Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Wilson S. Beckley Papers, 1862-1864

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Bethany Anderson, November 2008

Summary Information
Title: Wilson S. Beckley papers
Creator: Beckley, Wilson S., 1845-1866
Inclusive dates: 1862-1864
Extent: 16 items
The Wilson S. Beckley papers consist of 16 letters written by Beckley to his mother, Sarah Beckley, during the Civil War. Beckley was originally from Cascade, Michigan, and fought in the 21st Michigan Volunteer Infantry. His letters mainly describe military life within the infantry.
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:

2006. M-4530.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

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


Wilson S. Beckley was the son of Lyman Beckley (1786-1863) and Sarah Sturdevant Beckley (1805-1892). He and his brother Everett (b. c. 1835) and sister Clara (b. c. 1842) lived with their parents in Cascade, Kent County, Michigan. Both he and his brother served in the Civil War. Wilson mustered in on September 4, 1862, with the 21st Michigan Volunteer Infantry, at the age of 17. During his service he became ill, possibly with dysentery, and was hospitalized in November of 1864. He was also officially registered as sick in May 1865. He died shortly after returning home from service, on May 8, 1866.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Wilson S. Beckley papers include dated material from April 12, 1862, through November 16, 1864. Although it consists of only 16 letters, the collection nevertheless provides a great deal of information on camp life in the 21st Michigan Volunteer Infantry as well as views towards the “rebels.” With the exception of one letter from a cousin named Julia and a discarded letter of a Confederate soldier that he found at a rebel camp describing the battle of Shiloh, all letters were written by Beckley to his mother.

In his correspondence Beckley describes the march from Camp Siegel in Ionia, Michigan, to various sites in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. He keeps his mother apprised of not only his activities, but also of the movements of the brigade and other news pertaining to the Union army. He also includes some descriptions of weaponry and of the foods available to the soldiers.

The Confederate letter which Beckley also sent to his mother vividly describes the battle of Shiloh, and briefly mentions Generals Wood, Beauregard, Hardee, Bragg, and others. The unknown soldier wrote of the tragic battle, “…we rested until morning of the 6th it was holy Sabbath & the sun rose fair & beautiful over the field that was about to be drenched in blood…” (April 12, 1862).

Despite some of the hardships he endured, Beckley’s tone is highly optimistic. He incorporates many drawings into his letters, including a hand-drawn map of Bridgeport, Alabama. Beckley also had the role of being a “bugler” in the Infantry, and frequently wrote sheet music, which he claimed to have published and sold. His last letter dated November 16, 1864, was written from Cumberland Hospital in Tennessee, where he was hospitalized for what appears to be dysentery.

Subject Terms

    • Michigan Infantry Volunteers.
    • Shiloh, Battle of, Tenn., 1862.
    • Vicksburg (Miss.)--History--Siege, 1863.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Military Life.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Music.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   104, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Wilson S. Beckley papers,  1862 April 12-1864 November 16 [series]
    Folder   11  
     1862 April 12-1863 August 15 (10 items)
    Folder   12  
     1864 April 22-1864 November 16 (6 items)
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Partial Name Index:

    • Beauregard, Pierre Gustave Toutant, 1818-1893.
    • Beckley, Everett, b.c. 1835.
    • Beckley, Sarah Sturdevant, 1805-1892.
    • Beckley, Wilson S., 1845-1866.
    • Bragg, Braxton, 1817-1876.
    • Buell, Don Carlos, 1818-1898.
    • Granger, Gordon, 1822-1876.
    • Hardee, William J., 1815-1873.
    • Wood, Thomas J., 1823-1906.

    Partial Geographical Index:

    • Atlanta, Georgia.
    • Bowling Green, Ohio.
    • Bridgeport, Alabama.
    • Cascade, Michigan.
    • Camp Siegel, Ionia, Michigan.
    • Chattanooga, Tennessee.
    • Cincinnati, Ohio.
    • Corinth, Mississippi.
    • Covington Heights, Kentucky.
    • Dalton, Georgia.
    • Detroit, Michigan.
    • Eagleville, Tennessee.
    • Fort Donelson, Tennessee.
    • Kent County, Michigan.
    • Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
    • Prewitts Knob, Kentucky
    • Shiloh, Tennessee.
    • Stevenson, Alabama.
    • Tennessee River, Tennessee.
    • Toledo, Ohio.
    • Tullahoma, Tennessee.
    • Unionville, Tennessee.

    Sheppard, Caroleen Beckley Clark. The descendants of Richard Beckley of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Hartford, CT: Connecticut Historical Society, 1948.