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Gold rush letters, 1853-1861. Civil War letters, 1863-1864.
MANUSCRIPT SMCII Box 12 Folders 5-6
Collection Overview


Gold rush letters, 1853-1861: Civil War letters, 1863-1864
Civil War letters, 1863-1864
Osborn Ayer gold rush letters, 1853-1861
Osborn Ayer Civil War letters, 1863-1864


Ayer, Osborn, 1827-1902, creator


Gold rush letters: A collection of ten letters in two groups, three written in 1853 from the area around Murphys, and the remaining seven written from 1859 through 1861 from Grizzly Flat and Iowa Hill near Colfax. The letters are addressed to Ayer's family back in Schuyler Falls, New York; some to his sister, Amelia, others to his brother and several to Friends at home. Ayer is working "deep diggings" and offers details of this aspect of gold mining. In the early letters, Ayer's life is unsettled - "...but I have had no place to do my writing as my house consisted of an oak tree" -- and he comments on the general lawlessness of life at the mines. Later, in Grizzly Flat, Ayer includes mention of neighbors and local doings; in one letter he has drawn a picture of his cabin there. He comments on his social life, describing the Saturday night dancing school he attends and a new years dinner where "Cala" wines were served. Throughout Ayer encourages his family to keep writing, assuring them that he yearns for news from home and family.
Civil War letters: Ten letters dating from June 17, 1863 to Oct. 26, 1864; one letter on handcolored lettersheet with two views: one of Cincinnati and the other of a sternwheeler with the Buckeye Motto underneath. Again the letters are addressed to family and "Friends at home". Also with this letter group are two official documents: Ayer's discharge papers issued in May of 1865 and a notice from the Bureau of Pensions having to do with a pension increase dated June 5, 1901.
Ayer's letters from the Civil War period offer vivid accounts of midnight rides and encounters with the enemy requiring the use of carbines and sabers. He is always careful to tally losses - dead, injured, and captured (soldiers, horses and equipment) on both sides in these engagements. He reports on regimental life: complaints about the uselessness of general inspections; a description of his quarters in Cavalry Camp at Falls Church; details of the changing composition of the brigade and the forming of a new negro regiment; speculation on the end of the war; a heartfelt tribute to his commander, C.R. Lowell, killed in battle at Cedar Creek on Oct. 19, 1864. Ayer concludes the last letter, written from the hospital where he is recovering from a leg wound, with a comment on the 1864 election between Lincoln and the peace candidate McClellan: "I hope McClelan peace men are scarce there [i.e., in New York] as they should be in all loyal places. I wish I could help the right with my vote. I have tried to with my saber and believe I have done some service in that way."


1853 (issued)


Folder 5. Gold rush letters (10 items). -- Folder 6. Civil War letters (12 items).


n-us-ca -- n-us-va -- n-us---
Ayer, Osborn -- 1827-1902 -- Correspondence
Gold miners -- California -- Correspondence
Gold mines and mining -- California -- History
California -- Gold discoveries
United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives
Shenandoah Valley Campaign, 1864 (August-November) -- Personal narratives
United States. -- Army. -- Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment, 2nd (1862-1865)


Osborn Ayer was born on November 27, 1827 in Schulyer Falls, New York. Sometime circa the late 1840s he served as a prison guard at Clinton State Prison in nearby Dannemora, New York. In 1850, Ayer went to California to seek his fortune as a miner and worked several claims near Murphys -- and later at Grizzly Flats near Iowa Hill -- without much success. In 1863 he joined the California volunteers to fight in the Civil War and was assigned to Co. L of the Massachusetts 2nd Cavalry. During his military career with the cavalry, Ayer was promoted to Corporal. From the spring of 1863 until July 1864, Co. L. was stationed in northern Virginia where they skirmished against the guerilla leader, John S. Mosby. After July 1864, Co. L. was assigned to Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah and here Ayer was wounded at the battle of Tom's Brook (known as the "Woodstock Races") on Oct. 9, 1864. He was sent to recuperate at the Tilton Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware and was discharged from there in May of 1865.
Resuming civilian life, Ayer returned to New York and his job as prison officer at Clinton Prison until 1869. That year he relocated to Nebraska to join other family members already in residence. There he became a progressive farmer/rancher, buying land in Nuckolls County and homesteading in Webster County near Guide Rock. On Jan. 1, 1870, Ayer married Roseltha Brink; they raised four children: Herbert, Wilbur, Lulia and Edna. Ayer held numerous official positions, among them justice of the peace, clerk of elections and school board member; he was also a Master Mason and a member of the G.A.R. Osborn Ayer died on Oct. 4, 1902.
Osborn Ayer gold rush and civil war letters.
Unrestricted. Please credit California State Library.


Pictorial lettersheets

Physical Description:

22 items : col. ill.




MANUSCRIPT SMCII Box 12 Folders 5-6



Copyright Note:

Unrestricted. Please credit California State Library.