Updated: Nov 4, 2022
This is a fascinating item from the US Civil War. It is a letter sent on September 19, 1862, from Newport, Kentucky (just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) to Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio, a distance of some 160 miles. The letter writer was Alfred Alverson Thayer (1838-1878), a private in Company B of the 96th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI), to his wife, Anna (Annie) Thayer (nee Spearman) (1841-1913).
The cover is posted with a 3-cent stamp tied by a blue, double-circle “Newport, KY Sep 19 1862” date stamp (Figure 1). The stamp is number 65 in the US Scott catalog, a common stamp from that era. Indeed, a used single copy of this stamp has a catalog value of just $3.00. On a patriotic cover like this, it has a much higher value. I purchased this cover at the August 25-28, 2022, Schuyler J. Rumsey Philatelic Auctions for $475.00 plus an 18% buyers’ premium. It was expected to sell for $300-400, but I bid aggressively because I really want this one in my collection.
The envelope’s cachet is very patriotic. It depicts a Union soldier giving an emotional good-bye to a woman dressed in the Stars and Stripes. According to the US Library of Congress, the envelope was created/published in New York City by the Union Stationery Depot and was produced between 1861 and 1863.
To the right of the cachet is a verse from the song “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” This song dates back to Great Britain in the mid-1700s, and it was sung, with varying lyrics, by soldiers and sailors departing for battle from that time up through World War I. The melody is a familiar one. You can hear a snippet at this link.
The letter is four-pages long, with letterhead on the first page depicting a scene from the “Battle of Winchester” (Figure 3). Today, that is known as the “First Battle of Kernstown.” It took place on March 23, 1862, in Frederick County and Winchester, Virginia. It was the opening battle of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson’s campaign through the Shenandoah Valley. The First Battle of Kernstown was considered a tactical victory for the Union Army.
The letter is a challenge to read. Some of the pencil writing has faded, and the spelling and grammar are far from conventional. Nevertheless, the content is interesting.
Alfred’s company was mustered in on August 13, 1862, so Alfred had been in the Union Army for a little over a month when he wrote this letter home. His company was ordered to Cincinnati on September 1, 1862, and then to Covington and Newport, Kentucky on September 3, 1862, to protect Cincinnati from a threatened Confederate attack.
Alfred starts the letter by assuring his “ever dear wife” that he is well and hoping that she is “ingoin (enjoying) the “blessings of God…he alone can give.”
He then writes about his “mess” of fellow soldiers that numbers 16. He expresses hope that he and his comrades-in-arm can hire someone named “Gorge” (George) from Fredericktown, a small town some seven miles from Mount Vernon, to be their cook in return for a paycheck of $16 a month.
After asking Annie to send him some money (“about four or five dollars if you have it to spare”), he mentions a visit from “Captain Casell.” That must have been Captain John N. Cassell, Company G, 20th Regiment, OVI, who mustered in on September 4, 1861. Like Alfred, Captain Cassell hailed from Knox County, Ohio. Captain Cassell is best known for organizing and conducting a secret expedition in the winter of 1861-1862 with 60 hand-picked men. They were absent several days and succeeded in capturing a score or more of noted and influential secessionists and bringing them to camp, where they were given a fair trial and sent North as prisoners.
His letter also mentions a few other people – Robert Davis, Perry or Percy Jacks, maybe a Hannah, and a Captain “Lenard.” The only one I can definitively identify is Captain Joseph Leonard, who led Company B. He enlisted on July 21, 1862, and was promoted to Major on July 13, 1864.
Alfred talks about writing to his father and mother and not receiving any letters from them thus far. (Keep in mind he had only been gone for about a month when he drafted this missive.) He closes by noting that he won’t be able to write often and asks Annie to encourage others to write to him. He signs off, “Ever dear wife write soon. Good bye. My love to all. A.A. Thayer.”
Alfred survived the war. His company participated in the battles of Chickasaw Bayou, Arkansas Post, Vicksburg, and Jackson. He must have been wounded or suffered from some disease at some point because he was sent to a military hospital in Memphis on August 20, 1863. He returned to his unit on December 1, 1863, only to end up in a hospital again, this time in New Orleans on March 16, 1864. He returned to duty on September 6, 1864, and participated in the battles of Spanish Fort and Mobile, Alabama. He mustered out with his regiment on July 7, 1865.
He returned to Mount Vernon after the war and is listed in the 1876 town directory (the only one available from that time period) with the occupation of “machinist.” He died in 1878, age 40, and was buried in the Mound View Cemetery in Mount Vernon.
Alfred and Annie had two children – George (1866-1935) and Walter (1869-1916) – who lived their entire lives in Mount Vernon. Both are buried at Mount View Cemetery.
Annie, who was born in Devon, England, in 1841, and arrived in the US in 1849, remarried in 1880 to George Blocher. Annie was widowed again when George passed away in 1901. She lived another 12 years, dying at age 71 in 1913. Like her first husband and two sons, she was buried at Mount View Cemetery.
Rough transcript of letter (with modernized spelling). Corrections/additions welcomed.
September Thursday ? ?
Ever dear wife it is with pleasure that I take this opportunity to let you (know) that we are well and hope that you are all enjoying the same blessing ? of God for he alone can give it.
I don’t want you to do as I do in serving the Lord. I don’t do my duty in that respect be faithful to that duty by my regiment ? if you was here you would dislike ? so that you would quit the practice.
We get out of our brush (?) tents last nite. They are heavy darling. We sleep one mess together sixteen men. We are sending for George to come and cook for our mess. We will pay him sixteen dollars per month and the ? is ready. We are sending to Fredericktown and if he is not there I wish you would tell him about it. He can be with us all the time and fare with us army (?).
I want you to tell us about Parkman when you write and let us know whether he like his driven (?) army.
I would like it if you would send me some money if George comes. About four or five dollars if you have it to spare. I have two dollars and a half yet.
Captain Casell was here last night night and said that his company was all taken prisoners excepting 3 or 4. I want you to tell me if Robert Davis is with them and the rest of the boys in the neighborhood. They ? ? to ?. I don’t think we have ? about a hundred thousand men. We can get in ? ours.
I wrote to father and mother and haven’t received no answer yet. The boys is all well. That you ? hardly know what to say if I could see you all. I could say a good many things and I would like to see you and get another ? word. Send me one if you spare it.
Perry/Percy (?) Jacks says that he is glad to hear that you are getting better. We don’t see a girl to look at. If we would see a girl, it would make our eyes sore to look at them.
Jacks says that he wants you to let him know what Hannah is doing all about it and I hear she ? and what she is doing. We got a letter yesterday from her and she did not tell us very much about it and he wants to know all.
Annie you must make the folks all that I am ?. We can’t write very often. We go on picket tomorrow. Write soon and let me know about the folk. Direct to our post ? Company B 96 Regiment in care of Captain Leonard OVI. Ever dear wife write soon. Good bye. My love to all.
Figure 1 - Front
First 2 - Back
Figure 3 - Page 1 of 4 of letter
Figure 4 - Page 2 of 4 of letter
Figure 5 - Page 3 of 4 of letter
Figure 6 - Page 4 of 4 of letter