Transcription: Civil War Letters of Private David Coon (1824-1864)

Transcription: Civil War Letters of Private David Coon (1824-1864)

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building just behind me with a lot of men laying low, sent and ordered me to stop as he said there was danger of my shooting our own men, but I knew there was no danger of that. I guess he was afraid that I would draw the reb fire on them. I then fell back and came across the Colonel in time to help him off as he was very faint.

We are now laying in the woods, not knowing how soon or what the next order will be. I must therefore close so as to be rready for it whatever it may be.
I send Peck & Warner’s letter and want you to preserve it.

Yours, with affection and great haste,

David Coon.

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James River, Aug. 16, 1864.

Dear Wife:-

I sealed a letter to you yesterday, and as we are still in the same place, I take my pencil to write some things that I didn’t write in that.
First, my advice would be not to buy Mr. [?]’s cow, for I am satisfied that you will not have more than feed for what you have, but rather keep well what you have got. I suppose the spotted heifer will come in next spring, and then you will be likely to have three cows next year. I wonder at father asking such a price for that heifer. If you could get her for a reasonable price, perhaps it would be well enough to buy her, but at all events you had ought to have the use of her three years yet after this year, that is, if you double her. If she should have a heifer calf next spring you ought to raise it. How does Flora’s heifer look? Do you think of beefing her?

It seems Herbert didn’t answer any of the long string of questions that I asked in my letter to him. What are the prospects for the corn, beans, potatoes, vines and garden crops, &c. I am afraid the hoeing was not very well done.
I am the only one of the six from our way left in the regiment at this time. Putnam has been quite unwell for some time past, and fell out on this last march. My health has got better than it has been since my hard march three weeks ago, and my appetite is quite good again, as you will think when I tell you that I took raw fat pork and raw potatoes sliced up


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fine in vinegar, and ate it with a good relish when we were coming up on the boat and didn’t have a chance to cook any. But it was hard to bear to see the cooks on the boat go into an ice closet and get ice and good yellow hard butter, and making good light biscuits, and we couldn’t have a taste. I have been trying for about a month to get a little flour and my prospect was pretty fair for getting it the next day if we had not left our camp, but now I can’t get if for the want of a little money. I would hate to send home for money bit if I was sure we wouldn’t draw before long I would ask you to lend me a dollar or two, and send as soon as you get this if you have it, and you may if you have a mind to, and if I don’t need it I can return it. I have lent a dollar but can’t get it nor borrow any for we are all strapped.

A day or two before we started from our camp we were put in the woods cutting timber for a fort. We had to work an hour and rest an hour. I felt quite unwell and hadn’t anything that I could eat very well, and I got to thinking how long it had been since I had had a piece of pie and wished I had a good big turn-over, and about concluded that I would try my luck at making one when I could get some flour. That last can of milk that I wrote to you about, I was so saving of it that when I felt so unwell I rather took a dislike to the taste of it, and don’t think I shall buy any more of it. It is too much like the milk that my mother gave, sweet and thin. I had rather buy


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sugar if I had a chance. I bought a second hand tent cloth for a dollar before I left camp, and the day of our charge it was taken to spread on the ground for the Colonel to lay on and left there, and I lost it, and yesterday morning I started out to see if I could pick up another one. Went but a little way and found one and a new knapsack and picked up two good pair of socks, and there were blankets and shirts and such things but I couldn’t save them, of course.

I hope you will be able to read this. I write with a pencil because I have no ink of my own, and it is more convenient for me having to write on my knee, and I use such paper as I can pick up, thinking it will be welcome so long as it brings you intelligence from me, if it isn’t quite so nice, but I shall have to beg an envelope and leave the postage for you to pay.

There are lots of soldiers here I can tell you, but what they are going to do with  us is more than I can tell. Our regiment in the field this morning numbers less than two hundred.
I suppose you will be most discouraged waiting for the one I started yesterday, but it was the best I could do. There were about ten days between it and the one before, but they kept me so busy. I would think every day that I would write, but something would turn up to prevent, and as for Sundays they are the most busy days that we have.

The day of the charge we charged through a cornfield


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and as we lay on the ground a while I picked a couple of ears of corn an ate them raw, and another good big one I put in my haversack and roasted the next morning. I wish I had some more now. We had a hard shower Sunday evening after the fight, and it looks very much like rain now. As I was attending to one of my company who was wounded and laying in the woods, there was a shell struck a few rods from us and burst, a piece of which struck a man sitting by the side of a tree within four feet of me, but it didn’t hurt him much.

I will now postpone writing for a while and see if anything turns up or if I can think of anything further to write.

Wednesday, 17th. In the afternoon yesterday my regiment was marched a few rods to the edge of a field and drawn up in line of battle in sight of the rebel works about a mile off or three-quarters, when we were ordered to lay down flat. Shortly after another column of men was passed in our rear, which attracted the attention of the rebs and they commenced shelling us. Sent half a dozen or so which burst near us, wounding two of other companies of the regiment. I laid in the same place over night and this morning Vergin’s brother and I went to a cornfield over towards the rebel works and got a lot of green corn and I had all I wanted to eat, about five ears. There was a good deal of fighting yesterday but it is pretty quiet this morning. One of our company was wounded yesterday


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out on the skirmish line. Vergin hasn’t gotten back yet. His brother lay close by me yesterday, and at night he discovered a dent in his frying pan which was in his knapsack strapped on his back. On searching he found a grape shot in the bottom of his sack, the pan stopping it.

I do not think of anything more, and will close for this time.

Your affectionate husband,

David Coon.

P. S. –

I hope the children have got well of the measles and that Herbert finished the harvesting in good time.


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Weldon Railroad, near Petersburg,

Aug. 22, 1864

My dear Wife and Children:-

I now seat myself on my knapsack to write on a drumhead with some ink that I made of pokeberries. As I suppose you will have received two pencil scribbles that I sent you last week before you get this, I will say that we stayed around near there where we had the fight on Sunday, the 14th, until Saturday, the 20th, and then started at dark on a march in the rain and had to go through the woods on the start, and O, how dark, muccy and slippery it was. We saw where a wagon and team had tipped over down a hill on going down hill to the river, and I don’t know but more of them went over afterwards, as it was a sideling place and very slippery. Well, we marched back on the same road that we marched when we were there a few weeks before. The night was cool and the rain stopped soon after we started, and the moon came up so that it was not a bad night to travel, and we arrived back in our old camp yesterday morning at nine o’clock, where we had spent so much time in cleaning it up and fixing shades, etc. that I couldn’t get time to write to you, but O, what a change! It had rained a good deal and our sheds were all torn down and the crotches and poles taken away, and also our bunks that we had fixed to sleep on, and the brush all scattered over the ground, etc.

Well, we had a fire and got some breakfast. Fortunately, I had a little tea which came in good after such a


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march. I had drawn three or four drawings from the Sanitary Commission, which was first-rate green tea.

We stayed there until one o’clock. I received your letter of the 10th inst. there, and was glad to hear from you again and that you were all getting better of your sickness, for it is hard to be sick even at home. On looking at my memorandum I see that yours was written on the same day that I was cutting timber in the woods and dreaming about the pies and turnover, etc. that I wrote about. Well, I haven’t tried my hand at making my turnover yet, as I haven’t got any flour.

My health is not very good, but I don’t feel quite so badly used up as when returning from the other raid. At one o’clock we started on a march again and arrived here — four or five miles — a little before night. Got some supper and laid down in the pine woods and rested all night.

The object of our being here is to guard and hold the railroad that we, i.e., our army, have taken from the rebs, and in order to do so it is expected that we shall have to fight for it for they are determined to re-take it. They have tried two or three times already and another attack is expected at any moment. You see my paper got spoiled in carrying in my knapsack.

Since writing, the mail has come in and several of the boys have received packages of goodies from home. I received a letter from Alonzo and think I will send it with this.
Middle afternoon: All remains quiet, yet it is thought


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we will have a big fight over this railroad as it is a very important matter to the rebs.

I think you had better accept of Susan’s proposition as soon as you can and have it done with. If you write or see her give her my best regards and say that we have lived in peace as neighbors so long, that it would be sorry to have any difficulty now that I am absent and may never see them again. When you draw the money to pay her you had better pay the cash not for the fanning mill and the tombstones. I suppose they can be paid for at Reese & Williams’. Please send me a copy of the inscriptions and mottoes on each one for I have forgotten what they were to be.

I see this ink is fading in some places, I think on account of the paper being damp. As I do not think of anything more that would be interesting, I think I will give you an account of a day’s recreation. Two weeks ago last Saturday I got leave to do and visit the 37th and 36th regiments, and started for that purpose. Had gone but a little ways when I found myself drawn up to a sutler’s shop.  The sutler was selling some apples (they sell small ones about 10 for 25c.) He had but a few in the bottom of a barrel and pretty badly rotted. I asked him to give me five cents’ worth of those that were part rotten. He said I might have the lot, good and bad for 50c, so I and another man took them out and poured them down to sort. I picked out my cap full of good ones, more than would have cost.


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25c, and another man came and wanted 25c worth and picked out until he was satisfied, and then we picked over those partly rotted, eating the sound part. All of that I got good and bad cost me ten cents, so I went on and filled my pockets and emptied my cap and ate my ripe apples at my leisure. Passed another sutler’s shop and saw a young soldier sitting on the ground with a fruit can. He asked me if I wanted some raspberries. I told him I would like a taste of them, so he handed me the can. I tasted of them and offered them back; he said I might keep them as he had all he wanted, so I gave him a couple of apples. The can (he paid a dollar for it) was about 1/3 full when he gave it to me, and they were very nice.

Well, I didn’t succeed in finding the 37th and 36th but found the 7th and the first man that I saw in it was Frank Bushy, and there were several from our town vicinity. Among the rest was Mr. Dawes, the one that came to hire you to teach school. Well, I made out quite a visit among them, but now I must close, as the balance of the paper is too dirty.

Your affectionate husband and father,

David Coon.

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Petersburgh, Aug. 27, 1864

Dear Wife and Childre:-

I write to inform you that through the fortunes of war I am a prisoner. In battle on the 25th inst., about our whole regiment was taken. I should think in order to get to this place from where we were taken we had to march 20 miles, and I can truly say that whatever treatment I may receive hereafter, I shall ever remember with gratitude the treatment received from the officers and guards who have had us in charge. Thus far I do not remember of hearing an order accompanied with a profane oath since I was taken, and in this respect I think our men and officers would do well to take pattern.

My health is very good. You will please write a few lines to let me know how you do. Your postmaster will inform you how to direct. We expect to go to Richmond tomorrow.

Your affectionate husband,

David Coon.

P. S.- W. W. Vergen is a prisoner, and Will Putnam is supposed to be safe by being in the rear sick. Libby Prison, Aug. 28th. Keep up courage.                                D. C.


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The foregoing note, mailed evidently from the gates of Libby Prison, Richmond, was the last communication received either directly or indirectly from Father. From official records, however it was learned that he remained but a few weeks at Libby Prison, being transferred from there to Sells Isle, and later to Salisbury, N. C., where he died November 2d, 1864, only a little more than two months from the date of his capture at the Battle of Reams’ Station.

Notice of the death was first received by his family in a newspaper clipping from one of the Madison, Wis. Papers.

J. W. C.






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