Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Peter B. Mereness Papers, 1862-1905

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, October 1997

Summary Information
Title: Peter B.Mereness papers
Creator: Arthur, Helen A.
Inclusive dates: 1862-1905
Bulk dates: 1862-1865
Extent: 47 items
The letters in the Peter B. Mereness papers were written by Mr. Mereness to Helen A. Arthur during his Civil War service in the 5th New York Heavy Artillery Regiment.
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:

1988. M-2407.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Peter B. Mereness Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Mereness, Peter B.

Rank : Private(?)

Regiment : 5th New York Heavy Artillery Regiment. Co. I (1861-1865)

Service : 1861?-1865 June 24 or 25

Peter Mereness was one of two brothers from Lowville, N.Y., in the military service during the Civil War. As a member of Co. I (3rd Black River Battalion), 5th New York Heavy Artillery Regiment, Mereness was stationed in the northern defenses of Washington, D.C., from the time of his enlistment, serving at Forts Carroll, C.F. Smythe and Stone until ordered to move out to Harper's Ferry in November, 1863. From that time, the regiment saw more vigorous service, all at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. During their enlistment, the regiment lost 66 men killed in action, and a spectacular 614 missing, most of whom were taken as prisoners of war at Harper's Ferry in September, 1862, and at Cedar Creek in October, 1864.

After leaving the service in June, 1865, Mereness returned home to Lowville, and for many years, was active in veterans' organizations, including the Grand Army of the Republic and the organization of veterans of the 3rd Battalion, 5th New York Heavy Artillery.

Collection Scope and Content Note

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.

Subject Terms

    • Courtship--New York (State)
    • Fort Smythe (Va.)
    • Smallpox.
    • Soldiers--Attitudes.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    Genre Terms:
    • Photographs.
    • Ribbon (material)
    • Tintypes.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   36, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Peter B. Mereness papers,  1862 February 11-1905 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Centreville (Va.), Skirmish at, 1863
    • 1863 October 15
    Charleston (W.Va.)--Description and travel
    • 1865 April 27
    Civilians--West Virginia--Civil War, 1861-1865
    • 1865 April 27
    Copperhead (Nickname)--New York (State)
    • 1865 April 1
    Courtship--New York (State)
    • 1863 November 21
    • 1864 April 8
    • 1864 June 20
    • 1864 October 19
    • 1865 March 16
    • 1863 April 28
    Fort Smythe (Va.)
    • 1863 June 9
    • 1863 October 18
    • 1863 October 30
    Fort Smythe (Va.), Skirmish at , 1863
    • 1863 June 28
    Lincoln, Abraham 1809-1865--Assassination
    • 1865 April 27
    Military discipline
    • 1863 June 9
    Mosby, John Singleton , 1833-1916
    • 1865 April 5
    Picket duty--Virginia
    • 1865 March 22
    Port Hudson (La.)--History--Siege, 1863
    • 1863 July 7
    • 1865 April 5
    • 1863 April 5
    • 1863 April 12
    • 1863 April 28
    • 1863 June 28
    • 1863 November 1
    • 1863 November 12
    Soldiers--Religious life
    • 1865 April 5
    Typhus Fever
    • 1863 November 26
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Postal service
    • 1863 July 16
    United States. Army--Pay, allowances, etc.
    • 1863 June 28
    Vicksburg (Miss.)--Capture, 1863
    • 1863 July 7