This letter was written by Pvt. David H. Coon (1844-1916) while serving in Co. K, 101st New York Infantry to his family at home in Perryville, Madison county, New York. David enlisted on 1 November 1861 to serve three years at the same time as his brother Samuel who signed on as a musician. Samuel was discharged for disability in late November 1862 and returned home.
This letter was penned on 5 August 1862 from Harrison’s Landing while listening to the cannonading and rattle of musketry as two divisions led by Joseph Hooker reclaimed Malvern Hill and threatened a renewed attack on Richmond—apparently only a feint, however, as they withdraw from their defenses on the hill only two days later. Instead of attacking Richmond, the 101st New York was withdrawn and sent to the aid of Pope’s army in northern Virginia. Three weeks after this letter, the 101st New York would be decimated at 2nd Bull Run and Chantilly, following which it was absorbed into the 37th New York. The 37th was badly mauled at Chancellorsville where David was twice wounded in the left leg—hit below the knee, causing a fracture of the bone, and then, while laying on the ground unable to move, he was again hit by a shell fragment above the knee.
What was left of the 37th New York was then transferred to the 40th New York (“Mozart Regiment”), which was in turn nearly destroyed at Gettysburg. Here again David was wounded and recuperated at the General Hospital at Chestnut Hill outside of Philadelphia. His service finally came to a close when he was wounded by a piece of shell at Cold Harbor in 1864 that tore away part of his right hand. Miraculously, David survived all these wounds and lived to attend the 50th Gettysburg reunion in 1913.
David and Samuel Coon were the sons of David Coon (1797-1845) and Mary [Mitchell?] (1813-1870) of Perryville, Madison county, New York. According to his headstone, David Cook was tragically “killed by a horse” on 24 February 1845. In June 1865, Mary Coon and her three sons, Charles (age 28), David (age 21), and Samuel (age 18) were enumerated in Sullivan, Madison county, New York. David was identified as a farmer while Charles and Samuel remained in the Army. If the ages of Mary’s son are accurate in this census record, then David was actually 17 and his brother Samuel was 15 when they enlisted in the 101st New York in November 1861—though each told the recruiting officer they were 18.
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]
Camp near Harrison’s Landing
August 5th 1862
Dear Folks at Home,
I will write a few lines as I have time now to you. We are under marching orders now. There is heavy cannonading off near Malvern Hill and hard fighting. I expect that we will have to try our hand at it once more. If we do, I trust we will come out all safe and sound although it is standing about one chance in five. You said in your last letter that N[orman] Nichols [said] that we had not been in any battles—only two or three skirmishes. Perhaps he judges the regiment by himself. He has managed to play off some way [or another] and get out of most all of the fighting. How he does it, I don’t know. ¹
The boys from Perryville are all pretty smart [healthy]. My diarrhea has pretty much stopped.
Charles, Nute [Newell] Britt ² says he will write to you the first person that he writes to, &c. Once more I will write to you about enlisting. Don’t you enlist nor get into the army in any shape until you are strongly forced—and drafted at that. Don’t let one hundred dollars tempt you nor five thousand dollars. Don’t let money hire you. Supposing that we should both of us get killed here. There would be nobody at home to help Mother in her old age. We are both exposed to the cold chunks of lead almost every day and not knowing but what it will be our lot to fall the next one. If if should be so, we will die in a good cause.
General [Henry] Halleck calculates to see Richmond in less than two weeks or see hell, ³ &c. Gen. [Philip] Kearny has been promoted to Major General. You may make up your mind that there will be something done before long. If he could have had his way about this war, it would have been stopped before I ever see him. He don’t go behind his men and holler, “Go [a]long,” but he takes the lead himself and says, “Come on boys! We will give the Rebels hell. Damn ’em, we are enough for them!” &c. †
We received your paper and letter all safe and sound and those stamps that Mr. Sunderlin sent. Tell him that the first opportunity that I get, I will write to him &c. Give our love to all enquiring friends and save a good share for yourself.
Yours &c. — D. H. Coon
Tell Uncle Elige Mitchell that we are a going to give the rebs a damned good licking today. Keep up good courage and don’t worry about us any. Give our address to all that will write to us. If you see Harvey Keller, tell him to write once more to me. Tell Brad’s folks that I will write to them as soon as I can. I have not forgotten them.
Direct to Corporal David Coon, Co. K, 101 Regt. N. Y. S. V. in care of Col. J. B. Brown, General Kearney’s Brigade. Don’t fail to mail direct and write as often as you can, &c. — D. & S. Coon
¹ Norman K. Nichols enlisted at the age of 26 in Co. K, 101st New York Infantry. He was discharged for disability at Philadelphia on 5 February 1863.
² Newell (“Nute”) Britt was the same age as David Coon when they enlisted in Co. K, 101st New York Infantry. Nute was discharged for disability on 28 November 1862 at New York City but saw subsequent service in Co. G, Second Cavalry.
³ I have not been able to find this “See Richmond…or see Hell” statement attributed to Henry Halleck and frankly, it seems too bombastic and out of character for him who by this time had earned a reputation for caution that rivaled McClellan’s.
† This description of Gen. Philip Kearny’s valor is consistent with other accounts. Newspapers from the period sometimes referred to him as “Kearny the Magnificent” and his name was said to be under consideration for the replacement of McClellan. But he was cut down during the Battle of Chantilly (1 September 1862) when he refused to surrender and was shot by Confederate troops who managed to cut him off from his men while on the front lines. General Lee send his body back to the Union forces with a condolence note.