A handwritten letter from a Civil War Soldier – Genealogy Gold

Civil War research, 4th OVC, genealogy

James R Van Meter handwritten note

Today I transcribe “genealogy gold”! When I received the Civil War pension file on James R Van Meter, my first cousin 4 times removed, I was shocked and excited to find two letters written in his own hand included in the file. He died in 1864 and his mother tried to receive a pension on his military service citing the fact that he supported her. More on his story here.

The paper James wrote this letter on was narrow, so many lines only had a couple words on them. Each new line he used a capital letter whether it was a new sentence or not. He never used punctuation and these words are the way he spelled them.

James wrote:

May the 5th 1862

Dear Mother
It is with pleasure
I take my pen in
Hand to inform
you that I am
still on the mend
But am not well
yet I am at Parks Barracks Uncle
James was here he came
Wednesday night
I was very glad
to see him and to
hear that you was all
Well he fetched
the letters from
Elisabeth town that
you sent there
to me and I got
that dollar out
of one of them
I have had one
letter from George
they was at Camp
Vanburen about
30 miles from
Nashville Tennessee I
thank you very
Much for that money
you sent Me
And when I get
paid off I will
send you some
More Money if you
Want it. I would
like to come home
But I don’t know
When I will get to Come I guess
the officers will
keep me all summer
I have been down
stairs eating my
Dinner And now
I must finish
My letter I want
you to write as
soon As this
Comes to hand.
So no More
At Preasant
But remains
your son until
Death parts
us Direct
your letter to
(?)Parks Barracks
I Must
Write Susannah
A few lines
Nothing More
James R Vanmeter
Rachel H Millikin

George in this letter is James‘ brother and he also served in Co. F 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (OVC) with James. Susannah, I believe is his sister, although he did have a first cousin with that name too. Uncle James who came to visit James is my 3x g grandfather. James was living with my 3x g grandparents when the 1860 census was taken. Needless to say I was ecstatic to see a mention of my own direct ancestor! Rachel H Millikin whose name is at the end of the letter is James’ mother.

I have to say transcribing this letter helped me to understand it better. I missed a couple parts (the mention of my 3x g grandfather) when just reading it. Transcribing allowed me to actually read what James had to say. He had been sick, missed his family terribly, yearned to receive a letter from his mom and was separated from his brother.

I also have more research. Where is Parks Barracks? Where was Camp Van Buren and what was James’ sickness May 2, 1862? This “genealogy gold” has given me many new leads. Have you had the same experience with Civil War pension files? I’d love to hear your about your “gold”. Tell me in the comments!

Good Luck in your research!

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12 thoughts on “A handwritten letter from a Civil War Soldier – Genealogy Gold

  1. What strikes me first about this letter is the short lines. That makes it like a poem, to me! And the thing about a poem is that Every Word Counts. As you say, in transcribing it, and then also looking at it laid out vertically like this, it’s easy to notice every detail. Is it rare to get letters in a pension file?

    It’s a great testament to your former research that you already know every person mentioned in this letter. That must be very rewarding. My cousin has a group of Civil War letters from the Fraser side of our family, and there are many people and references I cannot yet identify. Messing around with the 10th GGs has left me a bit lacking in the 3rd & 4th generations back, especially with the infinite number of siblings.

    So exciting to have letters in his own hand!

    • Mariann ~ Thank you for your comment! According to some other genealogists I have talked to, finding a letter from the actual soldier written during the war is unusual. There are many letters in pension files from the veteran as he’s trying to receive a pension years after his service but it’s rare to find one written during the war. Since this soldier’s mother saved these letters and produced them so long after they were written I like to think it shows what a special bond there was between the two.
      I’m thrilled too, to be able to identify the people in the letters, especially my ggg grandfather. The brief mention makes him “real” to me and in my eyes a really good guy! :)
      Thank you again for always reading my posts!

      • This is just a theory, so take it at face value. I believe that any letters that are in the files are those of soldiers who have died in the war. If they survived, the government would not have those letters.

        • Hi Bill – So you’re thinking any letter written by a soldier after the war during the pension process was returned to him? Or if he/family saved a letter written during the war that was used for proving pension was also returned to him? If I’m missing your point let me know!

          James Vanmeter’s file is the only file I have with his actual handwritten letters. George Vanmeter’s pension file as well as my gggrandfather’s have letters written by family and friends but nothing by their own hand, either during or after the war.

          • Very few survivors of the war wrote letters for pensions. Mostly it was done using an application form. I’m saying that I believe that most of the letters written that you would find deal with letters requesting info deal with those who were captured and sent to POW camps and letters that were dead end, due to the soldier having died or being MIA, when it could not be delivered and was not returned to sender. Those letters would be in the files. Ordinarily, soldiers received their mail and thus the letters were either destroyed by the addressee or were saved by the family and the government never saw them again after they were delivered. It’s the same way today. The government doesn’t keep copies of private mail unless it is undeliverable. Again, this is only my theory, so take it for what it’s worth:nothing.

          • Thanks Bill – I appreciate your comment clarifying your theory. It’s as good a theory as any! Thanks for reading my posts.

  2. Cindy, I’m not sure if you are related, but there were 3 Milikins who served in the 4th OVC. All three were in Co F. Daniel Milikin (musician meaning bugler), Pvt John H Milikin, and Pvt Salatial Milikin. We have pictures of all three graves and they are on the CD I gave you. 2 are in Rockport and John is buried in Big Darby Cemetery in Plain City, OH. I would find it surprising if they were not related to Rachel. It may be that you have 5 relatives (though your uncle’s wife’s relations would not be any to you) who served in the 4th.

    Since paper was at a premium for the soldiers during the war, I don’t find it surprising that the paper was narrow in gauge. As for finding letters in the files, it’s not uncommon, but if you don’t expect it, you won’t be disappointed. If there is one, the surprise is well worth it.

    • Hi Bill,
      Thanks for your comments on my blog. I appreciate it!

      The Van Meter boy’s father died in 1851 and mother Rachel married Daniel Millikin in 1858(59). I believe the Musician in Co. F was her husband. The age is right but I don’t have proof yet. From what I’ve found Salathial is the son of Daniel’s brother Robert. He’d be a step-cousin to James and George Van Meter if there is such a thing.
      I’ve not researched John Millikin yet to see where he fits in.

      The Millikin’s have quite a story. None of Rachel’s children are living with her in the 1860 census. They are scattered among Van Meter family members. James is living with my 3xggrandparents. Rachel divorced Daniel in 1865 for cruelty and lack of support. I will continue my research on the Millikins. They are quite fascinating.

      I also want to find why so many men from this area Rockport/Monroe Twp enlisted in Co. F. I’m curious as to what was the motivating factor.

      Thanks again for stopping by, reading and commenting on my post. I appreciate it!

  3. This letter truly is genealogy gold. I have several of my ancestors’ military pension files, but I don’t remember any of them containing handwritten letters. Congratulations on this exciting find!

    • Thanks Jana for stopping by and commenting! I’ve been so very lucky with pension files. I’ve gotten three files and two of them have had letters galore in them, packed with all kinds of genealogy information. I’ve learned stuff from these pension files I’m sure I’d never have found with years of research. I’m thankful for these finds and for your comment too. I appreciate it!

    • Jeff – I love this letter too! The more I research the more I find how valuable it is to get an actual glimpse of life during the war. Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate you reading the post and your comment!

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