1864: Wilson D. Cooper to Addison C. Pire

Unidentified soldier in the 76th Pennsylvania

Unidentified soldier in the 76th Pennsylvania Infantry

This letter is one of ten written by Wilson D. Cooper (1839-1864) that were sold recently by Cowan’s Auctions. Wilson was the son of David (1816-1890) and Elizabeth Cooper (1816-1882) of Eldred, McKean County, Pennsylvania [1850 Census]. He had a sister named Emily who was 4 years younger.

The letters were all addressed to Addison C. Pire [or Pier], (1835-1908) of Bolivar, Allegany County, New York, who married Wilson’s sister, Mary Elizabeth in 1861. Wilson Cooper was drafted into Company A of the 76th Pennsylvania Infantry in August of 1863. The unit was sent to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

In his first letter to his brother-in-law and sister, he describes the journey to Hilton Head. (His spelling retained.) [Nov. 3, 1863] He describes the men jammed into a ship: “…[T]here was not room for more than two thirds of us to lay down at a time and the water ran in at every part of the boat and kepted the flore as nasty as a hogpen and when we layed down to sleep we had to lay down in the mud and filth…”

He goes on: “…[T]he regiment that they put us in is a Zoave regment and we haf to have two suits of close [clothes] and that I don’t like. our dress suit is very nice. I think if I can I will get my likness taken with them on and sent it to you.”

The next letter is dated Jan. 3rd 1864. He is now in the U.S. General “Hospitle” at Hilton Head. He seems to imply to his brother that he did not enlist (Adison is apparently nearly of service age), and if drafted, try to be assigned to another department. “If I can I shall get detaled as nurse in the hospital. I hope if Adison or Jackson is drafted they will not be sent in to this department. It is the sickl[i]est place that I ever see or want to see. There is twenty six in the ward that I am in and 10 of them has got the cronic diaree [chronic diarrhea] and one of them will die in a short time.” [Jan 6th last pg of same letter.] “There is one dies in the hospital almost every day they fetch sick here every few days and those that are able to send away they send them to their regments or in the involed core [invalid corps].”

[Jan. 23rd, 1864] “I wish you were down here a little while to see the country and see the horable _?_ashenes that is prepared to slaughter men if the rebels can take this island I think there is no use of trying to hold a place. There is a fort bilt to all the places that a boat can get to the shore and the rest of the way there is stocades put up about ten feet high to stocades are bilt out of logs from six to ten inches through these logs are stood up endways and a hole cut about every four feet to stick the musket through. There is one place on the island that is called head quarters where all of the stuff is landed that is brought here and the most of the business is done. And there is about twenty sutler shops there and they are complete cutthroats” … “There was about one hundred sick sent from this hospitle yesterday to the northern hospitles. The most of them had the cronic diare there was four ded solgers cared to the grave yard today and there is one cared away almost every day to the grave yard. There has a good many of the old solgers here that have enlisted over for three years longer. It don’t seem posible that a man would enlist in the army that has passed through the hardships that the most of the solgers have had to pass through. I have got tired of a solgers life all ready and I have not ben a solger but a short time. It does not seem as if could stand it three years but I expect I shall haf to stand it if the war does not end and I should live the three years out.”

[Feb. 1st/64] “You don’t know how thick the small pox is here. they have got the smallpox tents out side of the breastworks they are about two miles from the hospital and just as soon as they find one in the hospital that is coming down with the smallpox they take them down to the tents. There is about two thousand _____ here and the talk is now that they are going to draft them they are men from newyork that have come here to get rad of the draft and I hope they will draft them some of them had worked as long as they agreed to and refused to work and they put thirty of them in the provo and put a bag of sand on their back and let them cary it through the day…”

“I had a leter from Sile [Silas] about two weeks ago he said that the men there thought the war was about plaid out but I cant think so I fear this war will last a long while yet they have cried the war is all most over every little while ever since it began and it is not over yet and I cant see much sines of its closing. …There is one thing shure if I once get out of this I don’t think they will ever get me in again. I have hurd it remarked that a cuning fox would not get caught in one trap the second time and if I once get out of this trap I don’t think they can get me in it again….”

Feb. the 5th [in the same letter as previous]. “General Gilmore is here now. The talk is now that there will be a move here before long they are fetching the troups from other islands here the report is that they are going to floridy one hundred miles south from here. As for my part I am as far south as I have any desire to go….”

He decided there was additional money to be made: [Feb. the 9th] “I am trading the most of the time sometimes one thing and some times another. …I am trading watches every three or four days to day I soled all the watch I had but I bought another in a bout an hour I drawed $53.70 cts last week and I guess I can make out a hundred dollars in the corse of a week but I shall not send my money home till next pay da….” He talks about the men being given furloughs (probably as they veteranize). “I don’t think that I would take a furlo if they would give me one but I would like to go to newyork to get some goods to speculate on.”

See February 19th 1864 letter below [in full].

[March 2st/64] “[T]here was 184 wounded men brought to this hospital last week and since they were brought here I have been detaled to work in the hospital to help take care of the sick and wounded….I hafto sit up every other night and take care of the sick and wounded…” Again, he speculates on whether the war will be over by summer. He also comments on the battle in Florida that resulted in the wounded men that came in.

[March the 14th 1864] – Mostly personal. He mentions that he has a lot of work now that they have more wounded. More comments on the Florida battle – it was a loss, which contributes to his thinking that the war will not be over soon.

[April 1st 1864] – He was sent back to camp – for some reason his name must have been overlooked on the hospital detail list, even though he volunteered to work there.

There is also a single sheet with the words to a song titled “Bring my Brother Back to Me.” At end he notes: “I believe that I have a sister that would say bring by brother back to me.”

There are no more letters in this group, possibly because he became ill again and was sent to a northern hospital. Wilson D. Cooper died of disease on the 24th of June 1864 in Washington D. C. and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery (13-5518) though there is a marker in his memory at the Maple Lawn Cemetery in Bolivar, Allegany County, New York.

One of the envelopes in original collection

One of the envelopes in original collection


U. S. General Hospital
Hilton Head, South Carolina
February 19th 1864

Good morning, brother and sister,

I will now try and pen a few lines to you to let you know that I am yet in the land of the living. My health is middling good at present and hope this will find you well and in good spirits. I got a letter from Sarah and Millie the other day. Millie wrote that Levantia was married. She married a widower with three children. Don’t you think she will make an elegant kind of stepmother? I did not learn what her husband’s name was. I presume she thinks she has done a big thing getting a man. Well, I think she has for every girl can’t have three or four children as soon as they marry. Millie wrote that they lived in Shippen. She wrote that Addy Cooper, ¹ John Holley was married but she had forgotten who he was married to. If I live to get home again, I think I can do as well as Levantia has done. I think I can find some old war widow that has got a half dozen or more children. I presume that Levantia thought all of the young men would be killed off in the war and she would have to take the first one that come along and sure enough, I guess she did take the first one.

I wrote to Sile [Silas] ² some four weeks ago and have not had an answer yet. I don’t know but he has gone from Philadelphia. When you write, tell me where he is and tell me what the folks think about the war lasting a great while longer. The most of the men down here think it will be finished next summer and when I was drafted they all thought the war would not last six months. But the six months are gone and I don’t see any signs of the war closing yet. I hear the President has called for five hundred thousand more men.

I got a letter from Emily and she said you didn’t come and see her when you was down home but she can’t expect anyone will come to see her for as long as she conducts herself in the manner she has for the past eight months. I presume that the neighbors all around you have heard all [about] how she conducts herself. If they have, tell me what they say about her. Don’t you think it is astonishing that so many of the old soldiers have re-enlisted after passing through the hardships that they have? But a great many of them re-enlisted for the furlough and the money and they think the war will close next summer. I for one hope the war will close next summer for I am tired of it. I have heard tell of a hell upon earth but I never knew what it was by appearance till I entered this horrible war and I think this is a fair specimen of hell upon earth.

I will leave the rest of my sheet till the mail comes in good for the present.

Feb. the 23rd

I seat myself to finish your letter. The mail came in day before yesterday and I have not got any mail yet. I will tell you what kind of a burial the soldiers get that are dying in the hospital. As soon as they are dead, they are stripped spot naked and wrapped in their blanket and then they are carried to the dead house and kept there till they can get an escort to go and bury them. Yesterday morning there was three dead men in the dead house.

Write often and write all the news you can think of. I hope this will find you well and in good spirits. I send my best wishes to you. My mail has just come and I only got one letter from home. This from, your brother

To Addison and Elizabeth

¹ Addison (“Addy”) Cooper (b. 1835) — probably a cousin — was married to Martha Owen in 1864. He lived in Ridgebury, Bradford County, Pennsylvania in 1900.

² Silas Pire (b. 1843) was the son of Russell and Amanda (Miller) Pire [or Pier]. He enlisted on 5 August 1862 at age 19 in Co. A, 136th New York Infantry and mustered out on 20 May 1865 at Elmira, New York.


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