This letter was written by Eliphalet W. Smith (1839-1904) who enlisted in Co. A, 46th Illinois Infantry on 13 September 1861 and was transferred into Co. K, 16th Reg. VRC (Veteran Reserve Corps) in March 1864. Eliphalet was the son of Stephen Smith (1808-1891) and Amanda M. Carter (1816-1890) of Manchester, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire. By 1860, the Smith family was living in Silver Creek, Stephenson County, Illinois, where Stephen’s occupation was given as a tenant farmer.
An enlistment record indicates that Eliphalet was born in Grafton County, New Hampshire, and that he was a farmer by occupation. He stood 5’4″ and had black hair and black eyes. His service entry location was given as Freeport, Illinois. Eliphalet’s brother, Church H. Smith, served with him in the 46th Illinois Infantry at the same time.
Eliphalet wrote this letter to his mother. The envelope is addressed to the “Care of B. H. Chase Esq” of Manchester, New Hampshire. From other letters, it appears that his mother had left his father for being an alcoholic. After the war, Eliphalet married and farmed in Blaine, Iowa, where he took in his “widowed” father to live with the couple (1880 Census).
August 8, 1864
Your letter of the 2d was duly received & I take this opportunity to reply. It found me as well as usual. I received a letter from [brother] Church & one from Mrs. Perry yesterday. All were well. You must be careful & not expose yourself too much this sickly season. I think it would be better for you, if possible, to remain at some place in the suburbs during the hot weather.
I have had another pass to town since I wrote you before. I went first through the Patent Office Building where I saw models of a great many curious inventions. But more interesting than all to me were the relics of [George] Washington. The most of these were taken from Arlington House on the opposite side of the [Potomac] River since the opening of the rebellion. This house was the former residence of the present rebel Gen’l. Lee who inherited the relics by marriage with a descendant of the Custis family. They comprise the following articles. His headquarters & sleeping tent with poles, mess chest, teapot, war sword & the suit he wore while resigning his commission at Annapolis in 1784. There was also his bureau with the drawers open containing some of his clothes, a mirror, & two chairs — very plain looking ones too.
The mess chest was simply an old-fashioned leather-bound trunk covered with rows of small brass-headed nails & such a one as you have seen many a time. The original Declaration of Independence & Washington’s commission were there also besides many other important documents. The next objects of interest were the Japanese presents to James Buchanan. They included a variety of articles and were very rich, costly, & curious to look at.
From there I went to the Smithsonian Institution which is a museum of curiosities from every part of the globe, including beast, bird, & reptile. The objects of greatest interest to me were five Egyptian mummies taken from the ancient Theban Catacombs near the Lydian Mountains in Egypt. They were preserved by the process of embalming & are supposed to be over three thousand years old. The hair on two of them that I took to be females was in a state of good preservation & from 12 to 18 inches in length. Next was the suit worn by Dr. [Elisha Kent] Kane in his arctic explorations; also the gun & sword presented to Dr. Franklin by Lord Melville in 1820 before Sterling on his ill-fated exploring expedition & which have since been recovered from the arctic regions. Next was a meteoric stone weighing 1400 lbs. brought from Arizona. But I have not time to give you a written description of all I saw although I should take pleasure in doing so verbally. I had not time to examine everything thoroughly as I should like to have done.If I am discharged here, I shall spend a couple of days in looking around.
The weather continues hot & sultry but we were favored with a good shower last night which was about the first of the season.
I have no news of any importance to write. Please write as soon as you get this. Direct to Co. K, 16th Reg. V.R.C., Giesboro, Washington D.C.
Most truly your son, — E. W. Smith