Tragic 1865 Letter by Private Isaac J. Dunn, 36th Massachusetts - Death of Private Sylvester F. Oliver of Disease at Covington, Kentucky - "Until he died he was expecting a letter from you every day"

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Tragic 1865 Letter by Private Isaac J. Dunn, 36th Massachusetts - Death of Private Sylvester F. Oliver of Disease at Covington, Kentucky - "Until he died he was expecting a letter from you every day"

280.00

Item No. 3204812

A sorrowfully fascinating January 1865 letter on decorative United States Christian Commission stationery, written by Private Isaac J. Dunn of the 36th Massachusetts Volunteers from the Main Street Hospital in Covington, Kentucky. He wrote to Mrs. Hattie Oliver regarding the death of her husband, Private Sylvester F. Oliver, who had died of disease the previous day. Oliver enlisted in January 1864 with the 21st Massachusetts and fought with the 9th Corps through the Overland Campaign and part of the Siege of Petersburg before a special order transferred him to the 36th Massachusetts in October 1864. The letter is full of heartbreaking details. Dunn wrote, “Until he died he was expecting a letter from you every day and was waiting to hear from you before he had me write.” Efforts to gain Oliver’s discharge were fruitless, but it seems Oliver believed he would soon recover. Dunn encouraged Mrs. Oliver to send for her husband’s body, describing how he did his best to prepare and preserve it. Dunn had also collected Oliver’s personal belongings and offered to return them home. The tragedy of the letter serves as a reminder how so many tens of thousands of young men died of typhoid, malaria, and tuberculosis so far from home. It reads:

Main St. Hospital Covington Ky. Ward 7
Jan 30th 1865

Mrs. Oliver
I take pen in hand once more to let you know that Mr. Oliver died at two oclock on the (29) twenty ninth of Jan. P.M. last Tuesday he went all over the hospital and gave the boys writing papers. Wednesday night the boys all said that he was as well as ever. Was taken sick at three oclock in the morning of the (26) twenty six, and was in much distress and it troubled him to get his breath. Before I go further I will say that I was not with him until Mon as I am warden at the seventh ward and could not be with him not half of the time. I was with him in the evening or part of the night. Until he died he was expecting a letter from you every day and was waiting to hear from you before he had me write. The next day after he was taken [illegible] and feeling some better. He said that he was glad that he was going to get better, for he thought when taken that he should die. I asked him if he was afraid to die and he said not, but wanted to live on account of his folks at home. He was wandering part of the time in mind. Just before he died I asked him if he wanted me to write to Hattie and he nodded his head which meant yes and that was the last I said to him of any account. Dr. Thomas expected for some time that he would not live long, but I did not know it until today and he has been trying to get his discharge for some time, but Dr. Speer it seems did not think him so bad as he was. D[octor] T[homas] said this Mon. that he was a very homesick boy for some time. His funeral will be today or tomorrow. I laid him out in his own clothes and he looked very well indeed. I shall see him again when he is put into the coffin, and if you want to have him sent home it can be. You ought to send for his body soon if at all. If I had had any means to do it I should have had the coffin put into a box so that it would have kept better if in case you wished to send for the body. I trust that his spirit is hovering in the spirit land looking down on us and see how we live in the remainder of our days. It seems all the time as though I could see him by going to the 1st ward, but not so. All the boys loved him. I have his watch, rings, letters, and diary book, which I will keep under lock and key until I hear what you wish me to do with them. The letters I thought perhaps you would have me mail his letters unless you are going to send for his body. I write today because I thought perhaps the other letter might be lost and one of these would get through to you. I shall think of more another time, perhaps what has happened or been said. I have just come from the funeral of your husband. I helped put him into the coffin and sprinkled the coffin and put a wet cloth on his face with something that will preserve him longer than otherwise would be. The text was in Deuteronomy 34 ch. 7 verse and it was a good sermon. I wish you could have heard it and the prayers that he offered for you and the parents.

I must close. Yours truly Isaac J. Dunn

The letter was written upon all four pages of a 5” x 7 3/4” stationery sheet. The USCC decoration at the top reads, “The United States Christian Commission sends this sheet as the soldier’s messenger to his home. Let it hasten to those who wait for tidings.” It is in excellent condition with minor toning. Creased where originally folded.

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