This week, I am writing about an ancestor of mine who fought in the Civil War, Edward McCleary (pictured above).  He volunteered to join the Union Army in 1862, left his home in upstate New York, and traveled to New York City, where he joined the New York State Seventh Volunteer Regiment, Heavy Artillery.

His parents were not keen on him volunteering for the army.  Naturally, they worried he'd never come home.  Battles were fought with unreliable guns (bullets often did not reach the destination that had been their aim) and bayonets.  If a man was wounded, medicine was primitive (if any was even available).  McCleary's parents had good reason to worry.

Knowing his parents' feelings, McClearly wrote home often to try to reassure his family that he was fine.  When he was not feeling well, he would sometimes write secret letters to his sister--letters that were to be kept from his parents--to let her know what was actually happening.

From 1862 to 1864, McCleary wrote countless letters describing camp conditions and the assignments he performed.  He has a great sense of humor, and the letters describe what his life at camp was really like (miserable, but he kept a great attitude).  Although the first couple of years were spent traveling between camps, McClearly sent a hurried letter to his mother--probably in the late spring of 1864--to say goodbye, as he suspected he was about to be sent to the front lines.

To give you an idea of the letters his sister and parents received from 1862-1864, I am providing excerpts from a few of my favorites:

October 17, 1862

Dear Sister:

Not hearing from you for some time, I thought I would write you a few lines this morning to see what has become of you....  Cooper has had typhoid fever and came very near going for it, but now he is well.  Charley is very sick....  He is most crazy with the headache and there is so much noise around camp with drums it doesn't help it much....  This is the worst month there is for fevers and if we get through it there is not much danger....

...[discussing a letter and package being sent to him from home] tell mother to put in a bottle of camphor it is good to keep off lice.  They are so thick here that some of the Company have got to strike them off their tent and let them air....  Some folks say they are healthy but I don't care about getting acquainted much.  We have had considerable rain lately and my tent leaked like the devil but I believe there was no damage done except one night the water was under me and I found the seat of my pants in a very moist condition the next morning.  I have got so fleshy the last month you would hardly know me and you can tell the girls up in Albany that I am getting more beautiful every day....

[As you will see with more letters, just as McClearly informed his family of some of the undesirable conditions he was experiencing, he would add some humorous lines, usually ending his letters on a light-hearted note].


7th NYS Volunteer Artillery

Feb. 17th, 1863
Dear Sister,

I have the honor to address a few lines to you this afternoon.  I am well and besides that I am in good health.  We have had monthly inspection today and I received quite a compliment from the inspector general; he said my Company looked the best of any in the Regiment.  When I came here they were a perfect mess but I take the credit of getting them well clothed and looking clean and tidy....  If it were not for father and mother I would go in for three years more.  All the officers go out with the Regiment next August and I could get a good position if I would stay.  But I shall follow their wishes and not mine...

We are having lots of rain and mud the weather has been warmer for two days the lice begin to bite once more.  I picked off just 26 the last time I changed and there is a good supply left.  It's rough to wear $7 shirts and have them walk around when they are thrown off.  No more of this for you may be eating supper....  I'll send you the photographs of my wife and family....

[His parents did not get their way in the end, for McCleary remained in the Army long past August.  Also, he was joking about the wife and family]


February 23, 1963

Dear Mother,

You will be surprised to learn that we have left the Army of the Potomac.  Yesterday we got orders to pack up and report to Fort McHenry.  We left City-Point this morning on a transport and are now laying off Fortress Monroe for the night; we will probably arrive at our destination tomorrow night....

I think you can calculate to see me alive about next August and I am proud to say that no stain of dishonor or charge of cowardice can be laid at the door of our family for my conduct in the field in putting down the Rebellion.


Fort Reno June 22, 1863

Dear Sister,

I am on the sick list and have nothing else to do I am laid up with chills and a high fever.

I caught cold one night last week.  We were called out about 12 at night by the Long Roll and had to lay out the rest of the night beside our guns in the rain [after an alarm sounded]...  I wrote mostly to send this old letter.  I want you to put it away and never mention it to any one before I return.

Your Affectionate Brother,
EG McCleary


Camp in the Field, VA

Dear Mother,

I thought it my duty to write you a few lines today....  I expect we are on the eve of a battle; last night we broke Camp with eight days rations and moved off to the left.  There has been quite a fight on our left, the cannoning has been very heavy, we were not engaged last night but come back to our old Camp at day light this morning.  But we are all packed up at present ready to move at a minute's notice....

Don't blame me any of you because I don't write oftener for it is impossible.  When you don't hear from me you may know that I am all right; if anything happens to me you will hear it too soon.

After sending this goodbye letter to his mother before the eve of battle, McClearly and his Regiment participated in a battle on June 3, 1864, in Cold Harbor.  It was one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War, with Ulysses S. Grant leading the Union soldiers and Robert E. Lee commanding the Confederates.  Once McCleary, a first lieutenant, and his regiment attacked Lee's army early on the morning of June 3, weeks passed and his family received no word from McCleary.

As time passed, McCleary's parents' worry turned into panic.  Finally, they sent a note that reached Charles McLellan, a lieutenant who knew McClearly and also belonged to the 7th New York State Volunteer Artillery.  McClearly's parents asked that the recipient of their letter please contact them to let them know if their son was well.

My next post will begin with the response they received.



breath stopping letters was send to family members. yes it is very difficult to send a beloved one to a war, because any kind of danger can be expect from this. people who give their lives for the betterment of their country, their importance can not be minimized and those who wait for them, their feeling can never be understand by an ordinary person.

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Just imagine if people did not write letters before. It would be hard for us to picture what was life before. Letter writing is about creating memories. It helps us to learn more about the past. At our age today, people seldom write letters. Short messages with emoticons are popular. Of course, they are cute but not personal. It would be hard for the people to go back to letter writing as they want everything to be short and fast. Too bad for the generation today and the next ones.

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I have got so fleshy the last month you would hardly know me and you can tell the girls up in Albany that I am getting my day more beatuiful.


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