Letter from Thomas J. Wiley to Benjamin L. Wiley, September 9, 1864

Although Black men were eventually allowed to join the United States Army during the Civil War, their commanding officers were white. Thomas J. Wiley served as a second lieutenant in the 5th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. The Benjamin L. Wiley papers preserve the correspondence of Thomas to his brother Benjamin, who was also in the military. In a letter to his brother, September 5, 1864, Wiley reports that he sent money he earned by recruiting soldiers to their father and asks for help in getting a uniform, hoping to be paid soon. He shares that in spite of his poor health, he may be recommended for promotion from second lieutenant to first lieutenant or captain.

The General John A. Logan Museum in Murphysboro, Illinois, graciously loaned their collection of Wiley letters to be scanned for the Southern Illinois Civil War digital collection of Morris Library's Special Collections Research Center.


Headquarters Co. B. 5. U.S. Col. Art. Heavy

Vicksburg, Miss September 5th 1864

Dear Brother 

After a long silence I take my pen in hand for the purpos of addressing a few lines to you hopeing that they may find you and yours enjoying good helth [.] I have not been well for a long time But have ever tried to preform my duty as a Soldier [.] I received a letter from home a short time ago [.] father was getting some better but I suppose he never will be well again [.] He stated that he was in need of money and I sent him $170,00 all that I could possibly spare [.] I sent it express and have heard nothing from it yet. I hope it may reach him in safety for money is scarce with me and every thing that is to be bought here is sold as four peices at least [.] I send in this letter my measure for a uniform and would like very much for you to get it for me as I am very much in need of it and cannot get it here without paying twice the worth of it and my means for bying such thing has about run out [.] we have not been paid for four months [.] all the money I have got during that time I mad by recruiting and as father was very much in need of it I sent nearly all of it to him I expect we will be paid before long. But I cannot tell


how long it may be as pay masters are uncertain but I am quite sure we will be paid soon

I am not particular about the fineness of the uniform but want something good and substantial and well made that will look neat and be durable

I also would like a 2nd Lieuts cap size 7 1/8 in If you will send me those articles Coat vest pants and cap I will pay all expenses and forward your money to you as soon as we receive our pay which cannot be very long Please do me this favor and I will give you my word and honor that I will do as I say 

I have been rather unfortunate about getting my commission [.] Being sick last fall and going home threw me back considerable But I shil not give up [.] I kept at work and finally succeeded and in addition to my 2nd Lieuts Commission I have a recommendation from our district commander down to company commander stating that I am both worthy of and competent to fill any position as line officer in any Branch of the U.S. Service and have been offered a captains commission several time in other regiments But my helth would not admit of my accepting it

I can do my part here as we are in good quarters and have no marching to do But I could not stand it to go in the field [.]  General Thomas is here now and I have been informed that my name has been sent in but for what position I don’t know some say for captain and some first Lieut [.] for my part


I am perfectly satisfied whear I am and I believe I would rather not assume the responsibilities of comdg [commanding] a company although I have had it to do nearly all the time since I received my commission

I must now bring my letter to a close Hopeing that you as a Brother and a brother soldier will if in your power grant me the favor I ask By sending them as soon as possible

Give my love and best wishes to all [.] Tell your folks Matilda included to write to me

I remain verry respectfully

your Brother

Thos J Wiley

Co B,, 5,, U.S. Colored. Artillery. (Heavy)

Vicksburg Miss

P.S. Enclose you will please find my measure for coat Pants and vest from a Taylor in this city

T. J. W.