The Cruikshank-Dawley papers is comprised of 57 letters between Henry Cruikshank and his wife, Louisa Dawley Cruikshank, from before and during the Civil War. The earliest set of letters is addressed to Miss Wealthy A. Dawley and from William Segun and from Louisa Dawley. These discuss general news and family life. Other pre-Civil War letters include letters to Louisa from her sisters, three love letters from Thomas Ormiston, and three letters from her aunt. Henry Cruikshank received a letter from a friend, who wrote about difficult travels on a steamship, and a letter from his sister Mary, who mentioned killing woodchucks and snakes.
A set of five letters document Henry's travels in California. He wrote from New York City in 1860 just before he set sail for California. Upon arrival, he buys a claim and a cabin for $180 and notes that "California is a hard land for a poor man to live in...there is lots of old Californians here would be glad to get a way from here" (May 26, 1861). Henry has more success by July, as he "got 1,400 dollars out of pile of dirt we washed out, was two months three weeks of work." In other letters, he wrote of coming to "near blows" with drunk railroad workers.
The bulk of the Civil War letters are from Henry to his wife Louisa, though some letters are addressed to his sister Louisa and other family members. In nearly every letter, Henry voiced his unhappiness with being in the army and mentioned his desire to come home. He complained of insufficient protection from the cold, a lack of food, and not being paid. He was particularly unhappy that all the soldiers were fighting for was to free the slaves, and he complained that, in the south, they "live better and have better houses to live in than half the white folk in York State...it makes me so mad some times that I have a good mind to run away and let them go to the devil and would not care if the rebs took Washington" (July 5, 1863). He wrote of being shot in a skirmish just before the Battle of Fredericksburg and of sickness in the army, including an outbreak of smallpox in Washington and, toward the end of 1863, an outbreak of the mumps. In general, Crukshank was critical of the management of the Union army and was relentlessly pessimistic about the outcome of the war.
The most recent letter in the collection was from Henry's son in Camden, New York.