1861: Martin A. Armstrong to Willard & Watson Armstrong


Willard G. Armstrong & his wife Hannah (ca. 1870)

This letter was written by Martin A. Armstrong (1829-1910), the son of Jabin Armstrong (1793-1860) and Rebecca Dow (1808-1900). Martin was married to Mary Louisa Brand (1827-18xx) in January 1853. Their daughter Georgiana (mentioned in the letter) was born in 1859.

Martin wrote the letter to his younger brothers, Watson Armstrong (1833-1923) and Willard G. Armstrong (1839-1881). Watson married Frances E. Hudson in 1862; Willard married Hannah Minerva Bailey (1844-1911) in 1866.

The 1860 Census records Martin Armstrong’s occupation as a “grain inspector.” His death certificate, signed in 1901, gave his occupation as “grain dealer.”

There is reference made to a military camp near Chicago. This was undoubtedly Camp Douglas on the south side of Chicago. By November 15, 1861, Camp Douglas housed about 4,222 volunteer soldiers from 11 regiments.

Though Martin did not write the year on his letter, it was clearly written during the Civil War and the only November 17 that fell on a Sunday was 1861 — a date which suits the letter’s contents.


Addressed to Willard G. Armstrong, Bell Isle, Onondaga County, New York

Chicago [Illinois]
Sunday afternoon, November 17 [1861]

Dear Brothers W. & W.

I received yours of last Sunday last night. I was glad to hear that you were well and all the folks enjoying the same blessing. Willard and Watson, I am very sorry that you are so discontented. I know it is a very unpleasant feeling but the best way is to make the best of it you can, and don’t get discouraged. You are both young yet and have a good deal to live for and have yet to learn what it is to appreciate a home. I used to think a great many times as you do that home was the meanest place on earth. But I have found out that there is not a haven in every port. I was where I was six years ago and knowing what I do now, I would not leave it on no consideration, I tell you. Now is the time to lookout for the future. I do not see anything to hinder you both at no distant day from having a comfortable house as can be had anywhere.

I would advise you not to enlist at this time of the year. There is no call for it now and there must be any amount of suffering in the camps this winter. Not that I would say anything against your acquiring a military name in this world that would be handed down to generations to come that a Washington might be proud to acquire. I would not enlist until warm weather anyway. I think — well I do not know what I think, for I do not know in what shape things are at home, nor how you are at work, but I do think it best for you both to stay at home and help Mother see to things and do the best you can to keep things up and see to it that no one gets their clutches in to affairs again. I don’t see anything to hinder you both from prospering in time if you only hold on. Don’t get discouraged. I am not always agoing to stay here. I have taken more real comfort in one month at home with all its crosses and losses than I have seen for the last six years.

You did not write anything about how your crops turned out so I take it for granted that they were as good as usual. The crops have been good as a general thing out here but farmers are not getting anything for it. Meat at 50¢, corn from 8¢ to 14¢ according to the distance from market. Oats & barley the same. Rye 20¢. It does not pay the farmers for harvesting. They cannot raise any more to the acre than you can nor much cheaper.

Boys, don’t enlist now for you do not know what is before you. It is not the battlefield, for it is not to be compared to the camp. There is a camp now in Chicago and there is not telling how much suffering among the soldiers. They get sick and no one but strangers to take care of them and a great many die for the want of proper care. There are more that suffer in camp than there would be in the battlefield if they were to have a fight every week.

I and all my family are well. Mary’s health is unusually good. Her face is entirely well. So is her head and hands. Georgiana grows like a mushroom and mischievous it is ones work to look after her. She runs away almost every day. I have not heard from Em since I wrote to you last. Tell Anna I am agoing to write to her soon. Write soon and let us know all the news. Love to all of the friends. If you see any of Father Brand’s folks, you can tell them all the news about Mary & Georgiana.

Your affectionate brother, — M. A. Armstrong


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