1863: Elizabeth “Bessey” (Kearns) Clarke to William S. Clarke

This letter was written Elizabeth “Bessey” (Kearns) Clark (1836-1922) to her husband William S. Clarke (1835-1919), both natives of County Darry, Ireland. William arrived in Philadelphia in September 1853 aboard the ship Superior with a large number of Irish emigrants. Bessey arrived a year earlier. They were married in Philadelphia on 11 November 1855.

In the letter, Bessey expresses hope that her husband can get a furlough so I made the logical assumption that William was in the military service of his country although she did not reveal the identity of his regiment. By searching names of people mentioned in this letter, I was able to trace them to Chequest Township, Van Buren county, Iowa. The 1860 US Census enumerates the family within the district of the Lebanon, Iowa, Post Office, recording their name as Clark rather than Clarke. William and Bessey were natives of Ireland; their eldest children, Samuel (1856-1937) and William John (1858-1937) born in Pennsylvania, and their youngest, Sarah Jane (1860-1943) born in Iowa. (The couple subsequently had another ten children, the last one born in 1881.)

I’m pretty certain that the William Clarke — to whom this letter was addressed — is the same “William Clark” who enlisted on 5 August 1862 in Co. H, 19th Iowa Infantry, and was discharged for disability on 5 July 1864. My assumption is that William was in a hospital at Keokuk at the time this letter was written in the fall of 1863.

[Note: Bessey’s writing was somewhat difficult to decipher and in preparing a transcript I have corrected the spelling and a few grammatical errors.]


Addressed to William Clarke, Keokuk P. Office, Lee County, Iowa
Postmarked Pittsburg, Iowa

[Pittsburg, Van Buren county, Iowa]
September the 20th 1863

Dear William,

I send you these few lines to let you know that me & the children is well at present — thank God for his kind mercies to us — hoping when this goes to you, it will find you enjoying the same blessing. William, I feel very uneasy about you not writing to me. I fear you are laying [ill] or not able to write. It is 3 weeks since I heard from you. I beg of you to write as soon as you get this letter & let me know how you are getting along or if you are any worse or not.

Dear William, I told you that the cow was in calf when I was to see you but Mr. Loy [?] thinks that she is not in calf & she is dry and does not come up at all but as I hunt her & it would be a loss to feed her all winter if she is not in calf. I wish you could get home on a furlough to see what we would do with her.

The new school house is finished & school commences the 28th of this month. Jonathan Farris [?] is to be the teacher, There are 32 scholars.

Henry has got his wheat sowed & is going to build as soon as he can. He has to work to get his _____ & nails & other things that he needs. He wants to dig a well first & get the rock quarried for it & a chimney built.

Thomas Squires [?] is getting along well. They have begun to burn his property. They have started on his mowing machine but did not get it completed but they destroyed about 10 dollars worth on it. They blame Jeff Pettit ³ for it. He is home a deserter & the marshal was after him & shot at him but unfortunately missed him. Henry Bing[a]man ¹ hauled my hay home. If you think that you can’t get home, let me know where abouts. I will get the winter wood. It is getting very cold here now. We have had a very heavy frost here in August & spoiled the corn all around here.

Mother is not married yet but is looking out for a young buck & is as young as ever she was. Henry bid me ask you if there are any word of you getting moved for a few weeks or days & if not, come home to see us all as soon as you can & we will have the old wife winded up for you again. The trip to Keokuk used her up.

I have told you all the particulars at present. All the neighbors send their best respects to you. Mother & Henry & Sarah & all the children joins me in sending our love to you in the kindest manner. No more at present but I remain your wife to death, — Bessey Clarke

To William Clarke

Write soon.

¹ This was William “Henry” Bingman [or Bingaman] who enlisted at the age of 40 in December 1863 in Co. M, 3rd Iowa Cavalry. He resided on a farm adjacent to the Clarke’s in Chequest Township.

³ This was Thomas Jefferson (“Jeff”) Pettit (1837-1895), a farmer in Chequest Township. He was the son of William and Laura Jane (Benjamin) Pettit. He was married to Artemiesia Wall (1841-1908) about 1858. He enlisted in August 1862 as a private in Co. I, 35th Iowa Infantry. We learn from this letter that Jeff deserted; company records indicate he was mustered out of the regiment on 24 January 1863.




Griff View All →

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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