Nearly 100 letters written by Civil War soldier from Long Island donated to Islip Historical Society
ISLIP, N.Y. — Scores of handwritten letters from a Civil War soldier to his wife have been donated to the Islip Historical Society by a family that traces its roots to the Long Island town.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reports, they’ve been preserved and digitized for the public to learn from.
Inside the climate-controlled Suffolk Historical Society, you’ll find the treasure trove — 97 handwritten letters, all from one Islip resident to his wife during the Civil War.
From 1862-1865, Frederick Wright Sr. wrote to wife, Pheobe, more than three times a month, in pencil, which has endured more than 160 years.
Providing a rare glimpse into daily Civil War life, the letters were recently found in a Rhode Island basement.
“We knew about them, but no one could quite identify where they were located, and then we got the magic phone call from the family members that they were found in a shoe box in the closet,” said Victoria Berger, director of the Suffolk Historical Society Museum.
Handed down five generations, the letters have now been meticulously preserved — digitized and searchable.
“We had to have the letter stored under perfect humidity to allow them to relax so they could be unfolded,” Berger said. “They were too fragile for scanning.”
Robert Finnegan, with the Islip Historical Society, poured over the cursive to transcribe all of them.
“It’s very special because it gives you the life of a soldier from Islip hamlet in the war, and he also discusses his day-to-day life. You know, ‘I’m waiting to get my horse,'” he said.
“A lot of it is just filled with day-to-day, ‘Send me more socks,'” Berger said.
Mixed in with brutality of war.
Finnegan read from one letter, “‘Dear wife … Tell the children I have seen men with their bodies cut up in all kinds of ways. They went and were carried by me by the hundreds.”
The family that had the letters didn’t want to sell them and profit off of history, so they decided to donate to the Islip Historical Society.
“Because then people could, you know, look at them and have them as a resource,” said Claudia Kepner, a descendant of Wright.
“I don’t think that most Americans today can really appreciate the brutality of war, and especially a war as brutal as the Civil War,” Berger said.
They will now be made public to teach about the sacrifice of Suffolk’s nearly 1,000 men who enlisted in America’s deadliest war.
Three of Wright’s sons also enlisted to fight in the Civil War. One of them died from an illness contracted in the war.