Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Letters to Former Masters - Edmund Delaney, Part I


Assisting a patron with some research about United States Colored Troops today I ran across a unique file. In it was the normal soldier service records, but it also contained a few rarities. 

First, one seldom finds a photograph included among a Civil War soldiers' service records. But, this one did. The soldier's name was Edmund Delaney. He served in Company E, 117th United States Colored Infantry. The 117th was raised in Kentucky and trained at Camp Nelson. They participated in the Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns before being sent to Texas after the war. 


Delaney was 25 years old when he enlisted on August 22, 1864. He had been born in Bourbon County, but was from Scott County and enlisted at Covington, Kentucky. Delaney's owner was Harvey Graves. Graves was a 57 year old wealthy farmer from Scott County.

Graves had sent in some papers that were eventually included in Delaney's service record - including the photograph that Delaney had sent him. Apparently, like many other Kentucky owners, Graves sought compensation for Delaney's service. Within Delaney's records was a claim of compensation. In this document Graves, writing about Delaney, stated that "I purchased him at private sale when he was quite a small boy and owned him at the time of his enlistment."

However, the most intriguing things in the file were two letters that Graves also included to help prove previous ownership and that Delaney had sent him while in the service.  The first letter was dated June 18, 1866, and was sent from Brownsville, Texas. Delaney's unit, like a number of other USCTs were sent to patrol the border after the Civil War.


This letter reads:

Brownsville, Texas.
June 18, 1866.

Mr. Harvey Graves
Dear Sir:
Please accept my respects & the information that I am well & doing well. I would like very much to hear how you are all doing. Give my respects to all the family: I would like very much to see you all. I think you have slighted me a good deal, as I have never rece'd [received] a letter from you since I came into the service. My respects to Mrs. Bates & her family; I would like very much to hear how they are all getting along. Please answer this letter as soon as you get it: & tell me how you all are getting along. Give my respects to Mr. Hamilton & his family: also to my father in law & his wife. I wish you would write to my wife & see if you can find out why she don't write to me. My Regards to Mr. Burkley & family: & tell Johnnie I hope to be home soon.
No more at present
Yours as ever.
Ed Delaney
Direct to me, Co. E. 117th U.S.C.T
Brownsville, Texas

This letter gives me the impression that Delaney and Graves had a rather amicable relationship. The tone of the letter seems to be of genuine concern and trust. That, combined with the fact that Delaney sent Graves his photograph as a soldier seem to indicate that they did not have the normal master-slave relationship. Unfortunately, Delaney's service records do not include his enlistment form,which would indicate whether Graves gave his permission for Delaney to enlist or not.

In the next post I will share another letter Delaney sent to Graves about two months after the one shared above.

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