1862: William S. Cook to Eliza Ann (Leighton) Cook

This letter was written by William S. Cook (1844-1872), the son of John Cook and Eliza Ann Leighton. William — or “Will” enlisted at the age of seventeen in Co. F, 23rd Massachusetts Infantry in December 1861 and was discharged for disability in October 1862.  He died of consumption ten years later in 1872.

Will mentions the sinking of the SS Golden Gate which caught fire on 27 July 1862 and when down while enroute between San Francisco and Panama. Between 175 and 223 passengers and crew were lost, together with the baggage, mail and all the cargo of $1.4 million in specie. He also mentions the collision of 13 August 1862 between the steamers George Peabody and West Point on the Potomac river. The West Point was bound for Newport News with convalescent troops from Burnsides’ army, but she went down very fast after the collision.

Two other letters by William S. Cook were offered at auction in March 2012. Excepts from these letters:  Dated 11 July 1862, first letter reads in part: ”…I am going down to the Beaufort Hospital today or tomorrow…Will Backerman sends some relics which he wishes you to keep for him…I am going into the Hospital…for the benefit of the sea-air…” Dated 13 August 1862, second letter reads in part: ”…Frank Lee…was 5th Segt. When he went home…as our Orderly has been promoted, [now] he will be 3rd Sergt. unless the capt. takes it into his head to make him Orderly which…I don’t think this giving high bounties…is exactly fair. They have been at home hanging off till the last minute and all they volunteer for now is because they may be drafted…we have done all the work…I am glad I am not in their shose. I should feel pretty cheap…[we have] such a set of ‘poppycock’ officers…I should like to get out of it. I don’t care about a discharge. I wouldn’t take one if offered…the officers of the new regiments…are to [be] taken from the non commish of the old regiments but that don’t give privates a chance…the Orderly of Co. C was recently promoted to 2nd Lieut…he came into his quarters & drank profusely of ice water. He died in one hour from the time he came in. Yesterday he was buried. It is the first death (natural) of an officer we have had to record…”


(No. 12)
Newbern, North Carolina
August 19th 1862

Dear Mother,

Received your No. 13 as expected Sunday by the “Albany.” wrote to Frank and Tibbie the day before (16th). Went on guard yesterday so could not write then. Today finds my legs somewhat lame but with a days rest, will be all right again. Yesterday your box came with everything in good condition but the cheese which was fairly alive with maggots but it was not much of a loss as I am not a great lover of cheese unless it is new. What is your idea of sending so much tea out? I should think in all I have received about 3 pounds. Now I can’t do anything with it except give it away. I have no need of it myself as the company has tea as well as coffee for rations. The jelly is A-No.1 and came without leaking which is not always the case by any means.

Received by Frank’s letter a photograph of Uncle James and himself, both of which I should think were very natural, but I hope Frank is not so think & sick as he looks in this photo. I have the promise of Uncle Thomas’s and Capt. Endicott ¹ which I hope to get in Frank’s next. So you see if I can’t get home, I shall have a miniature home always with me with which, under the circumstances, I must be contented. I should like to see Capt. Endicott very much. He must be a wonder to “ye Salemites” as you say. Does he think of settling down in this country, do you know?

That loss of the “Golden Gate” is a sad thing. I hope time will show Mary & her husband to be all right. The same day we heard that the steamer “George Peabody” ran into the propellor West Point (which sunk in 10 minutes) on the James river with a loss of 70 odd men of Burnsides’ Division — sick and wounded. You have probably seen particulars ‘ere this. I am expecting a letter from Sarah Tuttle by the next mail.

What does John Carter say about the pipe? Have you put my curiosities in your cabinet? I wrote off all the labels so that you should know wha they were and where I got them, so when you want to show them, write the labels on the backs of cards “a la museum” and you’ll have quite a show.

Will Backerman is well as is also Howard. His things were all right with the cheese exception. Write when you answer how everybody is that I know, it being a very good subject to fill up a letter on — only don’t confine yourself to that alone. Remember the scraps in October. The mail closes at 7 this afternoon so my letter will have to be short. Am in hopes to have something of interest to tell you by the next letter.

Love to all the folks. Respects to Capt. Endicott.

Your affectionate son, — Will S. Cook

Mrs. E. A. Cook, Salem, Mass.


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