All of the letters in the Mereness papers were written by Peter Mereness to Helen A. Arthur -- "Nelly," as he called her -- who seems to have been his sweetheart. Most follow the same format: introduction, description of weather, other information, close. In a few cases, the information section includes accounts of war-related events, and particularly of Mereness' frustration with military service, but all of the letters possess the kind of back home gossip exchanged between close friends.
Mereness spent most of the war in three forts: Carroll, C.F. Smythe, and Stone. Although he includes details of several battles and skirmishes, Mereness never mentions having been in combat himself, and in one letter he refutes charges of being a "featherbed soldier." Mereness chronicles Capt. Smith's dishonorable discharge and Smith's attempts to be reinstated. He also recounts the death of his friend, Maurice, from smallpox and the railroad's refusal to take the corpse back home for burial. Mereness obviously disliked "soldiering" from the start of his service, and was determined to stay in close touch with "Nelly." He alludes several times to wanting to marry her.
Mereness does not write in great detail about his experiences in the war, and his occasional notices of military events are usually brief. He does however repeat an account that had John S. Mosby (1833-1916) killed by a Loudun Ranger in 1865. Mereness also writes of his entry into Charleston, West Virginia, shortly after its occupation by Union forces. Battles mentioned are: Vicksburg; Port Hudson; and Centreville, Virginia.
Mereness was very active in veterans' organizations after the war, and the collection contains 13 ribbons worn by Mereness at encampments or organization meetings. There is also a tintype of Mereness taken on April 8, 1864.