The Public History Center at Christopher Newport partnered with The Mariners’ Museum Library to digitize, catalog, and transcribe Letters Home, a rich collection of manuscripts written by sailors dating back from the War of 1812 to World War II. Many of the letters discuss their hopes and fears, life aboard ships, and day-to-day events that shaped their worldview.
Explore the lives of these Navy veterans, and learn about their experiences through their own words.
George Kennedy Briggs (1897-1980). This collection describes Briggs’ service during World War I, during which he served as an Ensign aboard the 110 foot submarine chaser 180. The two typed letters are transcripts of letters written by Briggs to his mother and describe his travel to Europe in a submarine chaser, on which he served as an ensign and then later as executive officer. Briggs recounts a submarine battle in Gibraltar that he was a part of, as well as the crew’s celebration of the Armistice ending World War I, of which he was notified at sea.
Stephen Brooks ( -1862). This is a collection of six letters written by private Stephen Brooks, who was a cook in the 6th New Hampshire Infantry Volunteers. Five letters are addressed to his wife and one letter to a Mr. Nelson. These letters mostly contain information about his daily life and where he was stationed. Stephen Brooks died by drowning in the Potomac River on 13 August 1862 due to the collision of the steamers George Peabody and West Point on the Potomac River. He left behind his wife Sarah A. Brooks and children Charles H., Lizzie A., William W., and Margaret E. Brooks.
Joseph Leland Cosby (1835-1925). The collection includes letters, a military pass, daybook, and muster roll relating to the Civil War service of Joseph Leland Cosby who served in Company “K”, 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry in Wise’s Brigade, Confederate States Army. Cosby wrote from Camp Jenkins Farm and Camp Little Britain Island in South Carolina during 1863/64 when the Brigade was stationed near Charleston. Most of the letters are from Cosby to Columbia Nunn, whom he addressed as Lum; most date to 1864 when the army defended Richmond and Petersburg. Cosby described to his sweetheart, Lum, the religious revival that swept the army, his hopes of being married during the war and romance, the duties of a sentry, the conditions and fighting in the trenches near Petersburg, the poor rations, his reasons for fighting, his desire for peace, and his dreams.
Rezin H. Gist (1787-1834). This collection consists of four letters written by Gist during his service in the War of 1812. All four letters were written in 1813. Two were written to his wife, Rachel, and the other two to a friend, Major Asa K. Lewis, who served with the 1st Brigade (Clay’s) Kentucky Volunteers. In his letters, Gist described his participation in two key moments in the campaigns in the northwest. Most interestingly, he was involved in the defeat of American forces under Col. William Dudley in defense of Fort Meigs, Ohio, in May of 1813.
Coleman Kent ( 1919-1988). The collection contains letters written by Yeoman 2nd Class Coleman W. Kent to Marguerite H. Davis from Hawaii between February 1944 and October 1945. Although he addresses Marguerite as “Sis” in numerous letters, it does not appear that they were related. The majority of the letters do not speak of his military service, but rather about travel and sightseeing in the Hawaiian Islands in the abundant free time that he had. Stationed on Oahu, presumably at Pearl Harbor, he had frequent opportunity to travel to Honolulu. He writes of U.S.O. dances, the arrival of W.A.V.E.S., and describes the end of war celebrations in Pearl Harbor and Honolulu. He also writes of finding part time work in his off hours, comments on the weather, and inquires about people at home. He often asks about his mother and Marguerite’s daughter, Audrey Lee. Also included in the collection are two photographs of Kent in uniform
Robert Loder (1862-1944). The collection consists primarily of letters that Robert Loder sent to his wife, Edna, during his service with the United States Navy during World War I. The letters begin when he is stationed at the Norfolk Navy Yard, preparing a minesweeper for overseas duty. The majority of the letters were written while Loder was in France, at both Brest and Lorient. In the letters he describes the general work that he is engaged in. Ever mindful of the military censors, he constantly provides hints so that his family can know where exactly he is stationed or has travelled. Many of the early letters chronicle his attempts to set up a monthly allotment for the support of his family. He also makes frequent references to the war’s progress and some of the destruction that he witnessed. In some of the later letters, Loder mentions how much he wishes the war was over so that he could be home with his family again. The collection also includes six letters or postcards written by people other than Loder.
Chester A. Lozier (1886-1968). This is a small collection of letters written and sent between 1917 and 1918. Most of the letters were written by Chester A. Lozier to his wife, Lina C. Lozier, while he was an electrician aboard the receiving ship Cumberland in Norfolk, Virginia. It contains letters detailing some of Lozier’s past experiences while traveling in South America aboard the Pittsburgh, his thoughts while traveling to the East Coast, specifically in and around Norfolk, Virginia, as well as his duties aboard the Pittsburgh and the Cumberland. He mentions using wireless radios aboard the ships, as well as sending wires to his wife occasionally. He frequently writes about how much he misses his wife, and repeatedly encourages her to come visit him in Norfolk while he waits for orders.
William McBlair (1807-1863). McBlair joined the U.S. Navy and was appointed a Midshipman in 1824. He served in various duty stations, including Falmouth, Massachusetts and Norfolk, Virginia. By 1830, he was ranked a Passed Midshipman, and was promoted to Lieutenant three years later. McBlair commanded USS Erie, making voyages to supply the African and Mediterranean Squadrons. Promoted to Commander in 1855, McBlair went on to command the sloop Dale. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he resigned his commission and joined the Confederate Navy on 10 June 1861. He died on 16 February 1863 in Richmond, Virginia.
Dr. Aaron S. Oberly (1837-1918). This collection features the correspondence of Dr. Aaron S. Oberly (Medical Inspector in the United States Navy) to Anna Maria Woodford from 1861 to 1865. Also included are envelopes and one note. Oberly wrote the bulk of the letters in this collection, while serving on board the USS Santiago de Cuba. While one letter dates from 1861, the bulk of the letters are from 1864-1865. The letters are deeply personal, expressing Oberly’s passion and love for Maria. However, they also contain information on the movements and activities of the Union blockade fleet and life on board ship. Oberly mentions Captain Oliver S. Glisson, commanding officer of the Santiago de Cuba, in several letters. Oberly’s collection of letters reflects the style of communication of the period and attitudes about the roles of men and women.
James B. Rankin served aboard the Union transport vessel Monitor in 1865. This collection consists of four letters that Rankin wrote between January and May 1865 to his sister Anne. There are gaps in the letters and very little information on the author, but they do present a view of daily life on board a transport vessel, the Monitor, on which he served. A sidewheel steamer displacing 309 tons, Monitor was chartered by the U.S. Government from December 1862 to September 1863 and April 1864 to August 1865. Based primarily at Fortress Monroe, the Monitor served in support of the Richmond Campaign, transporting troops, horses, and prisoners, and engaging in an occasional raid. In the aftermath of the assassination of President Lincoln, Rankin writes that the Monitor and other vessels actively participated in raids and patrolled the waterways in and near Washington, D.C. in an effort to apprehend John Wilkes Booth.
William Edward Roberts (1874-1927). This collection contains ten letters related to the service of Roberts aboard the double-turreted ironclad USS Miantonomoh and the auxiliary cruiser USS Prairie, where he was a gunner’s mate. His letters mainly detail the movement of vessels, and as well as listing commanders of fleets and a few captains of ships. He also writes about working in the engine and boiler rooms. Roberts served on the Miantonomoh after it was recommissioned in March 1898. From May to August Miantonomoh joined a blockade off the coast of Cuba. While in service aboard the USS Prairie, he witnessed the invasion of Puerto Rico from July to August 1899.
Austin David Thompson (1841-1918). The collection consists of two letters written by Austin David Thompson, 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, to his fiancée, Electa Churchill, in February and March of 1863. Both letters were written while Thompson’s regiment was in Newport News, Virginia. The later one features as its letterhead a lithograph entitled “Encampment of U.S. Troops at Newport News, VA.” The letters consist of information about his stay at Newport News and what he is doing, as well as information about other regiments and his wishes to be with his fiancée soon.
Arthur K. Thomson (1896-1986) and Walter G. Thomson (1899-1982). This collection, featuring a variety of items from the naval service of Arthur Kennard Thomson and Walter G. Thomson, offers a brief view of training and life in the United States Navy in the early phases of the American involvement in World War I. Included in the collection are notes taken by Arthur Kennard Thomson while enrolled in the Officers’ Material School in Pelham Park Bay, New York, from August – October, 1918, along with a booklet titled Instructions for Men Assigned to the Officers’ Material School, U.S. Naval Auxiliary School. Also included are a series of letters written by Walter G. Thomson while stationed aboard U.S. Subchaser 126 in Norfolk, Virginia, from November of 1917 through January of 1918. A photograph in the collection is believed to be of Ensign Walter G. Thomson in the white service dress uniform, cataloged as MS0133.01.