This letter was written by Pvt. Mannasseh Bolton Coyle (1830-1864) of Co. B, 100th Pennsylvania Infantry (a.k.a. the “Roundheads”). Mannasseh enlisted in August 1861 and received a severe gunshot wound at the Battle of Cold Harbor on 2 June 1864. He died of his wound on 8 June 1864 in Harewood General Hospital in Washington D. C. Hospital and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, gravesite 27-619.
Perhaps anticipating the horrific bloodshed which was to follow the launching of Grant’s Overland Campaign in the summer of 1864, Mannasseh sat down near the Rapidan River on 5 May 1864 — only one month before his death — to compose his last will and testament. It read: “Dear Brothers and Sisters all. I will address you a few lines, stating my desire with regard to what little worldly effects I possess. This will remain unopened until my death should this happen to be my fate in the coming campaign. All my effects will be sold and my debts paid off, and the balance put to pay off my article with I. W. Coyle, L. E. Coyle for their share of the estate and the rent or interest of my state will go to supporting my mother, Nancy H. Coyle, widow of William Coyle her lifetime. Then the rent or interest will go to support, of for the benefit of my single sisters equally divided while they remain single, and go to their benefit while one remains…. William A. Coyle gets my bass vol, Martha Manover my tenor violin with other property. This I request, — M. B. Coyle”
In the 1860 US Census, Mannasseh (age 30) is enumerated in the household of his widowed mother, Nancy [Harsha Douthett] Coyle, on the family farm in Lackawannock Township, Mercer County, Pennsylvania. Also residing in the household were his younger siblings, William Coyle (age 24) — a music teacher, Sarah (“May”) Coyle (age 22) — a school teacher, and Martha (“Matty”) Coyle (age 20) — also a school teacher.
December 4th 1861
Hilton Head, South Carolina
May and Matty, I received yours on this morning and will attempt an answer to you. It found me in pretty good health though I may say in worse health than I have been since I left home. I have a pretty bad cold and headache sometime. I have thought it was bordering on neuralgia. I have still filled my place on the ditch as we call the entrenchments. There is a huge entrenchment or breastwork thrown up for our own safety. There is about two thousand working everyday. It is a very nice place to work as it is nothing but sand to shovel and not very firm sand at that.
[You say] we never hear from the weather in your letters. I would describe it as it is here. It is warm for this time of year as there has not been many days but would have done to make hay. Since we came on the island, the nights have been tolerable cool — a smart white frost 2 mornings near the last of November. One of the mornings there was ice in a bucket about one-eighth of one inch thick.
Last week there was a good many deaths on the Island — one in our company, William Ramsey of Wilmington [Pennsylvania]. Is Will not at home or is he sick or does his business press him so close that he hain’t time to answer at least one letter out of any five I write him, or does his letters not reach me or does my letters not reach him, as I have not received a line but one from him — a page he wrote to me the day he took Mary Semple to Mercer since in September in Camp Kalorama. I should like to know where the fault is. If you know Robert’s address, let me know in your next as I lost my Pass Book that had it in and my letter to him may not reach him or his to me and I don’t know where to write to him giving him my address as I may hear from him sooner in that way.
I hear that Miss Molly Pomroy is going to come here as nurse and Ellen Corhune. Now my advise to you and all is to stay at home. This is not the place for ladies, in my opinion. I think I spoke of this before in another letter. There is no news here that I suppose you do not hear sooner in the papers than by letter.
I will draw this to a close expecting you will receive it as an answer to both your letters. I shall back it to Matty as she is he most likely to be at home as she wrote she would be at home this winter. The address that you will [write] me is:
M. B. Coyle
Beaufort, Hilton Head, South Carolina
Co. B, 2nd Brigade, Sherman’s Division via New York City
My love to mother and all the friends.
To W/M and M.M. Coyle
as ever your brother, — M. B. Coyle
I have a letter from since I came here. We anticipate some soft bread here soon as the ovens are almost done. We have had only about 2 days on soft bread and that was at Annapolis since we left Washington. One ___ in the bean line in crackers.