9 June 1864: “I need not delay – for there is nothing else fills my mind – Benjamin is no more numbered with the living…”

Item description: Letter, dated 9 June 1864, from Hannah Whitaker to her brother Jonathan Lewis Whitaker Lewis, expressing grief for the death of their brother Benjamin, who was killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor.

Jonathan L. Whitaker was an Orange County, N.Y., physician serving as a United States Army surgeon at a hospital at Chester, Pa., and with the 26th United States Colored Troops near Beaufort, S.C.

[Item transcription available below images.]

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Item citation: From folder 2 of the Jonathan Lewis Whitaker Papers, #3674-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Item transcription:

Port Jervis, June 9th 1864

Dear Brother,

When I received your last letter I thought I should have answered it before this time; but I did not know how sad the tidings were, that the answer was to bear.

I need not delay – for there is nothing else fills my mind – Benjamin is no more numbered with the living; we received a letter last night from one of his comrades saying; that on Tuesday – the last day of May there were engaged; and when charging the enemy with bayonets. Ben was struck with a musket ball, and died instantly, he assured us that he would see that the grave was properly marked, and would send or bring home his watch, sword, and any other things he might find, this is all we know concerning his death. I wrote this morning asking them to send us further particulars as soon as possible, and Father has also sent to have his remains brought home. There are several of the company to which Ben belonged whose time expires the last of this month, and I think if it be possible they will bring the remains with them.

Mother has borne the intelligence with much more fortitude than any of us dared to hope for, it was sudden and unexpected to us all. he had been in so many battles, and passed safely through so many dangers that we had ceased to feel the anxiety about him which we did at first; we can scarcely realize that he is no more, yet we know that it must be so for we have the information from one who – although personally unknown to us – is well known in Port. and who can be relied on, he has been Ben’s tent mate for many months, and I think his firm friend. I need not tell you the sorrow we all feel – only this, that we feel it more than we thought we could – when in times past we anticipated it. Yet we do not sorrow as those who have no hope, we fondly hope that what is our loss is his gain, and although he was far away from us at the time of his death we know that his Saviour was as near to him there as he could have been here.

I received the letter last night after school. I felt that I could not be the bearer of such news to those at home. One of ladies who lives near Mrs. Swinton’s – where I board – took the letter to Mr. Mills and he brought it to Mother; I can never feel thankful enough to him for his kindness. I thought he was almost perfect before this, but the sympathy he has manifested has made him still dearer to us all. You did not give me Julia’s address when you wrote but I made ingenious at the post office and by the aid of the envelope I think I have discovered where to direct a letter. I shall write to her to night or in the morning. Pardon me Louis if I have but poorly expressed myself or rather my thoughts, I feel like doing any thing else except writing, and I have several letters yet to write. Maria does not know of this yet, and I do not know how I shall tell her. 

Yours etc.,

Hannah Whitaker

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