Scope and arrangement
The Ely Family letters consist of fifty-seven letters sent to Elizabeth Ely (1834-1887), (Mrs. Theodore Fowler) from her brothers Edgar and Charles, and her sister Emilie. The letters span September 1862 to December 1864. The letters from Edgar and Charles describe life as a soldier during the Civil War while the three letters from Emilie, a young teenager at the time, describes domestic life in Madison, Connecticut. Typed transcripts of all letters are included in the collection as are photocopies of the original letters from 1862-1863.
Edgar's letters, forty-two in number, span September 9, 1862 to December 26, 1864. His first letter is written from Fort Ethan Allen, Fairfax, Virginia. He then travels throughout Maryland and Virginia and arrives for battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Injured at Gettysburg, he convalesces in Newark, New Jersey. Edgar then spends fall 1863 to spring 1864 camping with his division near Stony Mountain, VA before traveling through Virginia. His last letter is written from Petersburg, VA.
Edgar writes descriptively of the life of a soldier describing life in camp, marching formations, picket duty, fighting in battles, homesickness, and spiritual questions that arose during war. He writes of his loneliness and longing to receive more letters from home, and makes requests for food, stamps, and thread. Most notably, he gives an account of his participation in the Battle of Gettysburg during which his unit charged a house and barn that held Rebel sharpshooters. Edgar was shot through his right calf, yet still entered the house and managed to drive the Rebels out. He then walked one mile until an ambulance picked him up. This was an unusual letter, for Edgar normally only briefly mentions what happened in battles when writing to his sister, instead writing to her more on matters of daily life and of spiritual concerns. Edgar encouraged her to open her heart to God and Jesus Christ, only to later write that he was losing strength in his own belief in God. Charles' twelve letters span September 28, 1862 to May 24, 1863. He describes his duties as acting orderly and the daily events of camp life. As a soldier in the Battle of Fredericksburg and gives a detailed account of the fighting and the men who were killed. Often ill with fever and an unidentified "lameness," Charles spent a great deal of time in various Army hospitals. He details the medical care he received in them as well as his feelings of helplessness in being unable to serve his country. He writes often of feeling depressed at being away from home and then being left behind by the members of his regiment who were able-bodied enough to continue fighting. Both brothers often mention third brother, Willoughby Ely (1841-1882). Willoughby enlisted on October 2, 1861 with Company A, 10th Connecticut Infantry. He was promoted to Full Corporal on August 13, 1862 and mustered out on October 7, 1864.
The three letters from Emilie Ely (1848-1865) are brief, for the most part discussing domestic issues, the effect of the draft on the town of Madison, and the interruption of her schooling when her teacher enlisted.
The Ely Family Letters are arranged in chronological order.