Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Edwin Davenport Papers, 1861-1863

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, September 2009

Summary Information
Title: Edwin Davenport papers
Creator: Davenport, Edwin, 1839-1863
Inclusive dates: 1861-1863
Extent: 30 items
The Edwin Davenport papers contain 29 letters that he wrote to his family (parents, brothers, and sister) while he traveled west to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Illinois, and during his time as a Union soldier the Civil War. Davenport served as private and corporal with the Massachusetts 52nd Infantry, Co. B. before dying of a fever 1865.
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:

1997. M-3398.1.

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:

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


This collection is organized chronologically with undated items at the end.


Edwin Davenport, son of Levi and Susan Davenport, was born on December 2, 1839, in Catamount (now Colrain), Massachusetts. In 1861, Edwin Davenport ventured west, first to western New York, and then south to Pennsylvania, to work as a laborer on farms and oil fields. In the autumn of 1861, he moved further west to Lakeview, Wisconsin, to go to school, after which he worked briefly as a teacher in Camp Point, Illinois. In September 1862, Davenport returned east and enlisted as a private with the Massachusetts 52nd Infantry, Co. B. On October 28, 1862, he was promoted to corporal. In late November, Davenport's regiment sailed from New York City for New Orleans on board the Steamship Illinois . He engaged in some battles in the New Orleans area that spring, but died of fever in a hospital near Brashear City, Louisiana, on May 25, 1865.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Edwin Davenport papers contain 29 letters that he wrote to his family (parents, brothers, and sister) just before and during the Civil War. The first letter recalls his trip west in the spring of 1861. He travelled by stage to the base of Mt. Greylock and continued on foot to North Adams, Massachusetts. Davenport travelled by train ("car") through Troy, Utica, Rome, and Buffalo, New York, and walked south to Ellington to stay with his uncle. He reported changes in terrain and climate and mentioned attending a Methodist spiritual meeting. In other early letters, from Oil Creek and Titusville, Pennsylvania, Davenport described the oil boom and the growth of towns and cities in the area, and commented on the difference between living in, what was then, the West and the East. One letter, for instance, referred to two men who had recently died from rattlesnake bites. In his letters from Wisconsin and Illinois, he continued to update his family on his experiences. By August of 1862, he was considering joining the Union army and wrote passionately about the crisis.

After entering the war, Davenport wrote detailed descriptions of his regiment's movements and the notable activities of the forces, Confederate and Union, around him. While he carefully reported on his orders, he also observed interesting details about the south and about the events that had taken place around him. In one undated letter, Davenport described an encounter with a runaway slave, for whom he found clothes and work for wages.

In a letter from March 25, 1863, Davenport described the destruction of the rebel gunboat Mississippi :

At 2 o'clock at night a bright light was seen in the direction of the fort: Firing immediately ceased, the light moved down the River, explosions frequently came from it. Thus for two hours it moved when a flash that lit the heavens and an explosion that shook the ground like an earthquake and the light disappeared: Sunday morning dawned all quiet. Soon we heard that the big gunboat "Mississippi" had been set on fire and blown up.

The last dated letter in the collection is from Thomas Parrish, Head Nurse at the Brashear City Hospital, who wrote the Davenport family about Edwin's death.

Davenport occasionally drew pictures on his letters. The letter from May 5, 1861, contains a sketch of an oil derrick, and the letter from September 12, 1861, contains drawings of a man stepping on a snake and a man hunting squirrels. His letters from Madison, Wisconsin, have large engraved letterheads picturing a view of the lake.

This collection also contains Davenport's corporal stripes.

Subject Terms

    • Banks, Nathaniel Prentiss, 1816-1894.
    • Baton Rouge (La.)
    • Camp Point (Ill.)
    • Fugitive slaves--United States.
    • Madison (Wis.)
    • Oil fields--Pennsylvania.
    • Port Hudson (La.)--History.
    • Teachers--1860-1870.
    • Titusville (Pa.)
    • United States. Army--Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 52nd (1862-1863)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Davenport, Edwin 1839-1863.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Military uniforms.
    • Sketches.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   93, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Edwin Davenport papers [series]
    Folder   30  
     March 31-September 11, 1861
    Folder   31  
     September 12, 1861-April 8, 1862
    Folder   32  
     May 11-November 23, 1862
    Folder   33  
     December 12, 1862-March 25, 1863
    Folder   34  
     May 3-May 25, 1863, and  undated
    Folder   35  
     Undated and Corporal's stripes
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    Moors, John Farwell. History of the Fifty-second regiment, Massachusetts volunteers. Boston: Press of G.H. Ellis, 1893.