Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Gray Family Papers, 1861-1882

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, January 1997

Summary Information
Title: Gray family papers
Creator: Gray family
Inclusive dates: 1861-1882
Bulk dates: 1861-1865
Extent: 33 items
The Gray family papers document the family relationships of William and Eckley Gray, while serving in the Union Army, and Lucy Doan Gray, William's wife and Eckley's mother, as she managed the family farm in New Salem, Illinois.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated by Joan Heldreth Bell and Dory Heldreth Graham, 1995. M-3147.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Alternate Format:

Transcripts of the Gray family papers are located in the transcripts section of the Manuscripts Division.


The Gray family papers passed to Lucy Belle Gray Heldreth, grand-daughter of Lucy and William Gray. Lucy Belle passed the papers on to her daughters Joan Heldreth Bell and Dory Heldreth Graham, who donated the papers to the Clements Library in 1995.

Preferred Citation:

The Gray Family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged chronologically.


Gray, William, d. 1864

Rank : Lieutenant

Regiment : 99th Illinois Infantry Regiment. Co. K (1861-1865)

Service : 1862 August-1863 May

Gray, Edwin Eckley, d. 1882

Rank : Private

Regiment : 99th Illinois Infantry Regiment. Co. K (1861-1865)
3rd Regiment, Veterans Reserve Corps

Service : 1862 August-1865 July 31

One year into the Civil War, William Gray and his son, Eckley, left their home in New Salem, Ill., to enlist in the 99th Illinois Infantry, leaving the care of their farm in the hands of William's wife, Lucy, and another son, Doan. Organized in response to Lincoln's call for troops of August, 1862, the 99th Illinois Infantry served in Missouri for several months before being assigned to duty before Vicksburg.

The hardships of war took a heavy emotional toll on the Grays. Already concerned about her husband's and son's health and well being, Lucy Gray was burdened with carrying out the heavy labor around the farm in the absence of men, with worries about the farm's solvency, and with the nagging rumors of Eckley's drinking, gambling, and precarious finances. Although she urged her husband and son to desert for home, enticing them with rumors of a secret society of Democrats prepared to assist deserters, her efforts failed and the conditions of her life remained bleak. Indeed, her lot in life may have declined in 1863 when William died of wounds incurred at Vicksburg, and when, later in the year, Eckley was hospitalized as the result of an unspecified illness. By early 1864, too ill to continue in regular service, Eckley was assigned to the 3rd Veteran Reserve Corps and was transferred to the District of Columbia.

If not a Democrat prior to the war, Eckley had become a very staunch one by 1864. If he is to be believed, the Democracy held general sway in the Reserve Corps, and the soldiers greeted election images of McClellan with raucous cheers and images of Lincoln with equally raucous boos. Lincoln became a particular focus for Eckley's rage. Asking rhetorically whether the president could really intend to call for yet another half million recruits, Eckley answered in the ardent tones of a true peace Democrat:

Yes he will do it, the wretch. Or at least he will try if him and his blood thirsty followers would draw the last man from the bosoms of his starving family to gratify their fiendish ambition. What is the life of a human being to Abe Lincoln? Nothing litterally nothing. Not so much as the life of a worm to a man of any feelings. If he is kept in power he will call out million after million of human beings to be slaughtered in a hopeless cause... Our only mode of escaping utter destruction is in getting a human being in the place of the fiend who rules us at present" (1864 July 19)

Although entertaining the idea of using a recently discovered, distant relative in congress to finagle a way out of the army, Eckley completed his enlistment, mustering out of the service at the end of July, 1865.

Whether it was an inherent trait of character or the experiences of war, Eckley seems never to have settled into a stable civilian life. The stability of married life, for one thing, was clearly out of the question for him. "Hey I am a pretty specimen of humanity to think of such a thing," he wrote to his mother, "poor miserable beggar that I am. I will not have money enough when I get out of the service to buy myself a decent suit of clothes. I would knock my brains out against a stone well or choke myself on butter if I had the funds to buy me a pine box to stay in afterwards." His only option, he jokingly suggested was to "hitch on to some rich widow in the South," adding darkly that if this plan failed, he would be "gone" (1865 May 24).

By 1882, Eckley had alighted near Baxter Springs, Kansas, where his sister Flora, and her husband, Benjamin Cooper, lived, and in March, after a three week binge of chloral abuse, Eckley died of an overdose of morphine.

Collection Scope and Content Note

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.

Subject Terms

    • Finance, Personal.
    • Husband and wife.
    • Mothers and sons.
    • Presidents--United States--Election--1864.
    • United States. Army. Illinois Infantry Regiment, 99th (1861-1865)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   66, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Gray family papers,  1861 April 29-1882 March 8 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    • 1863 July 9
    Deserters, Military.
    • ca.1862 November
    • 1864 July 19
    Eckley Family.
    • 1865 January 15-16
    Executions and executioners.
    • 1863 December 31
    • 1877 December 4
    • 1882 February 1
    • 1862 November 2
    Finance, Personal.
    • 1862 November 2
    • ca.1862 November
    • ca.1862 November
    • 1865 March 15
    Gray, Edwin Eckley, d. 1882--Death.
    • 1882 March 8
    • 1882 March 8
    Husband and wife.
    • 1862 September 23
    • ca.1862 November
    Kansas--Description and travel.
    • 1861 April 29
    Kansas--Economic conditions.
    • 1881 December 10
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
    • 1864 July 19
    • 1864 October 10
    Lincoln, Mary Todd, 1818-1882.
    • ca.1865 January or February
    • 1865 May 24
    • 1877 December 4
    McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885.
    • 1864 October 10
    • 1882 March 8
    • 1882 March 8
    Mothers and sons.
    • 1864 October 10
    • 1864 December 18
    New Year.
    • 1863 December 31
    • n.d.
    Presidents--United States--Election--1864.
    • 1864 July 19
    • 1864 October 10
    Secret societies--Illinois.
    • ca.1862 November
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Women.
    • 1862 November 2
    • 1863 January 1
    Vicksburg (Miss.)--Description and travel.
    • 1863 July 9
    Vicksburg (Miss.)--History--Siege, 1863.
    • 1863 July 9