These three letters were written by Mary Patton Middleton (1830-1904), the daughter of Robert White Middleton (1805-1873) and Ann Elizabeth Schreiner (1809-1880). On 30 December 1867, Mary became the second wife of Benjamin Franklin Winslow (1810-1877)—a clerk in the Treasury Department.
In the 1860 US Census, Mary’s father was enumerated in Ward 3, District of Columbia, and identified as a Clerk in the US Treasury Department. Mary was enumerated in her father’s household as a 30 year-old school teacher—the eldest of ten children. It appears that Mary’s career as a teacher began as early as 1850 when she opened a School for Young Ladies in the lecture room of St. Paul’s Church in Washington Street. She listed among her references the Hon. James Cooper, US Senate; the Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, House of Representatives; and Rev. J. G. Butler, Pastor of St. Paul’s Church.
By 1852, Mary was employed by the public schools and comlimented “for her care of the children” in Washington D. C. She was identified as early as 1856 in the Daily American Organ [D. C.] as an assistant teacher in the Female Department of the public schools. In August 1863, a notice appearing in the Daily National Republican stated that “Miss Mary P. Middleton, having obtained a more lucrative position, tendered her resignation as teacher of the female grammar school First District, to take effect on the 31st August.” Her name also appears in Washington City newspapers as having served as a “collector” in “The Great Fairs” of 1863 and 1864 hosted by the Ladies’ Soldiers Relief Association and Christian Commission to raise money for soldiers’ comfort during the Civil War.
From the letters we may surmise that Mary was a volunteer aid or nurse at the Harewood Hospital in Washington City. Mary presumably formed the acquaintance of the Ryner family when she nursed Alfred McClay (1846-1863)—a private in Co. E, 114 Pennsylvania Infantry (Zouaves). Alfred received a fatal gunshot wound in the right thorax during the Battle of Fredericksburg. He died on 24 January 1863. Alfred was the nephew of John and Emily Ryner of Philadelphia, to whom the letters were addressed.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Washington City, D. C.
January 25th 1863
I suppose you have ‘ere this reached home with the remains of your beloved boy. I cannot express to you my feelings when I found he had passed away from earth before I could see him again. I should have loved to have had another look from him and heard him speak once more on earth, but that pleasure was denied me. I would that I could have accompanied you and your son-in-law [Benjamin B. Creagmile] with the body and have heard your Pastor’s sermon, but it could not be. How sadly I shall miss him—the pleasant face will greet me no more upon earth.
I could not go into the Barrack until the last thing before coming away, for there was the vacant spot and my boy had been carried away. I learned to love Alfred as a brother, and my first thought on awaking was to think of something for Alfred. He has gone—gone to his home in heaven; his sufferings are now forever ended and he is happy in his Savior’s love. Now that Alfred is gone, that I can no more give him my time and attention upon earth, may I not ask to be remembered by you in your distant home? There is one thing, dear friend, I would ask of you, do not pain me any more by asking me “to make out my bill for what I did for your son.” My time was cheerfully given, and what I did for him was as for a brother. And now dear friend, let me say once & for all, our account will be settled at that day when we meet around our Father’s throne in heaven, and with Alfred clasp each other’s hand in the presence of God & the whole assembly of angels.
I shall write you again during the week. With this letter I send you a circular given me by my father in which you can see the process by which Alfred’s money can be had. He says I shall tell you it cannot be drawn for about a year and if Mary is the only sister Alfred has she must make application. I told him I did not think Alfred had any other brother or sister. Now dear friend, my advice is to you to come in here, after you recover a little from your grief, if it is only for a day or so, and my father says he will give you all the information you desire, and regretted you could not have the time to see him yesterday. I will get the nurse to go over to the barn and see if Alfred’s overcoat and knapsack are not there. If they are, I will see that they are taken care of. I hope to hear from you very soon, for I am anxious to hear how you got along. Give my kind regards to your son-in-law.
Do not my dear friend mourn as one without hope. Alfred was a good boy and his death was a peaceful & happy one. All I wish is that mine my be as peaceful. Never shall I forget my boy. My associations with the Hospital will be dearer than ever since I was so closely endeared to our beloved departed one. May God bless you and all of Alfred’s friends, sanctify this bereavement to your souls, cause you to live nearer the Savior, and so be the better fitted to meet your beloved one in heaven. Pray for me that I too may be a better and more consistent Christian, and adorn the doctrine I profess. Again, God bless you and may all the happiness in this life and in the world to come be abundantly yours is the sincere prayer of your friend & sister in Christ, — Mary P. Middleton
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Washington City, D. C.
March 23rd 1863
Having just finished a reply to Mr. Wood’s letter, I come now to reply to your kind one received last week. I was happy to hear that you were all well. I have not been well for a few days past, but feel better today. I have taken cold in going to Harewood through very bad weather. I trust, however, to be quite well in the course of a few days.
Indeed I was pleased with [your son] Alfred’s likeness and would not part with it for any consideration. It is a pleasant link to the past and dear indeed to me are the associations connected with him, and daily do I think of him and the pleasant visits made him, and sometimes indulge in the wish that he could have been spared to go home alive. But God has acted wisely and we must not murmur. He is happy and we must be contented.
I am sorry I had not a better likeness to send you but hope when I go to Philadelphia to have a good one taken, not only for you, but for Mr. [William S.] Hall ¹ also. I am glad to hear Mr. Hall is improving. I had a letter from him last week and was very glad to hear from him once more. I hope he will be at home when I get to Philadelphia. I am looking forward to that visit with much pleasure and pray that our lives may be spared to meet there.
I have no doubt you miss your Pastor very much and hope that his rest may be of great benefit to him and pray that he may be spared to proclaim the gospel for many, many years.
We have had miserable weather for the last two months—rain or snow nearly every day. The roads are in a terrible condition, especially out to Harewood.
As you told me when you were here that you dealt in butter & eggs, will you let me know what price butter is selling for with you? I have been getting off a man who has it sent to him from Philadelphia but lately he has raised from 25 to 40 cents a pound, and 35 a dozen for eggs. I wish to know how much it sells for in Philadelphia.
Remember me in much love to all your family, your son-in-law included. All desire to be remembered to you and praying that our lives may be spared to meet in July and with my love for you, and praying God to bless you all, I am truly your friend, &c. — Mary P. Middleton
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Washington D. C.
July 5th 1863
My dear friend,
Having written to Mr. Hall & Mr. Wood this morning, I come now after dinner to write to you. I was very happy to hear from you and hope that by this time you are quite well again. I am quite well again, but not as strong as I was. However, my duties are nearly over so I will have rest soon. I was glad to hear that Mr. Hall preached to you again; he tells me he saw a great change. They had become scattered. I fear he has resumed his duties too soon but I suppose he was very anxious to be in his place again. He will have to be very careful & not exert himself too much. I hope and pray his health may soon be restored entirely.
I heard from Mrs. Edwards that you were going to have an excursion to Media. I am pleased to know it was so pleasant. I should have enjoyed it much could I have been with you.
I supposed there would be great excitement in Philadelphia and I hope that ‘ere a week passes, the rebels will have to surrender, as our Army are trying to cut off their retreat. They cannot cross the Potomac now as it is too high and they have but one place through which they can retreat and that Gen. Pleasanton is trying to get hold of. It is the gap in the South Mountain—that is their only way of escape. Gen. Sickles was brought on this morning. He has had his leg amputated below the knee. What a pity so brave an officer should be thus crippled!
I expected your celebration would not be held at all on account of so many leaving for the field of battle. Indeed, it would not have been a disappointment I suppose had it not come off at all, for things have been in such a state of excitement that people care only for news.
If nothing happens more than I now know of, I hope to start for your city either the 20th or 21st and will write you the 16th or 18th so as you can meet me with Mr. Hall at the depot. As you know, I do not know Mr. Hall personally yet I think I could recognize him from his picture. I don’t want you to tell the folks, however. I would like to rest a day or so before I see anyone except your family & Mr. Hall’s.
I hope your daughter has got entirely well. How is the little one? They are going to call for me. Take good care of it. Give a great deal of love to all your family and to all who may ask after me. Accept a share for yourself. Write soon. May God bless & keep you and yours in health & safety, and permit us to meet once more on earth is the prayer of your affectionate friend, — Mary P. Middleton