Monday, January 28, 2013

Meet Private Willis

I've said it here before (most recently, here): the great joy of writing this blog, my medical column for The Civil War News, and my books, is hearing from people with a personal connection to the stories I have written.

It happened again in the past week when I got a wonderful blog comment on a post I wrote just about a year ago (here) on "Wright's Indian Vegetable Pills":


I have a letter written January 28, 1863 from camp near Falmouth, Virginia, following the Mud March from Pvt Edward R Willis, Sr., 82nd Reg. Pennsylvania Volunteers requesting his daughter Mary to send him a box of “right’s inden vegtble pills”, he encloses a dollar to cover costs and instructs her to remove them from the box, put in cotton waddling (so they don’t rattle around) and mail in a letter to him. He acknowledges receipt of the pills in his February 9, 1863 letter. Edward R Willis is my great great grandfather. Jay Willis

Mr. Willis also left his e-mail address and offered to send a scan of the letter. I wrote him back straight away thanking him for his kind note and telling him I'd love to have a scan of the letter.  I am always thrilled to see Civil War soldier correspondence that mentions patent/quack remedies by name. He wrote back with another kind and interesting reply:

Private Edward R Willis, Sr., 82nd Reg. Pennsylvania Volunteers was a widower enlisted in August 1861 and was discharged in July 1865. He sent letters to his daughter Mary, on avg. 3-4 per month. There are 22 descendants that on the 150 anniversary of the letters authorship, I send out a scan of the letters, a typed version from the 1960s (his great granddaughter typed) and then a cover email with what I can find on where he is, what he is talking about, etc. Do you have an interest in home remedies- he treated gunshot wounds in his leg at Antietam with catfish fat he had gotten in the James River while on the peninsula?

In other words: IT GETS EVEN BETTER! Isn't that a great idea: to share an ancestor's Civil War correspondence with his descendants on the 150th anniversary - to the day - that each letter was written?! And the catfish fat story!!!! WONDERFUL! (It turns out that fish fat has been used to treat wounds since the Roman times and still today among certain Amazonian tribes!).

Mr. Willis has extended me the great privilege of making me an "honorary member" of the Willis clan, so I am now also receiving the Willis correspondence on each anniversary and I can't wait to learn more  about his odyssey!

I'll also be featuring Pvt. Willis and his letters about Wright's Indian Vegetable Pills and the catfish fat in my next column for The Civil War News, which will be posted here after publication in February or March, so stay tuned!

You can learn more about Private Edward R. Willis at Jay Willis' wonderful Ancestry.com page here:



1 comment:

Mark Noce said...

Wow that's cool! I love letters like this from the era. It really speaks to the social history of the times, focusing on the personal life of every day citizens vs. the big wigs who make it into the history books. Luv it:)