WWilliam Graham's War Between the States

William's Letters

US Army Mail Wagon
Union Army mail wagon

In 2008, 16 letters written by William Graham during the Civil War were discovered in the possession of the Notre Dame University libraries. Three years later in 2011, seven letters were found in the library at Duke University. An additional letter (sent October 12, 1862) was discovered at the Schuyler County Historical Society.

Most of the letters were addressed to his sister Libbie, employed as a domestic (servant) in Schuyler County, New York.

Letter Organization

Mail Arrival
Newly arrived mail for Union soldiers

The letters are divided into four groups. This grouping is guided by the two Union armies in which William and his regiment served: the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Cumberland.

The period with the Army of the Potomac is split into two groups. The first letter group covers the time when he was in active service. The second is titled Fort Schuyler, and includes letters sent during William's nine month convalescence from illness; probably typhoid fever.

The period served with the Army of the Cumberland is also split in two letter groups, based on very different service assignments: First, guarding the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad in Tennessee and second, participating in the Atlanta Campaign in Georgia under General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Letter Correspondents

Four different people were addressed in the 24 surviving letters of William Graham. The great majority were sent to his sister Elizabeth (Libbie) Graham. One was addressed to John Boyes and one to Andrew Scobey. The rest were addressed to his cousin, Dr. Robert Bell. All the known correspondents were either relatives of William or, in the case of Andrew Scobey, living with a relative.

Elizabeth 'Libbie' Graham

Elizabeth 'Libbie' Graham, c1870
Elizabeth Graham was born in 1838 in County Down, Ireland. She immigrated with the rest of the family from Ireland in 1850 at the age of 12. In one of his letters, William states that Libbie is his only sister.

By 1855, Elizabeth Graham was living in the Town of Dix, Schuyler County, New York with Andrew and Harriet Scobey (both age 28) and is adopted by them. She is living not far from the Brewster Platt’s, whose daughter Mary would eventually marry Elizabeth's brother William after the Civil War.

In 1860, Elizabeth Graham is a domestic servant living with the farmer couple, Andrew (33) and Harriet (34) Scobey. Brother William Graham sends his respects to the Scobey’s in a number of his letters sent to Libbey (Elizabeth) during the Civil War.

In 1870 and 1880, Elizabeth is a housekeeper still living with the Scobey’s and just down the road from the Platt’s. Mary Graham lives on the Platt farm with just her husband William in 1870. In 1880 she is there with her two children as a widow, William having died in 1877.

In 1884, Elizabeth Graham married the widower, Eugene Pangborn of the Village of Townsend in Schuyler County. Eugene had five children by his previous wife, Jane Huey. Elizabeth helped raise the 3 youngest children.

She probably had the greatest influence on the youngest child Ruth, who was age five when Elizabeth married Eugene. Ruth eventually married Edwin Van Deventer in October 1900 in Monterey, New York. Ruth survived to the age of 102, dying in 1982

The 1900 Census for the Town of Dix shows a farmer Eugene Pangborn and wife Elizabeth born in May 1843 (she probably lied about her age so as to appear no older than husband). Elizabeth died on February 1, 1910 at age 71. Her husband Eugene, who survived her, married a third time to Iva Warden. He died on January 12, 1929 at age 84.

We have documentary evidence of Elizabeth's relationship with William Graham from an affidavit she signed in 1900 in support of Mary Platt Graham's application for a pension as a widow of Civil War veteran, William Graham. This affidavit shown here (with emphasis added), attests to her lifetime acquaintance with William Graham (which would reach back to life in Ireland) and her presence at the marriage between William Graham and Mary Platt. Strangely, she never states that she is William's sister.

John Boyles

John Boyes was the son of William Graham's cousin Eliza Bell. Eliza had married James Boyes. Eliza was the sister of Dr. Robert Bell - another correspondent with William.

Eliza had a sister Mary who was married to Thomas Boyes, likely James' brother. In 1860, William Graham was working on the farm of his cousin Mary Boyes and her husband Thomas in the Town of Orange, Schuyler Co., NY.

Elsewhere in 1860, 20 year old John Boyes was working as a farm laborer in nearby Seneca, Ontario County, NY. In 1870, he was employed as a physician living in Tyrone, Schuyler County with his wife Cynthia. John lived until age 90, dying in 1930. He and his wife had two daughters.

Dr. Robert Bell

Robert Bell was William Graham's cousin. According to a published biography, he was born August 24, 1815, in County Down, Ireland (now Northern Ireland, or Ulster), about 12 miles from the City of Belfast. He was the son of William Bell and Elizabeth Graham (aunt of both William Graham and his sister Elizabeth or 'Libbie'). He was 12 years old when his family left Ireland and landed in St. Johns, New Brunswick, Canada in 1827.  They then made their way to Boston, Mass., and resided in Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

It is estimated that 35,000 immigrants, almost all of whom were Irish, reach New Brunswick in the years 1818 to 1826.  Between 1827 and 1835, 65,000 Irish immigrants are said to have reached this province.  During the Famine Years the numbers increased even more. In 1846 alone, 9,765 arrived and then record numbers in 1847 when 15,279 reached N.B. ports.  

Because of the new Passenger Act introduced in 1816, vessels bound for New Brunswick ports could carry ten passengers for every three carried in ships to U.S. ports. As a result, ships sailing to Canada and N.B. carried the bulk of the immigrants bound for Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and often some of these immigrants remained where they landed.  Another reason why passages to N.B. were attractive to Irish immigrants was because of the Head Tax. New Brunswick did not have a Head Tax in the early years and later, in 1832 when N.B. finally introduced a Head Tax, it was only half that charged in American ports.

Later Robert Bell was a student in Newburg, NY where he had typhoid fever and was not expected to survive.  After that he moved to Fishkill Landing where his brother and sister died.  Later his family moved to Newtown, NY (now Elmira, NY). From there, by 1840 they moved about 3 miles south of Monterey Village in the Town of Orange, Schuyler Co., NY. 

Dr. Robert Bell Harriet Haring Bell

In 1839 & 1840 Robert was a student in a select school in Montour Falls, taught by Artemus Fay and later by Mr. Gillett.  Then Robert became ill again, and Dr. Nelson Winton attended him, and offered him a course of medical study for three years in return for one year of service to Dr. Winton.  Eventually the now Dr. Bell was persuaded by the people of Monterey to set up a permanent office there. 

Former Dr. & Mrs. Bell Residence in Monterey - still the most beautiful

In 1846 his mother Elizabeth Graham died and is buried in the Monterey Cemetery. Robert Bell's father William continued living on the family farm outside Monterey, New York with his unmarried son James. In 1864 William remarried a woman named Margaret, whose surname is unknown.

In 1849 Dr. Bell married Harriet M. Haring.  Mrs. Bell was an active and influential member of the Presbyterian Church, being especially active in its missionary organizations. In the spring of 1878 they went on an extensive trip through the west and south, with the hope of benefiting Mrs. Bell's health. She died on September 3, 1902 and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Watkins, with a large monument in the center of the cemetery. 

Dr. Bell was important in the building and development of Monterey village  He built a large block in Monterey for the post office and 3 stores, and a community hall upstairs. Dr. and Mrs. Bell were said to live in the most beautiful residence in Monterey.

Dr. Bell had no children, but was much attached to his wife, and took much interest in all his relatives. As a preceptor (teacher) he gave many young men a good start in the medical profession. He was known for his kindness of heart and charitable deeds, and ever contributed liberally to any worthy cause. Dr. Bell died in 1907 and is buried next to his wife.

Andrew Scobey

Andrew Scobey and his wife Harriet were childless. According to the 1855 New York State Census, although little over a decade older than Libbie Graham, the Scobey's had adopted her sometime after her arrival in America from Ireland in 1850 when she was 12. She lived as a servant on their farm during the Civil War.

According to the 1880 Census, Elizabeth 'Libbie' Graham was still living as a domestic with the Scobeys. Also living there were Andrew Scobey's nephew and niece. The Scobeys lived just down the road from the Platt’s where Libbie's sister-in-law, the widow Mary Platt Graham was living in her parent's home with her two children. This was four years before Libbie's marriage to widower, Eugene Pangborn in 1884.

In the early 1890s, Libbie's then husband, Eugene Pangborn was working 'on shares' on 100 acres owned by Andrew Scobey. (Scobey was providing the land and Pangborn the labor, in return for which Pangborn would receive a share of the crop. Wonder if this was some of the land that Scobey bought while William was fighting in the war.) Andrew was then listed as a retired merchant farmer living in the Village of Watkins.

According to the 1900 Census, they finally produced a daughter, since a Mary Scobey age 22 is listed in the household as such. Curiously, no such Mary is listed as a two year old living with them in 1880. Very strange! Given the age of Harriet at the time of Mary's birth, she was probably adopted.

Andrew died in 1902 at the age of 76. His wife outlasted him by more than a decade, dying in 1911 at age 86.

Editing of Letters

EnvelopeLetter text on this website is not necessarily verbatim. Letter contents (1) describing William's Civil War experience, (2) giving his impressions of the War and the times and (3) illustrating the society and culture of those days are included. Discussion of strictly personal or family matters, not involving the foregoing, may not be included.

Additionally, the website is not inclusive of all William's letters. Letters missing are either short personal notes or repetitive; he sometimes repeated himself, fearing that all his mail was not getting through to the addressee.

William tended to run his sentences together. He also used paragraphs sparingly. His spelling was often unusual and he frequently would drop key letters. The letters have therefore been edited for readability. No changes have been consciously made that would alter the content's meaning. Where words were indecipherable, either a '?' was placed in parenthesis or a word that seemed to make the most sense in the context is placed in brackets.

With those caveats, the transcribed letter text is an accurate rendition of William's words.

For those interested in seeing a copy of some of the original letters, for some of the Army of the Potomac letters, a link is provided to the original letter from the letter transcript heading.

Accompanying Commentary, Graphics and Links

In viewing other Civil War websites, I have concluded that a mere regurgitating of old letters can become monotonous and confusing without context. Each letter is thus accompanied by commentary to add understanding of its contents and the time in which it was written. I have also added photos and illlustrations. Links to other websites provide background on terms or words mentioned by William. Links are also given to sites that best describe battles he participated in as a member of the 107th New York Regiment.

H Graem © 2011