These two letters were written by Laura Ann Bomar (1834-1912), the 28 year-old widow of James A. Bomar (1815-1860)—a former merchant in Hardin county, Kentucky. Laura wrote the letter to Miss McLean of Nashville, Tennessee—a stranger to her—hoping to get a message through to her brother, William R. Handley (1836-1915). Laura and William were children of Alexander Handley, Jr. (1809-1859) and Letitia Cleaver (1814-Aft1862) of Hardin county, Kentucky.
William enlisted in August 1861 in Morgan’s Cavalry Squadron at Munfordsville, Kentucky. After the Battle of Shiloh, the remnants of Morgan’s Squadron were consolidated into the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. According to military records, William was placed into Duke’s Co. G. From a pension application record, we learn that William rode with Morgan until he was wounded and taken prisoner at the Battle of Lebanon—east of Nashville, Tennessee—on 5 May 1862. In this pre-dawn battle, Morgan’s men were caught sleeping by Union cavalry commander Gen. Ebenezer Dumont who engaged his 600 men against Morgan’s 800 men in a shootout on the streets of the small town. After two hours of fighting, Morgan’s men made their escape in a 15-mile chase that came to be known as “The Lebanon Races.” But those of Morgan’s men who were wounded and left behind—including William apparently—were forced to surrender when Dumont threatened to set the town on fire. According to Dumont’s report, he took 150 rebel troopers captive. From Nashville, William was transported to Camp Chase, Ohio, where he was held a prisoner until August 1862 when he was paroled. It appears that following his release from prison, William was permitted to return home to Hardin county, Kentucky to recover from his injuries. The second letter includes a statement that Laura’s brother was seen in Nashville and “recovering” from his wounds. I can’t explain this statement unless he was either mistaken or, more likely, saw William before he was transported to Camp Chase.
In the letters Laura hoped would be passed on to her brother, she wished him to know that his wife had died of typhoid fever but that his little boy was okay.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
May 24, 1862
I received your letter this evening and was very glad to hear that my brother is on the mend. The news I have to write is very shocking indeed. My brother’s wife is dead, She died yesterday morning at six o’clock and was buried this evening in Millerstown [Grayson county, Kentucky]. She was sick three weeks [&] three days with typhoid fever. The baby is well and the rest of the family except Louisa. She has remittent fever but is not dangerous.
Will, I want you to take the oath [of allegiance] and come home and help to raise your family. Most every man in this neighborhood has taken the oath. I would not mind [your] taking the oath. If they won’t let you take the oath, come on parole and see us all. We are all well at this time. Ma and I have just come home this evening. We stayed with Lucy a week and Uncle Sam Cleaver ¹ waited on her and also Dr. [David C.] Phillips ² was to see her.
Alfred Murray is very low with the same fever [and is] not expected to live but a few days. If anything should happen, you will please let me know and you will oblige your friend. You will please write to me as long as you get this letter. I am your friend though a stranger.
— Laura A. Bomar
¹ Samuel Griffith Cleaver (1807-1896) was the son of David Cleaver, Sr. (1767-1829) and Letitia Griffith (1775-1856). Samuel was a physician/farmer in Hardin county, Kentucky in the 1860s.
² David C. Phillips was a physician in Hardin county, Kentucky. He married Mary Ann Handley (b. 1827) in August 1848.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
June 7, 1862
Highly esteemed Miss,
I received your letter yesterday and I excuse you for not writing sooner. I think you a very kind lady for writing. Anyway we have not heard from my brother since you wrote before until yesterday there has been a man from this neighborhood to Nashville and seen him and talked with him and says he is improving fast. But he don’t think there is any chance to get home. I would write to him if I knew who to direct the letter to. You will please, if you can, send this letter to him. His Ma’s health is about like it was when he left home. The rest of the family are well except my little girl [Sarah (b. 1855)]. She is very sick but I think she will recover. His little boy is well and the rest of the family except Louisa. She has typhoid fever.
Willie has never heard that his wife is dead. If you can send this letter to him, just enclose the other letter in the same envelope and send them both. If you know whether they are going to send him off or not and where to, you will please write to me. I hardly know how to return my thanks to you for writing to me. It gave me great satisfaction indeed. I am very much obliged to you indeed for being so kind.
I am your friend and lover until death, — Laura A. Bomar
P. S. You will please excuse this envelope.