Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Francis E. Vinaca Papers, 1850-1871

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, June 1994

Summary Information
Title: Francis E. Vinaca papers
Creator: Vinaca family
Inclusive dates: 1850-1871
Bulk dates: 1861-1865
Extent: 66 items
The Vinaca papers consist of Civil War letters written by Francis Vinaca to his parents; correspondence from his cousins Henry Chase and James Miner; and from a friend, Martin Dealing. Francis and Martin served in the 186th New York Infantry and Henry in the 1st New York Mounted Rifles. Francis' letters are a valuable resource for examining the attitudes of a soldier entering the war in its latter stages.
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:

1993. M-2940.2.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Francis E. Vinaca Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is organized chronologically.


Vinaca, Francis E., ca.1844-1865

Rank : Private

Regiment : 186th New York Infantry Regiment. Co. C (1864-1865)

Service : 1864 August 15-1865 April 2

Chase, Henry S.

Rank : Sergeant

Regiment : 1st New York Mounted Rifles. Troop E (1861-1865)

Service : 1862 September(?)-1865 July 21

At the eve of the Civil War, the Vinacas of Adams Center, N.Y., were a fairly typical Jefferson County farming family. With many of their neighbors they shared a patriotism tinged with a certain reluctance to go to war, and they held a fairly typical range of attitudes toward one of the war's central issues, slavery. The head of the family, Calvin W. Vinaca, had two children, Alice, a very young girl in 1864, and Francis (Frank).

In 1862, Francis' cousin, Henry S. Chase, enlisted as a Sergeant in the 1st New York Mounted Rifles, a regiment that served in the siege of Suffolk and who, throughout their enlistment, were very active in the Virginia-North Carolina border area, encamped variously in Suffolk, Portsmouth and Williamsburg. Once Francis came of age, Chase needled him to enlist, though Chase's reasons for fighting were clear. He wrote sarcastically to Francis, "This may be a hard story for you to believe if you doubt it all that you have to do is to put on a blue gound, Sholder your musket and todle down here to fight for nigers" (1863 August 9). As the tone of his comment would imply, Chase was indignant at slavery having become a focus of the war, and stated that he had had no intention of fighting for that cause. For him and his fellow soldiers, in fact, "fun" consisted of tossing contrabands into the canal or stealing the shirts off their backs.

Seemingly from a variety of motivations, patriotism and profit among them, Francis followed Chase into the Army, mustering into the 186th New York Infantry at Sackett's Harbor in August, 1864. The regiment left the state for City Point, Va., arriving on October 4th, and remained there briefly before assuming a position on the western side of the Union lines around Petersburg. The 186th quickly and quite frequently found themselves near skirmishing and other fighting, but were never engaged during the fall or winter of 1864-65. They participated on several small scouts and had brushes with guerrillas on at least one occasion. After three men from the regiment had their throats slit in December, the officers of the regiment allowed the men to take anything they wished from the houses. After Francis and Martin eagerly absconded with food and slaves and set fire to a house, Francis wrote, "it was the home of guerrillas and I did not pity them any" (1864 December 16-17).

Francis Vinaca seems to have relished his taste of the soldiers' life, and strongly desired to apply for a commission in a "Colored" regiment, applying formally for a furlough to go before the examining board and requesting a loan from his father so that he might look presentable. His plans were thwarted, however, by not being allowed to leave the 186th.

In the late spring of 1865, as the situation for the Confederate Army rapidly deteriorated, the 186th Infantry finally encountered actual combat. They were one of the regiments called on to respond to the desperate surprise assault on Fort Stedman on March 25th, when Confederates, posing as deserters, suddenly took up arms. Only a week later, Francis Vinaca was killed in action at Fort Mahone during the final Union assault on the western line at Petersburg, April 2nd, 1865. The 186th Infantry sustained almost 200 casualties.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Vinaca papers contain 46 letters written by Francis Vinaca to his parents during the Civil War; 10 from his cousin, Henry Chase addressed to Francis; two letters from Francis' close friend, Martin Dealing (also of the 186th N.Y. Infantry); and two from a cousin, James Miner of the 35th New York Infantry. Although he is not the most observant writer, Francis' letters are a valuable resource for examining the attitudes of a soldier entering the war in its latter stages. His motives for enlisting appear to have been as much tied as much in profit and personal advancement as they were in patriotism, and the time that he spent in the unglamorous work of building roads or digging for fortifications was typical of the experiences of many soldiers, as were the periods of inactivity. Vinaca's unsuccessful attempts to secure a commission in a "colored" regiment are meagerly documented.

Henry Chase's rough-edged and occasionally offensive letters include some colorful descriptions of the theatre of action near New Bern, N.C., with particularly negative comments reserved for discussions of African Americans and the idea of fighting for the end of slavery.

Vinaca's letters from March and April, 1865, provide an indication of how low Confederate morale had sunk, as measured by the large number of deserters crossing the lines, and the level of desperation they must have felt. The most interesting letters concerning military action are the two in which Francis discusses his bloody experiences in the assault on Fort Mahone and the fall of Petersburg -- the last major engagements of the war in Virginia.

Subject Terms

    • Soldiers--United States.
    • United States. Army--New York Infantry Regiment, 186th.
    • United States. Army--New York Cavalry--Mounted Rifles, 1st (1861-1865)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American.
    • Chase, Henry S.
    • Dealing, Martin.
    • Vinaca, Francis E., ca.1844-1865.
    Genre Terms:
    • Invitations.
    • Rewards of merit.
    • Visiting cards.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   60, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Francis E. Vinaca papers,  1850 December 29-1871 January 8 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Absence without leave.
    • 1864 February 21
    African Americans.
    • 1863 August 9
    • 1864 December 16-17
    • 1864 June 13
    • 1865 April 4
    • 1865 April 29
    Bounties, Military.
    • 1865 January 30
    • 1865 February 10
    • 1865 December i.e. January 2
    • 1868 February 1
    City Point (Va.)
    • 1864 October 11
    City Point (Va.), Skirmish near, 1864.
    • 1864 October 31
    • 1863 August 9
    • 1863 August 9
    Draft--New York (State)
    • 1864 November 27
    • 1865 January 30
    Executions and executioners.
    • 1864 December 10
    • 1865 February 10
    • 1864 December 6
    • 1864 October 11
    Fort Stedman (Va.), Battle of, 1865.
    • 1865 March 27
    • 1862 October 21
    • 1864 December 16-17
    • 1862 April 10
    Husband and wife.
    • 1871 January 8
    • 1850 December 29
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
    • 1864 November 13
    • 1864 December 16-17
    McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885.
    • 1864 November 13
    Military deserters.
    • 1864 September 28
    • 1865 February 10
    Military deserters--Confederate States of America.
    • 1865 March 22
    • 1865 March 27
    Miner, Allen, d. 1850.
    • 1850 December 29
    Mothers and sons.
    • n.d.
    • 1850 December 29
    Packages from home.
    • 1864 December 16-17
    Petersburg, Battle of, 1865.
    • 1865 April 4
    • 1865 April 29
    Petersburg Campaign, 1864-1865.
    • 1865 March 30
    Picket duty--Virginia.
    • 1863 October 13
    • 1864 December 2-3
    • 1864 December 16-17
    Presidents--United States--Election--1864.
    • 1864 November 13
    • 1864 November 22
    Prisoners of War.
    • 1862 September 27
    • 1864 February 21
    • 1864 November 28
    • 1864 December 20
    • 1862 June 15
    • 1864 December 16-17
    Soldiers' bodies, Disposition of.
    • 1865 April 29
    • 1865 April 4
    • 1865 April 29
    • 1863 February 15
    • 1865 April 4
    • 1865 April 29
    • 1865 January 27
    • 1863 August 9
    • 1864 January 17
    Suffolk (Va.), Skirmish near, 1862.
    • 1862 September 27
    • 1862 October 21
    United States. Army--African American Regiments--Officers--Examinations.
    • 1864 December 28
    United States. Army--Officers.
    • 1865 January 23
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
    • 1863 February 15
    • 1863 August 9
    • 1864 January 17
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Causes.
    • 1863 August 9
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American.
    • 1865 February 10
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Scouts and scouting.
    • 1863 August 9
    Vinaca, Francis E., ca.1844-1865.
    • 1865 April 4
    • 1865 April 29
    War--Psychological aspects.
    • 1864 October 31