Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
William Leontes Curry Papers, 1857-1868

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, January 1997

Summary Information
Title: William Leontes Curry papers
Creator: Curry, William Leontes, 1839-1927
Inclusive dates: 1857-1868
Bulk dates: 1861-1864
Extent: 115 items (0.5 linear feet)
The William L. Curry papers provide excellent documentation of a Union cavalry officer's life in the western theater of the Civil War, as well as some description of being a prisoner of war.

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 Martha Jane Brooks Donovan, 1996. M-3244.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.


The Curry papers came to the Clements Library through the generous donation of Martha Jane Brooks Donovan, the daughter of Mary Curry Jeannot (1905-1994) and Ned Brooks, and great-granddaughter of Col. William L. Curry.

Preferred Citation:

William Leontes Curry papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection has been arranged into two series, correspondence and journals, both arranged chronologically.


Curry, William Leontes, 1839-1927

Rank : 1st Sgt.; 2nd Lieut. (1862 June 16); 1st Lieut. (1862 December 31); Capt.

Regiment : 1st Ohio Cavalry Regiment. Co. K (1861-1865)

Service : 1861 September 1-1864 December 30

On September 1st, 1861, 22 year old Will Curry was mustered into the armed forces at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, only a few miles east of his home in New California. As a sergeant of Co. K, 1st Ohio Cavalry, Curry was enthralled with the military, and enjoyed the commotion of camp and the comic scenes of men fending for themselves at the cook stove. "If anyone has patriotism," he wrote to his sweetheart, Martha Jane (Mattie) Robinson, "this is a glorious time to make them feel like fighting. I believe I will like the excitement of military life first rate" (1861 September 11). Although Curry felt the flush of patriotic fervor, the regiment was slow to fill its rosters, and it was not until December 6th that the 1st Ohio Cavalry were ordered on to Kentucky.

Though never idle, Curry's first winter at war continued in the leisured pace set at Camp Chase. For two months, the regiment played cat and mouse with Confederate forces, resulting in some minor destruction of materiel, but few casualties on either side. These comparatively calm months, however, were critical in providing the regiment experience in living in the midst of "civil" war and in the varied means of appropriating supplies from "secessionists," always with impunity.

In February, 1862, the pace of life began to mount, as the 1st Ohio was assigned to Gen. George Henry Thomas' 1st Division of the Army of the Ohio. Moving south through recently captured Fort Donelson, and delayed by floods along the Duck River, Tenn., and by skirmishes with Confederate cavalry, they arrived at Pittsburgh Landing the day after the Battle of Shiloh had ended. Joining immediately in the pursuit of retreating Confederate forces toward Corinth, Miss., the 1st Ohio performed valuable service along the flanks of the Union lines, engaging Confederate cavalry units on several occasions. On June 23, however, two days before his 23rd birthday, Curry was hospitalized, possibly for a malarial infection, and was unable to return to his regiment for almost a month. Absent from a major engagement at Booneville, Curry rejoined the ranks on July 14, in the midst of some very active campaigning, scouring the countryside for illegal weapons and hidden telegraph lines. At Courtland, Ala., on July 25, Curry was captured during a minor skirmish, and was taken for processing to the nearby county seat at Moulton. Held for only two days, Curry and 131 other commissioned officers were released on parole and sent to Tuscumbia, Ala., and from there, to cushy quarters at Camp Chase to await exchange. As Curry said of his experience, it was "Quite a comparison from hunting 'Butternuts' to measuring tape for the ladies" (Journal 2: 1862 September 18).

Although officially assigned to command Co. C of the "1st Battalion of Cavalry of paroled prisoners," the reality of life at Camp Chase was boredom and idleness. Although able to take in entertainment (including the panorama of Dr. Kane's Arctic expedition, featuring the "great Eskimaut singing dog Yyouk") or to visit the city, friends and family, Curry still yearned to spend his time profitably, though he spurned Mattie's and his sister's suggestions that he resign his commission. The inactivity of parole camp showed in the behavior of the men in camp: "Men are becoming very much demoralized here with no duty to do," according to Curry. "Prize fights and black eyes are all 'the go' now" (Journal 2: 1862 October 30). On another occasion he reported, "Boys have been playing the Devil generally. Burn the guard house. Whip all the officers who show their heads" (Journal 2: 1862 November 6). For the first time, even Curry's morale was affected. Frustrated and still awaiting exchange in late December, he declined to speculate on what might come to pass in new year, but added that he was certain that "many more lives will be sacrificed, for naught but to gratify a few political Demagogues who are striving for power. One year from to-day, & many more homes will be made lonely & desolate & yet we will be no nearer to the end. Would that it could otherwise yet I cannot believe it" (Journal 2: 1862 December 31)

Finally, on March 18, 1863, Curry was exchanged and rejoined the 1st Cavalry in Lavergne, Tenn. Curry had hardly a chance to catch a breath before the regiment was thrown into the Tullahoma Campaign and, still under Gen. Thomas, the Chickamauga Campaign. Crossing through Stevens' Gap, Ala., Curry was part of the force assaulting the center of Bragg's forces at Chickamauga. Although not engaged on the first day of the battle, they saw of the most intense fighting on the second day, losing their colonel and 21 enlisted men. After being forced to withdraw to Chattanooga, Curry took part in rear line maneuvers during the Chattanooga Campaign of October and November, 1863, and disdainfully watched his comrades pay a drunken trip to Nashville in December to retrieve supplies. Curry suggested he was glad to get out of town with the "sober part of his command, most them could see ten feet ahead with good glasses." Clearly impressed, he added "I take a terrible oath never to visit Nashville on an expedition of this kind again. Very happy to get off without getting my head busted..." (Journal 4: 1863 December 19).

In February, 1864, Curry was sent home on recruiting duty -- and possibly also on 30 day reenlistment furlough -- discovering upon his return in mid-March that he had been elected to the captaincy of Co. K. Active as always, the 1st Ohio moved out along Pulaski Pike into Alabama on May 22, entering the early phases of the Atlanta Campaign, and were engaged at Decatur, Ala., on the 26th, the next day at Courtland, and Moulton on the 29th. Very energetic throughout the month of June in the vicinity of Allatoona, Ga., Curry led his company at Noonday Creek on June 15 the Battle of Lovejoy Station on August 20, and in several smaller scrapes during the Atlanta Campaign.

Ordered to serve as regimental Quartermaster pro tem on September 12, 1864, Curry experienced a considerable change in the conditions of his service. His regiment was largely removed from an active combatant role for a period of time, instead performing guard duty and other tasks in northwestern Georgia. At the end of October, the regiment was transferred to Tennessee, where they were ordered to turn their horses in to Kilpatrick's Division, and in mid-November, they regressed further, to Louisville, where they were issued new horses and equipment, remaining in the rear, overseeing wagon trains. Many of the officers of the regiment mustered out at the end of November, 1864, leaving Curry feeling lonely and bored.

On December 21, 1864, Curry was thrown from his horse and seriously injured his hip. He mustered out of the service on the 30th, officially as a result of the injury sustained in the fall. He returned home to Union County, Ohio, and exactly one year later to the day, he married his long-time sweetheart, Mattie. The couple survived to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, surrounded by their children Ivaloo (and her husband, Lorin Hord) and Lucile, with her husband, Frederick C. Jeannot and their children Mary, Martha and William Jeannot. Throughout the remainder of his life, Curry was an active participant in veterans' organizations, and wrote frequently about the war.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The William L. Curry papers provide excellent documentation of a cavalry officer's life in the western theater of the Civil War. Educated, highly motivated, and occupied with everything from active campaigning to the stultification of awaiting exchange as a prisoner of war, Will Curry's letters evoke the varied emotions felt by many soldiers serving in a conflict that seemed to have demoralized everyone who came in contact. For over three years, Curry fought off his longing for home and family and his repulsion at the degrading influence of the war on soldiers, and remained steadfast in his determination to do his service and see his enlistment through to the end.

While there are comparatively few letters describing campaigns or battles, the collection provides particularly good insight into the non-combatant experience of war -- training, learning to forage, performing scout and guard duty, and idling away in a parole camp. A few scattered letters suggest the depth of feeling cavalry men could hold for their horses, particularly, in Curry's case, his old horse, Billy. Equally valuable are the letters received by Mattie Robinson (later Mrs. Curry) from women friends, describing the home front, local politics, and life during war time, and from friends and relatives in the military service. The overall impression is one of a very tightly knit community, that zealously maintained ties even while separated by the exigencies of war or aging. There are two particularly fine letters discussing battles during the Atlanta Campaign, one written in the flush of "victory" describing Kilpatrick's raid to Jonesboro (1864 August 23) -- although the modern assessment is that the raid failed to accomplish its object -- and another, sadly incomplete, describing the battle of Lovejoy Station.

The collection includes five pocket-sized journals, four of which provide a nearly unbroken record of Curry's service in the 1st Ohio Cavalry. Although the journal entries are very short, the continuity of the documentation constitutes an important record of the activities of the regiment. There is a gap in the sequence of journals, however, from December 31, 1862-March 18, 1863, when Curry was a paroled prisoner of war at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio.

Memorandum book and journal, 1857-1858

Journal, 1862 January 1-December 31

Journal, 1862 October 2 (very sparse entries)

Journal, 1863 March 18-1864 March 1 (much smearing of pencil throughout, some illegible)

Journal, 1864 March 1-December 30

The entries in Journal 4 are longer and more informative than in the other journals, particularly for the Chickamauga Campaign. Journal 4 includes an excellent, though still somewhat brief, account of the battle itself and the withdrawal to Chattanooga.

Will Curry's letters are supplemented by a small number of letters from friends and relatives in other Ohio regiments, including his brother Ott Curry and Stephen B. Cone (both in Co. A, 121st Ohio Infantry), Samuel H. Ruehlen and Will Erwin (Co. K, 1st Ohio Cavalry), James Doig Bain (Co. E, 30th Ohio Infantry), David G. Robinson (Co. E, 86th Ohio Infantry); George P. Robinson (Co. D, 40th Ohio Infantry), Oratio McCullough (Co. K, 136th Ohio Infantry -- 100 days), and Frank W. Post (unidentified regiment).

After the war, Curry was active in veterans' organizations and wrote several historical sketches of his regiment and the campaigns in which they participated. Although the Clements does not have any of these histories in its holdings, a partial list is provided below for reference.

Subject Terms

    • Atlanta Campaign, 1864.
    • Chattanooga, Battle of, Chattanooga, Tenn., 1863.
    • Chickamauga, Battle of, Ga., 1863.
    • Corinth, Battle of, Corinth, Miss., 1862.
    • Ohio--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Parole.
    • Patriotism.
    • Presidents--United States--Election--1864.
    • Teachers--Ohio.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Curry, William Leontes, 1839-1927.
    Genre Terms:
    • Journals (accounts)
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    William Leontes Curry correspondence,  1859 May 26-1868 October 01 [series]:
    Box   67 Schoff Civil War Soldiers Letters  
    Correspondence,  1859-1864 June
    Box   68  
    Correspondence,  1864 July -1868
    William Leontes Curry journals,  1857 May 26-1864 October 01 [series]:
    Box   12 Schoff Civil War Diaries and Journals  
    Memorandum book and journal,  1857-1858 (96 pages)
    Journal,  1862 January 01-December 31 (126 pages)
    Journal,  1862 October 02 ( 64 pages)
    Journal,  1863 March 18-1864 March 01 ( 110 pages)
    Journal,  1864 March 01-December 30 (393 pages)
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    A silver gelatin print of William L. Curry, ca.1915, is housed in the Photographs Division.

    Related Materials

    2 land grants to James Curry dated 1816 and 1831 were also donated by Martha Jane Brooks Donovan and are located in Small Oversized Miscellaneous.


    Curry, William L. Address of Col. William L. Curry... delivered at the reunion of the Washington County veteran association ... 1915.

    Curry, William L. Four years in the saddle, history of the First regiment Ohio volunteer cavalry (Columbus, Ohio, 1898)

    Curry, William L. "Raid of the Confederate cavalry through Central Tennessee in October, 1863, commanded by General Joseph Wheeler..." Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association 19 (1909), 815-819.

    Curry, William L. "Raid of the Union cavalry, commanded by General Judson Kilpatrick, around the Confederate army in Atlanta, August, 1864" Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association 20 (1910), 1070-1090.

    Ohio Roster Commission. Official roster of the soldiers of the state of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866 (Akron, 1891), vol. 11.

    Partial Subject Index
    • 1861 December 13
    Alabama--Description and travel.
    • Journal 4: 1863 August 19-23, 28
    Atlanta Campaign, 1864.
    • Journal 4: 1864 May 22-September 8
    • 1864 May 21
    • 1864 June 4
    • 1864 June 25
    • 1864 July 12
    • 1864 July 29
    • 1864 August 23
    • 1864 September 5
    • [1864 September]
    Bain, James Doig, b. ca.1841.
    • 1864 April 2
    • Journal 2: 1862 April 9
    Camps (Military)--Ohio.
    • 1861 September 11
    Camps (Military)--Tennessee.
    • 1863 April 5
    • 1864 April 2
    Chattanooga Campaign, 1863.
    • Journal 4: 1863 September 30-October 9
    • 1863 October 18
    Chickamauga Campaign, 1863.
    • Journal 4: 1863 August 19-September 24
    Chickamauga, Battle of, 1863.
    • 1863 October 8
    • 1863 October 18
    • 1864 January 17
    Copperhead (Nickname)--Ohio.
    • 1863 July 7
    • 1864 August 18
    Corinth Campaign, 1862.
    • Journal 2: 1862 April 28-June 4
    Courtland (Ala.), Skirmish at, 1864.
    • Journal 4: 1864 May 27
    Courts martial and courts of inquiry.
    • Journal 4: 1863 April 26
    • 1862 February 1
    • 1862 May 14
    • 1862 December 13
    • 1863 April 19
    • 1864 August 10
    Curry, Ott (Otway), b. ca.1835.
    • 1863 April 19
    • 1864 July 22
    • [1862 April]
    • 1864 January 17
    Decatur (Ala.), Battle of, 1864.
    • Journal 4: 1864 May 26
    Depression, Mental.
    • 1861 October 3
    Deserters, Military.
    • 1863 February 8
    Deserters, Military--Confederate States of America.
    • Journal 2:1862 May 6
    • 1864 July 29
    • 1864 September 5
    • Journal 4: 1863 August 28
    Fourth of July celebrations.
    • 1863 July 4
    • 1863 July 7
    Franklin and Nashville Campaign, 1864.
    • 1864 October 18
    • 1863 October 8
    • 1864 August 15
    • 1862 November 26
    Horse stealing.
    • 1864 October 28
    • 1863 August 11
    • 1864 April 2
    • 1864 May 1
    • 1864 November 21
    Ice cream.
    • 1859 May 26
    Kentucky--Description and travel.
    • 1861 December 13
    Kilpatrick's Raid (Atlanta Campaign), 1864.
    • 1864 August 23
    Kilpatrick, Hugh Judson, 1836-1881.
    • 1864 August 23
    Lebanon (Ky.), Skirmish near, 1862.
    • 1862 February 1
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
    • [1860] December
    Lovejoy Station, Battle of, 1864.
    • Journal 4: 1864 August 20
    • [1864 September]
    • 1863 February 8
    • 1864 March 13
    Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.
    • Misc. items
    • 1862 October 26
    • 1862 November 26
    Morale--Confederate States of America.
    • Journal 4: 1863 October 9
    Moulton (Ala.), Skirmish at, 1864.
    • Journal 4: 1864 May 29
    Nashville (Tenn.)--Description and travel.
    • Journal 4: 1863 December 15-19
    Noonday Creek, Battle of, 1864.
    • Journal 4: 1864 June 15-20
    Ohio--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Journal 2: 1862 September 2-6, 12
    • 1862 October 26
    • 1864 June 16
    Ohio--Politics and government--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1863 August 11
    • Journal 2: 1862 July 28-
    • 1863 January 11
    • 1863 January 27
    • 1861 September 11
    • 1862 June 22
    • 1864 September 28, 29
    • 1861 October 3
    • 1864 March 6
    Practical jokes.
    • 1860 September 15
    Presidents--United States--Election--1864.
    • 1864 September 27
    • 1864 September 28, 29
    • 1864 October 30
    Prisoners of war.
    • 1863 April 12
    Prisoners of war--Capture.
    • Journal 2:1862 July 25
    Pulaski (Tenn.)--Description and travel.
    • Journal 4: 1863 July 21-31
    • Journal 4: 1864 August 19-20, September 1
    • 1865 November 15
    Rossville (Ga.), Scout from, 1864.
    • 1864 February 1
    • 1863 April 5
    Scorched earth policy.
    • Journal 4: 1864 July 6, August 19
    Shelbyville (Tenn.), Skirmish at, 1863.
    • Journal 4: 1863 October 7
    Sheridan, Philip Henry, 1831-1888.
    • 1864 September 27
    Sherman ties.
    • [1864 September]
    Shiloh Campaign, 1862.
    • Journal 2: 1862 March 11-April 14
    Shiloh National Military Park (Tenn.)
    • [1862 April]
    Soldiers--Alcohol use.
    • Journal 4: 1863 December 15-19
    • 1863 October 8
    • 1864 June 13
    • 1863 April 5
    • 1862 December 13
    • 1863 May 31
    • n.d. June 3
    • 1863 May 21
    • 1861 December 22
    Tullahoma Campaign, 1863.
    • Journal 4: 1863 June 24-July 4
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African-Americans.
    • [ca. Winter 1862-1863]
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Cavalry operations.
    • 1862 February 1
    • 1863 October 18
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
    • Journal 2: 1862 June 23-July 11
    • 1865 February 18
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Peace.
    • 1865 April 14
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Poetry.
    • 1862 September 26
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Scouts and scouting.
    • 1864 February 1
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Veterans.
    • 1868 October 1
    • Misc. items
    United States. Army--Cavalry.
    • 1862 February 9
    United States. Army--Officers--Elections.
    • 1864 March 25
    United States. Army--Recruiting.
    • 1864 January 17
    United States. Army--Reenlistment.
    • Journal 4: 1863 December 8
    • 1864 February 1
    Vallandingham, Clement Laird, 1820-1871.
    • 1863 August 11
    • 1863 September 8
    • 1863 October 8
    Ward, Artemus, 1834-1867.
    • 1863 January 11
    • 1863 May 31
    West Virginia--Description and travel.
    • 1862 June 22
    Wheeler's Raid (Chattanooga Campaign), 1863.
    • 1863 October 18
    Whooping cough.
    • 1861 March 1