This letter was written by 49 year-old James Kerr Cummings (1813-1891), the son of Israel Whitney Cummings (1785-1854) and Susanna Kerr (1794-1867) of Renfewshire, Scotland. He came to America as a young man with his parents in 1828. They settled in Massachusetts initially, then Maine, but moved to Illinois in 1837. James took up the carpenters trade which he followed for twenty years; then the grocery business, and finally the hardware business. He was married in Maine to Mary Jennings Eveleth (1814-1878) and together they had at least four children.
James wrote this letter from Young America, Illinois, to his nephew, Oliver Cromwell Moran (1845-1863)—the son of Richard Lyons Moran, Jr. (1815-1903) and Sybil Cummings (1829-1917) of Fulton county, Illinois. Oliver enlisted in Co. G, 103rd Illinois on 2 October 1862. Oliver died of “remittent fever” at a hospital in Baton Rouge on 22 May 1863—just a month after this letter was written. He was barely 18 years old when he died.
In this letter, James shares 50 years of wisdom with his young nephew on the news of his volunteering for service.
Young America [Illinois]
October 8th 1862
We received your letter yesterday evening and was glad to hear from you. Your entering the service was rather unexpected but you have enlisted in a righteous and glorious cause and I hope you may live to perform your part with credit to yourself and honor to the cause you have espoused.
It is a cause worth contending for—one which cost our forefathers the loss of life and treasure to obtain. This Union is worth preserving and preserved it must be, even if it costs the life of every rebel north or south of Dixon’s line.
Oliver. as you are embarking on the sea of life without a pilot—perhaps without a compass—allow me to make a few suggestions hoping they will be taken in a friendly spirit as I sincerely believe they will.
First, it is essential that you should endeavor to take good care of your health by never exposing yourself unnecessarily. By so doing, you may avoid much pain to yourself and anxiety to your friends.
Second, be always courteous and king in your manner. By so doing, you will gain the good will of all who may be so fortunate as to make your acquaintance.
Third, always be ready and willing to obey the commands of your officers—it being the duty of a soldier to obey orders under all circumstances.
Beware of the temptations and allurements that may be thrown around you and guard against the evils of vice and dissipation to which you will be exposed. Always make it your study to honor, love, and respect virtue (never violate it) and discountenance vice in every form.
Be particular in making your friends. When you find a man always asking favors and never repaying any, look upon him with suspicion as being a dishonorable man and avoid him.
We would be glad to have you make us a visit if you can obtain a furlough. You can come here from Peoria in half a day in you take the morning train. Your Uncle and Aunt Dean has been to Fulton County on a visit. Your father’s family were well.
Please write to me as often as you can. I will always be glad to hear from you and I hope I will see you again well and happy when this contest is closed.
From your uncle, — James K. Cummings
[to] Mr. Oliver Moran, Peoria, Ills.