The Establishment of National Cemeteries ... and a Couple Romances

Early in the Civil War, on Sept. 11, 1861, the War Department had issued General Order No. 75 and directed that the Army’s Quartermaster General be given responsibility for the burial of Union officers and enlisted soldiers. The order dictated that a register of all burials be kept. The order also directed that a wooden headboard be placed at the head of each grave. Needless-to-say. those markers didn’t survive the weather well, and many graves were lost forever. Due to mounting war casualties, on July 17, 1862, the Congress of the United States empowered President Abraham Lincoln, “to purchase cemetery grounds and cause them to be securely enclosed, to be used as a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.” 

Immediately after General Lee’s surrender to General Grant on April 9, 1865, the Quartermaster Department embarked on a final, ambitious program to search for, recover, and identify the remains of all Union soldiers. The Quartermaster staff spent four years searching major and minor battlefield sites, hospital and prison sites, entrenchment sites, lines of march and miles of shoreline looking for bodies. All military remains found were moved to national cemeteries unless claimed by friends or family for private interment elsewhere. From the outset the task was challenging, and most challenging was identifying the remains in those days before soldiers and sailors wore “dog tags.” Many graves in the new national cemeteries had no name on the headstone.

Two men who were involved in this identification and recovery of the Union fallen were William Amburn Gavett and Jirah Isham Young (9/20/1842 to 2/4/1873). The former was a correspondent of Pat Bildner’s great-grandmother, Delphine (Dell) Chester (4/30/1851 to 3/21/1909) of Camden, MI during 1866, when he was stationed in Nashville, TN and traveling many miles to find Union graves. His letter of Oct. 14, 1866 gives a daunting itinerary of about 900 miles by horseback and the same by rail—all in six weeks. His letter of Nov. 15, 1866 details how they followed the path of Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Will was from Lansing and enlisted in Company H, Engineers & Mechanics, on Dec. 3, 1861. He saw action in Perryville, KY and Lavergne, TN before being mustered out on Nov. 4, 1864. His service with the Quarter Master to search for the Union dead must have been as a civilian since he speaks of his journeys in letters to Dell during 1866.

jirah isham young

jirah isham young

Jirah Young became Dell’s husband on Aug. 3, 1870. She had actually met him before the war when he came from his native Liberty, New York to Camden to visit his brother Walter. Only one letter to Dell from Jirah is in Pat Bildner’s possession. It’s ripped, Jirah wrote in ink and then pencil, which faded … and his penmanship was no where near as tidy as Will’s. There is also an order from Lieut. Gen. U.S. Grant transferring him to special duty in the Quartermaster’s Department. This was probably an assignment to recover the Union dead.

Both Will’s and Jirah’s letters to Dell remind us that the great themes of individual lives, including the desire for love and marriage, prevail despite larger national events of enormous importance. The letters sent to Dell by Will don’t explain their relationship, but from what Will says some things can be inferred. Will’s friend and fellow searcher for the Union fallen, Albert Varney, had apparently been corresponding with Dell’s friend, “Miss Fitch.” Will’s first letter to Dell in July of 1866 was in response to one he unexpectedly received from her. From what he says, Albert probably mentioned Will to Miss Fitch and she, in turn, suggested that Dell write to Will, who was 22 at the time and had been in the Union Army since 1862. 

In Will’s succeeding letters he seeks to reassure Dell that he respects her and wants to get to Camden to meet her. He asks for and receives a “Photo” of her and pronounces himself well pleased with her appearance. However, as the months move toward the end of the year it’s clear that his enthusiasm for Dell isn’t returned, and they probably never met after their brief correspondence.

Jirah’s letter to Dell, unfortunately undated and unsigned, speaks in rather obtuse terms of the decision they face that will affect the rest of their lives. He feels he needs to speak to her parents and says that if they don’t approve of him he’ll walk away. He did, they approved, and Jirah and Dell were married on Aug. 3, 1870, after which they lived in Camden. In a note written in later years, Dell says that Jirah was never strong after the War and died of dysentery on Feb. 4, 1873.

Prior to the Civil War Jirah graduated from the New York Conservatory of Music. Pat Bildner is in possession of lyrics, as well as written music, that may have been carried by Jirah throughout the War.

Albert & Della Walls in their later years together

Albert & Della Walls in their later years together

Later Dell married Albert Walls and they moved to Reading, MI. Pat Bildner has a letter Dell sent to an organization that was facilitating some type of additional payment to former Union soldiers or their widows. She finally received payment, with an itemized amount on Oct. 19, 1907, for $24.74.

When Jirah died Dell had a two-year-old daughter, Mary Ophelia (called Ophelia) and was four months pregnant with her second child, Helen. Ophelia married Hugh Spaulding on Dec. 12, 1899, and her wedding gown, gloves and shoes are on display on the second floor of the Mitchell Research Center in Hillsdale, MI. Another dress of hers is on display at the Will Carleton Poorhouse in Hillsdale, MI.

mary Ophelia Young

mary Ophelia Young

























JoAnne P. Miller, editor

letters transcribed by Pat Bildner, JoAnne P. Miller and Darin Sheffer

Editor's Note - All comments in italics, surrounded by parentheses, are from us. Before each transcribed letter there will be a short description of what's in that letter.

CLICK HERE to read the Civil War letters of Hiram (who died at Gettysburg) and Jerome (who died of disease in Washington, D.C.) Fountain of Somerset, MI.

CLICK HERE to read the Civil War letters of Hubert Dwight Smith of Litchfield, MI, with details of his training at Adrian College through the weeks leading up to the Battle of Bull Run and its aftermath.

(the letter writer signs himself as “William Amburn,” but later on he adds his last name, Gavett; it’s clear that Dell wrote first to Will)

Nashville, Tennessee

July 18th 1866

Miss Dell N. Chester

Camden, Mich

Much Respected Lady

Your welcome letter was delivered to me today from the hand of my friend Mr. Varley. I believe he has had it some time as I have been absent on business. but upon my return was agreeably surprised to be the recipient of such a kind interesting epistle from a Lady. and wholly without exertion on my part. so that I not only feel an interest in the writer of said letter, but feel that she is intitled to a response. and acknowledgement of her merits. Therefore to assure you that I appreciate the favor (as far as I am capable of) I shall proceed to write a reply. but whether it will be of any interest to my “Fair Unknown” out in the “Wolverine State” “girdled with silvery Lakes” is more than I am able to say. am going to write something anyway and submit it to the inspection for approval or otherwise.

Your description of yourself pleases me much. and I have no doubt you are handsome. and if so it is quite natural that you should have found it not particularly in this discerning age(?) I am inclined to think you are not very much of a coquette (even if you do say you are) for it seems to me your letter is written in too much of a frank manner to come from a young Lady of that particular style that delight in “heart breaking.” I will admit candidly that I have had very little experience in this kind of business. and if I do get nicely fooled the feeling that might follow would be “It served me right.” I will preface by saying sincerely that what I write will be the truth. for I deserve to make no capital out of a correspondence with any person. and have too much respect for a Lady to do or say anything intentionally that would injure their feelings in that I should regret in future should I be so fortunate as to meet them. I have known a great deal about “unknown correcpondence” carried on in such a manner that really made me feel sorry and say to myself. “It is wrong and ought not to be countenenced by thinking people.” For in nine cases out of ten it is a _____ . now after this giving you my views of this business as a general rule. I am going to overstep the boundary of strict propriety and indulge in the romance of a little with the _____ intention of acting as I should like to have a young Man act towards a sister of mine under similar circumstance. You are evidently an Educated interesting young Lady. and are entitled to the respect of all who know you. and so far as respectability goes I intend to treat you thus. Though I am no sober dignified old Deacon or Elder. but am a lad of 22 lively and like sport as well as other boys at the same time I would like to ____ some discretion and “common sense” I have numberous family and Relatives in Mich and quite a number in Hillsdale Co. therefore it may naturally seem probable that a letter from that quarter would be of more interest to me than one from a more distant portion of our “Grand Republic” where I may never go. have been in Hillsdale. and have partially promised myself to attend school there next winter.

(This page of the letter has the usual horizontal script, but also verticle script written in red over the top of the right half of the page. The following is from the horizontal portion. The vertical portion was not readable.)

am not fully decided about it as yet. Have served in the U.S. Army (in a Mich Regt. over 3 years and was Mustered out the 4th of Nov 1864. went to Mich 30 days after that and since that time have been “Slinging Ink” in the Rock City of the Sunny South except when I have been farther south on business. as to myself I know nothing particularly attractive. My old “Descriptive List” described ____ as 5 feet 6 Inches (height & am 5- not wherever. Light complexion Blue Eyes and Dark Brown hair. My nose is not “Roman” but rather the contrary. I do not claim to be handsome (far from it) but weigh 150 # already _____ : Eat three meals per day. know where I live “and” when my clothes fit me. for further information shall request you to wait until you receive my Photo. which by the way I have none of just now. though have ordered some from a negative I had taken. ____ possibly should you have the confidence in me. and kindness to favor me with your’s in your next I will promise to treat it with as much respect as I would that of a sister and will reciprocate without fail. you may perhaps think it indelicate to send yours first but I hope in this instance you will lay strict Ettiquette aside enough to do this and I will assign you _____ will give you no cause to regret it. will you do it. I shall allow myself to hope you will. Yes, I am very fond of music — and should like to call and become acquainted with you and hear you “Sing and play” It is just possible that I may as come future day. anything from “Old Hundred” interest me so there would be no trouble on that score. (or any other I hope) It is so very warm here now (particularly this evening) that I will omit giving you my ideas of the “Sunny South” and a description of ____ & C. for this time. so I do not wish to weary your eyes too much for the first time. I have been looking on the Map

(The following was upside down on the first page, above “Nashville, Tennessee.”)

for Camden. but have no “Township Map” so can not find it. what part of the co. is it in? where from Hillsdale. I suppose Mr. Varley and Miss Fitch are succeeding well in their correspondence he did not let me see her letter though. Please tender her my thanks for her kindness. I will give you my name rather than answer to the “Non de plume” that Albert gave me. Hoping to hear from you at an early date. ____ then “Au Revoir”

I will subscribe myself with much Respect. Yours in all Sincerity

Good Night 

Wm. Amburn

Box 331 Nashville, Tenn.


(Will offers thoughts that he might like to get to Camden to meet Dell; he’s concerned about references she makes to her friend “Freddie” and tries to ascertain whether this is a brother or a sweetheart so he knows how to move ahead with their interaction; Will give Dell a description of himself, promises to send a photo, asks her to send to him a photo of herself—and lets her know he’ll tell her how beautiful she is when he gets it)

Nashville, Tenn.

August 15th 1866

Dear Friend Dell

Having returned from church and having nothing better to do. I think I’ll scribble you a few lines in reply to your welcome _____ of the 27th ____. which rec’d from the P.O. last evening. the first thing that attracted my attention after noticing that it was from Camden was “Put in the wrong box” written in large writing across the back of the envelope so probably it has been here in the P.O. a day or two. you say you did not expect a reply to the first letter you sent me. well, I am sure I thought it was worthy of an answer. (else I would not have ans’d it) and now that you have kindly written again. I take it for granted that you are not sorry that you wrote. I am obliged to you. Miss Dell. for your complimentsDr. Holland says “All Men are fond of praise” which perhaps is true. anyway to know that ones work or actions are approved and appreciated by others is indeed a satusfaction. though I do not think much of too much Egotism. a certain amount of dignity — enough for self respect — we are entitled to. and I like to see it. and again I see nothing wrong in giving credit to merit. therefore if I tell you candidly that I respect you already very highly and believe you an interesting young Lady. I hope you will not think it flattery. (I have no doubt you get enough of that Absurd article. verbally)

I will remember the locality of your Town Ship and when I visit Hillsdale Co. may perhaps have courage enough to ride out that way. (If I succeed in obtaining your permission what say you?) but by the way I believe you are somewhat diffident with me. I don’t know why either. for certainly I am very approachable and as to this correspondence. I will pledge you my word as a Gentleman. (and I hope I have some claim to that proud title) that your letters are treated with all the respect you could ask. I have no capital or sport to make in such a manner particularly with a Lady. and from my native State. and one whom I might meet ere this lapse of one short year. for I certainly intend visiting Hillsdale at least when I come to Mich. My family reside some six or seven miles from Hillsdale. but more about them by and by. I have not as yet showed your last letter to Mr. V and am not fully decided as to whether I shall or not. presume I will (as you consent to it.) of course I expect your confident would have the perusal of what I write you. but I should like to know who “Freddie” is? Is he your brother. or your “sweet heart”? please tell me Dell. then I shall know how to act or proceed. if a brother (and a good one) all right. I don’t care. because he would look on it in a sensible light. but if “Freddie” is your Lover. well excuse me. for I do not wish to intrude my presence (is this the correct word for it?) ____ he notice. — nor have I any right to. that being the case. please enlighten me upon this, will you? Now Miss Dell, I wish to say this. if you desire a lively, frank, interesting correspondence between us. I see nothing to prevent it. for I believe you capable of doing your share towards it. and I’ll try to do mine. I am young and lively. and appreciate a good letter. and am true to my friends (intend to be to all mankind) I am pleased with what you have said of yourself. and feel quite anxious to know you (Do not know but I made some similar remarks before, as I did not keep a “Return copy”) now these are the facts (in a nut Shell) I shall leave it with you to decide. Yes I should be happy to receive your Photo. am aware that you feel delicate about sending it first. that is all right. I am not afraid to let you have mine, and will do so. I had a Negative taken a few days ago. and shall call at the Gallery tomorrow. I think and get the Photos. and can send you one in my next. wish you would me yours in your reply to this. not but what you would be welcome to mine first. but I would like to see yours and can only hope for deliniation of Art. to give me an idea of the face of My Unknown Correspondent” If you have none, you may perhaps borrow one that you have given some of your friends and send me. and then replace it when you have some taken. or I will return it. upon receipt of another will you? I do not wish to disappoint you. as to mine, but under the circunstances shall ask you to excuse me until next time. I could not be hindrince if I would. and of course therefore. would not if I could. “Handsome is that handsome does & C” these quotations are a consolation that I have I will give you my opinion as to your beauty when I get the Photo. I have much that I would like to write but do not wish to weary you too much. Please tell me more about your dear little self. send me your “Descriptive List.” also have you given me your correct name? if not please do.” (you can trust me.) ____ short if you will write me a good long. frank. letter. I will reciprocate surely. I saw Mr. Varley last evening. I do not know whether he has answered Miss F’s letter or not. did not think to ask him. supposed he had. He and I are not together now. (were however when he first wrote) though we see each other nearly every day. I will ask him about it when I see him. Please remember me with kind regards again to Miss. F. and

(This part was written upside down on the first page.)

let me hear from you at an early date. (as promptly as have written. I do not think this much of a letter. Know I am capable of doing better. and will prove it to you sometime I think. it is warm and I am of course too Lazy to write. I am Dell. with sincere respect

Your friend

Will Amburn

Box 331

(Across the second and third pages of the folded, almost 11” x 17” paper is written the following.)

writing this late reminds me that six years ago today my Father (a good one he was too) departed this life and when I think where I have been and the variety of circumstances passed through. since than I almost loose myself in thought But as I said before. I will close until I hear from you Dear friend

Good bye, Will


(Will tells about the many places he went to different battlefields for the purpose of establishing National Cemeteries; he tells her how Gen. Jeff C. Davis shot Gen. Nelson—who was known to be overbearing with his officers—after Nelson insulted him and refused to apologize; Dell sent him a photo and he was delighted with it, but didn’t want to return it as she asked)

Nashville, Tenn.

October 14th 66

Dear friend Dell!

Doubtless you feel much neglected at not receiving a reply to yours of the 28th. and think perhaps numerous hard things of necessity. But when you read my explanation I am confident you will banish all such feelings and again allow me to occupy whatever place in your esteem I did before. I shall hope and expect so anyway. I will now tell you where I have been and what doing & C.

Monday, Sept 3rd 66 a party consisting of Maj. E.B. Whitman a Q.M. in charge of National Cemetery Nat’l Dir. of the Team Capt. Fish (formerly of the 3rd Ohio Cavly, Mr. Hassenpflug (formerly of the Missouri Engineering) your humble servant Wm. A. Gavett (formerly of the Michigan Engineering) and an Escort of Cavly - 5th U.S. started from Murfreesboro Tenn on a tour through Tenn. and Ky. to visit the different Battle Fields in those states for the purpose of selecting places for the establishment of “National Cemeteries” and getting a Record as far as possible of all the graves of Union Soldiers. We went to Chattanooga Tenn by Rail — and by the way visited Look Out Mountain & C. while there. Oh that is a grand sight — should love to have you be up there once 5 different States can be seen from “Point Lookout” went from there to Knoxville Tenn. then took up our line of march for Cumberland Gap — and the numerous other points on horse back. arrive at C_d Gap in 8 days — about 90 — crossed the Crimbd Mountains. forded the Cumb’d River — and at length found ourselves encamped on the soil of “Old Kentucky.” From there we went to Richmond Ky and numerous other smaller Town and Battle Fields in that portion of country though which we passed. and on to Lexinton Ky —the Tomb of Henry Clay is there — which by the by is a nice Town — There we left our horses. Escort and C. and the others of the party visited the small places in that vicinity while I went up the Ky Central R.R. (stopping off at each station.) to Covington Ky and Cinti. O. where Maj. W___ joined me — he having come through direct. after a couple of days business in Cincinnati we returned to Lexington Ky and again resumed our march on horseback. — went to Camp Nelson — the great Rendevous for Troops of Ky. during the War. then to “Camp Dick Robinson” This camp was one of the first camps for Union Troops in Ky — was established early in 1861 by Gen. Nelson. and now the grave of that Genl. He was a brave Heroic Officer very harsh and rigid. often very rough — and always eccentric and overbearing with officers under his command. You will perhaps remember that he was shot and killed at the “Gault House” in Louisville in Sept. 62 by Brig Genl Jeff C. Davis — then, in Genl Nelsons command. He insulted Davis and refused to apologize for it and thus lost his life. Genl Davis is now a Maj. Genl — Commandant Dist. of Ky — but — was _____ at Kentucky and took a stand at the commencement of the War. that ought to make every truly loyal man think of him with honor and respect. His grave now is marked only by a very fine “Liberty Tree” from the top of which waves the “Flag of the free” there is stray talk in Ky about erecting a fine Monument at his grave. I hope it will be done. I was in His Command about 8 months in 61 and 2 things did not like his personal actions. Could not help respecting and honoring him as a brave heroic Officer in a just cause. at Camp D__ R__ our party divided into two parties, Capt Fish taking charge of one. and going to Danville Perryville Columbia & C. to Creelsburg and I took charge of the other and went to Stanford, Lancaster Somerset. Camp Burnside Jamestown & C. to the same place where we again came together and after resting one day started on our trip. towards home — via Carthage. Then where we crossed the Cumberland River, thence to Lebanon Tenn and from there to Murfreesboro. having finished our trip — being gone six weeks and having rode 900 Miles on horse back and about the same by Rail. I took the first train to Nashville — arrived O.K. and was certainly glad. I have of course only given you a brief account of our trip though it is sufficient to give you a slight account of our trip though it is sufficient to give you a slight idea of it. I did not receive your letter til today — as I only returned last Evening — So you will see I am pretty ____ when I have a chance to be.

I found quite a number of letters awaiting my arrival but will answer yours first — That is after writing home — Now, Dell I desire to assure you that appreciate your letters and ___ if I ___ ___ acquainted with the writer for then we would feel free and unreserved. — But you have been so frank — have sent me your Photo. given me your name & C. and the whole tenure of your letters seem so kind — and interesting — that I have resolved to be equally frank and shall write nothing but what I feel — and do not intend to flatter either. Shall send you my Photo — name and all. and as to yours Dell, I do not know how to express my feelings. and admiration of it. But if you will allow me to I will own that I never have seen a Photo of a young Lady that pleased me more than your’s does. — I do not think it wrong to say this much. and you can judge for yourself — Your request as to returning it was quite an unexpected one. But I guess you will allow me to keep it — anyway until I receive another from you. — as to your friend that you borrowed it of — I am sure he or she can do without it until you get some new ones with much less regret than I could send it back. I am going to send you a couple of mine — that you may take your choice — the one taken with the overcoat on was taken last winter. the other one was taken about 3 months ago and I borrowed that from my Room Mate


(William was responsible after the war for finding the graves of fallen Union soldiers, for letting their relatives know they’d been found and for burying them in a series of newly established national cemeteries; he refers to the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, which Gen. Sherman once said was "the hardest fight of the campaign up to that date”; he concludes his letter on another day talking about the national election)

Marietta, Georgia

November 15th ’66

Dear friend Dell!

It is a cold rainy day and as I am not busy for an hour or so I will scribble you a few lines in pencil. I had thought I would wait until we got to Atlanta before writing as I hope to receive a reply to my last then. I took out my Diary this A.M. and in looking over its contents could not resist the temptation of looking at your interesting handsome face as delineated by Art. Then I thought — If I only knew that my letters are as welcome to her as Hers are to me I would not hesitate to write every opportunity. Were you and I personally acquainted I should know that you would welcome a line at anytime. However, I imagine you are just as good as you look and if so I need have no fears.

Well, Gillas the Major has just told me that he wants me to take an Escort and make a visit all the places in this vicinity where Union Dead are buried — that is the different Cemeteries — and this P.M. we go out around Kenesaw Mountain and visit the place where Gene Harker (one of our bravest officers) was killed. So I can write no more until this Evening — if then?

8.00 P.M. We have returned from our explorations of Kenesaw Mt. and Vicinity. Found numerous graves — several of which we were looking for specially — at the urgent request of their Relatives. Also found the Skeletons of quite a number of our brave Union Boys fell in fearful charges June 27th ’64, which either never were buried or if so, but very slightly covered. All of which (as well as all others) we have instructed the Supt. of the Marietta National Cemetery to send for at the earliest possible moment. This is one of the fiercest Battle Fields of the Atlanta Campaign and I may as well say right here — that any Soldier who went through this campaign has seen as hard fighting and soldiering as anyone. And my opinion is that no matter what the curcunstances are or may be, those Men never can or will get or receive the honor they deserve. I have seen some fighting and been on nearly all the Battle Firelds in this Department, but must confess that the Atlanta Campaign shows marks of the severest fighting under the most unfavorable circumstances of any that I have ever seen — Shiloh not excepted. Talk about “Napoleon and his Generalship” — Sherman and his Generals I believe are as far ahead of “Napoleon and His Marshals” as this Age is of that. We have been since the 2nd Inst. coming from Chattanooga. Have been very careful and diligent in our Inspection and search and I can say with pleasure (and perhaps a little pride) that we have found and got a Record of pretty nearly all the brave Soldiers of the Union who fell on this campaign nobly defending our Government. And from the numbr of National Cemeteries that have been established and earnestness manifested among those connected with building them, that in another Year nearly all of the Union Soldiers will have been gathered up and nicely buried in Cemeteries that will be an honor to this Nation.

Tomorrow we will finish our work here and next day Morning we start for Atlanta via of the three Roads that the Army went. Expect to be there Sunday night and then if I find a letter from Dell awaiting my arrival I am inclined to think I shall feel pretty happy. Our tour will occupy us until about Jany. 1st ’67. Do not know whether we will go farther than Savannah or not, but we may go to Charleston, S.C. I hope we will. I have promised myself a visit to Michigan as soon as I can get off after our return and if I do I want to come to Hillsdale County. I certainly should like very much to see and become personally acquainted with you, Dell for I am quite that we would neither of us regret it.

I have go to make up my book of the work of today, therefore can write no more and must say to my dear friend, Good night.

Camp 5 Miles North of Atlanta, Ga. 

5.30 P.M. Nov. 18th ’66

Sunday Evening: Again I find a leisure moment and am going to write you a few more lines — but by the looks of what I have written, I think I ought to get this copied for it is doubtful about your being about to decipher it — unless you have had some experience in this way — though “I reckon” if you fail to read it you will be kind enough to do me the favor of thinking it means well, won’t you?

Well, we did not get away from Marietta the 16th for the reason that we did not get through there. I was occupied all day making up a Report of all the Dead found there (which was about 1400 and in about 85 localities) so I had no time to finish this but really I do not know of anything of particular interest that I can communicate you and think I had better wait til tomorrow as we move up to Atlanta early tomorrow morning. I have several good frinds doing business there and shall be happy to meet them, but do not know of any other friends south of here on our Trip unless we go to Macon.

I am glad to know that our Northern Elections have resulted so favorably — for I stand Politically a Union Man and am confident that the Congress of the United States are the true Union Men and represent the Loyal Principles of this Great Nation. I have known President Johnson, Della, while I was on duty at the medical Purveying Sept. in Nashville, and the very little confidence I had in him then has long since entirely departed. By the way, I saw a remark in the Atlanta Intelligencer recently that made me laugh — It was this: “The Radicals have a 3 year lease of Congress which will enable them to do anything they choose. The only obstacle in their way is Johnson and He cannot really be considered an obstacle as they have a two thirds majority and last one year longer than He does.” Such a frank admission that “My Policy” does not quite “Rule or Ruin” is a satisfaction to me and I believe is to every true Union Man or Woman — particularly those who relize what it cost. If a person will take up the report of the Asst. Q.M. Genl. J.L. Donaldson, U.S.A. — Estimated to be — that fell nobly defending the Constitution and Union — They may form some remote idea of how our Nation was defended against a Party of Rebels and Disunionists.

Please excuse me Dell! I ought perhaps not to have spoken or talked so much Politics to a Lady — But I tell you I cannot help feeling an interest in the properity of our Nation and this great Republic - what say you.


(William seems to have an unrequited love problem)

Atlanta, Ga. Nov. 19th ’66

Dear Dell!

I am very much disappointed at not finding a letter here for me from you. I cannot account for it. I do not want to think you have purposely neglected writing, but I gave my Room Mate who is Chf. Clk. Genl. Supts. Office U.F.C. & _____ R. Ads at Nashville — particular instructions to forward my mail that came up to Tuesday last to me at this place, care of Scott and Freeman, Dealers in Dry Goods, Drugs, etc. who are old friends of mine; and it does not seem as though he failed to do it.

I will send this anyway and hope to hear from you soon,

I am Della Ever

Your Most sincere friend

William A. Gavett


(Will’s mission to find Union graves on the battlefields of the Civil War continues, as does his persistence in his friendship with Della … which seems to be mostly on his part)

Savannah, Georgia    

December 12th ’66

Dear friend Dell!

About a month and a half has elapsed since I have been favored with a letter from you — I do not think however you have neglected writing — but that our Mail has in some way gone astray — as Major Whitman’s Mail did not come to hand and I requested my Room Mate to send my mail to me here in the Major’s care.

I have been so much on the wing since arriving here that I have not been able to get leisure to even write out a short letter before and even now I am scribbling this in the Magazine and Ord. Office while my fellow clerks are waiting for me. As we resume our March back toward Atlanta — hope to be there by the 23rd Inst. and in Nashville by the 1st of Jany. ’67. Our office wil be removed to Louisville, Ky. upon our return — so if I continue with Maj. W. (as I have a chance to) I shall then be much nearer Mich. than now — and am going to try to get up there a few days; and I assure you that I look forward to that trip as among the happy ones of my future life — though perhaps I think too much of it, still I can’t help it. I have been there but once, 30 days since early in ’61 and I think that I have served “Uncle Sam” pretty faithfully since that time. What a contrast between the Winters here and in the “Wolverine State”. Everything is green and fresh here yet like Summer. Flowers blooming in the open air — trees green etc. and we have really had no cold weather here yet — a pretty heavy frost last night and night before are among the coldest. I have some specimans of different things that I got out at Fort McAllister recently that I intend sending you. They are a boll of “Sea Island Cotton”, a Stem of Rice, a leaf from the “Live Oak” and one from an “Orange Tree”, etc. You may have been thus favored by some kind friend while “Sherman’s boys” were here in ’64 — though possibly not.

My health is very good though I must admit that a ride on “Horseaback” of 700 Miles since Nov. 2nd has tired me some — though I imagine I shall feel about the same when I get back to Atlanta.

Capt. Fish, My bosom Companion, has just come in and wants me to go to our room — so “I reckon”, Dell, you will have to excuse me to night — and I will say this. If I get time and opportunity I will do better next time — will that do?

Hoping I may receive a letter from you when we get to Atlanta — and that you are well and happy. I will bid you good bye for a few days. With you permission I am in all sincerity,

Your true friend,

Will A. G.

Please address as usual —

Care Col. Wm. P. Innes etc., Nashville, Tenn.

Yours ever, Will


(Will talks at length about his other “Lady correspondents” before getting to what seems to be his real point, which is to talk about how he doesn’t feel he can be as open after these same friends get married; Will then tells Della about three young southern ladies from a college he met and muses on how they have reason to hate him, but remain ladylike and kind; just as he seems to be getting to some essential questions he needs to ask Della there’s a page missing — just missing or was it purposely eliminated by Della; Will shares some strong political feelings about the Copperheads (a vocal faction of Democrats in the Northern United States of the Union who opposed the Civil War, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates: Republicans started calling anti-war Democrats "Copperheads", likening them to the venomous snake)


Dec. 23d, 1866

Dear Friend Dell!

At last I am in receipt of a short though welcome letter from my much esteemed Lady friend in Camden, bearing date the 21st and am certainly glad to know that She still remembers me. I have late letters from my friend Charlie’s wife in Nashville and he says he has numerous letter for me three awaiting my arrival. He sent me 8 letters to this place and said he would hold the rest until I got there, fearing I might not get them. Therefore I have reason to presume that I shall find some more letters there from you — hope so anyway, for I think very highly of you and as I have before said, believe you a most interesting, deserving, as well as handsome and well qualified yound Lady. And as my young Lady friends (correspondents) are rapidly on the decrease in Michigan (by reason of nearly all getting married) it would not be very strange if I should feel some interst in one that (so far as I know) has not done so. I do not blame them, but to the contrary think they act wisely and as they should. One of my letters yesterday was from a young Lady (Now a Mrs.) formerly an Old School Mate of mine in Lansing and a most interesting Girl she was, too. She tells me she was married about 6 weeks ago and is very happy, though she still desires to retain my friendship and wants me to not fail to correspond with her. And after a correspondence (and that in a true and friendly manner) of 5 or 6 yrs., it does seem almost hard to break it off. Her Husband (a fine young fellow, I am told) sent his regards and also wanted me to not forget to write them, but I tell you, Dell, when a young Lady gets married — it changes the Programme materially, while perhaps one may feel a sincere friendship that may exist for a lifetime, still he cannot feel that freedom (and speak it) that he can in all propriety while both are young or Single. Still so it is. “Us Old Bachelors” must suffer all these pangs and brood over the happiness of others and the discontent of themselves. And who is there to console them? Echo answers who? I can only say as I have often written to my friends on such occasions — Peace, Happiness and Prosperity be with them Ever.

By the way, I have met some interesting young Ladies in Georgia on this Tour. I accidentally got somehat acquainted with 3 young Ladies that are attending the Wesleyan Female College in Macon, Ga. a couple days ago. Found them refined interesting girls indeed and although they of course had some feeling of dislike or hatred towards a “Yankee” they treated me in the most ladylike and friendly manner, and requested me to accompany them home and spend Christmas, which I fully appreciated and would have been happy to have done, but could not possibly spare the time, though I did come down on the R.R. about 30 miles with them on my way to this place. We had “lots of sport,” I almost imagined I had returned to the happy School days of yrs. gone by. (I speak of the lapse of time as though I were an old Man —well I am pretty old — 22.)

You were right in enjoying life so well. I too would indulge in the luxury of a Sleighride with as much eagerness as you speak of. And more, too, I presume — Hope I may get North long enough before the snow leaves to try it. If I do, shall I come and see you? Do not know as I could well get over there, though I should like very much to be better acquainted with you. Though “I don’t guess” “Mr. Curly” would like to have me. And I may as well remark before I go any further, your explanation as to

(here a page is missing … darn! we were just getting to some explanation for what’s going on!)

but I never could consent to allow those Men who tried with all their Power to destroy the Union to now walk back and be reinstated again so that they can work their Political scemes more successfully next time. And Della, you know and so do many thousands with sorrow what our allowing them to rule has cost. Think of it. 500 Thousand of our best young men. And who were those Leaders? They were the acknowledged leaders of the so called “Democratic Party”. Prominent among whom were Jeff Davis, James Buchanan, Floyd Yancey, Toombs, Pickens and others of less popularity but equally bad men. And now to be a Democrat, when such men as the above and Andrew Johnson, Val Andingham, Fernando Wood, Mayor Munroe, etc. are its leaders I never will. Who are the Men on the other side whom these Copperheads most abuse and slander? Chars. Sumner, Thad. Stevens, Gov. Brownlow and others who had stood firmly by the Gov’t all the time during the War and still continue to, though I do think they are most too Radical (Meaning Extreme) in their Views. But I tell you candidly, Dear Della, we have cause to look out and not give the Gov’t of these Southern states back to the Men who forfeited their oaths and everything in the shape of principal in _____ since.

Pardon me for again saying so much concerning Political affairs. I am writing to a Lady, I much remember, but things that most interest — or deeply interest the writer are apt to be spoken of — I often wish I could look at these things and not feel such interest in them. Havning no Sweetheart that I can write love to, I must be content to talk of less important affairs. I wish I were fortunate like some young Men, for while some have 3 or 4, “Nary have I.” Were I rich, I would try and buy one.

I see this Page is nearly full and I have not yet written all I would like to. I suppose we will be in Louisville, Ky. in a few days. I am here now waiting for the rest of our Party to come up, per horse, as Major Whitman and I went around to Andersonville and Macon and then here by rail; we got here first. The Major has gone on to Nashville and I am to remain here and get account Record etc. of the Graves of Union Soldiers around Atlanta, and when the Party arrive, ship them to that Point and then come on myself. So I am destined in all probability to spend my Christmas here in Atlanta (Hope to be in Nashville New Year’s day) I am domesticated bery pleasantly here as quite a number of my friends are in business in this place. This account for my writing on this Official Paper. We shall probably be in Louisville about the 3d or 4th Proxo.

Now Dell, I do wish you would be more free about writing. You certainly need not be afraid to trust me. I hope you are not. You may be assured Dell, I have said nothing but the truth. Certainly I know you could write at greater length, and anything you would write would interest me, no fear of that part of it. I would not wish to tax you more than what little interest my letters may repay you, but I do wish you would spare a little more time and Paper, and give me the benefit of a few more of your thoughts, feelings, etc. You may have some friends or friend near you that would esteeem you more (as he or they know you better) but I don’t believe you have any friend in the Sunny South who would be more pleased with lengthy letters from you than me. 

When you open this and see how much I have written, I should advise you to burn it before you “tire your eyes out” reading it.

I will wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and close my letters for this year, “I reckon”

I am Ever Most Sincerely yours, 


Please Address Care Major E.B. Whitman, 2 M, Louisville, Ky


(written on a 3”x5” notecard, this appears to be copied from something that Della Chester Young wrote; Jirah’s brother who went to Camden from New York State was Walter, who graduated from college in New York State

Jirah witnessed the killing of Gen. Nelson by Jeff C. Davis that Will wrote about in his letter to Della in 1866)

Mary Delphine (Del) Chester born in 1851

I met Jirah Isham Young prior to the Civil War when he came to Camden to visit his brother Jirah served with the 143 New York Infantry from Aug. 22, 1862 to July 20, 1865 as a Lt. and then Captain. One of his duties was traveling by foot, train, horse locating the graves of fallen brothers. He was witness to the murder of General Nelson by Jeff C. Davis at the Gault House in Louisville Sept 1862.

Jirah and I married Aug. 3, 1870 he was never strong after the War and he died of dysentry on Aug. 3, 1873. We have a 2 yr old Daughter and I was pregnat with our 2nd Daughter Jirah is burried at Camden with my family


(Jirah, called “John” in this order—probably because his name was so unusual—is detached for a special duty)

H. Qr ____ Div of the Mississippi

Nashville Tenn. March 16th 1864

Special Order

As To

First Lieutenant John I. Young, Company “H” 143 N.Y. Infantry Volunteers is hereby detached for special duty in Quartermasters Department and will report in person, without delay, to Capt. J.F. Isom(?), a.a. Q.M. Nashville Tennessee

By order of 

Lieut Gen. U.S. Grant

T.S. Bowers

Apt Adjt Gen

Official Copy

J___ F. Isom(?)

Capt and a.a. Q.M.


(this undated, unsigned letter is from Jirah Young to Dell Chester; Jirah began to write in ink, then switched to pencil—which faded; his penmenship leaves much to be desired)


The subject before us is of vast importance, our future depends somewhat upon its ____ and I wish that we may fully understand. Altho between(?) you and me tis partially Settled this request of me this evening(?) of(?) you was perhaps by you overlooked for. you therefore was not prepared to answer fully its requests. Altho you did as fare as you are concerned andsurely none others are so much interested as you and I yet tis a requirement, and it is right that Parents should be consulted on this matter because harmony is the strength of all undertakings. Thinking perhaps your mind maybe was’t open and ___ other but you and I ____what has passed. I will endeavor to comfort you with a little though advice

(this is where Jirah began to use a pencil)

Even you I feel like bearing my portion of Your _____ from what has passed for with us we are now as firmly one as ever we shall be ____ ____ ____ ____ nothing but the seremony to be performed. Yet you parents have a voice, and should their desision be against me “God” help you Della to for ever for get me. For I wish when I m married that all particulary interested may be satisfied. It is not necessary to mention the ____ feast for that is passed. I did request of you and you did promise me to become my Wife Your Parents 

(here the faded pencil and challenging penmanship become overwhelming; we’ll keep working to decipher this letter since it’s the only clue we have about the courtship of Jirah and Della)