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Samuel O. Chamberlain Papers - MS 981

Introduction | Biographical Sketch | Scope and Content | Series Description | Inventory


The Samuel O. Chamberlain Papers were donated to the Center for Archival Collections by Mary Elizabeth Chamberlain Hanggi, on January 28, 2003. The collection consists of .5 feet of Civil War era and post-war personal correspondence, some pension information, transcribed letters, and printed material.

The collection was processed and finding aid prepared by Marilyn Levinson, Curator of Manuscripts in February 2003.

Biographical Sketch

Samuel Oscar Chamberlain was born March 19, 1844, to Scudder and Martha Wing Chamberlain, of Melmore, Ohio, in Seneca County. His father was a noted architect, responsible for such buildings as the Seneca County Courthouse and Jail. Besides Samuel, know primarily as Oscar, other children in the family were Duff and Dow.

At the start of the Civil War Oscar joined the locally raised 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on August 12, 1861 as a private in Co.E. In the "Official Roster of Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion" his age at mustering-in is given as 18, but he was really just past 17 at the time.

Oscar served throughout the war. He reenlisted when his initial 3-year term of service expired, and he eventually mustered-out on November 30, 1865 as a sergeant. During that period of service the regiment saw duty at such battles as Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, Resaca, Picketts Mills, Kenesaw Mountain, and the Siege of Atlanta, to name a few. The collection includes the 30 original letters written home by Oscar during his war experience.

After the war, Oscar returned home to Tiffin for a short time, but then spent the next few years working as a carpenter in several locations, primarily in the post-War South, between 1868 and 1880. Letters written during this time are also included in the collection. After this period Oscar did return to Tiffin, where his father was still a successful contractor and architect, working as a carpenter, as did his brother Dow. His other brother, Duff was a postal clerk

Marrying Ada Irene Letson on March 5, 1881, Oscar settled down in Tiffin and started a small family, Martha Amelia (who died in infancy), Scudder George, and Helen Louise. He was a member of the local Carpenters Union and was also active with the Grand Army of the Republic and reunions of his old regiment. In his later years, Oscar qualified for a pension from the government for his service, and as he grew old and infirm he applied for and was admitted to the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Home, in Sandusky, Ohio. The last letter in the collection was written February 25, 1925, while he was living there. Oscar died, at the home of his daughter Helen, on October 19, 1925, and was buried at Tiffin Greenlawn Cemetery, next to his wife Ada.

A more detailed biography of the life of Samuel Oscar Chamberlain, along with commentary on the letters he wrote, can be found in the book, Civil War Letters of an Ohio Soldier : S.O. Chamberlain and the 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, by Dick and Judy Chamberlain.

Scope and Content

The 30 Civil War era letters written by Samuel Oscar Chamberlain during his service with the 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry present a picture of the typical experience of a young volunteer in an Ohio regiment. The 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was a good representative unit, having organized at the very start of the war through the efforts of William H. Gibson, who became the Colonel of the Regiment. Oscars letters are full of details of his duties, surroundings, activities of friends and the regiment in general, and observations on the conduct of the war.

The physical letters themselves present an interesting variety of patriotic stationery that were common during the early years of the war, with such motifs as eagles bearing banners inscribed "liberty or death" representations of Liberty, Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and other patriotic imagery. The envelopes also displayed this theme, with one example in the collection, from sometime after April 1862, lampooning Confederate General Beauregard.

If there is any weakness in the material it would be in the gaps in the dates of letters, particularly the lack of letters corresponding to some of the significant battles of the 49th, such as Shiloh, Stones River, and Chickamauga. However, these lapses in the chronology are more than compensated for by the wealth of detail of everyday life in the letters. The supplementary material in the collection, such as the Leonard, Kleckner, Vail, and Kiene transcripts and histories of other elements of the 49th and their actions fills in the gaps.

The postwar letters are also of value for the picture they provide of the economic outlook for returning soldiers and also conditions in the south, where Oscar worked for several years. It is interesting to note his observations of life in the South, with concerns for such things as yellow fever, his attempt to start a business producing barrel staves, and interactions with former Confederates.

The minor amount of other personal papers, particularly pension applications and material related to his membership in the Grand Army of the Republic round out the picture of this typical soldier and his life during and after the war.

Series Description


Arranged chronologically
Letters written to Samuel Oscar Chamberlains parents, while serving with the 49th O.V.I., describing his duties, surroundings, activities of friends and the regiment in general, and observations on the conduct of the war

Arranged chronologically
Letters written home by Oscar while he was working as a carpenter in the post-war South, describing local customs, yellow fever epidemics, his attempt to start a business producing barrel staves, and interactions with former Confederates. Also one letter written while living at the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Home in Sandusky


Loose items related to the 49th O.V.I., typed summary of battles of the 49th O.V.I., clipping on history of 49th O.V.I., program from 7th reunion of the Army of the Tennessee, 49th O.V.I. 45th Reunion Ribbon (1910) with a typed list of other reunion locations and unidentified clipping re: 28th Reunion

1868-1922, n.d.
Genealogical note related to the background of Scudder Chamberlain, a receipt for taxes of Scudder George Chamberlain, an unidentified photograph, and unmatched envelopes


Pension Bureau certification, correspondence, and a copy of application for admittance to the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Home in Sandusky

Grand Army of the Republic forms for membership and reinstatement in W.H. Gibson Post 31, completed when Oscar was aged 60 and 64


Broadsides, pamphlets, and privately produced histories and transcripts related to the Civil War service of the 49th O.V.I. and individuals in that regiment. Some items transferred to CAC general collection and cataloged separately


Box 1

Folder 1 - 1861
  1. September 11, 1861
  2. September 25, 1861
  3. October 3 (8?), 1861
  4. October 12, 1861
  5. December 2, 1861 (with cover)
  6. December 25, [1861] - (Very badly faded, at Camp Nevins, same stationery as previous letter)
Folder 2 - 1862
  1. January 5, 1862
  2. January 11, 1862
  3. January 19, 1862
  4. February 2, 1862 (with cover)
  5. February 9, 1862 (with cover)
  6. May 6, 1862
  7. June 17, 1862
  8. August 19, 1862
  9. October 30, 1862
Folder 3 - 1863
  1. April 11, 1863 (with cover)
  2. May 4, 1863 (with cover)
Folder 4 - 1864
  1. June 24, 1864 (with cover)
  2. July 25, 1864 (with cover)
  3. September 16, 1864 (with cover)
  4. October 24, 1864 (with cover)
  5. November 2, 1864 (with cover)
  6. November 20, 1864 (with cover)
Folder 5- 1865
  1. February 12, 1865 (with cover)
  2. March 27, 1865 (with cover)
  3. June 8, 1865 (with cover)
  4. June 26, 1865 (with cover)
  5. August 26, 1865
  6. November 3, 1865 (with cover)
  7. October 15, 1865 (with cover)
Folder 6- 1868-1873
  1. Unmatched covers (2)
Folder 7- 1868-1873
  1. February 23, 1868
  2. September 4, 1873 (with cover)
  3. December 9, 1873 (with cover)
Folder 8- 1876-1877
  1. May 11, 1876 (from Duff Chamberlain)
  2. December 11, 1877
Folder 9- 1878
  1. May 22, 1878 (with cover)
  2. July 14, 1878 (with cover)
  3. August 2, 1878 (with cover)
  4. October 1, [1878] (with cover)
  5. October 13, 1878 (with cover)
  6. November 25, 1878 (with cover)
Folder 10- 1879
  1. January 2, 1879 (with cover)
  2. April 28, 1879 (with cover)
Folder 11- 1880
  1. January 19, 1880 (with cover)
  2. February 17, 1880 (with cover)
Folder 12- 1925
  1. February 25, 1925 (with cover)
Folder 13
  1. Topical material re: 49th O.V.I., 1873-1910
Folder 14
  1. Topical material, miscellaneous, 1868-1922, n.d.
Folder 15
  1. Pension Bureau/Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Home Papers, with postcard views, 1890-1925
Folder 16
  1. Grand Army of the Republic forms, 1904-1908
Folder 17
  1. Casualty List, Battle of Pickett's Mill, 1864
Folder 18
  1. Seneca County in the Civil War (published for Civil War Days), June 6-9, 1963
Folder 19
  1. "Legacy of Pen and Ink" (article on Chamberlain letters in Tiffin Advertiser-Tribune, Jan 27, 1991)
Folder 20
  1. The War, 1861 thru 1865 (Chapters 12-19 copied section from unidentified history of Seneca County, possibly by Howard Smith?)
Folder 21
  1. The Civil War Diary of Isaac W. Leonard (printed transcriptions by G. Allan Vaughan, 1998)
Folder 22
  1. Leonard/Kleckner Family correspondence transcripts, 1861-1863 (printed transcriptions by G. Allan Vaughan, 1995)
Folder 23
  1. George J. Terry letter transcripts (1861-1864)
Folder 24
  1. In Memoriam, Samuel Bishop Vail, 1864 letter transcriptions, 1994

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