James Duncan papers  1673-1875
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Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection contains 77 letters that members of the Disosway and Wilkins families of New York, Maryland, and Virginia wrote and received between 1861 and 1864. Correspondents include several Union soldiers who wrote about their military experiences, women who commented on wartime life in Maryland and Virginia, and southern sympathizers. The collection also includes 2 reflections on the death of William W. Disosway and the lyrics to a military song.

The bulk of the Correspondence series is made up of letters that Annie R. Disosway received from her brother, First Lieutenant William Wilkins Disosway of the 1st New York Cavalry Regiment and 1st New York Mounted Rifles; from a friend, Captain Richard H. Lee of the 1st New York Cavalry Regiment and 16th Independent Battery of the New York Light Artillery; and from several aunts and cousins living in Baltimore, Maryland, and in Virginia. In his 16 letters (13 to Annie R. Disosway and 3 to Eliza Disosway), William Disosway described camp life, particularly at Camp Kearney, Virginia, and related his experiences in the army; he occasionally mentioned participating in skirmishes or other actions in southern Virginia, such as the Union Army's move into Yorktown, Virginia (May 6, 1862), an action at Blackwater, Virginia (December 14, 1862), and "Spear's Raid" (August 4, 1863). On March 30, 1863, he mentioned his intent to join the French invasion of Mexico.

Richard Lee's 8 letters concern similar military topics and details about camp life, including his vow to remain temperate while in the Army (September 29, 1861). Lee enclosed a carte-de-visite portrait in one letter (August 14, 1862). Another Union soldier, Russell P. Forkey, wrote 2 letters in late 1861; in one, he mentioned the case of a fellow soldier charged with an intention to defect (December 22, 1861).

Most civilians' letters pertain to the impact of the war on daily life, particularly in Maryland and Virginia, where several members of the Wilkins family lived. Annie and Eliza Disosway also received letters from Annie's aunts, Achsa and Louise, and from Annie's cousin Rebecca C. ("Beck") Davis, a Southern sympathizer. In addition to providing family news, the women discussed the impact of the fighting on local churches, noted their personal interactions with the armies, and shared their opinions on the war. Davis described an encounter with Burnside's army and reported the soldiers' apparent dissatisfaction with military life (September 25, 1862), and others mentioned Baltimore's struggles under martial law. Other letters refer to Fort Sumter (April 11, 1861) and to Union supporters living among Confederate supporters in Virginia (October 27, 1862).

The Disosway family also received approximately 20 condolence letters following William Wilkins Disosway's death, including Captain L. W. Bates's description of the man who shot Wilkins (November 11, 1863) and a letter from Isabella Hurry, who enclosed a newspaper obituary (December 17, 1863). The collection also contains a letter from congressmen Harrison Gray Otis Blake, Benjamin Franklin Wade, and John Hutchins, asking President Abraham Lincoln to appoint Reverend J. W. McFarland of Wooster, Ohio, as a chaplain for contrabands at Port Royal (April 24, 1862).

The Writings series includes 2 reflections and resolutions respecting the death of William W. Disosway: 1 by Annie R. Disosway, offering sympathy and forgiveness for her brother's killer, and 1 by officers of the First Regiment Mounted Rifles, New York. The series also contains manuscript lyrics to "Punch 'em in the Eye," a song of the 45th Regulators.

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