The Elsie Leake papers are comprised of 44 letters written to Elsie Leake, dated between 1861 and 1865, primarily from Union soldiers, but also from several female friends. Leake seemed to have a “pen-pal” relationship with a number of the soldiers from Rochester, New York. The most prolific correspondent was Henry Tracy, of the 13th New York Infantry, who wrote 14 letters to Leake between 1862 and 1864. In his correspondence, he describes a stay in the hospital on David’s Island, fighting in the Bermuda Hundred campaign, but above all, his heath, the weather, and food. Another of Leake’s correspondents is Tracy’s friend Richard Ambrose, also of the 13th New York Infantry, who wrote 12 letters about his adjustment to army life and its hardships (“The muck was knee deep but it is all for my country it is a big thing but i can not see it,” May 17, 1862). Elsie Leake’s nephew, Alonzo D. Baker, of the New York 89th infantry, also wrote three letters, briefly describing his regiment’s movements and his duties (“last night i was on picket it was purtey rough for the first time.” April 12, 1864). Two letters from William Simpson (26th New York Cavalry) and five from James Simpson provide similar views of the everyday experiences of soldiers.
Several letters from female friends and relatives shed more light on Elsie Leake herself. Both “B.” and “Louise” informed Leake of their attempts to find a husband for her. In a letter of December 9, 1861, Louise wrote, “I have a nice young man here for you. I was showing all of my likenesses one day and he fairly fell in love with you no joking.” Their letters also describe dinners, parties, and other social events.