This letter was written by Willard Sylvester Cooke (1839-1915) of Co. F, 37th Massachusetts Infantry. He enlisted in August 1862 as a private and was mustered out of the service in June 1865 as a corporal. The regiment saw action at Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and before Petersburg. The 37th was one of the first regiments to be issued the new Spencer repeating rifle, on July 15, 1864, increasing their firepower.
Willard was the son of David Smith Cooke (1808-1872) and Sarah Taylor (1810-1896) of Amherst, Massachusetts. He married first Lavinia M. Moffitt (1841-1869) in 1868, and second Delphina E. Underwood (1850-1934).
An obituary for Willard reads: “Willard S. Cooke, aged 77, for many years connected with the Boston Herald in an editorial capacity and former owner of the Dover (N. H.) Republican, died on November 19, at East Lexington, Mass. Mr. Cooke was graduated from Williams College in 1861, studied law, and after serving in the Civil War joined the staff of the New England Homestead. In 1873 he became a reporter on the Herald and was subsequently night editor. Later he was assistant day editor of the Evening Herald.”
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to Mr. D. S. Cooke, Amherst, Massachusetts
Postmarked Pittsfield, Massachusetts
August 13th 
Dear Folks at Home,
I suppose you are expecting to hear from me by this time and as I happen to have a plenty of leisure time today, I will write a few words. We arrived here all right Monday P.M. and marched up to camp which is about a mile and a half from town. We found the tents all pitched and everything in readiness for us. Perhaps you would like to know something about our accommodations. The tents are about seven feet square and are calculated to accommodate five men. For a bed we have a rubber blanket between us and the ground and have a blanket over us. Of course our bed is none of the softest but I managed to get a good night’s rest. We are to have plank floors in a few days and then our weary bones can find rest on the soft side of a board.
I like it first rate so far and the Company are all in good spirits. I never felt better in my life than I have since I have been here. We live very well though the bill of fare is rather plain. The night we arrived here, we had very good soup, hash, good bread, and very poor tea. Soup & hash constitute our principal food. Last night I got some first rate bread & milk. I have not seen a particle of butter since I came.
We have to get up — or rather crawl out — at five when the drum beats for roll call, then we drill two hours, then go to breakfast in military order. The tables are set outdoors and we have to eat standing but that makes no difference for by that time we have a very fair appetite.
We have now about 700 men here and some very fine fellows. Our company is one of the best in the regiment. Today I am appointed officer of the guard, or rather of the police guard. I have the charge of the prisoners of the guard house and have six men to guard them. It is now two o’clock P.M. and I can’t get any sleep until 9 A.M. tomorrow as I have to change guard once in two hours. We drill six hours a day and I like it first rate.
I am now writing on a board placed on my knees — not as convenient as once could wish but the best we have. I will write again in a few days. With much love, your affectionate son & brother, — Will
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Addressed to David S. Cooke, Amherst, Massachusetts, P. O. Box 428
Head Quarters, 37th Mass. Vols.
February 17th 1865
My dear Father,
Your kind letter of the 12th came to hand last night and was read with much pleasure as my letters from home always are. I will give you credit for keeping thus far your promise to write me once in two weeks, but I hope you will not consider yourself restricted to that period but write oftener when you feel like it. I am exceedingly fond of receiving letters — mores perhaps than I am of writing them. I am very busy in the office now. Am here all the time and am writing most of the day and evening. My predecessor left the books and papers in rather a bad condition and I have been hard at work “straightening” them up. I have that job nearly finished, however, and hope to have more leisure soon.
We are having a “spell of weather” just now — rain and mud. It is raining quite hard tonight — just the time for the Johnnies to desert into our lines. Last night nineteen of them came into our lines in front of the Brigade while usually the number has been six or seven. Every hour, nearly, through the night we can hear a volley of musketry fired by the Rebel pickets towards some of their men who are coming over to us, but there is a mutual understanding between the two and not one of them has been known to be shot in an attempt to desert. They either have no ball in their guns or else they fire over. They are obliged to shoot, however, for if they do not, they are accused and punished for complicity with desertion. It sometimes happens that an officer takes the gun to shoot at them and then the Johnnies sing out to our pickets to lie down so as not to get hit.
Some more of them have just come in for I heard a “volley” and it is a sure sign for the utmost friendliness exists between the pickets of the two armies and they seldom, if ever, fire under any other circumstances. Those that “come in” say that more would come but that they are told by their officers that we put them right into our army. They say, however, that two thirds of their army will come over before another campaign even if they knew they would be put into our ranks for they say they can fight better on full stomachs than they can when half starved as they are now. I saw some that came in last night and a happier set of dirty ragged fellows you never saw. Our boys give them all they can eat when they come in and does one’s soul good to see them stuff. Victuals seem to taste good to them.
Then you have not found a farm in Springfield yet? What do you propose to do if you do not succeed in finding one previous to the 1st of April? Board out and live on the interest of your money? I want you to keep me informed so that I will be able to find you “six months and a bit” hence. Why don’t you go to the “Oil Regions” and make a fortune?
I am sorry to hear that Uncle Horace is so afflicted. Think that is the reason I don’t hear from him. I have written him several times since hearing from him and will write again soon. I suppose Albert Kellogg is home ‘ere this. I shall need another shirt soon as the one I had a year ago is nearly worn out. The last one I had has faded considerably though it wears well.
But I must close with a kind good night to you all.
Your affectionate son, — W. S. Cooke