1862: Frances Ellen (Sullivan) Wild to Mary Heath (Wild) Cushing

This letter was written by Frances Ellen (Sullivan) Wild, the wife of Capt. Edward Augustus Wild (1825-1891) of Co. A, 1st Massachusetts Infantry. Ellen was the daughter of John Whiting and Marian (Dix) Sullivan of Boston. She wrote the letter to her sister-in-law, Mary Heath (Wild) Cushing, the wife of Edward Jarvis Cushing of North Providence, Rhode Island. In her letter, Ellen quotes major portions of a letter from her husband Edward while at Camp Hooker which was at Budd’s Ferry in Virginia. The 1st Massachusetts Infantry had camped during the winter of 1861-62 at Camp Hooker.

Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild

Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild

“Edward A. Wild was an adventurous and committed Massachusetts Unitarian who became a controversial Civil War general and a prime mover in the recruitment of African American soldiers to Union service. The son of a Brookline doctor and a direct descendant of Roger Williams on his mother’s side, he became an ardent abolitionist early in life. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard in 1844, he studied medicine in Philadelphia, and visited Europe. In Italy, in 1849, Wild was briefly arrested by Garibaldi as a spy. His adventures continued in 1855 when, during his honeymoon in Constantinople, the Crimean War was being fought. He volunteered as a military doctor in the Turkish army and ended nine months of service as a decorated colonel. He then resumed his honeymoon. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he helped raise a company of the First Massachusetts and fought at Bull Run and Fair Oaks before losing his left arm at South Mountain. Tall, handsome and driven by conviction, Wild turned his attention to raising United States Colored Troops in his home state then took command of the first ever USCT brigade. “Wild’s African Brigade” gained notoriety with its famous raids into eastern North Carolina in the fall of 1863, freeing slaves and resettling them on Roanoke Island. His troops later served at Petersburg and occupied Richmond. After the war, Wild worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau in Georgia and then as a mining engineer in Nevada. He died in South America in 1891 and is buried in Medellin, Colombia.” (House Divided, by John Osborne)

Many of Edward A. Wild’s letters from the Civil War are preserved at The Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina.


Brookline [Massachusetts]
April 5th 1862

Dear Mary,

While your father is deciding whether to go to Providence, I will give you the latest news from Edward. I received a letter this week Tuesday — a very hasty one — so hasty that it leaves off in the middle of a word & there is no signature!

“Camp Hooker, March 28th. We are still here, much to your surprise, no doubt, & still more to our own, after repeated warnings to prepare & making preparations, &c. &c. & several times the order has been issued at Washington for us to start, but it has been countermanded by telegraph before we go underway. The last time was the most fatal to us, for they selected our camp as the Hospital Station for the Division. When we leave, the sick will remain behind with surgeons, nurses, &c. &c. & a small guard. They looked round for a site & selected our camp as being the best built quarters. ¹ The healthiest location & above all as being the most cleanly & orderly & well kept camp in the whole army. So they commenced pouring in the sick before we started, turning out some of our companies from their barracks into tents again. Then the marching orders being countermanded, we remain in that condition. Outrageous, but can’t be helped. The soldiers letters are stopped at Washington they tell us, so I send this by Major Fay. ² We seem rooted here. The Lord only kno_____”

That’s all excepting a little bit relating to Edward’s private business matters. Fannie Chandler ³ left word while I was out yesterday that a letter she had — dated April 1st — said they were still in camp. They think they are to join the forces at Ft. Monroe, but I can’t help believing it is necessary they should remain where they are to overawe secessionists. Edward is well.

We are well but having the dullest time in medical practice I ever knew. Sometimes 1 visit a day, sometimes two. Sometimes — but not often — none.

Grandmother is at my Uncle’s in town & will be 87 next Monday. You must miss Walter. † I hope you will have good news from him soon.

Love to all. In haste, yours — Ellen

¹ The barracks constructed by the men of the 1st Massachusetts Infantry for use during the winter of 1861-62 was described in a regimental history as being, “seventy-two feet long and twenty wide, containing four compartments each, with an open space in the centre, and bunks for sleeping fitted up round the sides, capable of accommodating twenty-five men. Some had stoves, and others large open fireplaces; so that there was no lack of comfort to the occupants, if they were inclined to take it.”

² I do not see a “Major Fay” in the First Massachusetts Infantry so I can only assume it was Frank B. Fay, the Mayor of Chelsea, Massachusetts, who often visited the soldiers of the 1st Massachusetts in the field. Perhaps Frank Fay was a major of state militia prior to the war.

³ Fannie Vaughan Chandler (b. 1842) was the daughter of Theophilus Parsons Chandler (1807-1886) and Elizabeth Julia Schlatter (1809-1882) of Brookline, Massachusetts. Theophilus was assistant treasurer at the Customs House in Boston and a financial backer of the Dupont Company. Fannie married William Latham Candler in August 1862 at Bellingham, Massachusetts.

† This is probably Walter Henry Wild (b. 1836), Ellen’s brother-in-law, who served with the First Rhode Island Battery and later the Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery. He later served with his brother Edward as a captain of the 36th US Colored Volunteers.


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