Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Otis Family Papers, 1861-1862

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, May 2010

Summary Information
Title: Otis family papers
Creator: Otis family
Inclusive dates: 1861-1862
Extent: 40 items
The Otis family papers contain letters home from four members of the 57th Pennsylvania Infantry, describing camp life, the battles of Williamsburg and Fair Oaks, and the hardships 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:

1996. M-3330.1.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Otis Family Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Otis family papers are arranged chronologically.


Otis, Ferdinand

Rank : Pvt.

Regiment : 57th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, Co. A (1861-1865)

Otis, Israel

Rank : Cpl.

Regiment : 57th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, Co. A (1861-1865)

Roberts, Mortimer

Rank : Pvt.

Regiment : 57th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, Co. A (1861-1865)

Otis, Dudley

Rank : Pvt.

Regiment : 57th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, Co. A (1861-1865)

In 1832, farmer Erastus Otis (1806-1895) married Jane Davis (1810-1881) in Montrose, Pennsylvania. They had at least 10 children: Silas, Sally, Elizabeth, Louisa, Israel, Ferdinand, Cornelia, Fanny, [Sabra], and Byron.

Louisa Otis was born February 8, 1840. During 1861-1862, she kept in frequent contact with several family members serving in the Civil War, including her brothers, Israel (1842-1864) and Ferdinand (1844-1862), and her cousins, Mortimer Roberts (d. 1864) and Dudley Otis. All four died while serving in Company A, 57th Pennsylvania Infantry: Ferdinand at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862), Israel in Chancellorsville, Virginia (November 1, 1864), Mortimer after being wounded and imprisoned during the Battle of the Wilderness (May 6, 1864), and Dudley of a wound received in an unknown battle. In late 1862, Louisa married farmer Ezekiel Shelp (1836-1905), and they settled in nearby Forest Lake Township, Pennsylvania. They had three sons: Augustus, Frederick, and Alphonzo. She died February 26, 1894.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Otis family papers consist of 39 letters written home by several Civil War soldiers between November 30, 1861, and December 2, 1862. Louisa Otis and her parents are the most frequent recipients. Louisa's brothers, Ferdinand and Israel, wrote the majority of letters in the collection; her cousins, Dudley Otis and Mortimer S. Roberts, also contributed several letters each. The brothers sometimes collaborated in their letters, each writing a portion, thereby giving two perspectives on events.

Early letters repeatedly reference pay, health, and camp life. On January 3, 1862, Ferdinand wrote to his parents concerning the rapid spread of mumps through the camp and reported that he had been vaccinated, likely against smallpox, and was very sore. Both brothers frequently anticipated upcoming paydays and how much they would send home, and requested items such as mittens. On February 2, 1862, Ferdinand provided a detailed description of how soldiers laundered their clothes.

By mid-1862, the correspondence had become more focused on battles, injured and dead comrades, and the hardships of war. A letter from Israel, Ferdinand, and Otis gives a description of the Battle of Williamsburg, which Israel called a "long and bloody struggle," which lasted into the evening. He also recalled the Union band's performance of "Dixie," and the cheers of the soldiers, which "must have sounded anything but pleasant" to the Confederates (May 12, 1862). Another letter, dated June 7, 1862, references the Battle of Fair Oaks, in which the 57th Pennsylvania Infantry lost several officers, including Major Jeremiah Culp. Ferdinand described the morale of the soldiers, noted "we have got only our field officer left," and gave an account of the stench of rotting corpses in the woods. Israel noted that a bullet went through Ferdinand's coat and that his haversack was shot open, scattering his belongings. Other correspondence documents receiving family photographs (August 30, 1862), finding Southern cows to milk (November 28, 1862), and desiring more letters from home.

Subject Terms

    • Fair Oaks, Battle of, Va., 1862.
    • Jessup (Pa. : Township)
    • Measles.
    • Mumps.
    • Soldiers--Pennsylvania.
    • United States. Army--Military life.
    • United States. Army. Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, 141st (1862-1865)
    • United States. Army. Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, 57th (1861-1865)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Health aspects.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.
    • Williamsburg, Battle of, Williamsburg, Va., 1862.
    • Otis, Dudley.
    • Otis, Ferdinand, 1844-1862.
    • Otis, Israel, 1842-1864.
    • Quick, Philip E.
    • Roberts, Mortimer, d. 1864.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   93, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Otis family papers [series]
    Folder   10  
     November 30-December 24, [1861]
    Folder   11  
     December 29, 1861-January 17, 1862
    Folder   12  
     January 18-February 2, 1862
    Folder   13  
     February 5-February 27, 1862
    Folder   14  
     May 8-June 17, 1862
    Folder   15  
     July 3-August 26, 1862
    Folder   16  
     August [30]-October 8, 1862
    Folder   17  
     November 8-December 2, 1862, and  undated
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Martin, James M. History of the Fifty-Seventh Regiment, Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry: First Brigade, First Division, Third Corps, And Second Brigade, Third Division, Second Corps, Army of the Potomac. Meadville, Pa.: McCoy & Calvin, printers, 1904.

    Nelson, A.H. The Battles of Chancellorsville And Gettysburg. Minneapolis, Minn.: The author, 1899.