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Pierce family papers

Identifier: MSS 0293

Scope and Content Note

The letters and documents in this collection were written between 1833 and 1954, but primarily focus on three years of the Civil War, 1862-1864. Most of the forty-eight items, which include letters, photographs, drawings, and words for a song, provide an excellent portrait of military life for two brothers, George and Enos Pierce. A few of the items, such as a marriage certificate for Elias and Sarah Pierce, the obituaries, and a page of biographical information, provide details about other members of the Pierce family.

The core of the collection is the group of letters written by George and Enos Pierce to their parents and siblings. Beginning in February 1862, following their arrival at Fernandina, Florida, as part of the 97th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, the two brothers corresponded until their deaths in 1864.

Over those three years the letters described the movements of their companies, detailed their daily lives as Union troops, recounted battles in which they engaged, depicted their surroundings, and recorded their feelings about the war and home. Enclosed in the letters are Enos's drawings of the defenses for Fort Wagner and a Presbyterian Church near Port Royal, South Carolina, as well as the words to a song titled "Song of George Riley," assumed to be written by George Pierce.

While stationed in areas of Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia, the brothers described battles at Fort Wagner (South Carolina), James Island (South Carolina), Charleston (South Carolina), and Bermuda Hundred (Virginia). They also reported daring night raids by small bands of Confederate troops on the Union picket lines in Fernandina, Florida, and Port Royal, South Carolina.

The descriptions of military life contain complaints about the weather, insects, sleeping conditions, and food; but are also filled with good humor and indications of the comradery among the soldiers. For example, a Christmas 1862 letter, written from St. Helena Island, South Carolina, describe the festivities and games by which the men celebrated the holiday.

Both Enos and George Pierce were killed during battles in Virginia in 1864. In his final letters George Pierce described his efforts to locate his brother following a battle at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia, on May 23. He reported the horrible losses sustained by his regiment in that battle and his lack of success in discovering the fate of his brother.

George Pierce was wounded in a battle near Petersburg, Virginia, on July 26 and died within days. The letters, instructions, and military pass found in F8 document his death and his father's efforts to retrieve the body.

Other items in the collection include one letter from a cousin, William H. Pierce, who was a member of the First Delaware Battery stationed at Portsmouth, Virginia; a marriage certificate for Elias and Sarah Pierce; two photographs of George and Enos Pierce; and biographical information about the Pierce family.

These letters were the basis of a University of Delaware senior thesis titled "The Pierce Letters: a history of the 97th Pennsylvania Volunteers," which was written in 1954 by Patrick Winston Morris. This thesis used the Pierce letters and various military records to trace the movements and activities of the 97th Pennsylvania Volunteers, as well as detail the history of the regiment. Because the information gathered from the military records adds significantly to information found in the letters, this thesis is an excellent resource for details concerning the regiment and the Pierce brothers.


  • Creation: 1833-1954
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1862-1864


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

The Pierce family papers includes letters written by George Kirke Pierce and Enos William Pierce to their parents, Elias and Sarah A. Pierce; their sister, Marey Jane Pierce; and their brother, Ezra Pierce. Both sons served in the Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War.

Elias Pierce (1807-1871) and Sarah Ann Moseley (1809-1905) were married on January 17, 1833, and had seven children: Catharine Ann (1834-1902), Turzah Elizabeth (b. 1836), George Kirke (1838-1864), Enos William (1840-1864), Marey Jane (b. 1843), Ezra (b. 1845), and Sarah Maria (1848-1872).

The Pierce home was in Brandywine Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, where the family engaged in farming. Both Enos and George worked on the farm prior to their military service during the Civil War.

George K. Pierce was born September 12, 1838. He served as a private in Company D of the 97th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers until his death following a battle in an area between Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia, on July 26, 1864. His commanding officer was Captain William S. Mendenhall. Captain Mendenhall arranged for Elias Pierce to retrieve the body of his son following George's death.

Enos W. Pierce was born December 4, 1840. Enos Pierce served in Company F of the 97th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. He was reported missing and presumed dead following a battle on May 20, 1864, near Bermuda Hundred, Virginia.

Several letters in the collection are from George and Enos Pierce to their only brother, Ezra Pierce. Ezra was born December 10, 1845, and in 1885 he married Mary Jane Goodman. An obituary of their son, Lewis Ezra Pierce, appears in F10. According to Patrick Morris in his thesis, The Pierce Letters, Ezra Pierce did not volunteer for army service at the beginning of the Civil War but was later conscripted. After having lost two sons to the war, his family did not wish for him to serve. They paid the government a bounty of $500 in lieu of Ezra's military service.

Morris, Patrick Winston.The Pierce Letters: a history of the 97th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Newark, Delaware: 1954Biographical information was also derived from correspondence and documents in the collection.


.3 linear foot (48 items)


The Pierce family papers comprise materials relating to the Pierce family of New Castle, Delaware, from the early nineteenth century to the middle twentieth century. Most of the forty-eight items date from the American Civil War and provide a personal description of military life.


The collection is arranged in chronological order employing five series.


Acquired, 1956.

Materials Available in Alternative Format

Access to digitized versions of the Pierce family papers is available at the University of Delaware Institutional Repository.

Shelving Summary

  1. Box 1: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes (1 inch)


Originally processed, 1956; revised by Anita A. Wellner, November 1993. Encoded by Monifa Carter, Natalie Baur, February 2010; revised by Jaime Margalotti, November 2012.

Pierce family papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2010 February 26
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA