Saturday, July 07, 2018

Chaplain to private's widow: ' have a house in Heaven'

(National Archives via
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Mortally wounded in the bowels during a skirmish near Kingston, Ga., on May 19, 1864, 77th Pennsylvania Private David Neely died the next day with 74 cents, a receipt and a "discharge" in his pocketbook. If it were indeed an army discharge document, the soldier's death must have been especially heart-breaking for Neely's family in Landisburg, Pa., near the state capital of Harrisburg.

Shortly after David died in Erwin Hospital, a 21st Kentucky chaplain offered condolences (above and below) to the soldier's 45-year-old widow, Elizabeth. "Madam it becomes my painful duty to announce ...," M.H.B. Burket's short note began on U.S. Christian Commission stationery.

In addition to his wife of 14 years, Neely left behind three children: Sarah, 13; John, 12; and William, 9. A wooden headboard with Neely's name, company and regiment etched on it was placed atop his grave in the regimental cemetery. But the soldier's final resting place today is unknown.

Kingston, Ga., May 20, 1864
Mrs. Elizabeth Neely

Madam it becomes my painful duty to announce to you the death of your husband David Neely private in Co. A 77 Reg. Pa. Vol. On yesterday while skirmishing with the enemy near this place and driving him howling before us your companion was shot through the bowels and died this morning in Erwin hospital. I find in his pocket book 74 cents, his discharge and one receipt from H.P. Lightner for $200. I also find on his person one pocket knife, pocket handkerchief and three letters on business -- all of which I will hand over to the surgeon of his Regt. to be sent to you. I had no acquaintance with the deceased but I entered ...

(National Archives via
... the hospital this morning and found your husband dying. I interogated him as to the relations he sustained to the army. After he died I examined his person and found as above stated. All I can say by way of consoling you is this: God who hears the young ravens cry will be to you the "Widow's God and to your children the orphans father. If you will trust his promises and after the toils of life are ended and your trust is stayed in God through his son Jesus you have a house in Heaven, where friends will never more be parted by cruel war.


M.H.B. Burket
Chaplain 21st Regt. KY Vet. Vol. In., 2nd Brig, 1st Div 4th A.G. D.C

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-- David Neely widow's pension file (WC48480), National Archives & Records Service, Washington, D.C. via

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