The papers of William and Eckley Gray present an unusual view of side-by-side service of a father and son during the Civil War. As a junior officer and enlisted man, respectively, the Grays present strikingly different personalities, the stable and directed father paired with his unstable and seemingly rudderless son. Information on military aspects of the war is relatively scarce in the Gray papers. However, the collection provides excellent insight into the effect of the war on family relationships, hinting obliquely at some of the long term effects that the war had on some of its participants.
In a sense, the heart of the collection is the letters written by Lucy Gray. More than anything, the anguished tone of her letters stands out, as she pleads with the men to return home and assist the family and farm, or as she complains about the Eckley's profligacy, drinking and gambling. The tension between mother and son, and his occasional, half-hearted efforts to patch things between them take on a particularly tragic tone given the apparent aimlessness of his later life and his death by drug abuse.
Among the more interesting individual letters in the collection are three letters from Eckley to his mother, one describing a night-time bombardment at Vicksburg (1863 July 9), another discussing the anti-Lincoln attitudes of the soldiers of the Veterans Reserve Corps (1864 October 10), and an extraordinary letter (July 19, 1864), bemoaning Lincoln's latest call for troops and his apparent inhumanity.