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Letter from Elijah Penny to his wife; July 28, 1862

Letter from Elijah Penny to his wife; July 28, 1862

Letter from Elijah Penny to his wife; July 28, 1862

New York State Library, NYSL_SC11836_Elijah_Penny_letter_18620728
Document Description
Letter from Civil War soldier Elijah Penny to his wife, 1862.
Fort Woodbury July 28/62
My Dear Wife
                        I received your
letter and one from Br. Hiram
yesterday. I feel very thankful that
you are as well as you are and bear
up so bravely under your great affli
ction. You speak of Alfred’s conversa
tion and gentlemanly manner it was
the subject of remark among officers
and men after his short visit at Snyder.
Jane you know I am no believer in signs
or presentments but when I stood at
Snyder and watched his receding form
until it was lost in the distance I had
different feelings than I ever experienced
in my life. Although I confidently
expected to see him again in a few days
I was oppressed by a melancholy feeling
 by a sense of loneliness as if something
dear had left me never to return.
I remember I sat up all night and
employed the hours of midnight in
writing to Eugene. I think much
of that visit. I think I feel thankful
for it to the Great Giver of all things.
I confess that at first smarting under
this severe blow I felt disposed to murmur
against the hand that inflicted it
and say why not have taken me a
mere wreck floating uselessly along
the stream of time and spared his
young, promising life. but calm re
flection shows me the folly and wicked
ness of such feeling and that it
become us to bow in humble submission
to the will of Providence and believe that
“whatever is is right.” You ask my advice
respecting grave stones. My request is
that there be nothing done about
this at present. If live I will see that
a suitable block properly inscribed is pla
ced over the remains of the brave young soldier
who fearlessly exposed his life on these
battlefields and never faltered in the
performance of his duty until deadly
disease forced him from the ranks
to fill an early grave. I wish to be un
derstood. For in this matter, I must be indu
lged. You must pardon me if I have
heretofore expressed any dissatisfaction in
regard to the course pursued by you. I have
not intended to do so for I would not will
ingly add to your present afflictions but rather
do all in my power to mitigate this.
Tell Louise I thank her for the rose she
sent me and in return I send her
my love and a good kiss. I was
quite sick Sunday, but am quite well
an am acting Sergeant of the guard.
We have been practicing target firing
to day with shot & shell. We make
some very good shots. The weather is
awful hot here. Yet we have not
had a night but what we needed
a blanket over us at three in the mo
rning. Hiram wrote me a very nice
kind letter. I was sorry to trouble
him for I knew he was full of business
but I knew of no one who could do as
much towards helping me to a
leave of absence as he can. Annie
owes me a letter. I wonder what is
the matter? Is Lydia’s curls grown
out yet? I want to see that photograph
she promised to send me.
Jane accept my best wishes by
sincerest love and believe me to be
ever your devoted husband.
                                                E. Penny
What instructions does Elijah give to Jane?
How does Elijah feel about Alfred?
How does Elijah feel about himself?
In the end, what explanation does Elijah give for the loss of his son?
What is the overall tone of this letter?

About this Activity


Lesson Topic:


Historical Context
When the American Civil War began in 1861, citizens of both the North and South had no idea how long the conflict would last. Many Northerners, including the Union army leaders, envisioned a three-month war that would quickly bring the South back into the Union. The assumption that it would be a short war, coupled with a surge in patriotism, led thousands of New Yorkers to voluntarily join the army. The men of the Penny family were no exception.

In 1860, the Penny family consisted of seven members: Elijah, Jane, Archibald, Alfred, Eugene, Charles, and Louise. They lived in the town of Southeast in Putnam County, New York. Elijah, the father, and the two older boys, Archibald and Alfred all volunteered to fight for the Union in 1861. The letters, census records, and military documents all provide a glimpse into one New York family's experience during this time of national unrest.

Essential Question
What impact did the Civil War have on individual citizens, families, and local communities?
Check for Understanding
What affect did the war have on Elijah's emotional state and his outlook on life?