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Does this missing 1862 letter belong to YOUR family?

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Does this missing 1862 letter belong to YOUR family?

Dennis Brooke (View posts)
Posted: 1125238429000
Classification: Military
Surnames: Cotheral, Dodson
A mailbag full of missing letters has yet to be mailed. See article at end of this message. Note that some spellings are incorrect due to the transcribing process. F.D. refers to Fort Donelson. Chicago, refers to Camp Douglas and Sandusky refers to Johnson's Island. All of which were Northern Prisons during the American Civil War.

"Camp Chase, April 24,1862.

Dear Pa: It snowed here this morning, and it is pretty cold to-day. I have been tolerably sick. I was in the hospital six weeks; but, by the goodness of God, I was spared. Pleas Dodson waited on me like a brother. I am going to Sandusky to-morrow or the next day. We will have better quarters and a healthier situation. Pa, I want to write a long letter, but I am limited. I will write that I am well now and doing well under the present circumstances. Jimmy Cotheral is dead; died in Chicago about the middle of March. Love to all.
Your son, J.A. Cox.
P.S.-I send you $1.50 by Mr. Ross, from F.D."


by Joe Blundo
"Talk about snail mail: On April 20th 1862, a Confederate prisoner of war at Camp Chase in Columbus wrote a letter to Lt. Merrill E. Pratt in Alabama.

It still hasn't been delivered. But Pratt's great-great-grandson and namesake knows where the letter is, and he wants it.

""It belongs to the family of whoever it was addressed to,"" said Merrill E. Pratt, a computer programmer who lives in Birmingham.

The letter (and about 100 others from Camp Chase) has been the property of the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond since 1948. The letters arrived after passing through the hands of an Ohio spy, a state librarian and a newspaper editor.

""Wow, what a story,"" said Dennis Ranney, a Georgia free-lance researcher, formerly of New Albany, who has traced the letters' wanderings.

The story begins at Camp Chase, a prison for captured Confederate soldiers. The prison is long gone, but its cemetery, holding the graves of more than two thousand Confederates, remains on Sullivant Avenue.

(Ranney, who also uses the name Dennis Brooke, provided information for a Nov. 11 column on grave-robbing at the cemetery.)

Among the Camp Chase prisoners in 1862 was Captain J.F. Whitfield of Alabama. He was captured when Union forces took Island 10 , a rebel stronghold in the Mississippi River.

""Our boys stood up to the enemy like men and brave soldiers...I was very proud of them indeed."" Whitfield wrote to Lt. Pratt, who had been sent home to Alabama on a recruiting trip, then fell ill.

Whitfield's letter, and those of dozens of other POW's, was supposed to be taken to the South by Charlotte Moon Clark, an Ohioan and a cunning spy for the Confederacy.

But before the letters could be delivered, Clark, who lived in Oxford and had brothers in the Confederate army, was arrested in Cincinnati on suspicion of espionage. She was later deported to the South.

The letters never left Ohio. For whatever reason, they ended up at the Statehouse, where they lay until 1904, when the state librarian mentioned them to William H. Knauss of Columbus, a Civil War veteran who was writing ""The Story of Camp Chase""

Knauss used text from many of the letters in his book. (It lists Merrill E. Pratt as ""Merrill C."" and Whitfield as ""Whitefield."")

The letters finally went south in 1948. The Virginia Historical Society says they were donated to its museum by Phillip Porter, then editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. How the letters passed from the custody of the state library to Porter is unknown, Ranney said.

(In 1985, Porter, 84 and long retired, was murdered, along with his wife, Dorothy, during a burglary at their home in Shaker Heights. The crime was unrelated to the letters.)

Pratt's descendants learned of the letters only recently from Ranney. He has formed an organization, Southern Heritage Advancement Preservation and Education ( with a mission of informing as many families as he can find that they have mail from the Civil War.

The historical society says anyone is welcome to see the letters but that it received them in good faith and plans to keep them.

Pratt thinks the society should make copies and return the originals. His great-great-grandfather (who survived the war, as did Whitfield) wrote and received many letters that his family has preserved.

""But you can always find room for one more.""

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