Wallace Spencer’s Civil War Letters

I have been watching Ken Burns’ film series on The Civil War. Parts of it were very hard to watch. The prevalence of death and destruction is beyond belief.  And then, of course, I started thinking about my ancestors and their experiences.  Just among my direct ancestors and their siblings I found 9 men that participated in that War.

Most of them were connected to one family; Titus and Phoebe Perry, my 3Gr-Grandparents.  They had five children: three sons, John [my 2Gr-Grandfather], George, and Clark, and two daughters, Jane and Mary.  Titus himself was too old for the War but for a time in 1865, all three of his sons and both of his daughter’s husbands were soldiers in The Grand Army of the Republic.  That’s a heavy investment.

Fortunately, they all came home alive.  But Jane’s husband, Wallace Spencer did sustain an injury to his leg.  We know that because he spoke of it in some letters that he wrote home to his wife. We have these letters because they were in his Pension Files as evidence of his injury.  But they also tell a much more interesting story about a man, his family, and a war.   I will speak of the other veterans at another time, but for now, here are Wallace Spencer’s letters home from the front.

transcription notes: Spelling is all as Wallace wrote but I have added some punctuation and line breaks.  Explanatory notes and links [in brackets] are mine.  hint: in old handwritten documents, “ss” frequently looked like “fs”.  

December 16th, 1864
This is the first chance that I hav had to write for the last day or two sow will try & improve the time I hav.    lots that I would like to write but dont now [know] as I can think of what I wanto but will try & do the best I can.
I guefs [guess] that I will commnese back a little for I want to tell what a good General we hav.  the night that I got hurt he was about a mile from me & as soon as he hurd the news he putt spur to his horse & came to see me & when he had lurnt [learned] the particulars he sent his orderly to camp after an ambulance.  but he is good & kind to all of the men that are under him his name is General Forse (Manning Force) a brigadeer.  he was wounded before Atlanty he was shot in the wright cheak just below the ey & came out on the left cheak.  he came from the hospital the time that we wer on the other rade north.
Well, we are in our old camp yet & guefs we will stay here untill we get our supplies.  here all that we hav had to eat for some time is rice & a little meal that we hav had to grind and cook for our selvs but I am glad to get that.  but I guefs we will get our hard tack by tomorrow & then we can live on the top shelf.
I am fat as a pig & more so & as lowsy as a hog.  that is in a polite way of speaking.  I hant had my close washed since I left Atlanty nor cant get them washed till we get some soap.
but Fort Macalister is in our hands & communication are now open with the land of living & my opinion is old bily Shurman will soon hav possesion of Savana & the rest of the river & then I guefs Charleston had better look out.
this rade [Sherman’s March to the Sea] is one of the greatest undertakings of the war.  We have destroyed the raleroad from merietta to within twenty miles of Savana & my opinion is the south will feal & now [feel and know] of this raid as long as they live for we hav not only destroyed the raleroad but hav lived of from the country & burnt houses whare thay wer in arms against us & every cotten mill & all the cotten has been destroyed by fire.
I guefs that I shal havto stop this poor writing for I want to write a few lines to my Father & Mother but there is one thing I like to hav forgotten & that is the socks that you sent & the butter that Mother Perry sent & the buries that mother Spencer sent & alsow the tea.  The butter & buries are ate up but the tea & socks I hav got. I am thankful for these favors & hope I can do as much for you someday.
I bought me a watch the other day & paid $12 dollars for it.
We hav warm weather sow far with the exception of 2 or 3 days.  The Pickets are firing Pretty Saucy at the rebs expect the old canon will soon open on them.  The land is swampy & leavel & pine timber no [next line illegible]
this must answer for all of you till I can get time to write, love to all. W.A. Spencer


Camp near Beaufort South Carolina
Jan 12th 1865

Dear Wife & Children
We hav got marching orders & expect to start tomorrow morning but guefs we wont go far for I can hear the cannon boom about 7 miles off.  I am on duty today sow shant hav long to write.  this is the first time that I hav been on duty since I was hurt. my leg dont get much better.  It is hard work for me to march I hav to take my own time for it.  my health is good with the exception of a sour stomach this morning (bad sine I guefs) but hope nothing searious.

I was going to write a letter to Clark [Jane’s brother?] today but don’t believe that I will get a chance I wish that those that are at home would write once & a while & not wate for me to answer every on of there letters.  I begin to think that you are the only friend that I hav. Well I am sory that I hav don any thing that should cas [cause] them to feel in that maner towards me. I havent had a letter in over three weeks but will keep a stiff upper lip & hope for better days. I now [know] that you do the best you can so wont blame you

I hant seen any snow this winter nor much cold wether the trees are green & every thing looks like sumr

I can heer the reports of the big guns firing as I sit here in my shelter tent writing & think perhaps tomorrow by this time I may bee in the contest & if I fall you may now [know] that I am thinking of you & those little ones of ours but don’t think the rebs will stand to fight us long unlefs [unless] they hav got brave all at once.

I sold my watch yesterday got the same as I paid for it.

My love to you & all enquiring friends from your worser half.
W. A. Spencer


In camp near Ft Pocotligo Jan 18th 1865

Dear Wife and Children

I guefs I will write you a few lines to let you now how I am.  I am well and my leg is getting some better & if nothing happens I think it will bee entirely well in a few weaks hope it will for it is hard marching.  We left Beaufort the 13th & drove the rebs back to their place the second day on the march.  we lost a few men & we expected to have a fight on sundy but we got up in the morning and found the rebs had fled & left their stronghold for the yanks.  we are on the Charleston & Savannah rale road we are within 35 miles of Charleston. we expect to start for that place as soon as we get our supplies & hav the 15 core com up then we will have communications open to Savannah & Beaufort.  I think if the rebs dont leave Charleston before we get thare they never will we may have some hard fighting there but they now [know] as well as can bee that their cake is done.  I hope General Shurman will be as good as his word he says that the war will bee ended in 3 months.

I got a Paper last night that David [could be Wallace’s brother] had sent me & I expect to get a letter from him soon. I was glad to get it

I hant got any of answer from the letters that I hav riten sinse we first came in front of Savannah but I shal stop writing till I get [illegible] from you to do so I presume that I will get a pile of them when I do get them.

I presume that you hav got my Diry before this time there is some things that I will explain some time dont now but I had better this time.

Give my respect to all of the neighbors that enquire after me. I will try to write another letter to you before we leave here.

Tel the boys to write.

The regiment hav gone out foraging.

Oh how I wish that you new my thoughts of you & those little ones of ours but tongs [tongues] cannot tell nor neither can I write it. excuse this Poor letter & believe me as ever your husband.

W. A. Spencer

Ps I will send a few leaves of what has happened up to this time in this letter if I can get them into the envelope.

Perry 007

Wallace Albert & Jane Marie Perry Spencer

Miranda Perry’s Diary

In 1871 my Gr-Gr-Grandparents, John & Miranda (Warner) Perry, and their two children Albert, 9, and Luena, 4, migrated from Nepeuskun, WI to Sibley, IA.  The 400 mile wagon trek took just over a month.  During the journey and continuing for the first few months of their new life in Iowa, Miranda recorded her daily experiences in a diary.

Thirty some years later, she apparently took the volume with her when she, by then a widow, went to live with her son-in-law and daughter, Alva & Luena Harding, in Garden City, SD.

Many more years later, after Miranda, and then Alva, had both died, Luena and her daughter, Lulu, moved from Garden City to Watertown, SD.  But before leaving, they had to clean out the old farm house.  As the story goes, it was who Lulu found the diary in the attic and asked “What should we do with this?”  Fortunately, it occurred to someone that they should KEEP IT!  And so they did; and it has subsequently passed through many hands before falling into mine.


I treasure this old book and in order to share it with as many as possible, I have scanned it in its entirety and transcribed the important journal entries.  I offer it to you here for viewing and download via a link at the end of this post.

The link will take you to a folder containing four items:

  1. A transcription of the daily journal entries in searchable text.  I encourage you to view and enjoy the images of the book itself, but the hand written pages are not always easy to read.  If Gr-Gr-Grandma Perry had know that I would be trying to read her diary 150 years later she might have sharpened her pencil a little more often.  Or, she might have burned it.
  2. Vol. I – The first 30 pages of the book consist of an 1871 Almanack which is interesting reading in itself.  Then next 30 pages were dated and intended for journal entries but were used mostly for scratch paper.
  3. Vol. II – This is the real heart of the diary and contains the daily journal entries made between April 9th and September 1st of 1871.
  4.  Vol III – 80 more pages of ciphering, accounting, scribbling and penmanship practice.


All four files are available for viewing and download here.



Titus Ellis Perry & Phoebe Maria Jadwin

When Titus Perry was born, there were only 19 States in The Union.  None of them were west of the Mississippi River.  Within his lifetime, Our Nation grew to 44 States and ranged from sea to sea.   My 3rd Gr-Grandfather was a farmer and apparently attracted to newly available and sometimes free land.  As the frontier moved west, so did he.   

Titus Ellis Perry was born April 15, 1817 in North Adams, Massachusetts.  He was the last of 10 children born to Isaac and Betsy Galloway Perry.   Good information is scant but I believe he spent all his early years in and about Berkshire County which is the western most county in Massachusetts and forms the boundary with the state of New York.

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Titus Ellis Perry and Phoebe Maria Jadwin 


On July 4, 1836 he married Phoebe Maria Jadwin.   She was born August 25, 1815 in Troy, NY but at the time of the marriage she resided in New Lebanon, NY.

New Lebanon is just across the border from Massachusetts and was noteworthy at the time for two things: the largest and most influential Shaker community in the country and Lebanon Springs which was a popular spa and well known for its healing properties.

I suspect New Lebanon may have also been a “Gretna Green” which a place where people go to get married secretly, quickly, or with fewer restrictions.  Kind of like we think of Las Vegas.  Many of the couples that were married by Justice of the Peace Ira Hand were from Massachusetts which with its Puritan background may have been more restrictive than New York.

Titus & Phoebe MR

In addition to when and where they were married, I learn from this record that they were married by a JP so no need tolook for a church record; Phoebe was from New Lebanon; and Titus was from Windsor, about 20 miles east and not surprisingly, in Berkshire Co.

But the most intriguing thing I see in this record is the mention of John Jadwin of New Lebanon as witness.

Nobody knows for sure who Phoebe Jadwin’s parents were.  Some say that her father was Jesse Jadwin from New York County (that’s Manhattan) and that he also had a son named John.  If that is the case, then Phoebe had a brother that was 34 years older than she, and her father was 53 years older.  Not impossible, but I am not ready to buy into that theory especially since I have yet to find any legitimate documentation linking Phoebe to Jesse.  John Jadwin, however, is well established in New Lebanon, the town where she was married.  He is listed in census records there from 1820-1860.  Not only that, he was at the wedding.   He also happens to be the right age to be her father rather than her brother.

Either way, soon after getting hitched, they hit the trail and a year later, their first child (my 2nd Gr-Grandfather) was born 750 miles away in Niles, Michigan.  That was on June 6, 1837.  And they named the boy John Isaac Perry.  Now remember, Titus’ dad’s name was Isaac and Phoebe’s dad’s name was….Jesse?…I think not.  How about John?

I may never be able to prove it, but my current working theory is that John Jadwin of New Lebanon was Phoebe’s father.

Titus and Phoebe had four more children, not far from Niles, in La Porte, Indiana.
Jane Marie – Dec 2, 1840,
Mary Ann – April 26,1843,
George Ellis – June 2, 1845,
Clark Albert – March 17, 1847.

After a decade in the northeast corner of Indiana, not far from the shores of Lake Michigan, Titus must have once again felt the call of the frontier.  This time, the urge drew him and his family 240 miles north and west to Winnebago Co. in the newest State in the Union, Wisconsin.

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In 1850, Titus Perry purchased this 120 acre parcel of land from The United States of America.

I was there in 2003 and it is a lovely place.  At least it was in May.

Right behind me, as I took this photo, is Nepeuskun Cemetery.  More about that at another time.


General Land Office Recortd

The Perry’s remained in Wisconsin for more than 20 years.  Long enough for all of their children to grow up, marry, and start their own families.  Then the whole clan started moving to Iowa.

John and his wife, Miranda Warner, may have been first to go.  They began their 400 miles trek by covered wagon on April 14, 1871.  Miranda kept a diary of her experiences on the road and during the first weeks in Iowa.  I have her diary.  It is a true family treasure and it is in my safe. 

Jane Marie and her husband, Wallace A. Spencer, may have gone at the same time. In her diary, Miranda speaks of the two families helping each other with the typical rigors of pioneer life such as claiming land, planting crops, baking bread, and building sod houses.

Titus Perry is reported to have arrived in Iowa in the fall of 1871.  But the first Land Record I have for him there is a Grant dated Oct 7, 1878.  By that time he was 61 years old but apparently still farming.  Two more Land Grants came in Oct, 1881 and May, 1882.

Titus Perry lived in Iowa for perhaps 19 years before he died on July 14, 1890 at the age of 73.

Jadwin 001





After his death, Phoebe Perry moved to Sioux City, Iowa and lived with Jane Marie and Wallace Spencer.

She survived her husband by 13 years and died May 5, 1903 at the age of 87.




They are buried together in Holman Cemetery in Sibley, Iowa.


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