in town. Hiram has not wrote a line nor wrote to me since he went away. Lide has had sixteen letters. He thinks his wife is perfect. I shan’t write to him until he writes to me if its 3 years.

1863: Edgar A. Warner to Calvert C. Warner

How Pvt. Warner might have looked

How Pvt. Warner might have looked

This letter was written by Pvt. Edgar A. Warner (1841-1863) of the 126th New York Infantry, Company K.

Warner was born in Hopewell, New York, and by occupation was a farmer. He enlisted 31 July 1862, aged twenty-one years, and was in the battles of Harper’s Ferry, Gettysburg, and Auburn Ford before being mortally wounded in the Battle of Bristoe Station on 14 October 1863. Pvt. Warner was taken to 2nd Division Hospital in Alexandria (in a Baptist Church) where he was treated for a gunshot wound to the lungs but he died on 16 October 1863 and was buried initially in Alexandria National Cemetery, Section A, Plot 1014. It seems that his body was later exhumed and probably returned to his home in upstate New York (see comment below).

Edgar was the son of Calvert C. Warner (1821-1897) and Eunice V. Latting (1823-18xx) of Canandaigua, Ontario County, New York. Calvin was a miller by trade. Edgar wrote this letter to his parents as well as his sister, Caroline E. Warner (b. 1845).

1863 Letter

1863 Letter

Addressed to Mr. Calvert C. Warner, Canandaigua, Ontario County, New York

Union Mills, Virginia
February 1st 1863

Dear Mother & Sister,

I received your kind letter of the 26th and was glad to hear that you were well. I have got over the mumps now and will be able to go on duty tomorrow. They have taken Jeff Moore ¹ to the hospital again. He warent quite well — not so as to be able to do duty. The doctor thought he had better go to the hospital and stay a spell longer.

I don’t think father had ought to lose that waggon and pay the note besides. I should think Saxton ought to be satisfied with that. Father can do as he has a mind to about it.

I have got plenty of good clothes and three pairs of socks. You may send me a pair of boots if you want to. I will want nines, I guess. If you can get ki__ with three soles on if you can get them, and good long legs. Father can tell about what I want by trying them on. Julia said you was all anxious to send a box so I wrote to her and told her to send it along. I am going to send both letters Monday. The mail don’t go out today. You may send me some tobacco chewing and I don’t care what else — whatever you have got to send. I have wrote the directions in Julia’s letter. This is all I can think of this time for my stock of news has all run out.

From your affectionate son & brother, — E. A. Warner to his mother & sister

Jeff says give his best respects to Lydia. Give her mine too. Send the boxes soon as you can get it ready. E. A. Warner

¹ Thomas Jefferson (“Jeff”) Moore enlisted in Company K of the 126th New York on 12 August 1862 at Canandaigua to serve three years. He was taken prisoner on 15 September 1862 and paroled the following day at Harper’s Ferry when the entire garrison surrendered to Stonewall Jackson’s men on their way to Antietam. We learn from this letter that Jeff was seriously ill in early February 1863; he died of “lung inflammation” on 10 April 1863 at the Fairfax Street Hospital — a former hotel called the Mansion House — in Alexandria, Virginia.

Photograph of Pct. Warner's originally grave location in Arlington Cemetery (see comment)

Photograph of Pvt. Warner’s originally grave location in Alexandria National Cemetery (see comment)



1862: Edward Brewer [?] to siblings

How Edward Brewer might have looked

How Edward Brewer might have looked

Regrettably I cannot decipher the signature on this letter. It appears to be Edward Brewer but the last name could be Brower, Brouer, Brown, or some such variation. Edward has written the letter in August 1862 from some place north of Arkansas and probably not Missouri where life was as uncertain as Arkansas. The location is only given as “Abington” which may have have been Abington, Indiana — a small town in Wayne County, Indiana.

We learn from the letter that Edward has removed his family from Arkansas — a Confederate state — because he and his wife have strong Union sentiments and wish to escape the persecution of their secessionist neighbors. In describing the “trouble” he has seen, Edward mentions having heard the sound of artillery for three days from his residence in Arkansas and then visiting the battlefield after the opposing armies had left the field. The only major conflict occurring in Arkansas over the course of three days involving the extensive use of artillery prior to the date of this letter would have been the Battle of Pea Ridge in Benton County, Arkansas. For this reason, I would assume that Edward and his family lived in Benton County or certainly in an adjacent county.

I assume that Martin and James are Edward’s brothers. He mentions several other names in the letter but because of his poor spelling, I can’t be certain of these and have not yet been able to place any of them in a specific locale in Arkansas either.


August the 3 day 1862

Dear brother and sister,

I embrace this opportunity of writing a few lines to inform you that we are in moderate health at this time, hoping that these lines may find you all well. We gladly received your letter which gave us much comfort to hear from you. I have nothing much to write to more than answer your letter.

You wanted me to let you know where Martin and James was. I left them down in Dixie. Their wives people wanted to get away from there this fall was the reason they did not try to come when I did but I doubt very much whether any of them gets away from there at all or not for I have learned the Rebels have pressed everybody down there into their service from 16 years of age up to sixty years of age and on that ground they may be in the Southern Service though it would be against their will for they were both strong Union boys.

You wanted to know where Harry Hutchins was. He joined himself to old man McKinsey’s daughter and put off away down in Dixie to wit into Texas was the last I heard of him. Old Anderson was a strong Union man. Old Quillen Armstrong secession.

51GekZIVL8LI now say to you that I recon you don’t know anything about trouble. If you had been where I was and heard and seen what I have, you might say trouble. I staid in my yard and listened at the big guns for three days and then coming to the play ground, there was a sight to behold — to see the ground literally covered with shells, balls, and dead mules and horses and the timber all torn to pieces. I saw trees cut off thicker than my body. It looked like there could not have anybody been left alive. The Rebel army destroyed everything in Arkansas that people had to live on or pretty much so. People was offering two dollars per bushel for corn when I left and hard to get at that. I could tell you more than I can write. Let all the connections see this for I wish to be remembered to all by these lines. The connection is all well here. I am still in Abigton. I will come to a close and give way to others so no more but remain your loving brother until death. So farewell for this time, — Edward Brewer

Mother is well as common.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I have been waiting from the 3rd to the 13th to send you good tidings but the call for men to the war I have nothing cheerful to send to you. I have gone through 2 great years and another is now before me. Martin and James we left in Dixie. They was strong Union men, not Abijah, and like ___ they may be pressed in secesh service by this time.

William is teaching writing school. He had no teaching this week. Fielding has enlisted in the war last Saturday and has gone to be sworn in. I don’t know when the company will start. A great call for men must go or stand a draft. My destiny seems more than I can bear although I know our constitution must stand with help or fall without help.

The connection is in modest health. So stands your loving sister, — C. B.

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