William H. Holcomb, or “Harry” as his family called him, was the first son of the marriage between Samuel Holcomb and Catherine Fulkerson. He was born on September 16, 1835, in Cayuga Co., New York.
From the time that Harry was old enough to work, he earned money for his parents. His father Samuel was suffering from severe rheumatism which rendered him unable to walk without the aid of crutches, and he could only perform light duty such as cobbling shoes. Harry was the main source of income for his parents, brother and four sisters. The Holcomb family was described by a friend as, “..extremely poor and dependant and have not a dollar’s worth of taxable property in the world, and but a very few household goods.”
Two months after the opening of hostilities in the American Civil War, Harry joined the Army. At the age of twenty-five, he enlisted in the 4th Michigan Infantry, Company C, on June 20, 1861. He was unmarried and had no children.
He was based with the Army of the Potomac. He was severely wounded by a shot to the head on December 12, 1862 at the Battle of Fredericksburg, in Virginia. He was transferred from a field hospital to Eckington Hospital in Washington D.C. on December 16, 1862. He later died on December 21, 1862, after surgery. When he was admitted to Eckington, they recorded his last name as Hooker. This mistake was not corrected and so he was buried at the Soldiers Home National Cemetery (formerly Military Asylum) in Washington D.C., under the name “W. H. Hooker, Mich.”
After I wrote letters to the Veteran’s Administration, the Director of Arlington National Cemetery (they manage all D.C. military cemeteries) and the Director of the Soldiers Home National Cemetery, David Moshier, I was informed by Mr. Moshier that, “By regulation, the information on a government headstone cannot be corrected on the marker unless the request originates from the next of kin of record at the time of the soldier’s, or veteran’s death. What I am permitted to do in this circumstance is create a cross-reference in our file records. I appreciate your taking the time and effort to contact me and ensure that our files reflect historical accuracy. If you I may be of further service, please do not hesitate to contact me.” But, I will not give up. When a soldier gives their life for this country, the very least we can do is spell their name correctly on the marker.
In his Civil War pension file, we have ten personal letters that Harry sent to his mother. She submitted them in her application for Mother’s pension, to support her claim that the family was wholly dependent upon Harry for their livelihood. I have nearly one hundred military pension files in my possession and his is the first to contain personal letters from the soldier.
Marliana Q. Taylor is credited for sharing this biographical sketch and transcripts.
Most dear Mother,
Once more I sit down to write to you to inform you of my health which is good at present and hope you [are] the same for I have been sick with the same fever that I had when I was there and it is a hard place to be sick. But I am well again.
When I got your letter I was surprised to hear that Father had left you. But if I was there, I, with you, would say “good”. You must try to get along the best you can till I come home and I will help you all that I can. All the money that I have shall be sent to you for it is hard times with you I think. But be of good cheer and wait till I come.
Mother, write to Captain Wood and send all your trouble and tell him that he [Father] left and sold all and took all with him and that I am your main dependence and all of my family must be broken up if he don’t send me and whatever you have mind to. It is time for me to close for it is late. Goodbye.
From your son — Harry Holcomb
Minors Hill, VA
November 23, 1861
Most dear and respected Mother,
I now sit to answer your letter which I received last night and was glad to hear from you, and to send you some more money as I think you must need more by this time, but don’t think that I can send more than five dollars now and you must use it discretion, and I will send you all I can. I must save some to buy what necessaries I need for the Government does not find them for me. They find my clothing and food — that is all. I don’t see any possible chance of my coming home yet but as I told you and I will try my best.
The Captain says that he can’t do anything for you for it is out of his hands. The Colonel has it to do, or the General and I think if you can send a letter to General McClellan, he will help you or send me home. Tell him how you are situated and all of the rest and have someone to write it that can write a good legible hand, and have three witnesses and send to Washington D. C. to General McClellan soon. So no more at present.
From your son Harry and all the rest.
Tell Sarah that that is the best they can do here.
Minors Hill, Virginia
December 23, 1861
Once more I sit down to answer your letter. My health is good at present and hope you [are] the same. We are yet at the same place that I was when I last wrote to you. We have built us [a] log house and have only four boys in it and we have lots of room and it is all peace with us. One of the boys and I went to Falls Church — a small little place like Spicer Village — and got some buckwheat flour and we had some jacks for supper and I have just stirred up some for breakfast. This is quite a treat for us. It did[n’t] make us sick but don’t know but what it will before morning.
Mother, did you get five dollars that I sent you? I want to know, for some of the boys have lost some. I have sent ten dollars to you and I shall send you more soon as I get my pay again. I shall send you some any time I get my pay and help you all I can, and you must be prudent as possible and I shall be home after a while, if God is pleased to spare me. And if it is his will to call me, I shall go to my house of rest.
So I must bring my letter to a close for this time.
From your son — Harry Holcomb
to mother Catherine Holcomb
Oh, I forgot to tell you that I had a letter from the old man but he palavered and tried to make it all flat or soft and it is soft but I did not answer it. The old fool.
Minor’s Hill, Virginia
January 17, 1862
Most dear Mother,
Once more I sit down to write to you to answer your letter which I received from you but was not very well pleased to hear how that ____ son of a bitch of Morgan had used you. But it will soon be that I will be with you and then it will be all settled for I am bound to have revenge for all that happened. Till I get home Mother, don’t let Lydia’s marriage trouble you for she will soon crawl home. You need not be afraid that she will stay away long. Who is he or where he live for I don’t know him or what is he? But Mother, if they come down to your house, please tell them that I will see to that after I get home. Tell that fool to go preach and steal corn for his horse down with the poor thief.
I am glad to hear that you are well and all the rest. Sarah still live in hopes for I think James and I will be both home soon. It is getting dark and I must close for this time. I shall send home some more money next week for you.
— Harry Holcomb
To Mother, Sister and Brother. Write soon. Goodbye.
Minors Hill, Virginia
January 28, 1862
Dear mother and sister,
I now sit down to write to you to answer your letter which I received last Saturday and was glad to hear from you. My health is good at present and hope you [are] the same. I have just had my pay and I sit down to send some to you , I think it will be needed by this time. I have just got my pay and will send it to you — the small sum of five dollars. [I] should send more but you know that I need some.
We have just had orders to be ready to march at an hour’s notice but I don’t think that we shall go from here till the mud settles for it is very muddy here and still we may have to go before tomorrow night. I can’t tell. But I wish it was to go to mor [page ripped] don’t you? But it can’t be so just now and but [page ripped] but I wish that it was so, for I am tired of this life [page ripped]…
….the whole family I can’t say for there is one that [page ripped] need to repent and that is, well — you know who, so I had not [better] call any names now. Hannah wrote to me but she will get no answer from it. She says that Lydia has got the best husband of either of them and that she is above thirty miles from there and that you was the cause [of] that old bulls going away. Tell her to kiss his ass and that [I wish] she was with him — her dear father — and they were in some foreign land where we should never hear from them again, the false-hearted wretches. And more than that, I think that Hell is full of such kind of preachers.
The talk is that we are going on the fleet to some other part of the South. If it is so, I shall be happy or more than I am now but it is too good news for me to put too much confidence in. But I think that we will have to go to Bull Run and take that. But it will not be much trouble to take it for the report is that it is deserted and they have gone to some other part
of the South to reinforce them for there is much need of all them at some other place, for they…. dead but they …… over for this winter. We have the best of luck and it shows that the Lord is with us, does it not Mother? I hear you respond yes. It is after taps and I close for tonight so goodnight, Mother and sister.
Good morning Mother and Sarah. Today is cloudy and cold but there is some snow now. There has not been any this winter to speak of but it is still there I suppose [paper ripped] for me and tell her that I send it to ….. her that Harry will send her something to her if I can’t see her, and tell George that he must be good boy and Uncle will bring him something when he gets home. Sarah when you write to James, tell him to write to me for I should like to hear from him. So I will close for this time.
From your son and brother –- Harry Holcomb
To Mother and sister Sarah. Write soon to Washington D. C.
My dear Mother and Sister,
I take this opportunity to answer you letter which I received some days ago, but had no time to write before for it rains most all the time and our house leaks so we can’t write nor anything else and have – – – – live here ourselves. It is the worse time since we have had for the wind blows cold from the North so. One morning my tent lay all flat, but our house is made of logs and covered with dirt.
You do not say anything about how you got along this winter or how times is there. It is almost payday again and I send you some more money then. Give my love to all of my friends. So, I will close for this time. Goodbye for this time.
From Harry [Holcomb]
to Mother, Sisters & Brother
March 7, 1862
Dear Mother and sister,
Once more I sit down to write to you to answer your letter which I received last night and was glad to hear from you.
I am at Alexandria and we are waiting for to embark for we are going off on a fleet to reinforce Burnside. We have not yet got our pay but I think I shall soon, and just as soon as I do get it, will send you ten dollars for I want to help you all I can, and it will soon be settled I think.
I can’t write much this time for I have nothing to write on — only on our knees. I am well and hope you [are] the same. I will do the best I can so I will close so goodbye for this time and I will write before I go.
From your son — Harry Holcomb
West Point [Virginia]
11th [May] 1862
Most dear mother,
I now sit down to answer your letter which I received some days ago and was glad to hear from you. I have not had any time to write for some time past for we have been at work fortifying at Yorktown and the Rebels ran from us after all and left all behind. And we followed after them and caught them at this place and had a battle with them but our regiment had not reached here but our army drove them from here. We lost some but they lost more than double. I saw 34 graves of our men and one Rebel’s, but our men found thirty in one pile. The Rebels tried to carry them off but our army was so close behind they left them for they had to run and the next day we found 40 more in another pile. So you see that is 70 and how many more we don’t know — and it is so in every battle. I think that it must close soon, it can’t last long.
Pay day is almost at hand again and then I shall try and send you fifteen or twenty dollars. I must close for this time. Goodbye from your friend, brother and son — [Harry Holcomb]
-– To Mother, sisters and brother. I am well and the same.
Camp Harrison’s [Landing],
August 5, 1862
Most dear parents,
Again do I sit down to send that check to you or for you to keep for me now. I want you to keep this till I get home — that is, if I am permitted ever to come. And if I do not, you can have it. You might let it out on interest to Mayhew or some other responsible man for a short time for six months at least. Goodbye
— Harry Holcomb
Father and mother, Samuel, Catherine Holcomb
[Minor’s Hill, Virginia, September 1862]
….you I am well at present and hope these few lines will find you the same. I am now at the same place that I was all last winter, but it does not seem half so pleasant as it was here last winter. But yet it seems some like home. But oh, if it was only at our old state by the side of my old quiet fireside with my own friends and loved ones — but I am not — but far away as a poor soldier. But the war will soon be over and then I shall be free. I wrote a letter to Brother last night but have not heard from him yet.
Father, if you want to take that check and use it for to get some stock, do so and when I get home you can pay it back to me then. But use it with care and keep the principle good. It will help you some. Please tell Sarah that she must write to me for I have not heard from her for some time. I have not had but one letter from either of you since I left Harrison’s Landing — only that one that I am now answering. Write soon and give my love to all and one more.
Harry – Father and Mother goodbye.
Head-Quarters, Army of the Potomac
Medical Director’s Office
Near Fredericksburg, Va. Dec. 20, 1862
Mrs. Catherine Holcomb,
Thinking you will be desirous of knowing about your son, Mr. Harry Holcomb, I will state that he was quite severely wounded at the battle of Fredericksburg, Saturday, Dec. 12th, but is now alive and appears to be getting along quite well. He was wounded in the head by shell. Make yourself as easy as you can for all will [be] done for him that can be done.
Believe me Dear Madam,
James D. Burr
Co. C 4th Mich. Vols.
Eskington Gen’l Hospital
Washington D.C. Dec 21st/ ’62
It is my painful duty to inform you that W.H. Holcomb, whom from a letter in his possession I suppose to be your son, died in this hospital today. He had marked on his right arm “W. H. Holcomb Born Sept. 16th 1835.” He was admitted into this hospital [on] December 17th, suffering from a bullet wound of the head, breaking and driving in a portion of the skull. The wound was infected I believe at the attack on Fredericksburg five days previous to admission. His condition was such that he could not live without the removal of the depressed bone. I called a consultation of the surgeons of the hospital and an operation was deter(mined) and I operated on the afternoon [of the] same day (19th), removing a large number of broken pieces of bone. [He did] well after the operation till yesterday afternoon, and from that time [got] worse till this afternoon at 3 PM (Sunday 21st) when he died.
He had every attention shown him and died very easy. His mind was in such a state that i could learn nothing from him. He had no money or other valuables when he came here, all his pockets being examined in my presence. Nothing worth mentioning but a pocket knife, your letter, a pipe bowl, and some tobacco was found.
How much money is due him from the Government I do not know; as no descriptive list was sent with him. You know his Co. and Regt. and perhaps his Captain’s name, and such claim can probably be more readily collected through a claim agent than in any other way.
I am Sir with Symapathy,
Henry W. Fisher, Act. Asst. Surgeon U.S.A.
P.S. The remains will be decently interred tomorrow in the government cemetery and the grave marked and registered so that it can be readily identified in case you should at any subsequent time come on for the remains.