1861: Ansel W. Dumphrey to Ira Ayer, Sr.

How Ansel might have looked

How Ansel might have looked

These two letters were written by 32 year-old Pvt. Ansel W. Dumphrey (1829-18xx) of Erie County, New York, who enlisted on 1 May 1861. Ansel spelled his name Dunphey — pronounced “Dun-fee” — which is how the census taken recorded his name in 1860 when he was enumerated in the household of Horatio S. Herd of Evans, Erie County, New York, as a farm laborer. Ansel’s military records are found under the name Dumphrey, however.

Ansel probably wrote the letter to Ira Ayer, Sr. (1802-1889), a farmer in Evans, Erie County, New York. Ira was married to Julia Mariah Wadsworth (1808-1861) and remarried after her death. In 1862-3, Ira served as the captain of Company A, 116th New York Infantry. Ira’s daughter, Sarah Cecilia Ayer (1842-1905) was probably the “noble-hearted” Sarah referred to in the letter. His son, Ira Ayer, Jr. (1836-1903) became the captain of Company I, 10th Reserve Regiment, which was mustered into the service at Pittsburg on 14 June 1861. He was wounded at the battle of 2nd Bull Run (1862) and also in the Wilderness (1864).

The 21st New York Infantry was mustered into service on May 20, 1861, at Elmira, for three months and left there for Washington on June 18. It was first quartered at the Union House, then at Kalorama heights and on July 14 moved to Fort Runyon, Va. As in the other regiments which were mustered for three months the order for remuster for the remainder of a two years’ term, was received with ill feeling and 41 members were placed under arrest and sentenced to the Dry Tortugas, from which sentence they were released on condition that they finish their term of service with the 2nd N. Y. infantry. Pvt. Dumphrey was discharged for disability on 26 August 1861 at Fort Runyon, Virginia.


July 3rd 1861

Mr. Ayer
Dear Sir,

I have taken this opportunity to write a few lines to you and inform you of my situation. I am on the recovery of an ill turn of health but I hope these few lines will find you and your family enjoying good health. I was very happy to receive a letter from you — especially since it was written by your noble-hearted Sarah. The contents of that letter was very invigorating to me. She informed me that Ira [Ayer] commanded a company at Pittsburg. I was very happy to hear it but would be much happier to be in the self same company with him for I find that there is not an officer in the whole regiment but what has their old favorite which will be the ones that will be promoted no matter how gallant any others may be. You may think me hasty about this matter but I have had a good chance to view the actions of the officers — both field and company.

Capt. Ira Ayer, Jr.

Capt. Ira Ayer, Jr.

I received your letter on the 20th of June the 3rd day after arriving at Washington. We started from Elmiry [Elmira, New York] on the 18th at 11 o’clock and away we flew through hill and dale, stopping at Williamsport about 3 o’clock P. M. where the ladies had a bountiful lunch spread out for us of which we done justice to and gave 3 hearty cheers for the ladies and the Union and jumped into the cars and away we sped through beautiful scenery, arriving at Baltimore at 12 o’clock where we changed cars marching through the center of the city. The people there did not seem to have any inclination to attack us but on the contrary, called us a noble looking regiment. I must go back a little to the Pa. and Md. line and say that from there to Baltimore the road was well guarded with Federal troops and all the bridges were only temporarily built where the rebels had burnt them down. We were cheered on our way by the men, ladies, and children.

Now I guess I will go on to Washington where we arrived about 2 the next day and then marched out to a beautiful place where we are now encamped. We take now and then a rebel.It is expected that General Scott will send on a force to take Richmond soon which will probably drive the blues from the boys. I could not get sight of Uncle Abe on account that he was busy writing dispatches.

Give my love to Mrs. Ayer and the rest of the family. Tell Mrs. Davenport that I will try and not disappoint his expecting ofd me. So goodbye till I hear from you which I hope to do as soon as you get this.

From your humble, — Ansel W. Dunphey

In Care of Capt. E. L. Hayward, Co. H, 21st Regiment, N.Y.V.
Washington D. C.


Washington [D. C.]
July 26th 1861

Mr Ayer
Dear Sir,

I have taken this opportunity to write to you again how matters and things are agoing on now. I am in rather better now than I was the last time I wrote to you and I would be very happy to have these few lines find you all well and enjoying yourselves. We are now encamped in Fort Runion and are learning to handle big guns as well as small ones. This fort is about 1 mile from the Long Bridge and in a situation so that we can have a fair view of Washington and the [Potomac] River but it is not in the healthiest spot in the world tho, but never mind.

We have some less than a month left to serve and then it is thought that this regiment will brake up and be mustered into other regiments on account of the officers inability to take it into the field to fight a battle. I have my mind made up that if this does happen, after recruiting my health, that if it does not yet recruit before then, I will hunt up the regiment that Ira is in and join that.

We hear of battles every now and then.  Our men or rather the Federals, have possession of Fairfax Court House and it is reported that Manassas Junction but we have not got a correct account yet. But it is certain they had something of a brush for their artillery was plainly heard by us. War matters look stern now. The looks of things in general is that the old general is a going to make a sweep of Virginia. It was quite pleasing to hear the expressions that our men made when they saw the 5 Regt pass by for Fairfax. Their expressions were given plaintively because they couldn’t go along. But for all that, they cheered them heartily as they passed, wishing them success, which we did not wait long to hear. The rebels left pretty much all their camping apparatuses behind them — even their bread and milk that they had ready for their breakfast, and a quite a number of washery and watches. I heard this morning of one of the fire Zouaves being taken by the rebels and brought before Beauregard where he made comical maneuvers to which he was ordered off to jail but when they attempted to take him off, he slowed the corporal and 8 men saying that would spoil if he did not have a brush, turned on his heel, and made off but was headed off by an officer with a drawn sword.  He was then taken off to jail of which he made a bonfire of that night. Beauregard laughed heartily at his antics.

There was 1 of our chaps drummed out of camp yesterday.

I wish you would let me know in your next [letter] what the number of the regiment that Ira is in and the letter of his company and let me know how many letters you have received from me for I have written 2 besides this since I have been here. Give best love to your family.

From your humble servant, —  Ansel W. Dunphey


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