McCaskey: William McCaskey Civil War Letters, 1862-1865

Call number: MG-355

1 box     6 folders     .25 cubic ft.

Repository: (Organization); PV7

Shelving Location: Archives South, Side 9

Description: Letters written by William Spencer McCaskey to his brother, Jack and sister-in-law, Ellen. In most letters, he writes about politics, life in camp, members of his unit, their brothers, and the campaigns in Georgia and South Carolina with Gen. Sherman. Related biographical data and images are among the contents of this collection.

Creator: McCaskey, William Spencer, b. 1843.

Conditions for Access: The original letters in Folders 2 and 3 may not be used. Transcriptions have been provided in Folder 1 for patron use.

Conditions Governing Reproductions: Collection may not be photocopied.Please contact Research Staff or Archives Staff with questions.

Language: English

Source of Acquisition: The items in Folder 2 were purchased from Susan Raymond, received 6 August 2004. The items in Folder 3 are from Paul W. and Judy Ware, 4 August 2004.

Biographical History: William was born near Paradise, Lancaster County, in 1843. The family moved to Lancaster in 1855, where William received his education in public schools. And in 1859, he began an apprenticeship at the printing office of the Examiner, where he worked until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Just days after Fort Sumter was fired upon in April 1861, William joined the army and served with Company F of the 1st Pennsylvania Infantry until he mustered out in July. He joined Company B of the 79th Pennsylvania Regiment as 1st Sergeant in September of that year; this company of Lancastrians served under Col. Henry A. Hambright and Lt. Col. David Miles. They engaged in battles in Kentucky and Tennessee before they returned to Lancaster in 1864 and re-enlisted. Company B joined Gen. Sherman’s army in May 1864. As they moved through Georgia and South Carolina in Sherman’s March to the Sea, William wrote about the campaign, the residents, and affects that the Union Army’s actions had on the South.

Capt. McCaskey mustered out in July 1865, and in spite of the many objections he had voiced about army life, he re-enlisted in 1866 after receiving a recommendation of the commission of second lieutenant from Thaddeus Stevens. William commanded troops throughout his career on the frontiers of Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Texas, and Missouri and also during the Spanish-American War in Cuba and the Philippines. He retired at the rank of Major General in October 1907.

John Piersol “Jack” McCaskey is better known to Lancastrians as J. P. McCaskey, a teacher and publisher. He began teaching at the Boys’ High School in Lancaster in 1855, accepted the position of principal in 1865, and later became superintendent. Jack married Ellen Margaret Chase in 1860.


Folder 1 Transcriptions of Letters in Folders 2 and 3.

Letter to Jack. 15 May 1863. (Folder 2, Insert 1)

Letter to Jack. 4 October 1863. (Folder 2, Insert 2)

Letter to Jack. 17 January [1865]. (Folder 2, Insert 3)

Letter to Jack from an unknown friend of Will. 13 September 1864. (Folder 2, Insert 4)

Letter to Jack. 25 December 1864. (Folder 3, Insert 1)

Letter to Jack. 25 March 1865. (Folder 3, Insert 2)

Letter to Jack. 29 March 1865. (Folder 2, Insert 5)

Letter to Jack. 2 April 1865. (Folder 2, Insert 6)

Letter to Jack. 25 April 1865. (Folder 2, Insert 7)

Letter to Jack. 7 May 1865. (Folder 2, Insert 8)

Letter to Jack. 20 May 1865. (Folder 2, Insert 9)

Letter to Jack. 30 May 1865. (Folder 2, Insert 10)

Letter to Jack. 14 June 1865. (Folder 2, Insert 11)

Partial letter. No date. (Folder 2, Insert 12)

Partial letter. No date. (Folder 2, Insert 13)


Folder 2 Original Letters. Do not use original letters—please use transcriptions in Folder 1. Purchased from Susan Raymond. Received 6 August 2004.

Insert 1 Letter to Jack. Will discusses strategy of the war, availability of newspapers from Nashville and Louisville, doubt about his brothers’ (Jack and Joe) fitness for war, and that Col. Miles is injured and under his care. Camp of PA 79th. 15 May 1863.

Insert 2 Letter to Jack regarding the rearing of his brother’s children, Thaddeus Stevens, and the upcoming election in fuming terms, then described a combat engagement. Chattanooga, TN. 4 October 1863.

Insert 3 Letter to Jack complaining about a scarcity of mail, provisions and clothing; anticipating a major upcoming campaign; criticism of Maj. Locher; thanking Jack for the newspapers he sent and requesting a German-language one; stating reasons for not retiring; and encouraging Jack to leave for the West. Savannah, GA. 17 January [1865].

Insert 4 Unsigned and incomplete letter written by a friend stating that Will was otherwise busy and unable to write. Discusses election campaigning in camp and the glorious record of Col. Hambright. Atlanta, GA. 13 September 1864.

Insert 5 Letter to Jack expresses elation at receiving a so many letters and packages, and discusses the recruitment of replacements and future battles. Goldsboro, NC. 29 March 1865.

Insert 6 Letter to Jack relates being well-supplied with Army comforts, the beautiful weather, and the arrival of new detachment with their brother Cye. With envelope. Goldsboro, NC. 2 April 1865.

Insert 7 Letter to Jack anticipating the surrender of Gen. Johnston and sending regards to officers at home. Martha’s Vineyard, NC. 25 April 1865.

Insert 8 Letter to Jack describing their march homeward from Moorsville, NC (176 miles to Richmond in 6 days), to Lancaster between the first and fifteenth of June, and suggesting any welcome home to be held “in some woods a few miles from town instead of Fulton Hall.” Near Richmond, VA. 7 May 1865.

Insert 9 Letter to Jack reporting that they are continuing the march home (9 more days and 180 miles) and the anxiety of the possibility of discharge. Alexandria, VA. 20 May 1865.

Insert 10 Letter to Jack apologizing for not writing home more regularly, discussing future job prospects, remarking on reviews of the armies lamenting “our late beloved President” and on seeing many Lancaster people. Washington, DC. 30 May 1865.

Insert 11 Letter to Jack lamenting that there was nothing to do but the occasional drill and resulting in complaints about their treatment by the government; discusses pros and cons of the regular army and a furlough for Cye. With a torn envelope. Camp of 79th Regiment Penna Vols. Inf. 14 June 1865.

Insert 12 [Partial] letter asking for the recipient to call on Innis Kaufman, Mrs. George Riley, and Mrs. Brown regarding their soldiers’ belongings and removal of their bodies, and to settle accounts with others. Discusses other officers: Maj. Locher, Col. Miles, Hambright, and McBride, and asks for the status of his finances at home. No date.

Insert 13 Partial letter with a detailed description of the Army moving through Georgia, lauding participation of the slave population, and condemning Georgia’s governor. No date.


Folder 3 Original Letters. Do not use original letters—please use transcriptions in Folder 1. Donated by Paul W. and Judy Ware on 4 August 2004.

Insert 1 Letter to Jack extols Sherman’s victory, and describes Christmas dinner, the South’s retreat, the status of Savannah, and why Capt. W. should have a Court Martial. Savannah, GA. 25 December 1864.

Insert 2 Letter to Jack describes in detail the campaign in South Carolina, the abject poverty, marching over 500 miles in two months, Gen. Sherman’s wisdom, the casualties, and the sorrow of having no colors. Goldsboro, NC. 25 March 1865.


Folder 4 Biographical information for William Spencer McCaskey.

Excerpts from Biographical Annals of Lancaster County Pennsylvania, 1985, pages 116-127: biographies of: John McCaskey, John Piersol McCaskey, and William Spencer McCaskey.

Data accompanying the ebayâ purchase (these are all photocopies):

Information with the 25 March 1865 letter outlines the military career of William McCaskey from the Civil War to his retirement as a Maj. General in 1907.

Memorial tribute to William Spencer McCaskey by the Commandery of the State of California. Biographical information and two images. No date.

Four images of William S. McCaskey throughout his military service. The annotated ranks thereon may not be accurate. [Note: Permission to reproduce these images must be requested in writing from Arthur G. Barrett. Please see archivist.]

Photocopy of part of the first page of the [ ] Record-Herald, 26 March 1902. “Colonel M’Caskey of the Fighting Twentieth, Just Back from the Philippines.”


Folder 5 Two photographs of William S. McCaskey from the William Dunniway Collection of the U.S. Army Military History Institute. [Note: Permission to reproduce these images must be requested in writing.]

Folder 6 Transcription of letter from Will to his sister-in-law Ellie (Jack’s wife) from Camp McCloud, Tennessee. 14 Nov 1862. Provided by a private owner, it speaks to the savagery and feelings attending war. [Note: Permission to reproduce this item must be requested in writing. Please see archivist.]