Dear Friend Robert Merry: Letters from nineteenth-century children

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 1850185118521853185418551856185718581859

1860s: 186018611862 • 1863 • 186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits


Transcriber’s note

Because page images of Robert Merry’s Museum for 1863 aren’t readily available, when words are broken between pages, I have indicated where the break occurs.


Patent-Office Hospital, Washington, Dec. 10, 1862.

Dear Cousins:—Greeting and salutation to you all! So long have I been absent, that I feel like a new comer. Permit me, therefore, to introduce “The [p. 24 ] Subscriber, Chief Nurse of Ward 2, Patent-Office Hospital.” How came I here? Like others, I desired to serve my country. After surveying the field of operations, I made up my mind that should I enlist I would in a few weeks find myself in a hospital, and therefore, to save expense to the government, anxiety to my friends, and suffering to myself, I decided to enter the hospital first, which I did last September, and have had no reason to repent my choice. I wish I had the time, and the Museum the space, in which to give some of my experience during the last three months. The soldiers suffer here for many things. The hospital linen arrangements, through mismanagement or otherwise, have become so defective that men in my ward have gone three weeks without a change of shirts, and six weeks without a change of socks. The supply of delicacies is also limited. We need woolen shirts, drawers, and socks, and slippers, especially the latter. The cold marble floors of the Patent Office strike a death-chill through the limbs. The societies here can not or will not supply these things. If any of the Museum readers have contributions which they wish to be sure of reaching the soldier, I shall be happy to receive and distribute them. Contributions in money will be acceptable, as they enable one to supply special things at special times, when a delay might cause great harm. I promise to give good account of what is intrusted to me.

As of old,
Willie H. Coleman.

[Editor: ] We knew Willie would turn up in the right spot. Though less attractive, his calling is equally noble with that of the soldier. We trust his call for aid will meet with a generous response.

Patent-Office Hospital: From 1862 to early 1863, the Office was used as a Union hospital, with beds fitted between glass cases filled with models submitted by inventors: “It was indeed a curious scene at night when lit up,” Walt Whitman wrote in 1863. “The glass cases, the beds, the sick, the gallery above, and the marble pavement under foot … ” [Walt Whitman. Walt Whitman’s Civil War. Ed. Walter Lowenfels. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960; p. 87.]



Dear Uncle Merry and Cousins all:—Did you know you had a Cousin Sue as well as an Aunt Sue, and a wild romping one, too? I’m not quite alone in my racings. I’ve two or three boon companions, and together we skate, coast, study, ride horseback, and swim. Now, don’t look down to the bottom of my letter to see if it[’]s not signed by a boy. Methinks I see “sage Wilforley” and “stately Fleta” looking at me aghast with astonishment. But I am sure Brown-Eyes, Saucy Nell, and the rest of my mad-cap cousins, are “after my own heart.” Uncle Merry, mayn’t I [p. 59 ] call you “Uncle Rob?” I didn’t hardly dare to this time, being a new-comer, and not knowing whether you would like it or not.

Cousin Sue.

P. S. Aunt Sue, I know that you will take me under your sheltering wing, for am I not your namesake?

[Editor: ] If you “Rob” Uncle Merry, he will “Sue” you—that’s all.


Brooklyn, Jan. 8, 1863.

Dear Uncles and Cousins:—Once more I am on the eve of departure; my health being once more restored, I shall now go forth again to help “conquer” those who are now trying to tear asunder our glorious “Union.” Josie, may I hope to hear from you? it will strengthen me and help me to fight. Minerva, the c. de v. shall be sent as promised. Leslie, Ol and I were very much disappointed in not finding you at home. Osceola, I want to see that “Prettiest Girl” question settled, but it’s rather hard that I should be picked out as the one to obtain the c. de v.’s of the “Brooklyn girls;” but come on with your Boston beauties, and I will do my best to carry off the laurels. Jasper, once more the “rolling sea” for me.

Adelbert Older, I agree with you; send on your candidates (on card) for the “P. G. question;” surely the “West” should be included in this great contest. Good Busy Bee, perhaps I may be more fortunate this time. Look out! for I may come upon you suddenly with a heap of magazines. Winifred, you can not imagine how cheerful and encouraging it is to know that while far away we are not forgotten by those at home. I pray of you, write to the “Merry soldiers” and cheer them on. I would be happy to exchange c. de v.’s with you. Cousins all, write to me, and I will gladly reciprocate. Good-bye, and remember me in your prayers. Hoping that when you hear from me I shall be able to write another victory for the Navy, farewell!


“P. G. question”/”p. g. war”: a facetious contest inadvertently launched by Daniel H. Burnham to discover the “prettiest girl” among the subscribers, using photographs the Cousins were sending to each other. In a way, it helped to alleviate the tensions caused by the Civil War.


Williamsport, Feb., 1863.

Mr. Merry:—I have just been reading the letters in the February number, and then, of course, came the wish that I had a “finger in the pie.” Now I have been wondering whether we have to bring credentials for character, honesty, etc. Here are my colors: “Liberty to all, and the Union forever.” Is not that satisfactory? As to the honesty, I am a real Yankee from the old Bay State, and my great big grandfather was one that overthrew the tea in Boston harbor, and you know the geographies say the inhabitants thereof are noted for sobriety, industry, and honesty.

Your warm friend and admirer,

“finger in the pie”: “to be involved with”. The earliest example in the Oxford English Dictionary is dated 1861.


Army of the Potomac, Falmouth, Va., 1863.

Dear Merrys:— A welcome visitor looked in upon me this evening—the April Museum. It could get no farther south this route, for three hundred yards from me, across the Rappahannock, the camp fires of the rebel pickets are brightly burning, and there, over the ill-fated city of Fredericksburg, the moon sheds a pale, ghastly light on “Rebellion.”

“The manipulator is not geared to digest foreign quotations.” Good! That’s a movement in the right direction. Merrys, our second crusade shall exterminate all foreign usurpation. Expel the invaders! Let our war-cry be, [“]English, and more of it!

Viewing the terrible effects of the new machine on my last letter, I close.

Oliver Onley.

manipulator: imaginary object which cut letters to the Merry Chat. Early in the Museum’s history, an imaginary hatchet shortened letters printed in the Chat; in 1862 the editors spoke of using the hatchet, some shears, and “a pruning-hook and a hydraulic press”, the latter producing synopses of letters, called “Extracted Essences.” In 1863, the “double-back-action-high-pressure-condensatory-manipulator” was introduced; it was quite noisy, going, “Kerr-clickety-crunch—kerr-clickety-crunch.” (1863.1.120)

Fredericksburg: The Army of the Potomac had its winter quarters across the Rappahannock river from this town during the winter of 1863.


Sulky Land, May 19.

I must and will be heard! I am angry, enraged, mad! I can not see why that awful, antiquated, usurping Wilforley, and several other ancient people, have the right to crowd out the letters of dozens of “poor young ones” with their old, stupid, dry, unending epistles! They have written for years and years; let them retire, and give a chance to others. Who will back me? Winifred, Josie, Saucy Nell, and Coralie, will you? I have finished. I retire in a shower of tears!


[Editor: ] What a very war-horse of a Grasshopper!


Dear Uncle and Cousins all:—Some weeks ago a speech was delivered in Cincinnati, in which the speaker, talking of the power of Congress to make anything a legal tender, and of the colonies during the Revolution, said: “Even the little State of Franklin, now almost lost in history, had its legal tender.” I think it must be about lost, for I can not learn anything about it. So if any of you know where it was situated, I would like to know. Thanks, Henry, for your kind welcome. Alice Clayton, I shall be very happy to claim relationship with you. Accept a kiss from your new-found relative. I wish all the cousins would wear a badge, so that I could recognize them as belonging to the celebrated “Merry family.” Love to all.

May Clayton.

[Editor: ] Who will tell us all about Franklin? Uncle Will promises a photograph to the first correct historian of the place. Good idea that of the badge. What shall it be? Who will send us the best design? Perhaps we will have it engraved.

badge: Golden Arrow suggested a way for the Cousins to identify each other: “A badge is [a] thing needful [ … ]. Suppose the badge be a pin which could be worn at all times and by all of us.” (1863.2.88) The only design printed in the Chat was by W. A. R.: “Merrys, what say you to a ‘badge’ representing an open book with the letter M on each upturned page? Might be made of gold and worn as a pin, as suggested by coz Golden Arrow.” (1863.2.120) The badge was announced in the December 1863 issue. It was available round or oval, in silver or in gold; engravings appeared in the January 1864 issue. The pins cost between $1.50 and $6; they were also premiums for those finding new subscribers to the Museum. The design was later used for stationery sold by the Museum’s publishers.

State of Franklin: formed in 1784 from what were then the western counties of North Carolina. Ceded to the newly formed U. S, government to help pay off the nation’s huge debts and worried that North Carolina would not protect it, the area declared its independence so inhabitants could govern themselves during the two years Congress had in which to accept. “Franklinites” established a government with a legal tender that recognized a lack of hard money: taxes could be paid in cloth, furs, sugar, beeswax, tallow, “bacon, well cured,” rye whiskey, “good peach or apple brandy”, and tobacco. Many letters, speeches, and recriminations later, a compromise allowed the counties to resubmit to the laws of North Carolina, with the understanding that they would form their own, new state when more populated—the state of Tennessee. [J. G. M. Ramsey. The Annals of Tennessee to the End of the Eighteenth Century. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1853. (Repr. New York: Arno Press, 1971); pp. 282-300]


Harrisburg, July, 1863.

Dear Uncle Merry:—Seeing that I have been admitted into the circle, here I am again, and have a great deal to tell you and the cousins. I suppose you know as much in regard to the invasion of Pennsylvania, and of the homes made desolate by the rebel horde as I do; but you have not experienced anything of that sort, and I have. Uncle and cousins, I hope you will all sympathize with me for my misfortunes. I do not wish to make you feel very sad, else I would tell you more what the rebs did at “the dearest spot on earth to me.” I merely made my escape after seeing them all, horses, cattle, clothes, and everything else in their line, including a demand for myself, when I thought it proper to take leave of absence, which I did, traveling over hills and mountains to get out of their dominions. Now, girls, don’t call me a skedaddler! I’m only a deserter from the Southern Confederacy. Uncle, I want to ask a question. Have we any cousins in Harrisburg? If we have, please tell me, for I would like very much to see one of the Merry group. I suppose you are all tired of my letter ere this, so I had better close, which I will, only let me tell you, as the rebs have pulled me up, dug me up, and threw me over the fence, there is still a “spec” left. And now, Uncle, hoping, send me another Museum, for the other I suppose the rebels have captured, if it ever came so far as Franklin County, and perhaps in it some of the cousins’ accepted proposition to exchange cartes-de-visite.

I am yours, truly,
Charley F. Speck.

[Editor: ] We have several of the Merry family in Harrisburg, and at the time you wrote, Osceola was there, or else marching from there to meet the invader. He is in the Fifty-sixth, N. Y. S. M. Find him out, and shake hands with him for us.

“dearest spot on earth to me”: W. T. Wrighton, “The Dearest Spot of Earth to Me is Home” (Boston: G.P. Reed, 184-). This popular sentimental song was often reprinted in the 1850s and 1860s.


C. F. Warren would like to have any of the Merrys who may be at the White Mountains this summer write “M. M.” after their names when recording them on the hotel book, as he desires to see some of the cousins there.


Uncle Merry:—A stranger, I come to you and ask to be admitted into the “Chat.” At first I thought I would write to one of the Merry cousins and solicit an introduction into the happy family; but which one of them all was most kindly disposed toward strangers I did not know, so I concluded to appeal directly to headquarters. Was I right?

Heigh ho! here comes brother Willie with a basket of cherries! now for a feast. I have just come home from boarding-school, Uncle Merry, so cher- [p. 90 ] ries and strawberries are “something nice.”

The soldiers are having a public dinner to-day, given by the patriotic ladies of the village. The tables were spread in a beautiful grove a little ways out of town. The procession of soldiers, with a band of music, have just passed the house. Some of the soldiers seem to have grown old while in service. Heaven bless them! Love to all the Merrys.



Prov., June 3, 1863.

Dear Merrys all:—Home again after nearly ten months’ service on the James River, watching, waiting for the long-threatened attack of Merrimac No. 2. I am glad once more to step into the good old parlor and say are all well, are all happy as when I left?

Dear Aunt Sue, you remembered me, and found me out; thank you for keeping my secret so well. I had a word for your ear long since, but couldn’t find the opportunity to speak.

But I must again leave all for my country’s service, and in going, pray God bless you all, every one.

Jean Du Casse.

Merrimac #2: The C. S. S. Virginia 2, an ironclad, was built in Richmond, Virginia, in 1863 in place of the first Virginia. The first Virginia was built on the remains of the U. S. S. Merrimack, burned by retreating Union forces; the second Virginia was sometimes referred to as the Merrimack 2 by officers on both sides. It patrolled the James River in July 1863. Confederates blew it up on 4 April 1864. (U. S. Navy, series 2, vol 1: 271; series 1, vol 17: 548, 549; series 1, vol 9: 116)

“my secret”: Probably referring to a private letter.


Vermont, August, 1863.

Dear Merrys:—From away in the interior of the Green Mountain State I send greeting.

Yes, I’ve returned North. Mine is the same old story. Too many of us have the willing spirit, but bodily weakness, to endure the weary marches and continued privations of a soldier’s life, to face the enemy on the field of battle, and to strike home for our country. An internal injury I received in the service is more severe than I had supposed, and my surgeon has sent me here for rest and quiet.

A. N., pray pardon my inexplicable stupidity in supposing you a masculine! The idea that one so keen and witty should be a “he” is preposterous!

Brown-Eyes, shall we ride this beautiful morning? I was on my horse much of the time while in the army, and now I only want a dashing rider for my companion “over the hills and far away” among the mountains here.

Daisy W., am glad to see you with us again. Come more frequently.

Saucy Nell, don’t they take c’s de v up your way any more?

Annie, I fear I infused too much of my spirit into the army. I have very little left.

Leslie, I’m with you. We certainly must develop Wanderer’s capital idea of a Merry Congress. And the badge? Any designs yet, Uncle?

Regarding the p. g. question, my reconnaissances Down-East were perfectly satisfactory. At Halifax I looked in vain; not a p. g. At St. Johns I fared but little better. But when I visited Eastport and Calais and St. Stephens, I cried “Eureka!” and almost wished to tarry there the remainder of my natural existence. The Boston girls, however, gave me a loving “welcome home,” and I am still in the belief that “our girls” will win.

Muchly yours,
Oliver Onley.

Merry Congress: Referring to the war of the queens, Wanderer called for “a truce to kings and queens! If we must have a constituted form of government, let it be an American institution! What say you to a Congress? Come, let’s elect delegats—the first session to be held in Brooklyn, Jan. 1st, 1864.” (1863.2.23)


August 3.

Dearest Cousins:—I suppose that it’s most time I wrote to the Chat again; you should have heard from me before, but my wilderness school occupies so much of my attention that I’ve hardly time to think of anything else. But, as I’m home now for a vacation, I thought best to catch the first opportunity, and have a little friendly talk with you all. Dear Alice Clayton, do you really think that teaching school is such a splendid piece of business? Well, you would change your mind if you could be in my place about three days. You want to exchange; I haven’t the cartes at present, but intend to have soon, when I will with the greatest pleasure. Puss, don’t you think Uncle is impudent to talk about such a nice quiet little kitten as you must be in the way he does? If I was in your place I’d make him beg my pardon for his capers. Now, Dan Burnham, you just keep still about catnip; between you and Uncle poor Puss will be frightened to death. Love to all the cousins.

Mignonette Wildwood.

[Editor: ] Puss is never frightened at Uncle Robert—she is too mews-ical.

Mignonette’s calling her profession “the delightful business of teaching school in the wilderness” in the December issue, is probably, therefore, ironic. (1863.2.184)


Brooklyn, Sept. 8, 1863.

Dear Merrys:—I trust you are all salubrious. So am I, except a slight cold caught by standing in rather a strong draft the other day, but from the effects of which I expect soon to be exempt. Yes, I drew a prize in the first lottery (outside of fairs) in which I ever invested, and quinsequontly am a “conscript”—but likewise a “myope,” and one nullifies the other. I’ll sell my chance for $250. There’s a bargain! Who’ll take it? But hold on! Maybe I’ll do for a cavalryman, and as I shall then want a war-horse, I bespeak your services, Grasshopper, for Uncle Merry said you were one; I’ll “back” you then. I will try very hard henceforth not to crowd out the “poor young uns’ ” letters with my “awful, antiquated, usurping, old, stupid, dry, unending epistles.” Won’t you try too, ye “other ancient people?” [ … ]

Yours, badly,

draft: In 1863, the U. S. government was forced to pass a very unpopular national conscription act in order to bolster Union ranks, which had been filled by volunteers or by men drafted by their states; names were drawn in New York City beginning July 13. For a number of reasons—among them resentment that well-to-do draftees could, like Wilforley, hire substitutes or purchase exemptions for $300—in New York, the draft sparked violent rioting that lasted close to a week. Wilforley’s name was number 1933 drawn in the draft on September 1. He was declared exempt due to myopia on September 25. [New York Daily Tribune. New York, New York. 2 September 1863; p. 8. • “Registers of Men Exempted from Service Due to Physical Disability.” RG 110; vol 16, entry 1554.]


Forest Dale, Sept. 8, 1863.

Uncle Hiram:—I once more crave permission to write and tell my Merry cousins that the Buckeye Boy is still among the living, and that the State to which he belongs (Ohio) is still doing her duty in sending forth brave and noble men to meet the miserable traitors of the South—ah, yes! and the traitors of the North also. But think not, Merry cousins, that I mean to infer the States that you belong to are disloyal; for I hope that Uncle Hiram would not take subscribers that were disloyal to the best Government that ever lived—and all I hope is, that we may all rally, united, as we once did in 1776, and crush this treasonable rebellion, and let the star-spangled banner, as it once did, “wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Buckeye Boy.

wave: “Star-Spangled Banner”: Francis Scott Key, “Defence of Fort McHenry” (1814): “Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Soon renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, this patriotic song was a standard at Independence Day celebrations, and its tune was borrowed for presidential campaigns, such as the campaign in 1856; it was adopted as the anthem of the United States in 1931.


Brooklyn, Aug., 1863.

Dear Merrys:—Once more I come to the parlor-door, asking admission, after a short absence in Pennsylvania and Maryland, with one of the Brooklyn regiments (Fifty-sixth). While there we were kept hunting, part of the time, for Rebs, and part for something to eat.

Charley F. Speck, had I known you were in Harrisburg, I should have looked out for you. We camped for three days about two miles south of Waynesboro, Penn.

Jim, our regiment passed through Baltimore, but I did not have time to call on you.

Black Swan, your letter has been received and will be answered. Why don’t you send your true name?

Winifred, what do you think of G. P. and the G. P. Merrys?

Down-East Girl and Dan H. B., did you receive my last letters?—mailed nearly two months ago.

Oliver O., I have written two letters to you—one when I was in camp, and one since I came home.

Uncle Robert, Aunt Sue, Ida May, Hattie, Pontiac, and E. A., accept my thanks for letters written to me while in Pennsylvania.

Leslie, your letter has not yet arrived.

Yours truly,


New Hampshire, Sept., 1863.

[ … ] About the badge. It would be very pleasant to have some sign by which to know each other when traveling. Dr. Holland says that to be polite in railway cars shows that one has never traveled much. If that is the rule, let us become distinguished exceptions, and take it for granted that the gentlemanly boys and lady-like girls we meet, who show their good breeding by kind and polite attentions, are Merrys.

A. N.

Dr. Holland: Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819-1881), editor and writer. As “Timothy Titcomb,” he wrote essays of moral advice, first for the Springfield Massachusetts Republican, then, after 1857, in book form. [Henry Houston Peckham. Josiah Gilbert Holland. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1940.]


St. Clairsville, Oct. 6, 1863.

Uncles, Aunts, and Cousins dear:—May I come in once more? I won’t say much, and please don’t cut me up. I haven’t been here for so long, and in that while I have been very, very sick, too sick to even listen to what you all said. But now I am well again, and have only to make a request and express and opinion, and then retire.

During my illness I received several letters and some “photos.” You all know how careless persons will be of things in which they are not interested at all. Almost all those letters are mislaid; and although I have the pictures, I can not name them. Will all of you who have written me within a year write again, and I will pay all debts and redeem all promises.

I for one, Uncle, am willing to the advance in price, if necessary. The Museum was one of my dearest companions in childhood, and now just when Annie and Nell, my pets, can appreciate it, I can not bear to do without it. Put on the price, Uncle, and then, cousins, couldn’t we “double,” too?

Let us have a badge by all means. Let it be as pretty as possible, and so that no Chatterer could mistake it. [p. 156 ]

Pertine and Zephyr, write to me—Nellie Van, too; I’ll try to do better hereafter.

Vera Lee, sit down; give me a kiss, hand me your “v,” and I’ll respond. Box 150.

Don’t “manipulate” me, please, kind sir. I’ve been sick, and consequently spoiled, and so must be humored.




Dear Uncle Merry:—I saw your photograph this afternoon, but really did not know it; to be sure, I have never seen you, except pictured in imagination.

I would like to see some of the cousins. I have been reading some of their letters this evening, but can’t tell which I like the best. I wish I could really know one of them; shall certainly look out for the Merry badge, “M;” when I see it, shall walk right up and say, “You are my cousin; Uncle Merry is your father’s and my father’s brother;” then, if agreeable, shall shake hands.

Would any kind friend in the “Chat” tell me who “Eugene Merry” is? Is he a soldier boy? If so, I am ready to extend the right hand of fellowship.

Will Osceola and Daisy Wildwood send me their visites, and Buckeye, too? Uncle Robert has my address. It is growing late, so good-night, Uncle. Please don’t forget your young friend,


“Eugene Merry”: Eugene H. Fales (born 1840/1843, Thomaston, Maine; died 12 July 1868, St. Paul, Minnesota); m. 23 Ja 1865, Harriet M. Lee; one son, apparently died as an infant. Eugene was the clerk in the Museum’s offices before going to war and enduring adventures that would have done justice to the hero of a romantic novel. Joining Co. E, 84th New York Infantry on 18 April 1861, he ended up in Co. C., 131st New York Infantry as a lieutenant. John N. Stearns kept the Cousins up-to-date on his activities, telling them in June 1863 that, “ … [Eugene] was in the first battle of Bull Run, and received several bullet-holes in his clothes; he … is now with our favorite general, N. P. Banks, in his triumphant march through Louisiana.” (1863.1.185) Eugene was one of several hundred who volunteered on 15 June 1863 for a storming party on Port Hudson, Louisiana, but was wounded and taken prisoner. He was confined at Richmond from 14 July 1863 until 7 May 1864, when he was sent to Macon, Georgia; later he was sent to Charleston, South Carolina. Stearns did more than just update the Cousins: he sent boxes to Eugene and worked to have him freed. Eugene escaped on 4 October 1864, by donning a Confederate uniform provided by a rebel deserter and walking out of the Charleston prison. He was hidden by sympathetic South Carolinians, finally making his way to Savannah, where he reported on 21 December 1864 to the Union forces who had just taken the city. In true romantic style, on his return to New York he married before returning to his unit for the duration of the War. His adventures were detailed in the Museum as “Adventures of a ‘Merry’ Boy” (Robert Merry’s Museum; February 1865). In 1867 the former office boy bought the magazine. During his escape, however, Eugene was stricken with yellow fever, from which he never recovered; he developed tuberculosis and died on a trip to regain his health. [compiled military record • RG 15. Records of the Veterans Administration; pension certificate #160591. • U.S. War, series 1, vol 26, pt 1: 64, 57. • St. Paul, Minnesota. “Mortuary Register, 1866-1884.” Public Health Center, St. Paul; vol 1: 15, 119.]

a flourish

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 1850185118521853185418551856185718581859

1860s: 186018611862 • 1863 • 186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits

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