Manuscripts Division William L. Clements Library University of Michigan
Finding aid for Sylvanus A. and Rachel Wheat Papers, 1848-1880
James S. Schoff Civil War Collection
Finding aid created by Mary Parsons and Shannon Wait, February 2011
Title: Sylvanus A. and Rachel Wheat papers Creator: Wheat family Inclusive dates: 1848-1880 Extent: 126 items Abstract:
The Sylvanus Wheat papers contain the incoming and outgoing correspondence of Wheat, a soldier in the 144th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment; the papers shed light on his Civil War service in 1862-1863, as well as on the activities of the Wheat family.
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: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown
Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.
Sylvanus A. and Rachel Wheat Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
The papers are arranged chronologically, with undated materials at the end.
Sylvanus and Rachel Wheat
Sylvanus Wheat was born on April 7, 1823, in Franklin, New York, the son of Silas Wheat (1793-1888) and Eunice Dewey (1794-1857). He married Rachel Loveland (b. 1828) on Nov. 12, 1849, and worked as a farmer in Delaware County, New York. The Wheats' first child died a few weeks after its birth in 1852. They had four more children between 1853 and 1861, but all of them died in October 1861. In August of 1862, Wheat enlisted in the Union army as a private in Company D of the 144th Regiment of the New York Infantry Volunteers. He was 39 years old, and signed on for three years of service, but suffered frequently from illness and was discharged less than a year later, on April 8, 1863. His regiment was assigned to the defense of Washington, as part of the 3rd Brigade, Abercrombie's Division. Several weeks after Sylvanus enlisted in the army, his wife Rachel gave birth to their sixth child, Emma R. Wheat, born Sept. 15, 1862. Two other children followed -- Ella F. (b. June 9, 1865) and Duane D. (b. Aug. 7, 1867). After his return to Franklin, New York, Sylvanus continued to farm there until his death on Aug. 29, 1897.
Other Members of the Wheat Family
During his service in the army, Sylvanus received letters from his sisters Cordelia (Wheat) Drake, Mary A. Wheat, and Lemira F. Wheat, as well as from his brothers George W. Wheat of Franklin, New York, and James M. Wheat of Lenora, Minnesota. James (b. 1825) was a doctor who had moved from New York to Minnesota in 1856. He married Almira E. Foote on June 10, 1862. In addition to practicing medicine, James was elected to the Minnesota Assembly for two terms, and to the State Senate from 1877-1886. In 1887, he moved to Redlands, California, where he died on Nov. 27, 1910. George W. Wheat (b. 1821) was a farmer in Franklin, New York. Sylvanus' younger sister Mary A. Wheat (b. May 23, 1829) was a teacher of art during the Civil War. On Jan. 24, 1872, when she was 42 years old, she married Capt. George W. Reynolds, who had been a Captain in the 144th N.Y.S.V during the Civil War. He founded the first newspaper printed in Franklin, N.Y., and named it The Visitor. He published the Oneonta Herald and The Spy, as well as the Melrose Journal. He included a number of his wife Mary's poems in his various publications.Mary A. [Wheat] Reynolds died on April 17, 1901. Cordelia E. Wheat, Sylvanus' older sister, was born on October 8, 1818. She married Abial Drake (1816-1891) who was a farmer in Franklin, N.Y. Cordelia died on Nov. 28, 1887. Sylvanus' youngest sister, Lemira F. Wheat, was born in 1835. She graduated from the Delaware [N.Y.] Literary Institute in 1854. She was preceptress of Walton Academy in 1864 and 1865. She never married, and in 1900 made her home in Franklin with her widowed sister, Mary [Wheat] Reynolds.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The Sylvanus A. and Rachel Wheat papers consist of 125 letters, covering 1848-1880, as well as an undated religious tract. The bulk of the collection is correspondence between members of the Wheat family during Sylvanus' service with the 144th New York Infantry, documenting Wheat's movements and observations on his duties and camp life, as well as the home-front experiences of his wife and siblings. Of the 60 letters written by Sylvanus during his military service in the Civil War, he addressed 48 to his wife, Rachel, and 11 to his sisters. Sylvanus was the recipient of a total of 58 letters: 30 from Rachel, 16 from his sisters, 6 from his brothers, and 4 from various cousins.
Just two items in the collection predate the Civil War, and both contain poems lamenting the death of Althea Loveland, the sister of Rachel (Loveland) Wheat. These items are dated September 21, 1848, and July 26, 1849. Sylvanus Wheat wrote the latter letter, in which he confessed that Althea "was if possible more lamented by me than any other person."
The letters documenting the war begin in mid-October 1862, and open with Wheat's travel to Washington, D.C., and his discussion of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart's raid on Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in which he noted that rebels had taken the city and "murdered some" (October 13, 1862). Wheat soon moved to Camp Bliss in Arlington County, Virginia, where he stayed until February 1863, and from there, he frequently wrote home about camp life, duties, politics, health, the destruction caused by war, and other observations. He sometimes described picket duty, which he performed when he was healthy. On December 9, 1862, in a letter to his wife Rachel, he described several days of this duty in the snow and noted that "the officers could not see our fire which is forbidden by army regulations, although we had a rousing big one.” He also complained of the heavy load of supplies that they carried (December 14, 1862), and described the bivouac shelter that they built (December 22, 1862) while on picket near the camp. Another frequent theme in the letters is the destruction caused by war. On October 24, 1863, Wheat wrote to a sister about the "gloom" of "splendid mansions," abandoned and left in ruins near Camp Bliss. On December 9, 1862, he described the buildings and fields stripped and ruined by "rapacious soldiers," and noted that "distrust and hatred are visable on the countenance of all the inhabitants."
Wheat sometimes requested that his family send him tools, so he could improve his living conditions, and in several letters he gave accounts of his efforts to make his surroundings more comfortable. On November 25, 1862, he described elevating his tent by three feet with poles, allowing him and his tent-mates to walk around in it without stooping. On January 3, 1863, he requested that family members send him an axe, calling the ones provided by the Army "miserable soft things." In return, they requested small souvenirs from the war, such as pinecones and acorns, which they found highly desirable and crafted into ornaments and baskets (December 18, 1862). On December 27, 1862, Cordelia Wheat asked that Sylvanus send her a few small rocks or stones from the "sacred soil of Virginia."
In February of 1863, Sylvanus Wheat described leaving Camp Bliss for Camp California, which was located slightly west of Alexandria, Virginia. He noted the large number of "convenient articles" that had to be left behind, such as kettles, cans, cupboards, and a stove and washtub, but remarked that they had made two black walnut bedsteads (February 18, 1863). There, he suffered increasing health problems related to his lungs and throat. By April, Sylvanus Wheat wrote from the U.S. General Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia, shortly before receiving a discharge. On April 1, 1863, he described a night during which he and other patients tried to soothe the sickest among them; he also gave an account of an extensive examination, which involved both medical and personal questions (April 3, 1863). In his final letter before leaving for home, he expressed fears that he would die upon release from the hospital (April 5, 1863).
Several letters refer to the Dakota War, which Sylvanus' brother James and sister-in-law Almira reported on from Lenora, Minnesota. On February 5, 1863, James wrote that he expected the "Indians will make a fuss next Spring in Minnesota. The militia here is organizing and getting ready to do something if necessary." Almira also wrote, expressing worry that James would be drafted to protect settlers from the Dakota (October 24, 1863). A few post-Civil War letters provide news on the children and farming activities of Sylvanus and Rachel Wheat and their children.
Dakota Indians--Wars, 1862-1865.
Family farms--New York (State)
Farming--New York (State)
United States. Army--Military life.
United States. Army. New York Infantry Regiment, 144th (1862-1865)
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Destruction and pillage.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.
Untied States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Social aspects.
Drake, Cordelia (Wheat), 1818-1887.
Estee, Lois E.
Moore, Mary A.
Moore, Nathaniel W.
Wheat, George W.
Wheat, James M.
Wheat, Lemira F., b. 1835.
Wheat, Mary A.
Wheat, Rachel (Loveland), b. 1828.
Wheat, Sylvanus A., 1823-1897.
Container / Location
Box 73, Schoff Civil War Collection
Sylvanus A. and Rachel Wheat papers [series]
September 21, 1848-November 9, 1862
November 11-November 23, 1862
November 25-December 14, 1862
December 16, 1862-January 5, 1863
January 7-February 5, 1863
February 6-March 5, 1863
March 6-April 5, 1863
October 24, 1863-1880
Additional Descriptive Data
1823 April 7
Birth of Sylvanus Addison Wheat in Franklin, New York
1828 August 8
Birth of Rachel Loveland
Death of Rachel's sister, Althea Loveland
1849 November 12
Marriage of Sylvanus A. Wheat and Rachel Loveland
Birth and death of Louisa A. Wheat, Sylvanus & Rachel'ss first child
Birth of Mary A. Wheat, their second child
Birth of Emma E. Wheat, their third child
Death of Sylvanus's mother, Eunice [Dewey] Wheat
Birth of Alice C. Wheat, their fourth child
1861 August 8
Birth of James W. Wheat, their first son and fifth child
1861 October 3
Death of Emma E., almost 5 years old
1861 October 5
Death of Mary A., 8 years old
1861 October 15
Death of Alice C., 3 years old
1861 October 21
Death of James W., just over 2 months old
Enlistment of Sylvanus (age 39) in Co. D of 144th N.Y. Volunteers