James C. Kelly
Letters, 1862-1864

SC23332

Quantity: 1 box (0.25 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Gift: Kathleen Bacom, Chicago, Illinois, March 2015
Processed By: Fred Bassett, Senior Librarian, Manuscripts & Special Collections, April 2015
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Biographical Note:

James C. Kelly was born June 16, 1824, and was living in Johnstown, New York, at the time he enlisted for military service during the Civil War.  Service records indicate he mustered in on August 29, 1862, as private with Company A of the 153rd New York Regiment of Infantry.  He was promoted to the rank of corporal on October 17, 1862, and sergeant on March 31, 1863.  He was wounded in action September 19, 1864, at Winchester, Virginia, and died of his wounds September 20, 1864.

He was married in September 1855 to Fidelia Ann Close (1836-1905), the daughter of Peter and Mary Ann (Brown) Close. They had four children: Theresa (b. 1856), Emily (b. 1859), James E. (b.1861), and John B. (b. 1863). 

Scope and Content Note:

These papers consist chiefly of letters James C. Kelly wrote to his wife, Fidelia Ann Kelly, in regards to his experiences of serving in the 153rd New York Volunteers during the Civil War.  Kelly articulately discusses battles and skirmishes, camp life, disease, the horrors of war, picket duty, troop movements, the rigors of marching, and military strategy.

Official documentation indicates the 153rd New York Volunteers were mustered into service on October 18, 1862, and left the same day for Washington, D.C.  Kelly’s first letter of October 28, 1862, was written from Camp Slough near Alexandria, Virginia, where this regiment would be stationed for several months as part of the forces that were responsible for defending the capital city from attack. In a letter written about July 10, 1863, he indicated that his regiment had been moved into Washington, where he continued to write from until February 1864. During its time in Washington the regiment was engaged in garrison and guard duty. From April to June 1864, he wrote from Louisiana, where his regiment was involved in some minor skirmishes during the Red River campaign. He was back in Washington by July 11, as indicated in the letter of that date. In the same letter he indicated that they would not be staying there long. On August 1, 1864, he wrote from a camp near Frederick, Maryland, mentioning they had had a number of long, hard days of marching since his regiment had come north.  Kelly’s last letter to his wife was written August 20, 1864, most likely from a camp near Charles Town, West Virginia, which is along the way to Winchester, Virginia, where he became a casualty of battle.

Like so many letters written by Civil War soldiers, Kelly’s expressed mixed feelings about pride and sense of duty in serving his country versus intense fear and loneliness. Homesickness, worries about money, concerns about the health and well-being of his family were also frequently mentioned along with concerns about his own health and imminent possibility of death.

Inventory of documents:

The letters are contained in a loose leaf binder that was compiled by Kathleen Bacom.  A transcription accompanies each letter.  All letters were written by James C. Kelly and addressed to his wife Fidelia Ann Kelly unless noted otherwise.

Item Description
1 undated, incomplete letter
2 undated, incomplete letter
3 October 28, 1862, Camp Slough, Alexandria, Va.
4 November 26, 1862, Camp Slough, Alexandria, Va.
5 December 3, 1862, Camp Slough, Alexandria, Va.; note added on December 4
6 December 19, 1862, Camp Slough, Alexandria, Va.; note added on December 21
7 January 12, 1863, Camp Slough, Alexandria, Va.; note added on January 13
8 January 19, 1863, camp near Alexandria, Va.
9 January 26, 1863, Alexandria, Va.
10 February 7, 1863, Alexandria, Va.
11 March 6, 1863, Alexandria, Va.
12 March 7, [1863], Alexandria, Va.
13 April 23, 1863, Camp Slough, Alexandria, Va.
14 April 26, 1863, Alexandria, Va.
15 May 17, 1863, camp near Alexandria, Va.
16 May 31, 1863, Alexandria, Va.
17 July [10], 1863, Washington, D.C. (date from postmark)
18 September 16, 1863, Washington, D.C.
19 September 25, 1863, Washington, D.C.
20 October 1, 1863, Washington, D.C.
21 October 7, 1863, Washington, D.C.
22 October 30, 1863, Washington, D.C.
23 November 13, 1863, Washington, D.C.
24 November 20, 1863, Washington, D.C.
25 November [?], 1863, Washington, D.C. (postmark: November 26)
26 November 26, 1863, Washington, D.C.
27 November 29, 1863, Washington, D.C.
28 December 3, 1863, Washington, D.C.
29 December 10, 1863, Washington, D.C.
30 December 11, 1863, Washington, D.C.
31 January 31, 1864, Washington, D.C.
32 January 15, 1864, Washington, D.C.
33 January 22, 1864, Washington, D.C.
34 January 28, 1864, Washington, D.C.
35 February 14, 1864, Washington, D.C.
36 February 17, 1864, Washington, D.C.
37 April 12, 1864, Grand Encore, La.
38 June 18, 1864, Morganza, La.
39 June 26, 1864, Morganza, La.
40 July 11, 1864, Washington, D.C.
41 August 1, 1864, Frederick, Md.
42 August 24, 1864, near Charleston, Va. [sic – probably Charles Town, W. Va.]
43 Letter to Fidelia Kelly from sister, Cynthia Potter, postmarked March 30, 1864 from New Orleans
Last Updated: March 23, 2017