1863: William Wilson Thompson to Jane (Grimes) Thompson

How William & Jane might have looked

How William & Jane might have looked

This letter was written by William Wilson Thompson (1833-1864) who enlisted for three months in Company G, 12th Pennsylvania Infantry, and then later reenlisted in Company E, 101st Pennsylvania Infantry.  He was captured at Plymouth, North Carolina on 20 April 1864 [see Battle of Plymouth]. Those captured are refered to as “The Plymouth Pilgrims” and along with many of those captured that day, he later died at Andersonville Prison Camp. His death was recorded as 9 August 1864 and he was buried at Andersonville, grave # 5179.

William was the son of Joseph Thompson (1808-1863) and Eliza Jane Giffin (1801-1847) of Washington County, Pennsylvania. He was married the 26th day of March 1854 to Jane Grimes (1820-1911), the daughter of Bela Grimes (1794-1875) and Polly Coursin (1794-1881). Jane had previously been married to Henry Rose and brought three children of her own into the second marriage: Charley Rose (b. 1843), Mary Rose (1846-1912) and Margaret Rose (b. 1848). William and Jane had three children of their own before William entered the service: Martha Bell Thompson (b. 4 June 1855), Bela Grimes Thompson (b. 25 December 1857), and Eliza Jane Thompson (b. 4 March 1860). When Jane filed for her widow’s pension in 1867, she gave Carroll Township, Washington County, PA as her place of residence. This is the same location in which the family is enumerated in the 1860 Census. At that time, William’s occupation was given as “laborer” and his real estate and personal assets were meagre.

From Thompson's Pension File

From Thompson’s Pension File

A large number of Thompson’s letters were sold on e-bay in January 2012 along with his ambrotype and field officer’s sword (with brass American eagle guard and pommel and bone grips). Whether the sword was actually William’s in uncertain for it looks as though he never rose above the rank of sergeant though it is clear from this letter that he had such aspirations. Excerpts from some of these letters below provide some biographical insight:

In a letter addressed to his wife from Suffolk, Virginia, on 28 November 1862, Thompson wrote about being homesick along with the other soldiers and how he would give a thousand dollars to see her and the kids “once more” and “cannot see the war ending soon.” He also refers to the “hoards of Nigers men woman and children that the government is feeding yet the soldiers have not been paid in 5 months.” Another letter addressed to Thompson datelined, Pittsburgh, 1 November 1861, from Capt. Robert F. Cooper informs Thompson that he has secured a position for him as First Sergeant and he is to report at once. Another letter from Thompson’s in-laws confirms the death of William Thompson based on a first-hand account by a fellow prisoner named Paul who had seen him carried out “a corps” with legs swollen like “wooden buckets” and that he had died at Camp Sumpter Military Prison at Andersonville, Georgia.


New Berne, North Carolina
January 20th 1863

Dear Wife,

As Capt. May of our Regiment has resigned and is going home tomorrow, I take the opportunity of sending a letter to Pittsburgh with him to let you know that I am well. I was rather unwell for some days after the fatigue and exposures of 12 days hard marching and 3 days hard fighting but rest and the pills you sent me has made me all right again. I would not give one dozen of Dr. Biddle’s pills for all the quinine, opium, and camphor that our doctor has.

They are still shipping troops for this new expedition. It has not come our turn to ship. Our division will be the second division shipped. In the last letter I wrote to you, I thought we were only going to Wilmington in this state but I find we are going to Charleston, South Carolina or Mobile, Alabama.

We have not got one cent of pay yet. It is now pretty near seven months since we have been paid. You can rest assured that I will have a commission before 2 months. Lieut. Fetterman ¹ has started resignation now and I have a sure thing of it this turn. Fetterman is determined to be out and then I come in if I do not get killed before it can be accomplished and after that I will soon be home. I feel an assurance that I will get home yet. There is a great consolation in depending on and putting our trust in God in time of dangers and trials. He will never forsake us.

If [my brother] Carlisle ² comes home, get him to come and stay with you. The box has not come yet. The agent for our regiment is at Norfolk yet and it has not come there. It never left Pittsburg.

My respects to Charley, my brother Clark & Kern. My love to Belle, Bela, Jenney, Mary, & Mag. Your husband, — W. W. Thompson

Write soon and often. Direct as usual till further notice. — W. W. T.

¹ Lawrence F. Fetterman was a 26-year-old clerk residing at Allegheny, Pennsylvania, when he was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant September 3, 1861. Lieutenant Fetterman was mustered into Company E, 101st Pennsylvania Infantry. He was assigned as regimental adjutant August 3, 1862, and transferred to Field & Staff. Lieutenant Fetterman was promoted to captain August 9, 1862, and transferred to command Company E. Captain Fetterman was mustered out February 19, 1864.

² Carlisle Thompson was married first to Mae Thauer, and second to Mary Hoffman.


2 thoughts on “1863: William Wilson Thompson to Jane (Grimes) Thompson

  1. I am without the words to convey what it means to see a letter written by the brother of my great great grandfather (Jonathan Clark Thompson) to his wife. Thank-you for making it available.


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