This letter was written by 55 year-old Phebe Ann (Bushnell) Wing (1808-1889), the wife of George Washington Wing (1802-1888) of Alexander, Genesee county, New York. Phebe was the daughter of Stephen Bushnell (1781-1862) and his first wife Thankful Wilcox (1781-1808). She wrote the letter to Fanny Bushnell (1823-1907), her step-sister and a daughter of her father’s second wife, Betsy Holt (1786-1875).
Phebe married George W. Wing on 22 October 1837 in Oneida county, New York. She was his second wife. Together they had at least eight children, three of whom are mentioned in this letter: Eugene Bushnell Wing (1838-1911), Julia Wing (1841-1898), and Carlton Deloss Wing (1847-1912). George had at least two children by his first marriage to Fanny Hawkins (1807-1836); they were named Eliza F. Wing (b. 1832) and Vanness (“Ness”) Wing (1835-Aft1910)—the latter being the stepson mentioned in Phoebe’s letter.
Much of the first page of the letter pertains to her son Eugene who enlisted in August 1862 with the 22nd Independent Battery that manned six 12-pdr Napoleons under the command of Capt. John D. Numan at Fort Berry in Washington D. C. Less than six months later, in February 1863, this unit became Battery M of the 9th New York Heavy Artillery. Eugene entered the service as a corporal and was promoted to sergeant in late March 1863. He was transferred to Battery M, 2nd New York Heavy Artillery in June 1865 and mustered out in September.
Addressed to Miss Fanny Bushnell, Kirkland, Oneida county, New York
Postmarked Alexander, NY
Alexander [Genesee county, New York]
Jan. 19th 1863
Being alone tonight I thought I would improve such a glorious opportunity in writing to you. Julia and Carl have gone to a party at Turner Squires. [My husband[ George left home for Washington a week ago today to see [our son] Eugene. There were several others going down and they persuaded him to go. Among them were Mr. Spring, Mr. Bernard, Henry Wing, By Moulton, Mr. Chapple, and some others that were stranger to me.
The boys have had their guns and horses taken from them and they have been changed into heavy artillery in account of the inefficiency of the Capt. [John D. Numan]—so they all say—and it has caused a great deal of dissatisfaction among them. They have been put into an unfinished fort 8 miles from Washington and set to work to finish it, and Eugene writes it is the weakest place around the city. There has been a great deal of sickness in their camp and 14 have died out of their battery. The corpse of [Orson] Henry Conant ¹ of Alexander Village was expected to arrive today.
[Our son] Carl got a letter today from Eugene. He was well. He said he would give 500 dollars to see Georgie one day. I think he must be a little homesick, don’t you?
I received a letter from [my husband] George [on] Friday written 2 days after he left home. He was at the famous city of Washington, but had not seen [our son] Eugene. They were to start for the fort the next morning. They could go 4 miles on the street cars and had got to foot it the rest of the way. I think there will be some puffing and wheezing among them as they are a set of men that do not generally travel in that way. Each of the men took a trunk crowded to its utmost capacity with eatables for the boys. There has been a good deal of complaint about their food lately. Eugene writes their meat is horse or mule and stinks—and besides, they have to cook for themselves and I suppose one half of them could not cook a meal hardly fit for the hogs.
I suppose Julia told you when she wrote that Ness ² was married the Saturday after you left here. Well after a few days, he wanted to bring his wife here and live in our family but George told him he could not at first—but Ness cried like a baby and then his father told him he might come. But I was not ready to enlist for such a campaign as that—but it made no difference, our folks were all determined they should come. And knowing desperate diseases require desperate remedies, I tried the threat of secession. It was rather an irritating dose but I think it had the desired effect for I have heard but little said since about their coming to live with us. It has caused some hard feelings towards me but that is nothing new and I have arrived at an age where I can endure some hard feelings better than all hard work.
George is going to build a house in front of the cherry orchard for them in the spring so I suppose I shall have to give up going to see Cliss as we shall have the workmen to board. Perhaps it will be so that I can go in the fall. If I do, I want you to go with me if you can. Julia received a letter from you a few days since and one from Helen and Mary Jane today. We were glad to hear you were well. Julia says she would like right well to make you a visit in the spring and perhaps she will.
Eliza, Lewis, and her boy have been here for several days. Lewis intends to go back within a day or two but Eliza says she will not go back to live with them old folks any longer so I suppose she intends to stay here till he can hire a farm in the spring as he has sold his place. Jesse Hawkins is in town but I have not seen him yet.
January 31st—Well Fan, I did not think it would be a new month before I should finish this letter but you must excuse me for we had many throngs of company that week that George was gone and the week after he came home, and for several days I have been about sick with one of my choked up spells and the doctor said a little of diphtheria.
We received a call from David and Jane quite unexpectedly but nevertheless quite thankfully as we are grateful for small favors. I was sorry we could not go with them to Clarkson. You can’t imagine how clever it seems to me to see some of our kind of folks. It makes a bright spot in my existence every time. I am not well but getting better. Write soon (please do). Love to all, — Phebe
Carl sends his picture to his grandmother.
¹ Orson Henry Conant enlisted at the age of 23 in the 22nd Independent New York Battery (later Battery M, 9th New York Heavy Artillery. He died at Fort Reno in Washington D. C. on 13 January 1863.
² Vaness Wing (1835-Aft1900) was a son of George Wing’s by his first marriage. He married a woman named Agnes in late 1862.