About William H. Dunn

A lanky redhead with blue eyes, William “Will” Dunn was 19 years old when he enlisted in Co. F, 62d Pennsylvania Infantry, in 1861. By early 1863, he confessed in a letter home to his father that he was “as tired of soldiering as any person,” but was contemptueous of those who faked illness to avoid their duty. “Before I play off sick to get my discharge, I will serve five years, for I think an honorable discharge is better to me than a fortune.”  On the evening of July 2d, as his regiment entered the bloody whirlwind of the Wheatfield, Dunn was sent ahead as a skirmisher and instantly killed by a bullet to the head. A sergeant wrote William’s father that he was buried on the field, alongside others of his company. His remains were later reinterred in the Pennsylvania section of the Soldiers National Cemetery. The 6th plate tintype (at right) was purchased from a friend of his descendants.  — Charles T. Joyce

William H. Dunn (1842-1863) was the son of Arthur and Eliza (Tucker) Dunn who came to Allegheny county from Beaver county, Pennsylvania about 1840. The content of William’s letters suggest that perhaps Arthur had been a boatman on the Ohio river in his earlier years but he later settled near Pittsburgh and earned a meagre living as a farmer and then as a huckster in the city market. The Dunns were married in the mid 1830s and by 1860 the couple had at least eleven children born between 1841 and 1858—a large family by today’s standards but not so unusual back then. What is unusual is that most of them (possibly all?) lived to adulthood.

Only Will and his younger brother John (b. 1845) were old enough to enlist in the service of their country during the Civil War. We learn from Will’s letters that he advised his brother to stay at home and help his parents but John could not be dissuaded and joined the 101st Pennsylvania Volunteers on 2 December 1861. John was captured on 20 April 1864 and survived the horrors of Andersonville Prison and Florence, South Carolina.

According to Will, he wrote about two letters a week to his parents while in the service. Unfortunately only 25 letters are known to exist today. They were found in Will’s pension record in Washington D. C.  You see, in order for the family of the deceased soldier to collect a pension, they needed to prove they relied on the money he sent home while in the service. The more evidence they could provide, the better chance they had of getting a sizable pension. In Will’s case, his letters frequently mentioned sending money home to his parents who legitimately needed the wages of their son to sustain the large family. Regrettably—for the family—this meant parting with those letters. Fortuitously for us, however, it meant the preservation of letters that might otherwise have been lost or destroyed since they were written. Once you know this, it is easier to understand why these letters always mention sending money home.

There is only one letter in this collection that was not written by Will; it was penned by Sgt. Ricketts of the 62nd Pennsylvania who informed Will’s father where he might find the grave of his son buried on the Gettysburg battlefield.

The letters have been organized chronically and posted by year (see menu at right). To return to the home page, just click on the banner head title. To aid the reader in placing the letters in proper context, major portions of the history of the regiment written by Col. J. B. Sweitzer have been included in italics.

The creation of this web page to showcase Will Dunn’s letters has been a collaboration between Charles T. Joyce and William J. Griffing (“Griff”). Charles graciously shared the image of Will Dunn from his private collection of Gettysburg Casualties and also made available the large file of copied letters and other pension records that he purchased from NARA. Griff set up the website, transcribed the set of letters, and performed some supplementary research (which continues).

 

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