Letters of Private James Coye

James Coye, 35 years old, was a shoemaker in Pitcher, NY when he enlisted in 1862. He had a wife, Rhoda, and six children at the time. James was wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg and deserted shortly thereafter. The family story is that he was in a battle and was near someone who had their head blown off. He removed his family to Canada where they had another child and moved back to Central New York in 1866. James spent most of the rest of his life residing in North Pitcher, NY and died in 1907. He is buried in North Pitcher.

These letters have been passed down through the family. First to Sarah Coye Schuck of Oneida, NY who was raised by her grandparents, James and Rhoda Coye. She left them to her son, Frederick of Oneida, NY, whose wife, Beulah, passed them to Dale Coye of Skillman, NJ and David Coye of Landenberg, PA upon Frederick’s death. Dale currently has the letters and his transcription is below.

Abbany 30 Oct. 1862


I start in 15 minuts for Boston [James had relatives near Boston]. Nat [Nathaniel Brown] & James Willmarth ar roving arround the streets. We have all three got a pas til tuesday & could not get it for a longer time. i tried to get pased till wednesday so that i could come home & vote, but could not & don't expets to get a chance to come home a gain until I am discharged & i don't care a damn how quick that comes around. We got to Abbany yesterday at 3 oclock & was taken to the barricks & it is the dammets hole that i ever stayed in. i havent eat any of the grub yet & i shant unles i am oblidged to. When i get back i will rite you all the particulars. i shant rite a gain til i get back from boston. i have got to be back next tuesday at six o clock. i will tel you one thing, the rats are as big as our citten & you know how i like them. i guess that I dident sleep much last knight. Nats & my love to you all & the children. From your husband,

James R. Coye

To R. R. Coye


[On a torn off piece of paper]: PS Dont rite til i tel you wheare to direct.

Camp Recruits Alexandra
November 19, 1862

Dear Wife

I rote to you before I left Washington & toled you to direct to follow the Regimant but we don’t know when we shal get to the Reg so I want you to rite & direct to J.R. Coye Camp of Recruits Near Alexandra VA

We may be gon from here before i get a letter from you but i want you to rite & perhaps i shall get a letter some time. We may stay here all winter & we may leave here soon. The reason of our stopping here is this: there was some recruits sent from here last week & they wer taken prisoners before they got to the regimant & so they wont send any more until it is safe for them to get through. You can tel Liza [Murray] that i have given the neadle book & socks to D. Pierce to carry to Jim [Liza’s husband]. Dan is here. i have seen J. Parslow. He is here & Heri [?] is here & all of the 10 c---l [?]. We are all wel but O what a looking place. There is between 15 & 20 thousand soldiers here. i am cooking this week. We li on the ground but that aint nothing after one gets used to it. There is some of the old farmers here but they cant rais anything. The timber is all cut down & the fences all burnt up & we have to cut down the stumps to get wood to cut with. J. McLane is here with us & you can rite to Rachel Reynolds & tel her that i have seen her photograf & the one that has got it is C.W. Merrick, her intended as i suppose. We can here the cannon very plain. The R[egiment] is on the march & we don’t know when we shal get to it, but if you could see some of the prisoners i ges you would shudder. i saw 3 hundred of them yesterday & they looked wors than the devil. we are on the sacred soil of virginia but you would not think it was very sacred if you could see the plase. tel Amasa [Holmes] & Avery [Coye] & the girls [James’ sisters] that I will write to them as soon as i get where i can get time. if we stay here long i will rite to them but all the time i get to rite is taken in riting to you, but i can mention about them when i rite to you. tel Wm. Taylor i am thankful to him for that paper & i did rejoice when the news came that Simore was elected & there was a general rejoicin here. i shall rite every time i moove from one place to & other. So you will know where i am. my love to you all from your loving husband.

J.R. Coye To Rhoda My Wife.

Alexandria Dec 5 1862

Dear wife

i have just received word that we are to leave here to morrow at 1/2 past 7 oclock & so i rite to let you know & as soon as we get to a stopping place i will rite & let you know where [we] are & where for you to direct to me. [We] may get to the regiment & we may stop before we get there for we have been stopping all along the way ever since we started so you wont rite after you get this until you here from me or some one of the boys & when any of the boys rite you can direct the same as they have their letters directed. Keep up your spirits as well as you can & hope for the best. i send a small preasant to Edie [James’ 7 yr. old daughter]. it is small but perhaps it will please her.

i had a call to day from N. P. Hitchcock & you had better believe that i was glad to see him & also Sherif Childs of Norwich. they came here & stayed a bout 1 hour & left for Fortress Munroe. perhaps we shall see him a gain before he gets back to P & when you rite just let me know how mutch money you have got from me besides the check. i suppose you have rote but i havent got the letter yet & i am anxious to here & you can tel J Morgan that D Hill toled Hitchcock about his money & when he sent it & how so he cant blame me about it any more. take good care of the children & your self. keep well fed & clothed as long as your money lasts & trust to providence for the rest. my love to all inquiring friends. J. W. [James Willmarth] sends a line in this for his folks.

It snows like the devil &.has all day &.is snowing now the first snow we have had since we came here. it has been warm &. pleasant most of the time since we came here but i suppose that it is cold & stormy where you are. well i suppose we shal be where it is warmer weather soon & as soon as i want to. we wer very well satisfied while here but it aint like being at home, oh no, but i think that the god abov orders all things & we should not complain, but we cant help it some times. i had a leter rote to send & was a going to date it the day we started but by getting our orders to knight i sot rite down & rote this thinking that you would be better satisfied than to get just a line saying we had gon & nothing els. you must let D Tarreys folks know that we are gon so that they wont rite to Barns til they here from him. Than is very home sick & he has not had a letter from home since we have been here & i want you to rite wheather his letter was sent from pitcher or wheather you know any thing about his money for he is about crazy about his folks & he wont feel any better until he gets a letter from home & as soon as you know where we are you must rite. i got a letter from Quincy [Mass., from his relatives] last week &. they rote to me that if i would rite to them as soon as i got where we were a going to winter they would send me a box of things. dont you think them very kind? well i must bid you good evening. hope you & the children ar well.

].R. Coye To My Dear Wife Rhoda

Rite as often as you can. I must sign it at the top for want of room J.R. Coye

Dec. 10 1862

Dear Wife

we are all 6 of us that left P[itcher] yet alive & well. we are about one & a half miles from Fredricks burg & are under marching orders to go some where to knight. we --the river in to or near Fredricks burg. we expect to go in to battle very soon & god only knows who will come out a live. I am the only one of the 6 that has got a gun & there are 50 in the Regiment that haint got any gun. it looks rather tuf to be sent on to battle with out a gun but i hav managed to get one but i have no bayonet & have to carry the the cartridges in my packet. i wish i had my old box that i left at home but i may find one if i should kneed one long. we left Aquire Creek yesterday morning & camped in the woods last knight & came on this morning to this place & we are now in the woods. the ground is covered with snow. the way we have to doe is to scrape the snow of & cut brush & lay them on the ground & spread our blankets on them & lay down & go to sleep. we were called up this morning at 3 oclock & cut our breakfast as quick as we could. we dont take mutch pains cooking for all we have to cook in is a pint cup. we make coffee & cook rice & beens all in the same dish. we haint had any potatoes since we left Abbany but if we live we expect [some some]times. i will rite to you as often as i can but dont know how often i can rite for we may bee where we cant rite but you must watch the papers & you may know some thing of what is a going on for we shal be along with the army & moove as they moove. it is very cold here & the ground is froze very hard & a bout 2 inches of snow. we lay very comfortable nights but you would think if you could see us that we should freeze to death. direct as i told in my last letter. Taylor will know how for i am with [the] Regiment. good knight.

Dec 17 1862 
Camp Near Fredericksburg

Dear wife 

i now try to rite you a few lines to let you know where i am & how i am. i am not as well as i wish i was. on Friday morning last we crossed the Rapponhanock river & lay by the river bridge all that knight guarding the bridges. on Saturday morning the 13th we were ordered to the front on the left of the line. we had just got our brigade formed when the rebels began to throw shot & shell. they came thick & fast. i had not been on the field more than an hour be fore Chancy Crandal was killed. the Sargent Major & i wer hit at the same time. i was hit on the cartridge box & did not think that i was hurt mutch but soon i had to be carried to the Hospittal & staid there til last knight when i was sent to the Regiment. We are back a bout 2 miles from Fredericks Burgh. i am unfit for duty & i dont know what they will doe with me yet. i may be kept along with the Regiment & i may be sent of to some hospital but i will let you know as often as i am moved. My hurt is in my bad side under the ribs & is very painful. But i am well considering the many that are without legs & arms. i stood about 8 feet from Lieut. Crandal when he fel. Charley Fullers face & shoulders was covered with Crandals braines but he never new what hurt him. there was one man in our company hit on the elbough. his name is Thornton. none els in the company was hurt. Nat[haniel Brown] has got a bad cold & so has Barnes. The rest of the boys are well. J.D.W. [James Willmarth] is nurs in the hospital. i was the only one of us 6 that was in the fight, the rest were left back with the ambulances to take the wounded to the hospital. we can see the enemy & their camp fires rite in front of us. our army have all come back on this side of the river & what is to be don next i cant tell but all that i can here said is that our army are sick of fiting & want to stop fiting. we lost a great many men & it is impossable for us to drive the enemy out of their strong position unles they can be got at on the back side. we were toled that we had 2 to their one before the engagement but now it is rite the other way, but i can tel you my mind is that they never will be whipped & i hope that something will turn up to settle up the matter for i want to get home & so does everyone els. you must keep up good courage & hope for the best. give my love to all of the folks. tel the children that i want to see them & hope that i shal see you all some day & the quicker the better it will [be] with me. Rite to me as often as you can for i haint hered from you since i left Alexandria. Direct to James R Coye 76 Reg Co B N.Y.S. Vol Washington DC Doubledays Bridgade be shure & put it all on & then it will come to me no matter where the Regiment is. Yours truly James R Coye to my Dear Wife & Children.

PS When you here folks say that we have more men than the Rebs you can tel them that they have more on the other side of the river by 1/2 than we have on this side & we cant take them.

Note: "Lieut. Crandal" is Lieutenant Chauncey D. Crandall

Camp 3/4 of a mile from F.
Near Fredricksburgh Dec 19 1862

Dear Wife

i now sit down to rite you a few lines to inform you of my health which is not very good but i think that i am on the gain although my hand trembles some. i dont want you to worry your self to death about my being hit for i am so that i can walk arround although i cant go as strong as i am in the habit of going. if i should be very sick i should send & let you know & have Amasa [Holmes] or some one els come & see me but i certainly am on the gain. i presume that you heared of my being hurt by the paper for i saw it in the paper but it was a mistake about the company. it said JR Coye Co A 76 & should have been Co B—but i hope that i shal never see & other time like that day. men lay in heeps all over the battlefield, torn in every way that you can think. Oh what a cruel thing it is to see men shot down in this way. we shal leave this place to morrow morning to a place called Bells Plaines on the Potomac Creek & we may get back to Washington to winter. i hope we shall but dont know. probably the fighting is don for this winter for it is getting so muddy that we cant get the baggage traines along nor move artillerry. it has been very warm & pleasant here days & very cold nights. we had some snow a bout a week a go but it soon went of & now i want to say to you, you ask me if i want to see you. do you doubt it? & you say wount you come home. Oh Rhoda i would come if i could but i cant. i am as fast as though i was in Prison, but when the time comes that i can come home i shal be there as soon as i can get there. if i could get home i would give all i have & begin a new. i know what it is to be a way from home & perhaps it is a good thing for me. if i ever get back i shall know how to prize a home & family. but we must put up with it til such times as we can be allowed to meet again. be as cheerful as you can. you say that you have let J. Kenyon have the front room. i don’t see how you could spare it for what have you done with the things that was in it? i wish you had keep it for your own use. 3 or 4 dollars aint worth much & i know that you kneed the room your self. if i had been there I certainly should not let it to any one although I would let J. Kenyon have it before any one els.

This section James refers to all his children. The oldest being George, age 12.

I will now rite a few lines to George. my son, i got 2 letters from you last night & 2 from ma & i was glad to get a letter from you & i want you to rite as often as you can as i love to reed your letters. tel ma not to cry for i will come home as soon as i can & i want you & Elly to be good & don’t quarrel & tel Jimmie & Edie to be patient & i will come as soon as i can. you must cis ma for me & tel her i toled you to & tel her to cis you all for me. tel Jila [Gilie—Giles] that i --- ---ing as soon as i can I want to see you all as bad as you doe me & i shall see you all as soon as i can if i live. Rite to me as often as you can. From your Father J R Coye To Son G. G. Coye

Direct as before

Dec 24th 1862
Camp in the Woods & 25 miles from Any boddy

My Dear Wife

I am now riting to you again & it is a consolation for me to rite to you feeling as though it was a great privalege to be able to rite. i am gaining although i am week & soar about the side & limbs. i was shocked all over & tottled like a little child when they first begin to walk. i can walk very well although it tires me to walk far. but oh, the feelings i had on the 13th. that day will be remembered by me as long as I live & have my senses. It was on that day i got hit & on that day hundreds bit the dust but one gets used to such seens quicker than you would think it possible. i lay in the hospittal where i saw legs & arms taken of & carried out dors by the bushel, yes & lots of them with the boots & shoes on. i should think that there was as many as 20 bushels of lims in one pile that i saw. oh it looked tuf, but it was so. but it was my lot to be hit the first time that i ever went in to & engagement & i am happy it was no wors & i hope that i shal never have to witness & other such a time nor any one else. just think, nearly 250 thousand men all in line & the cannon pouring forth their deadly missels & to see the lines broken & then close rite up is enough to satisfy anyone of war. but when it will stop god only knows. i hope there wont be any more fiting & so say all of the boys. i will come home as soon i can but when that will be i cannot tel. but we must be patient & the time will shurly come for i can feel that we shal meat again & i try to content my self as well as i can although i am not satisfied with my situation. i was very glad to get a letter from George [his son] & want you to let him put in one with yours every time for i love to read his letters. it seems as though i was talking to him & oh how i wish Elly [his son] could rite so that he could rite to. tell George that he must write for him & jimmy & Edie & Giles [his other children]. George, you made me feel bad when you rote that i did not think as much of you as i did of the rest. you said that i bought them all some thing before i left & did not give you any thing. i think just as mutch of one as the other. i know no difference. be good to one & other & try to help ma & if i here you doe that it will be a great pleasure to me. I rote a letter to Amasa [Holmes] & one to George Coye & they dont answer them but i suppose that they have so much to doe that they cant find time. i rite every chance that i can get but some times i have to keep a letter 3 or 4 days after i rite before the mail goes out of camp & that will explain to you the reson that you dont get a letter oftener from me. i rite 2 & 3 times a week. i have ritten to Shubel [Brown] & he haint answered it. i have not ritten to John [Brown, probably] yet for i thought that i would wait til we get in to winter Quarters so that if he rote i should get his letter. i shal rite to all of the folks as soon as i can. i rote to Wm. Taylor the other day & expect & answer from him soon. how did George Crandal take the news of his brothers death & rite all the news.

cis all the children for me & tel them to go to school & learn as fast as they can so that they can all rite to me. let me know what George said a bout the preasant that i sent to him & what he buys with it. i want you to send me 10 or 12 postage stamps & be careful & spread them out flat so that they wont stick to gather i aint out of money but i cant buy them here

for there aint any boddy to buy of. i haint used up all of the paper that i bought to Cortland. Willmarth is well. he has been at the hospittal over a week but come back last night so we are all to gather. i dont want you to let any boddy see nor know what i rote to you in my last letter. burn it if you haint. Dear wife i must close by bidding you a merry cristmas for to morrow is cristmas day. Keep up the best you can & don’t give up. i hope to see you soon but don’t know when. rite rite J R Coye

all of the boys are well & all is quiet & still at preasant. Send me Bill Taylors paper once in a while.

Camp near Prate Point
Jan 7th 1863

Dear Wife & Children

I have been waiting some time for a letter from you & thought that i would rite you a gain to let you know that i am well & harty. i think that i have fully recovered from my bruise as i am free from pain although i am some sore in the side. N [Nathaniel Brown]& i went out last Saturday & came back on monday to camp. we wer sent out on picket 8 miles from camp & it was lucky for us as we both went to gather. we had to watch 2 hours & of [f] 4 so we had a long time to rest. there was 30 of us sent out of our Reg. all we have to doe is to stand on the post & when anyone comes along we have to charge bayonet on them & order them to halt. then they have to give the countersign or shew their pas & then we let them go & if they haint got citter [?] we take them & keep them until we can send for an officer & he takes them to hed quarters. the object is to prevent spies or rebils from getting in our lines. some times it is hot work for pickets but we took more comfort those 2 days than we have since we have been in the army for we were alone on the post & when we were relieved we went in to the woods & layed down & went to sleep & it was warm & pleasant. the birds & robbins were singing all the time. all was quiet & it seemed like sunday to us & we had a good chance to talk over matters & things all by our selves. N said that i better not rite that we had been on picket for it might worry you as a great many pickets get shot by the enemys pickets, but if we had seen any of them they would not shoot us for we would be taken prisoners before we would shoot at them. we often see them & talk with them & trade coffee with them for tobacco. they are the same kind of people as we are, kind & sociable & you will mind that they never commence on us but wait til we commence on them first. i got a letter from you the 30 of Dec & it is time for me to get some more for i cant rite but 2 more letters til i get some stamps & the reason that i haint rote to more of my folks is because i was a fraid that i should be out of stamps & i wanted to save enough to rite to you. i expect we shal be paid of in a few days & then i will send some money to you but we may not be paid this winter for we dont know any thing from one day to the other. all we no is fall in be ready at a moments notice & that is all but keep up good courage Pahow ly [?] for we will meet again be fore long i hope. if it should be --------- dont giv up. giv my love to all friends. cis the children for me. i got a letter from Liza yesterday & have rote to her but i dont get any from Amasa [Holmes] nor George [Coye] nor Avery [Coye] but may be i shal some time. if they were here & i there i should rite to them. my love to you all from your husband & Father 

J R Coye

Letter from Maria Brown

Written by Nathaniel Brown's wife to her sister-in-law Rhoda Brown Coye.

Georgetown [NY] Feb the 15 1863

Dear sister I received your leter last night. I was glad to hear from some one for I dont believe we have any husbans in this world. the last leter I had was wrote the 21 of Jan. Jim [Coye] wrote it. he wrote N[athaniel] was in the hospital and ben in for several days and expectid to stay there a week or to. wanted I should direct to Wind Mill Point General Hospital and so I wrote last sundy but I dont now what to make of it. Helen [Maria’s daughter] heard to school yesterday thay had left and was a coming home. It came from Pard but where can thay be so long? O I wish they could get home, but im afraid thay never will. you wrote they had keck [catched?] some of the boys. was they any left with them? O dear I thnk we have our part of troubl but we must hope for the best. we are all wel and I hope you are the same but trouble wears on me.

I cant write any more this time. write as soon as you get this.

this is from your sister

Maria Brown

Sometime between the end of January and March 1863 James Coye and 6 others deserted. They all made their way back to their homes. All but James were caught. James came at night to his home and woke his wife up. He left before daybreak and went to Canada.

This letter is written by Eliza Coye Murray to her half brother, James Coye and his wife, Rhoda, who are residing in Canada. Only excerpts that concern the 76th NYS Volunteers are shown.

Lincklaen [NY], May 17, 1863

Dear Sister Rhoda and Brother James R.,

…Jim, Nathenel [Nathaniel Brown] I haven’t hered of in some time. When I did he was in Baltimore and if he was in the hospital he come home if he was a live….Jim Willmoth [Willmarth] was to home. He is as fat as a bare. He looks tough. He told Amsa [Amasa Holmes] to tell you he belonged to Unckle Sam yet and let him stay there if he wants to….

Eliza Murray to JRC and his family

This letter is written by Avery Coye to his brother, James Coye and his wife, Rhoda. Only excerpts that concern the 76th NYS Volunteers are shown.

Union Valley [NY] June the 24th 1863

Dear Brother and Sister,

…Now Jim, don’t you wish you had never enlisted? I told you not to. I am sorry for you….You wanted me to write what folks say a bout you. I have not heard any thing said, onely your friends say you was a damn fool for enlisting….Jim, I am sorry you run away after you was such a fool for going, you haf mis[sed] it in runing away. I think they will get you for the news is that the qeen [Queen of England] has given them leaf [leave] to come and take their men. I heard that our folks haf bin to Canada and taken a good meny men from there. I should be verry glad to see you and if I can get money to come with I shal, but Jim if you get out of this scrape I gues that you won’t get in to one a gain….

from your Brother and friend

good by for this time

Avery Coye

Further explanations of the people mentioned in the letters above:

Amasa Holmes (1823-1890) – married to James’ sister, Susan (b. 1823). He farmed and lived in Lincklaen, NY most of his life.

Avery Coye (b. 1821) – James’ brother. He resided in Union Valley, NY all his life.

Chauncy Crandall – an officer in the 76th with tiesw to Pitcher, NY

George Coye (1842-1918) – James’ half-brother. He eventually enlisted, was wounded and farmed in Lincklaen, NY most of his life.

James Willmarth – a member of the 76th who enlisted with James in Pitcher, NY.

John Brown – Rhoda Brown Coye’s brother.

Liza Coye Murray (1839-1903) – James’ half-sister. She resided in Lincklaen, NY much of her life. Her husband, Jim, was in the war also and died in Andersonville Prison.

Nathaniel Brown – Rhoda Brown Coye’s brother who was also in the 76th. He lived in Central New York most of his life and he and James visited frequently throughout their lives. Nathaniel was alive and living near Cortland, NY as recorded in James’ last diary in 1906.

Shubel Brown – Rhoda Brown Coye’s brother.

Our thanks to David Coye for providing the transcripts on this page. 

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- Last Updated December 9, 2001