Peter J. Williamson letters
(Document/manuscript/pamphlet/archival material)

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Special Collections - Closed Stacks
West storage range 3 section 4
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Special Collections - Closed StacksWest storage range 3 section 4Library Use Only
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Document/manuscript/pamphlet/archival material
Physical Desc
.4 cu. ft.


Organization & arrangement of materials
Arranged chronologically.
General Note
Materials housed in the Special Collections Division of the Main Library, Nashville Public Library.
Restrictions on Access
In library use only. Available by appointment.
Scope and content: The bulk of the collection dates from 1862-1865 and consists of letters from Peter J. Williamson back home to his wife, Eunice, during the Civil War. There are a few letters written by relatives, including Peter's brother, William Williamson. The collection also includes 10 letters from 1869 written by Peter J. Williamson to his wife when she was visiting relatives in California. Several of the letters are either in Dutch or contain a note to Williamson's father in Dutch. Correspondents include: Peter J. Williamson; Eunice L. Williamson; William Williamson; and Isaac M. and Ruth Leihy. Locations represented include Kenosha and Green, Wisconsin; various locations in Missouri; Bloomfield, Indiana; Helena, Arkansas; Bridgeport, Alabama; Franklin, Cleveland, and Nashville, Tennessee; and Dalton, Marietta, and Cartersville, Georgia.
Williamson's war-time correspondence sheds some light on his life in various military encampments, although it is clear that at least at the beginning of the war he tried to shield Eunice from any information that might indicate that he was in danger or ill health. He does not refer very often to battle and makes camp life seem quite innocuous, no doubt in an attempt to spare Eunice from additional worry for his safety. P.J. Williamson's Civil War letters describe the realities of camp life, the scenery and inhabitants of various locations, various battles, and his attempts to move up in the ranks. A recurring theme in the letters is his frustration with the lack of knowledge about where his regiment will go next. He discusses various rumors he has heard about the action in other areas. His later letters provide more insight into the military action, although they never fully describe the dangers to which Peter was exposed nor his role in the action.
While there are no return letters from Eunice in the collection, Peter's letters give some insight into Eunice's plight back home, including her financial hardships, the loneliness of being without her husband and worrying about the fidelity of soldiers far from home, and dealing with two young sons on her own. In fact, Eunice gave birth to their second son shortly after Peter enlisted and left home. Peter is adamant that Eunice not work for a living, and she appears largely to have been living off of the generosity of relatives and friends. Peter apologizes to Eunice for her loneliness throughout his correspondence, but argues that the liberty of his children is worth the sacrifice. His letters also give some insight into the motivations of an immigrant fighting in the war.
An architect, Peter appears to have regularly sent Eunice sketches and maps with his letters, mentioning them frequently; however, only two are extant in this collection: a sketch of his lodgings in Nashville, and a map of the area where McCook's raid took place in July 1864.
The letters written by Peter home to Eunice while he was working in Nashville as Assistant Architect in the Quartermaster's Department provide insight into conditions in the city at the time. Housing and basic housekeeping items were very expensive, and nearly every place was full of lodgers. During his stay in the city, Peter decided that he would remain in Nashville after the war and set up an architectural firm. Peter describes Lincoln's funeral procession as it traveled through Nashville, numbering 20,000 men and over 3 miles long.
There is a gap in the correspondence between late 1865 and late 1869. During that time, Eunice and the children came to Nashville to live with Peter. It is uncertain as to how successful Peter's architectural work was, although during the 1880s he appears to have designed several buildings on Vanderbilt University's campus. It does not appear, however, that they were ever quite able to achieve the kind of financial success and lifestyle they had aspired to.
In 1869, Eunice traveled to California for her health and to visit her family, and there are nine letters from Peter to Eunice documenting his loneliness at being the one left behind. They were still experiencing financial difficulties as Peter seems unable to procure enough money for Eunice's return trip to Nashville. While she was gone, the house they were renting was sold, and Peter was faced with trying to find another affordable home. There is also a letter from Eunice's parents assuring Peter that there had been no conspiracy to lure Eunice there and keep her, which was evidently Peter's allegation.
There is absolutely nothing in the collection that sheds any light on what happened to the Williamsons' sons between 1880 and 1900. One letter dated 1901 gives insight into the Williamsons' continued difficulties as Peter writes to his brother to thank him for a box he had sent. Peter describes the past year as disastrous for his business, and refers to Eunice as his "good crippled wife."
Preferred Citation of Described Materials
Cite as: Peter J. Williamson Letters, Special Collections Division, Nashville Public Library.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
This material may be protected by Copyright law (Title 17 U.S. Code).
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Martha T. Currey;,Gift;,2007.,Acc. 2007.033.
Location of Other Archival Materials
P.J. Williamson Papers, 18621869, Special Collections, Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University.
Biographical or Historical Data
Born in Holland on 20 April 1823, Peter J. Williamson immigrated to the United States around 1850. By the time the 1850 census was recorded (5 Aug. 1850), he was a carpenter, living in Green Bay, Wisconsin. On 6 Oct. 1856, Williamson married Eunice J. Leihy, daughter of Rev. I.M. Leihy, of Appleton, Wisconsin. The couple remained in Appleton, and around 1859, their first son, William (Willie) was born.
Biographical or Historical Data
In January 1862, Williamson enlisted as a Private in the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry, Co. F. He was rapidly promoted to Full Sergeant Major. Shortly thereafter, in March 1862, when the collection's correspondence begins, Williamson's wife Eunice gave birth to their second son, Peter J. (John). By the end of 1862, Williamson was promoted to Full 1st Lieutenant. During the war, Williamson's regiment was involved in scouting and raids in Missouri and Arkansas and saw battle in the Middle Tennessee, Chickamauga, and Atlanta campaigns. By the end of his service he was regimental acting assistant adjutant general. Williamson was not lacking in bravery, although his correspondence never goes into detail about his exploits. He was particularly acknowledged for his actions during McCook's raid in late July 1864. At some point during his service, although not mentioned in his correspondence, he was shot in the leg.
Biographical or Historical Data
After he was mustered out at Calhoun, Georgia, on 31 Oct. 1864, Williamson may have returned to Wisconsin briefly before returning to Nashville by January 1865 to work as Assistant Architect in the Quartermaster's Department. During this work, he decided that he would stay in Nashville after the office was disbanded and go into business for himself as an architect. Housing was scarce in Nashville at the time, and it took Williamson several months to find suitable and affordable housing to allow his family to come to Nashville from Wisconsin. However, by 1869, the Williamsons were all living in Nashville.
Biographical or Historical Data
In 1869, Williamson had the tables turned on him--he was the one pining away at home for Eunice, who had gone to California for her health and to visit family. It took months for Williamson to find the money to bring Eunice back home. Their sons evidently decided to follow in their father's footsteps, for in the 1880 census son William is listed as a carpenter, while son John is listed as an apprentice machinist.
Biographical or Historical Data
At some point between 1880 and 1900, both of Williamsons' sons died. By the recording of the 1900 census, Peter and Eunice were living in Nashville with no living children. In August 1892, Williamson applied for his military pension as an invalid. He died in Nashville on the 15 February 1907. Eunice applied for his military pension in March 1909 and died in Nashville in 1928.
In English, although there are several letters and notes in Dutch.
Cumulative Index/Finding Aids
Finding aid available in repository;, folder level control.
Ownership and Custodial History
The letters were passed down to Martha T. Currey by her father, Andrew B. Thach, Sr., M.D., who was a general practitioner in Nashville. Mrs. Williamson was a patient of Dr. Thach, and having no heirs she left the letters to him. Mrs. Williamson also rented a room from Dr. Thach's aunt, Ella Murphy, who lived on Motrose Ave. in Nashville. During the 1940s, photocopies of 25 of the letters in the collection were donated to Vanderbilt University. They were transcribed and edited by one of Vanderbilt's professors, Henry Lee Swint, and published in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, Volume 25, issues 3 and 4 (1942-1943). Copies of these transcripts were presented to the library by Dr. William R. Smith, great-nephew of Peter J. Williamson, in 2007.
Process;,2007;,Aimee James.
APA Citation (style guide)

Williamson, P. J., Williamson, W., & Leihy, R. C. Peter J. Williamson letters.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Williamson, Peter J., 1823-1907, William Williamson and Ruth Calkins. Leihy. Peter J. Williamson Letters. .

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Williamson, Peter J., 1823-1907, William Williamson and Ruth Calkins. Leihy, Peter J. Williamson Letters. .

MLA Citation (style guide)

Williamson, Peter J., William Williamson, and Ruth Calkins Leihy. Peter J. Williamson Letters.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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