1862: Theodore Cooper to Arthur Erwin Cooper

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CDV of Asst. Engineer Theodore Cooper

This letter was written by Theodore (“Theod”) Cooper (1839-1919), the son of John Cooper, Jr. (1799-1863) and Elizabeth Margaret Evans (1807-1889) of Coopers Plains (near Corning), Steuben county, New York. Theodore graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in 1858 in December 1861 he enrolled in the US Navy as a Third Assistant Engineer. He served on the USS Chocura in the Blockading Squadron from January 13, 1862 to June 28, 1865. After the war he was promoted and served as an instructor at the US Naval Academy from 1865 to 1868 before going back to sea aboard the USS Nyack. He was discharged from the Navy in 1872. He stood 6 foot 2 inches tall. After the war he lived in Philadelphia, Pittsburg, St. Louis, Phillipsburg, N. J., and New York City working as a civil engineer. He never married.

In his letter, Theodore mentions his siblings, John Cooper (1833-1904)—a Major & Surgeon posted in Washington D. C., his sister, Charlotte Cooper (1844-1915) in Philadelphia, and his brother Arther Erwin Cooper (1848-1909) to whom he addressed the letter

The USS Chocura was one of some 40 vessels in the Unadilla class—a class of gunboat built for the Union Navy at the outbreak of the American Civil War. Ships of the class were also known as “90-day gunboats” due to their rapid construction. The class was designed to be fully oceangoing while having a light enough draft to be able to operate close inshore, for blockade duty or other operations in shallow waters.


[USS] Chocura off Norfolk, Virginia
October 26, 1862

My dear Arthur,

Papa’s short letter of the 20th and Mother’s of the 22nd with one of Mary’s letters enclosed have both been received and gave me great pleasure—both to hear you were all well and also to find the folks had consented to Charlotte’s going to school. She says to me in a letter written me a short time ago that she was 18 years old. Can it be possible? It wouldn’t have astonished me more to have heard you were 21.

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Charlotte Cooper in 1862

Papa seems to fear we will stint ourselves in regard to her schooling. I don’t think there is the least danger. I know I haven’t—not that it would do us any harm if we should. My living expenses for the last 8 months have not been over 20 dollars a month and I have spent all that was necessary and more too. But still I don’t count this all, as my clothes &c. will count up some. But still I supplied myself so well before leaving Boston—at least in all underclothes &c. that it will not be a large percentage. As far as my experience and information goes, Naval officers in general are quite the reverse from extravagant in living when on duty.

I regretted to hear of Aunt Mag’s sickness.

Well, here we are in the hotbed of Virginia seceshdom. Mirabile Dictu? ¹ We are within sound of a church bell for first time in 8 months. They sound very familiar and pleasant. I wanted to get off to church today but couldn’t but they say the ministers are all rabid rebs. I am sure, however, the bells are good Christians. Their sound has done me more good than an hour and a half sermon would.

For a couple of months we have been indulging in the delusive phantom of hope of getting north for at least a couple of weeks. As we needed repairing badly, it was supposed we would have to go somewhere to overhaul. For fear of disappointing you, I said nothing of it but secretly hoped if I couldn’t get home, I would either run a chance of seeing John at Washington, Charlotte at Philadelphia, or Mary at New York. But now all is lost. The Admiral has chosen us for his flag ship. We’re ordered to Hampton Roads to caulk &c. and then we were going to Wilmington. On examination, we were pronounced badly in need of caulking and it couldn’t be done well down in the Roads. Then we felt sure of going North, but the Admiral wasn’t to be cheated of his ship that way. When it was decided we should come up here and repair and now our ribs are being rammed with pitch and oakum.

We came up here Friday night or rather part way up, as our pilot—after running us twice aground (dark)—succeeded in landing us up on top of a sunken rebel schooner where we had to lay till morning when we sent a boat to Norfolk (3 miles) for a tug. The river is well obstructed up here. It would do Papa good to see the piles driven across the river. A short distance above the obstructions lays the hulk of the frigate United States which grounded before the rebs could get her into the right place.

Since our arrival, the caulkers have been busy while we have been getting our part of the vessel in good order.

On Friday, was ashore at Fortress Monroe. Had a long tramp about the fort and out to [the village of] Hampton—or rather where it was. Saw fig bushes covered with green figs for the first time.

Yesterday I had all day in Norfolk. Saw lots of secesh—female as well as male. Were not as bad as expected. Once in awhile a veil would go down and the nose up. See the tradesmen speak of Confederate money as “our money,” and give you the price in US money & also in “our money”—the latter varying from 25 to 50 percent discount. I purchased of a reb a small model of the Merrimac[k] for yourself. The prices of those things not allow[ed] to be brought from the North are tremendous, but clothes & provisions are about sutler’s prices. I wanted a small piece of caustic (lunar) but found it to be 5 cents a gram. Didn’t buy any.

Town appeared peaceable. Not many soldiers about except at public buildings. Mother’s bug poison came this afternoon all right. I shall try it immediately. With much love to all. Write often to your loving brother, — Theod

¹ Latin for “wonderful to relate.” 


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