1862: Benjamin & Mary Jane (Ryner) Creagmile to Alfred McClay

These letters were written by Benjamin B. Creagmile (1838-1920) and his wife, Mary Jane (Ryner) Creagmile (1841-1929) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Creagmile’s daughter, Emily R. Creagmile (1861-1931) is mentioned in the letter. Mary Jane’s parents were John Ryner, a gas-fitter in Philadelphia, and his wife Emily McClay.

They wrote the letters to Mary Jane’s cousin, Alfred McClay (1846-1863) who served in Co. E, 114th Pennsylvania (Collis’ Zouaves). The letters were written in the month prior to the Battle of Fredericksburg where Alfred was mortally wounded. Alfred died at Harewood Hospital in Washington D. C. on 24 January 1863. Mary Jane’s mother, Emily Ryner, was Alfred’s aunt and served as his adopted mother.

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Addressed to Alfred McClay, Care of Capt. Fix, Co. E. 114th Reg. P. V., Gen. Robinson’s Brigade, Washington D. C. or elsewhere


Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
Thursday evening, November 20, 1862

Dear Alfred,

I write these few lines to let you know that we are all about as well as usual except Pap. He has got a bad cold. I hope they may find you well. Mother has not had any letter for two weeks. You said in the letter that you sent to Aunt Margaret that you had not received any letter from home for almost two weeks. Mother has sent two letters to you and has not received an answer to either one.

I seen Mr. [William S.] Hall ¹ on last Thursday evening at Joneses. John Wood & Emma [Jones] were married and Ben and me were there. Mr. Hall said that he was up to Eddy McDonald ² on Tuesday and he was very bad that his one leg was swelled from his knee down. The doctor says that he may live until the holidays and then again he may die at any minute. He told them they must not leave him go up and down stairs as he might die a going up. His lungs are very bad and he has the heart disease.

That Preaching Charley that you used to tell us about is dead. Mr. Hall says that he died suddenly. He had been sick [  ] but had got pretty well and had got right of [   ] sick again and died in a very short time. Mother was up to church in Sunday evening and she says that Mr. Hall speaks very highly of him. Next Sunday morning he preaches on baptism and the evening he preaches the funeral sermons of Ephraim Layman, Charley Bird’s brother [William], and Charley Grainger—or better known to you as Preaching Charley. ³

Have you been getting your stamps that Mother sends you in your letters? She sent your gloves two weeks ago and has never heard whether you got them. Mother is looking every day for a letter and wonders why one does not come. I forgot to tell you that it is raining. It has been dull all the week and has rained some every day since Sunday. Mother says that she will send you some money as soon as she gets a letter. She says that she will get pretty near beside herself if she does not get one pretty soon.

Emily is beginning to talk. She says, “Yes Ma’am and No Ma’am, and if we ask her if she would like to see you, she says, “Yes.” If I ask her how she loves you, she puts out both of her arms. I will send her picture so that you will get it about Christmas. Ben says that church was fuller on Sunday morning than it has been for some time. Sunday morning was communion and there was a great many there. I hope that the war will soon be over so that you can come home and go to church too and God grant that if we do not meet on earth that we may meet in heaven.

You must excuse me for not writing sooner. I have no more to say at present so goodbye.

From your loving cousin, — Mary Jane Creagmile

P. S. Please excuse bad writing and mistakes. Write soon and let us know how you are. We all send our love to you and Emily sends you a kiss. I forgot to tell you that you should leave us know whether you have got any paper and envelopes and we will send you some by mail. We will send you two sheets in this letter.

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Rev. William S. Hall, Pastor of North Baptist Church in Philadelphia

¹ Rev. William S. Hall (1809-1867) was the pastor of the North Baptist Church in 8th Street above Master Street in Philadelphia. The following year, Rev. Hall would have to give the funeral sermon for his own 28 year-old son, John F. Hall (1835-1863). He was mortally wounded at Gettysburg while serving in Co. B, 68th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Rev. Hall’s residence was on 1502 Franklin Street in Philadelphia. He was a widower—his wife, Massie Ann Rose, died in 1842.

² Edward (“Eddie”) W. McDonald was discharged 6 September 1862 on disability from Co. E, 72nd Pennsylvania, otherwise known as “Baxter’s Philadelphia Fire Zouaves.” He died on 13 December 1862.

³ Charles P. Granger served as a private in Co. E, 72nd Pennsylvania, with Eddie McDonald. He died on 7 November 1862 at Chesapeake General Hospital at Fortress Monroe. His cause of death was recorded as “paralysis.”  Ephraim Layman was a musician in Co. I, 118th Pennsylvania Infantry. 


Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
November 26th 1862

Dear Alfred,

It is with pleasure that I take my pen in hand once more to inform you that I am very well at present. The rest of the folks are all about the same as usual. Emily continues to grow and is full of mischief. Alfred, the folks have not received a letter for some time and they are very anxious to hear from you. They have written 2 or 3 letters to you without receiving any in return.

We had a very good sermon on Sunday morning and evening. In the morning it was on Baptism and in the evening it was the funeral sermon of William Bird, Ephraim Layman, and Charles Granger or otherwise known as Preaching Charley. I wish you could have been there and heard the sermons and the sweet singing. We had the best singing Sunday evening that I have heard for many months. Eddy McDonald is lying very low. He is not expected to live but a very short time on next Sunday evening. Mr. Hall preaches one the Life and Death of Brigadier General Frank Patterson who is to be buried this day. I suppose you heard of his death which took place on Saturday morning last.

The[odore] Wood is working on knapsacks on 6th above Cherry. If you received Mary’s letter you were informed of John B. Wood’s marriage to Miss Emma Jones.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. We intend having a meeting from 7 until 9½ o’clock in the evening. There is nothing going on in Philadelphia at the present time.

Alfred, I am told that your letter to Mr. [William S.] Hall gave him great pleasure. I understand that he read it out in church—or part of it I don’t know which—on Friday evening last. I hope that you will not be led into temptations but that you will remain steadfast unto Christ until death calls for you. I always remember you in my prayers to God at night and Alfred, I hope that you remember us all in your prayers. There is nothing else that I know of to write of at the present time but Alfred, I hope that you will write to your mother as soon as you get this as she is getting worried about not getting any better after writing to her please answer this as soon as you have the opportunity. Hoping that these few lines may find you in good health and spirits and hoping that God in His love and mercy may spare your life in all the coming conflicts and that you may be permitted to return unto home once more in health and strength.

I remain yours truly, — Benjamin B. Creagmile

Direct your letter either N. E. Corner of 2nd & Brown, or 1010 Lemon Street.

P. S. Mother received your letter dated the 20th this evening and was glad to hear from you as it is the first letter for almost three weeks. You say in your letter that you would like to have a good warm pair of gloves. Mother sent you a letter on the 6th of November telling you that she would send you a pair of gloves in a day or two, She sent you a pair on the seventh inst.  Somebody else must have got the letter and gloves as you have not received them. She will send you another pair as soon as she can get them. Tomorrow being Thanksgiving, she cannot get them. We will not send you Emily’s picture until you go into winter quarters as you may be more apt to get it then.

Addressed to Alfred McClay, Ward A, Harewood Hospital, Washington D. C.


Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
January 19th 1863

Dear Alfred,

I now sit down to write these few lines to you hoping that they may find you a great deal better than you have been. Dear Al, it made my heart sad when I came home on last Thursday evening and found Mary and your Mother in tears. I enquired what was the matter and they told me that you were not expected to live and did not know whether you were alive at that time. I did not know what o think—it came so unexpected—but before I retired to rest I raised my heart to God and prayed him to spare your life, though I always remember you in my prayers. But that night and since I prayed more fervently than heretofore. And dear Al, I think in my own mind that God in his mercy will spare your life.

I suppose that Mary has told you in her letter how we all are in regard to health. Mr. [William S.] Hall read a letter from Mrs. [Miss Mary Patton] Middleton to the church last night. It was a kind letter from a True Christian. It done us all good to hear it. Dear Al, the next time you see her, give her my kind wishes and tell her that God will reward her for the kindness she has shown to the brave wounded soldiers of our Union.

Dear Alfred, I must now bring my letter to a close hoping soon to hear you are a great deal better and that I will soon see you home again.

I remain your friend, — Benj. B. Creagmile

Monday, January 19th 1863

Dear Pap,

I write these few lines to let you know that we see all as well as usual and hope they may find you the same. We were very glad to hear that Alfred was a little better this morning and hope that he may continue getting better so as to come home. Mother says she thinks that you had better stay with hi, until she can come down as a great many persons think that leaving him will make him worse. She says that she will make out this week and then she will come down on Saturday night and you can meet her on Sunday morning at the depot and take her to the hospital.

Mr. [William S.] Hall read a letter last night that had been written to Mrs. Eastward on Thursday by that lady [Miss Mary Patton Middleton] that visits Alfred saying that she did pray that his life would be spared to come home as he was so anxious to get home. There was a collection taken after communion to go to the sick and wounded members of the church that are in the hospitals at Washington. There was one taken in the Sabbath School for the same purpose. If there is anything that Alfred wants, leave me know and I will bring it with me when I come. Answer this immediately so that I will know about coming. I have no more to say at present so goodbye. Please leave Alfred see this. From your affectionate daughter, — Mary Jane Creagmile.

Dear Alfred,

I hope that you will soon be better and we do earnestly pray that your life may be spared. Many are the prayers that have gone up to God on your behalf out of the church. How anxiously we looked for some word after we heard that you were worse. I did not receive your letter in answer to mine until last Friday near five o’clock and when I looked at the date, I seen that it had been written a week. Mother is very sorry that it was so long coming as you were out of money and had written for some to buy something to eat.

Dear Alfred, take as good care of yourself as you possibly can. I do hope that God will hear and answer your prayers that have gone and still will go up, that you may live through this to come home, and I hope and pray that he may strengthen and support you in your hour of need. I have no more to say at present as it is getting late so goodbye.

From your loving cousin, — Mary Jane Creagmile

P. S. We all send you our love. Please excuse bad writing and mistakes as my fingers get very tired. If there is anything that you want, tell Pap and he will let us know.


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