A Rescued Legacy

civil warWesley Wagoner was from Hanover, Pennsylvania and enlisted in the 76th Union Pennsylvania Infantry in October 1862 during the American Civil War. He was a faithful son in writing letters home while stationed in South Carolina. He wrote of the conditions the troops were living under, their military activities, but mostly of his love for his family.

In a poignant letter of July 8, 1863, Wesley wrote in closing to his father he would write again “. . . if God spares me.” Wesley was captured by the Confederate Army on July 11, 1863 at Ft. Wagner and marched to Belle Isle Prison in Richmond, Virginia. In spite of being a healthy young man, he soon succumbed to disease due to unsanitary conditions.

The last letter to Wesley’s father was not from this dying soldier, but rather from a fellow Union soldier who stayed with Wesley and wrote of those final days. Wesley’s father died of a broken heart fifteen months later. There was no one else of the family to remember Wesley.

These few wartime sheets of paper were saved by his aunts over the decades. By the late 20th century one of Wesley’s great grandnieces saw no further use for keeping those old letters and tossed them into the trash. Luckily, at the time she was being assisted by a family friend who managed to get back out of the trash those few letters. She carefully hid them in her pocket. Weeks later she mailed the letters to another great grandniece of Wesley’s and related the events of what happened. This relative was thrilled to have these precious last words of Wesley. These cherished letters of Wesley’s have proven to be his eternally legacy.

The lesson learned is for anyone not to overlook the opportunity to save a piece of a family’s history. If one descendant is not interested usually there is another individual or even the next generation who would be thrilled and excited to have something personal from a distant ancestor.

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