This collection of letters has been squirreled away in a private collection in the Chicagoland area for many years—possibly decades. When they were offered to me for transcriptions, they were assumed to have been written by the same author—“Ed Whipple” of the “Irish Brigade.” Needless to say, I was a bit surprised to learn that the collection of letters—almost all contained in their original envelopes addressed to “Phebe B. Edy of Springfield X Roads, Erie County, Pennsylvania”—were written by as many as five different soldiers! As I began to transcribe the letters, I quickly came to realize that all of these soldiers were related to each other with Phebe serving as the linchpin.
There are 121 letters in the “Whipple” collection—so named because 64 of them were written by Edwin Martin Whipple (1842-1904). Edwin was the youngest son of Herman Whipple (1774-1842) and Phoebe Boa Lafferty (1816-1904) of Erie County, Pennsylvania. Edwin served in two different regiments during the Civil War. He first enlisted in enlisted in Co. A of the 23rd Illinois Infantry—the “Irish Brigade” led by Col. James A. Mulligan of Chicago. He marched with them on their expedition into Missouri and then was mustered out with the regiment in October 1861, after six months service. He then enlisted in late November 1861 to serve three years in Co. C, 111th Pennsylvania. As far as we know, Edwin remained with the regiment and was with them at the Battle of Gettysburg where he shot the hat off a rebel Colonel while skirmishing in the twilight of 2 July 1863. In the book, “Soldiers True; the story of the 111th Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers” (page 181), Edwin is listed among the wounded at the Battle of Lookout Mountain on 24 November 1863. The company roster indicates he mustered out of the 111th in late November 1864.
Phoebe’s much younger brother, Daniel “Wiley” Lafferty (1833-1900), also wrote her letters while serving in the 64th New York Infantry. Though he enlisted for three years, Wiley’s service was cut short by a couple of debilitating injuries. He received a wound in the fighting at Fair Oaks on 1 June 1862 that resulted in the loss of the 3rd finger on his left hand. In early November 1862, while chopping firewood, he accidentally chopped off the large toe on his right foot. He was prematurely discharged for medical disability from a Philadelphia hospital on 3 February 1863. There are five of his letters in the collection.
In 1858, Phoebe remarried a blacksmith in Erie County named William H. Edy (1799-Aft1880) who had been widowed fairly recently and had a large family of his own. In late 1862, at the age of 63, William enlisted in Co. I, 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry. William intended serving as the company blacksmith/farrier but when that position was assigned to someone else, he was made a wagoner. There are 35 of William’s letters to his wife in this collection.
Serving with Edwin in Co. C, 111th Pennsylvania Volunteers was his step-brother, Sgt. Benjamin Franklin Edy (1836-1917) who is mentioned frequently as “Ben” throughout Edwin’s letters and he has added a note in one or two of Edwin’s letters to his mother. There is only one letter written exclusively by Benjamin and this was written very early in the war when he was a private in Co. G of the “Erie Regiment” under the command of Cpt. D. W. Hutchinson. This regiment mustered in on 21 April 1861 and disbanded after 3 months service.
Another of Edwin’s step-brothers was Henry (“Hank”) C. Edy (1843-Aft1880) who enlisted in August 1862 as a private in Co. A, 145th Pennsylvania Infantry. Within months of entering the service, Hank’s health broke down and he was prematurely discharged from the service early in 1863. One of his letters from a hospital in Harrisburg is in the collection and he started a letter that was finished by his father from Harpers Ferry in 1863. Hank later served in the 1st Independent Battery, Pennsylvania Light Artillery.